Our Muse has Arrived!

Here is Natalie’s love (Consuela) next to our new muse. What shall we call him/her? I usually name my vehicles a female name. This ritual was taken from Dragoman when I first started working for them and their trucks were named after supermodels. I mean, who doesn’t take loving care of the women in their life?

The decision was made to get a Toyota Tacoma because throughout the rest of the world, her brother is the Toyota Hilux. This way, when we are in a foreign country, parts will be easier to come by and hopefully the local mechanic will have some experience working on one before. As they say in Germany, I’m pressing my thumbs on that one. We’ll carry some spare parts, but it’s not a bus or a truck, so we won’t get carried away.

I love having a project to work on and the goal of traveling the world to look forward to.

What should I add first? Roof rack, rock sliders, leveling kit, bumper, winch… So many ideas, yet I’ve got to be economical with finances and weight.

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To Travel Around the World!

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This is what we’re setting out to build although she may be a bit different.

Over the years Natalie and I have been working on Infinite Adventures almost non-stop. We are at a point now where we need to decide when will it be the right time to turn it over to other leaders. I mean, we love what we do and are passionate about sharing the amazing places here in North America to fellow travelers, but we’ve got to find more time for us to do our own travels.

I firmly believe that to make something happen you need to visualize and verbalize what you want. This comes from my days of playing sports, especially when I was a pitcher. You needed visualize the target and go from a broad focus to a fine focus while telling yourself you could make the perfect pitch. All the years of repetitive motions throwing the ball becomes instinctual, but there was that connection with the mind that needed be the last part of the puzzle.

Similarly, I do this with my fellow travelers when we are on our wildlife cruises or safaris. It might be a bit hokey to some, but I ask them what they want to see most allowing them to verbalize is and access what it would look like to them. I know it doesn’t always happen the way they thought or even at all, but I would say a higher percentage of the time it is pretty close. By sharing it with myself and the others in the group, we combine our energy to visualize the sow and her two cubs. So, maybe we aren’t calling the animals to or maybe we are, but now you’ve got that many more eyes on the lookout for them.

Either way, when they do see her and her cubs, the excitement is truly enjoyable and contagious. Next, I want to see a breaching humpback! No doubt, they’re believers now.

Anyways, I’ve been verbalizing that I want to drive around the world for the past few years in our own personal overland adventure vehicle. Visualizing the perfect setup for our vehicle and travel needs. The thought of Nat and myself traveling wherever the hell we want for months at a time. Meeting other travelers and exploring new places each and every day. Don’t get me wrong, traveling can be exhausting from border crossings, language barriers, monetary exchange, breakdowns, sickness, culture shock, and just plain fatigue. For me though, the benefits of travel overseas truly outweighs those few negatives.

So, over the next months I’ll be taking a 2004 Toyota Tacoma and turning her into our home for the fall of 2017 after our 5th season with Infinite Adventures. Don’t worry, we’ll come back and run our trips, or will we???

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Recommendations for Hiking Denali National Park

Most likely you have heard about Denali National Park in Alaska. It is home to the highest peak in North America, Mt McKinley, also called Denali. Although the park encompasses more than 6 million acres (24,500 km²), it only has one road, which roughly covers 150 km. The rest is pure wilderness with hardly any serviced hiking trails. The moment you step into this wilderness, you’re truly into the wild.

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1. Hop on one of the green shuttle buses

Denali runs shuttle buses along the only road in the park. You might feel a slight disappointment hopping on a bus with 50 other tourists. This isn’t quite the wilderness experience you were hoping for? Just be patient! The shuttle service of the park is your only chance to get far into the park as no private vehicles are allowed beyond a certain point. If you are traveling in a group, it might be wise to pre-book a shuttle bus. Even though the buses leave every half hour, departures are booked out quickly.

2. Sit back and enjoy!

Relax and enjoy the scenery of the park, which is a mix of taiga forests, tundra, braided rivers, mountains and glaciers. You would like to spot animals? Usually the chance of spotting moose is best during the first half hour, followed by caribou and finally (after you have passed Igloo Creek campground) climbing up Sable Pass is your best chance for seeing Grizzly Bears! This area is perfect for spotting bears because it forms a nice valley optimal for blue and soap berries along the road and up on the nearby slopes.

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3. Get off the bus!

