We all heard of the idiom “early bird gets the worm”, probably from your parent, or someone like my friend Michael! I used to, who am I kidding, still am the one who sleeps in till 10 am and can’t fall asleep before midnight.
When I moved to Missoula, MT to study business at the Uni, I
got introduced to a community of fun, down-to-earth and adventures photographers,
which became really good friends of mine! At the end of summer 2017, I was invited
by the supeeeeer duper talented and the sweetest Michael Graef on a VERY early
sunrise exposition (4am kinda early!) somewhere outside of Missoula and as much
as I thought I could pull myself out of bed, I simply couldn’t. But, there was
a time when I agreed to get myself out of bed one morning and meet with the
group that was going. To be completely honest, that was one of the best
decisions I’ve ever made!
On the day to day basis I love sleeping in as much as I can,
but when it comes to getting up to get with a group of creatives, my camera, and
explore new areas I am ALWAYS down!
Few nights ago, I got a message from Michael about going to
the hot springs in the am with a few other friends, and I will likely never
turn down that opportunity, especially on a Wednesday morning when the chances
of us getting an empty pool are very high.
Here are a few of my favorite photos of Meghan from that morning, and you can find some behind the scenes in my “Sunrise” highlights on my Instagram @fotografed_ .
Last winter break I did a winter session course to New Zealand. It is even more amazing than what is portrayed in The Lord of the Ring movies. It is literally paradise on earth, you have the best of everything. There are a range of climates from mountains, beaches, rainforests and volcanoes. No one-cent and five-cent coins, which means that most prices end in a zero, or are rounded up. Crosswalks have no lights so you can basically cross the road whenever you like, though there are a few exceptions in very busy areas. It doesn’t mean that you should stop watching for cars, not everyone stops for pedestrians. Restaurant bills are not delivered to your table you will either pay beforehand or have to go up to the register to pay. In some places they don’t keep track of what you have ordered; they will just trust you to tell them what you had. There is no tipping! There are also no snakes, venomous insects, scorpions and only has one venomous spider, which is very rare up to the point it has an almost mythical status. These are just a few things that make New Zealand even better. Though you can’t forget about the amazing sites and activities. Listed below are some must do adventures on New Zealand’s South Island, in no specific order.
Queenstown is your typical tourist town, high prices and many people. Disregarding those things it is a very picturesque town on Lake Wakatipu with street performers, stores and restaurants lining the streets, a gondola and a beach. It is a great town to stay at for holidays, night life and shopping. There is also a gondola where you can get breathtaking views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown also has a mouth- watering burger joint called Ferburger. Their line is usually a half block if not a block long and their wide varieties of burgers are about the size of a young child’s face. The half-hour wait is soo worth it. To end, Queesntown is world-famous for adventure, this leads into my next topic…
Since Queenstown is the tourist destination in New Zealand they offer a wide range of extreme activities such as skydiving, jet boating and bungee/bungy jumping. If you don’t know, jet boating and bungee jumping was invented in New Zealand. And many times we do spontaneous things while on vacation, so might as well do one of these activities. Jet boating is the ultimate water sport where you power your way through narrow river canyons. You all know what bungee jumping is, and there are two iconic spots to bungee jump a hour away from Queesntown. The first is Kawarau Bridge, a 43 meter (~141 ft) jump into the river below. It is one of the most popular bungee sites, attrackting thousands of thrill seekers every year. For the more daring there is the Nevis Bungy which is New Zealand’s biggest at 134m (~440 ft) above the Nevis River. There are age, weight and medical restrictions for many of these activities. Unfortunately, I ran into this problem at the Nevis jump, I was a few pounds short for their weight limit. At least I was allowed to travel to the jumping site that is held above the river by two wires to watch.
Mount Cook is the highest mountain and longest glaciers in New Zealand. There is a lovely day hike (more like 4 hours) to a small lake at the base of the mountain. The hike is pretty flat and has several suspended bridges that are fun to bounce around on. The scenery is amazing, mountains, a river, and flora that were unlike anything I’ve seen. The flora actually somewhat reminded me or a Dr. Seuss book, there were rolling grass areas with these
spiky looking plants that shoot straight up in the air. The trail ends at the small lake which was the chalky white color with small ice blocks. There was a small rocky beach you can walk down to to get to the lake from the picnic area. I have to say, the hike to the lake was more enjoyable than the ending destination.
