WOW. THAT was a summer. Part 5

You probably have started to notice, but my summer was packed full of fun and adventure and we’ve only just begun! As the season progressed I started to really get the camping/backcountry bug. I couldn’t get enough of it. If I wasn’t looking at gear at work, I was talking about trails or campsites with anyone that would listen.

After our last camping adventure I decided I wouldn’t do it like that again. As fun as that fiasco was, better to not test my luck twice. I started to find crazy deals (like always) and got enough gear together to make an adventure of it. I pieced together most of the main backcountry components and borrowed the rest. Around this time I, against my better judgement, started to date an employee at the lodge (Sara). I had gone into the season with the expectations to not date any coworkers as the seasonal lifestyle isnt very conducive for relationships. That said, I talked my girlfriend into an adventure. I had heard of Surprise Lake and the surrounding area from several tourists and my coworkers, so I had to check it out. It was only a  5 miles, I figured it would be a great way to start off the backcountry adventures. When looking at maps of the local area I noticed a campsite right next to the lake. With a few days off coming up and after some careful planning I headed to my new favorite place, the permit office. Anytime I wanted to head off in the woods I would make sure I got to the permit office 30 minutes before the soonest possible time. With only 3 permits a day for Surprise Lake, it’s a struggle getting it; but I did! Only one permit for that location was open and I snaked it.

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Topo view of hike

Trail map, courtesy of NPS.gov

Trail map, courtesy of NPS.gov

We headed out for the trail head. Just driving to the trail was challenging for my car. The trail head is off a hard packed dirt road, but the road isn’t without its fair share of serious pot holes. After slowly navigating the road, we made it to the parking lot; challenge one completed. After securing the vehicle we headed up. Very quickly you are in the thick of the forest. No more than a mile into the hike we came across some hikers coming down. “There’s a bear just around the upcoming corner,” they warned. I immediately pulled out two cans of bear spray (one for each hand) and we continued on. I also grabbed out my camera (just in case). Around the next corner– BEAR! I pulled the safety pins out the bear spray and watched. Neither of us had ever been so close to a bear before, having only seen them at zoos or at a safe distance in a vehicle. We just watched for a good couple minutes as this young (couple years old) brown bear cleaned a bush of every huckleberry in site. I needed to get a photo of it, so I handed a can of spray to Sara and grabbed my camera. I hit the power button — nothing. The lens was stuck! I tried to fix it, but to no avail. Just starting the trip and now no camera. :(  Since I couldnt take any pictures of our trip, I’ll have to use photos from the internet for this adventure. Double :(

The beginning of the trail starts off very nicely, slowly gaining just a couple hundred feet over a few miles; that is until you reach the Bradley Lake junction. From there the trail starts to drastically climb in vertical feet. That following mile my right quad started to cramp up. I tried to drink water, eat trail bars, massage it, stretches — you name it, I tried it. But no luck. After about a third of a mile it would cramp up and cause crazy pain. I had to be strong. This is a new girlfriend and I needed to impress. I said it hurt, but she had no idea how bad.  I actually thought I was going to tear the muscle in half. But we kept on. The next leg of the journey slowly turned through the mountain still gradually climbing up. At the Garnet Canyon turn off I felt empowered. I thought I could do it. We had already gone up about a thousand feet, how much more could there be? Actually, lots (approx 1800ft more) . The next two miles would challenge me physically and mentally.

Shortly after the Garnet Canyon turnoff the trail the switchbacks started off nicely, nothing too drastic, nice winding trails.

Bradley Lake from Surprise Lake trail

Bradley Lake from Surprise Lake trail

It deceptively made it seem like you were closer than you were. Those final two miles were the longest two miles of the entire season. The further you hiked, the shorter the switchbacks became, and the greater the elevation was on each switch. We finally reached a ridge and the trail began to mellow out, only to have more elevation to go. I literally considered just throwing camp anywhere, but just as I was about to give up, the surprise happened; Surprise Lake.

Coulnd't happier to see this sign.

Couldn’t be happier to see this sign.

