Lessons Learned from Two Weeks on the Road

Over the summer we spent two weeks on the road traveling from Southern Arizona to Northwestern Montana. If you’d like to read about our trip you can check out these posts – Great Basin National ParkGlacier National Park, & Route of the Hiawatha Mountain Bike Trail.

We had a lot of firsts on this trip. This was the first time we camped for two weeks straight, the first time we lived out of a cooler for two weeks, the first time we spent three days driving to a destination, and the first time we decided to drive to a remote destination over a holiday weekend without reservations. Overall we consider this trip a success but we did learn a few things.

  1. Always have reservations. Even if you make them on the fly. We changed up our plans and left Glacier National Park a few days early so that we could ride the Route of the Hiawatha Mountain Bike Trail. We were having trouble making reservations for the new area due to a lack of internet access in and near Glacier National Park. Our plan worked out in the end but it was a super stressful day. This experience reenforced why I spend so much time planning and why we always opt for locations that accept reservations.

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    Our eventual destination, dispersed camping near the Route of the Hiawatha Trailhead

  2. Don’t overpack food. It’s easier to control food costs when I can shop sales and stock up before we leave town. I finally realized that I need to stop taking so much food. We usually come home with quite a bit of extra and sometimes we get sick of eating a specific item I had purchased in bulk. For our next big trip, I will plan meals ahead of time but buy the ingredients every couple of days. The following two pictures are what we took on our trip this summer and it filled two large plastic containers, two bags, and two coolers. I think I might have overpacked. 😉
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    Dry goods

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    Cooler food

  3. Long drive days are only good for the first day or two. We typically drive one to two days at a time, but this trip we drove for three. Three full days on the road was one day too many. By the time we made it to our destination we were all really cranky (me more so than the others :/). The first part of our next day, our first day in Glacier National Park, was spent recuperating from being in the car for so long. If we ever choose to go so far away again I will make sure to find a destination to stop at for a day or two along the way.

    Welcome to Montana: The Big Sky state

    Welcome to Montana and blue sky for days

  4. Know what activities you want to do ahead of time. I typically know what we want to do ahead of time and have it mapped out before we arrive. This time around I decided to be a little less rigid and thought it would be fun to involve the family in planning a little more so than usual. My plan was to huddle around the park brochure at our campsite and plan our hiking and boating excursions. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. At Glacier National Park, our first destination,the hiking brochure is separate from the park newspaper. At every other of the 25 national parks we’ve been to the brochures are one in the same. Of course we didn’t know this and spent the first half of our time in Glacier trying to figure out what to do. Our first trip to the visitor center resulted in only a park newspaper and Junior Ranger packets. I am disappointed that the ranger did not tell us there was a separate brochure for hiking. Typically I don’t care about internet connectivity in parks but since I didn’t plan our activities and the brochures didn’t have the information we needed, internet connectivity would have been nice. We even drove out of the park to try and use the internet but we did not have service. Long story short, I will resume preplanning so that this doesn’t happen again.

    Driving Going-to-the-Sun Road is the one activity we knew we wanted to go ahead of time and it did not disappoint.

    Driving Going-to-the-Sun Road is the one activity we knew we wanted to do ahead of time and it did not disappoint

  5. Lakes have mosquitoes. We live in the desert and hardly ever visit lakes. Thus, we were not prepared for the large numbers of mosquitos at the Fish Creek Campground in Glacier National Park. The campground was gorgeous. It was wooded and green and only a few steps from Lake McDonald, but there were so many mosquitos. When I made the reservation I thought it’d be neat to camp on the edge of lake. It was, but next time I’d probably choose a campground not right on the lake.

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    Our gorgeous campsite right on the edge of Lake MacDonald. The lake is just on the other side of the trees.

If you would like to share any lessons from the road please do so!

Cooler Fail: How Not to Pack a Cooler

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This summer we spent two weeks on the road, which is not uncommon for us, but we camped for the entire two weeks. And that means we lived out of a cooler for two weeks. I had a great food plan for our trip. Unfortunately, our cooler did not like my plan.

I saw something online recently where someone suggested freezing smoothies and using them like ice in the cooler. It sounded like a good idea so I thought I would try that but with our dinner foods. Frozen meat has to stay cold longer than frozen smoothie, right? Heads up: it was an epic fail. I’m not sure if it would have worked if we had a better cooler or if it was just a bad idea altogether. Either way, I won’t make that mistake again.

Here’s what we did (and what you should not do). We took two coolers – a smaller one for the frozen foods and a larger one for everything else. Our hope was that by freezing the dinner foods, packing the cooler full of ice, and not opening the top of the smaller cooler except for once a day, that the food would stay frozen. Nope. Didn’t happen. Several days into the trip and everything had thawed. I had to make five nights worth of food in one night. Even then some of it got thrown away. It was a total bummer.

