Travel during a pandemic: When things go wrong

We were seven days into our ten-day Ring Road Trip around Iceland when our long-awaited family trip turned upside down. That morning, after a lovely hike along the waterfalls outside the coastal town of Seyðisfjörður, we loaded up our rental car and set off for what was supposed to be the highlight of our trip: A two day visit to the majestic South.

The South of Iceland is so magnificent that most tourists simply fly into Reykjavik and head straight there. Nowhere in Iceland has such immense beauty and hypnotizing magic. Home to the mighty Vatnajökull Ice Cap encompassing 12% of Iceland’s territory, the South of Iceland is graced with endless glacial tongues dripping down to the plains, countless waterfalls, evergreen farmland and stunning seashore all wrapped up in one surreal place.  It is so insanely beautiful that it takes your breath away.

I will never forget my visit 13 years ago, when my father and I first went to Iceland and set off from Reykjavik heading south along the Ring Road to Vik and ending in Skaftafell National Park. I had fallen in love with the South of Iceland and this time, thirteen years later I’d be back bringing my family to this incredible place. I knew exactly where I’d take them, what views we would see and what hikes we would do. Little did we know, our special family trip would soon turn upside down.

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Mirror Lake, Mount Hood, Oregon

Best Hikes Around Mount Hood: Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain Via Mirror Lake

On our second full day in Mount Hood, we chose to do a little bit longer of a hike which would afford us spectacular views of Mount Hood and four of the mightly neighboring peaks. The hike which is called “Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain via Mirror Lake” is a nine-mile out and back trail that starts off at the achingly stunning Mirror Lake and ends with a breathtaking vista of Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson in Oregon and Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and Mount St. Helens in Washington State. It is the perfect hike to do in fall when the light is ephemeral with the changing colors of the leaves reflecting upon perfectly named Mirror Lake.

We set off for the trailhead around ten o’clock so we could time the hike with a picnic lunch on top. The weather was not nearly as perfect as it was on our hike to Bald Mountain from Lolo Pass the day before with its serendipitous deep blue skies and golden sunshine, yet it was still lovely in its own right despite the overcast skies.

As we entered the forest, it felt like out of a fairytale it was so magical. The tall trees gracefully pillared high above our heads, occasionally letting rays of light caste a mystical haze over the dirt path below our feet. Since it was a Monday there were not many fellow hikers on the trail and it was rather serene.

Mirror Lake Trailhead, Mount Hoot, Oregon

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Bald Mountain Hike, Mount Hood, Oregon

Best Hikes Around Mount Hood: Hike To Bald Mountain from Lolo Pass

Earlier this month, my husband and I had the rare opportunity to go on a weeklong trip alone without the kids. It was the first time in 15 years that we had traveled without them and for our destination we picked Oregon, a place neither of us had ever been. We wanted to spend our week outside hiking and after researching Oregon, it seemed like the place to go.

I instantly noticed that Oregon was special as we landed in Portland in the heart of the Colombia Gorge. I was stunned by the vast size of the brilliant blue Columbia River and surprised by the conical peaks of so many snow-capped mountains. After a week in Oregon, I have to confess that I was utterly amazed by its incredibly greenery and raw untouched beauty. So many forests and so many places to camp and hike.

Portlanders are blessed to have the mountains and the ocean both only an hour’s drive away from the city. For our week in Oregon, we wanted to get a taste of the diversity of this glorious state so planned our route to first stop at the series of stunning waterfalls along the Colombia Gorge (only 30 minute drive from Portland), then spend two days in Mount Hood, followed by two days in Crater Lake and the remaining two days in Cannon Beach on the ocean.

The Mount Hood National Forest is located in northern Oregon’s Cascade range south of Portland. Home to approximately 1,000 miles of hiking trails, the Mount Hood National Forest extends south from the Columbia River Gorge across more than sixty miles of forested mountains, lakes and streams encompassing roughly 1,067,043 acres. The centerpiece of Mount Hood National Forest is the mighty dormant stratovolcano, Mount Hood which reaches 11,249 feet (3,429 m) and is capped with glaciers, alpine lakes and over 4,500 acres of skiable terrain. I was surprised to learn that Mount Hood has five ski areas and depending on snow conditions, you can ski almost year round at Timberline. Given its short distance from Portland (roughly 50 miles (80 km), Mount Hood is a popular playground for Portlanders and tourists alike.

At Mount Hood, we picked the tiny town of Rhododendron to base our stay and found a delightful truly magical  place on Airbnb called the “Little House on the Mountain”, a beautiful custom built, one-of-kind cabin. The cabin is nestled up on a forested hill above a main cabin, sitting on 4 acres of private wooded land, bordering Mount Hood National Forest Land. When you look out the large windows, all you see are trees! It was perfect for the two of us!

