Travel & Maine

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Grand Tetons

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit”
– Edward Abbey

“Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are”
– Gretel Ehrlich.

A few weeks back, I spent four extraordinary days with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides (JHMG) in Grand Teton National Park.

For nearly a year I trained at the gym, in the pool, and hiked up several smallish mountains to prepare for the seven mile hike up to base camp and a couple days of climbing. At different points during those months I felt strong and was excited and others sad doubting my body and commitment. I wanted to succeed and to me that meant being able to at least get to high camp (no small deal – the distance wouldn’t be a biggie I do that mileage once a week now and then – but figure in you are gaining 4200 feet of elevation and it becomes very difficult very quickly) and do some climbing.  Thanks to a TON of water (one of the best things you can do to acclimate your body is to drink water – something I did consistently for nearly 72 hours prior to the trek) and JHMG I did what I set out to.


When at long last, I got into the rental SUV in Salt Lake City and began driving towards Jackson, Wyoming it all felt very real and really great.  As the mileage I covered grew the West opened up in dramatic fashion. The red canyons in Utah the open plains of Wyoming and those mountains!! A few small towns offered quintessential Americana with signs promoting rodeos and in Afton the Red Baron Drive-In with burgers, tater tots and an entire menu dedicated to shakes.

After checking into the Alpine House in Jackson Hole (I give it five stars for the delicious homemade breakfasts, comfortable spacious rooms, and super helpful staff) I explored the town. If anything the town wasn’t so great. Lots of tourists (five years ago locals verified what friends who had been there before and loved it told me – used to be summers were mostly locals – then something happened and no one is entirely sure what and now it’s more locals during the winter) and kitsch.

No tourists when I hiked up Snow King – locals favorite for in-town trail running (only “running” I did was into a couple waves of altitude sickness). It took every bit of determination and physical strength I had to make it up that mini mountain – something I could practically run up back home.


I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story….

My biggest takeaways:
Focus on what is in front of you, or the exposure everything around you will overwhelm you the guide explained. Trying to practice that here on the ground.


I LOVE mountains. I also LOVE having everything you need for a night out in the wilderness on my back. Trails and mountains will be a part of my life for the rest of it.






Special Surfer Night

Wahoo, almost time for Special Surfer Night. Third Tuesday, June, July & August. Here’s a piece I did on it for the Huffington Post a couple years ago. Such an amazing program. Thanks Nanci B for all your energy putting it together and the awesome parents who bring their amazing kids!!!  Fingers crossed for good weather!


Ethan LaCourse

Awesome Ashley!

Want to get in on the fun. Check any of these links out:

Aquaholics Special Surfers

Mt. Washington One Day Winter Ascent

In the old days when I was scared of doing something I would make up an excuse not to do it and convince myself that was the right thing to do. My first trip to Africa changed all that and me forever. Now I plunge ahead pretty much no matter what. Ok, granted the obstacles I am facing are not maybe all that serious in the scheme of things – but to me in my little world they are still very large.

So, I committed to summitting Mount Washington in February and I am going to do it in just a few days. Funny, but a week ago I wasn’t at all worried about the things one probably should be when doing this kind of thing – frostbite, being in shape… Then I attended that avalanche awareness seminar and now all I can think is (a) minefield (b) wave your arms a lot if you go down in one – someone told me to do that just in case and I am not at all sure it will matter – blunt force trauma and all – but hey something to concentrate on.

And usually I am a planner, but somehow not this time = why I am ordering things like snow goggles just a few days in advance and a hooded down jacket (I have so many outdoor jackets, but none the right weight and with a hood). I will look like a bumblebee or a Steelers fan (I am not), but I will be warm in my black bottoms and goldenish yellow (the company calls it “warm olive”) superfly jacket. (note pic below)

MT W jacket

Actually, I really don’t care what I look like as long as I have fun and am safe.

Oh, and p.s. Mt. Washington is known as the Home of the World’s Worst Weather, and still holds the world record for the highest windspeed ever witnessed by man – a mind-boggling 231 mph. During the winter months, the wind speed on the summit tops 70 mph at least once every three days, and it’s not uncommon for climbers to encounter temperatures of -30F and below. I will be above treeline for about half of the ascent, experiencing a true alpine environment. WOOHOO!

