Oberg Mountain Loop Hike, Minnesota

One of the things I love about the North Shore of Lake Superior, in Minnesota, is that there are LOTS of options for outdoor activities. Even if you only have a half day, there are a number of hikes that yield gorgeous trails, with panoramic views and overlooks.

I recently had the opportunity to solo hike the Oberg Mountain Loop . This trail is most famous for seeing incredible fall colors, and I was there the second week in October. Catching the North Shore fall color at its peak is a bit tricky, although most of what I read indicates that it happens between the last two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October. By my best estimation, I missed it by about a week, although the trees were still stunning.

Driving to Oberg Mountain is a piece of cake. Straight up Highway 61, past Tofte (where I always stop at Schroeder Baking Company for a maple-pecan turnover and a cup of coffee), and a left on Onion River Road.

The loop itself is approximately three miles around, with relatively flat trails once you get past the initial climb. There are several parts at the beginning that are a bit steep, but the trail is wide enough to step aside to catch your breath if needed. I recommend hiking boots with ankle support as the trails are rocky and uneven, and poles would be a good idea for anyone who needs the extra stability and security on the steeper parts. Of course, a day pack with hiking essentials is always a smart move, and you can find some of my hiking must-haves in Hike Like a Lady. Since I was solo hiking, I also brought a compass, First Aid kit, flashlight and extra snacks and water. Chances are, I’ll never need those items, but a wrong step or slippery edge and I could find myself in a pickle, alone, and with limited cell service.

The really great thing about Oberg Loop is that there are a number of beautiful overlooks to break up trail walking through the trees. Most don’t have rails, so keeping an eye on the edge is important. The wind can gust unexpectedly, so I didn’t venture too near the cliffs since I was by myself.

The trails themselves were incredibly beautiful as well, when I visited in mid-October. Lots of chipmunks and birds to see, and of course the leaves were showing off their beautiful golden, ruby and tangerine leaves.

One of the things I like to do on a solo hike is take time to sit quietly along the trail. I normally arrive early to beat the crowds, so the quiet and solitude are pretty magical. Chipmunks and birds venture out in the stillness, and I have an opportunity to notice beauty everywhere.

Spending a morning or afternoon exploring Oberg Mountain Loop Trail is well worth it. I plan to visit many more times over the coming months and years. I want to become deeply familiar with the trails, vistas and peaceful groves that this treasure of nature has to offer.

A Gift of Faith

Four years ago I decided to get a tattoo. I was turning 44, and I was quite suddenly very comfortable in my own skin and secure in my place in this world.  Mark and I were in our beloved California, visiting our favorite little hamlet north of San Francisco.  On the eve of my birthday,…

Table for One: my solo adventure to the North Shore.

“There’s nothing like returning to a place that’s unchanged to find ways in which you yourself have changed.”                                                   Nelson Mandela   Friday: the day before Just finished packing the car…

Redwood National Park

I’m going to reign it in and try not to sound too “gushy,” but y’all.  Redwood National Park is DREAMY.  And if you think it’s just more big trees, and not worth the epic effort it takes to drive all. the. way. up to far Northern California (almost Oregon) I have to tell you that…

Lassen Volcanic National Park

My husband absolutely loves the national parks!  As a child, his family drove all over this beautiful country in a retrofitted school bus, and visited as many national parks as time and budget would allow.  When Mark was a young man, he dreamed of becoming a park ranger, and we were so excited to find…

Hike Like a Lady

“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.”                                                                                          …

May Book List

May has been a fruitful month in terms of reading.  I found a new author to love, and added two non-fiction books toward my goal of reading eight this year!  (I know.  Eight books isn’t that many, but I rarely read non-fiction, so it’s a good goal for me.)  Three of the books I read…

Summer Reading for “Tweens”

May is almost over, and school is winding down.  Pretty soon the craziness of a busy school year will abruptly end, and life will settle to a slow crawl through summer.   We’ll all have a bit more time for the good things in life; sleeping in, leftover pie for breakfast, popsicles on the porch,…

“19 for 2019”: a list of goals, resolutions and intentions

My sister, Rachelle, is one of the most interesting people I know.  She is extremely well-read and listens to a wide variety of podcasts, which gives her an impressive breadth and depth of knowledge on a number of topics.  One day, about a year ago, I was complaining that I couldn’t find an interesting audiobook…

Maine and the Bay of Fundy

I married a man who can plan an amazing family trip, and for the first few years we were married, Mark handled ALL of the planning and preparations when we traveled.  My job was to simply pack myself and the kids, and be ready to go when it was time!  Easy-peasy! One of the first…

Table for One: my solo adventure to the North Shore.

