Travel Tales

Tales from my travels both local and abroad.

Hitchhiking and the Highline Trail

“Shit, there goes the shuttle!” said Sammi as she scooped up her stuff and sprinted after the bus. Completely caught off guard, Collin and I attempted to follow suit … Instead, we more or less watched as the shuttle, our planned mode of transportation to the top of Logan Pass, rounded the loop and headed up the Going to the Sun Road.

As Plan A disappeared around the bend, we switched to Plan B: We stuck out our thumbs and hoped to catch a quick ride to the top. (We should be able to hitch a ride in one of the busiest national parks in the U.S. in the middle of summer, right?)

Glacier National Park Trail

Views for days on the Highline Trail. Photo: Joe Johnson

Ten minutes passed. No luck. More trucks with empty seats and empty beds passed than I cared to count. One guy smiled and waved … but didn’t stop. Thirty minutes passed … And so did all of the cars.

Insert curse words. Lots of them.

We finally made it to Logan Pass and our destination, the Highline Trail, courtesy of a couple in a Subaru. Cliché, but true.

The Highline Trail hugs the high alpine terrain from Logan Pass to the loop for 11 miles, overlooking the Going to the Sun Road. The sweeping vistas make it one of the most scenic and accessible trails in Glacier National Park.

Trail Running Glacier National Park

Sammi topping out on the big climb. Photo: Joe Johnson

Trail running Glacier National Park

Collin striding out. Photo: Joe Johnson

We ran along the trail, falling easily into a comfortable pace that was only interrupted by the occasional passing mountain goat. We made solid time from Logan Pass to Haystack Butte, finishing with a strong push up the only major climb of the run before stopping for a hot minute to soak in the view.

Then we were back at it, picking up our pace as the terrain leveled out and we rolled into Granite Park Chalet. Clif Bars were devoured and water was slammed before we hopped back on the trail and descended the final four miles of the loop back to to our car.

Granite Park Chalet Glacier National Park

First view of Granite Park Chalet. Photo: Joe Johnson

Looking back, this was without a doubt the best run, trail or road, I’ve ever done. From trails carved into the side of cliffs and creek crossings to meadows overflowing with wildflowers and mountaintop vistas, the terrain and views could not have been better.

Pro Tip: Start early (before 9 a.m.) to miss the crowds.

Gear tested:

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Just Add Water

I’m not a huge fan of wine. The swirling, the sniffing, the swishing – they’re all unnecessary distractions that keep you from actually getting down to the business of drinking.

My girlfriend is half Italian. She studied abroad in Italy during college, has Italian citizenship and currently guides cycling trips through Italy’s wine country a few months out of every year. She knows wine. She knows how to pair wine. She digs it.

Paddleboarding Lake McDonald

Just add water

You see my problem, right?

Sunday night we hopped in my car and headed up to Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park for a little sunset paddle. I brought the paddleboards, she brought the dinner and drinks. And by drinks I mean wine.

Already craving a beer, I pushed out from shore, watching our paddles cutting cleanly through the water as we pointed our boards north and headed for the middle of the lake, the glassy surface perfectly reflecting the surrounding mountains and setting sun.


Lauran, her wine and her paddleboard

No people. No boats. We had the lake to ourselves as we sat down on our boards and busted out some salami, pesto and cheese sandwiches followed by a bottle of white wine. Before I knew it, the sandwiches and the bottle of wine were both gone. Not a crumb or drop to be seen. What the hell just happened?

You might assume that I cheated on my first love, beer, and now consider wine my main squeeze. You’d be mistaken. In all seriousness, I realized that all you have to do is add water. That night, sitting in the middle of Lake McDonald, surrounded by pure, mountain water, I lost track of everything else. There were no distractions. I wasn’t thinking about whether I like or dislike something, There were no other thoughts. I was simply enjoying the moment.

Water has that affect on me. Or maybe it was because we were drinking the wine out of the bottle?

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Solitary Sunset SUP

Where the hell is everybody?

It was Sunday in Glacier National Park on the shore of Lake McDonald. Canada Day was the next day. The Fourth of July “weekend” would be kicking off mid-week. The weather—too hot if you ask locals—felt perfect as the sun started its descend for the evening.

Lake McDonald SUP

SUP on Lake McDonald

Paddle board under my arm, I followed the trail through the trees to the shore. My first view of the lake stopped me in my tracks: 10 miles long and nearly a mile wide, Lake McDonald stretched in front of me with its glassy surface reflecting the setting sun and the surrounding mountains, begging me to jump in. … Not a soul to be seen.

