A Travel Catalog Inspired by Motion

In my very first post on this blog, I waxed poetic about Yosemite and mentioned a little TV show that inspired my first of many trips there:

Our first trip to Yosemite, before we spent a small fortune on gear!

“In 2010, I stumbled upon a tiny low-budget TV show on an offshoot of a major network, in which two brothers headed out to national parks with handheld HD video cameras to show viewers some of the best hikes in each park. I sat glued to the TV as the hosts hiked along the south rim of Yosemite National Park, peering into the famous valley below. My eyes were agog. My mouth gaped. It was love at first sight.”

The show is called Motion, and it airs on a little-known, little-watched network called Live Well, a subsidiary of ABC. The show is narrated by Greg Aiello, the world’s most likable guy. The camera work captures sweeping vistas and tiny details in HD, all set to a well-chosen musical number. No one I’ve talked to has ever heard of the Live Well Network. Not surprisingly, ABC is pulling the plug on it come January. And with it goes Motion.

It’s weird to admit that a television show has impacted my life importantly. Ninety-nine percent of TV is total crap. One percent, TV at its best, is entertaining or edifying. But

Motion goes beyond even that. In 30-minute episodes their cameras and humor have virtually brought many of the national parks into my living room and inspired real-life trips to these places. The show got me connected to nature, a connection that turned out to become a really important part of my life. Now I crave time in nature like a body craves nutrients.

This was the episode that started it all for me. As I started looking through the other episodes online, I was struck by the number of trips I’ve taken over the last four years  that were spurred to existence by Motion.

Today’s post is a catalog; a tribute to my friends at Motion. The links will take you to related Go Go Go content and to the Motion episode that inspired the trip. Check out the episodes of Motion so you can become a fan too, if you aren’t already. (You’ve still got 6 months to catch the show on the Live Well Network, too, if you can find the channel.)

Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park

After our first visit to Yosemite in 2010 (we’ve returned every year since), Motion inspired our southern Utah trip to Zion National Park, where we experienced the Narrows–hiking in the Virgin River through a slot canyon–and the snow-capped hoodoos in nearby Bryce Canyon National Park. Both parks are along Utah’s Route 12, a scenic byway with a nerve-wracking stretch called Hell’s Backbone.

The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

The amphitheater in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Hell’s Backbone, Route 12, Utah

Then they inspired this trip to Glacier National Park. Among the many spectacular hikes we did was 13.5 miles from the Gunsight trailhead to the Sperry Chalet, a backcountry lodge, through some of the most beautiful spots we’ve ever seen.

Comeau Pass, Glacier National Park

There was our trip to Hawaii, where we hiked a stretch of the famous Kalalau Trail on Kauai. We quite literally slid down the Sliding Sands Trail into Haleakala, an inactive volcanic crater. The trip was booked after seeing the amazing series of Hawaii episodes on Motion.

Summit of Haleakala, Maui

Our first trip to the Eastern Sierras in California, in which we visited the tufas at Mono Lake…

Mono Lake

…and the ghosts of Bodie, the largest remaining ghost town in the US? Inspired by Motion.

There was last year’s inaugural backpacking trip to Thousand Island Lakes in the Ansel Adams Wilderness near Yosemite (which you have read scarcely little about because we are still picking sand out of our various crevices). This route was inspired by Motion’s episodes on the John Muir Trail and the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Garnet Lake along the JMT in the Ansel Adams Wilderness

Solo trip to northern Wisconsin to kayak in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, on Lake Superior? Thanks for the idea, Motion!

Greg and the Motion crew have had the dream job that any fan of nature wishes she could have. To travel to the world’s most beautiful places and get paid to explore them? Lucky bastards. I’ve sufficed by living vicariously through them and doing my best to make many of those experiences—and myriad others—a reality. There are so many more places I’ve discovered in Motion episodes that are on my bucket list, so even as the show says good-bye in January, it will continue to provide years of inspired travels. So Motion, thanks for the memories—those past and those still to come!

Motion-inspired trips on my list:

  • Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • Channel Islands, California
  • Grand Canyon’s North Rim, Arizona
  • Canyoneering in Escalante, Utah
  • Owens Valley, California
  • Point Reyes, California
  • Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  • Acadia National Park, Maine

Traveller Tip: Use screen shots to get where you’re going

We just returned from a short trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. I’m not highly technological, so bear with this very basic explanation. I knew we wouldn’t have access to our data network. Instead of buying a SIM card in Canada, we opted to go without our data plans for the duration of the trip. It’s not hard to get by in Vancouver, since you can pick up free wifi from cafes just about anywhere in the city. But I rely on Google Maps for getting me from place to place. So I started pulling up directions while within wifi range and taking screen shots of maps and directions that I could access later, in my camera roll, from the road. This is a good strategy if traveling to Canada, or anytime you’re traveling to remote parts of the US where service may be spotty.

