Gimme Shelter! (AT Style)

We found the Tucker Johnson Shelter at the cold halfway point of a recent hike on the Appalachian/Long Trail south of Pico Mountain, just when we needed it. We had hiked a mile and a half up the mountain, to a point where the wind was becoming quite biting on a crisp November afternoon, so we were happy to take refuge in this three-sided building.

The Tucker Johnson Shelter

The trail guide that I use said that a shelter was going to be built sometime “after 2012,” and the building was a welcome sight. The shelter looked brand new, its blond wood barely weathered.

I did a little digging and discovered that the shelter was constructed by Green Mountain Club volunteers in fall 2018. (Read the story here.)

The shelter was open on one side, and had four bunk beds. A sign on the wall instructed hikers on how to hang their food so they wouldn’t attract unwelcome bear scavengers. There was even a privy (outdoor toilet) nearby, the lap of luxury for through-hikers.

I imagine a night of shelter can be a welcome respite in the middle of a long hike.

Graffiti Storytelling

There was very little graffiti on the inside, attesting to the youth of the structure, but we enjoyed the stories the etchings told.

Trail Book Storytelling

Inside, we found a sign-in book inside a sealed plastic bag, with lots of travelers’ comments as they stopped for shelter along the trail.

I enjoyed flipping through the book, where travelers with nicknames like V for Vendetta, Missing Person, andEarly Bird shared snippets of their lives on the trail. The first entry was in July 2109. The last was the one I left, signed by “The Hammster,” my new trail name.

Here are a few of the entries. If you click on individual pictures, they will expand so that you can read them better.

Choose Love

The last thing I noticed was a heart-shaped, painted stone that someone had left in the shelter. Choose love, my friends.

Migrating Loons at First Snow

I kayaked Lake Rescue in 29 degrees this morning to see how it looked with its trees, some still fall-tinged, cloaked in soft early snow, and encountered an astonishing 25 loons swimming together back and forth in the south end.

I assume they were a migrating group that came from the Adirondack lakes and were gathering up others on their way migrating to the Atlantic coast. They made no sound, just swam together, occasionally craning their necks or ruffling their wings.

In the end, they took to the air, flying together in three or four glorious circles around the lake, sometimes, right over my head, before heading off to parts unknown.

Goodbye, loons. Safe travels. Thanks for the memories. See you next year!

Addendum: I have since learned that these birds are in fact not loons but white-winged scoters. Still stunning.

Fall Foliage in Clarendon Gorge

Yesterday we hiked on the Appalachian Trail, heading south at the Clarendon Gorge South trailhead. We hiked this during the summer, and after noticing while running errands in Rutland that this valley was still at its fall foliage peak, we decided to head over and see how it looked in full autumn regalia.

The Suspension Bridge

This hike is interesting from the very first quarter-mile because you cross the Bob Brugmann Suspension Bridge, which was built in the late 1970s and named for a close hiking pal of my friend Welles Lobb who was swept to his death while crossing the gorge as a teen. From the middle of this shaky bridge, you have outstanding views in both directions of the Clarendon Gorge Falls, a popular day trip for local residents. At the end of the hike we passed some through-hikers bathing in the low waters of the gorge (but respectfully did not take any pictures of their bare asses).

Bob Brugmann Suspension Bridge

The Trail

Turn right immediately after crossing the bridge and you begin the steep ascent onto the Appalachian/Long Trail. Warning: This trail is never not steep. This is not a hike for the faint of heart. It is difficult and rocky in parts, and extremely slippery. My new hiking poles came in handy, and even Bob pulled out his for the descent. But it is worth it for the rugged beauty of the forest you pass through.

The Views

We were rewarded with outstanding views from the two vistas along the ridge, which look west through a valley that hosts Rutland Regional Airport below. The day was so clear that we could easily see the orange-brushed Adirondacks in the distance.

The Planes! The Planes!

Our timing in reaching the vistas was perfect because we saw two planes taking off — one a puddle jumper and one a jet, probably filled with New Yorkers going home after the long Indigenous Peoples Day weekend.

We heartily recommend this hike to anyone visiting southern Vermont!

