Maintaining Balance at Work, in Life, and on a Bicycle Redux

This is a refresh of an article I wrote for a company newsletter a few years ago.  I figured it needed an update with the events of 2017, because it reminded me how much maintaining a good work/life balance is key to enjoying life.

If you asked anyone that knows me to tell you something about me it’s that I like bicycles. It’s true that I’ve spend a lot of time with bikes: commuting, exploring, racing, road, mountain, fat or otherwise.  What doesn’t always come through is my love for the outdoors in general, and my choice in employers in more recent years has allowed me to maintain a healthy work/life balance that I didn’t recognize that I needed in the past, and I’ve come to appreciate even more as time passes.  

I’ve been working in the construction industry in some way, shape, or form since 1998.  The thing you will notice if you look at building trends over the years is our homes and workplaces have gotten much more comfortable in the last 100 years protecting us from the elements better than ever before, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend time outside.  Just look at office buildings and how much natural light they let in now versus those built a century ago.  Why would you want to go outside when you have all that natural light streaming in?!

I’m always planning my next adventures, and looking back at past trips to learn from those experiences.  One example of a learning experience was spring of 2016 when I spent most of a week in Colorado with a friend riding our mountain bikes, but that wasn’t by choice.  We had planned on visiting some trails in Arkansas.  However, just like the previous 2 years I’ve gone, Mother Nature rained (or snowed) on our parade.  So when we woke up to raindrops hitting the tents and big storms to our South, instead of Arkansas we pointed the truck West and went to Colorado.  We ended up having a great time, managed to get about 100 miles of singletrack under our tires, and rode places we hadn’t been to previously.  I have clearly learned not to go to Arkansas in March, but you would think I would have figured that out after the first 2 trips.

In June of 2016 the hearts of my wife and I called us back to Isle Royale for the third time and we were able to truly disconnect for a while.  Isle Royale is the kind of place that if you’re lucky you might get a cell signal from Canada.  (Click here for details on that trip) That little strip of land in the middle of the Gitchee Gumee may be our favorite place to visit, it’s a magical place after all.  Our first two trips to the Island brought us to either of the two main ranger stations, and from those points we hiked out for several days in different directions never being more than a day’s hike away from the ferry. It allowed us to learn a lot about the terrain and what to expect on future trips.  This time around we took the ferry from Grand Portage to McCargo Cove, and then spent the next 8 days hiking across the island back to Washington Harbor.  Sure we could have done it faster, but we want to make sure we enjoy ourselves and leave some time to explore and take photos.  And as with many of our trips, plans had to be adjusted part way through due to weather.  We’re people, and we can adapt, so we did.

In the past we’ve also gone to South Dakota (Black Hills/Badlands), Montana (Glacier NP), Colorado (Estes Park/Rocky Mountain NP), Ontario, (Sleeping Giant Provincial Park) and Utah (all 5 National parks; Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Canyonlands), not to mention our countless trips to the North Shore of Lake Superior.  In 2017 our honeymoon finally took us to the East Coast where we spent 9 days in Maine and Boston.

One thing is for sure, in the years since I’ve started attending various mountain bike races and events, I’ve learned a lot about myself, what my limits were, and have really pushed those boundaries a few times.  I remember when 7 miles was a struggle, but in 2014 I pushed myself to ride 7 laps (79 miles) in 13 hours at the Wausau 24.  This year I’m hoping to push myself further than I have in recent years, but I haven’t figured out what that means yet!

I guess what it comes down to is I’ve spent a lot of time over the years either behind a desk or a steering wheel with very little free time, but life doesn’t have to be that way.  For a person like myself who is active outdoors I needed the freedom my career has allowed me to have, and I’m thankful for that opportunity today. Sure, we get busy stretches here and there, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the time to spend a little time outdoors.  

October Backroad Adventure


Map of our drive

So, back in October we took advantage of heading to my cousins wedding to take a long weekend up north and do some extra exploring in our new-to-us truck.  We often head to the North Shore when we need to get away for a few days, and we hadn’t been for all of 2017 due to wedding planning and the like, so we both scheduled an extra day off of work and went for it.

