Category Archives: Trips

Remember Remember November…

Wow, that went by ridiculously fast.

Some of the fun things that happened in November:

  • Gabe started attending daycare.
  • We drove down and spent a rather uncomfortable night in Ames so that we might surprise Liz on her birthday (the 5th) at a surprise Tailgate party.  Success!
  • Gabe got a head cold during this weekend and proceeded to start sleeping incredibly horribly.  Screaming when he woke up at 3am, he also woke up angry every two to three hours.
  • Sean came and got to experience this first hand.  At least he was a great sport about it and it was great to hang out with him in person for the first time in too long.
  • Gabe attained his five month birthday, which we celebrated with some great pictures, including a series of him rolling over.  He now does this regularly.
  • We had a weekend with nothing to do and I hung a bunch of Christmas lights, even some way up high that I had sworn to Kristin that I would not do.  Hopefully she is happy 🙂
  • I discovered the fun (?) of participating in distributed computing contests.  Sound interesting?  Check out the forum at
  • We discovered that if your infant wakes up and is upset at night, it’s likely that they are not getting enough sleep during the day.  More naps for Gabe, and a 6:30 PM bedtime rather than 8PM made a noticeable improvement in his sleeping behavior.
  • Thanksgiving!  We traveled to Iowa and enjoyed seeing family and friends and helped my family decorate for Christmas and buy a Black Friday TV.  While it may be hard to believe that they had bought that huge Console HDTV eight years ago, what is harder to believe is that we wrangled that big guy into the basement without causing lasting damage to a)ourselves b) the TV or c) the house.  Good work!
  • Kristin and I did some cross shopping in electronics for each other for Christmas during the week leading up to Black Friday.  It’s safe to say we’ll both be happy with the result.
  • Liz is handy with the electronics and such and is gaining confidence there.  Nothing magic was happening behind the big TV and I think she is realizing that it might be daunting but ultimately very doable to hook up and configure all these things.  Impressive 🙂
  • I bought one thing on Black Friday.  The week leading up to it was much more engaging.
  • The Vikings sucked all month and it didn’t matter if I listened, watched the game with Derek and Meghan or at Dale and Diane’s.  Wow.
  • Diane continued to bless us with her assistance, it’s hard to believe what would we would do without her.
  • Gabe decided that he wanted to roll over and sleep that last night in November and has been doing it the couple nights since.  It is freaking crazy how much nicer this makes our nights – he only wakes up once!
November in a nutshell with likely many important things missing…

Welcome to fall…

Kristin and I took our annual fall colors appreciation trip this weekend.  Instead of heading north, we went south east, driving down through Wisconsin to come back into Minnesotta at Red Wing and proceeded down to Lake City, MN which overlooks the massive (27mi*up to 3mi*) Lake Pepin that is formed by a naturual damming of the Mississippi.  I took about 90 or so pictures hiking throught the Lake City City (ha!) Park and the nearby Frontenac State Park.  Good news is that the weather was beautiful and our new little grill works great.

Tweaked for brightness and contrast, makes a good wallpaper.

Enjoy Fall, it always goes by too fast.


Mt. Denali

Mt. Denali (still officially Mt. McKinley because of a cranky old Ohio Senator) is the tallest mountain in North America and is stunning in its height compared to those mountains that surround it.  When you first catch a glimpse of it, coming up from anchorage on the Denali highway, you might not think it is very impressive.  The key is that you are still some sixty miles away from it.  Even when you are closer, it is hard to fathom that the mountain in front of you and Mt. Denali peeking over it are some thirty miles apart.

Since we were in Alaska in July it was highly unlikely we would see the mountain.  It is so tall that the warm air hits it and consistently shrouds it in snow storms.  We lucked out and took a couple hundred pictures to prove it 😉

We were about 25 miles away at this point.

The foreground mountain was about a mile away, Denali ~35.

Towering above the plains, it climbs ~18,000 feet from base to peak.