Now the moment has come! Just let your bus driver know you would like to get off the bus at Sable Pass and he will stop at the sign signifying the summit. Make sure you are not leaving the road for the first few miles hiking back down, but keep your eyes open: on either side there is a good chance to spot grizzly bears! Most times they will be far away at a safe distance, but now that you’re on foot, your chances are even higher to see them. I guarantee the experience spotting those big creatures while hiking rather then being in a vehicle is vastly different, even from a distance! To make sure you are safe (even on the road there is a chance to see a mama bear and her cubs coming round a corner) hike in groups, make noises and potentially carry bear spray with you. Once you have reached the bottom of the pass it is time to explore and blaze your own trail! Making your way through the wilderness can be very difficult but extremely rewarding. Creeks and bushes are in your way and the soft tundra ground doesn’t make it too easy to find solid footing. Following a dry riverbed or small creek uphill will allow you to traverse the terrain much quicker. After five minutes you won’t see the road and most likely you feel some goose bumps: You are finally experiencing the remote wilderness of Denali National Park. Take a deep breath, look around (always mindful of wildlife and weather) and enjoy!

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4. Getting back to civilization

Trailblazing even for a few hours will make you tired. It is definitely more exhausting than hiking on a serviced trail. When hiking in Denali always over prepare with your supplies and gear (dress in layers as weather can change quite quickly and dramatically.) Always look at your surroundings for special features that can help you find your way. Don’t forget along with your food and water to pack a park map and compass. After your trek into the wild, you will make your way back to the road. Here you will be able to flag down any of the green shuttle buses to take you back to the Park Entrance. Keep in mind that especially during the peak hours around 3-4 pm some of the buses might be full, so it can take a while until you get a lift or you may have to split up the group to get seats on a few different buses.

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The “Cloud Forest”

All the passengers were loaded on the truck, yet we were still missing one. This is a pretty common occurrence with overlanding, but usually we have some contact with the office or even the individual to let us know they’ll be arriving late or won’t be coming. It’s 7am on the second day of the tour and we’ve had no word from the office nor the passenger. So, as much as we’d hate to leave someone behind, the show must go on. Now, realize we have sent an email to the office and let a note at the front desk of our hotel with contact info and our agenda, but that’s all we can do. Hopefully our lost soul will find us at our next destination riding on public transport.

I wish I could say that the drive out of Quito was less stressful than the beginning of the morning, but like I said before, it’s a labyrinth of one-ways and blocked off roads. Even though the map looks rather straight forward, we find ourselves scratching our heads and looking for a reliable taxi driver to give us a hand. Now, we could just ask him for directions and leave it at that, but why not just have him direct us by driving in front and leading the way out of town. This was the wise decision and actually our passengers are none the wiser. So, with one u-turn and a taxi driver leading the way, it only took us an hour and a half to leave the city.

Chugchilan was our destination for the day, but the trip had never been run this way and we weren’t sure how long the journey was going to take nor did we have proper directions to get us there. The passengers were in the back chatting away as they usually do on the first few days getting to know one another and we were blindly (yet effectively) finding our way. After a few stops to make sure our choices of roads were correct and the detour caused by rebuilding of a bridge, we knew we had found the road less traveled, the road we needed to climb into the mountains.

The journey takes us through winding one and a half lane roads dipping and climbing, zig zagging on old asphalt and dirt roads carved out of the side of the mountains.

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Chugchilan is a small village situated at 3200m above sea level in Cotopaxi region of Ecuador. Most days it’s covered with a layer of clouds and a fine mist consistently falls. But, as our fortunes would have, we’ve got beautiful sunshine and blue skies. The hostel we are staying is a great little place with multiple floors and hammocks abound. The group does lunch, wanders the village and then settles comfortably into the hammocks. Today is a casual day that will prepare us for our hike tomorrow.

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Not only does the hostel have a great environment, but Frank (the hostel chef) provides us with fantastic meals. For $15 a day, you get comfy rooms, use of hammocks, free wifi and game room along with breakfast and dinner. It’s true value for your dollar.

The following day we have a latish breakfast and everyone gets kitted up for their day of hiking. We’ve been told that the hike is moderately strenuous and should take between 4-6 hours. Our transportation is an old dilapidated truck with a little bit of seating but mainly we climb into the bed for our 45 minute ride up to Quilotoa. Quilotoa is a beautiful lake situated at 4000m nestled in a caldera of a volcano in the western Andes mountains.