We started our day waking up before Sunrise by hitting 61 and heading up the shore to the Coho Cafe in Tofte.  It’s one of many great restaurants along the way so we make it a point to visit when we can.  From there we continued to up to Grand Marais to visit Artist Point, and then up to Wayswaugoing Bay Overlook outside of Grand Portage.

View from Wayswaugoing Bay Overlook.

From there we turned back and went up old US 61 to the location of the old United States/Canada border crossing.  There’s  some dilapidated buildings there, and it looks like someone converted the buildings on the Canadian side to a nice little homestead.  The bridge is long since gone, and the Pigeon River still roars below.

On the way out to the boarder crossing I noticed a few other roads I don’t remember seeing in past travels, so we decided to drive down Partridge Falls Road until we got to the Pigeon River again.  We got out and looked around a bit, but I couldn’t figure out the route to get to the actual falls, so we turned back towards the direction of Mt. Maude.

You can drive most of the way to the top of Mt. Maude on a double track forest road, and a high clearance vehicle is probably recommended, but the maintenance road is gated off so you need to hike the last few hundred vertical feet.  Up top there is a communications tower and an old fire tower you can ascend.  We didn’t quite make it to the top as 2 guys passed us on the stair as I stopped on one of the stair landings to take some pictures and I didn’t feel like sharing the confined space up top.  So we went back down, hopped in the truck, and then continued back to Rengo Road.

Rengo Road follows the ridge near the Canadian Border for quite a while, and there’s several helicopter pads along the way that are used for staging, and the views are pretty amazing too.  Most cars would be able to travel this way, but there’s definitely some rocks to watch out for.  We were hoping to see either moose or bear, but only saw some grouse dart across the road here and there.  We continued on until we got to the trailhead for the northern-most end of the Superior Hiking Trail and got out for a little hike.   When you get to the northern terminus of the SHT you end up on top of a rocky knob adjacent to the Swamp River.  The views from here are nothing short of amazing, with over 180° view of the landscape.

When we got back to the truck we continued down Otter Lake Road until we came to the Arrowhead Trail, went North a bit more and then West on Shoe Lake Road and just kept exploring the little spurs to see what we could find.  Once we made it this far we didn’t see any other vehicles for quite a while.  We eventually made our way to USFS 144.  Many of the spurs hadn’t been traveled much so they were a little overgrown…. more so than I was really comfortable trying to navigate.  When coming back down one of the spurs we came across some people in a Suburban who were grouse hunting.  They must have figured we would have scared off any birds back that way so they quick backed up, turned around, and continued down the road.  It started getting dark  and we eventually lost sight of their taillights.  The road through here was fairly rocky and slow, so we just took our time in an effort not to break something as I was still getting comfortable with the limits of the truck.

We eventually rounded a corner where the road all but disappeared.  It was fairly rocky, slow, and narrow.  Before I fully realized where we were, we found ourselves on the banks of the Brule River.  This caused a bit of confusion because I thought we had made the turn onto another forest road, but I must have missed another turn somewhere.  So instead of backing up down the narrow road, I got out, stood on the truck to survey the crossing, and checked with Laura for her thoughts.  She looked at me quizzically and asked if I was sure it was the right way.  While I wasn’t 100% sure, I thought I could hear cars on the Gunflint Trail, so I said yes…. or at least that is what she said I said.  We eased the front tires in to the water, it dropped down a bit, but it was solid so I kept going.  Before I knew it the water was up to the doors and we cold feel the water hitting the floor of the cab, but the little Nissan just kept chugging through until we were to the other bank and on dry land.  Another 500′ or so we were at the Gunflint Trail, I got out to look the truck over to make sure everything was ok, and we continued back o Grand Marais for dinner at the Angry Trout.

Over 300 miles of driving, about 6 hours and 100 miles on double track, hiking trails, and forest roads, and one river crossing.  A good shakedown of the truck if you ask me.  We can’t wait to get out for more adventures with this thing.

The Adventure Continues

To say it’s been a busy year would be an understatement.  1 year and 4 days ago, November 12 of 2016 for those counting,  I found myself on the shoreline of Lake Superior at sunrise on one knee asking the woman of my dreams to be my adventure partner for life.  She said yes of course, no surprise there really, but after that it was a whirl wind of meetings, fittings, and waiting.  It all came down to what turned out to be a picturesque moment 2 months and 1 day ago (September 15th, 2017 if you’re counting again).