Kaikoura is a very cute, small town that is on the ocean and has rocky beaches. Kaikoura itself wasn’t that outstanding as a town but it too had amazing views and was home to many Maori people, the indigenous people of NZ, consisting of 3% of the population. There is a Maori tour ran by a Maori that I thought was worth doing, to learn about their history and culture. Kaikoura is also a popular spot to go whale watching and swim with the dolphins. I was fortunate enough to swim with the dolphins and it is something that I will always remember. As I have never been snorkeling I really got the full experience in this activity. Everyone had to wear a head to toe wetsuits with goggles and snorkel. Since the suits were so buoyant there was no need for life jackets. This was an activity I highly recommend. You are delivered as close as possible to a pod of dolphins. The time I went there were 30 or more dolphins swimming around you, it was awesome! If you are somewhat claustrophobic this might not be for you. Being encased in a wesuit add in being in the ocean you feel alone and closed in. Even I had a tiny anxiety attack. Also don’t worry if the dolphins move away you get back into the boat to follow them. The time I went we were on and off the boat 5 times before we headed back. And like many similar businesses if the weather is bad or no dolphins are to be found you get a refund and are able to reschedule.
Christchuch is the largest city on the South Island. In 2010-12 Christcurch experienced devistating earthquakes which forever changed the city. When I visited the destruction from the earthquakes could still be seen around the entire city. This was eye-opening to see since in Montana earthquakes are almost nonexistent. It was definitely surprising and heartbreaking to see all the damage left. But what surprised me the most was what the city did after the earthquakes. They turned a horrible natural disaster into a new beginning. All around the city there were little innovated places. One was an area of temporary trailer sized businesses, another a musical park made out of recycled material. There was an area testing out 3D printed designs to grow plant and shops made out of train cars. The street art all over the city was outstanding. I just happened to be there during the Spectrum Street Art Festival that consisted of street art, graffiti, video etc. all around the city.
Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman is a coastal National Park that has several beaches and has a wide variety of Flora and fur seal rookeries and little blue penguin populations. It is usually recommended to plan a whole day just for this. There is a very easy trail that stretches along the coast that leads to several different beaches, depending on how long you want to walk. If wanting to stay overnight there are a couple of lodges and campsites throughout the park. I would recommend kayaking one way and walking back the other. By kayaking you get a better view of the seal rookeries and maybe a little blue penguin. You also get a better view of the smaller islands just off the coast. I kayaked to this small, somewhat secluded beach for lunch and relaxing and then walked back. If plan to go all day take water, sunscreen and a swimsuit. The burning time this far south is 10 minutes, yikes! There are water faucets available at some areas but they are more for washing and rinsing, not drinking. The water is so beautiful and clear it would be hard to stay away, hence the swimsuit. Warning the one bathroom that was at the beach I was at was awful, it stank to high heaven. Not sure this applies to all but approach with caution!
Milford sound is within Fiordland National Park. This too is an all day trip. Even though from Queenstown it is located an hour away, straight across, due to road regulations in NZ getting there was more like a 4 hour trip. If you do a bus tour you pass through stunning landscapes including mountain ranges, glacier-carved valleys, crystal clear lakes and native rainforest. There are several things to do at Milford Sound such as, hiking, kayaking and cruises. The cruise was an ideal way to see Milford Sound. It is just over two hours, you get to see wildlife as well as the stunning waterfalls and steep mountain sides. The sights rival that of Glacier National Park, daresay, maybe even surpass those of Glacier.
Spring break of my junior year of college was there before I knew it. Other college kids are off to Mexico to drink themselves into a vegetative state, and there I was, just trying to get away for a couple days to catch some fish and enjoy the outdoors with one of my best friends that I hadn’t seen for months.
Monday, April 4, 2016. I took off to spend my spring break deep in the hills of Montana. As I headed over McDonald pass in between Helena and Missoula, I was confronted with a complete and utter blizzard with 4 inches of snow on the road and 40 mph crosswinds. After taking it nice and slow, I finally drop down into Helena where it cleared up a bit.
We met up at Walmart to grab a few last minute supplies, and we were off.
We stopped at the very last sign of civilization to grab some dinner and watch the Men’s NCAA basketball championship, where Villanova dropped a buzzer beater over North Carolina for the win, after they went back and forth multiple times within the last seconds of the game.
Next Stop: camp
We got out there pretty late, after all we had to stay to watch the end of the game.
