Weekends at Cowan's Gap

Monday, July 31, 2017

We've had this little getaway to Cowan's Gap in Pennsylvania planned for months, but man I tell you, it could not have come at a better time. Things have been pretty chaotic for us over the last few weeks between preparing to sell our house, dealing with insurance claims for stupid things like car accidents (we're fine) and trees falling on our house (it's fine too), and the overall stress of the busy seasons of life. By the time we made it to Wednesday night, we were so ready to escape and leave our worries behind for a few days. As we passed over the state line and into the mountains, we both breathed a sigh of relief knowing that at least for the long weekend, everything was on hold. This was also Archie's first camping trip, so we were eager to introduce him to the outdoor life we love. I made a point to document it as best I could and get a little more practice in with my 50mm.

Camping trips in the mountains are the types of vacations we live for. The ones where you take two naps a day, eat your weight in s'mores, hike it off among scenic mountain views, lounge around a crackling campfire after dinner, and then fall asleep to the sound of rain drops tapping the roof of your tent.

I love losing cell service. I love not wearing makeup. I love not having schedules to stress over and most of the time not even knowing what time it is, except for the height of the sun in the sky above me. I love campfire smoke.  I love how its smell clings to my clothes and the way it looks filtering the rays of early morning light. I love waking up to hot coffee in our blue enamel pot, with birds chirping and a light breeze blowing, and hellos and good mornings from temporary neighbors as they pass. I love long lake swims in the afternoon and picnic lunches under shade of the trees along the shore. I love the mist that rolls in over the water at night and the million and one stars it reveals when it lifts.

There's so much I love about camping. So much I love about nature. There's something about the mountain air that makes me feel grounded and more connected to myself than I've ever been and I am so lucky to be married to a man who feels the same. Here's hoping we can bring this feeling back with us into the week ahead and replace some of the the craziness with calm.

"And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul."

We bought a house!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

So, we've been keeping a little secret for a few months now but things are starting to get official and we finally feel like we can spill the beans. We bought a house today!

Well, we sort of bought a house today. In reality, we signed a sales contract. Right now, no house exists since it's a new construction home, but in about six months if everything goes smoothly, we'll actually have a new home!

Back in November, Mike got a nice new job down in southern Maryland. And when I say southern Maryland I mean waaayyy southern Maryland. Like more-than-an-hour-commute southern Maryland. As soon as he accepted the job, we started looking for houses and trying to find a living situation that would make his commute easier since he drives more than sixty miles to work every day.

So last fall we called up our awesome realtor Joe Bird and got to work. (Side note: seriously guys, if you're looking for realtor, call Joe, he's the best, hands down!)

What we didn't realize is that inventory is really low in the market right now and the few houses that are for sale are flying off the market left and right. Often times there are three or four offers on a home just days after it hits the market. This made everything really tough for us because of the timing. Since we are trying to finish renovating our basement so that we can sell our existing home, we needed more time than normal, but if we wait until we sell our house to start looking, chances are we aren't going to have a place to live for a while. Needless to say, this put us in a tight spot.

On top of all that, the area in which we were looking for homes was much more rural and houses in our price range just didn't exist. We could either buy a trailer or a 2 million dollar estate. There was really not much in between.

So last weekend, we made the decision to start looking for new developments closer to where we live currently. While Mike's commute won't change, at least neither will the rest of our lifestyle. We will still have the same support system here with all of our family and friends close by, my commute won't get longer or more difficult like it would if we moved south, and there are tons of homes around here that fit our needs. The good news is that even with this change, Mike has little to no traffic and he has a flexible schedule that allows him to work from home frequently. We also plan to upgrade his vehicle after we buy the house so that he can be much more comfortable than he is now in his stick shift.

After weighing all the options, we started looking. And after only two days, we found our dream home in our dream community. As we talked with the builder's agent about all the options and everything just sort of fell into place, we realized it was a total no brainer!

The beauty of a new construction is that it gives us time to finish the basement and get the house on the market too! It's going to be sad leaving our little house that we've worked so hard to make a home, but we are so eager to start this new chapter in our lives. We truthfully couldn't be more excited!

Let the countdown begin!

Skaftafell National Park & Jökulsárlón

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The easternmost point on our itinerary was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and the trip out there was full of adventure. I had heard that it's possible to experience all four seasons in one day in Iceland, but I never really thought it was true until we experienced it on our drive to Jökulsárlón. From a warm and sunny morning to a windy and hail-filled afternoon, we weathered it all. It seems that the further east we got, the more wintry the landscape became, but I have to say that the constant rotations of precipitation and sun made for some of the prettiest rainbows.

When we got to the lagoon, which was about two hours from Vik, it was still raining a bit and pretty crowded with a few tour buses, so we decided to take our time and grab some hot chocolate in the cafe before exploring.

Jökulsárlón is most famous for it's stunning lagoon full of icebergs which, as Mike was stoked to learn, has been featured in several Bond movies. The lake is actually the deepest on the island and sits at the foot of Iceland's highest mountain range. Extending from the peaks down into the lake is a giant glacier, thousands of years old. The icebergs are actually pieces of this glacier that have broken off and fallen into the water.