Somewhere in there I also took a new job, took on a personal project with a friend that has been quite a learning experience, and bought a new adventure buggy when the old Heep said it had enough.

Also in that time I haven’t done any racing, haven’t spent much time (wading) in or on the water, and did very little adventuring either with friends or my now wife.  There’s been long weekends working on the house in preparation for sale.


However, we did get to take an amazing trip to the East Coast for our honeymoon, exploring Boston by foot and heading up the coast of Maine for a ways.  In many aspects it reminded us of the North Shore, but also different.  There is certainly more elevation (everything starts at sea level), but with a similar latitude and volcanic substrate, we couldn’t help but notice all the similarities in the flora and fauna.  And fresh seafood, everywhere we looked.


We’ll definitely be back to Maine, but we have other plans for 2018.

Back to (fly casting) Basics

Since before we left for our Isle Royale Adventure I had slowly been collecting needed gear and equipment to get back on the water.  Not that I needed a lot of stuff, but since my old Jeep Cherokee was stolen in 2008 I mostly stopped fly fishing due to lost equipment and lack of time due to becoming a home-moaner.

So after some internal debate and planning with Laura on Wednesday before committing to leaving for my grandmother’s on Thursday night to visit family I decided that Sunday would be the day.  I made a quick trip to Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop new location in St. Paul before they closed and got set up with a fresh line for my aging rod and reel.  I was set, almost, but I was definitely excited about getting back on the water.
After helping my uncle Tony and cousin Andy butcher chickens on Saturday we had lunch with my grandmother, helped my mother with a few things around the house, then made the longish journey back to “The Cities”.  On the way back we stopped for a quick bite in Alexandria and Laura asked me what I was going to do with my Sunday, and I wasn’t quite sure what my morning would fully hold for me, but what I did know is I was going to drive down to Cannon Falls and chase smallmouth in the late afternoon/evening.

Sunday morning came and we visited our usual weekend breakfast spot then parted ways.  I knew I needed a net yet, so shortly after parting ways I ran to Mend Provisions in Minneapolis to pick up a net from Handy Pak (Super impressed with this little piece of equipment by the way), and I was set after a quick visit to my local hardware store for a fishing license (with trout stamp of course).

Practice makes perfect

I spent the next few hours doing a few things around the yard, practicing knots, and making sure Cleo had everything she needed (minus her people to protect her from the fireworks booming in the neighborhood) and I was on my way.  Had I done a little research I would have known that the Cannon Valley Fair was going on, so to say that the Cannon River was busy would be an understatement.  I walked around River View Park for a while, exploring the river bank and checking out wading options, but it was clear that I wouldn’t be chasing smallies on the Cannon River that afternoon, there were just too many people making lots of noise.  Luckily I had done some research ahead of time and made my way out of town to explore more of the Little Cannon River to the south a bit.


Can you spot the monster of a ‘bow?
Not quite what i was looking for in terms of access, time to move on.

I ended up heading back into town and dropping in where the Little Cannon River and Cannon River meet.  I tied on a hares ear and went to work.  My first few casts were awkward, but that’s to be expected when you haven’t had your hands on a fly rod in a number of years.  After a few more casts, letting out a little more line each time, the lessons of my father and Layton (Skip) James came back and I was getting more comfortable.  After about 20 minutes of practice I hooked into my first fish, but had trouble setting the hook, so no go there.  A little while later I hooked another, but it rolled and shook loose.  Then I noticed that they were striking at something on the surface, but couldn’t quite tell what.  Eventually I saw the familiar tent of a caddis fly on my calf and dove into my fly box.  After 3 or 4 casts I had a strike and set the hook, my first trout on the fly in several years, a little 8″ brown.  I had a few more quick strikes but no success, so I moved up under the bridge where I’d seen some other fish rising to the surface.  My second cast I snagged some grass on the far bank and snapped my fly loose, so I tied on another.


Number 1

After about 10 minutes working my way up the bank I hooked my second, another brown about 10″ long.  Not huge, but it had plenty of fight for such a little guy.  I made a few more casts and hooked into something a bit bigger, could have been a bass, or a trout, but it ran back up the stream at me and I wasn’t able to keep it on.