By this time the roads were beyond terrible, having snowed in the mountains earlier that day, melted, and by this time it was raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock.
First things first: we got camp set up and tried to salvage any hope we initially had of staying dry, then headed out to get some firewood.
Before I could even fathom what was going on, my tire is off the side of the road.
We remained half on, half off the road for about 10 feet, and just before the truck came to a slow stop, I felt gravity start to take its toll.
The truck rolled.
And rolled again..
Somehow, miraculously, we landed wheels down in a creek bed.
In my disoriented state, I looked to my right and the only thing visible was the roof of my truck. Which was caved so far in it had pinned down my center console, and was crushed right on top of where my life long friend was sitting.
As you can probably imagine, I had only thoughts of absolute terror running through my head… What just happened? What had I just done?
Long story short, there had been 2 accidents in the exact same spot in the previous 2 year. In the first instance, the driver had been ejected from the car, pinned against the tree that my truck hit, and lost both legs… The second instance, they didn’t make it….
The officer that helped us out told me ” I honestly have no idea how you two are alive, I have never seen anybody survive something like this. You boys had someone watching over you”.
With every traumatizing event in someones life, you realize things.
Here are my 5 takeaways:
1. Tell your parents you love them every chance you get.
2. There is a bright side in every situation- hell, we are both alive.
3. You’re going to need help every once in a while.
4. As cliché as it seems- tomorrow is never guaranteed. Seize the day.
5. Never stop moving forward. After an instance like this, it’s natural to want to hit the pause button on life. Don’t, keep moving forward.
Opened in 1998, the Hiawatha trail is a 15-mile-long bike trail that operates out of Lookout Pass Ski Area right off of I-90 at exit 0. All amenities such as trail passes can be found at the ski area that opens at 8 a.m. The actual main trail for the Hiawatha is actually located 7-miles east of the ski area at exit 5 in Montana. The trail is open roughly from the end of May and closes at the end of September every year.
#2. You don’t need to own a bike to ride the Hiawatha Trail
Okay, that’s a lie, well only slightly. You do need a bike to ride the Hiawatha. However, you do not need to own one personally because you can rent one from the Lookout Pass ski area. Not only can you rent from two choices of mountain bikes for both children and adults, but you can also rent helmets, bike lights and bike trailers.
#3. You will never know what actual time it is
Because the Hiawatha trail main trailhead starts in Montana, but Lookout Pass ski area where you buy your ticket is in Idaho, and Idaho and Montana are in two different time zones it can get very confusing. Now you may be reading this and thinking that it’s logical to just reference Montana time because that’s where the trail starts. But actually half of the trail is in Idaho time because the first tunnel you bike through sends you straight into Idaho from Montana. But then again be warned, I still don’t know this to be 100% because after riding the Hiawatha many times I still am very confused by the time concept.
#4. It’s fun for the whole family
Or in my case my best friend and I because we’re out of state college students. But nonetheless, the Hiawatha trail is a perfect weekend outing for all ages. The 15-mile trail is mostly all downhill so it’s not as strenuous as 15 miles’ sounds. Along with this there are many pullout spots along the trail to take a break, take in the view and have a picnic.
#5. The views are incredible
I personally struggled with staying on the trail because of how pretty the scenery is. If you go later in the season, you’ll be able to see the trees begin to change color. So if you’re somebody who likes to look at everything but where you are going, go slow to avoid a spontaneous trip off the side of the trail.
#6. There is a light at the end of the tunnel
One of the very cool things about the Hiawatha trail is that it use to a continental railroad system, and contains 7 sky high trestles along with 10 train tunnels. Right out of the gate, bikers will bike through the St. Paul Pass Tunnel which is 1.66 miles long. You will be totally consumed by darkness in this tunnel and it gets very cold. Unless you are Bane from the Dark Knight rises, it’s essential that you have a reliable and bright bike light, and no your IPhone flashlight will not suffice. It may sound scary to some, but the tunnels are one of the main attraction on the trail and an experience you don’t want to miss. Also, the acoustics in the St. Paul Pass tunnel will convince you that you should’ve auditioned for American Idol.
#7. Make sure you pack the essentials
As a veteran of the Hiawatha trail I will tell you that it is much more fun if you pack the right things. Some of these necessities for ultimate fun on the trail include a helmet (everyone loves to be safe, also it’s required), gloves (the tunnels get very cold, so gloves come in clutch), a backpack (to hold all your snacks of course), snacks and a sack lunch (to fill your backpack of course. I also recommend packing a pb&j because it’s the one sandwich that taste best smashed), a bright light (if you have one, if not you can rent one), first aid kit (because better safe than sorry) and water (you’ve got to stay hydrated!). Also I recommend dressing in layers because some parts of the trail are more shaded then others which causes some to be colder than others.