The Birds of Lake Rescue, Vermont

We have been summering at Lake Rescue in Ludlow, Vermont, and the sheer magnitude of the wild birds that make their home on and around this 184-acre body of water in the Green Mountains is breathtaking. The secret to seeing the most avian activity is to rise early and get out on the lake, preferably in a kayak, to observe the birds’ early-morning fishing routines before the human population begins to intrude. Here are a few.

(If you click on the pictures, they will expand to full size.)

Duck Duck Goose

Ducks and geese are by far the most common bird we have found on the lake. They are bold and will swim right up to your boat or climb on your dock.

Loons

Common loons have been living on Lake Rescue for more than a decade.

Herons

I was fortunate to encounter Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets fishing early in the morning on Round Pond, at the north end of Lake Rescue. The grasses on the isthmus between the lake and the Black River, and the sand bar created by storms, provide and enticing place for birds to walk and fish.

Ospreys

We discovered ospreys, on the direction of a neighbor, in a cove near the Red Bridge.

Bald Eagle

A bald eagle family maintains a nest in a cove near Discovery Island, and returns year after year to hatch new eggs.

Easy Hikes to the Top of the World

Vermont has an endless bounty of hikes, from the challenging Appalachian/Long Trail that traverses the entire state, to short hikes with big rewards. All of them are steep, because these are the Green Mountains, after all!

Here a couple we enjoy that can be done with the kids, or with people in your party who aren’t used to long hikes. Both will reward you with outstanding views for not too much effort. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars or a camera!

Hike to the Top of Okemo

There’s a short hike to the top of the Okemo Mountain Road that gives you an awesome vantage point with less than a mile of hiking. You can hike through dense, magical woods up a steep, rocky trail, or you can hike up a relatively easy road. At the top you have a mountain-top view from the Okemo Peak that lets you gaze down upon the Village of Ludlow, Lake Rescue, and mountains all the way to New Hampshire. You’ll see the ski lift and can climb to the top of the Fire Tower (if you’re not afraid of heights). It’s less than a mile round trip. There are some pull-offs with scenic views on the way down. Learn more.

Directions to the Trailhead:

Turn left on Route 100, then left at the end. Make a right onto Okemo Mtn Rd. Drive up to the Okemo Lodge, continuing up the private road to its left (OPEN from late spring to late fall). This road will switchback straight up the mountain for about 4-5 miles until you reach the top. You’ll be able to park at the end and either walk on the road or go up the trail to the left.

Echo Lake Vista Trail

Children as young as five can successfully navigate the hike up the Echo Lake Vista Trail. It’s steep but not brutal, and the views of Echo Lake, okemo Mountain, and the whole area from the top are breathtaking. there’s a nice rock there where you can relax and enjoy a snack. It’s only 1.5 miles round-trip. Learn more.

Directions:

The trail is located at Camp Plymouth State Park Distance. Go north on Route 100 (turn right from Benson Point), North, then turn right onto Kingdom Road at the Echo Lake Inn, follow 1 mile to Boy Scout Camp Road, and turn left to Camp Plymouth State Park. Park for free in a parking lot on the right before the road crosses the creek. The trailhead is past the cabins on the right, or you can go farther on the road and access the trail by old wooden steps that take you through an ancient cemetery.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

OK, so we can’t go to movies. We can’t go to restaurants. We can’t explore new cities, make new friends, photograph churches, practice Spanish, soak up the culture. But we can get outside and explore nature!

So while we have been living in Grandma’s condo in Mechanicsburg, PA, this Spring and summer, we at Messy Suitcase have been spending a lot of time on foot exploring the Appalachian Trail here. You can access an interactive map to get info about the trail in your region, if you live in the northeast United States.

Here are a few facts about the AT:

Total Length: 2,190 Miles

Number of States the ATTraverses: 14

Approximate Gain/Loss in Elevation: 464,500 Feet

Visitors Each Year: 3 Million

Here in Cumberland County, the trail has its lowest, flattest stretches, but there are still some hills to climb. Much of it runs along the Conodoguinet Creek.