My paddle cutting into the water was the only sound I could hear besides the low hum of cars on the road miles away. I headed north across the middle of the lake, my sights on the signature peaks that guard McDonald’s far end. Still, not a soul to be seen.

With no reason to rush and nowhere to be, I sat down on my board with my feet dangling in the clear, cool water and enjoyed the sun’s final rays as it dropped over the Apgar Mountains.

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Trail to Enlightenment: An Introduction to Trail Running

She’s a pro. I’m not. She’s an ultra runner. I get  ultra tired when I run. Ashley Arnold and I sat down and asked each other questions about trail running. Hopefully the answers, both serious and hilarious, give you a solid introduction to the sport of trail running and a look at the different reasons why we each dig the sport.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally posted on Liftopia

What happens when a seasoned skier and mountain biker who’s new to the trail running world exchanges questions with an expert trail runner? Read on to find out. Here, co-workers Joe Johnson, 28, of Salt Lake City, and Ashley Arnold, 26, of Carbondale, Colorado, ask each other important (and a few somewhat tangential) questions about trail running and, ah, the meaning of it all:

Ashley to Joe

Why did you start trail running? Why not just run on the road? Honestly, I started trail running because I couldn’t afford anything else. I had moved to Utah during the winter, had spent all my money on ski gear (thus not being able to afford a bike), and was looking for a way to explore Salt Lake’s trail network. Oh, and running on the road is boring.

You’re new to the sport. Any advice you’d give an even newer beginner? Something, perhaps, you learned the hard way? Invest in a solid pair of trail running shoes. Road shoes are made for exactly what their name says—running on the road. You’ll notice the difference in traction, performance and comfort.  I’m currently running in the Salomon Speedcross 3.

It's important to wear shoes made specifically for the sport when trail running.

How much would someone have to pay you to run 10 trail miles in your ski boots AND ski goggles? I’m going to put the price at $500, which probably doesn’t seem like much to most people. Why so low? Well, given that I spend six months a year in my ski boots and goggles, 10 trail miles doesn’t sound horrible. And, $500 equates to a whole lot of post-run beers to drown the pain.

Do you use a GPS device like the Ambit? If yes, why do you like it? If no, why don’t you? I do. I’m running with the Suunto Ambit right now. I’m a beginner, but even a beginner can appreciate the ability to track, learn from and improve on their runs based on the information this watch provides. Besides, you can download the “Beer App,” an app that calculates how many beers you’ve burned during your run. Priceless.

What’s a runner’s high? In my opinion, a runner’s high is that point where you couldn’t feel any lower, tired or more defeated by the trail … followed up by you diggin’ deep and finishing strong.

If you could have any four songs on rotation during a run, what would they be? Lowrider by WAR, Deliverance by Bubba Sparkx, Levrolution by El Ardemo and Hot Like Sauce by Pretty Lights. Obviously, these picks change every day based upon my mood.

You’re really into skiing and mountain biking. How does trail running complement those sports? Correct. I spend six months out of the year splitting my time between backcountry and resort skiing, waiting for the trails to clear. When they do, trail running and biking take over. The beauty of trail running is that while working different muscle groups, it’s actually very similar to biking and skiing in that it requires focus, line choice, endurance, decision-making and speed. So, when ski season comes back around, trail running has me ready to go.

Beautiful trails at Aspen in Colorado.

What’s the first thing you do after a trail run? Stretch. Followed closely by mowing down on whatever food is within reach.

Favorite post-run food? Beverage? Burrito. Hands down. I don’t know what it is about these tortilla wrapped delicacies, but I crave them after a long run. If there’s even a question about my post-run beverage of choice, you haven’t read my previous answers. If that wasn’t clear enough, it’s beer … preferably cold.

Do you prefer to run solo or with friends? I’m a solo runner for two reasons: 1. I’m uber competitive and would most likely turn a leisurely run into a race. 2. I haven’t found anyone I really, truly enjoy running with yet.

Have you encountered any mountain lions yet? Have you thought about what you’ll do when/if you do? This is important. This is VERY important. You never know what you’re going to run into on the trail. If I came nose-to-nose with a mountain lion I’d pull his whiskers. I read somewhere on the Internet (which is always correct) that pulling their whiskers will make them roll over, purr and act like a normal house cat. Now you know. You’re welcome. (Editor’s Note: The information in this answer is in no way true or correct. Liftopia will not be held responsible for what happens when you pull a mountain lion’s whiskers).

Watch out for moose on the trail when trail running.

This mid-run interruption is brought to you by Moose: Intimidating trail runners since trail running became cool.