The ice in these photos may look exceptionally blue, but it's nothing compared to the real thing. In person, the color is so dramatic that the icebergs almost look fake. The whole lagoon is quite the sight to behold, with dozens of bobbing pieces of ice all sparkling and practically glowing in the water. After about half an hour of exploring on our own, we decided to do the boat tour because without it, you really can't see very much. You can walk around the shore and take photos from a distance, but the boat is really the best way to see the lagoon and the icebergs up close. Plus, you get to learn about the history and science behind icebergs, which of course was my favorite part. Well, maybe second favorite...

Just before we were about to leave, they grey clouds that had been hanging over the lake parted and through the mist, the sun emerged. We were about to get in the car when suddenly everyone around us started sprinting up the little hill to one side of the lagoon. There, on the opposite side of the lake, the most stunning rainbow I have ever seen spread wide across the sky, creating the most beautiful backdrop behind the icebergs.

Cue the goosebumps.

It took us about three seconds to realize what was happening, grab the camera, and then join in sprinting. I'll never forget standing there with Mike, giggling like an idiot from the sheer joy at seeing something so beautiful. It was one of those "pinch me" moments and I think everyone there that day felt it too.

After that, it was off to Skaftafell National Park to set up camp. Out of all the places we camped in Iceland, this was by far our favorite. First, since it was part of a large national park, it was the most modern, with nice bathrooms, shower facilities, and a shop for supplies. Second, they had a food truck. I didn't even know Iceland had food trucks, but this park did and it was the perfect post-hike meal. Third, the view. 

Waking up with a view of the Vatnajökull glacier was pretty unreal. Although, watching the sunset over top of it from the summit of the Skaftafellsheiði hiking loop was the real showstopper. I can definitely recommend doing the hike clockwise since the views just get better as you go and you get a chance to see a few waterfalls including Svartifoss along the way. I still smile every time I watch this little video I made the night we hiked the loop. Iceland is pretty rad, ya'll. You've gotta get there to see it for yourself. 

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Vik, Iceland

Monday, May 22, 2017

We woke up with the sun on our second day in Iceland and got rolling on our road trip along the south coast. Our plan was to head out to Vik and camp there for the night, soaking up as much scenery as we could and chasing a few waterfalls along the way. We left plenty of time for hiking, lunch, and photo-ops, so overall the trip to Vik took about six hours.

The mountains were absolutely breathtaking, with flocks of birds swooping up and down along the surface in the mist of the morning. During the drive, we kept spotting from a distance what looked like giant white cotton balls stuck way up on the sides of the cliffs. It took about ten cotton balls for us to finally figure out that these were not in fact mutant plants but sheep that loved heights!

Our first stop along the way was Seljalandsfoss, one of the most visited waterfalls in Iceland where you can actually climb up behind the falls. We made a point to get there early before any tours swooped in and it was nice being able to really take our time exploring without a lot of people around. Listening to the powerful sound of the water from underneath the falls was an experience I’ll never forget.

Next we headed to Skogafoss, a much larger waterfall about half an hour down Route 1 from Seljalandsfoss. While you can’t walk behind this guy, there are lots of areas to hike to get good views of the falls (and the river that supplies it) from above. There’s even a set of stairs you can climb on the right side that leads to a platform up top if you’re not up for hiking the actual mountain. Mike took his GoPro as close as he could to the falls in order to get a shot from underneath but the sheer force of the water blowing everywhere kept him from getting too close. I have a video somewhere of him all suited up in his raincoat and hood looking like Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel trying to get a good angle while I'm dying of laughter in the background. He's too cute. 

Our last stop before Vik took up the biggest portion of our road trip (even more than the driving!) and we greatly underestimated how long we would spend here. From Skogafoss, we made a detour to see the abandoned US Navy airplane that crashed onto the beach back in 1973. The sad part is that most of our time here was spent walking to get to the plane and not actually checking out the plane itself. We found detailed directions to the site on Expert Vagabond and followed them exactly. The good news is that they were incredibly accurate at helping us locate the unmarked spot. The bad news is that you can no longer drive out to the beach, even with a 4x4 vehicle, and must instead walk the 4 km out to the plane which took us nearly an hour one way. It’s one long straight gravel road which is easy to trek but incredibly boring. So if you’re planning to visit, be prepared to spend around two hours just walking to the plane and back. That being said, PUT THIS ON YOUR LIST. The wreckage is eerie and beautiful and unlike anything you’ve seen before. The contrast between the weathered metal and the black sand is strangely stunning and total photographer’s dream. I’ve seen so many shoots done here (check out Caitlin Joyce’s page) and there were even models there when we visited.

At this point we were wiped and ready to set up camp. Fortunately, Vik is only 20 minutes from the crash site so once we got there we stopped into Strondin for a hot meal. We sat along the wall of windows with a beautiful view of the sunset over the sea and ordered the lamb and atlantic char, both of which were fantastic.

We parked at a camp site at the base of the mountains and settled in for the night. The next morning, we were up early again, but this time to watch the sunrise along the beach. We spent nearly two hours walking the black sand coastline, taking photos, and enjoying the sounds of the crashing waves. This was yet another moment that I wished I could bottle up and carry home. After exploring by the sea, we climbed to the top of the hill and found the most picturesque little church overlooking the beach. The photos here really do not do this little town justice, but the colors and the light and the views were like something from a dream.

After exploring the town for the morning, we grabbed some gas and coffee, and snacking on apples and granola, headed off for the second leg of our South Iceland road trip. I'll be back soon to share the details about our adventures at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon!