Hiking in Zion National Park – Canyon Overlook and Emerald Pools

In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. –John Muir

Zion National Park was the capstone park in our adventure out west. We chose where we’d stay based on proximity. It was the only park we visited twice. It was also the first hike in the mountains we’d take our kids on.

It didn’t let us down.

Canyon Overlook Trail
The drive up was almost as much fun for the kids as the hike itself. Zion is on a shuttle system, which means no cars on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive past the Pa’ Rus Trailhead.

To get up to Canyon Overlook, we took the Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway. The kids loved the switchbacks hundreds of feet above the canyon floor with no guardrails and seeing falcons catching thermals below our car. On the way up, we noticed arches cut into the cliff face that looked like the end of roads to nowhere, which we discovered were actually meant as “windows” inside the mile-long, one-way tunnel that cuts through the mountain.

Here’s where we got lost – the trailhead for Canyon Overlook is on the left as soon as you exit the tunnel. With all the cars lined up, we missed it and drove all the way to the exit of the park. But along the way we saw a mountain goat and lots of incredible formations. Up in the high country, it’s as if liquid rock flowed around the landscape and then froze in time. Sometimes, the best thing you can do when you’re in beautiful country like this is to get lost.

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

At the trailhead, all were eager to break in hiking shoes and water bottles. The kids, as usual, were on the hunt for a perfect place to stop for snacks. We found one shortly after we started. A rock overhang shades a large area to the right of the trail, and we grabbed a few bites to eat. The kids loved climbing on a natural shelf under the overhang, and they probably would have been content to stay.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

Instead, we soldiered past some great views overlooking Pine Creek. About halfway up the trail, there’s another natural overhang with moss growing under it that’s a nice shade spot. Just before this is a narrow bridge going over a sizable drop. If you don’t like heights or have kids that have a hard time being careful, you might want to skip this trail. There are railings anywhere there’s an edge, but little kids could probably slip and scoot right underneath the rail.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

The view at the end of the trail is absolutely worth the effort. The viewpoint looks out over East Temple and Bridge Mountain, and is one of the easier places in the park to see the canyon from a completely different perspective.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

Emerald Pools
After our short warm up hike, we grabbed the shuttle bus from the Visitor Center (don’t even think about trying to find parking during late morning or early afternoon) and took a ride through the canyon, all the way out to the Temple of Sinawava. The narrow windows on the busses make it tough to see the towering cliffs properly, but step outside and it’s breathtaking in any direction.

To hike Emerald Pools, get off at Zion Lodge and head across the street. The trail up is fairly easy with some gentle up and downs. There were lots of lizards, beetles, and even a toad along the path that our kids had a blast trying to spot.

This was also where we noticed, for the first of many times, how many foreigners and different languages we heard while out and about in the parks. At one point, Sandi commented, “Europeans smell nice,” which I heard as “Your penis smells nice,” and I just about stepped off the trail laughing. The kids thought it was hilarious too, and I’m sure everyone around us thought we were nuts.

Lower Emerald Pool wasn’t that impressive in July when we were there, but during the spring months when the water is up and the waterfall tumbling over the cliffs overhead, you might feel differently. We hiked just past Lower Emerald Pool and then turned around since our 5-year old had reached her maximum hiking distance with the two trails we tackled.

Hiking in the Acadias – Day Hiker’s Paradise

“Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Acadia National Park is filled with loads of snackable trails. It’s a day hiker’s paradise. No matter what you like, this park’s got it: mountain peaks, the ocean, woodland, freshwater springs, beaches, the list goes on forever. Maine was also the last “corner” state I needed to knock out on my quest to visit all 50 states, and it did not disappoint.

I got to Acadia too late to snag any of the coveted campground spots at Blackwoods or Seawall, so it shaped up to be a cheap motel kind of night for me. After I’d squared away a place to sleep, I made the most of my remaining hours of daylight.

Ocean Path
Starting with a quick stop at Sand Beach and Great Head, I made my way along the Ocean Path – a dazzling walkway along the Atlantic Ocean. The salty waves crash against rugged cliffs as you pass Old Soaker, Thunder Hole, and reach the Gorham Mountain Trailhead.