About five hours up and three down if all goes well.

I have summitted Katahdin (during late summer) and gone ice climbing near Mount Washington a few times and loved it so it isn’t like I am that worried. And this freshly received (as in while writing this post!!) information helped a LOT:

There are a few different routes up the mountain, the objectively safe Winter Lion’s Head Trail avoids avalanche terrain and is almost always a safe bet.

Ahh, sigh and now I am getting excited!!


(top pic courtesy of EMS, bottom pic courtesy of Cathedral Mountain Guides)

Get Lost: Prepping for Wyoming


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I will be climbing to the summit of Grand Teton this summer.

Here’s what my guide to be Brian Warren wrote back in September, 2014 about the same trek I will be doing:

During the four days of the Alpenglow Expeditions & Jackson Hole Mountain Guides “Big Mountain Skills” training program, the crew was able to practice and put to use many of the skills needed to climb not only the Grand Teton, but also to continue on to bigger peaks around the world. The trip began with Day 1 of the program and the group left Lupine Meadows and made their way to the Corbet High Camp that sits just below the East Face of the Grand Teton at 11,000 feet. This day mostly consisted of getting to camp and settling in as well as covering some basics with the climbing gear in the late afternoon.

There are three more full days, including the summit (that day starts at about 3:30 a.m. and goes into the late afternoon/early evening). In addition to hiking, I will be learning and practicing technical and rescue skills. Exciting stuff for a gal looking to climb a couple mountains in South America and Africa in coming years.

For this program I was provided a laundry list of items to bring – everything from the expected types of upper and bottom layers required to keep me warm (but not too warm) and dry (very important) to a sleeping bag liner, insulated mug, sunscreen, and dark sunglasses. It was recommended I get a backpack large enough to fit all my personal gear plus ten pounds of food and water (they provide breakfast and dinner I bring snacks and lunch). OK (a) figuring out the right backpack (THANK YOU EMS in Portland and North Conway for helping a gal out and tracking down the uber popular Osprey Aura AG 65 – the 2015 Backpacker Magazine Editors’ Choice) and (b) get in shape to do the trip with the backpack.

wild backpack

OK, the above pic is a mock up someone did about “Monster” the backpack Reese Witherspoon (aka Cheryl Strayed) carried lugged around in the film (book) Wild. I will not be carrying all the stuff she did (note the above pic is after a more knowledgeable hiker edited down what she had in “Monster” = no more what was it a saw). Still, if you have seen the film or read the book or at least done a fair around of semi-extreme day hiking you can understand why I feel the need to get into the best shape of my life.

What that means is six days working out. Two one-hour swimming sessions for my breathing, mental toughness, increases muscle strength, gives my body a break from higher-impact activities, and is fun. Those sessions (about 1 1/2 miles each) wear me out. Yoga once or twice a week. The gym (weightlifting and 40 – 50 minutes on the stair master, elliptical and bike, or elevated treadmill) three times a week. Oh, and this – a full body high intensity workout for 50 minutes with my trainer – once a week.

What does the above mean? NUTRITION. Watching my caloric intake (as in more, the right ones). This is harder for me than the workouts. I have learned to drink chocolate milk after my pool workouts, am consuming more steamed vegetables, more protein, more whole meals (no more I am in a rush will just grab a Clif Bar), and fewer potato chips. I am more observant about treats (for me that’s Ginger Snaps and dark chocolate).  I already drink a lot of water daily so that’s easy, but interestingly I drink a lot more tea than coffee now.

More on my Wyoming prep and later actual adventure 🙂 Happy weekending folks. ox

American South


Far too frequently I am reminded of the negative stereotypes people have about the American South. That everyone is ignorant, inbred, racist, overweight, and a right-wing conservative (note while we can sadly claim Rush Limbaugh who embodies most of the above mentioned stereotypes, Dick Cheney is from Nebraska and let’s not forget Sarah Palin’s base is Alaska). People I know, educated well-traveled individuals, have told me they are scared of traveling in the south – this is the American South folks not Honduras. They have not been below the Mason-Dixon line and can no more understand why I am proud of my Arkansan heritage than why I travel through the south every few years.  Look, I won’t lie even I have gotten the heebie jeebies driving through Mississippi on my own – there is just too much history in the air there sometimes and well the last time it didn’t help I was chasing to get to a hotel before some unfriendly (is there any other kind) line of tornadoes blitzed through (I made it to a gas station a couple hours from my hotel).

