The Fittest Hotel in Florida

Beach Boot Camp WSFL-TV Harbor Beach MarriottUnless you travel with a personal trainer, it can be incredibly hard and inconvenient to stick with your fitness routine while you’re on vacation. But that’s not the case if you vacation at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in sunny Fort Lauderdale. Not only will you find it exceedingly easy to stick to your routine, but there’s also an astronomically high chance that you’ll expand your exercise horizons. Here are ten ways to break a sweat at this beachfront resort that has a gift shop stocked with athletic apparel and a breakfast attendant who you may run into at boot camp.

Col Bob.jpg.jpg1. Make a Date with the “Health Colonel”
Although he could win a congeniality award, Colonel Bob doesn’t mess around. He’s spent 30 years in the Army, but these days he can be found —still sporting fatigues— on the resort’s beach where he leads boot camp classes for guests and Fort Lauderdale locals. The 16-acre resort is home to South Florida’s largest private beach, and Colonel Bob makes a point of covering as much ground as possible. He provides the props, the sand provides the resistance, and knowing that there’s plenty of delicious food nearby to indulge in is plenty of motivation to drop and give Bob forty.

2. Get Out Your Ace Game
Practice your serve or play a full set— but whatever you do, don’t forget about the resort’s Tennis Happy Hour on Fridays. Every Friday, a tennis pro is on site to provide pointers, and guests are invited to meet other players and arrange matches. In addition to match play, guests can also sign up for clinics and programs that are offered on the resort’s two hard courts and two clay courts. Table tennis is also available.

3. Try Not to Travel
Not many Marriott properties can brag about on-site basketball courts, but this property isn’t included in that group. Guests can go from laying by the pool to shooting hoops in less than two minutes. Play for bragging rights, or play for higher stakes— the loser can always buy dinner for the winner at Sea Level, which is also less than two minutes away and serves fresh cuisine in a casual, outdoor setting with ocean views.

4. Paddle Past the Break
Conveniently located on the hotel’s beach, the Aloha Watersports hut is managed by a fun ensemble that can put even the most wary beginners at ease. The warm water and challenging, but manageable waves make for an ideal place to transition from still-water SUP to SUP surfing. Although Aloha offers 30-minute rentals, the experience is so intoxicating that you’ll probably end up wanting to SUP all summer long.

5. Salute the Sun
Pack your own mat or borrow a purple one from the resort, but unless you want them to be jealous, don’t tell your friends that you’ll be doing down dog with views of the beach. The resort offers yoga classes inside their fitness studio and outside on a terrace, so guests can easily squeeze in their favorite poses without having to practice in their room or leave the property to locate a studio.

6. Don’t Cut Class
Forget about the channel guide and fast food menu because the fitness class schedule is probably the most important handout at this resort. The classes, most of which are held on the first floor in the resort’s fitness studio, include spinning, P90X, power walking, water aerobics and Zumba. After a strenuous workout, guests can walk down the hallway and melt their sore muscles in the spa’s steam room.

7. Work Out, Whenever
Hitting the weights or logging some cardio is less of a chore in the resort’s fitness center which is open 24/7 and features floor-to-ceiling windows and state-of-the-art equipment. The resort can also arrange for guests to meet with personal trainers for one-on-one workouts and personalized fitness assessments. For guests looking for a little guidance, there’s a large community board that is frequently updated with recommended reps and routines.

8. Suit Up
The hardest part about swimming at the resort is picking a pool. Guests can choose between the large outdoor lagoon and the private indoor pool located in the adjacent spa. If swimming laps isn’t your thing, the resort offers dive-in movies at dusk where you can tread water while watching a family-friendly flick. For those who prefer to practice their strokes in saltwater, the inviting ocean is just yards away.

9. Dig in the Sand
The resistance of sand makes a resistance band seem like child’s play, and for those looking to maximize their calorie burn, beach volleyball is the perfect sport. Every day, the resort sets up a net on their private beach where guests can sweat it out in a friendly (or fiercely competitive) pickup game.

10. Battle for Bragging Rights
Although the resort has three gift shops, the best souvenir comes from the resort’s recreation department. This talented team designs unique teambuilding challenges and fun competitions akin to what one might see on an episode of Survivor. Whether it’s won in Beach Olympics or the Build-a-Boat Race, the “I Won Bragging Rights at Harbor Beach.” t-shirt is sure to turn heads for years to come.