Armchair Traveler: A View on Cities

Hanging out with some public art in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle.

The last great city we visited was Seattle in 2010, so I’m getting excited about our upcoming visit to Vancouver, BC. In searching for some photos to gain my bearings on the city’s sights, I stumbled upon the website A View on Cities.

I hope you’re prepared to add to your bucket list. Mine is already so overwhelming that the discovery of this site actually caused a slight amount of panic. I mean, I’d heard a million times that Prague is a “must-see” destination. But once I clicked through these photos at A View on Cities, I now know that it is. And so there it goes, onto the bucket list. One more place I now long to visit. The photo library takes viewers on a virtual tour, more or less, of the world’s great cities. I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to look at many of them. Just like watching the Cooking Channel makes me want to eat, eat, eat, this web site also makes me hungry, in a different way.

Want to see what the top attractions are in Rome? Or whether Munich is a city where you’d like to wander the streets? Need a map of attractions so you can plan your route and find the best location for lodging?

It’s all there, beckoning you to while away a few hours clicking through and dreaming up future vacations you may or may not take. Take a look, and happy virtual travels!

 

Travel on Your Couch

It has been so cold and gray and slush-filled in Chicago recently that I’ve barely wanted to leave my couch. Fortunately, this doesn’t need to prevent me from traveling. The Internet is too broad a destination, so let’s focus in on one corner of it: Netflix Instant’s travel documentaries.

I am a huge sucker for the educational and historical documentary, so I’m excited to dive into all twelve hours of Ken Burns’s documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. I can and do quibble about many things about the United States, but the fact is, it’s a gorgeous country with a huge variety of environments and natural features. For years, my travel has been focused mainly internationally, so I think this series will be a good reminder to me of everything that I can see right here at home.

The Greatest Places is a movie about, as one might guess, the greatest places in the world, as determined by director Mal Wolfe, I guess, also known for… some documentaries about sharks? Also, this one was meant to be viewed in IMAX, so it’s probably not going to look its best on my tiny laptop. So even though Iguazu Falls is included, I may take a pass.

I’m not quite sure how Michael Palin made the decision to transition from surrealist clown in Monty Python to world explorer, but transition he has. He’s circumnavigated the globe and gone pole to pole, and on Netflix Instant, you can also find the series he did about the Himalayas and New Europe. Also, A Fish Called Wanda, if you’re so inclined.

Speaking of following strange Brits around, Stephen Fry in America is also available for streaming on Netflix Instant, in which he crosses the country in six episodes. He’s an intelligent, curious, and hilarious guide. It won’t necessarily reveal anything new to you about our country, but it might give you some insights into what people from other countries think about us. And it’s not all bad!

A Small Travel Rant

I am, with great happiness, planning a trip to Argentina. I got all giddy and excited about it one day and sort of went off, unauthorized-like, and booked some hotels. I used Expedia, because I find their user interface very pleasant and easy and because they integrate reviews from TripAdvisor, which I tend to trust. I found a great, cheap hotel in Buenos Aries called the Art Factory that I’m so excited to see in person and then I found what seemed to be a great hotel near Iguazu Falls. Click, boom, done and done.

And then like three days later I took a look at my receipt for the Iguazu Falls hotel and saw a) that they had an “extra guest” fee on there (for a second person in a two-person room) and b) that I had booked our check-out day one day too late.

These things were both my fault. I should have checked the final price as I was busily clicking through during my purchase, and I definitely should have triple-checked my dates. These are things that I know but that I didn’t do because I got caught up in finding a great deal and being all happy about going on a big trip.

But there was a simple solution. It was a refundable room. I could just call Expedia and get them to fix it. So I did. And I got a real person on the phone very quickly. A real person who was completely unable to solve my problem.

The extra person fee, I know, is a thing the hotel tacks on. So I asked, but I knew there was little or nothing they could do about that. I wasn’t surprised to hear an “I’m sorry” there. But I figured making the stay one day shorter would be easy as pie. (OK, pie is actually very hard. Easy as cake.)

I was so, so wrong.

I was told that they couldn’t change my dates because there wasn’t another room available at that price. I explained that I didn’t need another room; I just needed the room I already had for a little less time. She said that the best she could do was that I could just show up at the hotel, leave early, and then when I came home from the trip, I could call Expedia and see if they would give me a refund for an early departure. That seemed… less than ideal. This was the point that I asked for a manager. She did not get a manager. She put me on hold. And then came back and said she’d call the hotel and see what she could do. OK, that’s progress. I was on hold for 10 minutes or so. She came back and asked me to keep waiting. Another 10 minutes. Again asked me to keep waiting. Put on hold again.

During this time, I was on their site, searching for other hotel options. I found another, slightly shoddier hotel, that was a little bit cheaper and did not have any “extra guest” fee. I booked it for the right dates this time. By the time the lady came back again to ask me to keep waiting, I told her to forget about it.

