Bears, Rain and Serial Killers…Oh My!

I left Prince Rupert the moment the sun came out and rode 95miles to Terrace. Suddenly, my whole mind-set changed as I rode through gorgeous scenery on a good road with a wide shoulder and few cars. This is what’s it’s all about I thought as I left the rain behind, at least for a day.

The Skeena River. The longest undimmed River in North America.

In Terrace I had a Warmshowers host who said that they would be on vacation but she told me to find the hidden key and stay as long as I’d like! Crazy, right! This was a life saver for me. I washed clothes, cooked food, slept late and escaped two days of lightening and thunder storms. But that’s just the start…at the same time, I found out from two Seattle friends that there had been three murders (an Aussie and US couple and a man from Dease Lake – a town I would ride through in 3 days) and two missing youth on the exact same highway that I was about to start riding up the next day!

Everyone told me that this has never before happened in British Columbia. All of a sudden the bear threat slide down a notch and serial killer rose to first place. No worries, I registered with the police then took off on a side route to Nass Camp that would link up to Highway 37 – the Cassiar Highway.

The route along Highway 113 to Nass camp

Another fantastic ride! The plan was to camp here and then ride Cranberry Junction to 37 the next day. The problem is that the weather begins to change and huge rain clouds move in. The campground looks completely destroyed from the previous two nights of windstorms and there is no one around. To further freak me out, I hear from locals that Cranberry Junction, which is just an old logging road, is impassible by car because of all the fallen trees and branches and if I ride, I’ll be the only one there. Oh hell no! In my head, this is where the killer has escaped to. Now, I’m super creeped out and just want to be back in that warm, safe, cozy Warmshowers house back in Terrace.

Just when I start to panic, a single woman drives up with her dog in a small car and a canoe and a huge storage rack on top of the car. She comes over and says she’s also creeped out. I tell her we have a warm house in Terrace if we can rig my bike on top of her car. Just then a fellow drives up and the three of us go to work to make this happen. Success! We finally make it back at 10:30 pm exhausted!

Kam from Whitehorse comes to my rescue!

Now, word on the street is that the two missing teens are actually the killers! There are lots of rumors and speculation, but I say screw it and head out anyway. I have to get north and the clock is ticking.

As soon as I start riding again my fears almost completely evaporate. Over the next seven days I bike everyday anywhere from 5 to 7 hours a day ( which translates to 50-70 or so miles a day give or take) completely by myself with the occasional passing car. I try to camp around people but the days are mine!

Bikers

Until about day four on the Cassiar, I had not run into a single bike tourer and then I started to see one or two people a day heading south. So far, six weeks into my trip, I still haven’t found a single person riding north. I guess the universe wants me to do this along. We’ll see!

Biker from France with his DIY bear horn

German family cycling from Whitehorse to Vancover.

North Americans

A French couple driving the America’s in their 1948 Citroen.

A German cycling Alaska to Argentina.

A Brazilian couple (of Chinese descent) riding up from Brazil.

Steve from New Zealand who rode down the Dempster.

Adam from England riding Alaska to Argentina after a year on the rode. I follow him on Instagram. When he rode up to me I said, “Hi Adam!” I think he was a bit surprised, as was I!

The Scot on the road for two years said this has been the most remote and isolated part of his trip.

People and connections

At the end of the day, it’s the people you meet that really make the trip. We are wired for connection and that becomes clear when you are on your own. Someone everyday has helped me out, motivated me or inspired me with their kindness. In fact, that’s the only reason that I am here. Everyone has been concerned for my safety if not because of murders on the loose or threatening bears then just plain old incessant rain. It really does take a village.

Allen, the maintenance guy drove me down to Stewart/Hyder for the day.

This great family from Terrace donated their tarp for the night. Priceless!

This lady let me hang out all night in the trucker cafe. I was almost an employee before I left.

This nice man (overalls) gave me a lift to my campsite after a long days ride. I was too lazy to ride the final 20 miles after already putting in 70 miles.

