Travel

Organizing a Kick-*ss Bachelorette Party

Last month, my best college girls and I were draped over the furniture in a hotel suite in Austin, primping, drinking champagne, and roasting each other about our considerably more messy college selves.

At one point, one of the girls asked the room at large, “Did anyone think Lucy would be the responsible one planning all our bachelorette parties??”

The answer was a resounding “NO!” and gales of laughter!

You guys, they’re not wrong. I have, ahem, grown up a lot over the last fifteen or so years. I still put my foot in my mouth more often than I would like, but I have learned through trial and error how to manage some of the more important things in life.

One of those things is being there for your nearest and dearest at the most important times in their lives. I’m now in the middle of maid of honor duties for the third time, and was also delegated the bachelorette party planning role when I was a regular bridesmaid in a fourth wedding. It's a serious honor (and responsibility) to be in charge of this kind of occasion, and can be stressful because bachelorette parties get wrapped up in the whole wedding industrial complex.

And as with all things wedding industrial complex, there are a ton of tips on the internet about how to throw a bachelorette party. So instead, I wanted to share with you the less obvious ways you can make the event a source of treasured memories instead of drama.

1) Your bride is all that matters.

Ask her what she wants, and LISTEN. One of my best friends wanted a night out on the town with pink and sparkles, another a chance to relax somewhere quiet for a weekend. Just as there are a million types of weddings, there are a million types of bachelorette parties. Resist the temptation to copy curated parties on Pinterest and instead plan something that truly fits your dear friend.

This is the more, ahem, photogenic part of the bachelorette stash.

This is the more, ahem, photogenic part of the bachelorette stash.

This goes double for bachelorette… paraphernalia. I have a stash of funny stuff I bring to each party, but every bride should be able to decide for herself exactly how much attention she wants to attract and how risqué she wants to be. I have pictures of one girl carrying a large inflatable “item” into a restaurant, and another didn’t wear her sash or beads outside the hotel room. If it’s all in the name of fun, then it doesn’t matter!

2) Be very transparent about costs with the guests - and don't bother your bride.

This means involving all the guests in the planning process before you make reservations so that you can make sure everyone is comfortable. It also means that if you find the budget too restrictive for your party goals, your only option is to cover the balance yourself and do so quietly and graciously. No bride wants to feel like she's causing her best friends stress and anguish! On more than one occasion, I have used my own airline miles to make sure a treasured member of the wedding party can make it to a destination bachelorette. I’ve also covered activities the bride was stoked about but others wouldn’t have chosen on their own. 

If you can swing it, I also recommend putting everything on one person’s credit card and privately giving each guest a clean total after the party is over. When you remove the feeling of nickel and dime-ing during the party itself, you make the whole thing feel more seamless. This may mean extra work on your end, but it’s worth it. 

3) Restrict your geographic area during the party.

When doing a destination bachelorette, I either like to keep all activities on property or within walking/short Uber distance. The reason? A weekend is actually very limited time to spend with people you may not see very often, and what you really want to focus on is maximizing the quality time you all spend together. Of each bachelorette party I’ve planned, some of the most memorable time has been when we’re all getting ready together in a hotel room, or just chilling out by a pool. Time spent in transit, and all the stress that causes, just saps the energy from your good time.

4) Give your schedule plenty of breathing room.

For a weekend bachelorette, I like to have dinner reservations for both nights, a general post-dinner plan for Friday night and definitive reservations for Saturday night, and one daytime activity on Saturday. Anything more, and you’re going to be forcing crabby, hungover girls to get up too early or stressing everyone out with trying to get to too many appointments. No, you may not be able to hit that Instagram star brunch spot if you don’t plan ahead, but again, this party is all about quality time. Grab some brunch from a food truck or counter service cafe, and enjoy your morning together!

Vegas ready in spring 2010!

Vegas ready in spring 2010!

I’ll confess that for my own bachelorette party, way back in 2010, I wanted the whole Vegas shebang. I remain incredibly grateful that all my best girls gamely rolled out in their sparkly best, treated me to a fancy dinner and night out, and generally made me feel like the star of the show. I'm so lucky that they indulged me, and that we're all still close to this day!

LMW

On Imperfection

I will not be the first or last person to talk about imperfection. Insert trite truism about our social media airbrushed perfection image driven society blah blah blah here! Plenty of people smarter and more articulate than I have written powerful pieces on the topic.

Instead, I want to tell you what imperfection means to me. Specifically, I want to tell you about my skin.

Hangin' out in the skin I'm in at The Peak, Hong Kong

Hangin' out in the skin I'm in at The Peak, Hong Kong

I’m super pale. I come from a long line of people so pale that some of our freckles are white. For most of my life this has been distinctly unfashionable, so in my teens and twenties I absolutely hated my pale skin and tried to tan. Emphasis on "tried." 