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Our notes lead us to believe that this trek would be about 7 miles and moderately strenuous except for the final mile climbing up from the canyon to Chugchilan. Now I ask you, “Which is more comfortable hiking? Going uphill or downhill?” Let me add that the terrain is uneven and the pathway is narrow enough for you not to be able to stand with your feet side-by-side. Initially the path was pleasant and easy, although remember you are hiking at 4000m and even the slightest of inclines makes you lose your breath. Walking along the ridge of the caldera was stunning with 300m overviews of the lake and its inhabitants down below. Truthfully, nobody really lives down in the caldera, just a few companies that you can rent kayaks from to putter around the lake.

As we wandered down the side of caldera, we were amazed at the differing landscapes that had risen from the ocean millions of years ago. Although we were at 4000m, you could do a little digging and find yourself some seashells that had been deposited on the sea floor. Not only that, our path took us through pure sand that made you feel like it was time to get out your beach towel to soak up the sunshine.

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On our way down we came across a few villages where the kids were kicking soccer (footballs) balls and jumping rope. The children were shy but a few let us take their picture as we walked along the path together. These are the types of experiences that we all had hoped for when coming to South America. Well, at least in my eyes. Hiking and exploring the local villages is what fascinates me. Walking in their shoes, trying to speak their languages, and eating the local dishes is what traveling is all about.

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As we reached the top of the canyon, the group sat for a rest. Most looked over the edge of the canyon and questioned how we were getting down and was that Chugchilan all the way over on the other side about the same elevation that we were standing at at that moment? Up until this point the trail was fairly wide and not that difficult, but now we were going to trek down the side of this canyon on what looked like a mule trail. Most of the group made their way down the path at a decent pace with minimal discomfort, but when you’re leading an overland adventure, you get a diversity of individuals with a diversity of skill and active levels. This trip was no different and we had a few that were having problems making it down the fairly steep and narrow path. I’m not the kind of hiker who cares whether we finish the hike in the fastest time ever, so I made sure that they group lagging behind was comfortable and stopped when they felt they needed some water and rest.

Although this was nice for them, the other part of the group was graciously waiting to down below to climb up the other side of the canyon. Nat was back with me and we both decided that she should go ahead and take the others up the other side so they didn’t have to wait for the slower group. I wasn’t there, but I assume they protested slightly as they were all very thoughtful and liked being together, but then finally decided that the hostel was where they wanted to be relaxing in their hammocks after a nice shower.

Slowly we made our way to the bottom and then had a nice little rest before we started the slog up the other side. Once we got going, the group found their footing to be more comfortable and all they had to do now was control their breathing. Easier said than done when you’ve just flown thousands of miles the previous day or two and have been living at sea level or close to it.

In my mind I had a feeling Nat was sitting at the hostel with the group debating whether or not to bring the truck to pick us up. But, I made no mention of it, because I wanted then to push on and finish the trek. Especially after they had worked so hard and had so little left of it. We climbed up one of the last little ridges to meet with a local dirt road and there was a collective sigh of relief from the group. Our guide pointed out where our final destination was and they knew they were just 45 minutes or so away from relaxation. “We’re almost there! You guys are doing great.” As I said this, we rounded a corner and heard the clamoring of a truck coming our way. “Is that our truck that took us to the top earlier?” I smiled to myself, yet was kind of disappointed for them cause they would get assistance and not finish it all on their own. Well, two of the group hopped on the truck without hesitation and the others decided that they wanted to finish the trek themselves if that was ok. I told them that I would be happy to continue on with them and we could make it in probably another 30 minutes.

Huffing and puffing they finished the last climb up the cobblestone path into the town and when the road flattened out, you could see they were standing tall with pride. I always love taking people on treks, especially when it challenges their expectations of what they can do. The smiles on their faces are so gratifying to me, similar to when I was teaching and the light build would go off in a kids head.

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The day ended with a well deserved hot shower and fantastic meal cooked by Frank at the hostel. Most people questioned the “moderately strenuous” explanation of the hike along with the overall distance but all were in good spirits.

The best part comes in the next couple of days when their bodies tell them how strenuous the hike really was!

