Empire Bluff Trail and Beach

Knowing that Labor Day weekend was probably the last glimpse of summer we would see in the Midwest, I dedicated a day toward hiking and soaking of the sun with Linley. We traveled north to the Traverse City area and did our fourth-annual Empire Bluff Trail hike together.

Having had Linley for five years now, I’m constantly researching the best dog-friendly areas for us to explore. Empire Bluff Trail was a gem I found four years ago, and we’ve made it an annual tradition to do a hike and lounge at the beach afterward. This year, it was just the two of us and we slept on the the dunes AND on the beach this time!

Feeling the sun on our skin, the sand in our toes (and paws!) and soaking up the last bit of summer was the perfect way to spend Labor Day weekend. The hike and sun beating down on us tired both of us out, but we enjoyed the sunset and quality time curled up on the beach together. I can’t put into words how much I love this little fella—and all of these moments we share!

Media taken Sunday, September 4, 2022

Camping with my ladies… and Lin!

Last Friday was one of the most challenging days I have had. It was personally and professionally a really difficult day, and I certainly needed some relief. I was excited to hit the road and head east toward Grand Rapids, Michigan to spend some much-needed quality time with my friend Crystal. She has been a constant during my year in Chicago, and I had actually never hung out with her in Michigan even though she lives there. It was nice to go her way and do some camping before the summer’s over.

Being me, I had let Crystal know that I was emotional. It was a long drive, and a long day in general, and I was mentally exhausted. Little did I know that Crystal had the best surprise waiting for me at the campsite!

With Linley in tow, I parked by her and saw someone else get out of the car. Of course I was polite, but I thought it was strange that she would invite someone else along when we had talked about quality time with just the two of us (three of us including the pup!). Who greets me at my driver side door but Donna! Donna has been one of my best friends since high school, and that’s how I actually met Crystal, and I started crying. Donna’s gesture and Crystal’s surprise were two of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. The entire weekend solidified that there are great people in my life, and there is always light in the darkness.

We spent the entire weekend reading tarot cards, floating down the river, cooking delicious meals and drinking by the campfire. I got great sleep both nights, and had such a great weekend away with two of my best girlfriends. I can’t wait to do it again!

Media taken Friday, August 26 through Sunday, August 28, 2022

Fun on the Farm

Last weekend, one of my closest friends in Chicago and I took a Linley to Cashton, Wisconsin for some fun on the farm!

KP is not as outdoorsy as I am, but we both have a deep appreciation for being immersed in nature and unplugging. About a month and a half ago, we found this cute little Airbnb in Wisconsin and knew we had to check it out and stay there before the summer ended. This quaint little family farm had donkeys, chickens, and even a turkey that tried to peck at my feet! He succeeded, and I made the mistake of wearing open toed sandals the whole weekend!

The ironic thing about the trip is that I am a project manager, which means that I literally get paid to be organized and plan assignments. Here I am being the most unprepared traveler from the get, haha! What I thought would be a one and a half or two hour drive instantly turned in to four one-way, and I didn’t bring all the cooking supplies and equipment that we needed. However, we had the best time, laughed our way through the ill-preparation and made makeshift utensils—and actually prepared some solid food over the fire.

We laughed the evening away with some board games, gin and tonic, and more exploration of the farm. My only regret is that I wish we would’ve had more time there together, but the time we had was more than well-spent. We even braved the cold river where fisherman were catching trout! It was the kind of peacefulness and quality time that we both really needed. And of course, Linley had the time of his life too!

Media taken August 20 and 21, 2022

South Haven with Mom and Linley

“First my mother, forever my friend.” – Unknown

…this may not have always been the case for my mom and me, but all in all we have overcome some difficult times together. And despite whatever we have endured together and apart, we have always had deep love for one another. Boy did I need her last weekend!

A few weeks ago, my mom called me and left a nearly two minute-long voicemail (if you were born in or before the 90s, you probably have a parent or parent-figure who does this as well, haha!) about this dog dog-friendly “resort” in South Haven, Michigan. We love spending time together with my dog Linley, and we had the best weekend at the Sun and Sand Resort.

Friday was our busiest day with the nicest weather. We met at the resort, where my mom’s huge pieces of luggage exploded all over the room, then headed to Pilgrim Haven Natural Area for some swimming and relaxing on the beach.