The mountain is really quite awesome, in the truest sense of the word, to behold.  It would be incredible to see it free of clouds as you can during the winter.


Animals in Denali

Kristin and I spent two days in Denali National Park and together I think we took ~1,500 pictures there.  You can therefore appreciate that the following is a small subset of that 🙂

Also, these photos have already been cropped in some cases.  Because of how you view the wildlife in the park, the animals are usually hundreds to thousands of feet away.  Good thing I had a long lens!  Too bad it was soft at full zoom…

Any animals in particular you’d like to see more of?


Camping in IL – Pictures

A few pictures from lovely Illinois where we camped with Blake and Kaela Bemis. At least the weather wasn’t too hot…

I need to take a longer zoom lens out on these walks…


HHR – The Rental – Alaska

After leaving the rather hostile Hostel we went and picked up our rental car which was an interesting experience as always.

Enterprise Rent-a-car

We were picked up by Enterprise, which honestly was one of the big reasons we chose Enterprise as it saved a us a cab fare and some transit time.  When we dropped the car off it was handy to have transportation as well, they took me to the central bus station so I was able to get on the route that headed to the airport with a minimum of fuss.   The drivers were personable and professional each way.

The car we were picked up in, which was supposed to be our car for the trip, was a Dodge Avenger.  I am not a huge fan of Chrysler/Dodge so I wasn’t too excited about it in general but was willing to give it a shot.  Turns out that it was a moot point as its tires were worn to the tread indicators and so we refused to drive that out into the Alaskan countryside where travel books advise taking two full size spares.

Saturdays are a crazy day to rent cars in Anchorage in the summer, I had tried to rent a car in Fairbanks so that we could have flown into Fairbanks and out of Anchorage and in April they were all rented already.  Point being, there wasn’t anything really cleaned up and ready to go – but there was an  Chevrolet HHR that had just been returned.  Brad W. had told me to avoid this car at all costs, but hey, we wanted to get going and it had to be better than an Avenger, right?

Edmunds is OK on the HHR and we found it to be OK too.


  • A ~20 Gallon tank and 30+ MPG was exactly what you would want in Alaska where you can see signs posted that say “no gas stations next 85 miles.”
  • Passing power was sufficient at 55-60 MPH.
  • It does look pretty nice.
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System independently displayed each tires pressure and this is all viewable.  Due to past experience we are paranoid about wheels and tires on rental cars and this provided some great piece of mind.
  • Visibility was great out of the windshield when navigating rough terrain, etc.


  • Cup holders that managed to be as bad as what the old ’99 Mustang had.  They were hard to use, adequate to get to and there were only three.  We are used to the Honda CR-V or Passat where we have about 10+.  Having room for empties so they aren’t just rolling around in the car is something we are just used to.
  • Stock stereo was weak despite its plethora of input options.
  • More stiffness in corners would have been great.  Taking many long, blind sweeping curves on Alaskan ridge lines at ~70MPH was a little nerve racking.
  • Passing power with the small engine at 65-70 MPH took a little longer than was comfortable.
  • Abysmal storage space.  We had to keep putting things in the back seat as there weren’t good places for books, cameras etc in the front seat.  Again, our larger personal cars have likely spoiled us.
  • Use the side mirrors as the view out the back is constrained.
  • You have to look down at the center console shifter to see what gear you are in.  Since you are frequently using Low gear etc. when descending mountains, this was striking as pretty ridiculous.


Everything you want in a rental car (thrifty, easy to drive) with some traits that might make it an excellent commuter/secondary vehicle.  The HHR SS might be an interesting little ride with improved handling, performance and interior features with barely reduced fuel efficiency.


Alaska, Getting to Anchorage

Traveling days typically aren’t as fun as the rest of the trip and this one wasn’t an exception.   It is funny now but seemed like torture at the time.

