Biking the Coastal Trail in Anchorage

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The Mission: Bike 22 miles from downtown Anchorage to the chalet at Kincaid Park.

The Prep: 
No need to reserve in advance. Head to the Downtown Bicycle Rental  shop and pick up your bike, lock, helmet and directions. The trip should take roughly 3 hours. Bike rental is $16 for the first 3 hours. You will be charged upon return for any additional time you keep the bike.

The Gear:
Light layers as the wind can be chilly on the bike
Water
Sunscreen
Comfortable shoes

The Execution:
We started the day early and picked up our bikes at the rental shop where we received detailed instructions from the staff on how to get to the entrance of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. We pedaled through town to the trail entrance where we followed the coast of Cook Inlet. We encountered sweeping views of far off mountain ranges and a glimpse of bald eagle soaring high above us. The trail proceeds to parallel the train tracks for a bit before weaving back into the lush greenery. There were a few rest areas where we stopped to take in the view of Anchorage,snap some photos and grab a snack. You can choose to stop and turnaround at any point on the trail, but we continued on to the end (11 miles) and then turned around to head back to town- 22 miles in total. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a ton of wildlife on our ride, but it was still a beautiful and relaxing ride- a great introduction to Alaska and a must do if you visit Anchorage!

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: casual to moderate
  • If you’re not up for a bike ride, it’s a nice trail for a casual walk.
  • Keep your eye out for wildlife!
  • Wear bug spray- lots of mosquitoes.

Navigating Nha Trang

The Mission: Explore Nha Trang, Vietnam on my own terms.

The Prep: Do some research and decide what attractions you can’t miss and check out a few local tour agencies to compare prices.

The Gear:
Shades
Sunscreen
Bathing suit
Comfortable shoes
Water

The Execution:
Nha Trang- a beautiful beach town with blue skies and sparkling waters. From HCM you can either take an 8 hour train ride or a one hour flight into Nha Trang. I opted to fly via Vietjet for an incredible price of $50 USD roundtrip.

Nha Trang is known for its beaches, but I had read about some beautiful waterfalls up in the mountains and was eager to do some hiking. There were many tour companies along the main roads so I took a stroll to check out some of my options. I could rent a motorbike and cruise the area myself, but I’m terrified to drive one of those things so I decided I would hire a driver for the day. Most companies offer tour packages that take you to many of the most popular sites, but I wanted something a bit different. I spoke with the tour operator and listed the areas I wanted to see. After a bit of negotiating, we came to an agreement that the driver would take me to my listed destinations over a period of 6 hours for $20 USD.

I met my driver, strapped on my helmet and saddled up for a day of exploring Nha Trang. Our first stop was Long Son Pagoda with the famous sleeping Buddha. I was warned by my driver upon entry that there were many scam artists in the area and not to speak to anyone. As I started to explore the area, I was approached by a number of people trying to sell me things and begging for money. My driver, being a bit protective, took notice and escorted me through the grounds for the remainder of my time there. After hiking the steps to see Sleeping Buddha and taking photos with the giant White Buddha, we were off. We stopped at a local home where I learned how to weave a rug, stopped by the fishing village, explored the Po Nagar Temple, cruised down the coast and through the rice fields on the way to Ba Ho Waterfall.

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Once at the park, my driver took to his hammock as I hiked towards the falls. The trail up follows the stream and is covered by trees. I hiked until I came to a fork in the road with a few women selling food and beverages. They pointed me in the right direction and I eventually saw the red arrows painted on the rocks. I followed the arrows up, around and over the rocks until I reached the falls. While not overly impressive, the hike was a lovely and refreshing change from the bustle of HCM where I had been the previous week. I wandered around for a bit and took a quick dip in the pools to cool down from my hike before I headed back down to find my driver and head back to town.

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The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate with the tour companies and get the experience you want for the price you can afford.

A Day at Sun Moon Lake

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The Mission: Cycle and Hike in one day!

The Prep:
From Taipei, take a train to Taichung. When you arrive at Taichung, stay in the building, but go all the way downstairs where you will see a counter to purchase bus tickets. Ask for a ticket on the Nan-Tou bus to Sun Moon Lake and which station to wait at. The bus ride will take approximately 90 minutes.

The Gear:
Comfortable shoes
Shades
Sunscreen
Light layers
Lots of water

The Execution:
The bus dropped me off near a 7-11 in town at Sun Moon Lake. I walked down the main road where I saw several places to rent bikes. I surrendered my photo ID and a cash deposit to rent a bike asked for directions to the Yuetan bike path. I chose to do the 8km trail, but you can also opt to do the full 30km around the lake!