I knew we had made it

I knew we had made it

Upon arrival at Surprise Lake we headed up to setup camp. The daylight was fading rapidly and we had to move with purpose. I set up camp and sent Sara off to collect water. Just as the sun set behind the Tetons we had camp going and dinner was cooking. Given the bear we had seen earlier in our trip and on the trip before, we had to be aware of bears at all times. We followed every backcountry guide to the letter. Cooked in different clothes than we slept in, meal site at least 100 feet from camp, and used bear boxes for all odorous items. I dont think I slept better the whole summer than I did that night.

The next day we barely left the campsite. We were exhausted and just needed to nap all day to recover. Before all the day hikers came through the area, I headed down to Surprise Lake, stripped down and dove in. All that hiking had taken a toll on my scent, and I needed to at least get a rinse. The water wasn’t actually that cold. You wouldn’t want to hang out in it long term, but for a quick rinse, it does the job. I’ve surfed in colder water.

The following morning I awoke late, but still before Sara and got breakfast started. As I sat there cooking oatmeal I heard some bushes rumbling nearby. I popped up, grabbed my strategically located bear spray and prepared for the worst. I could hear the noises getting closer. I was prepared to spray that animal at a blink of an eye. Just as I was about to let loose and dump a can, out pops a little deer. After watching the deer for a minute and making sure there wasn’t a bear waiting around the corner, back to cooking I went. After eating breakfast, Sara went back to bed and I decided I would do a little exploring. The views near the campsite were some of the best from any campsite in all of the Tetons.

Not only was Surprise Lake just a hundred yards from our campsite, Delta Lake and Amphitheatre Lake were easily within walking distance (under half mile). I decided I would just explore our surroundings and wait to do any additional hiking until she got up. The Surprise Lake outlet view is, to put simply, stunning.

Surprise Lake Outlet

Surprise Lake Outlet

From there I decided to head to the bluff overlooking Delta Lake.

There wasnt snow at Delta when we went

There wasnt snow at Delta when we went

I went back to the campsite to wake up Sara. There were too many views to be sleeping for another day. After arousing her and getting some grub in our bellies, we decided we needed to go see Amphitheatre Lake. The views there were equally amazing. With still a little snow on the ground, the views were comparative to Surprise or Delta. Everywhere you go in the Tetons, the views are amazing/stunning/breathtaking/fill in your choice of words. And this trip was no different. Amphitheatre Lake was an easy .2 miles (or less) from our campsite, a very short walk. With just a couple hundred feet of elevation difference, it is a worthy trip.

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Amphitheatre Lake

We hung out on some large rocks at Amphitheatre Lake and soaked up the sun. After getting our fill I had to take Sara to see the other views I had already seen.  Walking back from Amphitheatre Lake we decided to do a little mountaineering, trying to hike on the rocks in the area. Having only rinsed the day before, I needed another rinsing. Amphitheatre Lake flows into Surprise Lake via a nice waterfall. I stripped down and hopped in. I had never bathed under a waterfall so I had to try it. THAT WAS COLD, but not as cold as Jackson Lake in late May, but cold none-the-less.

Amphitheater Lake Trail Outlet into Surprise Lake

Amphitheater Lake Trail Outlet into Surprise Lake

From there we explored the other side of Surprise Lake and the Surprise Lake outlet. I had already explored that area, but this time I was with someone so I could be a little more bold. I decided to hike down a little bit of the outlet so I could free climb back up another side. That was sketchy. The rocks around the outlet give you no warning before giving out, so you need to check every hold and footing twice (or more) before trusting it. After messing around doing some climbing we headed back to camp for dinner. After yet another typical meal of rice, lentils, and some dried fruit we shut it down.

The following morning my deer friend visited me while I was cooking breakfast again. I would soon learn that the animals that call the Tetons home are, in fact, very bold. After packing up we trotted out. Once we started out my pace was ferocious. I knew that if I stopped I wasn’t going to make it.

When we made it to the car my pack came off me like it was an equally charged magnet. My quad hurt for the next two weeks, but the memories and views from that trip will be remembered for a lifetime.

I’m trying as quickly as possible to catch up on my summer adventures so I can bring you up to speed on my winter adventures! Don’t worry, the season has only just begun and there haven’t been many adventures — yet.