How to Hike Safely in the Age of COVID-19

We have several rules we follow when hiking. We wear lightweight gators around our necks to pull up for use as masks should we pass anyone. We start early (to avoid heat) or hike during off-peak times because NO ONE else bothers to mask. We move well off the trail to let people pass. We wear long pants because of ticks. We are gluttons when we pass wild black raspberry or wild raspberry patches.

Frozen Pineapple Margarita

If you can’t be adventuring because of COVID-19, then it’s time to go on some journeys of the palate! So last night I created Frozen Pineapple Margaritas. I didn’t have Triple Sec but Simple Syrup did the trick. Here is the recipe:

Ingredients

frozen pineapple margarita
  • 1 cup ice
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapples
  • 1 1/2 ounces tequila (White is recommended but reposado is also delicious)
  • 1 ounce triple sec (or Simple Syrup)
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • Garnish: Slice of lime

Instructions:

  • In a blender chop ice and pineapples. You may need to add lime juice at this stage.
  • Add other ingredients.
  • Blend until smooth.
  • Poor into chilled class with lime garnish.
  • Enjoy!

Makes 1 margarita. Obviously multiply the recipe to make more. A blender will have enough room for three. Feel free to add extra ice depending on how thick you like your margaritas and how hot it is outside.

5 minutes

The Coronavirus, Grandma’s Condo and Toilet Paper

When the coronavirus started to get serious, my husband Bob and I were at a Mexican resort, trying to take one last vacation before the world shut down, unable to enjoy watching pelicans dance with the waves because of worry.

Acapulco was gorgeous but we were too worried to enjoy it, and left early to start the journey home

Our oldest child, Aryk, was hunkered down at Keele University in England, one of the last students still on campus, trying to decide if coming home would disrupt their chances to graduate this summer. Our youngest, Gavin, was in Vermont, gathering up their things (and their emotional support cat) from college.

Bob and I had stopped working full-time in 2018, envisioning an adventurous retirement spent exploring the world. We rented out our house and happily hit the road. The kids went to college. We explored Mexico. Life was good.

But the coronavirus changed everything. In a blink of an eye, we needed a family home, and to reel in the kids, ASAP. Since Bob’s mom had passed away in January, we decided to move into her Pennsylvania condo instead of selling it. We hustled to purchase plane tickets for kids before borders closed, flew from Acapulco to Mexico City, packed up our truck, and began the five-day, 2,500-mile odyssey north from Mexico City to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

Thus all four of us journeyed toward the empty condo of a dead woman from different points on the globe.

Bob and I, driving 8-10 hours a day in our trusty Toyota Tacoma, worried about picking up the virus from every gas pump, every hotel room door, every person who coughed near us in a rest stop on our way to the bathroom. Shoulders tight, we fretted that the Mexican border would close before we got through, that we would get sick or be stopped and quarantined along the way, that we wouldn’t be able to get food to eat.

When we crossed the border into the United States, I cried with relief.

At the same time, we worried that our kids would pick up the virus as they traveled. Gavin had to fly from Mexico City (where they were visiting us for Spring Break) back to Champlain College to pick up their books, clothes and their emotional support cat, then from Burlington, VT, to Harrisburg, PA. Aryk had to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Atlanta , GA, before boarding a plane to Harrisburg. Both then had to take Ubers to Grandma’s condo.

Gavin arrived at the condo first. He was already experiencing coronavirus symptoms by the time Aryk showed up a few days later. They wisely isolated from each other as Bob and I powered northward, white-knuckled. By our final travel day, Gavin was coughing and feverish. Of course, we ran into a traffic jam in the last few hours to further exacerbate the tension.

Gavin with his trusty cat in Grandma’s condo, getting his temperature taken

But now we are together, and I am grateful. Gavin is on Day 10 of what we presume is the coronavirus (though the PA State Health Department declined to test him), still with a fever, extreme dehydration and no energy, but thankfully, the disease has not lodged in his lungs. The rest of us have no symptoms, but Bob and I are keeping six feet away from Aryk for 14 days, just to be safe. I serve Gavin meals and meds and massive pitchers of water wearing a hospital mask and rubber gloves, and pray I don’t catch it. We all wash hands and doorknobs voraciously. When Gavin is no longer ill, the 14-day quarantine clock will begin for us all.