The trail started out paved, crossing a bridge and weaving in and out through the trees before opening up parallel to a main road. Here the trail turned into an elevated boardwalk with vast open views of the lake. I continued on through the trees, over abstract bridges, around meticulously landscaped gardens and out to an overlook. I passed the visitor center and came to a fork in the road, I opted to ride up the ramp and eventually down along the lake again. After riding sever more kilometers, I realized I was no longer on the trail I had intended to do, but continuing further on. Since I planned on hiking later in the day, I opted to turn around and head back to along the trail to town. I was amazed by the variety of vantage points along the trail that provided a different perspective of the lake from every angle.

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With only one day at Sun Moon Lake, I decided to follow up my bike ride with a hike to Xuanzhuang Temple. After dropping off my bike, I went down to the pier and took a shuttle boat for $NT100 across the lake. the Mt. Shueisheda trail is approximately 5.6km and got rather steep in certain areas. It was a beautiful hike with lovely foliage, but not many tourists tend to hike that far back so it was not nearly as crowded as many of the other trails. I hiked the steps and reached the main road where I finally saw the temple. After touring the temple and the grounds, I stopped at a lovely covered sitting/picnic area and enjoyed the great view of the lake. After my legs recovered, I headed back down the trail and took the shuttle back to the other side of the lake.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Grab a lock from the bike rental company so you can stop and explore.
  • Take your camera for this scenic route!
  • The bike rental company will charge you by the hour so make sure to time your ride if you are trying to stick to a certain budget.
  • Take plenty of water for your hike, there are steep areas including a section of steps.

Exploring Taroko Gorge

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The Mission: Marvel the marble at Taroko Gorge, Taiwan.

The Prep: 
This was my first tour I’ve booked through Viator. The $149 USD tour included pick-up, flight to Hualien, lunch, and train ride return to Taipei.

The Gear:
Walking shoes are a must, but hiking boots were not necessary.
Shades
Rain jacket for another rainy day!

The Execution:
The adventure began with an excruciating 6am pick up time. The driver took me directly to the airport where I met up with the others who would join the tour. The driver left us with our tickets and directions and we hopped on a quick flight to Hualien. When we arrived at Hualien, our tour guide was waiting to take our group to Taroko Gorge.

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The trip wasn’t quite what I expected. The van took us through the park, stopping occasionally to take in the sites  or have a coffee break with each stop being somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes long. I was hoping to explore more trails so a fellow passenger and I decided to take make the most of each stop and hike the trails in the area in the time allotted; which, on occasion, included sprinting back to the van so we didn’t get left behind!

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We stopped for lunch at a hotel in the park where we had the opportunity to hike up to a temple before we ate. After lunch, we had an extended stop at the Eternal Spring Shrine. My new friend and I decided to hike the 2.2km including the “sky ladder” stairs up to the Bell Tower.  From the top of the Bell Tower, we had an exclusive view of the canyon and falls below. We didn’t have much time so we sprinted down the steps, through the tunnels and back to the van before we got left behind. We left the park and the day ended with a stop at the beach.  The day was miserably cold and windy so we didn’t stay long. We all hopped back into the van and headed to the train station back to Taipei where we met our original driver to get dropped at our hotels.

The Highlights: 

  • Level of difficulty: casual
  • Although the park is beautiful, I don’t think the tour is worth the price tag.
  • The full day tour takes around 13 hours so be prepared for a long day.
  • If you want to see a lot of the park without doing a lot of walking this tour is for you. If you want to do more hiking, speak to your guide as I did and get recommendations to go off the beaten path and see more of the park.

Ice Climbing in Seward

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The Mission: Scale the crevasses of Exit Glacier in Seward, Alaska.

The Prep: 
Tourist season in Alaska is short-lived so making reservations in advance is recommended. After much research, I decided on Exit Glacier Guides- reservations can be easily made on their website. The trip is a bit pricey at $185, but well worth it!

The Gear: 
Exit Glacier Guides graciously provides all climbing gear. Check out their website for a list of what you’ll need:
http://www.exitglacierguides.com/trip_information

The Execution:
We arrived at the shop early and immediately felt comfortable with the staff who helped outfit us with crampons and a pack! Once we were fitted and packed, our small group hopped in the van for the short ride to the park. We moved at a fairly quick pace as we hiked to the trail to the glacier in order to optimize our climbing time. The hike took about an hour and a half with little to no stopping. I was happy with my decision to wear multiple layers as I got quite hot on the hike, but once at the glacier the wind was absolutely freezing!