Marriage Isn’t For You

Brady Landry:

On point.

Originally posted on Seth Adam Smith:

Kim and I

Kim and I

Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me.

Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading.

I met my wife in high school when we were 15 years old. We were friends for ten years until…until we decided no longer wanted to be just friends. :) I strongly recommend that best friends fall in love. Good times will be had by all.

Nevertheless, falling in love with my best friend did not prevent me from having certain fears and anxieties about getting married. The nearer Kim and I approached the decision to marry, the more I was filled with a paralyzing fear. Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?

Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my…

View original 572 more words

WOW. THAT was a summer — Part 4

With all the crazy adventures, I had to pace myself and just do some relaxing activities. It is unbelievable how many things you can do in the Tetons. If you have an open mind you will never be bored — or inside. I worked at a central lodge in the park, and while things weren’t always close, they were never too far away. About 20 minutes away from the lodge was one our favorite places to go. It’s a small swimming hole called String Lake. It never gets more than 6 feet deep and the water heats up nicely once the sun heats it up for a few days.

Beachside at String Lake

Beachside at String Lake

You just don’t understand how amazing America is until you get a chance to truly experience it. You are probably expecting some wild adventure here, nope. None here. Although when this picture was taken, it was still early in the season and the lake had yet to heat up. Temperatures were hovering near the mid 40′s and we decided we had to jump in. It wasn’t bad when you first jump in, but about two strokes out the cold sets in and literally sucks the air out of your lungs.

Here’s the adventure:

Another benefit of working for Vail Resorts opposed to working for another resort out there, you get access to all the activities available to the guests. And working as an Activities Desk Agent we were encouraged to do the activities. So I did. Many, many times. My favorite activity was the supper float. It featured a magnificent steak and FRESH Idaho river trout, and some other stuff.

Makes ya hungry, doesn't it?

Makes ya hungry, doesn’t it?

All that "other stuff"

All that “other stuff”

Most important was steak and fish. When working in the Tetons you don’t have access to a kitchen and instead must rely on the employee dining rooms. Most of the season the slop fed to us was barely edible. But the supper float offered me a chance at a fresh meal.

For a brief period one of our other activities was out of commission so we decided to offer, what we referred to as, the “limited edition” breakfast float. Same float, just earlier and fish and eggs instead of steak and fish. Still a win. I decided I was going to try to just go activity to activity really experience everything our lodge was offering. In typical fashion I found people to join in the misadventures, again with a nice menagerie of individuals from various departments. We met up at a nice and early 630am to depart.

The breakfast was spectacular (sadly, no photos). My friend Kory and I just destroyed everything in front of us. Anything that wasn’t eaten had to be thrown away and we refuse to waste good food. After gorging ourselves we loaded into the raft.

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Float Time

 

It was a small group, the four of us and two guests. As usual, we had a blast! It’s hard to not have fun out there. We were fortunate enough to catch a baby moose and several eagles. Of course the cherry topping was the sunrise shining down illuminating the Tetons.

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Baby Moose

 

Once we finished our float our next plan of attack was the horseback ride at the lodge just north of us, Colter Bay. We got there a tad early so we went exploring on a small trail near there called Lakeshore Trail.

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The sky looked ominous, but we prayed for the best. Off for our horseback adventure. Having decided to do the short ride, 1 hour, we thought we would be ok. That was the most painful experience of the Tetons. Those horses walked so slow I could hike faster. The group of riders was 12 strong and, as employees, we were put in the middle making it impossible to hear anything that the guides at the front or rear had to say. In addition to walking painfully slow the horses almost seemed to enjoy walking as close to tree trunks as possible. Several instances I thought I would lose a leg on a tree.

The Four Brave Adventurers

The Four Brave Adventurers

Despite all the bad, we had a blast. I don’t think I stopped laughing the entire trip. It was also the birthplace of one our favorite sayings of the summer — blisteringly slow.