I’m covered in freckles and moles, because see above: pale skin and sun damage. Some of them are cute (my mom used to refer to the crop of freckles that would appear on my nose every summer as brown sugar sprinkles), but a lot of them are bumpy, uneven, and weird (yes, I get my skin checked from head to toe by my dermatologist every 6 months).

I have cellulite. I’ve had it since I was about twelve years old. No matter how much I weigh, no matter how much I exercise, no matter how well I eat, the skin on my butt and the backs of my legs is lumpy and dimpled.  I spent a lot of time when I was younger tying sarongs over bathing suits and being sure that no photo ever captured me from behind.

In all my pale, freckly, cellulite-filled, scarred glory from a bachelorette party this spring!

In all my pale, freckly, cellulite-filled, scarred glory from a bachelorette party this spring!

I have a few scars. There’s a line on my lower abdomen from my emergency appendectomy in December 1995 (in Nairobi, Kenya - it’s quite a story). My bellybutton is a little wonky from an ovarian cyst removal in 2007 (it was 10 cm in diameter and my best friend named it Alvin - good riddance!). I have a long keloid on my inner left arm from the removal of a melanoma in 2016 (it had not spread, I’m lucky). 

There are a plethora of self tanners available, even ones that don’t make a person as pale as I am look orange. I could have larger moles removed if I wanted to. There’s a procedure to fix cellulite. My dermatologist has even offered me a shot to make my scars less prominent. For reasons that are only starting to coalesce to me now, I don’t do any of the above.

To me, my skin is part of my story. Yeah, it might look a little gross in places, but the human body is a little gross. That, and it makes me look interesting. No one else on the planet looks quite like me.

I love to be active and try new things, whether it’s a new workout, travel destination, or clothing style. In the past, caring about my imperfections has hindered that. These days, I put on my sunscreen and wear my workout clothes or bikini, and get on with it. The more time that passes, the fewer f*cks I give about whatever anyone thinks of my pale, moley skin with cellulite and scars. I can’t say I totally love it - at least not yet - but I’m getting there!

LMW

Thoughts On Wearing Things Out

When was the last time you had to get rid of something because it was just too worn out to continue using?

I have an example from just last month. My sister gave me a pair of super cute booties from Kate Spade for Christmas a few years ago. In soft, tumbled black leather with a flat stacked heel and a bow on the back, they were cute, comfy, and went with everything. Like, if I had drawn the Platonic ideal of a bootie, these were it. I wore them CONSTANTLY.

Sporting The Booties at Catherine's Palace outside St. Petersburg...

Sporting The Booties at Catherine's Palace outside St. Petersburg...

...and again on a normal work day at home in San Francisco.

...and again on a normal work day at home in San Francisco.

And then… I picked them up one day to put back on my shoe rack and realized that the sides of the stacked heel were starting to peel off the plastic foundation of the heel. I am all about maintaining and repairing the things I love to get maximum use out of them, and if it had been possible I would have taken them to my favorite shoe guy in Cow Hollow stat. However, this was just not fixable. It was time for them to go. 

There’s something a little sad about wearing out something you love, because that means it no longer gets to be part of your life. I have a lot of good memories in those booties: they came with on me on trips to Europe, wine tasting weekends, errand days running around SF, and even client consultations. And they worked so well for me - if they had continued to hold up, I would have kept on wearing them!

However, you can also view wearing things out with a sense of accomplishment and pride. You know on a very deep level that the thing was extremely useful to you, an excellent purchase, and a good value, because you literally used it so often that you used it right up. There was no purchase regret or gift receivers’ guilt with these booties! They were just right and I got every last cent of value (that my sister paid…) out of them.

And here’s the thing about using something up: it provides you pretty much the only guilt-free opportunity there is in this life to go shopping. If you used something so often and so happily that you wore it out, that means that you do in fact need a replacement.

My weakness for bows is legendary.

My weakness for bows is legendary.

In my case, I mentioned the sad passing of the booties to my parents, since my birthday is coming up. Last week, a box arrived in the mail from Bally with, well… basically the grown up version of the pair I had loved so well!  In smooth, gorgeous black leather with a flat heel and laces up the front to tie in a bow, AND in wide width for my virtually square fee to boot, they are cute, comfy, and go with everything. I’m going to wear them CONSTANTLY.

This process of selecting something that perfectly fits your needs, loving and using it frequently, and then carefully choosing its replacement, is so much more fulfilling than buying a lot of things that only get used a few times. When I look at my closet, the things that bring me joy are those that I feel great in and wear all the time. The things I don’t really wear much only bring me guilt: guilt that I made a frivolous purchase, am not getting the value out of the money I paid, and took up space that could be better filled by something else.

