Category Archives: outdoors

Sauk County: the Wisconsin river valley

There’s something about driving through the Wisconsin countryside that tugs at my Missouri roots and summer days spent on the family farm.  Between the rolling hills, lush green foliage, water, bluffs, and scenic overlooks this state is beyond picturesque, with the drive from Madison west to Spring Green hovering near the top of my favorite scenic drives list.

I was headed to the lower Wisconsin river valley to camp and visit my friend M who lives in that part of the state. Windows rolled down and wind whipping through my hair, I was belting out the words to TLC’s “don’t go chasing waterfalls” when I realized I’d been here for a year now. A YEAR. It’s strange because that part of my life seems so far out of reach but at the same time like it all happened just yesterday. Time sure does fly. But I digress.

M grew up on a cheese factory farm about 10 minutes outside Spring Green so we took a drive over that way so he could show me where he grew up. Though they weren’t making cheese that day, I at least got my very own personal tour and sampled some of the best sharp cheddar cheese I’ve ever had. Along the inside walls are pictures of the farm dating back to when his grandfather first bought it some 40 years ago. The tanks below were on the farm and they still stand there today so I just had to get a picture with them.


After the cheese factory we went on a hike to St. Ann’s shrine – a sweet hilltop stone chapel dedicated to the mother of Mary. M and I both grew up Catholic so it had special significance for us. When we got there we took off on foot through the cemetery and past the stations of the cross lining a steep trail that went through the woods. There are only a few pews on the inside but sitting there you could feel a strong sense of spiritual presence in the room.



Though I love all these hidden gems, there was one super touristy thing I wanted to do in Spring Green, which was visit the House on the Rock. It is just that – a house on a rock. It’s one of the main attractions in Wisconsin and something I wanted to mark off my bucket list for my county-by-county project. Lucky for me, M had left over tickets from last year so while he went to work for a few hours I wandered my way over to the scenic overlook off Hwy 23 and to section III of the site.

From the scenic overlook you can see the Infinity Room of the house (I would totally pee my pants being up there) and you can’t help but marvel at the architectural genius of Alex Jordan. I think maybe because I didn’t go into the house itself I was confused about what section III was actually about but nonetheless seeing the largest indoor carousel and perusing the collection of old, albeit sometimes creepy, artifacts was pretty cool. I only made it through section III but since tickets are good a year from the date of purchase I have plenty of time to head back and check out the other sections.

View of the infinity room from the scenic overlook off Hwy 23.

View of the infinity room from the scenic overlook off Hwy 23.

Nevermind the creepy figurines on the carousel.

Nevermind the creepy figurines on the carousel.

Another hidden gem M took me to is a diner tucked back in the foothills on a small air landing strip. Here you can enjoy breakfast and watch hangar planes fly in and out. It’s the kind of place where no one is in a rush (it took us two hours to even get our food) but with the extra time we could sit back, drink our coffee, and enjoy the conversation and views.

M was a fabulous tour guide!

M was a fabulous tour guide!

A restaurant named restaurant.

A restaurant named restaurant.


A lot of the activities I got to do were things I would have never even known about if it weren’t for M, which is part of why I love having locals play tour guides wherever I go. One thing I do see as I’m writing this post and looking at the pictures is that I am finally moving forward with my life. It makes my heart full to see happiness in my eyes instead of emptiness and for once in a very long while I know that I’m not pretending to feel that way for the sake of those I am around. Thanks, M, for a great weekend!

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Filed under camping, County project, exploring, friends, happiness, hiking, outdoors, travel

Jackson County: Black River State Forest

Since I’ve been traveling out of state a lot this year, I decided to keep my summer adventures close to home. This past weekend marked the beginning of a summer chock full of camping, hiking, and kayaking adventures, which fits in perfectly with my county by county project. For sure my favorite part of living in Wisconsin is the abundance of outdoor activities available to me in my own backyard. Finally, all that investment in outdoor equipment will pay off!

