San Francisco

Our journey begins in San Francisco at the historic San Remo Hotel. The San Remo was built in 1906 to serve as a brothel after the earthquake and fire. After all, we must have our priorities. The hotel was quirky, charming, old, interesting and haunted. The building was so old that the electricity was run through conduit on the outside of the walls. The building had no elevators, tv’s and thanks to our daughters room blessing, no ghosts.

We dropped our luggage and immediately walked the four blocks to Pier 39 on the wharf. Our daughter had grand plans to see the Sea Lions and they didn’t disappoint. A large crowd was on the wharf enjoying their antics. It would be all we would do today after our cross country travels.

Having been to San Francisco in the past, this trip was about what our daughter wanted to do most. Today we headed North of town across the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. The fog was still covering the top as we crossed. We first went to Muir Beach to see the Pacific Ocean. Despite the balmy 58 degree Summer temperatures, people were swimming, hiking and surfing.

From the beach, we moved into the heart of Sonoma County. We visited a couple wineries prior to enjoying a nice meal at A Taste of the Himalayas. We were heading to an Irish Pub, but the strong spice smell of this restaurant drew us in quickly. We finished the evening with a late afternoon trip to the Muir Woods (please reserve in advance). It was our daughter’s first look at redwoods. It was a stunning place.

We return to our hotel completely spent every day. Thinking about our daughter’s leg injury, we realized we needed a new plan. Tomorrow would belong to Uber. We planned a full day in town to see the tourist areas of San Francisco. Our first stop was Chinatown. We had a little fun as we quickly realized we were too early for Chinatown.

Our next Uber is to the Episcopal Cathedral. While we didn’t stay long, the Cathedral is stunning. It has old world styling while the construction techniques are much more modern, ie concrete. We explored the grounds and walked the maze.

From the Cathedral, we took an Uber to Ghirardelli Square. We took a little time to rest as we enjoyed magnificent ice cream treats.

We returned to Chinatown knowing most places would now be open. We visited a fortune cookie factory, enjoyed a tea tasting, and had a wonderful dinner. The tea tasting rivaled any wine tasting.

Our last day was for exploring anything we felt we missed. We fully explored Pier 39, including some more Sea Lion time. We enjoyed the shops at our leisure. We took time for the aquarium, which we all felt was very small for the price.

It was finally time for our last night in San Francisco, an evening tour of Alcatraz (highly encouraged, book well in advance). Alcatraz is a special place especially at night. We explore the grounds, discussed the escape attempts and watch the sun drop below The Golden Gate Bridge. Our second visit was as good as the first. San Francisco is an amazing city. If you visit San Francisco, don’t miss the wine, sourdough and crab. Next up, We move to Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park

We drove four hours across California from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park. I couldn’t help but notice the rental car thermometer at 102 as we started up the mountains into Yosemite. The temperature dropped a full 19 degrees as we climbed into the mountains. Fire damage from last year’s fire was everywhere and devastating. Our tour guide told us two fire fighters lost their lives in this area. We finally reached a long tunnel that entered the park. Once through the tunnel, you immediately know you are somewhere special, even precious.

We only had a few days to explore the area. Our first day was enjoying the full day “Grand Tour”. Since we couldn’t hike due to our daughter’s leg injury, we decided to sit back and let someone else do the driving. It wasn’t a mistake as we saw the most beautiful spots in and above the valley.

It rained as we walked to dinner. While frustrating at the time, we didn’t know that the rain would make our rafting down the Merced River spectacular the next day. We had a full day on the Merced having fun and making friends. We experienced our first class four rapids.

We had one last day in Yosemite to catch all we missed. We explored the close waterfalls and took pictures of the beautiful mountain peaks. We visited the Ansel Adams gallery. I had to try to compete with his mastery of black and white.

Our last sight and at long last, we saw our first bear as we left the park. It was early and cool with no traffic allowing us complete access. The bear was our daughter’s highlight. He was truly magnificent

I found myself wanting to compare Yosemite to Yellowstone. I decided that you really can’t compare the two places as they are so different. I completely believe you’ll enjoy either.