10 Reasons to Ride and Crash at George Hincapie’s Hotel


South of France or South Carolina?

Cyclists rejoice. There is a hotel on a hill that was designed with you in mind. Offering mind-blowing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hotel Domestique could easily appeal to any traveler. But, it’s the two-wheelers who have the most to gain from a stay at this French chateau found twenty miles north of Greenville, South Carolina.


Not my photo, and not George and his real life brother, Richard.


The 13-room inn opened last August and is the brainchild of the brothers Hincapie. Yes, as in the legend “Big George,” who along with his brother Rich, had the brilliant idea to turn a countryside hotel into a hub for hardcore cyclists, beginners, and all bikers in between.

Here are ten reasons why you’ll want to ride and crash at Hotel Domestique.

Bike-in, Bike-out: The first sign that this property is bike-in and bike-out is the bench and storage bin in the hotel’s front entryway. This thoughtful threshold allows cyclists to put on or remove their cycling shoes without having to lean against anything or click and clack across the lobby. Hundreds of miles of world class cycling meet the front door, so there’s no need to start the car or waste daylight getting from point A to point B in order to begin your ride. Depending on the weather and time of day, there are also mobile bike racks set up outside the front door or just inside where guests can store their bikes.


A $10,000 bike that sets the bar as high as George’s seat.

Bike Valet: Prior to arriving at Hotel Domestique, guests who book a room through the hotel’s website have the option of requesting a bike rental. Because there are a limited number of high-end carbon BMC road and mountain bikes in the hotel’s fleet, it’s best to reserve a bike in advance. Once at the hotel, the bikes and gear are waiting for the guests who can request them each morning by using the in-room iPad.


Don’t move – there’s a scorpion on your shoulder.

hincapie gear 2.jpg

Wondering if I’ll ever wear the arm warmers…

Competent Concierge: A friendly concierge who has an emergency stash of ibuprofen (in bulk) mans the front desk and is on hand to help with everything from printing out cue sheets to arranging for a helmet fitting. The concierge can also provide directions to the closest bike shop, which is in the nearby town of Traveler’s Rest, or the best place to get biking apparel, which would be at the Hincapie Sportswearheadquarters in Greenville.

Bike Mechanic & More: The only thing more useful than a bellhop is a bike mechanic, and Hotel Domestique has a very competent one named Jeremiah. Jeremiah manages the hotel’s bike shop, and he seems to always be on hand to help lower a seat or fix a flat tire. In addition to the bike shop, there is also bike storage that allows riders to rest assured.

Le Tour: For diehard Tour de France fans, Hotel Domestique is like heaven. Each of the 13 rooms are named for stages in the tour, and as a throwback, the room keys are actual keys—not cards. The name of the hotel itself comes from the position that George had on the U.S. team. As a domestique, George was responsible for riding ahead and blocking the wind so the team’s leader—Lance Armstrong—could be positioned to pull ahead in the final stretch.


Head shot? Yes please!

Big George: The elephant in the room is built more like a gazelle, and he goes by George. The record-holding 17-time Tour de France competitor retired from pro-cycling in 2012, but he has yet to hang up his helmet. In fact, he rides with hotel guests. For those that aren’t lucky enough to join George on his weekly group rides, there’s always the option of using the in-room iPads to check out “George’s Routes”—George’s personal recommendations on where to ride. Pleasant and approachable, George is just like the rest of the staff at Hotel Domestique, except none of them have their portraits hanging in the hotel.

Restaurant 17: The hotel’s on-site restaurant is a destination in itself. Aptly named for the number of times George competed in the Tour de France, Restaurant 17 features the finest foods prepared by a talented team led by Executive Chef Adam Cooke. Cooke rides between shifts but still manages to serve outstanding food that is locally sourced. The menu is carefully crafted, and changes with what is in season. True to the cycling-theme, the bar has a signature cocktail called the wheel sucker—the term used for a cyclist who trails the leader very closely before taking off at the home stretch.


Bonus points if you can identify everything on the plate.

The Little Things: Between meals, guests can refuel at the hotel’s snack stations which include a mini fridge stocked with drinks, alcohol, an espresso machine, and plenty of healthy snacks including fresh fruit, trail mix, biscotti, and Skratch Lab energy samples. Guests will also want to take advantage of the hotel’s yoga room where they can stretch or receive a massage. The yoga room even has a shower so day-trippers can freshen up before dining at Restaurant 17.