Ocean Path - Acadia National Park

Thunder Hole is a must-stop, especially if you have kids. This rock formation causes a natural chamber that, when the tides are right, creates a loud whump you can feel in your chest from the parking lot. There’s debate about the best time to go, but try for an hour or two before high tide.

Bee Hive, Gorham Mountain, and the Bowl
The trail to Gorham Mountain climbs up Cadillac Cliffs at a reasonable rate – you’re only ascending 500 or so feet. I took the lower path, and had some fun scrambling over boulders, rocks, and passing underneath mossy overhangs.

Past Gorham Mountain lies the Bowl, a quiet mountain lake. There were quite a few fish swimming in the shallows, but I was too eager to see them – when I leaned out to get a better look my sunglasses fell in! Luckily I was able to snag them and head for the Bee Hive.

Acadia National Park is known for its iron rung trails, some much more precarious than others. Where the trail gets too steep, or even vertical, you need to use iron bars drilled into the rock. The Bee Hive is a good intro. After the summit, the descent on the other side hangs you out over drops of a hundred or so feet. In reality, if you actually fell, you wouldn’t go that far, but when you’re hanging off a rock it sure doesn’t feel like it. I passed a couple with a dog, so it’s obviously doable.

The Beehive - Acadia National Park

I wrapped up my night on Cadillac Mountain, watching the sunset over Somes Sound and the Maine wilderness. If you plan on going, plan to deal with crowds, there were hundreds of people up there all with the same idea as I did.

On the plus side, you might overhear a dad joke. I heard one man tell his son, “Look! You can see the Maine-land from here.” He got a high five.

Sunset on Seargent Mountain

I hopped in my car, found my motel past Bar Harbor, and planned out my next day, where I intended to knock out some serious mileage.

Jordan Pond and South Bubble
I started the morning at Jordan Pond, a large lake nestled between Cadillac and Seargent Mountain. I parked at Jordan Pond House and trekked along the east edge of the lake. This portion of the hike would have been much more enjoyable, but it’s flat, easy nature meant tons of kids. Their wails and parents’ yells carried across the water easily, making it anything but tranquil.

At the north end, the trail heads up to South Bubble, a massive boulder sitting on a cliff’s edge. It looks like a small shove might send it into the abyss.

South Bubble - Acadia National Park

Seargent Mountain
Descending South Bubble back to Jordan Pond, I skipped over to the west side and grabbed the trail heading to the summit of Seargent Mountain. Along the way, fairly early, you come to an imposing arched bridge with a waterfall running underneath. It’s a great juxtaposition of historical architecture and nature. Past that, the trail steepens, with a couple challenging sections and slippery rock slopes.

Then the trail opens onto summit’s approach, with hardy plants growing among the hiker’s cairns mark the path. Four trails converge on the summit of Seargent Mountain, where you can see Somes Sound, Frenchman Bay, Cadillac Mountain, and the rest of the Acadias spread out around you.

Seargent Mountain - Acadia National Park

From here, many people probably head back via the trail to Penobscot, but I had more summits to hit!

Gilmore Peak, Bald Mountain, Parkman Mountain
I descended the south path and turned west toward Maple Spring and was on my way to Gilmore Mountain. Most of these trails are under the cover of the forest, and there’s lots of steep up and down as you get to the top of each of these three peaks. The view of Somes Sound was fantastic from all of them. If you’re looking for something shorter, all are probably better suited to day hikes from Highway 198.

Parkman Mountain - Acadia National Park

But coming from the Seargent side as I did, I got to do them all twice! There’s no real loop back, so I hiked to Bald Peak, turned around, and retraced my steps.

Seargent Pond and Penobscot Mountain
Once I returned to Seargent, I turned down the southern path towards Penobscot. Along the way I passed Seargent Pond, another tranquil mountain lake. (You see one, you see them all, right?) I love coming across these lakes in the wilderness – they’re mostly untouched by man, never by motorized boats, and are their own little self contained ecosystems.