To help educate those folks I love dearly and all the strangers out there with the same misconceptions, I have created the following list of people/places/things I think of when it comes to the American South. The good, bad, ugly, delicious, beautiful, fun…. And yes there will be a few more American South posts in the near future. ox


Sweet iced tea, cornbread, fried chicken, collard greens, pecan pie, Atticus Finch, Friday Night Lights, community, Mardi Gras, churches, gun shows, college football, Coca Cola, Huck Finn, hobo camps, Angola State Prison, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, tobacco barns, Southern belles, Buck Owens, Rosa Parks, Arkansas, Texas, honky tonks, Lexington KY horse country, preserved antebellum plantation mansions = museums/wedding venues, spiral bound Junior League cookbooks, Y’all, Deliverance, blues and rock and country, Edna Lewis, The Help, confederate war memorials and civil rights museums, South Carolina, Georgia, kindness, discrimination, elegant Victorians and Greek Revivals, John Grisham, horse racing, Driving Miss Daisy, Robert Penn Warren, Virginia, Outer Banks, Nat Turner, Fannie Flagg, biscuits, shrimp and grits, antiquing, Elvis Presley, William Faulkner, graveyards, abolitionists, baptists, Andy Griffith, gardens, farms, slavery, Selma, cotton-growing and manufacturing, moonshine, Blue Ridge Parkway, Democrats and Republicans, Hot Springs National Park, Cajun and Creole cuisine, Ku Klux Klan, lynchings, Southern Poverty Law Center, justice, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Paul William “Bear” Bryant, Moses Grandy, Zelda Fitzgerald, Monticello, High Museum of Art, Georgia peaches, porches and patios, Savannah and Charleston, University of Virginia, Duke, soul, rocking chairs, Sookie Steakhouse, cozy B&Bs and luxury hotels, NASCAR, Johnson Space Center, quilts of Gee’s Bend, Florida, French Quarter NOLA, Southern Foodways Alliance, respect, Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (loyal to my Arkansan roots), Bryant-Denny Stadium, Rick Bragg, Morgan Freeman, Muscle Shoals, Grand Old Opry, stitching, master distillers, The Blind Side, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Jackie Robinson, Medgar Evers, Congressman John Lewis, Gone With the Wind, shotgun houses, Boeing and Lockheed and Delta, patriotism, craftsmen, tradition, and Pulled Pork BBQ.



Get Lost: Nature Nurtures Us


When I was a kid, my dad and I took trips to several national parks: Yellowstone (Wyoming), Arches (Utah), Zion and Bryce Canyon (Utah), and Rocky Mountain (Colorado). We stayed in rustic lodges, rode a mule or two, saw a lot of small mammals and a few snakes (I clearly remember one large rattler) – no grizzly bears – and ate our fair share of hamburgers and granola bars.

I finally visited the Grand Canyon (Arizona) with a friend the summer I moved from California to Maine (at that time I did not realize I was moving to Maine), and have spent enough time in Acadia to know it’s one of my favorite places.

“National parks are the best idea we ever had,” wrote American novelist and environmentalist Wallace Stegner. “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

I could not agree more. So too do the folks at National Geographic magazine. They must, they are dedicating a number of issues to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. In the kick-off issue, there is an article about how when we get closer to nature – be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree – we do our overstressed brains a favor. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, specializes in attention and he believes when “we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, bur our mental performance improves too.”

Maybe, the article suggests, the large-scale public health problems e.g. obesity, depression, and pervasive nearsightedness, are because folks are spending way too much time indoors. Let’s be honest here – we were not meant to be indoors as much as we are and to live in places with no trees or grass as part of the view.

South Korea gets it – they are planning 335 healing forests manned by “health rangers” – imagine hiking, drinking elm bark tea, rubbing lavender massage oil onto someone else’s forearms…Embracing nature. A hundred-million-dollar healing complex is under construction next to one healing park and then there’s the government-run “happy train” that takes kids who have been bullied into the woods for two days of camping. WOW!