Peruvian Adventure

With the main goal of our Peruvian adventure being my hike to Machu Picchu, documented in my previous post, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the other wonderful experiences we shared as a family. We began our adventure at 11,152 feet in Cusco. The city was bustling with the annual Inti Raymi only a few days away. The Inti Raymi, or sun festival, is the Incan celebration of the winter solstice. People were coming to Cusco from all over the world to experience the festival. The Inti Raymi starts in Cusco with the Incan king proclaiming the celebration to be held at the fortress of Saqsaywaman, at 12,142 feet above the city of Cusco. It was a once in a lifetime experience watching locals celebrating their history. Everyone was dressed in the brilliant colors of Peru.

We had several days to explore Cusco and attempt to acclimate to the altitude and lack of oxygen. Coca tea was provided at every opportunity especially breakfast. It is rumored to help with the altitude. I wouldn’t be able to say scientifically if it helped or not, but the three of us escaped any significant altitude issues. I personally felt that significant water intake was equally important. Our lips stayed chapped. My videos of the trip are on YouTube if you search Dennis Thrasher.

We had wonderful days exploring the cathedral, museums, Incan palace, shops and the food, oh the food. All of the restaurants received fresh produce daily from local farmers. The food was truly special in each restaurant we visited. We had our first Cuy (guinea pig) and alpaca steak along with wonderful stews, potatoes and fresh breads. It was an easy walk downhill to the main plaza followed by a difficult uphill walk back due to the lack of oxygen. We would rest by stopping in the local shops to explore. The hotel provided oxygen in our room to ease our tired bodies to sleep.

Following the Inti Raymi, our trip continued into the Sacred Valley for magnificent views of the mostly agricultural region. Mt. Veronica, the area’s highest peak, loomed in the distance at 18,642 feet.

We visited several interesting sites in the Sacred Valley. Along with the magnificent views, we visited a large salt mine and an Incan agriculture experiment station called Moray. The Inca had learned that each tier of their terracing had a slightly different ecosystem. They experimented with what grew best in the different areas. It’s possible they even used this site to genetically modify crops.

We had time to visit a local shop that specialized in naturally dyed alpaca wool products. All the brilliant colors of Peru were made using various natural items and techniques. Needless to say, the locals parted us from some of our money.

We worked our way to the end of the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is a charming village complete with its own set of Incan ruins and stunning mountain views. Ollantaytambo is completely walkable. You can stroll the stone streets and shop, eat or visit a couple sets of ruins.

After a nice day in Ollantaytambo, our family separated the next morning. I left early the next morning to hike KM104 (details in my previous post) while the ladies had a free day to shop and explore to their hearts content. They would leave by train later in the day so we could meet up at our Aguas Calientes hotel. It is important to note that luggage is not allowed on the train. We each packed a backpack with a few clothes and toiletries and left our luggage in hotel storage. One of our tour team members picked up our luggage and returned it to our original Cusco hotel.

The family made their way to the Aguas Calientes hotel later that evening to find me washed and completely collapsed in the bed. They thought I was dead – ye of little faith. Dinner and Pisco Sours were included with our hotel. The Pisco Sours eased the leg pain. The morning would bring our greatest adventure. A full tour of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu is one of the new wonders of the world and an UNESCO world heritage site. It is truly a special place that you could explore endlessly. We had most of the day to explore before returning to town for dinner and shopping. Our evening train would return us to our Cusco hotel. We would spend one last night in Cusco before boarding a flight to Puerto Maldonado, the beginning of the Amazon River.

We left our original guide and driver at the Cusco airport. Once we landed at the small airstrip in Puerto Maldonado, we were picked up by hotel staff and taken to the docks. We boarded long, skinny river boats to make our way down the river to our jungle cabana. We would have two and a half days to explore the Amazon Jungle. We were shown our three walled jungle cabana and assigned a naturalist almost immediately. We took a short hike with our naturalists where he explained all of the plants and animals we encountered. We returned for a 5 star dinner complete with beer and wine. The hotel ran on generator power that was turned on and off at specific times. They turned off the power while we were on tours. They would restore the power at meal times and until about midnight.