For the first camping trip of the season, a few friends and I headed 2 1/2 hours north to black bear and timber wolf country, where Black River State Forest offers some of the best hiking, canoeing, and fishing in the state. Our camp site was at East Fork Campground, which is one of the more rustic places to stay as there is no electricity and you have to use vault pumps for fresh water. I prefer rustic sites like these over those close to showers and plumbing, primarily because sites with more amenities mean camp sites are literally sitting on top of one another. Though the sites at East Fork were somewhat spread out, they were still pretty close to one another, which I found to be the only downfall to staying there. Usually I prefer hike-in sites that are off the beaten path (the ones where you carry water in and carry trash out) solely because you’re nestled in the woods and further away from other groups, which means you don’t have to abide by quiet hours or worry about how much noise you’re making. Plus, I appreciate being nestled deep in the woods.

I think back to this trip and I can’t help but laugh at all our misadventures, especially for two of my friends who were camping for the second time ever. I only wish the weather hadn’t taken a turn for the worse – from bright and sunny to a torrential downpour – since I doubt they have any desire to tag along on future trips. Between the abundance of ticks and mosquitoes and the flooding of their tent, I feel bad their introduction into the great outdoors was less than ideal. To quote one of them, “This was the worst night of my life.” Haha.

If anything, I think we all learned the importance of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, as well as investing in quality equipment (especially tents). My buyer’s remorse over a $200 tent? Completely wiped out! That sucker held up in a massive thunderstorm with no leaking whatsoever.

But my most exciting purchase of the season was my kayak, though I will admit it came with its own frustrations. For one, I’m weak in my upper body strength, which means lifting the kayak on top of my vehicle alone is almost impossible. There was a lot of cursing on my end. Plus, my anxiety level went through the roof since I had to keep stopping on the side of the highway to readjust the kayak as it kept popping out of the rack. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos since then to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Hopefully I get it right the next time around. If anything, I’m determined to do all this without needing the help of someone else.

Also, somewhat disappointing is the fact that Miley absolutely hates being in the kayak (actually, hate is an understatement). And, getting her life vest on is a difficult task in and of itself. Basically, I have to wrestle and hold her between my legs. Once I get it on, she makes every attempt to tear it off. She becomes a wild child. On the bright side, she looks super freaking adorable in it!

Though I thought she would love being in the kayak given her love of water, the further out we got from shore, the more she whined and started shaking. Not to mention the fact she nearly flipped me on several occasions (it will happen eventually, I’m sure of it). Plus, she ignored all my commands. I feel like this photo pretty much sums up life with Miley on a daily basis, especially the bottom right box. 🙂


Hopefully her comfort level will change the more we take the kayak out. I mean, it has to!

Despite some of the frustrations of this past weekend’s camping trip, I had a pretty good time. Check out some of our photos below.

BeFunky Collage

BeFunky Collage3

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Filed under camping, County project, kayaking, outdoors, parks, photos

10 ways being an outdoors enthusiast made me a better person

If you’re like me and have a love for the outdoors, you know there is a natural high that comes with summiting a peak, rafting a class V rapid, off-road bicycling, or catching a 40lb fish. One adventure down and you’re likely talking about or planning the next one. Though you may fit any one of a handful of outdoors stereotypes (think hipster, craft beer snob, chaco-wearing, Subaru-driving, granola and organic yogurt kind of person) I have no doubt your heart is big and your enthusiasm for life is what draws others to you. I know this because I’m often told this is what people love about me.

That being said, I was elated to see a request for articles related to Great Outdoors Month (I feel like every month is dedicated to something these days), particularly because no one ever really talks about this subject. I debated on what angle I should take. Since the article request came from Elite Daily I thought I might do one on why you should date an outdoors enthusiast given dating articles seem to be the most successful on that site (did I mention I was named a top contributor for my latest article for them!?!).  But I ended up settling on how my love for the outdoors has helped me grow as a human being. To me, that’s a lot more interesting, but we’ll see what they think! Here is a version of the article I ended up submitting.

1) I have a greater appreciation for the things we often take for granted

When you spend months without a hot shower, sleeping on rocky, hard surfaces, subsisting on beans and rice, or sweating through the last pair of clean clothes on the trail, the moment you get them all back is one of the closest things to paradise you’ll come across. Without access to the niceties of being in the real-world, you find yourself having a greater appreciation for them – running water, a bed,  heating and air conditioning, take out Chinese food. I thank my lucky stars I have access to all of those things and even more that I can afford them.

