This past weekend I helped out at one of my favorite events: the Style & Edit Swap and Sip! It’s a clothing swap (with wine) and some great finds. There’s a small fee to participate, but that helps ensure a great space and quality items.
Personally, I came home with a new faux fur vest, a pair of jeans, a beautiful pink wool J. Crew coat, and a top. I also grabbed another pair of jeans but they turned out to be too big. Guess someone else will score them at the next swap!
All evening, though, I kept getting compliments on my outfit. I had on a pair of faux leather leggings from Shopbop, a top from Moonfish, ballet flats from a previous clothing swap, and a bralette, also from Shopbop. In fact, it’s mostly the bralette I wanted to tell you about.
See, Shopbop is having a sale right now and you can stock up on these amazing Free People bralettes that I’m sure you’ve seen all over Instagram.
I now own this in five colors, plus a dupe I found at Francesca’s in two colors. I’ve basically given up on regular bras and now wear one of these almost every day. The top I was wearing at the clothing swap was oversized and off-the-shoulder so it showed off a little bit of the top of the bra. Perfect!
Anyway, I just wanted to take a moment and share this recent find. Also, make sure you follow Style & Edit and Moonfish and shop the Shopbop sale so you, too, can get compliments on your outfit!
This post contains affiliate links. I may make a small commission when you click on them.
I still can’t quite express to you how amazing it is to be able to be able to hike anywhere you want. It sounds terrifying and, to be honest, I was a little apprehensive about doing it on my own. Originally Stephanie and I decided that on our last day in Denali we would do some backcountry hiking but we’d stay within sight of the road. Well, John had other plans.
We amassed a group of 11 intrepid adventurers and, with instructions on where to get off the bus, we grabbed a seat on whichever bus had empty space and all met up at the start of a “social trail”.
Social trails aren’t official park trails, but frequent visitors to the park have favorite spots to start hikes and, over time, these become a little bit more worn in. The park doesn’t particularly want these to get traveled frequently, so they actually have instructions to not walk in a single file line.
It took awhile for all of us to get to the starting spot, but once we were there we hiked down to a creek and had our first water crossing adventure. I took my shoes off but, honestly, I don’t recommend it. Bring dry socks in your bag and you’ll be better off.
Our goal for this hike was to circle Cathedral Mountain. John, our guide, had done this particular hike before but we also had at least one map and one GPS device to keep us from getting too lost. But, really, as long as we kept the mountain on our left we’d be fine.
And that’s it! We hiked for 9 hours and over 10 miles, climbed up and down ridges, bushwhacked through waist-high brush, had some wildlife sightings, encountered only two other people, sang songs, got super grumpy, and cheered when we got back to the road.
Here’s a short photo journey of some of what we saw.
The plan? Hike down to the river bed and then hike along the river. But first we had to go around that lake down there.
And, since Stephanie and I are apparently caribou magnets, we had to navigate a herd of them.
We had to cross a creek and some spots in the river once we got there.
Walking down the riverbed seemed like walking on the face of some other planet.
We stopped for lunch. I saw a bear.
Our original plan was to walk along the river bed until we got back to the road. However, our plan was thwarted by signage telling us that we shouldn’t go any further because of wolf dens. Alrighty then!
We backtracked a bit looking for a way to climb up out of the river bed and get back onto the mountain side. That’s when we ran into a couple that said they’d seen a bear further up the mountain. This, of course, freaked out some of the people we were with. But, did you know that there has never been a bear attach on a group of four or more people? Pretty sure this group of 11 wasn’t going to have any problems.
In fact, our biggest problem was hiking through waist high brush. Let me tell you, after an hour or more of that I was getting pretty tired. I was more focused on trying to find the most expedient route than I was on taking pictures, to be honest.
In fact, I fully admit at this stage I just wanted to put my head down and forge on as fast as I could. But, we didn’t want to leave the back of the pack too far behind. So, we’d hike to small ridges and then wait for everyone to catch up. Rinse and repeat. Finally, we got back to a more wooded area and we started to see signs that other people had gone that same way.
And then, lo and behold, we found another river and just across it was a campsite! And then we found the road. Hooray!
Thankfully we had perfect weather, enough food and water (barely), and some great stories to tell.