Now, I admit: this was a problem of my own making. I should have been more careful. But you’d think something as basic as changing one date on a hotel–especially shortening a stay by a day–should be really simple to accomplish. You’d think that. But you’d be wrong.

A Tool for the Weary Travel Planner

 

Every trip requires making choices. Where should we go? When should we go, and for how long? On which airline should we fly? At which hotel should we stay? At which restaurant should we eat?

It’s easy to become paralyzed by the volume of choices. (Do check out this TED video from psychologist Barry Schwartz about this very interesting topic.) We’re travel weary before we even begin our travels.

Not for me, though. Not when it comes to traveling, at least. I get an obsessive rush of pleasure in researching every, single option, weighing the pros and cons of each, and ultimately making a confident and informed decision to achieve the optimal vacation experience.

But I have finally met my match. A destination so big and vast that it gives Texas small-dog syndrome.

I’m planning a trip to Alaska.

And I’ll just say it—I’m overwhelmed.

There are a zillion things to do in Alaska. And a zillion places to do each one. Innumerable options for boating, national park visiting, flightseeing, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, dog-sledding, gold-panning, native cultural experiences, rafting, ice climbing, hiking. A bajillion glacial treks on a half a bajillion glaciers, a cajillion kayaking options to two cajillion shoreline destinations. (If you’re keeping track, that all adds up to a zillion.)

So today I attempted to zero in on one simple thing: choosing a kayak trip. Even that turned out to be overwhelming.

Should we paddle somewhere on the Kenai Peninsula? Or perhaps on Prince William Sound? Each of these areas has dozens of kayaking destinations. Dozens of outfitters offer half-day trips, full-day trips, and multi-day trips. They have combo trips like water taxi + kayak or helicopter + kayak. Different trips have different scenery: alpine glaciers, tidewater glaciers, calving glaciers, icebergs, or “bergy bits.” Wildlife viewing options like whales, otters, goats, or bears. Oh my.

The sheer volume of choices makes comparisons extremely difficult. Without grounds for comparison, how do we make the best choice?

Travelers, I don’t have an answer. But I have found something that helps a lot. YouTube. The new tool for the would-be traveler.

Surely someone has video of kayaking the Columbia Glacier, and Bear Glacier, and Aialik Bay. Surely I can watch these videos and get a taste of what the experience will be like.

Better than someone else’s opinion, better than a still photo or a blog post or a tourism website, a YouTube video creates an instant reaction—“I would like this,” “This looks boring,” “That’s not what I expected,” “That is going to be worth every penny.”

With the help of moving pictures, preferences are beginning to take shape. Paddling through “bergy bits” versus icebergs now makes sense. I still haven’t come to a decision yet but I at least feel like I can make one, and I’ll be using a lot more YouTube for future travels.

Resources for the Beginning Hiker

The first time I went hiking in a national park was in college. A friend had all the gear and a fair amount of experience. Without him, I wouldn’t have known how to make a trip like this happen.

Planning a hiking trip is different than any other kind of trip. You not only need to learn about your destination, but you need to choose trails suitable to your ability and experience. You need to know what gear to bring. You need a little bit of emergency preparedness.

If you’re interested in getting into hiking but aren’t sure where to start, I though I’d share a few of my favorite online resources today.

(Assuming, of course, that at some point, the government shutdown will end and the country’s public lands will once again be made available to the public.)

REI Expert Advice
In addition to selling expensive but awesome outdoor gear and gadgets, REI provides a large amount of articles and videos amount all kinds of outdoor topics related to hiking, cycling, running, climbing, paddling, and snow sports. I recommend starting with the Ten Essentials, which is the widely used term for all the things you need to keep yourself safe during a hike.

Leave No Trace
If you are a fan of the outdoors, then you’ll want to learn how to leave it in the same or better condition than you found it. You may or may not appreciate the importance of this initially, but the first time you come across someone’s initials carved into a tree along the trail, you’ll start to care a lot. So check out the Leave No Trace principles before heading out.

Where to Go
Need help figuring out where to go? Browse these lists from National Geographic, Backpacker Magazine, and GORP of top day hikes and see what gets your blood flowing.

Now, before you get too excited about  a particular hike, make sure it’s a good fit for your experience and fitness level. It’s also a good idea to understand the weather conditions of your destination of choice. Mountain and desert regions can have some pretty harsh weather, and the period of time in which conditions are amenable to novice hikers can be pretty short.

So visit the Tripadvisor forum for your destination and run your plan past the Destination Experts. Contact the national park service or forest service and talk to a ranger.

Backpacking
If it’s overnight trips you’re interested in, check out Backpacker magazine’s Backpacking 101 guide. Also buy a copy of the NOLS Wilderness Guide, which is an enjoyable read that covers the basics of backpacking, including foot gear, clothing, food, campsite selection, and route planning.