Prior to our trip I made hamburger patties and froze them; I measured ground beef and chicken and froze it in bags according to how much we would need for each meal; I made spaghetti sauce and froze it; and I made a pot roast the day before we left. Everything frozen went in the little cooler and non frozen in the big cooler. That was supposed to be dinner for an entire week.

Edited Food Picture

What did we learn from this? For starters, taking perishable food for an entire week just isn’t possible. At least not with our current cooler. Going forward we will plan to shop every three days. I throw away food on every single camping trip because it ends up water logged, thawed too early, or gets mushy from being in the cooler. My veggies always get weird. I assume it’s because they’re directly on the ice.

The problem with shopping while traveling is that it can be hard to control food costs and stores do not always carry what you’re used to/want. While traveling through Montana this summer, we stopped at the only store in a small town to stock up on dinner foods and they only had beef products. That’s a lie, they had frozen whole chickens. I am not opposed to beef but I prefer not to eat it every night. In the end though, buying food every couple of days is probably cheaper than replacing entire coolers full of food.

Here’s a tip: always put your food in plastic bags. Basically, you want to double bag everything. As soon as the ice starts to melt the water will get in everything. I cannot tell you how many items I’ve had to throw away though the years because they’ve become waterlogged. Last summer we were nearing the end of our trip and stopped at the store to buy food for the last several days of our trip. I was being lazy and just wrapped the chicken up in the grocery bag and stuck it in the cooler. I meant to put it in a Ziplock bag when we got back to our campsite but forgot. The ice melted and the raw chicken had cooler water in the package. Which meant it’s possible everything else in the cooler was touched by raw chicken water. We had to throw almost everything in the cooler away. Don’t be like Caroline. Double bag your cooler items. Even things like butter and hummus go in bags.

What would we do differently next time? Before our next big road trip we will buy a better cooler. I have shied away from purchasing a Yeti cooler because, frankly, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would pay so much for a cooler. I now understand why. Cheaper coolers are fine for weekend trips or day events. If you plan to travel for more than a couple days invest in a good cooler. We were on the road for two weeks this summer. We had to add ice to our cooler every single day. Ice costs $3 – $5 a bag and we need two bags at a time. We spent well over $100 on ice. $100 on frozen water plus all the food I thew away. A Yeti is looking better and better.

If someone from Yeti happens to be reading this and you’d like to send me one to try out, I’d be happy to send you my mailing address. 😉

The three takeaways from this post:

  • Don’t freeze meat and use it like ice or expect it to stay frozen
  • Double bag everything in the cooler
  • Buy a good cooler if you plan to spend more than a couple days on the road

If you have any cooler tips to share I’d love to hear them!

A Beginners Thoughts on Mountain Biking

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you may have noticed my fairly recent love affair with mountain biking. If you are new to mountain biking or are interested in trying it out this post is for you. By no means am I an expert but I will share what I’ve learned over the past year. Last summer, I bought a mountain bike so that I could ride around the neighborhood with my kids. I never expected to love riding as much as I do. Truth be told, I have always been scared of bikes. The thought of getting on something that I could easily fall off of seemed like a terrible idea. The good news is that I no longer feel this way. In fact, I feel the opposite!

img_0999I have fallen in love with mountain biking. By no means am I a good rider but I have come a long way from where I was when I started. I can now ride on a narrow path in between cactus without fear of falling into it. I have learned that your bike goes where your eyes are. If your eyes are on the cactus, your bike will soon be in the cactus. I have also started riding through smaller dips/washes/ditches and am feeling much more comfortable standing up and riding down hills. Overall, I feel 100% more confident than when I started, but I still have a ways to go. One ride at a time I am going to become the mountain biker I want to be.

img_0855When I started riding, one thing I quickly realized is that there are different levels of beginner. I started as a super beginner, like didn’t really even know how to ride a bike beginner. I rode occasionally as a kid but it’s been 20 years since I’ve been on a bike. When I went to the bike shop to purchase my bike the salesman sent me on a test ride and told me to be sure to shift through the gears. I had no idea how to even do that or what he was talking about when he was explaining the small and large rings and about not crossing the chain over. I nervously got on the bike and rode really slow because I was afraid I would break the bike if I shifted wrong. I am thrilled to say that I now know how to shift and what the heck he was talking about! It’s about small victories, my friends. 🙂

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Similarly to hiking, mouthing biking gets you off the beaten path and out in nature. I’ve come across so many beautiful landscapes on my bike, like in the pictures above and below. The desert is even more beautiful when no one else is around. 🙂

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These are my top four lessons learned. If I could go back and start over this is what I would do differently. Except for #1. I did that right the first time. While these tips are good for everyone, if you are in the super beginner category like me I would highly recommend all of the following. These tips will significantly shorten the learning curve.