These two supervised the fixing of my first flat tire on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

The French family I camped with one night. We had so much fun!

The Alaska Highway

And so, the killers escaped to Manitoba, and I made it to Watson Lake and the Alaska Highway.

Whitehorse

I’m now in Whitehorse gearing up for the second and more remote part of my trip, the 450 mile Dempster Highway. Heading up to Dawson City tomorrow where I will get my head around this ride before taking off either alone or accompanied by another biker on the 10th of August.

En Fin (Finally)

I have been so hungry at times that roadkill starts to look good. I’ve been so sweaty and stinky that I couldn’t sleep because of my own stench. I have had whole conversations with myself out loud in Spanish with just the bears as my witness, and I’ve cried for miles on end for what might have been but never was. And yet, I wouldn’t trade a single moment of this glorious ride for all the gold in Dawson City. I call this “cycle therapy.”

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Haida Gwaii update

I’m now seeing that most of my photos didn’t post to the last blog update… whoa is me. Alas, I don’t have time to repost as I’m leaving now. Ugh! Bueno, next time!

Haida Gwaii (formally Queen Charlotte Island)

I spent eight days on the gorgeous island of Haida Gwaii and all but one was rainy. One day it poured for about 12 hours straight. I lost it! I wanted to go home. I told myself as soon as it lightens up I’ll take that road everyone talks about then I’ll call it a rap. Of course, at the end of your rope, just as you’re completely losing your shit, is where the magic begins! At least that’s how it works for me.

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A nice lady invited me to stay in her studio, a Cuban guy sailing from Alaska with a French family invited me to coffee and surprised me with a few chocolate bars. How did he know that I love chocolate! I went to a community bike fix program started by a teacher and Warmshowers host. I learned a ton about Haida culture and customs. I leaned that entertainment on a Friday night entails going around to the various bonfire parties. If they don’t know who you are, they ask who your mother is since it’s a matriarchal society.

By the eighth day the sun came out and I didn’t want to leave. Part of the reason I didn’t want to leave is because the “vacation ” part of my trip would be over when I left the island. Now the games will begin!

I took the seven hour ferry ride back to Prince Rupert last night which got me into town at 6am. Tomorrow there is sun in the forecast, so I’ll leave. There is rain and thunder predicted the rest of the week.

On the islands the fog horn went in my front pouch.

On this next leg of the trip, I’ll still be in British Columbia. In fact B.C. is so big that you can fit California, Washington, Oregon and a little bit of New England inside her massive boarders. It’s as wide as Texas with only two highways heading north. I’ll be on the Cassier Highway otherwise known as “Bear Ally.” Not to worry, I know exactly what to do if I see a bear, scream and run!!

She-RA jumped ship…now I have the mighty eagle feather to protect me!

I’ll be following the Skeena River up from Pr. Rupert the first day. Apparently, it’s the longest un-dammed river in North America. Who knew? I imagine it will be about two weeks until I’m able to post again. By then I should be in Whitehorse.

Feel free to keep sending good vibes…I receive the positive energy even without WiFi.

Love,

Denise

Vancover Island

My ride got off to a great start. I left Bremerton on a sunny Wednesday morning accompanied by two friends (one whom I’ve known since kindergarten -Mark King) and a send off committee of three (a life-long friend, Wendy Dreaney and my sister and niece), as Wendy said, “I feel like we need a marching band.” Perhaps if I make it back!

Yes, the first day was sunny. The second day was a torrential downpour. We got soaked and had to re-group under shelter half way through the day. I’m happy to report that this has been the only day of riding in the rain for two weeks, although I’ve had nights of rain – ugh!

Accommodations

Apart from camping, I’ve been enjoying “Warmshowers.” What the heck is Warmshowers you ask? Well, it’s a brilliant network of social exchange for bikers. I send a request through a legitimate on-line platform and fellow bikers invite me to stay with them if they are available. It’s a fantastic way to meet like-minded people and get the local scoop on politics, economy, industry and where to go and what to see. They also go above and beyond to offer a warm meal and a breakfast to send you on your way. Here are some of the people I’ve stayed with and homes I’ve been in so far.