After our horseback ride we planned on doing some hiking and then returning for the dinner horseback ride. There was no way we were going to do that. I could barely walk as is, add in another 2-3 hour horseback ride and I would be crippled the rest of summer. Fearing we would upset some of our bosses if we canceled our trip so close to departure time we prayed for rain. Thankful it had held off raining all day we did some rain dances. They were more rain crawls as dancing was not an option after the horses. IT WORKED! It started to downpour and the supper ride was subsequently canceled. We retreated back to our lodge and rested our knees for our next adventure the following week.

 

WOW. THAT was a summer – Part 3

Worth the trip

The best part of working in the Tetons was how the amount of outdoor activities. Every day you had a chance to experience the outdoor life. Sometimes the outdoor life would come to you. I remember one morning heading into work, it was just like any other normal day. Just as I turned onto the main road BEAR! Something had scared him up into a tree and he decided to take a nap. For the next several hours the park rangers closed off a large area of the cabins.

Life in the Tetons really was about what you put into it. An open mind to new opportunities will benefit you greatly. I never said no, no matter how wild the idea seemed. I remember the first time I heard about a hot spring up near Flagg Ranch (about 45 min north of where I was). As much as I didn’t want to drive that far, I had to experience it. Plus, I was still sore from all my other adventures, a little hot tub time would be good. This hot spring of course wasn’t on any map, and I only got vague direction from some coworkers. Good enough for me! I gathered up the same individuals as before and mobilized. As you are probably aware, our group is special. All we brought were the essentials: beer, towels, and dry clothes. Based on the directions I tried to remembered, we parked where I thought we were supposed to. And started hiking out. The trail was easy — nice and flat very clear to see. We happened across a river, which I was told was a small stream. I was worried, but certainly did not let anyone else know. I volunteered to go across first, to ease everyone’s minds. Across they went…

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…shoes in one hand and towel in the other we crossed. WE MADE IT! After everyone put back on their shoes the next question was where are these hot springs? We saw two trails and decided to just follow one. We started walking and something didn’t feel right. It wasn’t quite what I envisioned as I am trying to remember directions. Off in the distance we see some steam rising. Our logic kicked in, “Well, we know there is hot water that way. Let’s go that way.” We started going off trail heading toward some illusive hot springs.

We found little puddles with steam coming off. Not wanting to risk anything serious, I dropped a leaf in. I’m not sure what I was expecting, maybe the leaf would instantly go “poof” into a ball of smoke, but the leaf seemed alright. I decided I would risk a big toe. SAFE! But ouch, it was seriously hot. We were onto something. Following the little stream off this puddle we found a large pool of steamy water. MADE IT! Again, the same test was conducted, first leaf, then big toe. All good, and much cooler than the previous puddle. We all hopped in. Of course the threat of brain eating amoebas was a serious concern but dunking in water was the only way to keep mosquitoes from eating you alive, so no one dared dunk their head but noone wanted to be out of the water either. We all soaked up the hot springs for a couple hours and watched the sun set admiring the stars and clear skies above.

Worth the trip

Worth the trip

Once the sun set, the lack of planning became evident. As we all climb out of the springs we realize all the light we have is 2 cellphones and some moonlight. Having done some light scouting during the daylight we found the same river we originally crossed and followed that. Under the cover of darkness and scant iphone light we found the area we crossed. Crossing that river in pitch black is not the business. I smashed my toes and knees on every rock I possibly could.  Just as we cross the river we hear some noises off in the distance and the sudden realization that it could be a bear or other large animal set in. Every girl, and maybe the guys, screamed in panic. No lights + no bear spray + pitch black + unfamiliar area + being in the wilderness = bad news bears. Once everyone calmed down we listened for any more noises — nothing. We started heading back to the vehicles trying to make as much noise as we could (that deters bears). Some were singing, some were just being loud, but it worked. We made it back to the cars and ventured back to our lodge.

Another “Misadventure with Brady” was successful, with plenty more ahead.

WOW. THAT was a summer — Part 2

After surviving my first backcountry trip I caught the adventure bug. Working as an Activities Desk Agent gave me the perfect avenue to work through my new found obsession. If I wasn’t helping plan a guest’s adventures, I was planning my own. One of the perks of the position was free access to local businesses. I used that perk as often as possible. Once I found out that the Arial Tram in Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was free for the Lodge employees, I rallied 2 of the same camping crew and a coworker and headed out.