Out walking with Aryk, always six feet apart

Every day that the three of us don’t experience symptoms is a victory. Every tick down of Gavin’s thermometer is a relief, though the subsequent day it always goes back up, so we are not out of the woods yet. We are all quarantined, getting food delivered and staying inside except to exercise.

But I’m grateful we are together, that we have a place to stay that feels like home. I’m grateful that Grandma left us some unexpected gifts, in addition to the condo, such as two thermometers, and masks and gloves to protect me from Gavin’s virus. I even found an electric keyboard in a closet, which will keep me busy for the next year re-learning how to play. I think Bob’s mother would be happy to know that, in death, she is taking care of her family so well.

Grandma’s unexpected gift

Most of all, I am grateful to be with my husband and kids. I pray we all make it through unscathed, not just the ones in my household, but my stepmom and six brothers and sisters, their spouses, my nieces (one pregnant) and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, aunts and uncles, and many, many cousins. Traveling the world seems like a distant memory. Now my dream is that my family and friends survive this and we can all restart our lives next year.

And I am eternally grateful that Grandma hoarded toilet paper.

By Lisa
Hamm-Greenawalt

Drive to Mexico 2020

Our second time driving across the Mexican border was a bit different from the first, even though we used the same crossing – Colombia Solidarity Bridge in Laredo, Texas.

Getting Us Into Mexico

The first time we crossed, in January 2019, we had Mexican Visas, the first step in attaining Temporary Residency in Mexico, because we expected to stay long-term. This time, our Temporary Residencies had accidentally expired because of the extra time we spent in the States taking care of my sick mother, and we knew we are going to stay less than three months, so we entered with Tourist Visas.

The difference was that this time, we each had to pay a Tourist Visa fee at a cost of $575 MXN, about $390 US. (Note that this fee is included in your airline ticket fee when you fly into Mexico). This entailed the initial stop at Immigration office, a stop to pay at the Banjercito window, and then another stop at Immigration to finalize our paperwork.

Getting our Truck Into Mexico

Next, we had to get the Temporary Import Permit for our car. This cost $400 USD, which is supposed to be reimbursed when you leave Mexico, plus a processing fee of approximately $51 USD. I wasn’t as prepared this time as I was previously and I had left copies of my driver’s license and passport buried in a folder in the back of the truck, so we chose to stand in the copy line at the border facility and get those copied.

Registering the truck

Next, we had to drive through Customs. It seemed as if every car was chosen for inspection, and ours was no exception.

Inspecting the Cats

This time was that they asked for documentation for the cats. We were traveling with only two because Ellie, the third, was now living at Champlain College in Vermont with Gavin, our youngest. Effective January 1, 2020, you no longer need a Certified Health Certificate to bring a cat into Mexico, but they can physically inspect the cats for open sores, health problems, etc., and you need to prove they have rabies vaccines. The Inspector made us pull out the paperwork, which unfortunately was stored in the far reaches of the truck, entailed a near-total unpacking. He very thoroughly reviewed the paperwork.

Noxy and Kaylee patiently waited during the truck inspection

X-Raying the Truck

Next, Lisa and the cats had to get out of the truck while I, once again, drove it through the x-ray machine. Once they reviewed the x-rays, we were free to go.

The truck x-ray machine
Our truck is inside this x-ray machine

In the end, it took us about 1.5 hours at Mexican Immigration and Customs. Fortunately, there weren’t lines (which is why we like Colombia), or this could have been much longer.

Welcome to Mexico!

And then we were in Mexico! We didn’t take time to celebrate, but pressed forward to get to our first night’s lodging before dark.

Lisa’s favorite sign

We drove about 6 hours to Matehuala, where we had a reservation at the same cat-friendly motel we stayed at last time, Las Palmas Midway Inn in Matehuala.