This is the reason I continually edit my closet: because a wardrobe entirely composed of things that bring me joy is simple and satisfying on a very deep level. If this idea is resonating with you, give me a call and I'll help you edit your closet so that everything in it brings you joy!

LMW

Travel Gear I (Actually) Love

Last week I told you that there’s a lot of gear marketed to travelers that you just don’t need, and will be happier replacing with items you already use and love.  However, there’s an exception to every rule! I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you a few specific things I’ve found that really make trips run more smoothly. And even better, I use some of them when I’m not traveling!

This jacket has gone with me everywhere, from the Arctic to Estonia.

This jacket has gone with me everywhere, from the Arctic to Estonia.

1) A high quality packable Gore-Tex rain jacket

I don’t care where you’re going in the world, there’s always a chance it will rain, and you’ll be totally miserable if you’re unprepared. I love the Patagonia Torrentshell jacket because it packs down to almost nothing and looks pretty cute - and Patagonia stands behind their products to the extent that they will repair or replace any issues due to normal wear and tear at no cost. And a jacket like this isn't just great for active trips - I’ll throw it on for rainy days running around San Francisco, too!

I carry this  Cuyana  pouch with me every single day.

I carry this Cuyana pouch with me every single day.

2) A stash of Kleenex pocket packs and hand wipe packets

I don’t care where you’re going in the world, you cannot count on the availability of TP and handwashing facilities.  This is as true close to home as it is across the globe!

I love pink and I'm 100% ok with that.

I love pink and I'm 100% ok with that.

3) Appropriate luggage for the destination and length of trip

Luggage is frustrating to store, but if you love to travel, you just have to do it.  I keep what I believe to be the essentials: a hard sided carry on and checked bag, a day pack, and bags for skis and ski boots. While you’ll see from my previous post that I use regular purses when I travel, I do also have a couple of soft sided carry ons that I don’t strictly need but adore and use regularly because they’re so cute - I didn’t say I was perfect!

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4) Travel wash bag and individually packaged laundry detergent

I’ve talked about this product before and I am here to tell you that it has Changed My Packing Game like nothing else.  I can pack so much lighter knowing that I can have unlimited clean, non-crunchy undies and knits to keep every outfit feeling fresh from the inside out.

Don't leave home without it!

Don't leave home without it!

5) Power converter

Hotels are increasingly supplying a variety of outlets, but it’s always good to have one converter on hand. I like the multi-port interchangeable power converter from Tumi because it packs all the plugs in the smallest footprint I’ve seen.

Just the necessities, please!

Just the necessities, please!

4) Travel size toiletries, makeup, and brushes

Carrying on makes a trip so much smoother - no lost luggage, no baggage check lines, no lugging giant suitcases through airports and train stations. In order to do so, I’ve sourced mini versions of all my favorite products, from moisturizer and eye cream to blush/bronzer/highlighter and makeup brushes.  Yes, I do have to spend some time and energy keeping stock on hand and storing these products, but that’s a trade off I personally am willing to make.

What are the travel products that you truly can’t live without?

LMW

My Favorite Mountain

I love Jackson Hole, you guys. For the second year in a row, my husband and I made the trek for a ski weekend, and this time we convinced my entire family to come along, as well as a few friends.  And I do believe we've made converts of them, too!

Most of my ski days happen at Alpine Meadows for one simple reason: that's where I work as a volunteer patroller, so I have a pass.  Pretty hard to pass up unlimited days, especially on a mountain that offers a wide variety of steep, interesting terrain - especially if you're willing to hike for it!

However, Jackson Hole has won my heart and I know we'll be returning again and again. Why?

Taking a little peruse through a powder stash...

Taking a little peruse through a powder stash...

...and agreeing, once again, not to ski  Corbet's Coulouir .

...and agreeing, once again, not to ski Corbet's Coulouir.

The terrain: it's unbeatable. Vertical for miles, plenty of steeps, lots of varied aspects, tree skiing, that great dry snow... it's really got everything you could want. Plus, there's a pretty impressive amount of beginner and intermediate terrain so a group with varied skill levels like ours can be happy.

Long steep blue runs for days.

Long steep blue runs for days.

The views: I mean, just look.

I ended up with jalapeño infused tequila (yum), a pickle juice back (even grosser than I thought), and a sour beer.

I ended up with jalapeño infused tequila (yum), a pickle juice back (even grosser than I thought), and a sour beer.

The village: lots of hotel options (we absolutely adored the Four Seasons - even the smallest rooms are big and comfy with plenty of places to unpack your ski gear, the service in the boot/ski room is next level, and there's a fully staffed bar at the hot tub/pool after 3pm with tasty warm beverages), good restaurants, and an excellent apres scene (don't miss beers at the Alpenhof or roll the dice for a potentially disastrous shot/back/beer combo at the Handle Bar).