An ancient Korean proverb “Shin to bulk ee” – “Body and soil are one.”

Environmental psychologist Stephen Kaplan and his colleagues at the University of Michigan have found a 50-minute walk in an arboretum improves attention skills and short-term memory. A street walk does not.

What do you say to getting outdoors every day – ok once a week – walking in the woods or a large park and taking in the naturalness of it all.  No cell phone needed.

I can only imagine how much clearer, happier, and relaxed I will be after several days in Grand Teton National Park.  And yet, I have access to the outdoors every day – the life I have created for myself is one with minimal light pollution at night = amazing star gazing, and access to a field where I can wander and feel nature whenever I like. During the summer I go barefoot in the garden, dirt under my nails and am so happy.

The power of the outdoors.


Top: Central Park, NYC in November. My backyard winter 2015.

Get Lost: Big Mountain Skills Training in Wyoming


One day last November, I committed to climbing the Grand Teton this June.  The mountain stands at 13,770 feet above Jackson Hole, Wyoming in Grand Teton National Park. The tallest mountain I have climbed hiked to date is Mt. Katahdin at 5,269 feet. That one kicked my butt. So, yes I have to be in much much better shape for this – as in the best shape of my life.

I first heard about the trip via Alpenglow Expeditions, which I found via Instagram and Outside magazine. They partnered with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides (JHMG), and that is who runs the trip. Or program – I am not “just” climbing a mountain – I am training for big mountain climbing for four days. All the essentials I will need to climb more mountains in South America and Africa (the kind that do not require oxygen tanks).

Skills I will learn include:
crampon and ice axe travel (not sure how much ice there will be then, but guess we will see, there will be snow)
multi-pitch rock climbing
glacier and crevasse rescue rope techniques

To get me started JHMG provided me with training information, altitude information, and a laundry list of equipment needs. They also pointed me in the direction of a wonderful bed and breakfast run by former Olympians and encouraged me to join a rock gym (check – Love Love Love Salt Pump Climbing Co. in Scarborough).

Well, what do you think, folks? Are you game for tagging along with me as I get fit, do pre-treks on Mt. Washington and Katahdin, practice good nutrition, and shop for layers and a pack and other on the trail items?! There will also be the occasional poem or quote or article referenced regarding all the good associated with immersing one’s self in wilderness.

Who’s excited!?!? ox and p.s. have you done anything like this? I would love to hear tips on gear, training, if you climbed the GT, Jackson Hole hangouts…. I have already gotten so many amazing tips from folks, the more the merrier!!

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Cheesemaking in the Democratic Republic of Congo


The lush hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province are best known for armed groups clashing, but they are also home to a number of small dairy farms producing fine cheese.

The consequences of the violence continue to have devastating consequences for local populations in parts of Masisi territory, where as recently as the summer of 2014 some residents lost their homes and were forced to relocate to IDP camps.

Yet, these dairy farmers and artisanal cheesemakers, have not only survived the recurrent fighting, but astonishingly – prospered. (*The farmers still live in/on the edge of poverty.)

Known simply as Goma Cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch Gouda is popular throughout the country. Though not part of the traditional diet, the cheese fills in for a variety of Western dishes – pizza, sandwiches, lasagna…

A fan of the cheese since my first trip to the DRC in 2014, I traveled the 48 miles of bumpy road west from the North Kivu capital Goma through the Mugunga area to one of the farms.

The farmers and their families live where they work, in huts and homes by the “factory” – a building with several rooms filled with nothing more than a bathtub, buckets, and some metal molds.

Belgian priests first started making cheese here in the 1970s. Then the country was known as Zaire and ruled by a dictator. Tutsis (an ethnic group often associated with dairy farming and as the victims of the Rwanda Genocide) resided in the area. It was almost two decades before the bloody attacks truly began.

Today, during periods of calm, NGO workers and the few Congolese who can afford it, spend a weekend at one of two farms that also operate B&Bs. The cheese (you buy a whole round) costs $4 on the farm, $5 or so in town, and between $10-20 as you begin to travel to towns west of Goma (Kisangani, Kinshasa). For $10-20 you can enjoy cheese and coffee (I highly recommend this!!).

