Biking in Rocky Mountain National Park

Last weekend we went biking in Rocky Mountain National Park and it was amazing. If you would like to see our previous forays into RMNP (including our awesome winter camping trip!) click here.

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We took this trip on Mother’s Day ~ it was the treat that C planned for me, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. I love biking, and I really love biking with C and the boys, but I don’t find it fun or relaxing if we’re biking on roads busy with cars. Fortunately, as I’ll explain, this ride was perfect because it was car-free and the scenery was breathtaking. More pics and tips ahead!

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A Day Trip to Cheyenne, WY

We love to travel. If you’re interested in more adventures in the Western US, check out our Colorado hikes.

If you follow us on Instagram, then you saw that we got up close and personal with some buffalo. That experience happened at the end of a day trip that we took to Cheyenne, WY on a whim. And what a great whim it was!

When leaving for the trip, we knew nothing about Cheyenne, other than that it was only an hour and a half drive from Boulder, and that it was in Wyoming. Sarah and I are always up for any adventure that takes us somewhere new, so with excitement in our hearts and two crazy kids in the backseat, we set off.

First stop, coffee and egg sandwiches for the drive. Next stop, the Cheyenne visitor center.

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Why You Should Volunteer

I’ve been volunteering my time quite a bit lately and as always, it feels wonderful. I’m republishing this post in hopes that you’ll research a new volunteering opportunity in your area and field of interest. If you have any experience volunteering or suggestions for others, throw them in the comments. 

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Happy Monday!  Over a year ago, when Katie and I started this blog, we had intended for our Mondays to be inspiring.  We thought, what better to read on a Monday morning than something that will amp you up for the rest of the week or at the very least, make your Monday a bit better.  We’ve strayed a little bit from that scheduling because we realized we have so much to share in all spheres, but today we’re going back to our roots and inspiring you to help out a little. You know, volunteer a few hours or a few days, whatever you can. Today I’m sharing my two cents on why you should volunteer followed by a recap of my recent volunteer experience on the Appalachian Trail that includes a remembrance of our dear hiking friend.

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Cultivate a Life of Travel

Live seasoned live a life of travel designTraveling extensively really comes down to a few factors: time, money, and willingness.  If you’re willing, you are capable of creating the time and funds to take a trip.  If I, the least motivated money maker on the planet, can scrape together enough cash to travel to 15+ countries, you can too.  I absolutely despise money and trading my precious time for work (some people read this as being lazy, but I assure you I’m not), but travel motivates me to make paper.  Traveling is a drug and I am in the throws of addiction.  Life feels dull if I’m not exploring. Here’s how I motivate myself to maintain a life revolving around travel.

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Winter (Van) Camping

We like to get outside every chance we get, whether it’s a quick run, a day-long hike, or a weekend camping trip. You can see all of our outdoor adventures here, and more of our Colorado hikes here.

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Last weekend we packed up the van and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park for an overnight adventure! Since winter camping is not a common past time, especially if you have little kids, I thought I’d share some details about our adventure, and hopefully encourage you to take off into the snowy mountains for a weekend of fun.

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Like Haiyaha Hike

We like a good hike, and every once in a while we have the chance to hike slow, take pictures, and share the adventure with you. You can check out some of our previous Colorado hikes here.

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These are photos from a hike that we took a few months ago, and I just happened to find them here in an unpublished post. I was so sure that I wrote about this hike, but a few searches finally convinced me that I’m crazy.

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Mitchell Lake Trail

We like a good hike, and every once in a while we have the chance to hike slow, take pictures, and share the adventure with you. You can check out some of our previous Colorado hikes here.

For the past two weekends, we’ve visited Brainard Lake Recreation Area and set out from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. On our first trip, we did a short hike to Mitchell Lake, took a rest to have some hot chocolate, and then turned around. Yesterday we set out with the goal to make it all the way to Blue Lake, and we did!

As in the tradition of our previous hike posts, I wanted to share some photos and a brief overview of the trail. These photos are from both trips and in no particular order, but they give you a great sense of what the trail is like during mid October.

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Trail Location

The trail starts within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, but quickly leaves that area and continues on into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is open to vehicles from June – October, but the exact opening and closing dates vary each year based on the weather. The entrance fee is on a sliding scale from $1 if you’re walking to $10/car, BUT you can access this area for free with a Nation Parks annual pass. When the area is closed during the winter, you can still park at a lot near the entrance and then enter the area by foot/ski/bike.

During the summer months, you can drive into the area and park at a number of lots. There’s a day-use lot near the main lake that often has spaces, and then there are two smaller lots near the Long Lake and Mitchell Lake trailheads, but in our experience, both of these fill up fairly early and remain packed throughout the day.

If possible, park at the Mitchell Lakes Trailhead and you’ll be able to quickly access the trail, if the lot is full, you’ll have to park in one of the other lots and walk over to the trailhead.

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Trail Overview

The hike to Mitchell Lake is just under a mile, and it’s another 1.6 miles to reach Blue Lake. These are both out-and-back destinations, making the round-trip hike to Mitchell approximately 1.8 miles and the hike to Blue Lake five miles. The altitude at the trailhead is approximately 10,500 ft, with a gradual climb of just 200 ft to Mitchell Lake and then reaching a final altitude of 11,300 ft at Blue Lake.

This is a popular, well-worn trail that is easily visible when there isn’t much snow on the ground. I’m not sure what it’s like when covered with snow, and while there were some markers in the trees, I didn’t pay close enough attention to notice how well-marked it was.

Near the base of the trail, hiking is relatively easy with that slow, gradual climb to Mitchell Lake. There is one large stream crossing over a short wooden bridge, and then another crossing over a wider stream with fall logs used as the bridge. In other segments, planks are used to keep hikers out of boggy areas. There are some steep areas where climbing the rocks is similar to climbing a steep set of stairs, with an increase in the portion of steep climbs as you approach Blue Lake.

During our first visit, there was some snow on the trail that had been tramped down and turned to ice, making some areas slick, but the following weekend this ice had melted, making hiking much easier. It was a nice reminder of how quickly weather and trail can change at that altitude.

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Hiking with Kids

Young kids (4 to 8 year olds) should be able to hike to Mitchell Lake with minimal help but would likely need help making the full trek to Blue Lake. Older kids 8+ should have no trouble with the full hike. *** Having only 3.5 and 1.5 year olds, I may have to go back and revise those numbers as we continue to test the trail, but this is based upon the kids we saw out on the trails as we hiked.

We ended up carrying both of our kids during both hikes. The first weekend it was because they were a bit under the weather, and the second weekend it was because we set out with the goal of the longer hike.

And I don’t know about your kiddos, but anytime we pull out a thermos of hot chocolate during a rest, they are happy hikers and totally oblivious to any chill in the air (pro-tip there)!

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Dressing for the Trail

At this time of year (and almost any time!), it was really helpful to dress in light layers. I wore spandex on my bottom and then a tank, wool thermal, and a light down jacket on top. Calder did something similar. The boys wore lined pants, shirts, and hoodies. They could have been dressed a bit warmer, but we also used our down jackets to bundle around them when they were cold in the packs, which worked out well because it was often when we were hot from hiking and carrying them. We all wore wool hats that we put on and off all day.

It was particularly cold and windy at Blue Lake, but since we weren’t staying there long, it didn’t make sense to carry along extra layers just for that rest stop.

And don’t forget sunscreen! While there are some segments with plenty of shade, there is a lot of sun shining on much of the trail.

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mitchell_lake5By now, Calder and I both know that we live in a beautiful state, but even so, we couldn’t stop gushing about these two weekends spent hiking the same trail. We’re so glad we explored and now we’re anxious to hike it when the wildflowers are at their peak next summer. We’re also excited to have this hike at the ready the next time we have adventurous visitors in town.

If you’re in the Boulder area, this hike and the whole Indian Peaks area is definitely worth your time. Just know that everyone else loves the area too, so try to get there early before the lots fill up. Good luck!
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Travel Debacles & Advice

Today I wanted to share some of the behind-the-scenes adventures that happened on our Mexico vacation. If this post scares you off of the idea of international travel, you can go back to this post and just stare at the beautiful photo of the ocean.

These are not the glamorous travel stories, rather, they are the stuff of nightmares, BUT I’m writing this post because everything turned out OK! I thought that sending these stories out into the universe could be helpful for a couple of reasons : 1. if something similar has happened to you, now you know you aren’t alone, and 2. if it hasn’t yet, maybe you’ll find some tips in this post that will help you on future travels.

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Debacle #1 : The Passport

This may be common sense, but when leaving the country, you need a passport. If you forget it, they won’t let you on the plane.

One of our travel buddies forgot their passport, and there was no way to get it before their flight was going to leave. It can be a costly mistake, but not the end of the world. In our case, they went to the airport when they were supposed to and were able to reschedule their flight for the next day!

The only loss was one day of a vacation and a rebooking fee, but otherwise, the whole debacle was an easy fix.