Seargent Pond - Acadia National Park

The summit of Penobscot offers a lot of the same views that Seargent does, but has a much better look at Jordan Pond as it stretches out below you.

Jordan Pond House
I finished my hike at Jordan Pond House, where there’s a restaurant, gift shop, horseback riding, and tons of crowds. I wanted to grab a cup of tea, sit on the lawn and take in the surroundings. Unfortunately, it felt more like an overcrowded restaurant on Saturday night, and the host told me that if I wasn’t ordering food, I couldn’t get a table.

So instead, I made my way back to Bar Harbor, relaxed after a grueling, but satisfying day of hiking with a great meal and said goodbye to the Acadias.

Midwestern Gothic #19: Editor’s Commentary

Midwestern Gothic: Fall 2015 Issue 19And now, for something completely different! Our latest issue of Midwestern Gothic is all nonfiction. That’s right, essays and creative nonfiction inspired by the Midwest. We’ve only done this type of issue one other time, but this angle is a critical part of what makes up the fabric of the region.

While fiction and poetry can certainly expose and explore truths, hearing about someone’s direct experience or perspective is just as, if not more, powerful. A lot of our contributors filter their own experiences and culture into their stories, as most writers do. In some cases, the filter is dialed way up, obscuring the parallels you can draw between their own experiences and fictional experiences. But with essays and creative nonfiction, that filter is all but removed. That raw look at life in the Midwest is always a pleasure to read and edit.

Our hopes are that we can do this more regularly than every two years. Nonfiction writers sometimes don’t overlap with authors and poets, and it’s important to us to give this subset of the population a voice as well. One of my favorites from this issue is “Detroit, 2015” by Lori Tucker-Sullivan, a piece about her experiences with the city at different stages of her life, and of the city’s life.

Here’s an excerpt:

In 2010, after twenty-six years of marriage, my husband Kevin died following a two-year fight with cancer. As a widow suddenly faced with planning an unexpected second phase of my life, I decided to sell my home near Ann Arbor and move to Detroit. I am returning to the city of my birth. For me, this is an attempt to create a new story for myself. The narrative of my life, not unlike that of my birthplace, has jumped the tracks. I’m coming to terms with the fact that my life will neither be what I had anticipated, nor what it once was. I never planned to be a caregiver to a dying partner. As my children grow, I no longer have the same parental responsibilities. I may never again be a wife. I’ve learned how futile it is to believe you’ve written your story when fate wields such a capricious eraser.

Likewise, Detroit once had a bright future. In fact, it was often called “the city of tomorrow.” But as we look back now we see how tenuous a narrative that was as well. In reality it was based on unexamined assumptions: that a population segregated by redlining, discrimination, and fear would remain peaceful. Or that the city could thrive forever on the largesse of one industry that had no competition. Or that the vibrant middle class created by the manufacture of automobiles wouldn’t use the earnings, cars and newly paved freeways to flee the city.

Yet there is presently a feeling of slow and laborious rebirth. Officials are coming to terms with years of dysfunction and are taking difficult steps toward permanent change. In July of 2013, the city’s governor-appointed emergency manager filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, declaring the city unable to pay its nearly 20 million dollar debt. As the contentious process wound its way through the courts, residents and officials worked to find ways to save artwork and pensions, infrastructure and basic services. Now out of bankruptcy, the city is continuing on a mostly positive path forward.

Buy a copy of Midwestern Gothic: Fall 2015 – Issue 19 for the rest of the story, and many others inspired by the Midwest.

Rapid Fire Book Reviews

The first month of my mini-retirement was blessed with little, if any, internet access, which means I need to catch up on the reviews for the books I read! Here goes:

Horns, by Joe Hill: 4 of 5 stars.
Dug this quite a bit – the premise of a random dude growing demon horns was explained surprisingly well and quickly, which gets you into enjoying the thrust of the book: exploring how you might solve your girlfriend’s murder if you had special powers that made people tell you their deepest, darkest secrets.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman: 2 of 5 stars.
I’d really like to like Neil Gaiman more. Loads of people love him, and the premises of his books sound interesting. Just not a huge fan of his voice, I guess. I did like this better than American Gods, which wasn’t hard, but still. The world building was the best part about this book, I really enjoyed learning about the world of the dead with Bod. I didn’t enjoy how the plot felt like a bunch of vignettes strung together, and the conflict with Jack simply bookending the plot.

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White: 5 of 5 stars.
We read this classic aloud to our kids on the road trip. An audio book, narrated by Mommy and Daddy. I hadn’t read it since I was in elementary school, and it was great to go back and remember what I loved about the story. Plus, we found an old doodle of Charlotte I’d made in the back of the book! I hadn’t realized back then how simultaneously complex and accessible language and vocabulary is. Our kids loved it and begged us to keep reading when we needed to give our voices a break.

The Walking Dead: All Out WarVolume 20 and Volume 21, by Robert Kirkman, Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rothburn: 2 out of 5 stars.
This marks the end of the Negan story arc, which for some reason everyone is clamoring for them to get to in the show. I don’t know, I think Rick’s storyline has worn out its welcome with me. I would love to see something else with a truly new character in this world, or for them to just get to the point. The last interesting thing to happen in this comic was Rick’s proposal to get an army together and begin to kill off walkers and eliminate them, now that they have numbers. That was 4 volumes ago. Instead, they encounter a group of humans more dangerous than the walkers. Again.

Some of the Best From Tor.com – 2013 Edition: 4 out of 5 stars.
A solid collection of speculative fiction from one of the biggest names in the genre. Some of the pieces, like “Wakulla Springs,” were enjoyable to read but didn’t really contain enough fantastical elements for me. I enjoyed “Equoid” by Charles Stross the most – the premise of unicorns actually being a horrible Lovecraftian monster is humorous in and of itself and Stross absolutely nailed a light-hearted tone that counter-balanced the horrific images well.

Vagabonding: 4 out of 5 stars. I likely read this book a little too late in my escape from the typical 9-5. Already past my travel epiphany, this book doesn’t have a ton of things I found tactically useful. But, if you’re new to the life-changing philosophy type books (4 Hour Workweek, etc.) then this book is probably coming at the perfect time for you.

Mesilla, by Robert James Russell: 5 out of 5 stars.
Tight little western that you can knock out in a single sitting or a weekend. All the classic elements of the western are there, filtered through Russell’s honed literary voice. Treasure and riches? Check. Grizzled gunslingers? Check. A stark landscape for the villain to chase the hero across? Check. Thoroughly enjoyed this novella.

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Hiking in the Adirondacks: Giant Mountain, Roaring Brook Falls, Lake Placid

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. –Edward Abbey

I didn’t enjoy the Adirondak Mountains, but I definitely want to visit again.

Why? The rain, the cold, the clouds, and my new hammock put a damper on what I’m sure is a gorgeous setting.

Roaring Brook Falls
I arrived at Roaring Brook Falls campsite late in the evening after a long drive from Toronto. I actually loved this place quite a bit. It’s a short, quarter- to half-mile walk through the woods ending at the base of a 150-foot waterfall. First timers, the map is a little misleading – you have to cross the rushing creek and duck through a narrow path before the undergrowth gives way to a shadowed campground.

Roaring Brook Falls

The creek encircles the whole camp after tumbling down the falls. The sound of rushing water provided a relaxing background soundtrack while I threw up my new hammock tent, and chatted with a family from Montreal about their vacation and the coming rain. I hoped they’d stick around even if the weather turned south – I don’t like sleeping alone in the wilderness if I can help it.

Unfortunately, my first night in the Hennessey Expedition Hammock didn’t go that well. I’ve got a friend who swears by them, but I’d forgotten the downside –how there’s no ground to keep you warm. It wasn’t freezing, but it got down to 40 degrees at night and I definitely felt the cold seeping in, even though I was in a sleeping bag rated down to 32 degrees and I had all my layers on. I couldn’t get comfortable, and probably got under four hours of sleep.