The Bigger Things: For guests that aren’t into cycling (yet), there’s always the option of getting a complimentary day pass to the country club just down the road. Hotel Domestique has a great relationship with The Cliffs—a private residential community—where guests can utilize a fitness center, spa, and tennis courts. The hotel also has a 25-meter pool and an inviting library where guests can relax while their companions ride.


Dan and I rode with L to R, George’s friend who was training for an Ironman, Chef Adam Cooke, and George.

Location, Location, Vacation: It was no random act of relocation that the Hincapies, New York natives, settled in upstate South Carolina. It was here, in the mild climate and foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, that George could train year round for the Tour de France. Rural roads stretch high and low across the scenic terrain, and the hotel’s strategic location provides guests with the same unparalleled routes favored by this former pro-cyclist.

First published by The Active Times


Earth, breath and fire


Before there were blowtorches, there was blowing. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were fire breathers; not the colorful fire breathers seen at the circus, but a hardy, hairy crew who relied on fire much like their descendants depend on Wi-Fi.


canyon ranch

Just ask Randy Kinkade, Outdoor Sports Manager at Canyon Ranch, a revolutionary health and spa resort in Tucson, Arizona. Kinkade can take three sticks, a piece of string, and a pile of tinder and turn it into a fire faster than most mortals can fathom. Kinkade, who manages the resort’s relatively new Primitive Technology program, says fire making is surprisingly strenuous, and it’s not unusual for first-timers to break a sweat.

Before the last step, which is the blowing, Kinkade must first get his students to create a coal. Using tinder, also known as Jute fibers, and a few pieces of carved wood including a bow, one creates a coal by mastering the force of friction. Upper body and core strength are crucial, and stability is also a factor. It’s optimal to get down on one knee and wrap an arm around a shin. The objective is to combine the force of the arm and the leg to create one greater downward force that is applied to a carved piece of wood known as the drill.


The other arm, your right arm if you’re right-handed, wields the bow that is used to drive the drill into another carved piece of wood called the fireboard. It is the physically demanding friction between the bottom of the drill and the fireboard that creates the coal. The trick is to apply as much downward pressure as possible while working the bow back and forth as quickly as you can. Both tasks are more trying than they seem.

Randy.jpgThe payoff though, is priceless. Once you’ve created an adequate coal, you wrap the tinder around it. But you’re not done yet; you still need to breathe the fire to life. The breathing is an art in itself. While the tendency is to huff and puff and blow with reckless abandon, Kinkade uses a relaxed breath in a rhythmic manner as he slowly turns the tinder in his hands until it begins to smoke. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and in this case, a sense of accomplishment.

randyfire.jpgIn less than ten minutes, a few cold sticks and a pocketful of tinder have birthed a ball of flames. When you make something—whether it’s a pizza, a knife, or a fire—what you create has more personality if it comes from your hands. Kinkade believes that there is a difference between fire that comes from a little match and fire that comes from a little muscle exertion. After more than 30 years of making fire, Kinkade still lights up when he sees someone succeed. Even if it means he has to step in and help apply pressure or hold the bow. He taught his sons how to make fire and recalls camping trips where he told them that if they didn’t make the fire themselves, there would be no fire. Fortunately, he’s not as strict with his Canyon Ranch students.

But why would one want to learn such an archaic method for making fire? “Why not?” asks Kinkade who says that his students cite many different reasons for wanting to spend their time at an award-winning resort learning how to make fire. He also notes that his students are incredibly diverse. “You can’t point out one person in a crowd and say, ‘that’s the kind of person who would be interested in primitive technology.’” And maybe that’s why the Primitive Technology program is growing in popularity.

Fire making is actually just day one of the Primitive Technology program. The other three components include knife making, native awareness, and animal tracking. On day two, students are taught how to make string from the yucca plant before being taught how to use the string and obsidian to make a knife.

Day three is spent learning how to hone your peripheral vision in order to be more observant and track animals. Senses can atrophy much like muscles can atrophy, and Kinkade is a big proponent of practicing the use of peripheral vision. The four-day program culminates in a surprise team challenge known as the final test. The entire program takes place within the confines of the 150-acre property so students never have to worry about being dumped empty-handed in the nearby Sonoran desert. But they will have to be prepared to be taken back in time.