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The South American Wilds

Currently Nat and I are tour leading down in South America. We scored a 20-day trip venturing through the Ecuadorian “Cloud Forest”, the Amazon, and Peru’s pacific coastline just to mention a few highlights.
The first night started in the chaotic and smog filled city of Quito. The group was excited to all meet up and we had our pre-departure meeting scheduled for 6pm. A few people we ran into before the meeting but the rest seemed to ooze out of the walls when it was time to come together. The meeting wasn’t the norm because there was another group there taking over the lobby, so we had to cram everyone in one of the downstair’s rooms. Not the most comfortable setting but Nat ran the meeting smoothly and all got done that needed to, except, one passenger was nowhere to be found. She hadn’t had any contact with the office nor the hotel, but hopefully she’d join us before we departed in the morning.
Next was the group meal, which we decided to join up with the other group who took the lobby for their meeting because we are running parallel with them in the second half of the trip. The Red Hot Chili Pepper served all 28 pax and 4 crew efficiently and with a high quality of food. Conversations were flying all over the place and you could feel the excitement continue to grow.
Although the energy was high, people knew that the next morning would come early, especially the crew as we decided to leave for the truck park at 5:45am. (In South America you can very rarely park the truck near your hotel and even sometimes your camps.) We ordered the taxi from the front desk and figure we’d have enough time to get to the truck park and beat the street closings for the local marathon that was to be run the following morning. (Surprise surprise, streets we needed to leave the city!)
The alarm went off and the stomach churned as the day began much earlier than we all would have liked. Our taxi driver arrive on time but we spent the first few minutes trying to explain our destination and get a good deal on our trip. Seven dollars was agreed upon and for the first time, unfortunately, this driving neither fast or furious. His route was off and he took us directly into the path of the roads that were to be closed, but were already closed!
Needless to say, none of us were impressed nor cared for us apologies. Just get us there!!!
Finally after a few u-turns and running red lights, we arrived to the truck park. Gracias señor, paid, and got to the next obstacle. The gate, which we had spoken with the owner the day before, was to be open and ready for us to depart at six. It was 6:20 and not a soul was stirring except for the “guard” dogs. More of noise makers than anything but they were good at that. Throwing our voices over the fence and the sounds of the dogs barking at our shouts, one of the crew inside the lot began to stir. He walked out slowly and made his way THE OTHER DIRECTION! Darren pleaded for him to come unlock to gate but he for some reason had to move a truck before attending to us. The stress was pushing us all to high levels of frustration and cursing.
The gate was finally opened and our trucks started with a rumble belching white plumes of smoke. Quito is at 2600 meters and the thin air makes it difficult to start at times. (Imagine doing this in Bolivia at over 5000 meters. It takes an ether mix sprayed in your air intake to give you a proper boost.)
The city of Quito is a unique blend of large roads, small cobbled streets, and avenues. One-ways and raised medians are always in your way.
We departed the truck park by 6:30 and we had figured it would take 40 minutes to the hotel. Arrrrrgh!!
The trip notes gave us a fairly direct route and since we were fairly early on a Sunday morning, traffic was thin. As we were getting ready to take the underpass to Rio Amazones, we found our first roadblock. Maps were pulled out and our cell phone was ringing from Darren and Bob. The 10th of August was a road we had taken a few times in the taxis and I thought I could direct us from memory. Although there was a low overpass we weren’t totally sure would be high enough. Take it slow and if need be, reverse back on the flow of traffic!
Luckily the truck made it under, our second near scrape since being here in Quito but bad news ahead. The road in front of us was yet again closed, but Nat was bound and determined to convince the police that we needed to get through. After a couple of minutes pleading nearly coming to tears, more for effect she said, they let us travel on the road we needed.
Time was cutting close as we were only a few blocks from our hotel and the excited passengers awaited us.
Driving on a road that had been shut down is great, police just kept waving us on and we rolled through all the red lights. Great that is until another roadblock unmanned is forcing us down to turn before we need. I start to turn and Nat decides she gonna take it down because we HAVE go this way. As she’s moving the barricade, a white police cruiser is coming towards us and we get both trucks thru before they reach us and Nat has it closed off again.
Three minutes to 7 and we make it to the front steps of the motel. You could see the anxious looks on the passengers’ face turn to smiles. Not a bad first few hours of our 20 day tour.
Photos and More to come as we head to the “Cloud Forest.”

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Where in the world are all the animals?

There are many things to love about traveling, but my favorite thing about traveling is spotting wildlife. Now, don’t get me wrong, I said my favorite. For someone who dedicates their life to traveling and has a personal ambition of seeing every continent, that’s putting it at 1A versus 1B versus 1C, etc…

If you’ve ever been on one of my adventures, you know how excited I get to do a safari or hike through the wilderness looking for some animal in its natural habitat. I get such a rush from seeing a lion feeding on a gazelle or a gorilla cuddling its youngest family member or a pair of bear cubs wrestling while their mother is just a few meters away.

Trekking through the forest and mud to find the mountain gorillas.

Trekking through the forest and mud to find the mountain gorillas.

Momma gorilla cuddling baby in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.

Momma gorilla cuddling baby in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.