Joe to Ashley

When it comes to trail running you could be considered a “cagey veteran.” How long have you been running and what was it about trail running that got you started?  I have been running since I was a freshman in high school, but at that time I was a track runner—300-meter hurdler actually. I literally refused to run more than a lap around the track at a time. When my sister convinced me to run cross-country the following year, I still hated running “far” and would duck out of practice and go to the local food co-op and hang out with my friends during our scheduled run time.  I didn’t start trail running, though, until a couple of years after college. I basically ran a trail ultra off the couch and was hooked. Being hooked after that experience is somewhat hard to believe because honestly, it was a horrible experience as after the race, standing, walking, laying down—pretty much everything—was excruciating.

You’re now a professional; tell us about your training, your races, and what company you run for? A professional? I don’t know about that, but I run for Salomon/Suunto now. Training is something I’m always trying to dial. Last year was a lot about uphill running for the mountain running team—short and fast. And, this year, I’ve transitioned back into more ultra training. I’m currently training for a stage race—148 miles in six days—so I’m doing a lot of back-to-back long runs. Right now, mostly mileage.  Later in the year I am running White River 50 in Seattle, the Leadville 100, UROC 100K and then some Salomon-sponsored events: The Rock/Creek Stump Jump and Upchuck 50K in Chattanooga and then a Ragnar Relay event in California. Hopefully I’ll also be running the TNF 50-Mile Endurance Challenge in San Francisco in December.

Break it down for us real simple like. …What are three pieces of gear that you MUST have when you hit the trail? Shoes, sports bra and shorts.  Usually.

When it comes to methods of hydration during a run, there are more options than Carter has liver pills. As a professional, what do you suggest?  Oh, man, I hate carrying hydration. Don’t take my advice. I only take water if I’m running for more than three hours, unless it’s hot and in the middle of the day. And sometimes I don’t even take it then, and I regret it for the next few hours.

What’s your “go to” fuel when running? I really dislike eating and running. So, I often find myself drinking orange soda if I need calories. If I absolutely have to take food, I’ll eat ProBar energy chews, or, sunflower butter and jam on tortilla if I’m out for a really long time.

You’ve run all over the world. What’s your favorite place to run, favorite specific trail? I’d like to spend more time in the Andes. I think I’d really like it there. Of course the Alps are amazing, but, honestly, Colorado has some amazing high country terrain. And where I live, I can escape on trails and see no one for hours and hours. That’s an incredible feeling.

Solve the mystery for us: Does the ‘Runner’s High’ exist? Totally. And it’s the best psychotherapy I know.

What should a rookie look for in a running shoe? What shoes do you use? Look for a feeling of all-around “OK.” A good shoe is one you don’t have to think about. It’s comfortable and easy to wear. I wear Salomon’s Sense Mantra and CrossMax 2 mostly.

Where do you stand on stretching? I’m also a modern dancer, so stretching is crucial. I have to constantly work on my hip flexibility so that I can still achieve some level of turn out during dance after so many miles of forward-moving feet.

Music or no music while running? If yes, what’s your jam? I swing both ways with this. Lately, though, I’ve been listening to a lot of music. A few days ago, it was solely Holy Other. Yesterday I listened to First Aid Kit. This morning, I jammed to Cocteau Twins and felt like I was running in some sort of trance. …

On average how many miles per week do you run? For those getting started what’s a good mileage to start at? Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of mileage. I’ve just been enjoying my “meditation” time on the trail. I’ve been running between 70 and 90 miles per week for about a month now. Mileage is really dependent on your body and what you can handle. It’s dangerous to put a limit or assign a number for anyone. The best advice I can give: Get to know your body and understand when you’re pushing yourself in a beneficial way and when you’re hurting yourself. Listen to your body’s warning signs. Sometimes, though, we have to take risks to see what our limits really are.

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Oregon Coast-ing

With our hoods up and hands stuffed deep in our pockets, we made tracks down the beach towards the tide pools. The sand was damp, spilling over the soles of my sandals, making me wish I’d worn shoes. The wind whipped at our backs. The driving rain soaked us from behind. Jeans were a bad idea.

Fifteen minutes later I stood on a rock, as far from shore as I could possibly get, looking out over the Pacific Ocean. The tide slowly came in around me, doing its best to cut me off from shore. The wind – gone. The driving rain – done. And that sun that was nowhere to be found 15 minutes earlier was now steadily drying me out.

This is the Pacific Northwest. More specifically, this is the Oregon Coast. Rain, wind and clouds. Sun, humidity and heat. If you’re not liking the weather, wait five minutes. Chances are a complete wardrobe change will be required.

