Here’s to Adventure!

At some point in our lives, we come to the realization that our kids don’t need us as much as they used to and our parents are thankfully still in good health and independent. We are semi-retired and have more time for vacationing than we used to. One child is about to graduate from college and the other is soon leaving to pursue his musical interests on the road. So, it seems like the perfect time for Husband and I to make our own plans.

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Home is where you park it!

For years we have been fantasizing about getting a camper and going on our own adventures around the country. He introduced me to camping and I fell in love with being out in the National Parks, away from the stresses of everyday life. Well, a few weeks ago we found the perfect couple’s trailer and dove in! Last weekend we took her on her maiden voyage at a beautiful state park on Otsego Lake. IMG_0902

The weather was less than cooperative, but we had heat, electricity and indoor plumbing- much more glamorous than tent camping. In fact, if we had been confined to a tent all weekend, I would have cancelled the trip. Instead, the rain gave us an excuse to curl up with our books and still enjoy the nature views without getting cold and wet.

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We were able to get out for some walks and use the outdoor fire pit and grill in the evenings. Our dog was very compliant and didn’t go chasing after any wildlife and the three of us had a very cozy and relaxing weekend away from it all.

On our way home, we wrote down a list of minor projects to make things even better (e.g. a place to store books, a permanent trash can, an outdoor rug and shoe storage). But we couldn’t have been happier. We ate well and we were very comfortable on our real queen size bed- no more air mattresses and sleeping bags for us.

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Part of me felt like this was cheating. My late brother-in-law would have certainly called it that. He enjoyed the rugged lifestyle we shared on our camping adventures. However, as I sat inside with my book and listened to the patter of the rain on the roof, I could imagine him knocking on our door and asking if he could come in out of the chill and have a cup of tea.

We are looking forward to many more adventures this year!

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Sunrise Over Tucson

If you have been following my blog, you know I have been away for the last 2 weeks (actually I was only gone for 12 days, but I needed at least 2 days to get caught up on things). So without further delay, I will tell you about the most exciting part of my vacation- the hot air balloon ride- since I had suggested this would happen in my last post.

My family has been visiting my mother in Tucson for many years. Usually we hike the trails in Catalina State Park, tour the Reid Park Zoo or the Desert Museum and hang out at the pool. This year we decided to try something new- a hot air balloon ride. I’m not sure why we chose that activity, especially since I am afraid of heights and don’t like standing near the rail of my mother-in-law’s high-rise balcony. Maybe it has something to do with the peaceful image of colorful balloons floating in the sky, or the song about the beautiful balloon. Either way, I was determined to do this and not let my psychological hang-ups hold me back.

We arrived at the launch site by 6:30. The sky was still dark, but a sliver of the moon was hovering on the horizon near a rim of red light which gradually brightened.

Eager to get involved, my son and I each grabbed a side of the balloon and held it open while the high-powered fan blew air inside. It was fun to peer into the mouth and watch how quickly the balloon inflated.

Once it was full, Kevin- our pilot and owner of Tucson Balloon Rides (http://TucsonBalloonRides.com)  – added hot air from his fuel supply. The sound coming from the blasts, as well as the flames shooting out, were extraordinary! 

While we waited for instructions to board, we posed for a family photo, appreciating how lucky we were to be able to do this adventure together. Even though it was an early wake-up, we got no complaints from our teenagers. My daughter and I were willing to put aside our fears and trust our instincts that this would be an experience to remember.

There were 4 other passengers accompanying us on our flight, only one of whom had ever done this before. She was taking her 80 year old mother on this adventure. Her mother seemed very relaxed and ready for the ride. The woman joked with me that if her sisters found out she was doing this, she would be in big trouble. I had to laugh because the night before, I had made one more invitation to my mother to join us, but was also thinking what my sisters would do to me if they found out.