“There’s nothing like returning to a place that’s unchanged to find ways in which you yourself have changed.”  

                                                Nelson Mandela


Friday: the day before

Just finished packing the car with everything I’ll need for my drive to Minnesota.  Besides clothes and toiletries, I’ve packed work essentials, my sewing machine,  coffee grinder, Bonavita coffee maker, and some grocery goods to get me started on my solo adventure to the North Shore.  Since I’m pretty particular about eggs and coffee creamer, I bought a Yeti cooler in the hopes of being able to refrigerate these items during transport.  Crossing my fingers this cooler is as good as they say it is!

My phone has three audiobooks downloaded, and I’m packing my lunch so I don’t have to drive thru for fast food.  (It’s official.  I’ve turned into my parents!)

The drive to Two Harbors, Minnesota is about 16 hours.  I’ll be heading out around eight o’clock tomorrow morning, and driving all the way to Des Moines, Iowa– roughly eleven hours, not counting stops.  On Sunday I’ll only have about five hours left, and I know I’ll be glad that I got as far as I did, rather than dividing the drive time evenly between two days.

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I’m off to finish up some last minute chores before I focus on spending time with my family.  I won’t see the kiddos for about three weeks, so I’m going to soak up every moment I can tonight…assuming they are in the mood for it because #teenagers.  Haha!


Saturday and Sunday: travel days

The drive from the Dallas area to Two Harbors, Minnesota is a little over 16 hours.  I borrowed four audiobooks to make the trip a little less mundane, and this is my strongest recommendation for solo road trips!  Audiobooks make the time fly by.

I backed out of my driveway at 7:30 AM on Saturday, drove through Starbucks and hit I35 going North before the roads got busy.  My only stops along the way were for food and gas, and I pulled into Johnson, Iowa right at 7:00 PM.  I had booked a room at Stoney Creek Hotel for a very reasonable price, and was really pleased with my accommodations.  The room had a small fridge with a freezer, microwave, K-cup coffee maker and was really spacious and clean.  Hotel staff were helpful, and suggested B-Bop’s as a tasty option for some fast food.  I absolutely recommend the Sloppy Joe sliders!  So.  Delicious.

Early Sunday, I got up, packed my things and loaded up the car.  Before I left the hotel, I checked the Yeti, so see if I needed to refresh the ice, and I did not.  Really only about a fourth of the ice had melted, so I was feeling pretty good about my Yeti purchase.

If Iowa is where the beauty kicks in on the drive, Minnesota seals the deal.  Beautiful woods and lakes line the highway, and about every third car has kayaks or a canoe strapped to its top.


So I have to tell you that Duluth blew my mind.  I came over the hill, and couldn’t figure out what I was looking at, with the city stretched out in front of me.  Large areas of brown, flecked with white, oozed out into the city, and it all looked like it was moving.  Turns out, it was Lake Superior, with white capped waves, undulating along the city’s edge.  I didn’t remember the lake being so reddish brown, and I’m curious enough to want to find out why that part of the lake is a different color from the rest of it.

Getting settled in my AirBnB took a while, since I brought so much with me.  When I finally unpacked the Yeti, only about about a third of the ice had melted!  Color me impressed.  Very impressed.

When I was just about finished getting set up, I called in an order to Betty’s Pies for dinner, and drove the eight minutes to pick it up.   I hadn’t eaten a lot the last two days, so the hearty meat and potato pasty with gravy and coleslaw really hit the spot.  Of course I ordered a slice of pie, and in honor of my arrival to Minnesota, I choose blueberry.



Monday and Tuesday:

I spent most of the day on Monday looking at houses, and getting to know the town of Two Harbors.  Our realtor set up appointments to see all of the houses that fit our parameters, and two are possible retirement homes.

Afterward, I drove down to the lake and took a walk out to the lighthouse.  The sun was out but the wind was chilly- glad I had a sweatshirt.  The shore along the bay is rocky, and I picked my way out to a washed-up log to sit and watch the water.