The simplicity: United has direct flights from San Francisco, making Jackson Hole more accessible than pretty much all the great Colorado mountains. And this year, no cancellations!

My sister taking a few glorious turns.

My sister taking a few glorious turns.

The bonus: you can do a day heli-skiing trip! My husband gave me heli-skiing for my birthday last year and made good by sending my sister and me for an epic powder day unlike anything to be had inside resort boundaries. It was total hero snow: 6 inches of light high mountain fluff on hard pack, and fresh tracks all day. And we completely geeked out climbing out of a helicopter on the actual top of a mountain!

Usually at this point in the year I'm pretty excited about the end of winter, but if I could I'd go back to Jackson this weekend. It's that good. That said, I'm always willing to try something new! Where else should we look at for next year's ski trip?

LMW

Don't Buy Travel Products!

When you start a project, what’s one of the first things you do? Like most humans, I bet you start buying the stuff you think you’ll need to complete the project. Marketers know this, which is why you can easily find a “must-have” list for every activity under the sun.

This impulse is totally normal, but I’d advise you to resist it!  Why? It’s not just a matter of expense, although that’s certainly relevant. More importantly, your time and energy are precious, and it’s going to take more than you might realize to purchase, organize, and store the items you buy.

Let me give you an example: travel.

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Travel is a big deal. It takes a lot of resources (money, vacation days, planning, stress) and there’s always an element of the unknown involved. As humans, we like control, and this combination of high cost and high risk makes us nervous. As a result, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if we just buy all the right stuff, a trip will go well.

However, I encourage you to treat travel is just like the rest of your life: use things you love that serve you well, and organize them in a way that works for you. Here are a couple broad categories of travel specific products that are relentlessly marketed and commonly purchased - but that I believe you can substitute with things you already have, love, and use.

The Longchamp Le Pliage is a travel classic for a reason: it's lightweight, zips closed, and...

The Longchamp Le Pliage is a travel classic for a reason: it's lightweight, zips closed, and...

...and look how tiny it folds!

...and look how tiny it folds!

1) Slash-proof or concealed travel bag or wallet

There are surprisingly few places where you truly need to take extraordinary measures to protect your valuables on your person. Remember: almost anywhere you travel, people go about ordinary lives, so follow their lead! I generally carry a lightweight tote bag that zips or a small leather crossbody bag when exploring cities all over the world, and I have never been pickpocketed or mugged. I simply take common sense measures like staying aware of my surroundings and appropriately calibrating the amount of jewelry and type of clothing I wear.

Yes, I did go ahead and customize through  Nike I.D.  with a rose gold swoosh. No regrets.

Yes, I did go ahead and customize through Nike I.D. with a rose gold swoosh. No regrets.

2) Walking shoe

Walking shoes marketed for travel may be extremely comfortable, but they’re also heavy, bulky, and ugly. These shoes take up valuable space in your luggage (and in your closet, because you likely won’t wear them at home) and, like it or not, mark you as a tourist. Instead, pack the shoes you wear when you’re going to be on your feet a lot in your normal life!  I’ll often bring my Nike Flyknit sneakers, which pack flat, add a streetwear vibe to variety of outfits, and can double as gym shoes. 

Much of this photo came as a sample or point perk from  Sephora .

Much of this photo came as a sample or point perk from Sephora.

3) Travel size toiletry containers

These sets are so cute, right?  A set of tiny bottles all ready for your lotions and potions, and TSA approved to boot!  In practice, when I come across travel bottles in clients’ homes, they are usually goopy and unidentifiable.  These sets only work if you are willing to be diligent about labeling bottles, repurchasing the same products and decanting them before every trip, and cleaning up after each trip. And if you’re not, that’s ok! I keep a small stash of all the products I need in travel sizes so that I’m always ready to pack without having to fuss around with containers.

My workout clothes served me as well climbing The Peak in Hong Kong as they do in the gym at home!

My workout clothes served me as well climbing The Peak in Hong Kong as they do in the gym at home!

4) Travel clothing marketed as sun protective, wrinkle free, and/or multifunctional

You know what I mean: those lightweight, drab button down shirts and pants with zip-off legs that companies insist you need for of travel. Instead of thinking of “travel” as your activity, however, I suggest you think about the activities you’re planning for your trip and pack the clothes you’d wear for similar activities in your normal life. For example, for a sightseeing trip to a European city in the spring, I’d pack outfits I’d wear for a day of shopping or museum-going at home in San Francisco: a mix and match assortment of jeans, silk pieces, and lightweight sweaters. For a week long hiking trip, I’d include various pieces from my workout and outdoor wardrobe including Lululemon pants and Patagonia layers.  I always feel prepared for my trip while at the same time feeling totally comfortable and like myself - which makes travel a lot more fun!