I met my family in Lincoln City, Oregon this weekend for some much needed beach time. Here’s a look at a few of my favorite shots. If you’d rather ride the Instagram train, find my photos here.

Flying Montana

Portland bound over Montana

Kaden Lincoln City Oregon

My nephew Kaden exploring the beach



Beer in Lincoln City Oregon

10 Barrel Brewing Apocalypse IPA with a view



My nephew Kaden at sundown.

My nephew Kaden at sundown.



Lincoln City Oregon

Nature’s tunnel to the beach

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Differences in Conversation

We wound up in the heart of Little Italy in the North Shore area of San Francisco. Not because we planned to. But because we walked across the Gold Gate Bridge, hailed the first taxi we saw and asked him to take us to his favorite area of San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

Photo: Joe Johnson

With nothing but our empty stomachs to guide us, we hit the streets in search of something to fill them. The menu hanging by the door of a small Italian joint caught our attention, but it was the available sidewalk seating, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city, that sealed the deal.

Drinks, appetizers and the main course were ordered. We toasted to good fortune and exploring new places and then settled back into our chairs, content to soak up the sights, smells, action and conversations that swirled around us. There wasn’t much conversation at our table; we were too busy enjoying everyone else’s.

The couple behind us was discussing their most recent trip to the Opera. The friends to our right were debating which new art gallery was San Francisco’s finest. The ladies to our left were talking politics and economics. And the guys in front of us were breaking down the San Francisco Giants lineup for the upcoming season.

Meanwhile, I found myself completely caught up in each conversation. Enjoying the variety, the topics, the opinions and the passion with which people were speaking. It was then that I realized that this very situation, the experience of different conversations, is what makes traveling so interesting, and in my opinion, necessary.

Traveling San Francisco

Photo: Joe Johnson

You see, I’ve called mountain towns home for the majority of my life. What they have to offer – The scenery, the weather, the recreation and the lifestyle – is what keeps me coming back. These are the things that I love about mountain towns. Yet, these are the things that wear on me as well.  The very things that set mountain towns apart are the very things that, in my opinion, tend to make them all the same. Pull up a stool at a bar or sit down with a cup of coffee at any mountain town establishment and chances are that the conversations around you will revolve around the weather, the recreational activity currently in season and the gear needed to participate in said activity. Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m as passionate about these topics as the next outdoor enthusiast. But at the same time I need variety in my life. I crave different points of view and unique conversations as much as I do tacky singletrack or deep powder snow.

I’m not saying that one becomes sheltered when living in a mountain town. And I’m not saying that cities are better because of their diversity. But I am saying that it is vital to experience the difference in conversation that can only be found when traveling.

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Boston in Black & White

City sunsets are pretty sweet.

I just got back from a last minute trip to Boston. Seriously. I found out I was going Wednesday around 3 p.m. and was boarding my plane bound for Beantown Thursday morning at 8 a.m.

While spontaneous travel may be frowned upon in some circles (over planners, human resource departments, etc.), I find it to be one of the best ways to truly experience a destination. When you have no time to plan, or even pack for that matter, you have no choice but to go with the flow, taking whatever comes your way. And so went my first trip to Boston. I had my backpack, my cell phone, my girlfriend and a long weekend that just happend to be chocked full of signature Boston events. From catching a Red Sox game at Fenway Park and watching the Boston Marathon to hittin’ the beach at Cape Cod and almost getting in a fight with a  guido on the north end, I feel like I got a good taste of Boston.

Loved difference in the styles of buildings.

For those of you wondering, yes, Boston is worth a trip. Whether you’ve got a few days or a week weeks, the city offers plenty to keep you busy. Boston is overflowing with charm, character, history, pride and great beer. It’s a city that you’re stoked to get to, happy to be in, and sad to leave. But most importantly, it’s a city you’ll always remember.

Anyways, they say a picture is worth a thousand words so I’ll shut up and let you browse the slideshow below, taking a look back at my trip through the lens of my phone’s camera.

Lauran enjoying the beach on the Cape.

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Five things I’ll always remember about Boston:

  1. Fenway Park is life changing.
  2. Regina’s Pizza on the north end serves up the best pies this side of Italy.
  3. The Boston Marathon is inspiring. I almost want to run a marathon now . . . almost.
  4. The pride that the people of Boston have in both their city and sports teams is amazing.
  5. Bostonites can drink.

Has anyone else hit the streets of Boston lately? Sound off. I’d love to hear what you think.

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