During our stay, we had a night river cruise to see cayman, a jungle hike, a lake boat ride to see rare giant river otters, a jungle canopy tour and a night jungle hike. We found a tarantula nest during the night hike.

We said our goodbyes as we worked our way back up the river to the airport for our last stop before returning home. We had 24 hours in Lima before we were done.

We were met at the Lima airport by our new guide and driver. Lima was much more cosmopolitan than the rural Cusco. They took us to the last hotel of our stay. We walked to the closest plaza and enjoyed our first ceviche, raw seafood slightly cooked in citrus juice mixed with onions and peppers. The following morning we had a half day tour of Lima before our return home. We explored the cathedral that held Francisco Pizarro’s remains, the catacombs and the famous Love Park before our night flight back to the US.

Peru is not to be left off your bucket list. We found the people warm and inviting. The food rivals anywhere in the world. The views were endless and beautiful. Do yourself a favor and plan this trip now.

Finally Machu Picchu

Finally Machu Picchu has been my motivation for the last two years while working towards my goal of hiking KM104. Two years ago I completed the 52 hike challenge in preparation for this difficult hike. The challenge helped me rediscover my love of the outdoors and prepare me for off road hiking in difficult terrain. Still, I didn’t feel I was getting enough miles in to be fully ready. Last year, I started walking 12-15 miles a week attempting to build my stamina. There was just one unknown factor I really had to conquer, the lack of oxygen at altitude. There just isn’t anywhere close to Alabama to prepare for high altitude.

I’ve wanted to make this trip my entire life after seeing Machu Picchu in a National Geographic magazine when I was around 10 years old. This trip was to celebrate my 50th birthday and 25th wedding anniversary. Two very special occasions to say the least. Video of this hike is available on YouTube by searching Dennis Thrasher for those interested.

The adventure started very early catching the Peru Rail train from the charming town of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is a charming place in and of itself. It is beautifully nestled in the Sacred Valley complete with its own Incan ruins. Ollantaytambo is where the road ends. The only way to Machu Picchu is by train or foot. The Peru Rail train follows the gentle curves of the Urubamba River until it reaches kilometer marker 104 (KM104). The train pulled to a stop in the middle of a temperate rain forest. My guide and I jumped off the train into the track’s gravel bed. We were the only two getting off at this stop.

We checked in at the trailhead after crossing the Urubamba River on a rustic suspension bridge. We presented our passports and hiking permit as the number of hikers is limited each day. We proceeded across the base of the mountain to our first set of ruins, Chachabamba.

A “bamba” is a rest stop along the Inca Trail. A place to get food and fresh llama before continuing on your journey. From the ruins of Chachabamba the pain begins. KM104 works it’s way slowly across and up the mountain. Stone stairs and wooden bridges exist where would normally be a steep incline. It is a steady four hour uphill climb where the lack of oxygen is immediately noticeable. All my preparations, including losing 25 pounds, were necessary to complete this climb.

After about two hours of climbing, the first views of Winay Wayna are visible across the valley. This is an adrenaline rush as Winay Wayna is the halfway point and end of the most difficult portion of the trail. I looked back at my progress.

There are still miles to Winay Wayna as we work around the mountain to the base of a waterfall before making the final assent into the ruins.

Once in Winay Wayna, we took a break and explored the site. There are no roads to this site. You can only see it by hiking. Both the ruins and views are spectacular. The grounds are carefully tended by the llama that live here.

Once rested, it was 300 steps to the top of the ruins and back to the trail. The trail was more rolling as we crossed a “draw” between two mountains. We were finally on Machu Picchu mountain. We hiked another couple miles and entered the check out station thus marking us off the trail. It was only a short distance to the famed monkey stairs. A set of fifty near vertical stairs were all that separated us from the Sun Gate at the top of Machu Picchu mountain.

After the monkey stairs and a short additional hike, we crossed over the mountain and through the Sun Gate. All I could think was “finally, Machu Picchu”. It only took forty years.