First off, the Tram is THE thing to do in the area. The views are amazing (every view was amazing in the Tetons). The Tram is basically a 15 minute ride up over 4,000 feet offering 360 degrees of unobstructed glorious landscape.

Views as we head up the tram

Views as we head up the tram

Once you get to the top the views only get better.

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After a few snowball wars the group decided to really maximize the opportunity and hike down the mountain. It was a modest 7 miles, and after our last trip we knew it couldn’t get any worse than that! We started making our way down the mountain when we realized we were about to make some horseshoe turns down the mountain. After looking at the options, I decided it was best to slide down what we could. Save steps! WOW.

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Sequence of events:

1. We were standing at #1, looking down. I saw nothing but snow, I should be able to stand and slide down, so I tried. It didnt work well, but I was already committed, so I sat down.

2. It worked too well. I started to pick up substantial speed (my path is #2) and I didnt plan it too well as…

3. Yea, a giant rock was in my path (#3). Couldn’t slow down, couldn’t abort mission. I timed my footing and just as the rock came under my feet I planted both feet on it and jumped over the top.

4. That got me sliding face first. I gained control — feet first. Just in time to realize yet another rock. Time to plant and launch yet again. I jumped over the next rock (#4) and decided that I had had enough. I was walking this out (#5).

Of course the rest of the group is still up at were I started #1, watching. They decided that looked like too much fun to pass up. They didn’t feel like launching over two boulders and moved down about 50 feet from my launch spot and follow suit. While they didn’t have deadly rocks, the three of them slid into each other midway down the hill and ended in a ball of bodies at the bottom of the trail.

Half mile down! Six and a half left. As we began to walk down winding with the trail, we had an opportunity to really get to know each other. The beautiful views of the lush forest combined with a lack of technology brought us all closer. It’s amazing how open people can be when technology and modern comforts have been removed and life is put in different perspective.

I wish I could say death-defying snow slides was the end of our adventure, but you should know better. About half way down the trail there was construction going on all around us. We carefully passed trucks and bulldozers and found a bucket tractor clearing some large rocks from the path, moving them down the hill. I was already living the experience of a lifetime, why not continue with it? I asked the guy if we could get in the scoop and hold us off the cliff. I was certainly expecting a no, but he had no issue! My friend climbed in and he held her off the side of the cliff while we took pictures.1011744_412538338859812_1427692792_n

After the brief excitement we continued trotting down the path. When we reached the bottom my friends could not get off craving Gushers (yes, the liquid filled fruit snack).  They had been craving them since we first got on the tram. In order to appease them as best I could, we went to Sidewinders Bar and Grill. Although I wasn’t sure how a bar and grill could substitute for a sugar snack, but it worked. Only ate out 3 times my entire summer, and this was one of those times. Ham topped bison burger? Yes please!

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Just a few weeks into summer and I was already embracing everything Grand Tetons had to offer.

Wow. THAT was a summer — Part 1

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Well, it has been awhile since my last blog. I got so wrapped up in summer I put many things on the backburner and focused entirely on the experience. Wyoming was just that — an experience. Albeit a little apprehensive to the idea of living in Wyoming, I am so blessed to have done it. The lessons, knowledge, and connections made there will last a lifetime. When you fully immerse yourself in God’s creation you gain a greater sense of who God is. You see the beauty around every corner, from small waterfalls to giant mountains. The views were incomparable. When I looked at the Tetons, I would get chills every time. Even when talking about it to others I still get chills. It’s a blessing to be able to move around and truly experience the world God so carefully crafted.

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Summer Highlights

While the entire summer was a blast, certain parts were more fun than others. Since graduating from the SUWS Outdoor Program almost 10 years ago, I have yet to return to the backcountry. This summer was full of backcountry camping. It is really the only way to truly experience the Tetons. Several stories of my time in the backcountry come to mind. Let’s start with one of my first adventures…

It was early in my time out in the Tetons, maybe first couple weeks, the weather was looking great, and I wanted to get out and camp — I just needed to get away from the employee village. It started with just two friends and quickly swelled into 8 (when a cute girl, or girls, want to join it’s hard to say no). Let’s just say this was the most ragtag group of backpackers I have ever met. Only two in the group actually came prepared, just so happens it was my two friends I initially asked. As the unofficial group leader, I found a great area to go camping. I called all the ranger stations in a futile attempt to get all the info I needed.