If this happens to you (i.e. that you’re going to miss your flight because of forgotten documents), the best solution is to call your airline or speak to a representative at the counter as soon as possible. If you’re lucky, they will be able to put you on the next flight, no harm, no foul.

Debacle #2 : The Rental Car

This situation is the one that gave us all a moment of panic except for Calder’s dad, and I’m going to chalk that up to his 80 years of life experience.

the scene : Calder’s sister, her family, and his dad were driving from the airport to San Patricio in the dark.

road conditions : As I mentioned yesterday, for the most part, the road was really nice and in great condition. There was one long section under MAJOR construction – as in they were dynamiting the bedrock, flattening and widening the roadway. The only other problem was that there were some random potholes and there were speed bumps when going through small towns.

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the rental car : When making travel arrangements, we reserved full-size cars from a major company, but you don’t pay for a car reservation until you actually return it. What does this mean? When you’re landing in a tourist destination, the rental car companies are lined up and ready to take your business. Your reservation ensures that you’ll have a car that you want waiting for you, but you’re welcome to go with another company in the airport.

In this case, Europcar whisked them away offering what sounded like a deal. The problem was, rather than getting a full-size car, they ended up with a cheaply built, smaller car.

the incident : They hit a major pothole – so big that their two front tires went flat! Not only that, but the car behind them also hit the hole and got one flat. This happened at 10pm. Ugg.

possible solutions : When they first called us, we were working through a few possible solutions :

  • We could take the spares from the other rental cars at the hotel (we had two there already), and hopefully replace both flats letting them drive on to the hotel.
  • We could send a rescue party and drive them to the hotel while getting a tow-truck to pick up the rental.
  • They could try to get to a 24 hr gas station and hopefully an attendant there could help them.
  • Rental companies have 24 hour hotlines. Europcar didn’t answer. Then called back 3 hours later… I’m linking to them because I want to call them out on their misdeeds. Petty, I know.

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wait, there’s more : This turned into a bigger problem for a few reasons :

  • They couldn’t get the lug nuts off the wheels.
  • They were two+ hours away from us.
  • They were traveling with a baby!
  • They had to keep driving for a few miles on the two flats to reach a gas station, and by then their rims were toast.
  • We tried calling tow-trucks and no one picked up.

*Throughout all of this, Calder’s dad wasn’t worried. His comment on the situation : “it’s happened before”. He was confident that this was now the rental car company’s problem and that they would know how to handle it. Once he said that (and everyone was safe and sound at the hotel), it was immediately calming and such a great bit of wisdom to remember for the future.*

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final outcome : Calder picked them up. They left the rental car parked at the gas station, but before they left, they took photos of the car from all essential angles showing the flat tires and destroyed rims as well as the license plate for identification. The next morning, they spent about an hour on the phone with the rental company explaining the problem, providing all of the details, and making arrangements with someone from the company to come to our hotel to pick up the keys.

In the end, they were charged $72 for the whole debacle. We’re not sure what this charge was for, but no one’s going to call and question it.

Our Advice :

  • Make sure you have comprehensive insurance when renting a car (something with $0 deductible). Know that if you’re renting in the US with a credit card, your card often has car insurance perks, BUT these may not apply if renting in another country (this was the case with Mexico).
  • Even if you don’t need a larger car, it may be worthwhile to rent one because it’s likely to be of higher quality.
  • If you’re stuck somewhere, but with cell service, send someone your location using a map app on your phone – then they can get directions to the exact point where you are.
  • TAKE PICTURES – this is so essential if you have to discuss property with someone from a distance. While it may sound like overkill, it’s useful to take pictures both before and after using any rental property, whether it’s an Airbnb rental or a car rental. That way you’ll have some sort of proof showing what the state of the property was in when you got there, when you left, and in this case, when something goes wrong.

Debacle #3 : The Bat

This is just a joke, but there was a bat in our room on the last night!

If this happens to you and it’s behaving oddly, stay away and get help. If there’s nothing odd, just find a large towel, carefully pick it up, and take it outside.

We loved the bat incident because it turned Alex on to bats in a major way! They’ve become our “unit” for the month of October, and I can’t wait to start talking about some of the fun stuff we’ve been doing at home.

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~

What crazy stories hidden behind the scenes of yesterday’s post, huh? And remember – If it’s happening to you, it’s likely happened before. Don’t worry. 

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Postcards from Mexico

A couple of weeks ago, we traveled to Mexico for a long weekend to celebrate my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. We spent the weekend in San Patricio, and admittedly, we did absolutely no research before leaving! … no, wait, we *tried* to do some research the night before we left, but found very little information.