I’d love to do a hike like this again, but maybe with fewer people. We didn’t see as much wildlife as I was expecting and we probably could have tried a few more strenuous routes with a slightly different group of people. Still, it was an experience I won’t soon forget and one that is really difficult to put into words or even photos.
Seriously, if you want to truly see Denali, I recommend doing a hiking trip with Sierra Club. I’m proof that there’s no previous experience required!
Didn’t mean to leave everyone hanging after my last two posts! But, really, a good story takes a while to tell, right? And this next chapter includes my first real “backcountry” hike, bears, caribou, and pretending to be a park ranger in Denali. Yes, you read that right.
When you last left the two of the heroes of this story (aka my friend Stephanie and myself) decided to leave Wonder Lake and take the bus back to Eielson Visitor’s Center.
Panorama of the view from Eielson
We’d decided we wanted to hike the Old Gorge Creek Trail since it was the one our friend John had worked on. However, when we arrived at Eielson this sign greeted us at the trailhead.
Oooookay. I guess we won’t go that way! Instead, we decided to try the Alpine Trail. Which had something like over 1000 feet of elevation gain in under a mile. Whew!
But, the views were spectacular.
Over three quarters of the way to the “top” this sign greeted us:
Eh, you know what? You only live once! Stephanie and I decided to ignore the sign and go ahead. Thank goodness we did because the views only got better. Also, we got our first real taste of hiking without a trail.
Yep, THIS sign means we were now free to roam wherever we wanted. And roam we did. We climbed a ridge and played in the snow.
That may look like a bank of clouds next to my left elbow, but it’s actually Mt. Denali!
Then, as we were exploring, we looked up as this guy came over the ridge and seemed to head straight for us!
Um, hello little guy. We’re caribou-friendly, I promise! Stephanie and I froze and reviewed the wildlife safety tips we’d read and what John had shared. Bear? Freeze, spread your arms, and be loud. Moose? Run and get behind a tree. Caribou? NO IDEA! So, we froze and just chatted with each other figuring if we ignored him then he would ignore us. He stopped, looked at us, and then continued on his way along the ridge.
Stephanie and I marveled at how close he’d come and then continued marveling at the fact that we were on a mountain, in Alaska, and we could walk wherever we wanted!
We didn’t stay up there forever, though. While we were hiking up Alpine we turned around to take in the view and saw mama bear and her little cub almost a mile away, down the mountain, wandering away from the trail we’d wanted to hike originally. The little tan specks were barely discernible as bears, but it’s definitely what they were. So, we headed back down to see if it was safe to hike Gorge Trail.
Turns out it was, but we didn’t really have time to hike all of it before we needed to catch the last bus that would get us back to our campsite in time for dinner and the evening’s ranger talk.
And, let me tell you, it’s a good thing we got back in time. Because this evening ended up being one of my favorite stories of the trip.
See, a few evenings a week, a ranger comes to the campground and does an educational talk on something to do with Denali. I’d see on the schedule on the bulletin board at Eielson that this evening’s was on “Dinosaurs in Denali”. Sounds like an interesting way to spend an hour.
After dinner and a little before 7PM, Stephanie and I started walking to the “amphitheater” (aka the clearing with log benches) to hear the ranger talk scheduled to start at 7. As we got close, a man came running up to us.
“Have you seen the Smith family? Their son is injured! He was bit by a dog!!”
Whoa. Okay. I knew the ranger would be at the amphitheater and I knew the campground also had a host station where someone should be with a radio. I looked at Stephanie and told her to go get the ranger and I would go get the host. Off we ran in separate directions.
On my way to the host, I ran into a guy I’d talked to the day before. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I got the host and they’re radioing for an ambulance.” Don’t forget – cell phones don’t work in backcountry!
I ran back to Stephanie and saw that the ranger was with the boy and his family. Okay, great. “Someone needs to tell people that the ranger talk might not happen,” I said.
“Go for it,” Stephanie said.
Well. It’s a good thing I’ve been in Toastmasters for years and don’t have a fear of public speaking!
So, I went up in front of a group of 20 or so people to explain the situation. “You can wait and see if the ranger comes back, though.”