The Flight

We left late in the day on Friday for a couple reasons.  Due to some work factors, I was only able to secure a week of vacation.  To fly on Saturday, however, would have cost a couple hundred extra dollars too purchase even more frequent flyer miles.  So I planned to work that day and we’d catch the five o’clock flight out.  Since it was April when we planned this, of course things at work cleared up and I took Friday off too.

As the goal was to use public transportation in Anchorage to avoid a ~$25+ cab fare to downtown, we needed to get there to make one of the last two buses, 9:15 or 10:15.  We were scheduled to land by 8:40 so it seemed like we might get lucky and be at the B&B and in bed by 10:30.  Take note that Alaska is three hours behind CST, so that would have been 1:30 am Minnesota time.

Turns out we boarded about half an hour late and then had to wait another twenty or so minutes to take off.  This put us squarely in line to maybe make the 10:15 bus.   The pilots must have burned some fuel because they managed to make a five hour or so flight half an hour shorter as we were on the ground by nine and to the luggage pickup area in time to see the 9:15 bus come and go.   No problem, right, we’d get our luggage shortly and then leave.

But not so fast!  Forty five minutes of trickling luggage later, we finally had our bags and made to the bus stop which was a great relief.

Bruce Lee

At the bus stop, we had the great fortune of meeting Bruce Lee’s son.  First he tried to sell us a gaudy leather and other thing necklace (real gold!) for $10.  The he asked us what time it was, and after Kristin told him “10:10” he asked us whether it was am or pm.

They he explained to us how he loved Kung Fu and how he had seen all of Bruce Lees movies.   And then that Bruce Lee was his dad.  Next that Brandon Lee was his brother who had been killed making The Crow.  That’s why he (our new best friend)  had to step in and play the role of the Hero in The Crow: City of Angels which “Hollywood paid him good money for.”  Disappointed that we didn’t follow that movie genre very well, he proceeded to tell us all about how  he had been recruited by the government out of Chicago to fly F-14’s.  Upside down and supersonic of course, he assured us this was the best way to fly them.

He then inquired as to whether we were waiting for the bus.  After we said yes, he told us we could just take his Lamborghini.  Or his limo.  Or he would fly us in his plane (not clear on whether this was his personal F-14 or what) or his helicopter.  Because he was a pilot.  And a State Trooper of twenty years.  A lot of work being a state trooper, you know.  Oh yeah, and he got deployed to Iraq.  He got shot in the leg and in the belly, both shots went clean through the body armor both ways.  In Vietnam he got shot in the head.

Finally the bus came and about five of us got on.  Of course, our new buddy sat up front by us and kept interrupting the driver, asking him if this was the last bus downtown, slurring how he needed to get to “Brown Jugs” liquor store because his wife was home drunk with the kids, and reiterating that he had been a state trooper for twenty years.   He saw a liquor store about five minutes into our trip and jumped off the bus which was a relief.

It was mildly amusing at the time and kind of sad in retrospect.  Evidently alcholism is a major problem with the native folks there and we saw many on street corners; the lady from Enterprise that picked us up the next day indicated that was one of the reasons that she was excited about leaving Alaska for the lower 48.  She had a drunk guy come into their house while they were home completely out of his gourd and in Anchorage I guess this is typical.

Arctic B&B

Bed and breakfast was a bit of a misnomer for this place.  It was more like a Hostel with shared bathrooms, etc.  True to the websites claim, it was the cheapest rates in town. It also slammed a wall of smoking pollution in our faces when we stepped into our room that left the clothes we wore into there reeking and lacked blinds to block out the tremendous amount of light available all night long in Alaska.  We did find a nice pleasant place to eat in the Spenard Roadhouse, barely making it in before the kitchen closed at 11.  This was the first of many times we cut it close to (or missed) closing time at places because it was so light out.  How could they be closing when the sun was only just now setting?