The thing about spotting wildlife is that it takes patience and persistence. Yeah, you could go to some of these resorts in Africa where they guarantee spotting the “Big 5”, but where’s the challenge in that??? Coming across one of these unique and beautiful animals is such a chance encounter. One moment their in plain sight and the next they have disappeared two steps into the bush.

A marmot poses one second, and the next he's gone.

A marmot poses one second, and the next he’s gone.

***The first part of this some may think is hokey or ridiculous, but I started this back when I was an athlete and so many people speak of visualizing and verbalizing success. So, why shouldn’t it work here? If you come on one of my adventures we can discuss my personal philosophies more in depth.***

The first thing I ask of my fellow travelers, “What do you want to see most?” Putting that energy out in the air is integral to achieving their wish. Once it has been verbalized, myself and the others in the group visualize the reality too. Now, it’s not just your wish to see a mother and two cubs feeding, it’s the group’s.

What do you want to see most?

What do you want to see most?

WRITER’S NOTE: This can get out of hand and some people get a little extreme with their requests, like a German passenger who wanted to see a killer whale (fine there) chasing and catching a seal (still ok), then playing with it and throwing it in the air before it eats it!! (A little extreme for a day tour.)

Wandering through the wilderness during early morning light and just before sunset give you the best time to spot wildlife. The animals are most likely to feed during these times when the weather is cooler and their natural camouflage can allow them to sneak up on their prey.

Look for disruption in the pattern of the landscape. Take your time and scan to see irregularities in rock formations, vegetation or water surfaces. Look for shapes that are “out of place” in the texture of the environment. Most of the times the animals are moving slowly, grazing from place to place. Train your eyes on are area and look for slight movements.

Ptarmigan are usually along the roadside, but instantly they can disappear.

Ptarmigan are usually along the roadside, but instantly they can disappear.

Also, look for color variations and contrast. Many times animals move along the edges of varying habitats and that can mean their normal camouflage will actually make them more visible.

We had to climb high to get this close-up of this dall sheep.

We had to climb high to get this close-up of this dall sheep.

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“I will explore and discover the natural world and other cultures wherever I go!”

“I will explore and discover the natural world and other cultures wherever I go”

…this is one of the lines of the oath you have to swear when you become a Junior Ranger for Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. Yes, I know, I am 32 years old and far away from the age when you usually earn a Junior Ranger Badge. But I really like the quote from the oath, I had great experiences at Kenai Fjords NP and yes, I am also a goofball. So once I had the idea in my head, nothing could stop me from filling out the little quizzes and finally swearing an oath in front of the Ranger.

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You can watch the video me swearing the oath on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f37DC5pgKrk&feature=youtu.be

Kenai Fjords Wildlife: from Orcas to Bears and Eagles to Sea Otters

This summer it was the first time for me to see Orcas, Gray Whales, Humpbacks and Beluga Whales. You stare out into the ocean for an hour and out of a sudden you see a black dot popping up once in a while. When you finally see a splashing fountain you are sure you spotted a whale! Here are my two favourite shots of a Gray Whale and an Orca.

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When you hike Exit Glacier it will take your breath away litterally because you are gaining altitude very quickly and because of the stunning views of the surroundings! And maybe also because you might be a little nervous as a black bear could appear anytime on the hiking trail.

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Overlanding Alaska

Watch our Alaskan Adventures in a three minute video: moose, bears, glaciers, sea kayaking or ice climbing. It has been an amazing summer and we can’t wait for the season in 2014!

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Belugas, Orcas and other swimming creatures

This season we were extremely spoiled with seeing wildlife. Alaska is not only a home for bears and moose, but also to different kinds of whales and slighly smaller sea-life like otters for example! Whether you see an Orca on our wildlife cruise in Seward or watch a family of sea otters chatting to each other while sea kayaking at our Adventure Camp – it is always a special experience. Check out our short video on Belugas, Orcas and other swimming creatures!

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Who get’s the best shot?

Everybody get’s excited seeing animals in the wildlife. And there are plenty of opportunities in Alaska. That’s for sure. But for some reason it isn’t enough to just see them and enjoy the moment. Everybody (including David and me) wants to have the perfect shot – camera shot of course. Take pictures as memories back home and most likely also publish them on facebook. But for some reason animals love to show us their butts or hide behind the bushes. So the competition starts: who get’s the best shot of the day? We have some real butt shot winners here:

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But with a lot of patience and thanks to the digital camera age we also managed to get a few head shots!

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Photo Credits: Thorsten Brehm, Evelien van den Brink, Nat

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