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When we arrived at the glacier, the guides helped us strap on our crampons and ran us through safety and the basics on walking on the glacier. After a short introduction to climbing basics, we practiced our skills on an easy route to get used to the motions and using the crampons and ice picks. Taking turns climbing and resting was a great way to not only to catch our breath, but to watch and learn from the others in the group.

After a few practice climbs, we moved on to the crevasses! The guides would set up two routes at each crevasse throughout the day- one easier and one more difficult. After picking my route and getting hooked up to my belayer guide, I took my first plunge into a crevasse. The guide slowly lowered me to the bottom, talking me through the process to ensure I was comfortable. Once at the bottom of the crevasse, my guide directed me on how to initiate the climb- reaching and hammering my picks into the ice, pulling myself up and kicking my crampons into the ice to gain my footing. This took much more arm strength than I anticipated and by the time I reached the top, I was exhausted, but thrilled with my accomplishment. We had the opportunity to climb several crevasses before we had to break and hike back exhausted and basking in the glory of our accomplishments.

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The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • The guides made the trip. They were very knowledgeable, friendly, and made the trip a ton of fun!
  • Wear layers! The temperature varies dramatically from the hike to the glacier.
  • The hike to the glacier is fast paced and you will be wearing a pack. Make sure you are physically prepared for this.
  • The only bathroom is at the bottom of the mountain. Bring TP and be ready to go behind a rock if need be.
  • Sunglasses are recommended, the sun reflecting off the ice can really hurt the eyes.
  • This is an all day tour. Be ready to commit to an 8 hour day.
  • This was one of my favorite experiences, but if you’re not ready to climb, they also offer glacier hikes that are not as rigorous.

 

Kayaking Resurrection Bay

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The Mission: Navigate the open waters of Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska via Kayak.

The Prep: 
During peak season, I always recommend making reservations in advance. I love kayaking, but I’m no pro so I decided to go with a half-day tour instead of the full-day tour in hopes of having full use of my arms the next day. Opting for the half-day tour gives you more time options, so if you’re not a morning person you can go later in the day. I made reservations with Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking for a 3-hour tour of Resurrection Bay for $70.

The Gear:
Check out Sunny Cove’s recommendations for what to wear and bring here.
I recommend bringing a warm, dry pair of socks for afterwards.
Once again, it was a lovely rainy day for my adventure so I packed on light layers, my waterproof jacket and waterproof pants. Once out on the water, I completely forgot it was raining. I felt totally dry and comfortable the entire trip.

The Execution:
We arrived 15 minutes early at the gear shed to get outfitted with everything we would need for our day on the water. Once geared up, the guides moved the group down to the beach to go over safety, the basics of kayaking and answer any questions. Once we were rigged, the guides helped us into our kayaks and pushed us out into the water.

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The guides were great about keeping us together as a group, pointing out wildlife, and answering my questions about landscape and the color of the water. Despite the rain, the waters were smooth and our paddles glided through the water like a knife through soft butter. The lush green landscape, rocky beaches and soaring wildlife made paddling through the dense mist feel like a dream. After paddling for a while, we stopped off at a black rock beach for a quick walk and sightseeing. We ran into a few campsites and man-made shelters before we  got back into our kayaks to continue our trip. Once back on the water, we were lucky enough to have the rare opportunity to spot humpback whales in the distance! We stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the beauty of these majestic creatures before we continued our trip back to Lowell Point. In total, we spent about 2.5 hours on the water and my arms weren’t even sore the next day!

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • The scenery was beautiful and a great opportunity for wildlife viewing.
  • Waterproof, not water-resistant clothing is highly recommended.
  • A walk on the beach is not guaranteed.
  • Yes, my arms were a bit tired the next day, but still functioning!

Glacier Hiking in Iceland

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The Mission: Hike my first glacier in magical Iceland.

The Prep: 
You’ll want to make arrangements for this one in advance. I booked online for $177 USD which included hotel pick-up and drop-off and all the gear you’ll need, but no food or beverage.