I’ve also had some interesting camping situations…

First Nation People and culture

The First Nations people and culture has been fascinating. One of my favorite places so far is the island community of Alert Bay. I was able to talk with several Namgist people and learn a bit about their history. I also stayed with a Namgist family and had dinner with them. Ya, we broke bread – Italian bread with spaghetti!

Friends Along the from Way

I’ve met loads of very friendly people. Lots of RV travelers from all over the world have given me their cell numbers in case I run into problems. The southern part of Vancover Island is very populated but once you get beyond Campbell River in the north amenities are few and far between. My most memorable encounter was with a kayaker namer Annan who I met at the ferry terminal in Port Hardy. I went to the terminal the night before the 15 hour boat trip to Prince Rupert to ask if I could just camp there. Annan came ashore after two weeks of paddling to ask the same question. After not running into any cyclist the entire two weeks, I was super excited to meet Annan and exchange stories with this brave ocean going explorer. As you can see, we tented side by side – it was the only stretch of flat we could find! My tent is the one with all the duct tape.

Prince Rupert

I spent two nights camping in P.R. Before jumping another ferry to Haida Gwaii, formally called Queen Charlotte Islands. More on this to come.

So far so good…I’m mentally preparing for the ride up north, the great distances between towns and the animals I’ll meet along the way!

If anyone wants to say hi you can send a greeting on WhatsApp at 206-402-2599 or text me a message at my Canada number that’s only for texting at 778-674-2886. It’s nice to hear from people as I’m days on end by myself. You can also see some photos at Dee LaFountaine on instagram if You’re interested. Thanks for your support. It’s always easier knowing people I know and love are out there!

A big hug,

Denise

The Call of the Wild

Route to Tuktoyaktuk, Canada

Please ignore this post if you already read it. I’m having technical difficulties!

I’m excited to finally dust off this old blog, as well as my bike, in anticipation of a new adventure. I’ll be leaving Bremerton, Washington on my bike June 26th and making my way North towards the Arctic Ocean.

I saw the route in a youtube video a couple years ago and said to myself, “I’d never do that.” But then I read a couple blogs of other people who had done it and said, “Heck, why not?” As it turns out, my work site is closing for the summer, so I figured this ride was meant to be.

I invite you to join me as I bike to the northern tip of Vancover Island, take the ferry to Prince Rupert, cross over to Haida Gwaii (formally Queen Charlotte Island), then up through British Colombia, the Yukon and NW Territories to the Beaufort Sea (part of the Arctic Ocean).

T-shirt from my brother from Alaska

Yes, I know. There are will animals out there. Did you know that Vancover Island has the biggest population of cougars in North America and maybe even the world! Plus, a huge black bear population. Who know? I was freaking out about the Yukon. I didn’t know I had to freak out about Vancover Island. Not to worry…I have bear spray (well, not yet) and I will hang my food (after I buy some rope). Seriously, I got this…kind of. That said, if anyone out there has a bear canister they can lend me for the summer that would be cool. My friend, Matt Clark, who is also a biker, sent me a link just yesterday of a biker who was chased by a grizzly on the Yukon Highway, the exact same highway that I will be on. Thankfully, that bear will be gone by the time I get there!

How long will this take me you ask? I have until mid-September until work starts, but, it could start snowing up north by mid-August. So, my plan is to finish by the first of Sept. fly back to Vancover and then spend a couple weeks of “vacation” just coasting back to Seattle and enjoying a leisure return. Years ago I biked from Banff to Jasper in the Canadian Rockies. It was my first self-supported solo ride. I wasn’t prepared at all (but had a blast just the same). I ran into bears at every turn and snow over the pass. Of course now those are my best stories!