Our new Garmin GPS seemed to under-estimate our travel time, by about an hour both days. We didn’t run into traffic either day, so that wasn’t the issue. Maybe it was the fact that many of the Mexican roads we drove on incessantly changed speed limits, going anywhere from 110 kph to 60 kph and back. It may be difficult for the GPS to deal with that along with the fact that there may be few people driving those routes and providing route time feedback. It could also be that we drive the speed limit while many Mexican drivers don’t necessarily do that. I don’t really know how the GPS time estimation works, so this is all just a guess.

We love our new Garmin GPS

Another thing that may impact the time estimation is the number of toll booths. Overall, we passed through 10 of these booths at a total cost of $924 MXN, or about $50 USD.

Stopped by the Mexican Cops (the Federales)

Finally, the last thing that was different on this trip was we were stopped by the Federal Police on two occasions. The first of these seemed to be more friendly. The second one was at an organized Federal Police checkpoint. Here they pulled over several people and performed inspections. They asked me 3 times if I had weapons or drugs (armas, pistolas, drogas) and then had me open the back of the truck and open selected suitcases, even going to the point of asking me where my shoes were in one of them, which I had to subsequently dig out. They also frisked me. Asking me to empty my pockets, patting me down and having me lift up my pant legs. So, that was a different experience than last time as we weren’t selected for the inspections as we drove through several of those checkpoints before.

Nonetheless, we arrived in Mexico City with enough time to unload, park the car and find an extremely nice restaurant to have a couple of beers, dinner and watch the Super Bowl (in Spanish).

Locking our Love Forever with Love Locks

Happy Valentine’s Day! We wanted to celebrate the annual day of love by sharing the story of our love locks.

A couple of weeks ago, Bob and I attached a little gold padlock to the new Love Lock Bridge near the Riverwalk in San Antonio to lock our love forever, then kissed and took a selfie to mark the occasion. On our lock was written in Sharpie “RG & LH,” inside a hand-drawn heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow. The bridge was actually a chainlink fence along the San Antonio River, but it was covered with hundreds of locks of other couples declaring their undying love.

It was the 15th time we have declared our forever love by placing a lock on a bridge. Normally we are not super-sentimental people, but love locks are a ritual we have grown to cherish during our travels, leaving our mark on bridges and walls all over the United States, Europe and Mexico (so far).

Paris, France

It all started in the summer of 2016, when I was planning to accompany Gavin’s scout troop on a week in the romantic city of Paris. Before we left, Bob gave me a padlock and asked me to write our initials on it and hang it on the Pont des Arts Bridge, which was famous for having so many lovers’ padlocks affixed to it that it groaned under the weight, and authorities had had to cut them off. He had seen the bridge during a weekend he spent alone in Paris during a business trip, and thought it would be nice to have our own lock there.

Surprised and touched by this rare sentimentality, I happily obliged. After the troop set off for the next leg of their trip, Switzerland, I went down to the River Seine and searched for the love locks. The city had decommissioned the Pont des Arts Bridge in 2015 because of the weight of the locks, so I went to the Pont Neuf. It was covered with thousands of lovers’ padlocks tumbling down the banisters and onto the railings of the river walls beyond. Across the River Seine from where I stood was a magnificent view of the Louvre. I locked our padlock, blew a kiss to Bob across the ocean, and took pictures. I’m sure if the locks get too heavy, authorities will cut them off again. But until then, RG & LH will grace the Pont Neuf in Paris, the city of lovers.

Paris

It was a grand, and small, gesture of love. It felt good. It made me think about why I had married this man, what we had experienced together, and how special our life was.

Hamburg, Germany

Three years later, we were visiting my brother Patrick in Hamburg, Germany, and walking along the Elbe River when we saw another bridge covered with lovers’ locks. We didn’t realize the tradition had expanded beyond Paris. Since we were leaving the country the next day, we went and found a hardware store to buy a lock, wrote RG & LH with a Sharpie and enlisted Patrick to hang it for us. A few weeks later, he sent a photo of our lock on the bridge. (Thanks, Pat!)

Hamburg

And with that, we were off, searching for love lock bridges, or creating our own, everywhere we went, together or apart. While on a five-week tour through Europe, we hung locks everywhere.