Although Kinkade hesitates to use the word primitive, saying, “Our ancestors had the same brain capacity as we do, they just didn’t have the foundation. In that sense the technology is not all that primitive.” Whatever you call it, this unique program is both physical and fun, and it’s hard to envision a better outdoor classroom than Canyon Ranch.


 This post was first published by the The Active Times

Memoirs of a Glacier

Glacier National Park (Montana side) 2013

The Pharaoh Lake Fantasies

The Wikipedia definition of camping is misleading.


It’s a bad sign when even the dog is not enjoying himself.

Camping is an outdoor recreational activity. The participants (known as campers) leave urban areas, their home region, or civilization and enjoy nature while spending one or several nights outdoors, usually at a campsite.

“Enjoy” is not the right word.


There is a huge difference between camping at Tubmill Marsh and camping at Pharaoh Lake.



Last weekend Dan and I decided to go camping in the Adirondacks. We were counting on spending the night in a lean-to overlooking Pharaoh Lake–an isolated lake accessible only by foot. 35, 376 feet to be exact. Due to a late start and a lost wallet, we ended up spending the night in a lean-to in the middle of a marsh. This was where the
fantasies began.






Dessert dreaming: We broke the cardinal rule of camping. We packed not one bar of chocolate. While I had packed a Milky Way with every intention of eating it for dessert at camp, I ate it in the car. At the time I think I justified it by thinking that it was one less thing I’d have to pack on my back. There is nothing quite like needing dessert in the middle of a marsh in the middle of the night. With the nearest chocolate many miles away, I began to fantasize.

We had arrived at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and we were setting up camp next to the river. 

wilder wonka

“There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination.”












Yankee and I. I’m in the yellow.


Dibs on the best bed: Sleeping bags scare me. I never know if something is hiding in the bottom of the sack. Something like a sock from a previous trip or something like an animal that is alive. We had packed no bedrolls or cots, so we had to spread out flat on the hard, cold, wood floor. In an effort to forget about the uncomfortable boards beneath me, I began to fantasize.

I was seven years old and in my parents’ warm waterbed. (I am now 24 years old and they still sleep in that waterbed.)


The note I left in the Tubmill Marsh guestbook.

Photo on 2012-09-27 at 08.17

Coffee tastes so much better when it comes from your favorite mug.

The I-want-it-my-way cafe: After a restless night in the lean-to, the first thing I wanted when I got (notice how I didn’t use the word “woke”) up was a cup of coffee. I don’t do black. Half milk, half coffee, two spoonfuls of creamer, and one sugar packet. Two of those. I drink two cups just like that every morning. Except this one. I found myself looking into a cup of instant coffee that Dan had made using most of the last of our drinking water. I was sitting on the edge of the lean-to wondering if that was a mosquito floating in my cup, and then suddenly, I wasn’t.

I was sitting in the most comfortable chair in the back of a cafe in Soho where I could look up from my copy of The New York Times to see a barista and a thousand dollar espresso machine. 


Horseshoe Pond you are such a tease!

Hello Horseshoe Pond Pharaoh Lake: After one cup of instant and some crushed cereal followed by a mushy banana, we began our five mile hike to Pharaoh Lake. It was brutal. The trail was a joke. Tacking up blue trail markers does not a trail make. Especially when the bushes are so thick and tall that you can’t even see the trail markers. After doing two miles in two hours, we saw a body of water. The map said Horseshoe Pond, but I saw something else.

Pharaoh Lake–sure it was smaller than expected, but it was also closer than expected. Meaning we could be out of these woods and back in the car by early afternoon before anyone had a chance to steal our things!



Who wants a s’more? Camping is all about the Albacore!

Did someone say fresh fish? After reapplying bug spray at Horseshoe Pond I heard a growl. It sounded like a black bear, but it came from my stomach. When we finally reached Pharaoh Lake hours later, we were both exhausted and ready for lunch. Dan had packed a fishing pole, and we had planned on catching fish to fry over the fire. But instead of reaching for the fishing pole, we reached for the pouches of tuna that we had packed as Plan B. I sat on a rock in the sun, shooed a snake away, and watched my tuna transform.



I even pretended that there were such things as sea plantains. Yum!