Hennessey Expedition Hammock

Giant Mountain
Even so, I wasn’t feeling the lack of sleep the next day, because I was going to be hiking up a mountain! Like a kid heading off to his first day of school, I was pumped up to tackle Giant Mountain, a great warm-up before trying Mt. Marcy the next day.

Giant Mountain Trailhead

Every website listed Giant Mountain as an “easy” hike. Three miles and a couple K in elevation change sounded doable. I even walked the 1.5 miles from Roaring Brook to the trailhead at Chapel Pond along the road.

Easy. What a bunch of crap.

Imagine climbing steep, uneven, rock stairs for three miles straight. Then pour water over most of them. That’s the hike up Giant Mountain. I’m not usually a complainer, but this “easy, family hike” was anything but. The only real flat portion of this trail is under a mile in when you reach the Giant Washbowl.

Giant Washbowl

Giant Washbowl is a solitary pond tucked just on the other side of the first ridge you climb. The water reminded me of something out of a horror flick or a fantasy novel –inky black and bone-white trees line the edges. The trail crosses the pond on driftwood beams that creak and groan underfoot. Truly a surreal place to be.

Luckily, I met fellow hikers to commiserate with on the way up. Honestly, that’s one of my favorite parts of hiking – the “trail friends.” You’re alone enough in the wilderness. When you’ve been walking with nothing but the wind in the trees and rustling animals, you can’t help but say hello to another human being.

There’s a functional benefit to trail friends: safety in numbers, sharing water and food, coaching up to the summit. But we also help each other validate why we’re crazy enough to strap forty pounds to our back and walk up a mountain for no real purpose other than to say we did it. We find people just like ourselves out on the trail, something we can’t do in the hustle and bustle of the city.

Even with the challenge, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly nature can call out to something inside you. Usually it’s some folly: a mountain lake nestled among the cliffs, or a small rippling meadow hemmed on all sides by trees. It’s those moments that I live for out on the trail. Giant Mountain has several of those on route to the summit. When you emerge from the trees, you are treated to some wonderful views of the surrounding mountains and a crisp breeze.

A small piece of advice – take the detour around Giant’s Nubble, which is about 2 miles into the trail. You’re climbing enough, no need to go back up and come back down needlessly to save what’s only a hundred or so feet in actual distance.

I’ve yet to reach a mountain summit that wasn’t satisfying, but I almost gave up on Giant Mountain. Not from exertion, but because I was worried about making it back down in time. The hike was taking much longer than I thought it would.

Still, I made it, and the view was gorgeous. The summit looks out over a massive “scoop” out of the landscape. It’s 1-2 thousand feet down to the forest and the “arms” of Giant Mountain reach out in a gentle semicircle that frames up the view. Amazing.

Giant Mountain Summitt

People might call me crazy, but going down on a hike is worse than going up. Especially on this trail, since it’s so rocky, uneven, and treacherous. At one point, the path seemed to vanish over a cliff face. The rangers had spray painted an arrow to direct you towards the left side of this cliff face, where the slope was actually traversable if you got down and scooted down the trail.

I thought I’d sleep great that night, but the chill and downpours kept me awake for another sub-4 hour night.

Lake Placid
The rain the family from Montreal warned me about had come. There was no wind, no thunder and lightning, but there was rain. More than 24 hours of it, with only a couple hours of letup. It started late at night and continued until I left the next morning. I had rain gear, but the idea of hiking 15 miles in a downpour did not sound appealing, especially given how badly Giant Mountain kicked my out-of-shape behind the day before. So I scrapped Mt. Marcy and decided to visit Lake Placid instead.

Leaving the campsite was a little scary – the water had swollen the creek to a small rushing river. Not quite as bad as McCandless experienced in Into the Wild, but there was nowhere traversable, even after walking the whole river bank. At this campsite, you’re essentially landlocked – the mountain backs up against the bend in the river, so there’s really no way out other than to cross it.

I had to pick the least of all evils and just jump with fifty pounds of gear on my back and know that I was going to land in calf-deep water.

