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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!
It’s hard to believe it has been seven months since we left Mexico. A brief summer interlude in Vermont getting one of our vacation homes ready to sell and settling our youngest child, Gavin, into Champlain College in Burlington turned into a much longer stretch in the USA when Bob’s mother, Jane, called us in August to say she had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
So after spending the summer painting a house, tiling a kitchen, planting two gardens, refinishing a floor, staining two decks, replacing windows, and doing more tasks than I care to remember on both houses – punctuated, thank God, by a couple of long weekends in Montreal and Burlington and many visits to local craft breweries – we moved into Jane’s house in Mechanicsburg, PA, in October to care for her in her last months.
While living here, we kept busy. Lisa signed up for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) in November and wrote a long-postponed book. Bob threw himself into the editing of his many videos from our time in Mexico for the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel. We both spent countless hours studying Spanish and practicing our instruments (Bob saxophone, Lisa guitar). We spent 9 days in Cancun in November, during a period when Jane was doing better and we needed a break.
We also spent time with some of Lisa’s family members around the winter holidays, and got to know Jane’s neighbors in her over-55 community. As her health deteriorated, we became quite attached to her regular visitors from Homeland Hospice, who became our family’s lifeline: her CNA (certified nursing assistant) Sherry, who came every day to bathe and dress her; her hospice nurse Hannah, who visited weekly; and our social worker Pam, who supported us all in too many ways to count.
Meanwhile, we cared for Jane and tried to keep her comfortable. We watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy with her. The kids came home for Christmas break and got to spend time with their grandmother. Bob’s sister Beth came to visit regularly.
Now the funeral is over, the spawn are back at college, and we are officially empty nesters. Although Jane’s stuff still needs to be sorted and dispersed, and her condo needs to be fixed up to sell, we are deferring that till the summer.
It’s time for us to get back to our lives, at least for a while. So we are planning to return to Mexico later this month and spend the rest of winter and half of spring there. We’ll come back in late April, before Gavin’s school lets out for the summer, and spend some time in Vermont before returning to PA for the next round of heavy lifting.
This time we are headed for Mexico City! We are excited at the prospect of living in a big city, after spending the summer in rural Vermont and the fall in this Harrisburg suburb. We are currently deciding between several condos in a safe neighborhood – Condesa, Roma Norte or Polanco – near a huge park (a requirement for us as runners). We are also looking at language schools, because we plan to study Spanish every day, at least for the first month, the way we did in Tlaquepaque last year. It will only be for two hours a day this time, because Lisa is editing her book and we want time to enjoy the city.
We’ll keep you posted as things develop! Right now the plan is to leave Jan. 28 and drive our trusty Toyota Tacoma (with two cats on board; the third now lives with Gavin at school) slowly south, stopping in Cincinnati, Memphis and Austin on the way so we can see some friends and take some breaks from the road. We should arrive in CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico, Spanish for Mexico City) on Super Bowl Sunday.