As you might have gathered, my philosophy on travel is that the best strategy to maximize both your personal safety and your enjoyment of the trip is to blend in, rather than mark yourself as a tourist. To me, travel is about expanding my perspective through authentic experience of people and places, and I can’t do that if I’m visually separating myself from my surroundings.

How about your favorite hobbies and activities: what things are we told we absolutely need but you know we can easily live without?

LMW

What I'm Organizing: Working Remotely

For all its flaws, the startup culture that’s taking over the world is making my life a lot easier.  There’s one simple reason: most places I go, there are cafes and co-working spaces that cater to people like me who can work anywhere with a laptop and an internet connection.

Recently, my husband and I went to London for a week.  We lived there for a few months in 2011 for his job, made great friends, and have made a point to visit at least once a year since.  It’s an easy and relatively low-stress trip for us due both to that familiarity and to the fact that his company has an office there, so he can go into work and as a result have to take fewer vacation days.  

I cannot lie and say that I got a particularly early start each day that we both decided to work, but I can truthfully say that I did get up at an undisclosed time, work out, and then get ready and pack myself off to one of the many work-friendly cafes close to our hotel.

Kale caesar, spiced carrot soup, a slice of crusty bread, and fizzy water: the perfect lunch.

Kale caesar, spiced carrot soup, a slice of crusty bread, and fizzy water: the perfect lunch.

At the risk of becoming a total hipster (or hipster wannabe), I have to say that I found one of the best working environments at The Hoxton.  All day, every day, the lobby of this hotel, restaurant, bar, and coffee shop is packed with tech workers and freelancers on laptops.  The food is great (I had the 2 for £10 soup and salad combo), the servers are completely unbothered by you having your nose stuffed into your screen, there’s plenty of natural light, and comfortable seating and outlets abound.

Photo courtesy of thehoxton.com (I posted up at that gray chair closest to the camera)

Photo courtesy of thehoxton.com (I posted up at that gray chair closest to the camera)

The vibe of a space like The Hoxton works for me because the dull roar of people around me feels like pleasant white noise, and I work better when I have slight guilt about the possibility of someone seeing my screen and judging that it’s not actual work.  The only thing I need in addition to my laptop is my glasses - for some reason, wearing them helps me focus even better even though they don’t improve my actual vision all that much.  You wouldn’t want to set up camp in a place like this if you needed to make phone calls, though!

Where are your favorite places to get a little work done while traveling?

LMW

What I'm Organizing - Don't Leave Home Without It

We just landed this morning from an amazing trip to Asia, and I have never been more pleased about the medication stash we bring on every trip. 

You see, the final 24 hours were something else.  While my mother taught me to never have a drink with ice, eat a salad, or consume a fruit you have not peeled yourself when traveling in places with less reliable water sources than you’re used to, on this trip we were staying developed areas.  So, I did not have my usual guard up. 

No details are necessary, but let’s just say that the meds made the difference between a rather unpleasant day during which I was nonetheless able to travel, and what could have been an abject disaster.

I should mention that I generally don’t take a ton of medication.  The occasional Alleve for pain.  Perhaps some Sudafed on the worst day of a cold.  Cough medicine if it’s bad enough that I’ll keep my husband up at night.  That sort of thing. It’s not a moral philosophy or anything, but I wanted to put our travel stash in context!

So what do we bring?  In general, it's the stuff that will get us through in case of the things that immediately impact our ability to travel: pain and upset stomach.  

  1. NSAIDs
  2. Immodium
  3. Alka-Seltzer for the plane – my husband insists that we both down it before takeoff to ward against pulmonary embolism.  A friend of ours actually had this happen to him, he’s ok now, but yikes.
  4. Advil with codeine – this is available over the counter internationally and I highly recommend you pick some up if you can.  It’s a game changer when it comes to food poisoning – the codeine picks up where the Immodium leaves off, and it also takes away that nonspecific “I’m gonna dieeeee” feeling.

We also bring a couple prescriptions when applicable to the trip:

  1. Cipro for trips where we will be far from proper medical care – this is an all-purpose powerful antibiotic, and it literally saved my life in Africa in 1995.
  2. Ambien for trips more than a couple of time zones away – it helps me get a few solid nights of sleep at the beginning of the trip so I can actually enjoy the destination.

Fortunately for me, there was a happy ending to this particular episode: I woke up yesterday (this?) morning in Hong Kong feeling about 95%, and enjoyed a perfectly normal flight home.  Thank you, modern medicine, for letting me flit somewhat irresponsibly around the globe and come out none the worse for wear at the end of it all!