Lake Placid was the site of multiple Olympic Games, and a lot of the infrastructure is still there. I gave myself a tour of the ski jumps, the torch, medal stand, and some of the training facilities. Luckily, the rain let up for a couple hours, allowing me to get out of my car and get a closer look at things.

To get to the ski jumps, all posted signs tell you to use the lifts to get to the top, but things were closed when I arrived on a Sunday. Rules. pshaw! I drove up to John Brown Farm and discovered a back entrance to the jumps!

Lake Placid Ski Jump

Go past Ski Jump Lane, and pull into the first parking area on your left, before you get to the actual farm. There’s a trail that heads off to the left – follow it and it will circle up to the maintenance parking lot by the jumps. From there, you can walk right in and explore the grounds. If you want to go up to the top of the jumps, you won’t be able to, the only place to buy those tickets is down at the bottom.

Lake Placid Medal Stand

After seeing the ski jumps and the medal stands, I headed down to find the Olympic Torch. As a track athlete in High School, I always loved watching the Olympics and seeing all the sports that only get airtime every four years. I had high hopes, but it’s a little underwhelming – the torch sits among a track, softball field, and other high-school sized sports fields. Several pickup trucks were parked next to the symbol of the pinnacle of human achievement tucked behind where 6-year-olds play soccer like some dusty bowling trophy, and it all felt very anti-climactic.

Lake Placid Olympic Torch

So I left the Adirondaks quite a bit disappointed, but wanting to come back and give them another chance.

Surviving a Road Trip with Five- and Nine-Year-Old Kids

When I threw the first leg of our family vacation into Google Maps, I sort of wanted to claw my own eyes out.

24 hours? With our kids?!

I love ’em. But they are active, talkative, and capable of driving normal people insane even outside a confined space. How were we going to make it and still love each other on the other side?

No surprise, the idea of spending days in the car with young kids is worse than actually doing it. Considering how much physical activity, vocalizing, and goofing off is part of their DNA, both of them were saints. Most of the issues we did have in the car were on my wife and I. We were too tired, too cranky, or too done to have the patience.

Road Trip Survival

We Planned for the Unplanned
Turns out, the secret to a being a successful parent is to run from one cluster to another with a big grin on your face.

Things are going to go wrong. And it’s O.K. Someone will need to go to the bathroom every ten minutes and Subway sandwiches are going to get spilled all over the car. I mean, I killed two dogs with our car and sent it to the mechanic for five days, and we still managed to have a great time, for god’s sake.

Our best days were the days we were able to remind ourselves that things will never go to plan, so we should stop expecting them to. And then reminding ourselves again when the train got off the tracks.

We didn’t book any hotels, so we didn’t feel like we had to rush or drive a certain distance every day. We just went. When we were ready to stop, we stopped. We taught the kids how to pee on the side of the road when the closest gas station was fifty miles away in the Moab Desert. We were mostly O.K. with things not going O.K., and honestly, that was the best thing we could have done.

Break it Up
There was no way we were driving from Des Plaines, Illinois, to Pine Valley, Utah, in one shot. That would have been a recipe for disaster. Our kids love to run around, and being cooped up in a car for that long wouldn’t have been fun.

So we allowed three days to get out to Utah, and two days to get back from Colorado. Our longest day was twelve hours, and most of the other “driving” days were under ten. It kept the trip manageable and let us see some pretty cool stuff along the way, because we weren’t worried about how much mileage we needed to knock out.

Our very first driving day we stopped at the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. Anyone, anywhere, with kids needs to visit. Adults need to visit. It’s not really a museum at all – it’s a giant, eclectic playground. Bob Cassily and a bunch of local artists have been building this place organically for decades from salvaged and recovered materials. They turned an old shoe factory into something Willy Wonka couldn’t dream up. You could get absolutely lost for hours in this place, and it was a perfect way to kick off the trip. We drove nine hours the first day, but with a four-hour stop here in the middle, it felt like nothing.

