Road Trip: Seattle, Washington

My girlfriend Lizzy flew out to Seattle to join me for the next section of the trip – a tour down the West Coast. Our first day in the city was packed with visiting the interesting sites in downtown and West Seattle (where we were staying in an airbnb).

First stop: Pike Place Market. The famous indoor/outdoor market spans several blocks by the water in downtown Seattle. You’re immediately greeted by stalls of fresh fish, produce, craft-made everything. I think I became fifty bucks poorer just walking onto Pike street. Just look at this fish stall!

2015-06-09 12.02.29

We explored the market and stocked up on provisions for the next sections of the trip. Buckwheat honey (surprisingly good on oats), salmon jerky and Italian salami should drive away the mundane tastes of backpacking food. I also visited a few coffee shops to try some of Seattle’s famous brews, and eventually decided to take home a bag from Seattle Coffee Works. It tastes great in the new traveling french press I also picked up!

Downtown had some more interesting sights to check out, like the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum. Most of Dale Chihuly’s work is displayed in this indoor-outdoor museum. The color and scale of some of the exhibits are truly stunning.

2015-06-10 14.03.11ChihulyGardenAndGlass_Seattle-2290433-6161685-140-H

One thing I immediately noticed about Seattle in contrast to the East Coast: people are friendly out here. Not just fake “how’s it going” friendly. No. Actually friendly. Interested in talking to strangers and learning their story. I had a 20 minute conversation about traveling with a guy on a beach in West Seattle. Lizzy and I talked about farming and produce to a vendor in Pike Place, after which he gave us a great deal on the food we had lined up. I just can’t see these conversations happening in Boston or Providence. Time to start looking at grad schools in Washington? Maybe…

Road Trip: Grand Teton National Park

We wanted to spend a night in the backcountry in Grand Teton National Park, but all backcountry stays require a permit. The park saves a portion of the available permits for walk-in hikers, so we thought we had to get to the ranger station right when they opened to be guaranteed a spot. After waking up at 6am and hauling to the park (about an hour drive from Yellowstone) we were the only ones trying to get a permit for that day and got it with ease. Slightly tired, we drove to the trailhead and prepared to hike out to Lower Paintbrush Canyon for the night.

2015-06-05 10.16.18

The camping area was only a few hours from the trailhead, and we reached it with time to do a nice day-hike. We moved further up the canyon, trying to reach Holy lake. The views along the trail were incredible. We were surrounded by mountains on all sides, with lots of snow still visible in the distance.

2015-06-05 12.48.29

Soon we were hiking in snow, too! Straight up the canyon, kicking in to secure our footing.

2015-06-05 13.39.05-2

Time to reach the lake from the campsite: 2 hours
Time to get back to the campsite, hiking down hill, most of it sliding in the snow: 55 minutes
Quite a difference!

We spent the evening cooking and hanging out in camp and went to bed pretty early. In the morning, there was a moose staring into our camp! It noticed us, but didn’t seem to frightened… just went on munching on plants.

2015-06-06 07.41.00

Grand Teton National Park was my favorite wilderness experience of the trip so far, and I recommend anyone who gets a chance to seek it out. I’ll be back in the future to do the Teton Crest trail or some more intense hikes.

Tonight, we’re at a hostel in Teton Village (near Jackson and the park).

Days since last shower: 8
Feeling of a hot, prepared meal: Satisfying and well-deserved.
Sleep in a real bed: Looking forward to it.



Road Trip: Yellowstone National Park

We spent Thursday exploring Yellowstone. My first impression driving into the park: this place is big. Hundreds of miles of road link the different sections of the park together, and it’s hard to plan a trip that visits the major sites in a single day.

First stop: the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone river. Not as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but equally impressive. The massive upper falls are off in the distance from this view of “artist’s point.”

2015-06-04 13.30.46 2015-06-04 13.30.57


Next: Mammoth hot springs. Boiling water fueled by the volcanic activity under Yellowstone flows over the ground, depositing minerals with interesting formations and colors.

2015-06-04 15.35.53

Third: Norris Geyser Basin. The landscape is alive with geysers, some small and some huge!

2015-06-04 17.36.33

We spent a while driving around the park to the different sites, and had some interesting encounters with wildlife.

2015-06-04 18.11.57 2015-06-04 18.44.51Spending the night: Bridge Bay campground. A simple, crowded frontcountry campground in the south side of the park. Nothing too special, actually a little disappointing.