LMW

Weekly Peek - Trip of a Lifetime Part 2

I keep telling people that the week my mom and I spent at Arctic Watch may have been our favorite trip of all time.  I think part of the reason is that it caught me so by surprise. I honestly didn’t know you could actually go there, much less how you would do it.

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What made it so special?  I think it was a combination of the vast, barren natural beauty of the landscape; jaw dropping wildlife sightings; incredible people who are polar experts and delight in sharing their favorite place on earth with visitors; more creature comforts than you deserve at that latitude but not enough to feel too guilty about it; the ability to truly disconnect from the outside world and be present in the series of unique moments you experience; and being presented with countless opportunities to say yes to adventure.

We decided expedition parkas must be yellow so that the guides can keep track of the hapless tourists.

We decided expedition parkas must be yellow so that the guides can keep track of the hapless tourists.

This is a musk ox.  We met his live brethren later in the week!

This is a musk ox.  We met his live brethren later in the week!

As I explained in Part 1, we added a stopover in Calgary for the Stampede to our itinerary before meeting up with the tour group in Yellowknife.  The night before we left, we were given our expedition parkas (included in the trip fee) and our Muck boots (a loan for the duration of the trip).  You’ll see us wearing those boots in every picture for a reason: they are waterproof, warm, and extremely comfortable.  I hiked all day in those suckers and had nary a hot spot.

Sea ice on Somerset Island

Sea ice on Somerset Island

On the runway at Arctic Watch

On the runway at Arctic Watch

Bright and early in the morning, we loaded onto a bus to the airport, where we boarded a charter flight on a Dash 8 plane.  The pilot pointed out when we crossed the Arctic Circle – which, by the way, was before our halfway point refueling spot.  Arctic Watch is on Somerset Island along the Northwest Passage, and as we landed on a dirt runway with only some all terrain vehicles and a wind sock to be seen, it truly felt like the end of the earth.

Arctic Watch as seen from the runway

Arctic Watch as seen from the runway

Closer view of the main tent

Closer view of the main tent

At Arctic Watch, every day is an adventure.  You find out the options first thing in the morning and sign up for your choice (my mom and I were totally those people who hopped up to make sure we got our first pick since there was limited space on many of the excursions…). Many activities involve motorized vehicles, either ATV’s or this giant beast called a Unimog that they use to haul you to jumping off points for hikes.  After a day of, as my mom described, yet another peak experience, you come back in the evening to hang out in the great room and then go to dinner.  There’s not much activity after about 10pm – everyone goes to bed since the days start on the early side.

Mog.

Mog.

Mog selfie!

Mog selfie!

And those peak experiences?  It started our very first day, when a few of us walked along the ATV trail to a spot overlooking the bay and realized that what had looked like whitecaps in the water was actually a pod of 400 beluga whales.  Later in the week, we went down to the shore after dinner and stood just yards from them as they played and itched their shedding skin on the rocky bottom of the river mouth.

Whitecaps?

Whitecaps?

Nope, belugas!

Nope, belugas!

My mom and I went on a kayak trip one day.  It was incredible enough that a beluga whale bubbled right under our boat (I won’t lie, we shrieked, and then shrieked again when our friendly guide Alex informed us that meant the beluga was not pleased) and then paddled close enough to see seals on the sea ice (and I also almost got us stuck on said sea ice, it is wily).  But then we got out of our kayaks and walked up a beautiful, dramatic canyon with a waterfall in it, and Alex very unceremoniously walked in and swam in said waterfall in his dry suit.  So of course, we all had to give it a try! 

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Left: suited up to kayak one day, hike the next.  Top: lovely view from pretty much anywhere on an ATV drive

Left: suited up to kayak one day, hike the next.  Top: lovely view from pretty much anywhere on an ATV drive

Another day, we were supposed to all go on a rafting/stand up paddle boarding adventure on the river.  I was FIRED UP for this, and super disappointed when, just as we were arriving from a Unimog ride and short hike, the wind came up and the whole thing had to be scrapped.  The day was saved by guide Dave who offered to take anyone willing to keep up with him on the 8 mile cross country hike back to camp.  Two other women and I took him up on the offer, and it was so worth it.  He showed us hidden canyons, wind-barren hilltops and lakes, and actually breathtaking vistas (I say actually because we were literally leaning into the wind).

Inside the great room

Inside the great room

Some toothbrushing realness inside our tent

Some toothbrushing realness inside our tent

So here’s the nitty gritty.  There is one flight a week that lands on a dirt runway: the same plane that drops you off delivers all the food and picks up last week’s guests.  The camp itself is a group of semi-permanent white tents (the white part is important).  Each pair of guests has their own small tent with beds (fleece sheets and giant duvets, SO cozy), hanging storage shelves, a small sink console, and a marine toilet behind a zipped curtain.  The heat only goes on for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening, so you're not exactly hanging out in there.  The main complex houses a great room for gathering, dining room and kitchen that seats the whole camp at long tables, gear storage areas, the staff office, and ladies’ and gents’ bathrooms with sinks, showers with changing rooms, and marine toilets.  So yes, to shower, you pack up your stuff just like in college and mosey on over to the main bathrooms.  Some guests waited a couple of days before attempting, but there was plenty of privacy and hot water to go around, so my mom and I took full advantage every day.