Our lunch was fresh lake trout and fried plantains. Dan and I had caught the most delicious school of fish. We even had enough to share with the dog!




Ice-cold and fresh-squeezed: Tuna begets thirst. Unfortunately, we had depleted our bottled water supply. We had foolishly packed only two bottles of water for two days. We used one to make that morning’s instant coffee, and the other one fell out of Dan’s backpack when he tripped mid-hike. (Perhaps he should have been wearing tactical boots instead of tennis shoes?) We didn’t notice that it was missing until we were at our thirstiest. Dan took out his camp stove and boiled some water from Pharaoh Lake. Sweating from the strenuous hike and the sun beating down on me, I gratefully took the cup of hot lake water that he handed to me, and I began to drink.



The ice cube to liquid ratio was ideal. My tongue tasted the most refreshing lemonade in the world, and I marveled that I was drinking it lakeside in the Adirondacks instead of in a booth at Applebee’s. 


How could I forget the Herbal Essences commercial? We left Pharaoh lake in the early afternoon so that we could make it back to the car before dark. We had to take the same lousy trail that we came in on. Dan had jumped into Pharaoh Lake but that lasted about two seconds because he was immediately bit by two fish. I decided that I was content with my many bug bites so I stayed out of the water and remained as sweaty and dirty as the dog. With hours of hiking ahead and indoor plumbing many miles away, I had to improvise.

“Yes, yes, YES!” herbal-essences-ad



It Takes a Village: Group Effort Goes Into Guidebook

As seen in The Costa Rica Star. Click here for more news on Costa Rica.   cover

Costa Rica Guidebook Unites Community:

 Author Asks Locals to Vote on Content

(Quepos, Costa Rica) Aug. 15, 2013— Using a private Facebook group open only to the residents of Manuel Antonio—one of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destinations—author Evelyn Gallardo determined what to include in her latest book: Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Travel Guide: The Best of Manuel Antonio & Quepos 2013.

Manuel Antonio National Park is less than 8 square miles, but it receives more than 150,000 annual visitors. Of the 27 travel activities available in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio offers 24 of them. This unique community-driven approach to pinpointing the best of the best in the area is nothing new to Gallardo who says:

“My annual book is an intimate insider’s guide to local favorites and what makes our beach resort town and the people in it tick. I distribute a questionnaire, the locals vote for their favorite restaurant, tour, artist, massage therapist, etc. Next, I interview and write a chapter about each of the winners. The value to readers is they receive recommendations from a collective group of people who spend time and money here every day.”

Instead of a book launch party, Gallardo recently hosted an awards party at the “Best Local Hangout” where the “Best Live Band” provided music.  Awards were presented to the category winners in front of the entire community who gathered to honor and celebrate their favorites.Winners_Circle_FBCover2013

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Travel Guide: The Best of Manuel Antonio & Quepos 2013 is available in paperback and for Kindle on Amazon and at

01fd415a7b950ad8956e05.L._V166335084_SX200_About the Author: Evelyn Gallardo first visited Costa Rica in 1988 as a wildlife photographer. She is the author of the award-winning book, Among the Orangutans – The Birute Galdikas Story and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Travel Guide: The Best of Manuel Antonio & Quepos, 2012. She has produced more than 100 videos about Costa Rica, travel, conservation, and primates. Evelyn currently runs a vacation rental home business in Manuel Antonio.

For more information, images, and interviews, please contact Katie Jackson at 406-366-0526 or


Life is not fair, but this fare is.


A colorful funeral procession for a young father who died in an electrical accident in Nicaragua.

If you’ve ever had to book a flight within a week of your departure date, you’ve probably cried or broken something upon seeing the outrageously high prices. A flight that would cost $200 if booked two months in advance could very likely set you back $1,200 if booked two days in advance. But life isn’t fair, and sometimes you don’t have a chance to plan ahead. Death is one of those times. Sure, it would be much more convenient if the Grim Reaper could give at least two weeks notice, but he’s not that considerate.


Animals don’t count as relatives so you’ll have to pay full price to attend Fido’s funeral.

Fortunately, some airlines are. Most major airlines will cut you slack if you have to buy a ticket at the last minute to attend the final services of an immediate relative. Technically, your immediate relative doesn’t even have to be dead. As long as you can prove death is imminent, some airlines will still discount your fare.

This discounted fare is known as a bereavement or compassion fare, and it could save you a lot of money. When my grandma passed away last June, and I had to fly home with only a day’s warning, I saved $200 by taking advantage of Delta’s bereavement fare.  It would have cost $800+ to book my flight online, but by calling Delta and explaining my situation, I got my flight for $600. To be honest, I showed up a day after my scheduled flight, but they felt sorry for me and got me out on the next flight at no extra charge.

To be eligible for a bereavement fare, usually the airline will ask you for the name and relation of your relative as well as the name and contact number of his or her doctor, hospital, or funeral home.  But different airlines have different policies, and for a breakdown of bereavement fares by airline, see this article. As airline policies tend to change before the ink is dry, it’s best to check directly with the airline. Sure you may have to do some searching online or spend a little time on the telephone, but it pays off.

For example, my grandpa died yesterday. I’m in New York, but his funeral will be held in Montana early next week. A quick search shows that a roundtrip ticket from Albany to Billings, leaving two days from now, will cost $1448. However, last night I spent exactly 14 minutes on the phone with a Delta representative who was able to get me the same itinerary for $1090. That’s a savings of $358, or almost $26 per minute that I spent on the phone. Usually Delta charges $25 to book a domestic flight over the phone, but because bereavement fares are not offered online, they waive the fee. They also waive their $200 change fee should the traveler need to make changes to his or her return trip.

Depending on the size of your family, you could save thousands of dollars by taking advantage of bereavement fares. I hope you don’t have to, but should you find yourself in these circumstances, at least you now know how to lessen the blow. The question is, how long will airlines offer these discounted fares?


Encountered this legacy on my travels through Virginia.

  • For information about Delta’s bereavement fare policy, see here.
  • For information about United’s bereavement fare policy, see here.
  • For information about American Airlines’ bereavement fare policy, see here.
  • For information about Air Canada’s bereavement fare policy, see here.



26.2 Miles & My First ‘thon

26.2 miles is too many. Running tops the list of things that I should like, but don’t. Also on the list is fireworks, blueberry muffins, yogurt, board games, and v-necks. It may seem like I don’t like a lot of things, but I do like to hike. That’s why I jumped at the chance to participate in Lake George’s first ever Hike-A-Thon last week. The event was to mark the 25th year anniversary of the Lake George Land Conservancy. Over 400 hikers (including at least one dog) took to the trails and simultaneously hiked in nine different preserves managed by the Conservancy which is dedicated to protecting the natural resources of the Lake George region.


This is not Lake George. This is a beaver pond. Yankee was my +1 and he appreciated the opportunity to cool off.

Truthfully, I only hiked 5.2 miles, but I did clock 26.2 miles because the distance from the apartment where we are spending the summer to the trailhead is approximately 13 miles each way. It was a nice drive.


Pressure to reach the peak was in the form of a helicopter hired to ferry a photographer who would take photos at predetermined times.


Thank you Adirondack Brewery for helping sponsor the Hike-A-Thon. Coupons are nice, but cash is king…

I didn’t get a medal for participating, but there was no participation fee, and I did get a free t-shirt and a goodie bag with a magnet, some brochures, and coupons for free beer. I don’t like beer (also on the list above); however, I’ve recently taken up couponing (future post) so I walked away as one happy hiker. It also helps that I found a bag of unopened Chips Ahoy! in the road as I was leaving the lot. I ate every cookie as if I had just run a marathon, and my body needed each crumb to compensate for calories burned.

chopperI can’t say that I’ve ever done a marathon, and I probably never will, but I can say that I participated in the inaugural Lake George Hike-A-Thon. Rumor has it that it will become an annual event, and if I were a drinker, I’d drink to that.

For more information on Lake George, or Lake Jorge as I call it, check out this website and/or watch The Last of the Mohicans starring Daniel Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe.


Photo courtesy of The movie is based on the historical novel and takes place near Lake George.

Find Your Fuel

liquido magico

Fuel: a source of sustenance or incentive.

My mom once won the grand prize at a fundraiser. It was an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas for two. She should have taken my dad. But she didn’t. She didn’t take anyone because she never took the trip. My mom didn’t want to go to the middle of a desert so she donated the trip back.


This is me being happy while snorkeling.

Like my mom, I am currently in the running for a free trip. (This is my entry for the Find Yours contest sponsored by Expedia and the National Film Festival for Talented Youth.) Unlike my mom, I get to pick where I want to go if I win. The options include Seattle, London, Paris, and even Australia–home to the Great Barrier Reef which I must see in order to die happy.