At that point, my friend John came up to stand next to me. “While we’re waiting,” he said, “what animals have you seen in the park so far?”
And that’s when I noticed the ranger had left all of her notes and visual aids on the bench behind me.
Yes, together John and I gave the presentation on Dinosaurs in Denali to a packed house! And then John explained more about trail building and maintenance in the park and we attempted to answer questions.
Let me remind you: I’d been in Alaska less than a week and in Denali for less than 3 days. Still, we did a good enough job that we got compliments from people who attended when we saw them the next day. And no one left while we were speaking! The ranger didn’t come back while we were talking and when we left after over an hour she was still with the kid and his family. We heard later that the ambulance was delayed because there was a moose on the road. Only in Alaska, right?
Thinking about taking a trip of your own next summer? No one says you have to end up giving a ranger talk! But you will need to pack the right stuff. My last post gave my recommendations and many of them are on sale again at Shopbop.
Let’s take a quick break from talking about what I did in Alaska to talk about what I wore. My friend put together an excellent packing list that I used as my guide. But, I had some workhorses that I wore over and over again. I mean, hey, I never got that sweaty and who cares if your pants are a little muddy?
Most of my items came from REI. I swear, I just handed them my paycheck. I bought my first pair of hiking boots and LOVED them. They’ll probably become my winter boots, too, for when it’s gross and slushy outside. They’re super comfortable, waterproof, and I hiked 10+ miles in one day in them with no blisters. Total winners.
I also bought two pairs of convertible pants. I never did zip them off into shorts, but I loved having so many pockets. Plus, they were water resistant which was perfect for glacier climbing and kayaking and, for, uh, learning how to “go” in the woods. I also bought a pair of these North Face pants and they were great for travel. Now they’re my go-to post-workout pants at home.
Oh, and I can’t forget my rain jacket that my friend Annabelle gave me!
Of course, when I wasn’t hiking or climbing or being active, I needed something to wear around the campsite. My recommendation? Sweatpants and a sweatshirt. They’re even perfect for giving a ranger talk. Long story. I’ll share it soon!
My sweatshirt was also a gift from Annabelle but my sweatpants are from Shopbop. And, yes, Shopbop is having a sale if you want to stock up on sweatpants, or sports bras, or other activewear or athleisure. Look! It comes in handy for the gym, for lounging around the house, or pretending you know what you’re talking about in front of a group of strangers.
The sale starts today if you use the Shopbop Mobile App or tomorrow if you don’t. But I recommend you don’t wait as things do sell out quickly. What’s the sale, you ask?
20% off orders under $500
25% off orders of $500 or more
Use code STOCKUP18 when you checkout
My exact sweatpants are here. I also recommend a few running or sweat-wicking tops like this one to wear as base layers. Also, if you’re going hiking, you’re going to want to wear something other than your hiking boots around camp. A pair of sneakers is perfect. Mine are Nike but I really like these, too.
Oh, and some sports bras. That’s what I wore the entire trip. And lots of socks. Having clean socks is the best. I bought a bunch of SmartWool socks and plan to wear them a lot this winter, too.
Other items I recommend? A packable vest, at least one pair of running tights or leggings, a hat, sunglasses and gloves (especially if you want to go glacier climbing!) I think I wore everything I brought at least once. And, to be honest, I could have worn some things a few more times than I did.
Figuring out how to layer is key. Most days I wore a sports bra, running tank top, long sleeved running top, my vest, a jacket and a pair of my convertible pants. Then I would strip off a layer on top and put it in my backpack as I got warm.
I learned a lot on this trip. How to dress for summer in Alaska is just one of the many things. In my next post I’ll tell you what I learned about behaving around caribou, what happens when there are bears on the trail you want to hike, and how to pretend you know everything there is to know about dinosaurs in Denali.
As promised in Part 3, it’s time to talk about Denali’s back country. I fully admit that when I signed up for this trip I had no idea what to expect. I purposefully chose not to Google everything on the itinerary. I trusted my friend who was putting the trip together and I trusted that we’d have a good time.
Turns out this was the BEST decision. I was able to learn so much while there, whereas reading about it online ahead of time would not have done it justice. For example, what the heck does “backcountry” mean?