The remaining two miles were all downhill and the lack of oxygen much less noticeable. We hiked down to the famous photo spot.

We headed to the bus that would take us down the mountain to Aguas Calientes. There I would get clean, rejoin my family and have the national cocktail, a Pisco Sour. Exploring Machu Picchu would have to wait one more night. This Cusquena Roja is for you.

Back Roads Alabama

So leaving the opulent seaside village that is Watercolor and/or Seaside from a recent retreat, I couldn’t help but notice the stark truth that is Alabama. Leaving the multi-million dollar beach homes, I couldn’t help but think about the Alabama reality. As I passed this shack, selling snow cones and shrimp, it made me think about my explorations of Alabama over my 52 hike challenge.

I had no hikes on this trip, rather long beach walks and trips to the absurdly over priced shops in Seaside. All to get in my miles in preparation for my upcoming Incan Trail hike in Peru. My four hour drive was more attentive than usual.

Alabama has many layers. Each small town we passed had it’s football field. Players currently being coached will be future legends of the Auburn-Alabama Iron Bowl. Some will make the NFL, but most play for pride, bragging rights and scholarships in that order. Those fortunate enough to be educated or have a trade will find jobs plentiful and the cost of living low. Others will make a living as a laborer in the newly established auto industry that avoids Detroit like the plague. The rest scratch a living running any small business that they can – taxidermy, fruit vendors or small gas station restaurants.

The distinctions were stark. From the various fruit vendors as we left Florida and the chicken farms of South Alabama to the Sikes and Kohns Country store outside Montgomery, the differences were distinct. Sikes and Kohns sells cowboy boots, work boots and wedges, side by side. All necessary in the world that we live. Further along was Tuskegee, home of the famous Tuskegee Airmen and the infamous Syphilis study. Tuskegee is the home to George Washington Carver’s peanut research and the artistry of Lionel Richie.

Alabama people are strong and proud. Many served our armed forces with pride. The 167th Rainbow Division served heroically during World War 1. Our culture ranges from Mobile Bay, with the majestic U.S.S. Alabama in the South to the Gee’s bend quilts in the West. The East brings my home – Auburn University. The North is Huntsville’s engineers and the Space and Rocket Center. The very North reveals Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler recording at the Muscle Shoal’s Sound Studio.

While having few true tourist attractions, Alabama is home to salt of the Earth people. I hope you visit us soon.

52 Hike Challenge Memoirs 

So what did I learn on my 52 Hike Challenge?  After all, I had a lot of time to think.  Surely something worthwhile came from this effort.  I finished 52 hikes, 178 miles in total, in 10 1/2 months.  I hiked Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Spain.  I must have learned something, and I did indeed.

First, I learned Alabama, my part of the world is as pretty as any other, you are just familiar with it.  You have to leave the car to find the prettiest spots.

Not only did I hike and confirm my love of the outdoors, I also stopped to smell the roses.  I explored the small towns.

I learned you can still be physically and mentally strong at 50 (ok 48).

I learned there are no cellphone signals at the best hikes.  Hike prepared and be safe.

Spider webs across trails mean you are the first one hiking today.  Watch for snakes and bears.  While on the subject, big lizards sound like snakes when you’re alone.

Climbing hills in life sucks, but the top has the best view.  Stay strong my friends, and never quit.

Mental toughness and work ethic will carry you as far as your education.

I would love to have shown you everything but you can’t live broadcast waterfalls, they are always in a hole. You’ll have to visit yourself.

Anytime you catch a break going down, you’ll eventually have to walk back up, just like life.

I don’t hate snakes as much, they are fascinating at a safe distance.

I learned how to offset my pictures so my Facebook profile picture doesn’t mess it up.

I love and miss my family when they’re not with me.

I had 72 degrees temperature variances in hike temperature, plan for it.

Proper equipment makes things easier.

To my daughter, don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do, lift those weights, jump those horses, get off the couch and find your life passion.

Sometimes planes fly into mountains, what legacy are you leaving?

Keep toenails short for downhill walking, just sayin.

Shortcuts always, always end poorly!  Stay on the trail.

Lastly, please keep Gatlinburg in your prayers.  We left town Sunday morning before the fires made it to town.  I’m hearing that our cabin on Sunday was burned down on Monday.  We drove past the fire as we were leaving but I never thought it would make it to town.

Hike 49, 50, 51 and 52 – Victory 

I have been slow to post my last four hikes.  I went to some pretty special places during my 52 hike challenge.  On to the hikes.

Hike 49 was at Amicalola Falls.  The lodge just up from the falls is the start of the Appalachian Trail “Approach Trail”.  The hike here is paved and somewhat steep, but only 1 mile, culminating in several flights of stairs to the bottom of the falls.  Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the Dehlonega, Georgia area.  

Hike 50 was a short distance away to Springer Mountain, the official start/end of the Appalachian Trail depending on direction.  I couldn’t see finishing this challenge without a little time on the AT. This trail is a steep 2.5 mile trail from the parking area to the top of Springer Mountain and back.  You can also see where the Approach Trail enters the official AT.  Such history and beauty here.  

Hike 51 move about 200 miles North to the Smoky Mountain National Park.  First up was Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park.  The Appalachian Trail also exits the woods and joins this neat place.  Unfortunately, the observation tower was fogged in on this day, so no views were to be had.  It is hard to believe that you could have hiked from Springer Mountain to here if you were so inclined.

Hike 52, where do you go last?  My choice was the Abram’s Falls trail in Cade’s Cove.  It was recommended by a friend.  This 5 mile trail had some long inclines as you worked over a ridge to a beautiful set of falls.  The color of the foliage and the beauty of the falls made this a perfect final hike in my challenge.  

I would like to thank everyone for their support and encouragement during my challenge.  I would not have finished without you.

Hike 46, 47 & 48 (n/a) – Rickwood Caverns, Fossil Mountain and Vulcan Trail

I took advantage of a three day weekend to rest up before our annual audit starts.  This gave me a little time to explore and camp along the way.  I decided to go to Rickwood Caverns State Park.  I had never been here or even heard of the place.  It is about 30 miles North of Birmingham just off I-65.  The cave here was worth exploring.  The cave was eroded from the ancient sea bed.  Some points of the cavern were actually through coral.  You could see fossils and some shells on the ceiling in some areas.

The cavern trail was closer to 1.5 miles with some significant stair climbing.  Most of the front of the cave was inactive either from time or our current drought conditions.  The last part of the cave was more damp with cave structures still forming.

I was able to squeeze into a tight corner to see a shark tooth fossil on the ceiling.

After the cavern trail, I hiked the 1.5 mile Fossil Mountain trail.  This trail was a loop off the parking area with some rock gardens but no major feature otherwise.  I attempted to find fossils, but really didn’t see anything definitive.  The couple of things I found could have been fossilization or normal weathering.  It was hard to tell.

I quickly set up for the night in time for a great hammock nap.  Sometimes there is nothing better than a hammock.

On Saturday, I decided to get in one more trail on the way home.  The Vulcan trail is located at the base of the Vulcan Statue in Birmingham.  It was more of an urban exercise area than hiking trail.  The first (and last) mile is on a old paved access road with the middle .5 being off road for a total of 3 miles.  Red iron ore is all along the path.  The path does have nice views of downtown Birmingham.

Lastly, how can you come this close and not visit the  Vulcan?  The elevator was broken, no doubt to insufficient funding, making about a 10 story stair climb the only way up.  Again the views were fantastic.  You could even see the old Sloss Furnace from my previous hikes.

I have four hikes left in my challenge which I plan to complete over the Thanksgiving weekend.  I’m working on some special plans to finish up appropriately.  Until then . . .

Hike #44 & 45 (n/a & 34) – Sloss Furnace & Turkey Creek Loop


This weekend, we headed to Birmingham both to get in a couple of hikes and to see Impractical Jokers live at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center.  The weekend was full of fun and family.  It also had a little language that my daughter shouldn’t have heard.  I am sure that wasn’t my first or likely my last parenting fail.