On the ride to the launch site, Kevin had gone over the safety instructions and prepared us for what to expect. Once he gave us our cue, we quickly climbed into the basket. It was a little gusty on our take-off, but we easily rose up with the current which gave us the most serene feeling as we watched the beauty of the sunrise over the mountains.

As we rose up, high over the Saguaro National Park we felt no wind in our face. Even though we were above the mountains, I was not afraid. There was something so relaxing and peaceful about soaring over the desert and mountains, watching the shadows decrease on the sides of the cliffs as we coasted through the pass.

There was something comforting about the sight of our shadow on the ground, as well as the view of other balloons in the vicinity.

    

Kevin skillfully took us up and down or rotated the balloon so we could get different shots of the landscape. I was thrilled to have a bird’s eye view of the saguaros. My son kept his eyes open for wildlife. We saw dozens of rabbits and a few coyotes. I made my husband take my picture as proof that I actually did this.

The thing about a hot air balloon ride is that you never know where it is going to take you. For someone who always wants to know exactly what is going to happen, this means letting go of a planned destination and literally “going with the flow” of the current. We never reached some of the landmarks that Kevin pointed out as the possible landing sites. Instead we ended up crossing the CAP and landing in a field just beyond the aquifer.

Of course, Kevin had his crew following us on the ground and used radio contact to tell them his plan. He had us all brace for landing, which was much smoother than I expected after his warning. Once we came down, he asked several people to climb out and help hold the basket. My husband and daughter helped drag it back away from the fence so the balloon wouldn’t get tangled. Then the rest of us climbed out and the crew set about deflating the balloon.

         And just like that, everything was packed up. Our beautiful balloon ride was over and we were headed to a municipal park for a champagne brunch to celebrate. Kevin gave everyone a flight certificate with our stats. According to this I was airborne for 1 hour 37 minutes, travelling 8.03 miles at a maximum speed of 17mph (which includes vertical as well as horizontal speed combined) and reaching an altitude of 2800 feet above ground level!

But even more than these facts on paper, I overcame my fear of heights (although I’m sure I’ll still be nervous on that balcony) and did something I really wanted to do and will never forget. We had a wonderful family experience together and are already talking about doing it again.  The 80 yr-old woman loved it. She and her daughter had a great adventure together and were already discussing their next trip. Maybe next time I’ll be able to convince my mom to go up.

An Adventurous Start to the New Year

Did anyone else get up in the middle of the night to watch the Quadrantid meteor shower?

A crop and enhacement of a Perseid Meteor I ca...

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It is definitely something that I would not have done under normal circumstances, given that we have just returned to school/work and are back on our early morning rising time.  Would I have gotten a better night’s sleep and woken up more refreshed? Probably; but was it worth it? Yes, and I’ll tell you why…

First of all (and probably the deciding factor) I was able to observe from the steamy warmth of our strategically placed hot tub. I had laid out my robe and water bottle before going to bed, so all I had to do was grab them and step into the tub. Secondly, we waited until the moon had set, so the sky was reasonably dark and the neighborhood was very peaceful. We had a wide open view of the sky, unobstructed by clouds and the wind had died down so that we didn’t feel the chill on our faces.

My husband and I reclined against the headrest, eyes wandering to locate the shooting stars, exclaiming and pointing when we chanced on a sighting. At one point we were spotting one per minute, but that was after 5-10 minutes of letting our eyes adjust enough to notice the streaks of light passing overhead. Stargazing takes a certain amount of patience, something I tend to be short on in the middle of the night. But last night the only reason we decided to end our observations was that we were starting to shrivel from the hot water.

Before we got out, we exchanged a new year’s kiss, thanking each other for pushing us to do something outside of our routine. What a great way to kick off the year – enjoying and appreciating nature and spending a special moment with the one we love. It’s amazing that something as simple as stepping off our normal path can prove to be so rewarding. It is a good reminder that life is what we make of it. Even though this may not truly qualify as an adventure, it should be an inspiration for other opportunities this year. I will be keeping my eyes open.