I like being happy. I like being content. And comfortable. And in the company of others who are like me. All things considered, I should pick Australia. It couldn’t be more “Katie.”

But I can’t. Instead, I must pick one of the last places on earth that I (much like my mother) want to go: the middle of a desert. As uncomfortable as my mom would be in the Mojave, I will be twenty times that in Morocco where I imagine the Sahara swallowing me whole before spitting me out as pink and defeated as bubblegum stuck on a busy sidewalk. But I know I have to pick Morocco because that is where I will have the best chance of finding what I am looking for, fuel.

2008. Now I know why I felt compelled to paint the desert.

2008. Now I know why I felt compelled to paint the desert.


A boy in Nicaragua runs out of fuel.

This isn’t the fuel that you pay almost $4 a gallon for at the gas station. I’m looking to find the sort of fuel that keeps your inner fire burning in times of discomfort and despair.  The kind of fuel that can only be found in distant reserves where it is the product of a foreign people who are the only ones able to ignite it. The grade of fuel that you pay for with sweat and sunburns and failed attempts to converse in different languages. I have burned this fuel, and always it has been in unfamiliar territory. In places where I am far from home. At times when I find myself humbled because things are not going my way and as badly as I wish I could be somewhere else, I must live in the moment.


A sign at the gym. I never WANT to go to the gym, but I always leave feeling glad I did.


Lost and alone on an island, I encountered this girl who made me forget all about my problems. #fuel


My fuel is in Morocco. It is in the country where I will enter as an afraid outsider and leave as a privileged insider. It is in the land where I will be drawn so far out of my comfort zone that I never want back in. The fuel I’m looking for belongs to the people that live there, and it is only in my interactions with them and their culture that I will find my fuel. My energy is in Morocco, and I thank Expedia and NFFTY for the opportunity to capture it on camera. Here’s what it would look like:

Photo courtesy of, but I can't wait to take my own photos!

Photo courtesy of, but I can’t wait to take my own photos!

A pale girl with freckles and large teeth closes her notebook which is blank except for a few words which are all crossed out. She folds up her tray table and leans over the sleeping man sitting in the window seat to stare out the window as the plane circles above Casablanca. Her already-big eyes get bigger when she sees the massive Hassan II Mosque rising directly out of the ocean below. Jump to later that day with a shot from the knees down. A group of bare feet fill the frame until the camera zooms in on a pair of feet lagging behind the crowd. The camera pans up to the girl from the plane who is nervously fingering a cross which hangs on her neck as she looks up at the overwhelming interior of the mosque. She lets go of the necklace charm as a hand comes into the frame. It belongs to a Moroccan woman wearing the traditional jelaba. She greets her by saying something in Arabic. Flashback. The girl is sitting on the plane absentmindedly staring at her Arabic phrasebook which seems to be as neglected as her notebook. The camera zooms in on greetings.

Peace be with you: Assalamu alaikum.

Back in the mosque. The girl hesitates and then, remembering as best she can, she says “salami.” The Moroccan woman laughs. The girl laughs. The Moroccan woman corrects her, “assalamu alaikum. The camera pans to the girl and zooms in to capture the forced movements of her mouth as she repeats it back to her. Except the camera then reveals that it isn’t a her. It’s a Moroccan man selling spices in a busy market.


Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Journeys.

The man is nearly hidden behind the heaps of colorful spices, and the girl has no idea what they are so she points to the nearest pile which is the color of sand.The camera zooms in on the spice as the market noises are replaced by the sound of wind. The camera zooms back out to reveal that the spice is no longer the spice, but the Sahara. The girl comes into view. Her skin has a little color and she looks a little less like the lost-looking girl from the mosque and a little more like a seasoned traveler. She is sitting outside of a tent with her now half-filled notebook resting on her lap. The camera zooms in on her pen.


The camera cuts to the face of a camel.

The final scene involves an infinite number of stars in the sky as night falls in the desert and the girl is eating dinner with a family of nomads. By the light of the fire, she sketches a drawing of her family to show the youngest Berber boy that she has a brother like him at home. She hands him the notebook and on the last blank page left in the notebook, he begins to draw…


For more information on the contest & to enter to Find Your _____, click here.