The 24 hour daylight thing is actually crazy in real life.  The sun doesn’t appreciably dip at any time of day, and it’s not really ever overhead, it just looks like a pretty consistent 2-3 pm on a fall day… all day.  This continues to be weird every which way you encounter it: when it’s 10:30pm and you’ve had a full day but you’re not tired, when you wake up at 3am and it looks like you’ve slept til noon, when you realize there isn’t a single electric light in the entire place (remember – white tents!).  The first night, my mom debated whether or not to wear a fleece hat to bed and decided to keep it right next to her in case she needed it in the night… as she carefully positioned the hat, I pointed out: “it’s not like you won’t be able to see it!”  We dissolved into semi-hysterical giggles.

A gourmet picnic in the high Arctic... only at Arctic Watch

A gourmet picnic in the high Arctic... only at Arctic Watch

We died upon realizing that the keg is outside unrefrigerated because... Arctic.

We died upon realizing that the keg is outside unrefrigerated because... Arctic.

The food (by Toronto based chef Justin Tse) is incredible.  It’s the kind of food I want to eat all the time: great ingredients, freshly and simply prepared.  Plus they have an espresso machine, as well as beer on tap and a selection of great Canadian wine.  Even the packed lunches hauled by the guides on all-day excursions are incredible: a different soup every day, each of them to die for, and make-you-own sandwiches on this delicious homemade bread.

Above all, the people are what make Arctic Watch.  The Weber family runs Arctic Watch and they are the consummate polar experts.  They also hire an incredible staff of friendly, experienced people who truly love the Arctic.  Theirs is a uniquely adventurous life, and I have to admit that although I love my mostly urban life, I’m more than a little jealous.

You won't believe it until you see it.

You won't believe it until you see it.

A trip to Arctic Watch is a once in a lifetime opportunity, for those of us who are even lucky enough to go in the first place.  It’s expensive, it’s remote, it’s a major commitment.  But if you ever get the chance: man, do not pass this up.  Go.

LMW

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Weekly Peek - Trip of a Lifetime Part 1

Sometime's life's best experiences take you by surprise.  It's why I've made it my personal policy to always say yes to unique opportunities.  So, when my mom emailed me the link to a Stanford Travel Study trip to an eco lodge well north of the Arctic Circle and told me my dad couldn't go, I just said, "let's do it!"

By saying yes to adventures, you also often encounter an amazing amount of serendipity.  The best way to get to Arctic Canada from the west coast of the US is to fly through Calgary, and our dates perfectly aligned so that we would be there for the final weekend of Stampede - one of the biggest rodeo events on the planet.  Obviously, we took this as a sign and extended our trip!

I can't do justice to this trip in one short blog post, so I'm going to break it up into a couple of parts.  Today: our adventure at the Calgary Stampede and exploration of Yellowknife, the jumping-off point for our Arctic expedition.

Calgary

My limited knowledge of Calgary came from stories I've heard about Stampede from horsey people (I briefly learned to ride gymkhana races in another life) and the Disney classic film Cool Runnings about the 1988 Winter Olympics.  As it turns out, Calgary reminds me of a hybrid of Denver and Houston: a modern city built on oil money in the middle of the plains featuring a high rise downtown and significant suburban sprawl.  There's clearly a lot going on there as evidence by the modern indicators of prosperity: a burgeoning food scene, a million condo buildings going up, and plentiful Ubers.

We had a great dinner at Rouge (fresh, local ingredients prepared expertly on the pretty patio of a historic home in the beautiful Inglewood neighborhood) the first night, followed by the heroic portions and epic kimchi hollandaise of brunch at Anju the next morning.  Appropriately fortified, it was on to the Stampede!

Our seats for the rodeo (that guy is about to go flying over the stands)

Our seats for the rodeo (that guy is about to go flying over the stands)

The Stampede Spectacular

The Stampede Spectacular

Calgary Stampede is basically a combination of a huge rodeo and a massive state fair.  All the fried foods you could ever wish for are on site, plus tons of agricultural exhibits and acres of livestock barns.  My mom did her research ahead of time and got us tickets in the stands to the actual rodeo events in the afternoon, which were so worth it: I had never actually seen bronco or bull riding in person, and it was so thrilling I watched most of it through my fingers.  We each picked a decadent fair food for dinner (spicy custom mac and cheese for me, poutine for my mom in honor of our Canadian hosts) and followed it up with fried cookie dough to share which was EVERYTHING wrong and delicious in this life!  We rounded out the evening by watching the Stampede Spectacular, which was basically a mini version of closing ceremonies at the Olympics.  We were both impressed by the theme of the show - "We Are Better Together" featuring many of the cultures that make up modern Canada and enthusiastically supported by the crowd - and wistful that such a progressive theme would never be featured at a similarly rural/conservative leaning event at home in the US.