Anyway, the fun continued the next morning when we grabbed some breakfast from the shared main room and retreated, not wanting to use the shower despite its apparent cleanliness.   We had to wait until ~10 am for our rental car  and we couldn’t sleep in the smoke choked room past seven we went for a walk.   An interesting site in Alaska are the little coffee huts on many corners.  We wimped out and went and sat at the nice starbucks in the local Barnes & Noble store.  Around nine we headed back to make sure we were packed and ready to go.  That’s when the domestic dispute started upstairs.  F-bombs and heavy thumping proceeded.  I called Enterprise to see if they would pick us up early, nope.  We endured this for a while and finally just stood outside in the rare sun and nice temps.  Finally we checked out and were picked up by a friendly Enterprise lady.

That was when the trip really got started 🙂


Alaska, Primer

Interesting Alaska Information:

Population: ~626,000

Became a State: 1959

“Sewards Folly” – purchase of Alaska from Russia: March 30, 1867

Alaskan Flag


The coolest thing about Alaska (other than its wonderful ~60 degree noontime temperature during the summer?)

Kristin and I spent the last week there 😀

Denali Park in the background.

Much more coverage to follow.


Roommate Camping 2010

Roommate Camping 2010 was a blast!   As always, food was a big part of the action with along with some late night drinks around the campfire. In addition it gave the rest of us an opportunity rally around Travis while he navigates some perilous waters while admiring how well Erin handles being very, very pregnant.  Eldora was thoroughly  investigated and the Hardin County fair underwhelmed.

Link to Picture Gallery


Setting up our tents on the RV spots at Pine Lake State Park took some work with a hammer to drive the stakes, but they were nice and level and proved to stay dry on Sunday.  Having electricity was nice as we were able to enjoy some tunes, etc.  The trees seemed to be dying therefore didn’t provide as much shade as we would have liked, but overall the evening shade was excellent and the proximity to water was very nice.  It wasn’t very buggy at all.  I’d easily go there again, assuming the same company 🙂

Andy and Erin kicked off the feasting with some excellent grilled chicken breasts along with a foil cooked potato-veggie medley that was very tasty and threatened to overwhelm the tin foil in which it was cooked.  Slicing up all of those vegetables must have been time consuming work but they sure tasted good!  Friday supper was rounded out with some cantaloupe and watermelon.

The fire that didn't want to start...

Obtaining firewood is one of the activities we men really look take pride in (you know, providing for the womenfolk) and it was adventure this year as well.   After throughly “scouring” the town, it became apparent that our best bet was again to be the first place advertising wood that we had seen right next to the campground.  The fellow there proved to be entertaining with his lack of mathematical prowess – as he was selling wood “by the piece” we elected for the $10 for 15 deal.  After he had loaded “five or seven” pieces into the trunk, Chris wisely took action and finished counting and loading the car.  We then drank into the night and enjoyed some smores and enormous marshmallows.  Andy and Chris collectively ruled the bean bag toss.


The next morning featured showers in the somewhat creepy bathrooms – you had to pull the cord down in order for the shower to function.  It was OK that the water was lukewarm as the day developed to be clear, hot and humid.   We walked as a group from the campground to the beach area on the park path and then came back to the camp via the road… by the time we got back we were all craving some shade.  Chris and Jessica treated us to some expertly prepared brats, polish sausage, fruit, baked beans and grilled potatoes and veggies.  After lunch we headed on into town to explore and enjoy the Hardin County fair and find some ice cream.

After experiencing some user error with the GPS that would have taken across the state in pursuit of delicious ice cream, we decided to head to the fair.  It was the standard county fair, with a 4-H building sporting prodigious amounts of blue and purple ribbons and some small animal barns.  After watching a couple of ~1500 pound steers duke it out for a trophy we wandered a bit more.  We checked out some more animals, Chris picked out a John Deere, Jessica got some cotton candy and we headed out.