As you can see in my pictures, the cows (a variety of African and European) graze on steep pastures with a UN base below.

On the road from Goma to the farm – note the volcanic rocks from the 1977 eruption. Black earth is everywhere!




That’s a UN base you see in the background! They are everywhere it seems.





A cheese mold



A farmer’s home


The farm we visited offers horseback riding to guests. My friend B and I both tried it, but found the horses a bit wild so I got off pretty quickly and she had one of the farmers lead her around a small field.


The view we had while eating cheese and sipping coffee!!!


Lodging for overnight guests (offered seasonally and during calm times).

Istanbul Pics

The rest of the pics from my brief visit to Istanbul in October.


hotel view

hotel view pm

View from my hotel room day, night. *Very top pic of the hotel courtesy of the hotel.  I treated myself BIG time while in Istanbul with a room at The House Hotel Bosphorus. A 19th century Ottoman mansion at the foot of the Bosphorus Bridge next to the famous Ortakoy Mosque. Originally the plan was for me to (a la Gwyenth Paltrow) take the hotel’s private boat from near the airport, but alas I will have to do that next visit as it was not working during this trip.


wooden houses


culinary traditions



culinary traditions

My guide Hulya, a local food writer who is a friend of a friend, showed me the sights and taught me about some of the culinary traditions – and bonus I even got a lesson in Turkish politics. We started with a walk along the Bosphorus seeing the wooden houses of Istanbul (sadly under threat from new construction…) and rounded out our walking tour with coffee and chocolate cake. One of the coolest places I was introduced to is the former home of an opera singer who under the full moon would sing in front of his home to anyone wandering by – crowds would gather. Here’s a link to him singing. *The dish at the bottom – rice, almonds…is made when someone dies – each person in the family… stirs the dish. Interested in learning more about Turkish food traditions, here is a link to an interesting blog post.


cruise pic two



For what translates into a few dollars I went on a 50-minute ferryboat ride on the Bosphorus from the Marmara Sea (to the south) with the Black Sea (to the north). From the upper deck I could see numerous mansions and palaces dating back to the 15th century. The palace pictured is Kucuksu Palace (translated means “small water” palace) from the mid-19th century. The walls and towers of the waterfront fortress built by Ottoman Sultan Mehmen II during the 1450s are beautiful – seeing them made me hunger to learn more about this great conqueror and the days of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Anyone have any suggestions??
**Do not take a private cruise – the ferry is likely MUCH cheaper and you’ll see everything and the comfort level is fine. Only reason I wouldn’t might be if Istanbul is rocked by terrorist attacks in the future (there was one in the capital a few days before I arrived in Istanbul) and then frankly I wouldn’t feel safe on the public ferries (zero security).

Top buffet


For dinner we ate at Ciya Sofrasi in the Asian side of Istanbul. Excellent!!


Houston lit up


view pm from cafe

After dinner we ventured on for baklava (it is after all the city of phyllo dough and honey) then wandered the streets of a lively bohemian neighborhood on the European side of the city and had tea atop a lovely shop with – yes – a view of a lit up mosque. Exquisite.



Last week I went to New York City, and because I was staying uptown I visited Harlem a couple times. A friend had told me about the Malcolm Shabazz market, which is made up of individually owned boutiques selling traditional African crafts, clothing, and oils. I picked up a bracelet made by the Maasai, a people living in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are renowned for their courage, diet/health, knowledge of animals/nature, and beautiful jewelry. *I plan to travel to Kenya one day, so the bracelet will be a beautiful reminder of a future trip.

I found out later the market is run by the storied Malcolm Shabazz Mosque, a Sunni Muslim mosque known in the past for its Black Nationalism where Malcolm X preached. According to The Wall Street Journal, these days the mosque is “an interfaith pillar open to different races and religions.”


While in town I also ate at Amy Ruth’s Restaurant  – known since 1998 for their soul food classics like chicken & waffles (the “Rev. Al Sharpton” special). It was fun, the service wonderful, the food delicious.


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about this blog

About Me Sharon Kitchens and Delicious Musings. Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I write about all the things I enjoy - Culture, Food, Photography &Travel. Read more on my about page.


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