Pilgrim Haven was quite rocky compared to other dog beaches we’ve visited together, but the three of us enjoyed it nonetheless. We strolled the beach which led to a cute “pool” and scenic river, found some cool rocks and camped out in a sandy, shaded spot for Linley. He spent the majority of the time in the water, but surprisingly splooted (what dogs do when they lay on their belly with their arms and legs stretched out) in the warm sand for a while. As simple and easygoing as our time was, we had so much fun and I really needed it – almost as much as Linley needed the stick from Lake Michigan!

The rest of our evening was spent in downtown South Haven and at the lighthouse. We ate at a cute local restaurant – where my mom even brought some cooked chicken for Linley. After some great cheesy bread, caprese salad, good conversation and the waitress giving Linley some love and attention, we quickly drove to the lighthouse to watch the sunset. This is where things got interesting…!

Without further ado, my mom face planted on a hill full of sand! She wasn’t hurt and is totally okay, but it was hilarious and had both of us laughing so hard we almost peed! Linley laid in the sand as though we were burdening him by making him wait for us to gather ourselves, which made the “incident” even funnier! Once we wiped sand off of my mom’s face and ears, we laughed our way to the ice cream stand for a much-needed treat. I continued laughing about my mom’s fall the entire evening, and my mom did too! I’m just glad she was okay and a good sport about all of it. A couple summers ago, we were walking Linley near her house and I completely wiped out – making us even now.

After the sunset and some scoops, we went to the front desk of our resort for some fire starters. We were craving smores and some time in front of a warm campfire. Of course we’re amateurs and didn’t use the fire starters correctly, so my mom grabbed a lighter from home. After smore laughs (see what I did there?) we called it a night.

The next day, we headed north about 20 miles to Saugatuck Dunes State Park – a place where I’ve taken Linley once before. It has a beautiful hiking trail to one of the prettiest dog beaches in Michigan, full of sand dunes and warm water. Although the weather wasn’t as sunny or warm as the first day, we enjoyed some our time lounging, hiking and people watching on the beach. After a few hours of that, we made grilled cheese over the fire for a later lunch, then repeated our first day by revisiting Pilgrim Haven and the lighthouse before the rain came in.

Instead of my mom wiping out again, we walked the pier and met some really friendly people along the way. Once we were near the car, it started to rain and we headed back to our resort for the evening. Even though it would’ve been great to see another sunset, we were content with calling it a day and playing cards in the room. The funniest part is when my mom wanted us to look at all the rocks we found from Pilgrim Haven. She pulled out this huge stone and said, “And here’s yours!” I, dumbfounded, said, “That’s not mine, it’s yours…” She used the rock to hold our sheet down in the sand, and had been carrying it around in her beach bag for two days! What a goof…

Sunday, our last day together, we pretty lowkey. It was another overcast day, but still nice enough to have a lazy morning and do some hiking. We found a nice trail nearby, where Linley made a new friend and peed on everything his heart desired. It was bittersweet because as nice as our walk was, I knew our weekend together was coming to an end. We wrapped up our two-mile hike with Linley not wanting to ride in his bike basket, and jumping out of it in the parking lot!

In 2020, we had taken two trips up north: Empire and Petoskey. In 2021, we had a falling out due to tension between my brother and me – with whom I still don’t have a relationship. Being able to spend time with my mom again this summer really meant a lot to me, and I hope we continue to navigate our relationship and a better path forward!

Warm Weather, Warm Heart

Spending so much time outdoors last week made me exponentially happier 💛

Linley and I spent five days at the dog beach, including one morning at sunset. We also met some new neighbors on our block – both human and dog! – and enjoyed some lemonade stands along our afternoon walks. These kids are gets salespeople around here! Chasing Lin at the beach and watching him play with other dogs and kids was incredibly heartwarming—and exactly what I needed 🙂

Here are several photos and videos from our week:

Missing Montana

During Linley’s and my road trip to Washington state last month, we passed through Montana. I’ve heard from a few friends who have been there how beautiful Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park and Whitefish are, but never expected to feel like I was back in Norway—or even in a place like Alaska. Montana blew me away in natural beauty.

Linley being too salty to appreciate the view!
Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park

What blew me away even more was the kindness of its residents. I stayed at three Airbnb’s (two heading west, and one on the way home to Chicago) and everyone was incredibly gracious. And yes, I know that Airbnb hosts “need” to be kind, but these Montanans weren’t just hospitable—they were true, “salt of the earth” people who treated you like family from the start.

My favorite Airbnb was our first one in Billings. Our hosts, Jennifer and her dog Izzy, were two of the greatest hosts I’ve ever stayed with (and I’ve been using Airbnb in Europe since 2014!). I enjoyed my time with them more than anything. It was especially nice after a LONG multiple-day drive without many people to talk with, excluding Linley who wanted nothing to do with my bad singing 😂

The only downside of my trip is that I woke up with a nasty head cold the next day (not covid, thank goodness!). Jennifer was so kind and took Linley and Izzy on a walk down by the river because my head felt like a bowling ball. Again, reiterating how amazing and warmly I was treated there. ❤️

This week has been a struggle: learning a new role in a new industry AND at a new company, my marriage falling apart, my happiness in Chicago fleeting, a major fight with my mom and resurfaced PTSD, a general sense of not being able to find my footing… it’s been draining to say the least. But I’m grateful for my road trip memories and want to think about positive moments that have occurred recently. I hope to make and find more of these memories soon…

If you’re ever considering visiting Montana – or are simply passing through – please reach out and I can send you my Airbnb info and travel highlights from Billings, Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake and Helena.

Linley enjoying our Airbnb in Billings!

Photos taken Tuesday, April 19 and Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Welcomed by Washington

Linley’s and my final destination was Washington state—to spend quality time with our friend Bethany for a long weekend. We were graciously welcomed by her, the wilderness surrounding us, light breeze and warm sunshine every day of our visit.

Our weekend together was worth all the money for gas and Airbnbs, time on the road across numerous states and nasty head cold I caught along the way. Having Linley and Bethany finally meet in person was beyond touching—and of course I’d missed her immensely, too!

Until next time, Washington 🙂

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram:

@westiepoo.linley and @adventureinspades

Media taken Wednesday, April 20 through Sunday, April 24, 2022

It’s always sunny in South Dakota

Hello from Billings, Montana! Linley and I are heading on a road trip to Seattle, and we’ve had some interesting stops along the way…

Me changing oil at a gas station in Minnesota, while Linley stares in judgment as I punch a hole in a styrofoam cup for my makeshift funnel…

En route to Washington state, I decided that Rapid City, South Dakota made the most sense as our first overnight stay. I’ve heard by several that South Dakota had an abundance of national beauty once you get past the horrible, incredibly boring jaunt of I-90 West, including the Badlands and Black Hills National Forest. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets in the most breathtaking places, but the sunset driving through the Badlands is one that cannot be ignored.

After a relaxing night at a local Airbnb and an official oil change in the morning, we headed west to visit the Black Hills National Forest—which engulfed us in its natural beauty and crisp mountain air. Linley and I are both avid hikers and thoroughly enjoyed our three-hour trek. Our adventures in South Dakota oddly reminded me of my times in Estonia: sometimes the places you have no/less expectations of can quickly become your favorites!

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram: westiepoo.linley and adventureinspades

Media taken Sunday, April 17 and Monday, April 18

Asheville Waterfalls

In 2014, I saw some of the largest, most beautiful waterfalls in Asheville, North Carolina. During my most recent visit (I returned to Chicago with Linley late last night), I knew I had to revisit DuPont State Forest—and finally see Looking Glass Falls.

DuPont State Forest is a free, extremely large park with multiple trails and options for everyone to enjoy. Linley and I wanted to spend the majority of our time at High Falls—arguably the most magnificent of the bunch. I distinctly remember this from my first time in Asheville nearly eight years ago, and haven’t been able to forget it ever since. We hiked down to the river beneath the falls, found a great rock to sit on and enjoyed some quality time together.

Once Linley started getting antsy, we started to head east to get a better, closer view of the falls. The trek wasn’t necessarily the safest, but Lin and I were able to practice some fancy footwork and find a good spot to enjoy the mist from the falls.

Once we were pretty covered in sprinkles, we headed north and hiked another hour or so to Grassy Lake Falls—another waterfall in the park. This fall is significantly smaller, but much more peaceful and tranquil, making it the perfect spot for a quick picnic. There was a big rock that seemed like it was made specifically for Lin and me. We munched on some cheese sandwiches and dog food, and relaxed before the next hike.

On our way back to the visitor’s center, we met a lovely couple and chatted with them for a bit—which is one of the many reasons why I love the Asheville area so much. Linley even started to fall asleep as we visited with them! We finally made it to the car, and headed north to Looking Glass Falls.