The Gear:
Heat gear leggings
Hiking pants
Waterproof insulated jacket
Fleece lined hat
Gloves
Merino wool socks
Hiking boots

The Execution:
After a long night (and morning) of Brennivin (aka Black Death) drinking, we dragged our hungover selves on the bus for Solheimajokull glacier. Once at the glacier, we were offered waterproof pants (definitely necessary) and geared up with crampons and ice picks. The guides offered a lot of interesting facts about the history of the glacier and its formation and were extremely knowledgeable and eager to answer all of our questions, not only about the glacier, but also about their lives in Iceland. We saw waterfalls and crevasses and learned that the black ash all over the glacier was due to a recent volcanic eruption. The guides took us on a 3.5 hour exploration of the glacier before we headed back to the bus and toward our next stop. We made stops at Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls to explore and take some photos before heading back to the hotel. Overall, the trip lasted around 10 hours. An incredible and unique experience, that I imagine would be even more enjoyable not hungover!

 

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The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Bring plenty of water and lunch.
  • Be prepared for any weather conditions- weather on the glacier can be much different from weather off the glacier- quite windy and possibly rainy.
  • Waterproof gloves will make your life way more comfortable.
  • Not recommended for people with balance issues.

Bikes and Brews in Bruges

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The Mission: Bike from Bruges to the tiny town of Damme in Belgium.

The Prep: 
Before you head out, hit the internet to find the closest bike rental shop.  No need to reserve a bike in advance, but a little research will save you from wandering around town in search of a rental spot.

The Gear:
Comfortable shoes
Light layers
Shades
Sunscreen
Water

The Execution:
I hit up Bauhaus (no, not the band) youth hostel AND bike rental spot a short walk from the center of town. They offer bike tours, but I wanted to explore on my own so I opted for the hourly rental. I traded my photo ID for a bike, lock and map and hit the road.

I started pedaling and headed out-of-town, stopping at a few of the windmills to explore and take a few photos before continuing my journey down the path that parallels the canal. A very easy, flat, dirt, tree-lined path took me through the quiet countryside all the way to Damme. Damme is a charming little village; I stopped on the bridge over the canal for a few photos and made friends with a nice German couple before continuing into the village. I pedaled through the village before hopping off my bike to explore the remains of the lovely old church. After a peaceful walk through some gardens, I set out to return to Bruges. On my return ride, I cycled down the opposite side of the canal for a different perspective.

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BRUGES

Upon my return to Bruges, I stopped by De Halve Maan Brewery for a tour and ice-cold beer (nothing like a nice beer after a long ride). No reservation was necessary, and for 8 Euro, I received a tour of the brewery and a beer! The tour is not only an interesting way to learn about the history of the beer and how it’s brewed, but there’s also a fantastic view of the city from the brewery roof. And the best part of all….a blonde Brugse Zot to end my day. Bikes and brews make for an iconic Belgian day; just remember…don’t drink and bike!

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: casual
  • Take water and snacks as there is nowhere to stop between Bruges and Damme.
  • Take your time and enjoy the ride!

A Day of Hiking in Kenting

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The Mission: Find the entrance to Kenting National Park and hike some trails!

The Prep:
I decided to stay in Hengchun, a small town north of the park. From here, I took a local bus down to the Kenting area. It can be quite confusing as Kenting is the name of the park as well as the name of the area surrounding the park.

The Gear:
Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!
Shades
Hiking shoes
Merino wool socks
Shorts and tank top
Plenty of water and snacks

The Execution:
I started early and hopped on a bus for Kenting, not knowing exactly where to disembark. I told the driver I was trying to get to the national park and to let me know when we were close. At some point the driver stopped the bus and shouted “here! off now!” and off I went with the faint sound of laughter from the other passengers in the background. I took in my surroundings and realized I was in front of a resort, not a park. After aimlessly walking down the highway for a while, I found a Starbucks and asked for directions….at least I was walking in the right direction they said. I continued walking for another 20 minutes when I found the park entrance. I was hoping to find an information booth or some sort of map, but found nothing of the sort so I continued walking into the park and finally saw a road sign for “Kenting Forest Recreation Area”- I was going in the right direction. I waited at the bus stop for a while only to realize it was never coming so I started hoofing it up the hill. A few cars stopped and tried to offer me rides (I think), and as much as I would have loved to forego the long uphill walk, I figured hitchhiking probably wasn’t the smartest idea so I continued on….and on…and on. After about 45 minutes, I reached the entrance where I received applause from some of the other visitors who had driven by me on the road.

After paying the NT$150 entrance fee, I roamed the area wandering through lush forest greens, coral reef and narrow canyons. I explored the Fairy Cave and encountered some bats, took in the views from the observation tower and roamed the Valley of the Hanging Banyans with its’ hanging roots. The park is very easy to navigate via the paved trails and numbered signs that direct you to 17 different attractions.