There is only one grocery store in Two Harbors, and it carries just about everything our grocery store at home does.  I ran through and grabbed some necessities, and ended up staying in for dinner.

Tuesday morning I had a bit of work to do before lunch, but as soon as I was done,   I headed over to Vanilla Bean.  Since restaurants are still closed to dine in, I scored a table on the patio, and ordered a mimosa straight away.  Their menu is amazing, and it was hard to choose, but I settled on a cup of chicken and wild rice soup, and the haddock cakes.  Everything was absolutely delicious.


Feeling fortified, I went back to the house and packed a small backpack for a hike at Gooseberry Falls.  About an hour later, I drove North out of town on Highway 61 to Gooseberry Falls State Park.





I’ve settled into a routine; working in the morning, going out to grab a bite for lunch, and exploring this wonderful town in the afternoon.   It was cloudy this morning, but lucky for me, the sun broke through around 2, and the day warmed up.

Two Harbors has huge ore docks where enormous barges are loaded up with iron ore to carry across the lake.  The docks are really interesting to look at, and it’s neat to see the barges maneuver into the bay and up to the docks to be loaded.  Here’s a video showing that process.

One of the things I really like about this town is that thee are quite a few places to walk around along the water.  I parked by the ore docks and walked toward the lighthouse. Along the way, I saw several families of Canada geese swimming around with their goslings.  So cute.


Getting outside for a walk and some fresh air is a great way to spend a couple of hours.  As I was walking back to my car, it began to rain big, fat raindrops so I drove home to curl up with a cup of coffee and a good book.


I worked most of the morning, and by 11:30 I was hungry for lunch.  Blackwoods is right along the main drag of Two Harbors, so I thought I would give it a try.  Since it was mostly sunny, I decided to ask for a table on the patio, even though it was a tad windy.  I ordered the chicken pot pie, which they make from scratch, and it was dee-li-cious!


 When we were in Two Harbors five years ago, we took a day trip to Ely, Minnesota.  Along the way we saw a beautiful little lake, and I set out today to find it again.  I drove along, following the same drive we made before, looking for the turn out to the lake we saw.  About six minutes after entering an old growth forest, I saw a dirt road that ended in a flash of water.  After making a U-turn, I drove down the dirt road to the edge of a good size Minnesota lake.

The lake was desolate, and the only sounds were the lapping of the waves, the creak of the dock, and an occasional bird.  I stayed for quite a while, reading in the warm sun.  With all that has gone on the last three months, it’s been a gift to be able to pause and follow the gentle meander of hours and thoughts I have when I’m not going at  break-neck speed.   (I think it’s Greenwood Lake, but can’t be sure.)

I took a walk through the woods around the lake to stretch my legs before packing up my  cooler and backpack and heading back to Two Harbors.


Today is my last day alone in Two Harbors, so I decided to do minimal work and spend most of the day outside.  I started my day driving North on 61 to Beaver Bay.  For lunch I had fish and chips at Camp 61, and prowled around a few of the shops nearby.  After a bit, I jumped back in the car and headed south to West Split Rock River, where I climbed down the hill to walk along the rocky beach.  It’s a really beautiful area, and while I was there, I saw a bald eagle soar across the valley and into the trees.

All of the sun and fresh air made me hungry, so I stopped by Do North Pizza for dinner.  They were not serving dine-in, so I got my everything pizza (minus the cheese because I’m just that odd) to go.  The crust was thin and crispy, and with all of the delicious toppings, I was in pizza heaven!

It was a glorious day, and I enjoyed every moment by the water.  If I had doubts about buying a home here for retirement, they are evaporated.  The people of Minnesota are warm and friendly, with a direct and no-nonsense manner that I find so endearing.  I would be so lucky to call this place my home.

Hike Like a Lady

“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.”  

                                                                                                  Mary Davis

There are people who like to hike, and there are actual hikers.  You can tell the difference by looking at their gear.  Actual hikers carry bigger packs, and they eschew the type of personal grooming often highlighted in Instagram tutorial videos.  (Think: “Contouring with Drugstore Make-up”, and “The Perfect Eyebrow”).  Actual hikers ooze confidence and the kind of beauty that radiates from a deep and abiding love affair with nature.  In another life I’d be an actual hiker.