Number 2

Shortly after it was starting to get dark and my casts were getting lazier, so I made my way up to the bike path and back to my parked Jeep.  On the way back I had a nice talk with another fisherman about fishing and life that had me re-think some stuff I’d be trying to figure out recently.  That talk with a stranger helped reassure me that I’m on the right path though, and that I just need to keep doing things that made me happy, like riding bikes, camping, and fishing.  I’ll be back to explore more of the Little Cannon upstream and to check out some of the other streams near home.  One thing is for sure though, I’m not sure why I ever stopped fly fishing.

Our 2016 Isle Royale Adventure Summary

I figured an overall summary of our trip was probably in order.  It’s hard to type something like this and then remember it all, which is why I split it up day by day so I can go back and look at each section of trail we traveled. I’ve given a brief summary of each day and links to my Garmin data as well as the post for that day.  Feel free to read up on anything and everything.  We’ve learned a lot about the island and ourselves over these trips, and maybe you’ll gain some insight from our (mis)adventure as well.

Click on the date for a look into my trip journal, except for the drive up, I didn’t write about that anywhere.  Sorry about the functionality of the Garmin maps, but if you click on the photo it will take you to the activity and the data you might be looking for.

Friday June 3, 2016

We drove up and made our usual stop at Grand Portage State Park to see the falls when we are in the area.  It didn’t disappoint.  We ate dinner at the casino, double checked our gear and tried to sleep despite our excitement.



Saturday June 4, 2016

We arrived on the island with plenty of time to explore the area so we hiked out to the now abandoned Minong Mine.



Sunday June 5, 2016

Our most difficult day took us to Todd Harbor.  Difficult because of the terrain, not because of the distance.  Todd Harbor is now our second favorite campground to stay in.



Monday June 6, 2016

We decided to turn inland to Hatchet Lake based on what we’d seen and what we know about upcoming sections of trail.  From others reports this was a good decision.


Tuesday June 7, 2016

A long but relatively easy day.  The views from the Greenstone Ridge were pretty amazing.


Wednesday June 8, 2016

We needed a day of rest, but that didn’t mean we were going to sit idle.  We decided our time was best spent going back up the Greenstone Ridge to an overlook we saw the day before.


Thursday June 9, 2016

Our longest day by distance and time, but still not as difficult as the trek to Todd Harbor.


Friday June 10, 2016

Our return to our favorite place on the island, but it was a short visit due to the weather.  It was every bit as beautiful as we had remembered and we’ll definitely be back in the future.


Saturday June 11, 2016

Our shortest day, the short jaunt back to the dock at the Windigo Visitor’s Center.


Day 8 (and 9) – The Journey Home – Saturday June 11, 2016

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It was our last day on the Wild Isle and we weren’t in a rush to leave.  In fact, we both would have preferred to stay if we could, but it was time to get back to reality.  I enjoyed the morning sun while Laura stayed cozy in the sleeping bag.  I kept hearing noises coming from Washington Creek so I went to investigate and found trout rising to hatching mayflies.  Laura finally crawled out of her warm cocoon and so it was time to get coffee going.  After our last meal on the island of granola with milk and freeze dried blue berries it was time to pack up our gear, and since the boat didn’t leave until 2 we took our time and just enjoyed those last moments.  We slowly made our way to the dock with our packs and then went up the hill to the ranger station to visit with Ranger Val and update our back country permit with our revised itinerary.  We also talked about what volunteer opportunities there are on Isle Royale and discussed some other things about the history of the island.  When we first got to the island I noticed that Ranger Steve and Ranger Val both had the same last name, so I had to ask if they were married, and indeed they had met on the island on her first year and his second.  Now that is something truly magical in my eyes, to have met in such a majestic environment and be able to return every year with each other.

As 1:00 rolled around we brought our gear out to the boat, but the next hour went REALLY slow.  Luckily there was an otter (or maybe there were two) playing under the dock to keep us occupied for a little bit.  We finally boarded and we were off.  As we pulled away from the dock all the rangers came out and waved goodbye and the same as we passed Beaver Island.  I started to tear up some as we motored out between the various islands, reality was setting in, we were leaving this special place for the third time.  The boat captain slowed down as we approached Rock of Ages so people could get photos, Laura and I commented on how we had never been this close to the lighthouse on our first trip, and the waters were more calm that time.  The next hour on the lake went way faster than our last hour on the island, but we were finally within the protection of the harbor in Grand Portage.  Not that the trip back was as rough as the trip out, but it did feel good to have my feet on solid ground again.  I was a little worried I’d get back to the Jeep and find a dead battery, but my worries were unfounded, it fired right up.