We went to a little local place called the Ice Cream Station where lack of adequate staffing had us eating our reasonably priced treats in two shifts.  En-route to the Ice Cream Station, the caravan had discovered the Eldora Aquatic Center which required a trip to “Pami a” for Travis for a swim suit while everyone else headed back with some rapidly melting ice reinforcements.    The water slides, diving boards and other little kids at the pool provided for hours of enjoyment and I think was one of the highlights of the trip.  A couple hours of discounted swimming later, it was back for steaks, potatoes and wine by Team Juchems.  The night had cooled a bit and it was nearly dark by the time supper had ended.  Wood wisely purchased earlier at Fareway lit the night as old memories were shared, deep matters discussed and coolers went from low to empty.  I should have insisted on trying one of those Bud Light Wheats 🙂


Sunday morning came to fast as we awoke to the sound of engines revving as many of the RV’s packed it up and headed out following a short rain that ensured we would all have to pack our tents wet.  Kristin and took that opportunity to have some more “dialog” at home as we took the tent out for drying 😉  Burgers with bacon and pasta salad rounded out lunch as we all packed our vehicles back up and said our goodbyes.  The weekend went by way to fast but I loved every minute of it.  Well, most of it, except for the few moments when I had convinced myself that I had ruined the steaks… 😛

Travis, it was so great that despite all that was going on in your life we were able to spirit you away and get you smiling, joking and relaxing.  Know that we all love you and can be counted on anytime.

Erin and Andy, may your entire parenting experience go so well as the first eight months have gone!  It was so great that you could be with us and show us that pregnant ladies are people too – water slides and all 🙂

I can’t wait for next year.  It won’t be too far north, I promise.


Tagaytay Taal Volcano excursion

Kristin and I were not too adventuresome while I was visiting her in the Manila and for the most part this is because the Philippines is not very tourist friendly.  The island was fairly devastated during World War 2, given how heavily the Japanese defended it, and that seems to have created a vacuum of things and places worth seeing.  Furthermore, the transportation infrastructure is very lacking, it takes about two hours to get out of the city to anywhere and the places Filipinos recommend seeing are typically over ten hours away by car as there isn’t a real highway system.  Or it could be that what you want to see is on another island, in which case your best bet is to go by plane which is fairly expensive.  Even our little trip out to a volcano was pretty expensive due to the fact we had to get a car and driver for seven hours to complete the journey at 1,200 Pesos (roughly $25) per hour.

Anyway, we made a trip out to the Taal Volcano which you can read some more information on here.

On to the pictures!  🙂

That was our big trip.  With sun shining down on us, it was actually still fairly pleasant but warm and we drank a lot of the water we had packed along.  Seeing people from all around the world going up and down the mountain was interesting as we saw folks from Europe, the middle East, Asia and of course the U.S.

It took about 40 minutes and 200o Pesos ($40) to get the horses and 3000 Pesos ($60) for the 20 minute each way boat ride.  On the way back out boat driver was a jerk and we got pretty wet.  I don’t know if we missed a point where we were supposed to tip him or what exactly happened.  A vendor tried to ding us for 50 pesos each at the top of the mountain for “a refreshing drink for our guides.”  Surprised by this, we declined which seemed to upset our non-english speaking guides, but I think we over tipped them with 100 pesos each when we got to the end. It is hard to know when and how much to tip when everyone has their hand out.

We went for lunch at a place a coworker had recommended, Mushroom Burger.  It was OK, but I think we prefer our burgers to only be beef or pork 🙂

On the way out and back we observed the slums, new developments, crazy traffic, pineapple fields and over all congestion that is typical of the area around Manila.  On the way back, we must have looked quite the sight to our cab driver, falling asleep and tipping all over the back seat.  Who knew it would take so much out of us to ride up a hill on horses?  I think it was mainly the heat.  I managed to burn my forehead pretty convincingly.

It was cool to go out of our comfort zone a bit, it would have been nice if more activities like this one had been within reach of the city.