It wasn’t until we returned that I realized that the problem was because I was searching for “San Patricio travel guide”, but the area is also known as Melaque. If only I would have searched Melaque, I would have found a few more results, but still the info is a bit slim. So, with this , I thought I would give some details about our vacation in the hopes that it helps others traveling to the area.

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Why Mexico? We had a few restrictions when picking a location, and Mexico was the one spot that fit the bill!

  • travel time and ease of travel : We wanted to do something special for this big birthday, but because of work schedules, time was limited and it was essential to go somewhere that didn’t require too much travel for anyone in our party (we were meeting up with Calder’s dad, his sister & her family, and his brother). Fortunately, everyone was able to book a direct flights from their respective cities to Puerto Vallarta, and from there it was about a 3.5 hour drive to San Patricio.
  • time zone change : since we were traveling with kids, not having a big time-change meant that everyone would (hopefully) sleep easier on this quick trip. In my opinion, if you’re taking off more time for a trip, then spending a day or two adjusting to time zones isn’t a big deal, but if you only have four days, then it can really put a kink in the vacation.
  • somewhere Calder’s dad would like : It was his birthday after all :-). His top choices were Hawaii, France, and Mexico, and immediately we realized that we didn’t have enough time to make the longer Hawaii and France trips.
  • expense : It’s always nice when traveling with a lot of people to pick a location where money wasn’t an issue for anyone. Then everyone can just focus on the fun! If that’s a concern for you, then traveling to this area of Mexico is a great option!

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Rainy Season?

We settled on San Patricio because Calder’s dad had been there about 10 years ago and enjoyed it. It’s a really small town right on the beach. The area is a vacation destination for Mexicans and is very popular with older Canadians and Americans who like to spend their winters somewhere warm. As a result, the area has a well defined off season which also corresponds to the area’s rainy season, which is June – October.

Traveling during the “rainy season” may deter some travelers, but it’s never bothered me. In addition to this trip, I’ve also traveled to India and Costa Rica during their rainy seasons, and in every case, I didn’t regret it and did not feel inconvenienced. On this trip, the only rain we experienced was while driving from the airport to the beach, then there was not a drop while we were in San Patricio! On my other trips, there was often one rain storm during the day, but it never lasted long and was often a good moment to be inside napping, researching our next outing, or reading.

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Accommodations

We stayed at Hotel Vista Hermosa. It was a great hotel right on the beach with a swimming pool {a key requirement for this family!}. We reserved three two-bedroom suites, and they each came with their own kitchen. Once we arrived, we realized that we definitely could have reserved smaller rooms. The suites each had 5 beds (two in one bedroom and three in another)! They were definitely designed for larger families in mind. The kitchens were detached from the main suite – they were right across the “hall” (open-air walkway) from each other. The kitchen area contained a full kitchen and all of the utensils and dishes you would need for cooking meals at home. It’s so nice having that option when traveling with kids!

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We made our reservations by calling the hotel directly. It’s helpful if you know some Spanish, because their English is a bit rusty (but so is our Spanish!). After making reservations, they sent us confirmation emails and we used email for more communication. We paid $55/night/suite. The hotel has gated off-street parking, which we used the first two nights, but our sense of the area is that it seemed really safe and our rental car didn’t stick out, so we then parked on the street for the last two nights.

We were all really happy with the place where we stayed, but if you’re going to the area, know that there are other hotels and it looks like there are a lot of personal condo and apartment rentals available through Airbnb and HomeAway.

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Food and Drinks

Having the kitchen in our suite, we bought breakfast supplies on the first morning and ate breakfast in our room every day, but ate out for lunches and dinners.

I packed some back-up foods in case we were in a situation where there was nothing appropriate for the boys to eat. In our bag was turkey jerky (a new favorite of Alex’s), Cliff bars, applesauce and fruit smoothie packs. Fortunately finding food for the boys was never an issue, but those portable snacks are still handy for the car and plane rides.

We drank only bottled water – we like to buy it in big 5-liter jugs and just refill smaller bottles for walking around. Unfortunately, I held back and didn’t drink any of the agua frescas or horchatas because I was worried about water and ice contamination. The boys would order fresh coconut water at dinner every night and loved the novelty of drinking it straight from the coconuts!

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There are a couple of little grocers in the center of town where we picked up eggs (you tell them how many you want and pay by weight!), tortillas, avocados, grapefruits, milk, and cereal. For coffee, we mixed instant NESCAFEs in our room (somehow instant coffee tastes good when you’re on vacation on the beach!).