Over the course of our marriage, my husband and I have relished the opportunity to get out and experience the best that Mother Nature has to offer.  We’ve hiked all over the United States, and can’t get enough of our National Park System.  Most of our experiences have been really positive, and we’ve learned a lot along the way.


Our typical hiking adventures go from one to five miles, although we have done one or two longer treks.  From my perspective as a woman, here are some thoughts and ideas I’d like to pass along:

  1. Show up Early:  I know how painful it is to get up early while you are traveling, but getting to the visitor’s center and trailhead early yields a BUNCH of great rewards:
    1. You are more likely to see wildlife in the early morning and at dusk. img_20190618_093205632_hdr
    2. Crowds and tour buses normally begin arriving around 10:00AM, so the early hiker gets the solitude and quiet of an empty trail.
    3. Speaking of crowds and tour buses:  arriving early ensures that you won’t have to HIKE to your car after completing your HIKE.  Parking is limited in most state and national parks, so the early-bird gets a closer/and possibly shaded spot.
    4. Rangers have a bit more time to spend with each hiker, before being inundated with questions and requests.
    5. It’s generally cooler and more pleasant to hike in the early morning hours.
  2. Know the Plan:  I love to people-watch, and I’ve noticed that the men seem to be the ones to get recommendations and information about hikes, while women look around and shop.  Here’s the deal.  Four ears hearing the same information is better than two. So, if you are planning to hike, definitely be a part of the discussion and planning.  I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I, after having heard the SAME INFORMATION ABOUT A HIKE, have had to stop and remind the other person where the ranger told us to go.
  3. Carry a Map:  This one seems so obvious, but there is a temptation that a map is simply not necessary for the shorter, easier hikes.  We typically hand the ranger a map, and have him or her write on it so that those notes can help us navigate once we’ve forgotten the details of where to turn, etc.  In our experience, service is sketchy at best inside the national parks, and while you may be using one of the great trail/hiking apps, a map is a good back-up in case things go south.img_20190624_173650827.jpg
  4. Carry Little Else:  I’ve found that really limiting myself to just the absolute necessities makes the whole experience better. What seems “light enough to carry” might feel like a ton of bricks after 5 miles.  (This list is by no means a recommendation of what to take.  Just avoid taking extras that you won’t need.  i.e. make-up bag, coin purse, charger cords, etc.).  I use either a small Camelback backpack or fanny pack, depending on the trail.  For me, I include the following for every hike:
    1. map
    2. phone/camera
    3. hair band
    4. two bandaids
    5. Kleenex
    6. two sandwich zip lock bags
    7. waterDSC_0068.JPG
  5. Be Memorable:  Even if you get an early start, you will surely meet other hikers on the trail.  I always try to make eye contact and speak to them, because if the worst should happen, they might remember seeing me, and be able to direct emergency responders to our whereabouts more quickly.  Wearing an interesting hat or t-shirt, or a brightly colored pack is also a good way to be remembered.  Generally hikers are a friendly, helpful bunch, so look for opportunities to engage in conversation.
  6. Potty like a Princess:  It’s SUCH a drag to have to potty on the trail.  But it’s not ok to leave tissue behind when your are done with your business.  I always include a pack of Kleenex and small ziplock bags for just such an occasion.  Yes: I mean that you should put the Kleenex inside the ziplock, and stow it in your pack, once you’ve used it to tidy up after a potty break.  It’s the right thing to do.DSC_0088.JPG

We just got home from California, where we hiked in Lassen Volcanic National Park, Redwood National Park, Mendocino and Marin county.  Our hearts are full of beauty and our feet are ready for more!  Soon we will be heading East to the Great Smokey Mountains, and look forward to exploring new and different landscapes!

Maine and the Bay of Fundy

I married a man who can plan an amazing family trip, and for the first few years we were married, Mark handled ALL of the planning and preparations when we traveled.  My job was to simply pack myself and the kids, and be ready to go when it was time!  Easy-peasy!

One of the first trips we took as a family was to Maine and Canada during the summer.  We flew into Boston, loaded into our rental car and spent a few hours exploring Salem.

After lunch, we drove north to Bar Harbor, Maine.  We learned that driving on the two-lane state roads is SLOW GOING, but we finally made it to our VBRO rental by early evening.