Road Trip: Badlands to Yellowstone + Devil’s Tower

We drove the 500 miles from Badlands to Yellowstone over two days, stopping for a night at the Prune Creek Campground in the Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming. After leaving South Dakota, the drive became a lot more interesting. Flat plains turned into rolling hills, then mountains, with the characteristic Wyoming red sandstone. This was the most enjoyable section of the drive so far.

We stopped by Devil’s Tower, a monoithic National Monument that has been the subject of ancient Indian legend and a hot spot for modern day climbers.

2015-06-03 15.49.41

The tower was actually the result of volcanic activity 40 million years ago. Igneous rock pushed up into the surrounding landscape (all buried by sedimentary rock at the time) and fractured into columns as it cooled. The sedimentary rock eroded over the years, leaving the tower exposed.

Favorite state: Wyoming
Knowledge of geology: getting better
Morning coffee: instant 🙁
Route followed:

Screenshot from 2015-06-06 17:15:07

Road Trip: Backcountry in the Badlands 2

I woke up to sunrise in the Badlands. The landscape here is amazing – rolling prairie fields, towering mesas and sedimentary mountain peaks surround you. I spent a while looking around in the early morning light.

2015-06-02 05.35.10 2015-06-02 05.34.55

That second photo is of a bison surprisingly close to our camp. Definitely not the last one we would see today. After breakfast, we spent a while with the map and compass trying to figure out where we had wandered to camp last night. “Is it declination West, compass best? Or the other way around?”

2015-06-02 08.27.22

We planned a route to explore the landscape and set off into the desert. We trekked through canyons, explored cliffs and navigated through river beds for most of the day.

2015-06-02 09.07.50 2015-06-02 09.18.32
(Angela, are you texting in the backcountry?!)

At one point, we climbed a small hill and came upon a bison a little too close for comfort. We froze and watched as he stared back. Soon, the two bison (one was hidden behind the rocks) charged off to our right. These creatures can weigh almost two tons. It was an exciting, slightly terrifying experience watching the raw power they possess.

2015-06-02 08.58.46

By 1pm, the sun and hot temperatures were almost too much to bare, so we headed back to camp for some shade and lunch. Much to our surprise, there was a bison hanging out by our camp! When he didn’t move after an hour, I sneakily grabbed our tents and we found a new spot to spend the night. Much of the rest of the afternoon was spent lounging around, reading, and napping – the sun was just too hot.

A small storm rolled in after dinner, but passed quickly. If you look carefully, there’s a bison at the end of the rainbow!

2015-06-02 19.30.43


I fell asleep at 9, but by 10:30 another storm was raging outside. I spent the next hour and half sitting in my tent, holding the poles up so the wind didn’t blow it on top of me. Outside, lightning raged and the wind howled. Angela’s tent eventually collapsed, forcing us to relocate to a more sheltered spot. Morning finally came, and we hiked out to the cars.

Badlands was the most inhospitable environment I’ve ever stayed in. Simply maintaining a camp there was a constant battle against
1) High temperatures and constant sun. It’s impossible to get anything done in the afternoon hours, and there aren’t any shady spots you can retire to.
2) Exposure to storms and lightning. It’s hard to find a camp that’s protected from wind and lightning. Staying our there through a storm was honestly frightening.
3) No potable water. There are some rivers in the territory, but the water isn’t safe to drink even after filtering or treating. This means you have to bring a ton of water (see point 1), and even so, I was definitely dehydrated by the time we left.
4) Bison. They will charge and gore you if you’re not careful, and it’s easy to surprise them in this landscape.
5) Mosquitoes. They make everything about just existing in this environment more difficult. By the time I left, the back of my legs were covered in a hundred bites each – no kidding.

I learned a lot about staying in harsh environments after two nights in the Badlands. I was definitely not sad when we got back to the car and on the road again, though!



Road Trip: Backcountry in the Badlands

We arrived at Badlands National Park later in the day on Monday. We planned to spend Monday and Tuesday night out in the backcountry, and stopped by the ranger station to ask for advice on where to stay. Surprisingly, they had little to recommend beyond “well, there’s no trails, so go wherever you want and climb whatever you want.”

Oh, and this great addition: “We haven’t had a rescue yet this season… so if you guys wanted to give us a little action… we would’t mind.”

Badlands National Park: the land of extreme heat, no water, no trails, frequent thunderstorms, massive bison, and rangers who want a reason to go out for a rescue. We were going out for two nights in an area few people backpack in. Great. 