We all assembled at the trailhead ready to set out on what we thought was a modest 5 mile hike. We had to be the funniest group of campers in the Tetons history. 3 guys, 5 girls. Not everyone was able to find the appropriate gear, so in addition to tent space for 6, and sleeping bags for 7, the girls ended up using their Jansport backpacks they used in college, and bunjee corded sleeping bags and blankets onto it. Let’s not forget the footwear. Two had hiking boots, I wore Nike’s, and one even had combat boots — really? Combat boots for hiking? Yes, that is how my crew rolled that day.

After meeting at the trailhead, we headed out. I knew the trail was a bad idea when members started falling back and we hadn’t even made it a mile. That trail kept going, and kept going, higher and higher we climbed. About 5 miles in, a friend of mine and I discovered that it was certainly not a 5 mile hike, and we had at least another 5 to go. Although it was not the longest mileage-wise hike of my time out there, it certainly felt at least twice as long as it was.

The only thing that really continued to motivate the group was the views. Stunning. As we wound through the canyons it seemed like every turn resulted in a better view. As we rounded one of the final turns and start heading down into a canyon we look down and saw a large black bear running through the meadow. That was the first realization this was the real deal. We are now intertwined with nature. Shortly after watching this bear run wildly in the meadow we rounded 2 more corners and — WE MADE IT!

1049008_419709748142671_17564043_o  <–Bear was running around down here

It seemed almost in sync, everyone let out a huge sigh of relief and threw their packs to the ground, plopping down and hugging their pack as a pillow. One would think that’s enough excitement for one trip but no, no, this was just the beginning. Right next to our campsite was a beautiful river, and we all decided we needed to head  down there for awhile.  1052715_419710044809308_792422321_o <—River through camp

As the night progressed the group slowly started to split up, with each going off adventuring in different areas. The girls decided to hang out on a bridge over the river and have “girl time”. The guys on the other hand decided we wanted to drink glacier water. Vertical hiking was the only option. Remember I have Nike SB Dunks (skate shoes), one had Nike cross trainers, and the other decided barefoot was the best option (don’t even ask me why). Up we went! We climb up a solid 1500~2000 feet and looked out at the valley below us. We decided to take a seat and just take in the beauty around us. Suddenly, a very questionable cloud starts to roll in over the mountains. It’s so thick and heavy you can actually see the rain pouring out of it. We have to rush down the hill, having to save glacier water drinking for later. Just as we make it to camp it happens, the cloud sits over camp and starts to dump water. BAD. 1039658_419709651476014_133663240_o <–If you look closely you can see the fresh glacier melt-off near top center.

If you don’t know me, there is nothing I hate more than being wet in clothes. This rain just didn’t stop. Now flashback to the story’s beginning, this is my FIRST backcountry trip since my survival program. We didn’t use tents in my program, this whole idea of tents was new to me. Flash forward, its pouring rain. I of course thought tents were waterproof, so didn’t set up the rainfly at all. Things went from bad to worse. Water is leaking into my tent, I’m soaked from it. Fortunately for me I had my experienced, and still barefoot!, friend looking out for me. (ALWAYS take one person that knows what they are doing) Despite being wet (have I mentioned I HATE being wet) that day will go down as one of the best days ever. 8 People crammed into 3-2person tents, configured so our doors were facing each other, pouring rain — does it get any better? The stories and experience shared that night will be remembered for a very long time.

Eventually we all fell asleep and awoke to a beautiful sunny morning. My barefoot friend and I decided to climb for glacier water again while the rest of the group had had enough and headed out. The water was well worth the trip, so pure. Best water ever. After getting our fill we charged home, walking back in less than half the time it took to get out there — typical.

That was just the beginning to an amazing summer…