We carved out lots of time to explore Acadia National Park, which was literally right up the road from where we were staying.  It’s a beautiful park with so many places to pull over and explore on foot.  The kids, who were much younger at the time, relished the chance to run ahead and “lead” the way.  We explored huge outcroppings of granite, and trails through the woodsy areas.  The landscape is pristine, and the park is so large that we never felt it was too crowded.

Tucked away in Acadia National Park, is Sand Beach where the kids were able to swim and frolic in the waves.  It was quite crowded compared to the rest of Acadia, but still a lovely way to spend most of the day.


After three days in Bar Harbor, we took a two day excursion to Alma, in New Brunswick, Canada.   Alma is located along the Bay of Fundy, home of the highest tides in the world.  We are enchanted by the strange and wonderful ways Mother Nature shows off, and the Bay of Fundy did not disappoint.

When we arrived, it was low tide.  The fishing boats were resting on the ocean floor, and we could walk out almost a mile to the water.


It was hard to explain to the kids that these were actually working fishing boats, and that the water would eventually rise enough to make them float.

Cara and I walked straight out as far as we could on the “beach.”

Mark and Colin explored the shoreline, where they found driftwood, tide pools and lots of slimy algae.

By the time we were done exploring the bay, we were famished.   But what you need to know about Alma, is that there are few dining options- especially, if you don’t care for fish!


The next morning, the pier looked like this!  We were amazed!


After breakfast, and hearing the sad news that we had missed a moose meandering down the road outside our hotel room, we set off to explore Fundy National Park.  Alma is nestled just inside the park, so our drive was minimal.  Our first stop was Point Wolfe Beach, where Mark taught the kids how to skip rocks.

You can’t imagine how serene and beautiful it is there!  We stayed longer that I thought we would, splashing in the water and exploring the shoreline.

Nearby there was a trail up to a waterfall, where I captured one of my favorite pictures of Mark and the kids.


Later that day, after we had our fill of hiking, exploring and seeing the sights of Fundy National Park, we headed “home” to Bar Harbor. This was my first foray into Canada, and I fell in love.


The day before we flew home to Texas,  we stopped at Wild Acadia Fun Park for a day of family fun.   Our kids have never forgotten this day, and it was the PERFECT stop after almost a week of nature activities.  Cara and I enjoyed the go-carts, while Mark and Colin did the high ropes maze and zip lines.  After the boys finished, we enjoyed a family race in the go-carts, and I don’t like to brag, but Cara and I smoked them!

We definitely want to return to Maine and the Bay of Fundy in the future.  What a beautiful part of the world, and there is so much more to see!

“There’s a quality of life in Maine which is this singular and unique.  It’s absolutely a world unto itself.”  Jamie Wyeth


Road Trip to Everywhere

I don’t want to brag, but we road-trip like a boss.  Our practice has been made perfect over the last ten years, and we can literally decide to GO and have the car packed and ready in less than an hour.  How do I know this?  Done it.  (mic drop)

In 2014 we planned a two-week road trip with four major stops, and it was really the first time I relaxed and just enjoyed spending time with Mark and the kids without all of the “shoulds.”  Total game-changer.

Day 1:  We left Dallas and drove the roughly four hours to Stillwater, Oklahoma.  My uncle lives there, and we spent the day with family.


Day 2:  The next morning we grabbed breakfast and hit the road.  It’s about a nine hour drive from Stillwater to Colorado Springs, and we stopped along the way to examine cotton fields and admire the high desert scenery.

Day 3:  After spending the night in Colorado Springs, we drove out to Canon City, where we had booked a half day river-rafting adventure with Raft Masters.  It was my third or fourth time to use Raft Masters, and they didn’t disappoint.  The kids had such fun, and the experience was thrilling and memorable!  Poor Mark had to drive us to Estes Park after the rafting trip while the rest of us conked out in the car.  Fun can be exhausting.



Day 4,5 and 6:  I can’t adequately describe our love for Colorado.  There just aren’t words.  Our hearts are restored by beauty, and Colorado has beauty in spades.  We spent three days hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and discovered a great (family friendly) hike to Emerald Lake.