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How cool would it be to have this little cottage?
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Rock of Ages Lighthouse, the first and last thing you see at Isle Royale if arriving by ferry from Grand Portage, MN.

On the way out of Grand Portage we stopped at the gas station for some Pringles and Coke.  Laura turned on her phone but we didn’t have any cell phone reception until we were almost in Grand Marais.  That’s when her phone blew up, getting notifications about being on the approved list for jobs at a few counties and setting up an interview or two.  All her hard work the last year paid off, and the trip to Isle Royale was just what she needed to decompress.  We didn’t make any stops along the way to Duluth, we were more concerned about what we were going to have for dinner.  A few thoughts included Canal Park Brewing, Fitgers, or Bellisio’s, but when it came down to it we were tired and really just wanted to clean up and relax.  As we passed the Glensheen Mansion we called Pizza Luce and ordered a pie to go, Athena with chicken, and once we checked into the hotel I walked the two blocks down to pick it up.  As I was returning there was a guy walking a Golden Doodle that kept moving slower and slower as I approached.  Eventually it just stopped and looked at me, he asked her “what are you stopping for” and I told him she was probably more interested in the smell of my pizza than their walk.  He thought it was pretty funny and commented about the smell of the pizza.  That was another thing I noticed, even though the last time I had showered was 8 days ago and my clothes were sorta clean, people didn’t look at me like I had just crawled out of some back alley.  Had I done the same thing at home people would be whispering about the smell and giving me a wide berth.

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Quite the view to enjoy our first real meal in 8 days.

It felt so good to eat “real” food again that between the two of us we finished off a 16″ pizza, I had 8 slices, Laura had 4.  Then it was time to relax.  I decided to shave to make sure I still had a chin, and after about 30 minutes I was clean shaven.  We talked about walking down to Canal Park, but neither of us had the energy so we just flopped down and watched some television.  If you’re familiar with the show House Hunters at all we found a similar show about people relocating to Montana that we found quite interesting, not because of the money people were spending on homes, but because none of them were moving there for the lifestyle, only the looks and to get out of whatever big city they were stuck in.  When it came down to it though, neither of us could fall asleep, it was just too quiet.  Laura and I had just 8 days on the Isle Royale with the longest day of the year approaching, last light being around 11:00 P.M., and first light (on clear mornings) being around 3:30 A.M.  This meant that birds were squawking, chirping, and cooing all hours of the day, and when you’re high up in a hotel room in the quiet little harbor town of Duluth it’s comparatively quiet.

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Those last two pieces only lasted until after I got cleaned up.
How is this even the same person?!

The next morning I woke up at 5:30 and just laid there.  I was so used to the morning ruckus on Isle Royale that I couldn’t sleep any longer, so I just sat in bed and did some reading while Laura slept.  We eventually got out of bed and strolled down to Canal Park where we enjoyed breakfast at Amazing Grace.  Again, more delicious food after 8 days (and 1 hour) on a mostly deserted island.  After that we followed the Lake Walk back downtown and stopped in to The Duluth Coffee Co. for some fresh grounds to use at home.  We wanted to get on the road because there were more storms moving in and we had been away from Cleo since the previous Friday morning.  To say she was happy to see us when we got home was a bit of an understatement, although she didn’t seem to care much that I was there after the first 30 seconds or so.


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That’s one happy puppy, and a very rough lawn that needed some attention.

Day 7 – Racing Rain Drops – Friday June 10, 2016

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Sunset at Huginnin Cove with some River Otters in 2013.

Huginnin Cove is is a very special place on the island to us.  Our first trip was in 2013, and when we got there we weren’t sure where to go so we enlisted Ranger Val for help when we arrived.  She told us about Huginnin Cove and how it was her favorite place to go on Isle Royale, so that’s where we went and it was truly an amazing place.  It’s fairly well protected from the lake, has a beautiful rocky beach, and the must spectacular sunsets we’ve seen on the island.  Huginnin Cove was our destination for the day.