While there were plenty of restaurants to choose from, it was clear that a few were closed for the off season. For example, I walked past this cafe and it was still closed, but it looks like it’d be a great place for a morning cuppa. You can see restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor, but again, we didn’t read any of those until we got back, and I would say it was a good thing. Some of the places that are more highly reviewed seemed like they cater to tourists looking for American food. When we went out, we wanted either local seafood dishes (we saw the fisherman in the bay every morning!) or Mexican food. The town is small enough that it’s easy to walk around and find a place to eat.

For lunches we would walk into town and eat at one of the smaller places. There’s a little alley in the center of town that is only for foot traffic and has dozens of small eateries. They are mostly one-room places where the store-front is a small bar with seats (below Calder and Alex are eating on the kitchen side of one of these bars).  We liked the one below so much that we went back a second time.

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For dinner, we would walk along the beach and eat at one of the larger restaurants there. Many of them served a variety of seafood, but some are those that cater to tourists looking for burgers and Caesar salads, so it’s worth reading the menus before you commit (we decided to walk out of one after being seated – oops). The awesome thing about eating on the beach is that the boys could play in the sand while we sat at the tables and talked!

The only problem we experienced with eating out was the restaurant hours. The places in town that served lunch then closed by dinner time. And many of the ones that served dinner had kitchens that closed at 7pm! We’re assuming these are seasonal hours (at least for the larger restaurants serving dinner), but it’s something to be aware of.

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To-Do

We were going on this short trip to relax with family and enjoy the beach and pool, and that’s exactly what we did! There are many shops that sell beach toys, floats, life vests, etc. Rather than pack these bulky items, we just bought a selection of toys while we were there (it was a lot of fun for Alex to be in charge of what we selected!). All items were relatively cheap, so we were happy to leave the beach toys on the beach and the floats at the hotel pool for someone else when our vacation was over. We did end up bringing the life vest home because it fit Alex so well and it seems like we can always use an extra when we have friends visiting.

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mexico29If you’re looking for more to do, I can’t really help, but it does seem like there are some nice day-trip options in the area. The Colima volcano is not too far away!

Etc.

  • Driving : I’m sure many people would be put off by the long car ride from the airport to San Patricio. I know that we weren’t sure what to expect. BUT I’m here to tell you that it’s a piece of cake (almost – more on the pit-falls and pot-holes tomorrow!). You are on one road the whole way (rt. 200), and that road leaves directly from the airport in Puerto Vallarta so it’s impossible to get lost AND for most the way, the road is really nice quality. It starts with some twists and turns in the mountains, but then opens up to a wide, straight road.
  • Language : Perhaps this is a seasonal thing, but it seemed that a basic understanding of Spanish would be helpful. None of us are proficient (I learned my Spanish on Sesame Street, only sort of kidding), but traveling with the group helped because when someone didn’t know a word, another person did.
  • Beach : The waves on our section of the beach were particularly rough and not kid-friendly, but they were a lot of fun for bigger kids and adults. Since we had the pool nearby, this wasn’t a problem. The boys would go back and forth between the sand and the pool (showering off in between, obvs). I’ve read that the waves are more mild farther along the beach, but we didn’t check it out. The middle of the day was so hot on the beach, and we noticed that not many people would be out, but it was more crowded in the mornings and evenings, so after a day or so, that’s the beach schedule we adopted too.

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I know it’s not very specific, but that’s our 411 on San Patricio, Mexico. In summary, it was a beautiful little town on the western coast that wasn’t overcrowded with tourists in September and was a relatively affordable weekend vacation. I hope you’ll visit!

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Visit Arches National Park & Moab, Utah

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It’s Wednesday, you’re half way through the week that means you deserve to procrastinate by looking at pretty pictures of Moab, Utah. I’ve only visited Moab once, but I have not stopped thinking about it since. People are shocked by my profound love of Utah, but if you’ve never been, you need to stop yappin’ and start packing. After all, a few of the most scenic national parks are located there.

The following photos were taken at Arches National Park. Standing in the midst of such vibrant colossal rock formations was surely grounding. Upon entering the park, I read the history of Arches then spent the next several days trying to imagine the landscape as it changed throughout the ages. I believe connecting with the landscape and witnessing earth’s transformation is a powerful conservation tool for current and future generations. Getting to know and appreciate the natural beauty in the world will surely encourage you and others to be an active participant in securing these spaces for future generations. If you haven’t visited Arches yet, call a few buddies or load the family into the car and experience history, geology and immense beauty this year.  Continue reading

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