I hope to interview First Nations people along my route. If there is anything you would like to know – let me know! If you have any questions about this ride or anything else – let me know. I know what’s in my head, and I assumed everyone else has the same information. I’ve been alerted to the fact that that’s not true, so what you ask everyone else may also want to know.

Last but not least…my Crownhill grade school buddy, Mark King, (and his brother-in-law) are joining me for the first two days of the ride out of Bremerton. First day Port Townsend second day Port Angeles. So happy to have such a loving community send-off! We Crownhill/Bremerton High folks stick together! From there I take the ferry to Victoria. If anyone else is heading north this summer and would like to meet up that would be AWESOME! Let me know. My WhatsApp number is 206-402-2599 (which is different from my regular cell number which I won’t be using). See you on the road!!!

Love,

Denise

Patagonia Part II

After six months back home in Seattle, I (once again) left the comforts of four secure walls, a hot shower and family and friends to re-visit Argentina and Chile on bike.  This time I planned the trip with my awesome partner Mariano (Nano) who I met last year half-way through the ride.

Carretera Austral (Again?)

That’s right, this year we decided to “re-do” the Carretera Austral (CA or Route 7) that awesome 1,240km (770mi) partly paved/partly dirt road that runs through the heart of Chilean Patagonia.  Last year we busted through it.  The constant rain coupled with our limited time to get to our ultimate goal of Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, forced us to get an occasional ride and haul-ass the rest of the time.  It definitely felt like we were just checking it off the list rather than really enjoying the spectacular natural beauty of the place – which (duh!) is the entire reason to be there in the first place!

From day one this was a completely different ride.  We had a two-month time limit, but  decided to enjoy the process rather than be ruled by a final concrete destination. We started our ride in San Martin de Los Andes, 1,566km (973mi) south-west of Buenos Aires along the Andes Mt. chain part of the seven lakes route – one of my favorite bike routes ever!  From San Martin we rode south to Villa Angostura and then 15Km straight up Cardenal Samore pass into Chile.  We cycled up the 1,314mts. (4,311ft.elevation) pass in the middle of a 90 degree day with gigantic horse-flies trying mercilessly to break our spirits for the entire three-hour climb.  The pay-off was flying downhill into cool, damp, green Chile leaving the horse-flies in the dust for the time being.

Our route in Chile took us in front of Osorno Volcano and around Lake Llanquihue (second largest lake in Chile!) to Puerta Varas and then finally to Puerto Montt the official beginning of the Carretera Austral.

Last Year/This Year…

Route:  This year we started in Puerto Montt.  Last year we started in Villa Santa Lucia (entering Chile over the Futaleufu pass – try to say that 10 times fast!) missing the first 315km (196mi) of the route.  As fate would have it, we were shocked to find out that only weeks before our trip began, there was a major landslide at Villa Santa Lucia that completely destroyed the town and cut off the road south and north of the CA.  As a result, several things happened.  First, everyone else seemed to have gotten the memo that the road was closed and decided to call off the trip (except for the relentless Chileans).  There were noticeably less bikers this year.  The other consequence of the closure was re-routing by boat.  We took a gorgeous (free!) 7 hour boat ride through the fjord like inlets of southern Chile in order to connect back up with the CA 70km (43mi) south of Villa Santa Lucia at La Junta.  As a bonus prize, we ended up cycling 73km (45mi) from the port of Raul Marin Balmaceda to La Junta on a magical dirt road through a rain forest where if you squinted your eyes just slightly you could see fairies, unicorns and star-dust just up ahead in the distance.

The other major route change from last year was crossing back into Argentina at Paso Roballos instead of ending in Villa O’Higgins.  Spectacular! Best decision ever!!  Paso Roballos is a gravel road running through the heart of Patagonia National Park.  This is the famous swath of land bought up by North Face Founder, Doug Tompkins (more below in hiking).