Estes Park is a great place to prowl around, and there are numerous places to take a quick walk/hike just outside of town.  Also, we happened to arrive just in time for the annual 4th of July parade which was a total bonus!


Day 7:  By far one of the less interesting days on our trip was driving from Colorado Springs to Cody, Wyoming.  There wasn’t a lot to see along the way, but we did stop in Chugwater, Wyoming for lunch, and we’ve never forgotten it!  In fact, we now use it as a reference when describing small towns,  “Is it Chugwater small?”




Day 8:  Arriving in Cody was like stepping back in time.  The town has a deeply western feel, without coming off as artificial.  We stayed in the Moose Creek Lodge, and to my delight, there was a wonderful coffee shop right next door.  One of my favorite memories of the trip was made in that hotel.  Each night, tired from our adventures of the day, we’d all tuck into bed and watch The Andy Griffith Show.


Day 9, 10, 11:  Cody is about an hour away from the Yellowstone gates, so we woke up early each morning, grabbed breakfast and COFFEE, and hit the road.  I mean, the scenery is gorgeous, so it’s a great way to start the day!


So the thing about Yellowstone is that it is a HUGE National Park.  Honestly, you could spend a full week there, but we only had three days, so we hit the “major” sights like any self-respecting tourist family should.  Do I wish we had hiked out at dawn to see the Yellowstone wolves?  Yes.  Yes I do.  But the kids were little, and I could still run faster than them, so of course I was worried I’d outrun them if the wolves attacked.  I have a strong will to live, dear reader.

One afternoon Cara and I mounted up and rode the hills around Yellowstone.  We thoroughly enjoyed the breathtaking vistas and even got to see a big pile of grizzly bear scat…freshly laid and still steaming.  Our guide was so gracious and friendly, and watching my little slip of a daughter ride like a champ filled me with joy and just a wee bit of pride.   Ok, a LOT of pride.

We noticed a funny phenomenon during our visit to Yellowstone:  the first bison/elk/bear you see is completely thrilling.  You pull the car over, pile out and start snapping pictures like a National Geographic photog.  But by the third day, it’s “meh, another bison. (yawn)”.  It’s totally crazy, because IT’S A BISON, ya’ll!!

We saw elk, deer, bison, chipmunks, marmots and a great big grizzly bear foraging for food on the other side of the river.  What we found rather incredible is that these animals were near and around the geysers as well as their more “traditional” habitats.  I cornered a park ranger (as I am wont to do…) and asked one million questions about the marmots scurrying around Grand Geyser.  Apparently they can sense when the geyser is about to erupt, and they hightail it outta there to safety.

Day 12:  We left early from Cody, and drove about six hours to Mount Rushmore.  With stops along the way, we arrived mid afternoon.  I was both impressed and underwhelmed by Mount Rushmore, so if I don’t get back to see it again, I’m good.  The town around Mount Rushmore reminds me of Las Vegas, except western.  And small.



Day 13:  So here’s the real gem of our road trip!  We hadn’t planned on staying in South Dakota for an extra day, but when Mark learned that Wind Cave National Park was in the area, we extended our stay an extra day.  First of all, to get to Wind Cave, you have to drive through Custer State Park-  what a beautiful place!  Aaaaand, there are numerous prairie dogs to see along the way, so that was fun for the kids.

Wind Cave is more incredible that I can describe.  The caverns are small, and the tunnels go every which way.  Our park ranger made such an impression in telling about the history, discovery and exploration of Wind Cave.  She was also patient and comforting to those of us (read: just me) who struggle with claustrophobia.  If you visit Mount Rushmore or South Dakota, you will not regret a stop at Wind Cave National Park.  By far one of the most wonderful national parks we’ve visited.

wind cave

We left Wind Cave mid afternoon, and started driving home.  Originally, we planned on stopping in Nebraska or Kansas for an overnight, but Mark decided to drive all the way.  Fifteen hours later, we pulling into our driveway, exhausted but content after our family road trip.

Day 14:  Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Fourteen days, three national parks, one national memorial and about a million miles.  It’s a lot to fit in, but we came home with so many great memories.  The kids expanded their worldview as they gained new understandings about ecosystems, geography,  indigenous peoples, map reading and surviving forced family fun.  Ha!

Next time?  We make the trek out to see the wolves at dawn, since I’m the slowest…just call me #wolfbait.