#8. Always buy a shuttle pass
A shuttle pass is not required to buy because it’s possible to ride the 15 miles down to the bottom of the trail and then back up, and some people do this. However, from experience the 15 miles back up to the trailhead is a lot harder than the way down because, well, gravity. But when planning ahead purchasing a $9 shuttle pass so that you have the option to ride on the bus back up to the trailhead is never a bad idea. Better safe than sorry right? You never know what may happen to you on your 15-mile ride to the bottom. You may have plans to be an animal that day and go down and back up, but then realize you’re much more tired after the first half of the ride, or realize it took longer than you thought and you’re short on time. Like I said, it’s better safe than sorry, and also who doesn’t love fun facts and stories about the area provided to you by your very knowledge Hiawatha shuttle driver?
#9. Angels do exist on the Hiawatha trail
I recently learned on my past trip on the Hiawatha trail that angels exist. I was about 5 miles into the trail when tragedy struck and I popped a tire. I realized I was probably SOL because I never planned on popping a tire, because who plans on that? With ten more miles to go I began pedaling my sad self down the now extremely bumpy trail. After a mile or so on my embarrassing flat tire, a red haired angel pedaled up next to me on a blue bike and asked if I needed a replacement. Her name was Emma, or as I call her Angel Emma and she was one of the patrols on the trail that assisted the distressed like myself. She quickly worked her magic and replaced my tire and sent me on my way. Thankfully Lookout Pass who operates the Hiawatha trail plans for people to have misfortunes down the trail.
#10. Take your time on the trail and enjoy the ride
The Hiawatha trail has been dubbed the “crown jewel of rail to trail adventures” and a crown jewel of an adventure it is. Not only do you get to be outside exploring beautiful Montana Idaho but you get to be amongst other friendly cyclists! So enjoy the ride and take the whole day to experience it.
Sad you missed your chance to ride the Hiawatha trail this season?
Because I know I would be if I missed it, but thankfully I didn’t! And because I didn’t you can experience parts of my ride in this short video.
Enjoy and visit www.ridethehiawatha.com for more information and to plan your trip next season!
It is no secret that the majority of the University of Montana student body is made up of Montana born and raised students (we’re talking 74% in-state). It is also no secret that there are “Keep California Out!” signs on everyone’s lawn (not really).
“Oh where are you from?” – Seemingly interested older Montanan
“Sacramento, California!” – Me
“…I’m sorry…” – Now uninterested and bitter older Montanan
“I’m not 🙂 Thanks for having me!” – Smiling me
Take a minute to listen up. I may not speak on behalf of the rest of the Californians in Montana, but I have a perspective I’d love to share. The second I stepped on University of Montana’s campus I knew that it could be my home away from home. The city of Missoula, hell the state of Montana, felt like hugging someone that you haven’t seen in years. I’ve been here for 4 very short years and no, I don’t plan on staying, but yes I will be back to visit. The reason being that it offered the experience of a lifetime for this particular time in my life.
For anyone who’s interested, University of Montana allowed me to step away from most everything I knew in Sacramento (yes I had seen snow, every year in Tahoe minus the recent winters). I was able to clearly establish my values as a young adult, assess the type of future I wanted, and walk away with some of the best friendships I will have for a lifetime.
You see, us Northern Californians appreciate tall trees, snowcapped mountains, cleaning our campsites and wandering to find that adventure just doesn’t end. I can single-handedly agree that California has some extreme undesirables. But so does Montana (hello Meth Capital), so does Colorado, so does New York, and Wyoming and every other state you can name. How do you think Arizona feels hosting all the frail Montana old-timers looking for warm retirement? Probably a mix of “stay in your own state” and “please contribute to our economy; look we have handicap approved EVERYTHING!”
I’ll leave on this note. The amount of times that people think that I’m a Montanan prior to asking is remarkable. Let’s just say I’ve had to convince just about everyone I meet with a valid California drivers license. My experience with those who are excited to have me is what makes Montana “the last best place”. The nay-sayers couldn’t keep me out if they tried.
By: Lia Sbisa, proud Sacramento Native and Montana Visitor