Not deterred by the ranger’s words or reports of thunderstorms rolling in, we drove through the park to find a spot to explore. We parked at “prairie dog town” and got our gear together with the backdrop of a beautiful sunset and rainstorm off in the distance.

2015-06-01 20.08.09


We hiked about a mile to find a suitable spot to camp, trying to balance shelter from the wind, protection form the incoming storm and distance from the mosquitoes.

That’s right, mosquitoes. Let me tell you, the mosquitoes in the Badlands are worse than any other spot on earth. I realized this soon after setting off in to the prairie – I was able to kill five of the buggers with a single slap at the back of my legs. Bug spray didn’t help, and the strong wind was only a slight deterrent. I soon suited up in full pants and rain gear, even though the temperature was still over 70.

Backcountry meal: Annie’s mac’n cheese with homemade canned salmon (delicious)

Lessons learned:  1) “witching hour,” where mosquitoes come out the worst, is a real thing
2) Cacti will stab you if you’re not careful
3) You can get a lot of reading done if your tent is the only suitable place to hang out

Road Trip: Michigan to the Badlands

The next part of the trip had a ton of driving. It was a 9 hour trip from Michigan to my friend’s house in Ames, Iowa where we spent Sunday night. Thanks, Andrew, for the cookout, great beer and letting us spend the night.

We left early Monday morning and had an 8 hour drive to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. This felt like the longest stretch so far – it’s hard to describe how flat the terrain is here. Long, straight stretches of I-90 necessitated loud country music (something about the landscape just makes country feel right, okay?!) and some road-selfies.

2015-06-01 15.28.20

Listing to the radio in this part of the country was an interesting experience. All the ads are about farming: “Need a new grain elevator? Choose my company for the best quality and price!” There were also listings of the daily prices for grains and wheat.

Miles driven past two days: 1200

Roadside yoga sessions: 2

Route followed:

Screenshot from 2015-06-06 15:02:35

Day 2: Rockwood, NY to Lake Orion, MI (and Niagara Falls)

Early start this morning! Which would have been great, had I not forgotten a part of my Aeropress coffee maker at home… If you know me, you know I need coffee in the morning. And not just any coffee – the more labor that went into the cup, the better.

What do you do when you forget something and you’re in the woods? Make due with what you have!

2015-05-30 07.27.22

Coffee: brewed weak

Spirits: Sinking slightly

A four hour drive to the Canadian border, where we stopped to check out Niagara Falls. The amount of water going over these cliffs is mindblowing – a picture doesn’t do it justice. The falls are loud, chaotic, and untamed. They throw mist  into the air hundreds of feet away (surprisingly refreshing, as it was pushing 85 today).

2015-05-30 13.17.22 2015-05-30 13.16.40

Another four hours back into the U.S.A. and to stay with my family in Lake Orion, MI (thank you, Jaacks!).

Miles traveled today: 528

Rainstorms encountered: 2?

Route followed:

Screenshot from 2015-05-30 22:57:37

Road Trip: Day 1

The trip is off to a good start!

Today, I packed up the Saab with camping gear, some leftover food from my apartment,  and my hammock. I left Cape Cod and headed to Scituate, MA to pick up Angela. She’s moving to Seattle, so the car is very full with all of our supplies…

2015-05-29 14.39.31

(Those are just the back seats, you don’t even want to see the trunk)

2015-05-29 14.39.50

Can’t forget the Brown hat!

After a quick last dip in the East Coast water

2015-05-29 14.50.06

We were on our way. Just over a 4 hour drive to a state forest in New York where we spent the night. I had a great place to toss up my hammock in the woods, but not a very restful sleep.

2015-05-30 06.53.09

Miles traveled: 288

Bears spotted: 0

Spirits: high

Route followed

Screenshot from 2015-05-30 22:55:04

Start of a road trip

I have a lot to update on this site… my last post is a year old!

Well, those updates will come. Most recently, I’m starting on a one month road trip of the United States. I’m going to use this blog as a way to share my thoughts, experiences and pictures.

Here is the proposed route I will be taking.

Screenshot from 2015-05-29 12:45:43

Section 1: Sandwich, MA to Seattle WA with Angela Ramponi

Section 2: Seattle, WA to Los Angeles, CA with my girlfriend Lizzy Kinnard

Section 3: Los Angeles, CA back to Sandwich, MA, going solo.

Most of the packing is done and I’m going to be driving off this afternoon. Wish me luck!