When I was finished exploring the recreation area, I took a walk down the road to the Sheding Nature Park. Here I found multiple trails winding through more coral formations and narrow caves. I hiked up to one of the viewing platforms where there was a spanning ocean view and extreme winds. Wanting to escape the cold of the winds, I headed back down to the trail system and continued around the loop chasing butterflies through the dense greenery.

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After completing a loop around the area, I was sufficiently tired and ready for lunch, but I still had to walk another 45 minutes back down the hill to town!  After a quick bite to eat, I hopped back on the bus to Hengchun where a much longer day than anticipated resulted in a nap.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: casual to moderate
  • Save yourself a lot of trouble and rent a motorbike to get around the park. It will save you a lot of extra walking!
  • Arrive at the recreation area early as it tends to get crowded.
  • If you forgot water or snacks, there is a visitor center at both Sheding and the Nature Area as well as restrooms.
  • Grab a map at the entrance of the Nature Reserve and decide which direction you want to go so you don’t backtrack- it’s easy to get turned around in this park.
  • Parking is available at the Nature Area for a fee.

Seeking the Summit of Hallasan

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The Mission: Ascend the tallest mountain in South Korea.

The Prep: I started in Seoul and flew Asiana airlines to the island of Jeju. Flight time was about an hour and there are multiple airlines that fly this route daily.

There are multiple routes to the summit and I chose to take the Seongpanak trail- 9.6km to the top and one of the most popular trails.

The Gear:
Waterproof hiking boots- I opted to do this hike in the dead of winter so I wore my Sorel, fur-lined Tivoli boots.
Smart wool extra heavy socks
Heat gear leggings
Hiking pants
Heat gear long-sleeved shirt
Pull over fleece
Water resistant winter jacket
Glove liners
Fleece gloves
Fleece lined beanie
Shades
Sunscreen
Hydration pack
Snacks (lots of protein)

The Execution:
Mt. Hallasan is located on the island of JeJu in South Korea. I started my journey before dawn at the JeJu Express Bus Terminal. The agent did not speak English so I showed her the destination on my phone written in Korean and bought a round trip bus ticket (Bus #780). Once aboard, it was roughly a 30 minute ride to the trail head. When I arrived at the park I was shocked by what I saw…hundreds of people preparing for the hike! I soon realized this was going to be a crowded and slushy trail.

After a quick stop at the restroom, I was off. Since the days are short in winter, I started my journey before sunrise. The trail was quite dark so I followed a group of people with headlamps to guide the way. The sun quickly started to rise and with it, the melting of snow. With so many hikers on the trail and the sun high in the sky, the trail became very slushy and slippery. While most hikers had come prepared with crampons, I had only my hiking boots and meticulously chose my steps to remain upright.

I eventually reached the park checkpoint en route to the summit. The park requires you pass this checkpoint by noon in order to continue to the summit or you must turn around and head back down. Since I started early, I reached the checkpoint in plenty of time and decided to stop for a few minutes to use the restroom (which I don’t recommend using unless absolutely necessary…ewww!) and refuel before continuing my journey. By this point I thought “it cant be much further…” and boy was I wrong, the worst was yet to come. The remainder of the hike was steep and slick. Once I passed the tree line, the trail turned to ice, complete with high winds. This portion of the trail was very slow going with people hiking in both directions and very few areas to place your feet in the thick ice and snow.

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When I finally reached the summit, the views were immense and so was the wind. With so many hikers reaching the summit at the same time, I became very overwhelmed and anxious to get some space. I quickly took a look around and snapped a few photos before I headed back down out of the elements and craziness. Once I was below the tree line, the wind subsided and the rest of the trip down was more comfortable and less crowded. When I reached the end of my hike, I went across the street and easily hopped back on the next bus back to the terminal where I welcomed the chance to sit, rest my feet and dream of the hot shower I would enjoy back at my hotel.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: ugh!
  • Elevation: 1,950 meters
  • A headlamp would have been helpful.
  • Crampons are not necessary, but would definitely make life easier.
  • Make sure you have enough food and water.
  • Hiking poles will help with the steep terrain.
  • Wear proper hiking boots, NOT sneakers.
  • Most hikers come in groups on tour buses, you will have more flexibility to go at your own pace as an individual.
  • Start early!! It will take roughly 4 hours to reach the summit.
  • Some food is sold at the entrance of the trail and at the checkpoint, but I would recommend bringing lunch with you so you can stop and eat where and when you need to.
  • If you drive to the entrance, parking is free.
  • Entrance to the park is free.
  • You can opt to take one trail to the top and a different trail return.
  • Take your time and enjoy the journey.