If you go to the Calgary Stampede:

  • Book your hotel early.  We booked months ahead and the boutique hotel my mom wanted was already full so we ended up at the Fairmont.  It is perfectly fine, but overpriced for a relatively under-remodeled old hotel (good bathrooms though!).
  • Dress for the heat and potential thunderstorms.  We both wore light cotton sundresses and flat shoes and carried rain shells and although we wilted slightly we were happy campers!  If I had tried to cowgirl it up in jeans and boots I would have been sweltering, and I felt for the riders in their heavy leather chaps.
  • Once you're at the Stampede grounds, plan to stay until you go home for the day.  The lines to enter only increase as the day goes on.
  • Fly Air Canada if you are a United customer with status - Star Alliance gold gets you into priority check-in and security lanes as well as the Maple Leaf Lounge.  Bonus: Global Entry also works for immigration in Canada, both arriving and leaving! 

Yellowknife

The official Stanford Travel/Study trip began in Yellowknife, Northern Territories, because it has Canada's northernmost airport served by major commercial airlines.  We really didn't know what to expect here, to be perfectly honest.  It's a bigger city than we imagined, about 25,000 people, and has a definite frontier town feel.  It's built for the harsh winter weather: buildings are square, sturdy, and no-nonsense.  The biggest industry in the area remains mining, so there's cash on hand - as we saw in our exploration of a very high end grocery and homewares store - but the legacy of mistreatment of First Nations and Inuit peoples is also pretty obvious in the form of substance abuse issues and social stratification.  Food and alcohol are expensive, since everything must be trucked in over vast distances: a head of organic broccoli was on sale for $7.95 CDN!

Looking over old town Yellowknife from the Bush Pilots Monument

Looking over old town Yellowknife from the Bush Pilots Monument

View across Frame Lake to downtown

View across Frame Lake to downtown

Looking back towards downtown from the Bush Pilots Monument

Looking back towards downtown from the Bush Pilots Monument

Inside Bullocks' Bistro

Inside Bullocks' Bistro

Yellowknife is less a tourist destination than a jumping off point for adventure excursions, but we had a day and a half there and had a great time!  Our first day, we walked into the historic old town and poked around - and were somewhat gobsmacked to realize that Yellowknife's pioneer heyday was pretty recent as in the 1930's and 1940's!  The second day, we did the hike around Frame Lake, a very pretty and well marked trail that borders the newer downtown, and visited the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre which has really high quality exhibits.  That evening, we met our travel group, got fitted for boots (more on those later), picked up our expedition parkas, and then headed out for dinner at Bullocks' Bistro.  This is one of those places with extreme amounts of local character, and also the best fish and chips I have ever had in my life - and I have spent more time than the average bear in the UK including sampling of various types of fish and chips!  On the way home, it felt so early - at was probably 8:30 p.m. and fully sunny - that we stopped off for a beer at Northwest Territories Brewing Company.  A great spot (we ended up coming back for dinner on our way back through Yellowknife at the end of the trip), and I recommend the Amber!

That would be PM.

That would be PM.

The view from our Explorer Hotel room

The view from our Explorer Hotel room

This was where we realized that the long northern days were going to be weirder than we thought.  In Yellowknife, the sun does set at midsummer, but it only really ever gets dusky.  As a trip host told us, she hadn't seen stars since early May!  So, we easily lost track of time and found ourselves rushing back to the hotel after 10p.m. to make sure to get some shut-eye before our early-ish departure the next morning!

If you go to Yellowknife:

  • There's no need to dress up.  I felt overdressed at the hotel restaurant in jeans with a nice top, and we bummed around during the day in workout clothes and our finest Patagonia outerwear and fit in just fine.
  • If you want to sleep properly, close your curtains!  It may feel at 11pm like it's about to get dark... but it won't.
  • If you're patient, everything is walkable.  Taxis exist, but we were perfectly happy walking everywhere.  Nothing you want to see or need to do is more than a mile away.
  • Lodging options are limited.  We stayed at the Explorer Hotel, which is supposedly the best in town.  Facilities are what you would expect from a big city Holiday Inn or similar, rooms are less recently remodeled but perfectly fine with comfortable beds.

To see even more photos from this epic trip, be sure to follow me on Instagram.  I'll be back with more on our Arctic adventure next week!

LMW

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