For the Love of Dogs



One day I thought I wanted to trade my desk job for a dog-walking job, and then it rained.


I’m definitely in a funk like Monk.

Much like those travelers who need to know where the nearest U.S. embassy, Apple store, running path, public restroom, free WiFi, outlet, etc. is at all times, I need to know the location of the nearest large breed dog. I was raised in a family where a dog wasn’t considered a dog unless it weighed at least 100 lbs, and frankly, I don’t mind limiting myself to large breeds. The “term” gentle giant is oft overused, and I hate to use it myself, but it perfectly describes the type of pup that I was put on this earth to look for and love.


Pre-Europe backpacking trip practicing with my Grandma’s Great Pyrenees puppy.


I was also put on this earth to travel (says my birth certificate I think), but doing so with a large dog is about as easy as it was for Beethoven’s owners in whichever Beethoven sequel it is that they rent an RV and go on the most-stressful road trip in the history of sequels. So how do I manage to fulfill both of my earthly duties at the same time? Easy. I travel to other people’s large dogs.


My cousin’s Great Pyrenees and I. Having huge dogs is a family affair!



For example when I was studying in Europe  during college my classmates planned a spring break trip to the party island of Ibiza, Spain. I should have been pumped to go with them, but instead I was emailing dog owners located everywhere from Russia to England to see if any would host me for my spring break. I found them by going to Google and typing in Europe + Great Pyrenees because that is the breed I always had growing up. After contacting everyone whose contact information was online, I finally heard back from an English couple living in southern France.


Where is the IAMs? I AM pretty sure these dogs eat better than most of France.


Yes, they would be willing to host me for a few days in exchange for help taking care of their thirteen  dogs. These weren’t just any dogs. These were micro-chipped Great Pyrenees who met my weight requirements and possessed incredible pedigrees along with their own frequently-used UK passports. Without knowing these people, I followed their directions to fly into the airport in Toulouse where I was picked up a couple of weeks later by a car full of dogs.


Here I am being pulled by 300 lbs of dog in the south of France.


While my classmates were getting wasted and sunning themselves on the sand during their spring break in Spain, I was wiping drool off my pants and trying to eat enough food to fuel me for days comprised of three-mile walks in the French countryside, two dogs at a time, twice a day. Honestly I’ve never had so much fun or swallowed so much fur.


If you’re a dog lover, you MUST check out Staveleigh House. Excellent bed, breakfast, and I didn’t even hear barking!


This past fall, I took my parents on a leaf-peeping trip in New England. As the person responsible for finding (not paying for) accommodations, I used my Google skills again to find a bed and breakfast owner that had Great Pyrenees. It was a long shot since the breed is not that popular, but I hit the jackpot when I found Staveleigh House in the Berkshires. The innkeeper, Ali Winston, fosters rescued pyrs, so it was a no-brainer that we’d stay there.


Be careful, Leonbergers have licker licenses and they’re not afraid to use them.


And then there was that Christmas when I used Google to find the nearest (and probably only) Leonbergers in the state of Montana. Leonbergers are really neat dogs and both males and females easily exceed my weight requirement. I emailed their owner (you can find anything on the internet) and asked if my family could visit over Christmas break. She said sure, so I printed out  directions to their house and wrapped them in a box which I labeled To: Dad, From: Santa. I tried to leave the destination a mystery, but he is very familiar with my hidden agendas. He drove 4+ hours, and had to dig our Honda out of the snow because it was during a typical Montana winter storm, but the road trip which resulted in the love fest above was well worth it!

Next on my agenda is to get my family to come visit me in upstate New York where I am spending the summer. Thirty miles away is New Skete, a religious community where the monks train German shepherds and the nuns make gourmet cheesecake!


L-R, in Central Park, dog-jacking a busy walker’s pack, high in the Austrian Alps, Madison Square Garden with Moose the therapy dog, and Apollo, a pyr I traveled to Martha’s Vineyard to visit.


L-R Top-Bottom: In Harlem before an animal blessing at the cathedral, at a birthday party in the Hamptons, at home with my late dog Zoe who wanted to travel with me, and in Chicago with my favorite kind of Chicago-style dog.


In Florida I had to visit the town of Dunedin, a.k.a. “Dog Eden” where renditions of the deceased dogs of locals grace the sides of a building downtown. R.I.P. all past pets!