2) My life is more interesting

When you’ve done a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, rafted the Gauley River in West Virginia, kayaked the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin, or jumped out of an airplane for the first time, you end up with a slew of stories to tell. People are drawn to that sort of excitement and they make great conversation starters. Some of my favorite outdoors stories to tell? That time I got detained in Mexico for looking like a female terrorist on the loose, sailing down the coast of Belize and how I camped on a deserted island, the sensation of being surrounded by howler monkeys in a rain forest, the serenity of coasting through the air with your parachute. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself connecting with more people because of those experiences.

3) I have a greater sense of self

Being in nature provides a lot of opportunity for self-reflection and introspection. You dissect your life, you push your limits, and you come to find that you’re capable of a lot more than you thought you were. Mix that all together and your confidence about who you are, what you want, and what you expect out of life is pretty spot on. I give myself a lot of grief about this but now that I’m not stuck in my own darkness, if you ask me who I am, I can tell you without a moment of hesitation.

4) I put more emphasis on collecting experiences over materialistic things

I know at the end of my life it won’t matter what car I drove or the kind of house I lived in or whether or not I had the latest version of technology equipment. My hunger for adventure means I value creating lasting memories that no one can take away from me. Roasting marshmallows over lava on top of a volcano in Guatemala, seeing bio-luminescence in Puerto Rico, sharing a meal and laughs with friends over a camp fire – all these experiences mean I know what it feels like to truly live, not just exist.

5) I’m more flexible

If you love the great outdoors you know not everything goes as planned. Road conditions, weather, trail closings, injuries – your plans can pretty much change at whim. No matter,  you rarely complain when things go wrong because you know how to make the best out of any situation. Sure, it might suck. But really cool things happen too (I got lost in the Blue Ridge Mountains and came across a bunch of baby bears so cute I could squeeze them!).

6) I’m healthier, physically and mentally

If you’re an outdoors enthusiast then your body is constantly moving – from walking to hiking to kayaking, the energy your body expends being physically active is much higher than those who find themselves glued to the couch. Science has proven that such activity helps fight certain conditions, like cancer, obesity, depression and heart disease. I’d say my quality of life and sense of well-being is probably higher than those toughing it out in the indoors (although don’t get me wrong, I like couch surfing as well).

7) I’ve become a more fun-loving, free-spirited person

People tell me my enthusiasm for life is unparalleled. I’m a free spirit which means I am  always up for last minute adventures. More than that, I have a say yes to most anything attitude and generally speaking just like to have a good time no matter what I am doing. Finding peace in nature means I’m carrying around fewer burdens out in the real-world. People love being around me because of that.

8) I understand the importance of preserving the environment

No one appreciates nature more than an outdoors enthusiast. I know ‘the earth does not belong to man’ and I feel a responsibility to leave behind a healthy environment for future generations. Natural resources are precious and when I’m in the great outdoors, I cause the least amount of harm possible – recycling (I could do better, though), leaving no trace behind and respecting wildlife, to name a few.

9) I am a better girlfriend 

I’m pretty low maintenance and have no problem scrapping the expensive, fancy dinners for a simple hike through the woods or going to the Saturday Farmer’s Market (in fact, I prefer the latter). More importantly, I’m independent (sometimes overly so) and don’t feel like it’s a requirement to spend every waking moment with my significant other, which means I give my partner space to explore their own wants, desires, and needs. I know that each of us are individuals outside of our relationship and that it’s importance to give each other space to cultivate our own uniqueness.

10) I find value in solitude

In everyday society, doing things alone (e.g. going to a movie, eating at a restaurant) is often met with judgment from others. Though being immersed in the outdoors and doing activities with other like-minded people is fun (and truthfully, sometimes necessary for me given my depressive episodes), I find that doing all those things alone every now and then can provide a lot of other benefits. I have ample opportunity to process the events of my life; I get inspired to write sitting next to a lake, nurturing my own creativity; I’m better able to connect with others, and; I’m not afraid to be alone with myself because I know that aloneness does not equal loneliness.

Even if my love for the outdoors has made me a hipster, craft beer snob, chaco-wearing, Subaru-driving, granola and organic yogurt kind of person (to be clear I don’t drive a Subaru but would really love one!), at least it makes me a more well-rounded, caring, and loving friend, daughter, sister, aunt, and coworker.

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Filed under adventure, outdoors, travel