Traveling and camping in this expansive terrain is special. The lack
of developed trails, bridges, or campsites means that you are free
to determine your own route and discover Denali for yourself. – source
Backcountry means you can only get to this part of the park if A. you have a special permit to drive and camp at Teklanika River and/or B. you purchase a park bus pass to ride the bus past Savage River.
We had the special permit to drive our RVs to the Tek campground. However, we had a slight snafu when two of our RVs missed the turn to the campground and had to figure out how to turn around on the super narrow gravel road!
Hanging out, eating trail mix, waiting for our other RVs to figure out how to turn around
Thankfully, everyone finally arrived at the campsite safely and with enough time to set up and get in a short hike along the river before dinner. I stayed behind and read my book, though. Hey, when you’re traveling with 17 people you’ve got to find some peace and quiet when you can.
After dinner we discussed the plan for the next day. We had guaranteed seat bus passes on the first bus of the day that allowed us to take the bus all the way to Wonder Lake, aka the end of the road. However, this can be a 4+ hour bus ride from Teklanika! Why so long? Well, the buses stop for wildlife and at several other scenic areas. Also, backcountry campers with permits to camp outside of designated campgrounds and hikers that want to hike in the backcountry can ask the bus to stop anywhere along the road and get out. Plus, the road is entirely gravel and is barely two lanes wide!
All of this makes for an interesting trip. I admit, Wonder Lake is the one thing I Googled in advance because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to ride the bus all the way there. However, if the weather was just right it would be the best view of Mt. Denali (f/k/a Mt. McKinley). I didn’t want to get so close and then regret not going. So, I decided to ride all the way to Wonder Lake.
I also figured that riding all the way out to Wonder Lake would give me the best sense of what to expect of backcountry. And, let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint.
We definitely saw wildlife (caribou trotted in front of the bus for awhile), and we saw some amazing vistas.
This stretch is known as Polychrome.
Once we got to Wonder Lake, though, we realized that it was too cloudy to see Mt. Denali and that Wonder Lake is, in words my mom once used to describe a lake in Minnesota, “a mosquito infested weed hole.”
Thank goodness our friend added “mosquito head net” to our packing lists
Okay, maybe it was still pretty, but some of us quickly decided we’d rather ride the bus back to Eielson Visitor’s Center and hike two of the only three groomed trails in backcountry.
And that’s where I’ll pick up the story next time.
In today’s installment of “So you want to take an Alaskan vacation”, we’re going to talk about Denali National Park and Preserve. And if you need a refresher of how we got here, don’t forget to read Part 1 and Part 2.
When I left off last time, we’d just finished running the Anchorage Marathon and were getting ready to take RVs to camp in Denali.
This part of the trip is going to be the most difficult to write about. Why? Because SO MUCH happened. Plus, the magnificence of Denali National Park and Preserve is almost impossible to explain. But, I’ll do my best.
We rented the RVs from Great Alaskan Holiday and they came with everything we needed except food, a camp stove, and wash basins. Thankfully, part of our group went shopping for ALL THE FOOD the day before and our group leader could borrow some other items from Sierra Club friends.
All of our meals while camping were planned out so there was never any scrambling or wondering what to make. I promise, that made life so much easier.
Anyway, the morning after the race we loaded up the three RVs and started the 6+ hour drive from Anchorage to Denali. The drive went pretty quickly and before we knew it we were at the Denali Visitor’s Center.
We didn’t hang around for too long, though, because several of us wanted to hike the trail from the Visitor’s Center to the Sled Dog Kennels!
Yes, Denali park rangers still use sled dogs to get around in the winter. Why? Because there’s only one road in all of Denali! Yes, six million acres with one road.
While we were visiting the sled dog kennels, suddenly all of the dogs jumped up on their houses and started howling and barking. Turns out there was a mama moose about 100 yards away!
Also, the dogs got SO EXCITED when it was time for the demonstration. They all wanted to participate!
After visiting the kennels, we hopped on a park bus for a ride to our campground for the night: Savage River.
Savage River is the last campground in what it called “front country.” Meaning you don’t need a special permit to drive your RV to Savage River and it’s the trail head for one of the last “groomed” trails: Savage Alpine.