  1. Go to your local bike shop and get fitted for a bike. We started on basic mountain bikes that were not much more expensive than the bikes being sold at the big boxed stores. Also, I am 100% positive I would have purchased the wrong size bike had I not gone to a bike shop for guidance. Wrong sized equipment can lead to injury later on down the road.
  2. Take a few lessons. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t take lessons sooner. I spent a solid four months riding (incorrectly and causing injury) before I found a local mountain biking coach and took a couple one-on-one lessons. Best. Decision. Ever. My city offers beginning mountain biking classes a couple times a year, as do the local mountain biking groups. I thought about taking one of these classes but the dates never matched up with my schedule. Also, being such a newb I preferred one-on-one. Do whatever makes you most comfortable, but if you’re in the super newb category like me be sure to take a few lessons. Learning proper form makes a huge difference. I was always afraid of falling off my bike. Once I learned where my body needs to be based upon the obstacle my riding improved dramatically. If you shift your weight to the proper place your chances of falling off decrease significantly.
  3. Take a bike maintenance class. I actually only just took this class a couple weeks ago. Again, I wish I had taken it sooner. I learned so much and am signed up for a second class later this month that will delve into more advanced topics. Our local REI offers bike maintenance classes regularly. If yours does not or you do not have an REI, reach out to your local mountain biking club and see if they know of anyone offering a class. I now know how to change a tire! I haven’t actually changed one yet but I am fairly confident I could do it. I should probably practice this. 😉
  4. Get a bike fit. I heard this quite often but wasn’t sure what exactly this meant or if it would be helpful. Truth be told…I have only had a partial fit. I need to call and schedule a full bike fit. I was recently at an event where they were doing bike fits and I found the short time I spent with the guy really helpful. He suggested that I schedule a full bike fit because I need a little extra help. Prior to my partial bike fit, I had been experiencing a lot of pain in my wrist. I have not had any trouble since he gave me suggestions for better form. At a minimum, I would suggest a bike fit or lessons as a start for anyone in the super beginner category.

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Here are a couple other helpful tips:

  • Look for local mountain biking groups to ride with. They usually offer rides for all skill levels and some even offer skill building classes. Bell Helmets has started a women’s only mountain biking program in a handful of cities called Bell Joy Ride. I am fortunate to have one in my city and it’s always a great time. They ride once a month at different trails around town. Riding with others is a great way to improve your skills.
  • Beginner trails are not always trails for beginners. As I mentioned before, there are different levels of beginner. When I first started riding, the beginner trails were too hard for me. Don’t be discouraged if you are in the same boat I was. Work on building your skills and soon enough you’ll be able to ride the trails. Also, there is no shame in walking. Don’t be afraid to hop off your bike and walk. I don’t mind walking but I typically get really frustrated when I do more walking than riding. Actually, now that I think about it, the beginner trails were hard for me because I didn’t really know how to ride my bike. It wasn’t until I took a few lessons and learned proper form and the mechanics of my bike that I really understood how to ride the trails. Maybe the lesson should be that if the beginner trails are too hard for you, that you need a few lessons. Yes, that’s the lesson here. 🙂
  • MTB Project is a great app/website for finding local MTB trails.
  • FYI…cycling is addicting, as is buying cycling accessories and bike parts. You might want to start a savings jar now.

We purchased mountain bikes for our kids and one of our favorite family activities is to go riding. Our town has a 100 mile paved path that goes around the outside edge of town. We love riding different sections together or hitting the mountain bike park down the street from our house. There are a handful of easy trails that the kids can ride. The kids are not morning riders so they have not ridden much over the summer. For some reason they do not enjoy getting up at 5:30am to ride. 😉 We are looking forward to the cooler weather so we can all get out again.

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Have you tried mountain biking? What did you think? If you are new to riding or interested in getting started and have any questions let me know.

Lessons From Our First Backpacking Trip

We embarked on our first backpacking trip recently and chose White Sands National Monument as the location. One of the reasons we selected White Sands for this trip is because the backcountry sites are only 3/4 – 1 mile from the parking lot. You are walking through sand dunes but overall it is not a hard or long hike. We learned so much from this trip and I thought I would share our lessons learned in case backpacking is of interest or in case you would like to laugh at some of our silly mistakes. Read more

My Favorite Things: Summer Edition

We just spent a week with all of our camping gear and there were several things I kept saying I loved so I thought I would make a list. These are in no particular order. Read more

Top 5 Car Travel Tips

Last year we put 6,000 miles on our car just from travel.  The majority of those miles were from our epic road trip last summer.  As I reflected on our travels and the time we spent in the car, I came up with a list of my top car travel tips. Read more

Traveling With Dietary Restrictions

You may or may not know that I have several dietary restrictions.  A couple years ago I was diagnosed with several food allergies, the most common being dairy, gluten and eggs.  This makes traveling complicated.  If I am being honest, it makes eating in general complicated but being away from my kitchen for any extended period of time is tough.  I have made huge strides and am determined to figure out how to travel without having a food melt down.
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Tips for planning a road trip

I do a fair amount of research when planning a road trip.  I often drive The Husband crazy until I have all the details figured out.  I become consumed in learning all that I can about the places we are going so that I can design the perfect itinerary.  Lets call it vacation planning OCD. Read more