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Looks like a poopular rock…
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This old boat has seen better days.

Since revising our itinerary early in our trip our plan for the day had been to hike out to Huginnin Cove for a visit since we wouldn’t be able to camp there this trip.  This was a good plan since we needed the rest.  We may have cracked our eyes open at around 7, but didn’t actually crawl out of the sleeping bag until nearly 8.  To go with our morning coffee we had Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy, and that turned out to be surprisingly delicious.  I made a second pot of coffee and filled up my thermos so we could bring it along for our hike and enjoy it with a light lunch at the cove.  Just as we were getting our gear ready to head out the barometric alarm on my watch went off, but it was still sunny out.  A few minutes later the low rumbling started, but we didn’t see a cloud in the sky.  Being so close to the ranger station we decided to check on what was going on, Laura had to fill out her wolf siting report anyhow.  Ranger Val greeted us, gave Laura a report to fill out, and pulled up the radar for us.  It wasn’t looking good.  The storm we were observing looked like it would just skirt the north side of the island, but there was another storm to the south and west, near home, that looked like it could be trouble.  We decided to wait out the first storm just to be safe and then we would hit the trail.

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Barometer just after my alarm went off.

And just after 12:00 we made a bee-line for Huginnin Cove.  We hit the first and second intersections pretty quickly, those sections of trail go really quick without all your gear on your back.  Then we crossed the familiar bridge at Washington Creek and from there we slowly started making our way up the Minong Ridge, and before we knew it we were at the split for Huginnin Cove.  Today was a lot like our first trip to the Wild Isle, cool (low to mid 50’s) near the shore, warm (mid 70’s) inter-island.  We passed a lot of familiar places; a little rocky spot above a marsh we stopped for lunch our first trip, a boardwalk along a beaver dam (currently being repaired because it looks like there were some moose vandals) and then the rocky descent to the cliffs of the island’s north shore.  We could tell that we were getting close, the air was noticably cooler, and the fresh breeze smelled amazing. Before we knew it we had dropped down to the lake sure, or cliff-side as it were.

The next mile and a half as every bit as dramatic as we remembered; crashing waves, rocky outcroppings to navigate around, over, and through, and incredible views of the lake beyond.  A little further along we saw the massive boulders that mark the entrance to Huginnin Cove, we were there.  It was every bit as gorgeous as we recalled.  We found a little spot to sit and enjoy our coffee and granola, but that didn’t last long.  In the 15 minutes we were there the Canadian shore went from foggy but visible to to dark and non-existent, that second storm was rolling in and fast.  We quickly packed up our belongings, snapped a few more pictures, and got moving back towards Windigo. (Click Here for some Photo Sphere’s of Huginnin Cove)


Our anxiety kicked in at first and we were moving at sub 15 minute miles, so I chimed in and Laura agreed that we should slow down, it wasn’t worth someone getting hurt.  On and on we went, through more familiar places, up ridges, through swamps, over boardwalks.  And then it came, but just a few sprinkles at first, so we stopped to pack up the camera and throw on our rain jackets quick.  And on we went, up and down, over, around and through the ravines, swales and ridges of the island.  Then the thunder and lightning came, and the rain followed soon after coming down in buckets.  We were close though.  We hit the west trail intersection and then crossed the bridge at Washington Creek.  So close, but the rain wasn’t showing any signs of letting up and we still had a mile or so to the shelter.  We hit the Windigo intersection and the trail finally widened out to the width of the park’s tractor.  We were soaked, but we made it back and it felt good to be in a dry shelter instead of dealing with the tent.  Luckily our pack towels were dry because we really needed them.  We threw on our dry wool and crawled into the sleeping bag to warm up.  I ended up dozing off for half an hour or so, but then it was time for dinner.  I had been stringing Laura along with this Chili for a few days now and it went great with our last summer sausage and tortillas.

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Still laughing despite the impending rain!
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Still smiling despite the rain!


After dinner the skies were still cloudy and we were beat so Laura turned in and I spoke with some other campers who wandered by our site for a bit.  It was nice to hear stories from another experienced visitor, and I’ll definitely be taking some of his advice in the future.