Looking Glass Falls sits halfway between Asheville and DuPont State Forest, and is one waterfall I’ve always wanted to see. It’s not necessarily a “hike,” but it is a beautiful place to park your car, walk down toward and hang out for a little while. Linley and I sat in a “sandbank” type area with the best view of the falls, people watched and enjoyed hearing the sounds of the waterfall and the creek flowing near us.

I’m beyond grateful to have visited some of my favorite places with one of my best friends 😀

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram westiepoo.linley and adventureinspades

Media taken Wednesday, April 13

In Awe of Asheville

Asheville, North Carolina has held a special place in my heart since December, 2014—when I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and built homes in the area. The mountains, people and unique energy pulled me in, so much so that I almost moved there in 2021. I accepted a position at a smaller company and met some amazing coworkers-turned-friends, but ultimately relocated to Chicago instead.

I know what you’re thinking: How can a city girl be so outdoorsy at the same time? Truthfully, my only reasoning is that I’m a Libra and enjoy balance 😂

In all seriousness, when I knew I would have a seven week sabbatical between jobs, I knew I had to visit—Linley in tow. One of my best friends, Carolina lives in the area with her boyfriend and dog, giving us the perfect excuse to come visit. Nature is beautiful and all, but there’s nothing better than enjoying it with friends—human and four-legged!

Linley and I drove through Chicago, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Western North Carolina on Sunday, April 10 to get here. Linley was great in the car, but I knew I had to make it up to him – and myself – with some major hiking the next day. On Monday, April 11 we decided to hike the Rattlesnake Lodge trails while Carolina was busy at work. The trails were roughly four miles and approximately four hours for us to hike, but the sun peaking through the trees and the light breeze motivated us to keep going. The views weren’t as “open” as other hikes in the area, but it was still a great trail for us to start with. Between the hiking and long drive the day prior, Linley and I were so exhausted that we napped in the afternoon—something he often does and I rarely do. Carolina, Matt and I grabbed dinner and drinks downtown, watched some Impractical Jokers and went to bed.

The following day wasn’t looking like a great day for hiking; rain and light thunderstorms were predicted for the morning, which turned into the afternoon as well. Me being me, I thought leaving around noon would be smart to avoid the worst of the rain, but Lin and I were disappointed when we arrived at the Craggy Gardens trail and were hit with quite a bit of rain (guess which one of us was more disappointed than the other!). We stuck it out under it became unbearable, dried off in the car then headed back toward the city of Asheville for better luck.

Well, we didn’t have better luck at the North Carolina Arboretum, but we still made the most of it. After another rainy hike, we headed back to Carolina’s place. Carolina, our friend Jes and I headed to downtown Weaverville for s’more tacos and drinks. It was great to catch up with them—especially a long day of not being able to do much!

Don’t forget to follow Linley and me on Instagram @westiepoo.linley and @adventureinspades

Photos taken Monday, April 11 and Tuesday, April 12

Life’s a (dog) beach!

My beloved dog-turned-best friend, Linley, and I are blessed to live so close to the most popular dog beach in Chicago.

Note: “Close” in Chicago terms means either ~an hour walk, or a ten minute walk plus two train stops followed by another twenty minute walk (Or an 11-minute drive…).

Regardless, it’s nice being so close to what we love: Lake Michigan, the sand and the sun!

I’m taking a little sabbatical from work—giving Linley and I more opportunity for fun in the sun. Over the past five days, we’ve gone to the dog beach twice. Watching Linley smile and make new friends, prance around the shore, get the zoomies in the sand and let the sun hit his face instantly warms my heart. I forget about all my problems when I’m around him 💛

On Monday, my friend Andrea met us at the beach—followed by a lovely stroll around Uptown, her soon-to-be new condo and an outdoor dinner. We ordered burgers (mine was vegan of course!) and I asked for a plate of grilled chicken for the little guy. Linley was such a good boy—per usual. I’m also lucky that he’s great on long walks and the CTA trains.

Photos and videos taken Wednesday, March 16 and Monday, March 21

A very “Chicago” St. Patrick’s Day

The obligatory, quintessential way to celebrate St. Patty’s Day in Chicago? Checking out the green river!

Having visited Chicago several times before relocating here, I hadn’t seen the green river since I was six years old. Fortunately, we are just a quick drive from downtown and we were able to stroll the Riverwalk when it was calmer from all the weekend’s parade shenanigans. Seeing this tradition without the rowdiness of the typical parade setting is a blessing in my book 💚