After our drive to Birmingham, we started the weekend visiting the Sloss Furnace Trail (Urban Hike).  The Sloss furnace was really the beginning of Birmingham as it is known.  James Withers Sloss found all of the natural elements needed to produce iron in Birmingham, iron ore, coal and limestone.  He worked out a deal with the railroads to connect his plant to the world and the rest is history, really rusty history.  Iron was produced here from 1882-1971.  The Sloss Furnace is a National Landmark and the only blast furnace open for touring.  It happened to also be fully decked out as a haunted house on this occasion.


After the furnace and checking in to our hotel, we had dinner at Babalu Tacos & Tapas.  The tapas here are more of a fusion than Spanish.  They also happen to be larger than most tapas.  One or two plates will be enough for most here.  We watched Alabama dismantle Tennessee in football while enjoying our small plates and getting ready for the show.


The morning brought a short drive up to Pinson for the Turkey Creek Loop.  This property is part of the Forever Wild program in Alabama.  Turkey Creek was far better than most Forever Wild properties that I have visited.  There was clearly some investment here.  They had signs, trails and bathrooms (out houses).  Most Forever Wild properties are lacking in facilities.


You can see the main creek and falls area right off the parking area making this one of the more accessible falls I’ve visited.  The trail starts just to the left of the parking area as you face the mountain.  We made the decision to hike the Thompson Trace Trail and connect with the Narrows Ridge Trail to form a roughly 2.5 mile loop.  The trail is listed as moderate due to a few steep inclines.  The trail really heads from the parking area straight to the top of the ridge.  From this point, it is fairly rolling as it works its way across the ridge for about 1.4 miles.  Once you reach the Narrows Ridge Trail, head right to loop back to the parking area.  The hike was roughly 2.5 miles and 39 flights of stairs according to my phone.  This was my first hike with the foliage starting to turn.  It made for a great morning.


After failing to find anything original for lunch in Pinson or the surrounding area, we made our final stop for the weekend at Lloyds in Birmingham.  Lloyds is a family favorite serving comfort food.  My family has stopped here to eat literally my entire life.  Give it a try when in town.











Hike #42 & #43 (29G & 25G) – Anna Ruby Falls and Dukes Creek Falls

A much needed Labor Day Weekend gave us the chance to head out of town to the “Alpine” town of Helen, Georgia.  The town is a cute if not cheesy tourist trap.  They are famous for their Octoberfest.  We were a week too early to participate in the festivities.  That said, it is beautifully located in the North Georgia mountains.  Quite a few of the best hikes in Georgia are located in this area.  Enough trails to justify another trip soon.  We decided to hike Anna Ruby Falls and Dukes Creek Falls.  

Anna Ruby Falls is only .8 miles of paved trail from the gift shop area to the falls and back.  The trail is uphill to the falls and downhill back to the parking.  This trail is doable by most being short and paved.  The falls are a spectacular set of multilevel falls from the mountain peak to the valley below.  

The stream below the falls is as interesting as the falls themselves.  The stream is lined with moss covered fallen trees, stone outcroppings and ferns.  It is a great short hike for a family outing.

Second up, and a little more challenging, was Dukes Creek Falls.  It was a 2.2 mile hike into a deep gorge.  I was impressed how easy this trail was being so deep.  The park service did a fantastic job keeping this trail accessible.  The trail used long hair pin turns, boardwalks and stairs to make the steep decent very manageable.

We all agreed that this was the nicer trail.  The creek area flowed with some visible (and audible) whitewater.  The trail was wide and clear as in my above picture.  At the bottom, boardwalks and decks got you into perfect viewing positions.  A great deal of attention went into this trail.

This was another high falls while the lower section was visually better than Anna Ruby.  We could have stayed all day.  

Take time to stop and smell the roses when in this area.  There is a ton of shopping, wineries, antique stores and German food.  Enjoy the boiled peanuts- a true Southern delicacy.