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A Stay in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

Nestled at the bottom of the rugged Fjarðarheiði mountain pass at the end of a long, narrow fjord in Eastern Iceland is the magical coastal town of Seyðisfjörður. Given its remote location (it is about a two and a half hour drive east from Mývatn and another 3 hours to the more popular town of Höfn), and its unique surroundings, we were in for a real treat. It was our sixth day in Iceland following our Ring Road family trip adventure, and we had just spent two fantastic days in Mývatn and Krafla exploring its volcanic wonders. Now it was time to enter into a fairytale world of endless waterfalls, lush green mountains and blue sea as far as the eye could see.

We arrived in the late afternoon, down a long, serpentine, gravel road, pulling out of the clouds and into lush green valley and fjord that surrounds the village. It wasn’t hard to find our hotel or the center of town given the compact size of Seyðisfjörður. Yet instantly we were charmed by the lovely, colorful wooden buildings for which Seyðisfjörður is known for. Since Seyðisfjörður is quite small, many travelers simply pass it by. However, if you love taking a hike and having literally the entire mountainside to yourself followed by world-class Icelandic dining, then a night in Seyðisfjörður is definitely something you should do and highly recommended.

Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

First glance of Seyðisfjörður

Seyðisfjörður Iceland

The tongue of the long fjord

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Iceland: Two days in Mývatn and Krafla, Iceland

Day Five of our Ring Road Trip around Iceland found our family of four arriving early afternoon at Mývatn Lake, probably one of the most geologically fascinating places I’ve ever been in my life. By this point in our trip, we were all a bit exhausted with all the driving and moving around. We had already slept in four different places, drove over 758 kilometers and had not been in one place for more than a night. (Here is our route and stops via google map since we left Reykjavík).

We had visited an active volcano, raced through the capital, and drove hours on the Ring Road barely having a moment to catch our breathe. Then finally we pulled into the tiny village of Reykjahlíð, located on the shores of Lake Mývatn in the north of Iceland, and we were at peace.

After a delightful lunch of fresh cod at the quaint Gamli Bærinn, we headed around the lake to our lovely apartment, the Stella Rosá, which was the best place we stayed at during our entire trip in Iceland. It was utterly a treasure of a find and the perfect place to base ourselves for the next two days in Mývatn.

Before booking our trip, I honestly had no idea that Mývatn Lake combined with neighboring Kafla, was such an absolutely surreal place. I had only known that it was a recommended stop along the Ring Road Tour and thankfully it was the only place we allowed ourselves two full days. There is so much to do, see and explore there that we could have almost used another day. It ended up being one of my favorite places in Iceland because of all the incredible sights together in one place. We often felt like it was the closest place to being on another planet all together.  It is that surreal.

Entering the lava fields feels like walking on the moon….

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A Hike up to Iceland’s Newest Volcano: Fagradalsfjall

On July 29, our family of four took our first trip out of the country since before the pandemic to the magical, surreal landscape of Iceland. I had first visited Iceland back in 2008 with my father and was spellbound by her unearthly beauty and astonishing mystique. While I had wanted to return to this phenomenal country and explore it more, the idea quite frankly did not pop back into my head until late in the Spring when our family had all been fully vaccinated and heard the news that Iceland with its small population of roughly 368,792 hearty souls was welcoming back vaccinated tourists. As someone who follows travel news closely, Iceland’s clever tourism pitch got my attention.

Icelandair has long had direct flights from Minneapolis to Keflavík, and to meet the increase in demand, Delta Airlines also launched a non-stop flight from my home town airport as well. The flight to Iceland from Minneapolis is roughly six hours. The only downfall is that the flight is too short to really get any sleep and the time change is a difficult five hours ahead meaning jet lag was going to be an issue that first day. The good news is we would have nine full days to adjust.

The route from Minneapolis to Iceland takes you directly over Greenland. The view was jaw-dropping!

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Oberg Mountain Lookout onto Oberg Lake

The Top Four Fall Hikes along Minnesota’s North Shore to View the Fall Colors

Fall is a glorious time to be outside in Minnesota and there is no better way to explore the stunning fall foliage than during a hike along Minnesota’s North Shore. Less than four hours away from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, it is easy to make a weekend trip to the North Shore where you will find countless trails at your fingertips to explore the pristine beauty and nature along the 310-miles long Super hiking Trail or through one of the many state parks. 

Generally, the third week of September is the best time to go to the North Shore when the leaves are at their peak colors, however, the last weekend of September can also be just as spectacular. We just returned from a visit this past weekend and the colors were extraordinary with breathtaking vistas of reds, yellows, and orange coating the landscape. Further inland, towards the Boundary Water Canoe and Wilderness Area and the Eagle Mountain Trail, the leaves were just starting to turn so I can only imagine that over the upcoming week it will be at its peak.

Oberg Mountain Lookout onto Oberg Lake

One of the spectacular technicolor lookouts on top of Oberg Mountain, looking down on Oberg Lake

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Eagle River, Michigan

A Family Road Trip to Michigan’s Remote Keweenaw Peninsula

After five long months of being cooped up at home without a real vacation, it was time for our family of four to head out of town for a break. Like most people, all of our summer plans that involved flying had been canceled due to the pandemic. Given the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., we wanted to travel safely and also be mindful of where we were going. We also preferred to find a destination that we could drive to in one day.

Living in Minneapolis, we are rather isolated in terms of where we can drive to under eight hours. We are blessed to have Lake Superior only a few hours away and have spent several fantastic family vacations along Minnesota’s rugged North Shore up in Lutsen, Minnesota, and have also visited Bayfield, Wisconsin, and the Apostle Islands. One place that we had not yet been to was Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on the other side of Lake Superior. We had heard a lot of wonderful things about the U.P. as locals call it so decided on a whim to plan a family trip.  I did a search on Airbnb and found a weekly rental of an entire house in Eagle River along the U.P’s remote Keweenaw Peninsula. We left on Saturday, July 4th in time to celebrate our 20-year wedding anniversary on July 8th. It was going to be a wonderful week of rest, rejuvenation, and priceless family time.

On the hot, sultry night of July 4th, we watched the sun dip below the horizon of an uncharacteristically calm Lake Superior. The water was like glass and the fresh lake air filled my lungs and touched my soul with ease. For just a week, I finally let my weary, stressed-out soul completely relax and break free of the chaos of the last few months living through a global pandemic, uprisings, and endless stress. Life as it was meant to be returned to me for one short week, and for that, I am truly grateful.

Eagle River, Lake Superior

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Our First Trip Away During a Global Pandemic: A Weekend in Ely, Minnesota

March 13, 2020, is a day I will never forget. It is the last day that my children went to school and was a few days before life as we have known it had dramatically changed. The rapid shutdown of our state, our country, and the world began shortly thereafter as the venomous reach of the coronavirus pandemic struck the United States like a match in a dry forest waiting to burn.

Never in our wildest dreams could we have anticipated or even imagined such a devastating, life-changing global pandemic could take place and rock the world. Now over three months later, after canceled plans and completely rearranged lives, we have all settled into the new “normal”. A life of social-distancing, working at home, wearing a mask when out in public, not traveling or doing much of anything outside of the home except our daily walks, and wondering when on earth our lives will ever be the same.

Then just as we were finally beginning to accept our unsettled lives in the midst of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd happened less than three miles away from our Minneapolis home setting off angst, rage, a few days of absolute lawlessness, fear, rioting, looting, pain, and destruction. When our city finally regained control and the massive clean up began, our hearts were broken. It was devastating and traumatizing on so many levels that it is hard to explain. We needed to get out.

George Floyd Murals on Hennepin Ave South Minneapolis

After three long, challenging months of fear, anxiety, isolation, and sadness, it was time to break free and leave home. We booked a weekend away, our first trip since the pandemic began, to Ely, Minnesota, a remote town on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe and Wildnerness Area, four hours north of Minneapolis. It was time for a change of scenery and a mental break.

We decided to rent a cabin at a small remote resort that we had stayed at a few times before, called the Northernair Lodge. We knew that it was isolated enough to safely socially-distance and since we could drive there we would not have to worry about traveling by plane.  Ely is a small town of only a couple thousand people so we were more concerned with potentially bringing COVID-19 there (where they have few reported cases) than actually catching it ourselves.

As we left the city, and slowly headed north I could feel the tension in my back and shoulders dissipate. For a woman who loves to travel, this was the first time I had left a ten-mile radius of my house in the city in over three months. It was liberating. Yet it also made me feel sad for all that has been lost in these past three months. I was hoping that the pure, untouched beauty of northern Minnesota would ease some of the sorrow and pain.

George Floyd Murals on Hennepin Ave South Minneapolis

We made two stops along the way to use the restroom and even that felt strange. None of the typical restroom stops were open save the gas stations and we were almost the only ones wearing our masks (it is required in our city to wear a face mask indoors so it has become normal for us). The further north we went, the less it felt that COVID was real until we arrived in Ely.  The harsh impact on the economy in such a small town was evident by the boarded up shops and stores. The big tourist draws such as the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center were still closed due to the pandemic (Both have reopened since we were there). Yet of course being outside and enjoying nature was not canceled. Nor was sitting by a campfire, kayaking on a pristine lake or listening to the melodic cry of the loon at sunset.

Three days relaxing and restoring some of our faith in mankind would be helpful.

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Ely, Minnesota sunset

Postcards from Around the World: Week 4

Spring has finally sprung in Minnesota bringing much-needed sunshine and a burst of new life. Not much new has happened since I posted last week’s postcards. Our state has extended our Stay At Home order for another two weeks and after almost seven weeks of staying at home, I have adjusted to the new “normal”. It is hard to say when life will ever be normal again. I continue to read, practice my language skills, and enjoy time outside and my immediate family. I continue to miss my larger community and most of all my extended family who live all across the US. I am grateful to be well both mentally and physically and have food and shelter, love and some laughs here and there despite it all. I hope these quotes bring you some inspiration and hope. Stay well.

“All human wisdom is summed up in two words: wait and hope”. – Alexandre Dumas


Sunset Ely, Minnesota

Snapped: Fall 2017 Ely, Minnesota

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Postcards from Around the World: Week 3

As time goes by, days and weeks seem to ebb and flow together. A mess of so many strong feelings continuously flow like a river through my soul. A resounding sadness and despair seem to be the dominant feelings every morning when I rise. As the day goes on, anger, disbelief, and acceptance mix in while at times a sense of hopelessness prevails. While I try to remain hopeful and positive, each passing day it becomes a bit harder. I have always been a sensitive soul. Then I remember the words of our governor, “It is a marathon, not a sprint”. We are in this for the long haul and as hard as it is I need to buckle up and accept it. I need to stop reading so much of the tragic news of the lives lost and changed forever. Yet it is hard to not keep searching for answers and a way out of this mess. It is hard to feel so out of control. Perhaps more than ever I need to remind myself to practice mindfulness and try my best to live in the present moment without worrying so much about the future that lies ahead. For it is the only way to manage such overwhelming feelings.

We are entering week 6 of our Stay at Home order in my state of Minnesota. We haven’t even reached our predicted peak yet. That is estimated for late June to early July. We are getting restless at home yet at least we are finally getting to enjoy the rebirth of Spring. The trees laden with pollen are about to burst, the birds are singing in full glory each morning and I rejoice in my countless walks around our lovely urban lake that is one of the only things that is not canceled. At least for now. We will see what happens as the weather continues to improve and more and more couped up Minnesotans want to get outside and take advantage of our urban lakes and nice weather. I hope that our beautiful walkways and bike paths are not closed like they have been in other large cities. We are so blessed to have the ability to be outside and in nature unlike so many others around the world in urban cities who are locked inside their homes. There are a few silver linings in this extraordinarily difficult time.

My family continues to be well. My husband still has his job. My kids are hanging in there. We have food on our table, a roof over our head and each other. For that, I am truly grateful. I long to see my extended family and my community of friends. But of course that will have to wait.

As we enter another week of uncertainty, I will share my weekly postcards of inspiration and hope. We need some good news. Wishing you all a healthy, safe week. Please let me know how you are doing whererever you are. I’m thinking of you.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be”. – Anne Frank

Ely, Minnesota sunset

Snapped: Northern Minnesota, Fall 2016

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Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Postcards from Around the World: Week 2

Here is Week 2 of my new series, Postcards from Around the World. Hoping to bring a little bit of hope and inspiration to your day. As we enter week 5 of our Stay at Home order, I’ve been keeping busy with my work as the marketing coordinator for EOS International, a nonprofit organization that brings safe drinking water to rural villages in Honduras and Nicaragua. While it is not a full-time job by any means, it is enough to fill me up with hope and gratitude for the things I take so easily for granted such as access to safe water to keep me and my family healthy.

I’ve also been busy learning intermediate level Spanish and beginning Italian on Babbel and Duolingo. As I’ve had more downtime I thought I might as well learn some new skills and I was a French major during my university years so I enjoy the Romance languages.  Finally, I’ve been brushing up on my photo processing techniques hence another inspiration behind this new series. It keeps me continuing to learn and practice my new knowledge while I could easily be watching Netflix!

Our Stay at Home order is through May 4th however I am not sure if much will change here in Minnesota in a mere two weeks. The encouraging news (if there is any) is that our state continues to be doing a good job at keeping the number of infections at bay and our strategy seems to be working. We will see what the coming weeks bring. In the meantime, here is week 2 of my postcards from around the world. Hope you enjoy.

“Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality”. -Nikos Kazantzakis

Snapped: April 2017, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Costa Rica

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