What to Do
Proper expectations and breaks are all well and good – but we were still in the car for hours. That time has to get filled with something. I’ll never judge anyone for giving their kids and iPad or movies – being in a car that long is about survival.

But we found a nice balance between quiet things, loud things, things with screens, and things that don’t need batteries.

The first thing we did was incentivize “good” behavior. So, basically, not acting like a caged monkey on meth. Our kids are on a point behavior system normally. (Do something good? Get a point. Do something bad? Lose a point.) So we carried that over into the car. For every hour they did something quiet (no screens), they earned a point. It was our job to make sure they had access to quiet things. They brought library books. We read Charlotte’s Web out loud to them. They both brought those big school curriculum workbooks. And, of course, the scenery outside was worth staring at.

Our kids love to talk and sing, so we made sure we were prepared with games. Mad Libs, I Spy, and all sorts of variances on word association are all big hits. We’d make song requests, and they’d take turns singing that song, or tackle the Minecraft cover. We watched Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs fairly early in the trip, and they had a blast reciting their favorite lines over and over. And then over and over again.

With all that stuff to do, screens became a reward, or a release valve when Sandi and I just needed some peace and quiet. When the iPads came out, it was usually for an hour or two, and they typically came out once a day. Sometimes they played longer because we were at our wits end. Sometimes, they barely played at all. Like I said, being in a car that long is about surviving. You do whatever works, period.

Honorable Mention in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest!

L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future
Incredibly honored and excited to share that one of my short stories, “The Cellar Door,” was awarded an Honorable Mention by L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t earn publication with that honor, but it is an international contest that attracts thousands of entries every quarter. I couldn’t be happier to receive recognition from such a contest.

See all the winners

Poets and Writer’s Live Chicago: Editor’s Panel – Highlights

Back in June the folks at Poets and Writers were kind enough to have me be part of their “Poets and Writers Live” event here in Chicago to talk about the work we publish at Midwestern Gothic and give practical advice for writers who want to submit to our magazines.

It was absolutely an honor to share the stage with Adrienne Gunn of TriQuarterly, Don Share of Poetry magazine, Ben Tanzer of Curbside Splendor Publishing, and moderator Melissa Faliveno. Holy cow was I in incredible company.

The hour long discussion has been condensed into 15 minutes, and is jam packed with great tips and sound bytes for anyone who is looking to get published.

Watch on YouTube
Check out the other panels from PW Live: Chicago

Where Awesome Journeys Begin: Mini-Retirement

Not many people get to say they’re retired at age 34. I’m counting myself extremely lucky.

Jeff Pfaller - Mini-Retired

Well, not retired. Mini-retired. Taking a break from the daily 9 to 5 to attempt an awesome journey. Leaving all work behind to explore the country with my family and solo.

I’d debated what to say when people ask me that classic ice-breaker, “So what do you do?” for the past few weeks.

My answer for the past decade definitely didn’t fit. Can I really say I work in advertising, am a content strategist, or do digital marketing anymore?

My answer for the past nine months – also not the best. I’m not a marketing or content strategy consultant. Not in a way that currently defines me, at least.

I needed something short, accurate, and badass sounding.

I settled on mini-retired.

It sounds strange, yet a little familiar. And far more interesting than 99% of the stock answers to “So what do you do?” I’m still working on being able to call myself an astronaut or child-saving philanthropist, so this’ll do for now.

Over the next four months, I’ll be road tripping around the country to places like Zion National Park, Glacier National Park, Las Vegas, the Colorado Plateau, many, many other places I’ve got planned, plus plenty I haven’t decided whether or not I want to visit.

I’m with my family during this first leg to the Grand Staircase in Utah and Arizona, and a treehouse in Western Colorado. I want to show my children things they’ve never seen and help them fall in love with the country’s park system.

Then I’m heading back out by myself, wherever my wheels take me. The only thing I know so far is that I’m headed to Glacier National Park with my best friend and a couple other amigos.

And after that, I’ll probably unretire and work towards another mini-retirement. Or maybe something completely different.

That’s sort of the whole point, to give myself the space to take a journey.