There are not very many marked trails in Denali, and most of the trails are short (less than 2 miles) and near the park entrance. One of the reasons Denali exists is to provide people with a place to explore a trail-less wilderness, and a result of this is a limited trail network. – Denail website
We set up our RVs for the night. Again, don’t forget it doesn’t get dark! We all went to bed fairly early, though. We had a busy next day planned!
One thing to note: even though we were sleeping in RVs, they weren’t hooked up to power or water. We were rationing the onboard propane and water and, as such, weren’t cooking, using the bathroom, or showering in them. Thankfully the campsites had nice outhouses and outdoor running water spigots. But, it did mean no showers!
In the morning, we layered up (it was chilly in the mornings but got warmer throughout the day), ate breakfast, and then headed out to hike the Savage Alpine trail. Our group leader had helped build this trail!
This was really when I started to see what people mean about not being able to describe Alaska. It’s so….expansive. And beautiful. And in less than 4 miles of trail you can experience almost every kind of terrain possible. I just couldn’t stop marveling at the views.
A little over four miles and several hours later, we arrived at the Savage River, reconvened with our RVs, and then it was time to head into back country!
What does that mean? I promise to explain in Part 4!
I’m back with the second installment in my “So you want to vacation in Alaska” series. Missed the full itinerary? Find it here. Today’s post is going to be about our two full days in Anchorage, including where we stayed and what we did.
First thing to note, the flight to Anchorage is long (6.5+ hours) and I chose to do non-stop. I HATE flying with layovers if I can avoid it. However, I don’t mind settling in to watch a movie or read a book and I did both on the flight out.
Turned out that another person from my group was on my flight so after we landed we took a Lyft from the airport to our hotel: the Bent Prop Inn – Midtown. Our group guide recommended this place and the two of us splitting a room with two other group members was perfect. We each had our own bed and we had a little kitchen and living room. It’s walking distance to Walmart so we headed over there to get some breakfast items for the next few days.
View from our hotel
Alaska is three hours behind Chicago and, guess what? When you go at the end of June you’re visiting at the solstice so it basically doesn’t get dark! At all. This meant that I basically had to force myself to go to bed. I slept fine, though. I just pretended I was taking an afternoon nap.
On our first full day in Anchorage we took the bus (so cheap and you can buy your tickets using their People Mover app) to University of Alaska – Anchorage to pick up our race packets. We did a little bit of shopping and I won a carabiner for doing pull-ups. When I packed I didn’t have room in my duffel bag or backpack for sandals so I bought some Oofos.
From the University we took the bus to downtown Anchorage. We had lunch at Glacier Brewhouse and then took a tour of Anchorage with Anchorage Trolley Tours. It’s $20 and definitely worth it! It was the perfect way to get an overview of the city and learn some history. Much of Anchorage is walkable or bikeable (and there are tons of bike rental places), but I enjoyed seeing it on the trolley first. You also get coupons if you want to do some souvenir shopping. Which we definitely did.
We’d planned to go to Moose’s Tooth for dinner (walking distance from our hotel) but they had a three hour wait! Instead we ended up at an Italian restaurant nearby. Nothing special, but perfect for the night before a race.
Saturday was race day! And, yes, if I was going to fly all the way to Alaska I wanted to see 26.2 miles of it on foot. The Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon is a point-to-point race so they bus you out to the start line and you run 26.2 miles back to the finish. Also, the half marathon course is almost completely different so it really is just you and your other marathon friends out there. And bears. Yes, you do have to look out for bears. I didn’t see any, but my friend Stephanie saw one!
Seriously, though, bears aren’t that big of a deal. As our Sierra Club guide/friend kept saying, “bears just want to do a bear thing” which, 99.9% of the time means avoiding you.
The Anchorage Marathon is HILLY, especially compared to Chicago. But, I ran my second fastest marathon time and only struggled in the last few miles. It’s a mix of paved road, sidewalk, gravel road, dirt path, and paved paths. You run through a military base. You run through some woods. You run through parks. It’s really very pretty.
Oh, also? I WON THIRD PLACE IN MY AGE GROUP! I placed at a marathon, people! That’s huge for me. Actually, most people in our group either had a good race time or just a good time in general. Post-marathon food at the race left something to be desired, though, so we ended up back at Glacier Brewhouse.