London, England

In London, we strolled across the pedestrian Jubilee Bridge and listened to a street musician playing Caribbean steel drums while we snapped our padlock in a spot all its own and kissed above the Thames River.

Rome, Italy

After a long day of sightseeing as a family in Rome, when Gavin’s and my feet were aching from miles of walking, Bob trekked back in the rain to hang a lock over the Tiber River. 

Rome

Sorrento, Italy

Farther south in Sorrento, on a solo weekend trip while I was off doing genealogy searching with some Italian cousins, Bob discovered an iron fence with love locks along the Mediterranean coastline about a mile from his hotel during his morning run. He spent the afternoon searching for a padlock and a Sharpie, but a torrential downpour forced him to wait to return until the next morning, when a break in the rain gave him time to quickly walk there and fix the lock in place before heading for the train station.

Sorrento

Hydra, Greece

In Greece, during a daylong boat trip, Hydra, an idyllic fishing village where bleached-white houses climb up the mountainside from the azure Mediterranean, offered herself as an entrancingly scenic host to our love lock.

Ludlow, Vermont

The tradition continued when we returned to North America. First, we affixed a love lock to a bridge in Ludlow, Vermont, where we have our second home.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Then we headed down to live in Mexico for the first six months of 2019. During a two-night on break the road trip south, we took the streetcar to hang a lock on a chain-link fence in New Orleans, under a banner that read Love Locks NOLA in front of the Eiffel Society, a club built from parts of a former Eiffel Tower eatery.   

Leon, Mexico

When we came to Mexico in January 2019, the first city we stayed in was Leon, where we found the Puente Del Amor (love locks bridge) at one end of the Causeway of Heroes, a wide pedestrian walkway that serves as the gateway into the old city. After spending an afternoon looking for ferreterias (hardware stores) to buy a padlock, we put our lock through the padlock of another lock at the top. The bridge looked down upon a highway, with mountains in the distance.

Lake Chapala, Mexico

We never found a good spot in Tlaquepaque, where we lived for four months, or Guadalajara, the city next door. But we visited beautiful Lake Chapala, half an hour south, for a day trip and walked out to the end of a fishing pier to hang our lock on a rusted turquoise railing overlooking Mexico’s largest freshwater lake. On the way, we had been stopped by announcers for a local radio station who were broadcasting live, and thus posed for the obligatory selfie in our new orange Guadalajara T-shirts.

Guanajuato, Mexico

By far the most interesting place to hang our lock was the magical town of Guanajuato, where there’s an alley so narrow that people can kiss from across two balconies. There’s a tragic legend of a young man who was killed for stealing a kiss from the daughter of a rich man. We put up our lock and kissed across the alley. (Fortunately, Bob survived.)

Montreal, Canada

We lived in Vermont during summer 2019, and took a couple of trips to Montreal, Canada, hanging one lock on a bridge overlooking Gay Village and the other on a small bridge in the main pedestrian area along the St. Lawrence River, looking out at a huge Ferris Wheel.

The Farm, Cascade, Pennsylvania

When we visited The Farm, the family homestead in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania where Lisa’s paternal grandmother grew up, we hung a love lock from the rusty metal rope that secures the entrance to the old lane.

Thwarted

We were occasionally thwarted in our efforts. In the beach town of Cambrils, Spain, there was no official Love Locks bridge, so we scouted the promenade along the ocean but never found a spot where we could thread a padlock. There was an official Love Locks spot in Barcelona, but we didn’t have time to visit it. We have looked several times while in Burlington, VT, but have not yet found a spot for a padlock.

Part of the tradition of the Love Locks is to throw the keys into the river to seal your eternal love, but we don’t do that because we don’t think it’s good for the health of the fish or the river. Thus we still hold all the keys to each other’s hearts.

Our Love Locks Map

Click on each pin to see an image of the lock in its home!

Up Next …

We have just arrived in Mexico City and are looking for a place to hang our 16th lock. We’ll keep you posted!

Enjoy the video of our love locks experiences on the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel. Happy Valentine’s Day!

By Lisa & Bob