In September, we giddily embarked upon our first international trip since COVID brought us back from Mexico City, the latest destination in our traveling retirement, quite abruptly in March 2020. We took advantage of our oldest child, Aryk, restarting their education to carve out two weeks in England!
Aryk had deferred graduate school for a year due to the pandemic, but with two vaccines in their arm and a trove of masks in their suitcase, they were eager to begin pursuing their master’s degree in Creative Writing/Poetry at Bath Spa University in Bath, England.
So the three of us flew to the UK in mid-September. Lisa and Aryk headed to Bath, Lisa driving white-knuckled on the left side of the road to Aryk’s uni lodging, while Bob settled into a condo in London to explore for a few days on his own.
Bath is a stunning World Heritage City about two hours west of London. It has a lovely old center of town and a lively culture. While we were there, the city was hosting a major Children’s Literature Festival. We movedAryk into Student Castle, and did the shopping and exploring they needed, with little time left for sightseeing.
Bath is named after its Roman-built baths, and is renowned as a well-being destination. It’s located in the valley of the River Avon, a scenic, winding river with a path that I enjoyed during an early morning run.
Bath also hosts a scenic stretch of the 87-mile-long Kennet and Avon Canal, which runs from London to the Bristol Channel on the coast. I ran or walked on its dirt towpath several mornings. One day, Aryk and I happened upon it after shopping at Tesco Express just before sunset. The light on the buildings made from golden Bath stone was truly captivating.
Just as interesting to me was the narrowboats tethered along the canal, in which people lived. (Note the bikes lashed on top.)
These are working canals, albeit an incredibly slow mode of transportation, and I was fortunate to witness a narrowboat navigating an 18-foot-deep lock called the Bath Deep Lock, the second-deepest lock in the country. Watch my video on the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel! (And please subscribe while you’re there.)
I definitely plan to return to Bath for a tourism visit someday!
We’re finishing up our Vermont maple liqueur in a symbolic transition as we prepare to depart next week for the next stop on the Messy Suitcase tour, the birthplace of piña coladas: Puerto Rico!
Our September vacation in England (taking our oldest child, Aryk, who is pursuing their master’s at Bath Spa University, to school) was great preparation for re-entry to our traveling lifestyle, post-COVID version. We are double-vaxxed, indoor-masked, and ready to launch our lives again as traveling retirees.
Before we set off, we’re spending a long weekend in Colchester, VT, north of Burlington, with our son, Gavin, who was also with us when we launched the traveling life in 2018.
On Tuesday, Gavin returns to Champlain College after this break, and Bob and I head to Manchester, NH, to park our car at a park/sleep/fly lot and board a plane the next morning for Puerto Rico!
A Few Changes
This time we will be renting a car instead of driving our own. We’ll have just one cat, Kaylee, instead of the three we started with — Equinox passed away in Mexico City last year, and Ellie lives with Gavin at Champlain College. We are heading to Puerto Rico, a US territory, instead of back to Mexico for COVID safety and COVID convenience — less testing hassle.
But life is too short to spend any more time waiting for the pandemic to end. It’s time to live again. We have to learn to navigate COVID while staying safe and enjoying life. We plan to spend a month in Luquillo in an oceanfront condo, and a month in San Juan.
I had a fascinating encounter with the bald eagle family of Lake Rescue this morning. They live there year-round, and have been residents for years, entrancing the human residents of this lovely lake in southern Vermont.
When I came around the bend in my kayak at 6:45 AM, the mother eagle was waiting for me in a tall tree nearby. Can you spot her?
I checked the nest: empty.
Then the baby popped up.
Mom immediately flew over to him.
She landed on a nearby branch and the two interacted for a long time.
We are back in Vermont, we are vaccinated—twice—and May 18 is the official date that we are emancipated from the threat of COVID-19!
We have spent the last six months in Pennsylvania closing down Bob’s late mother’s condo while the kids finished their semesters of school. In the meantime Lisa has been working on the final edit of the Young Adult novel she began in late 2019, and both of us have been studying Spanish ardently.
We moved back up to our second home in Ludlow, VT, this past Sunday, and after months of cleaning out a lifetime’s worth of stuff, then packing up, moving out of one home, and moving back into another, we are frankly exhausted, physically and emotionally.
So of course, the first thing we did was relax in the hot tub with mimosas to celebrate the moment and toast the future.
There is so much to do here in Vermont—kayaking, hiking, birdwatching, visiting breweries, exploring New England towns, enjoying outdoor concerts, going to farmers markets, shopping, enjoying so much that Vermont has to offer. And we have started planning our next travels. Watch for that in the next Messy Suitcase blog!
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 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.
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.
The last thing I noticed was a heart-shaped, painted stone that someone had left in the shelter. Choose love, my friends.
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.
Common loons have been living on Lake Rescue for more than a decade.
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.
We discovered ospreys, on the direction of a neighbor, in a cove near the Red Bridge.
A bald eagle family maintains a nest in a cove near Discovery Island, and returns year after year to hatch new eggs.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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