Post-race we relaxed, ate dinner at the Anchorage Alehouse and got ready for the next day’s adventure: RV camping in Denali National Park! And that’s where we’ll start Part 3…soon.
I would just like to say that I’m looking forward to having more light outside when I get home from work. Maybe then I can actually get more than one outfit photo every two weeks. Man, remember the days when I used to shower and take multiple outfit photos on the weekends?
Anyway! I will definitely want to try and get a picture this week because Jen chose a lovely painting.
This is what Jen had to say about the painting:
I chose the double portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray, once attributed to Johann Zoffany, circa 1779. This was the portrait that inspired the 2013 film, Belle, about the real-life, mixed-race young lady who was born into slavery in the British West Indies and ended up a heiress in London, England. The painting was commissioned by Lord Mansfield (William Murray), and depicts his two great-niece, Dido Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray. The two ladies were second cousins.
I chose this painting because it’s been on my SIA board of possibilities for awhile, because it’s such an intriguing painting, with differing styles of dress and poses and facial expressions that seem to be telling a story (or maybe holding back a story?). Lots of scope here for sartorial inspiration, including different textures, fabrics, colors, and potential props. My upcoming round also spans the end of February and beginning of March, and March is International Women’s Month, so I thought it would be fitting to feature a painting of two women.
At the end of October I hosted an event with Shoe Drop, the company in Chicago that is working to make getting your shoes repaired and shined easy and simple. They have a retail location at 353 N Clark Street that they nicely opened up for event attendees to get free shoe shines and discounts on shoe repair.
If you’ve never had your shoes shined, let me tell you: it makes a huge difference! And it’s not just for men, either. All of us ladies in attendance got our riding boots shined and polished.
Most of us also dropped off shoes to be repair. I dropped off my red ballet flats that had insoles that were falling apart and cracks that were forming in the leather on the outsides. I picked them up this week and they are beautiful! Yes, if you look closely you can see where they patched the crack, but considering these shoes are over 10 years old and I bought them off the clearance rack, the fact that they were able to fix them at all is amazing.
Those who attended who have picked up their repaired shoes have also said that they look brand new.
While we were getting our shoes shined (and watching the Cubs!) we sipped on wine from Madison Vine Wines and nibbled on appetizers from Siena Tavern. For as many times as I’ve run past Madison Vine Wines or seen their free wine and beer tastings posted on Twitter I still haven’t been. Did you know they are dog friendly? Now that patio weather is over I know where we’re taking Chewie to get more people exposure!
Photo from Marzlet. Food courtesy of Siena Tavern.
Martine, the man who works at the 353 N Clark Street location, is very friendly and will remember you by name if you go in often enough. In fact, I stopped by on way home on Tuesday to pick up my ballet flats and get my black riding boots shined and he knew me right away. I LOVE service like that!
And no worries if you’re wearing a dress! They’ll give you a nice cozy blanket to make sure you stay decent while Martine shines your shoes.
Plus, shoe shine are only $8, which includes tip! Seriously, if you’ve never gotten your riding boots or any other shoes shines you HAVE to stop by Shoe Drop. Or, if you can’t make it to their retail location, you can use any of their almost 200 drop-off spots. Additionally, if you have a Pressbox location near you then you can just use that since Pressbox partners with Shoe Drop. You drop off your shoes, you’ll get a text saying they’ve begun work, and when they’re ready you pick them up where you dropped them off. It’s that easy!
Thanks again to Shoe Drop, Madison Vine Wines, and Siena Tavern for putting on this event so I could show off one of my new favorite Chicago-based businesses! If you’re in Chicago I hope you’ll consider using Shoe Drop for your future shoe needs.
I typically pair blush with neutrals such as navy, gray, white and black but occasionally I throw in pink for a monochromatic look.
Also, I just noticed that I never wear it with patterns! I think because the patterned items I have don’t really lend themselves to wearing with blush.
Anyway, the blush top that needs repair has been sitting on my dresser for probably a year at this point. I just need to find someone who can repair the unraveling thread hem on the mesh front yoke. Any takers out there?
In the mean time, I think I’ll look for a replacement. Here are a few I found that I wouldn’t mind adding to my closet.