 

Hiking:  This year we tied our backpacks onto our bike racks and took advantage of some of the amazing hiking along the route.  We backpacked three days in Villa Cerro Castillo.  This area rivals the famous Torres del Paine and El Chalten but its free and relatively quiet in comparison.  We were lucky to have three gorgeous days to do this.  On the third day, the wind picked up and a storm came in so we changed course and headed down.  We also hiked in Parque Pumalin and rode through Parque Nacional Patagonia.  Both of these parks are due to more than two million acres of wilderness that Doug Tomkins (R.I.P) and his wife, Kris McDivitt Tompkins, former CEO of Patagonia, bought and then restored through huge conservation projects.  The goal was then to create national parks with the Chilean government eventually taking charge.  This changing of the guard is in process in Parque Pumalin and just happened in January in Patagonian National Park.  My advice would be to see these pristine and well maintained parks fast before the Chilean government has time to screw things up.  Funny how money for parks mysteriously turns up in other places like vacations, houses and cars!

Food:  This year we made a few dietary changes in order to incorporate more protein into our diets and improve energy.  First of all, we bought a small frying pan in Puerto Montt in order to have eggs for breakfast even when camping.  Yes, Nano rode on “ripio” or washboard/gravel with a half-dozen eggs in his pannier nicely swathed in a T-shirt then strategically placed in his clothes bag.  Not one ever broke! We also ate more beans and lentils when possible.  We put the dried beans in a water bottle to soak all day when we knew we would be in a place at night where we could use the kitchen to cook.  And perhaps the best score of all was (drum roll)… Peanut Butter!  Yes, crappy, preservative filled peanut butter, but peanut butter nevertheless.  This was a new discovery for Nano.  In fact, he lived off the pb.  He controlled the pb which gave me leverage to control the chocolate, no-one got hurt and everyone was happy!

Lodging:  The other goal for this year was to spend less money on lodging.  This is a little tricky when it’s raining all the time, but thankfully this year it only rained half of the time instead of all the time.  Out of 54 nights 19 were “free,” 19 were paid lodging ($10-$20 a night) and 16 were paid camping ($5-$15 a night).   Not bad but could be better.  It all depends on the weather!  Some of the places we stayed were a ferry station, abandoned house, abandoned police station (with howling wind and doors banging all night), warm-showers (couchsurfing for bikers), ranch, construction site, fire station, apartment, national parks, hostels and boarding houses.  Every night is an unplanned adventure!

 

The Kindness of Strangers:  Everyone we met was friendly, kind and accommodating.  One day when a man who was fishing with his buddies saw us he walked into the nearby store and bought us a bag full of goodies for our ride.  He told us that the attendant in the store also pitched in when she found out who he was buying the goodies for!

And finally, the last day of our trip was emblematic of the entire ride.  We wanted to hitch back to Buenos Aires, but two bikes and two people getting a ride proved to be almost impossible.  We actually got a ride 450km. to a small town in the middle of the Argentinean steppe called, Piedra de Aguila.  This town was about five blocks long and two blocks wide.  Over the duration of the day, standing on the side of the road during a hellacious wind storm, everyone in town passed us and gawked at least once.  “Yay, we’re crazy,” I wanted to say but instead just looked pathetic.  Thankfully, there was a bus station in town.  About half-way through the day we bowed our heads and shuffled over.  Yes, there was a bus leaving tomorrow at noon but wouldn’t allow our bikes.  Nano worked his magic (as always) and finally the woman agreed that we could box them up and pay as oversized luggage.  Fine, we had no other option, but now we were almost completely broke and had about 20 more hours in town before the bus left.  We walked around the corner to the gas station to share a coffee (gas stations in Argentina have espresso machines and excellent coffee – when I see a YPF gas station, my eyes light up!).   The attendant had seen us the day before and knew our story.  We ordered one small espresso to share but when we went up to pay, he had made us two large expresso’s on the house!  Our plan was to sit in the gas station until dark,  go eat dinner somewhere, then sleep in the bus station so we wouldn’t have to pay for the nights accommodation.   About 8pm we hauled our bikes and our sorry behinds down the block to find a cheap restaurant.  As we were leaning the bikes against the wall, a woman walked by and said, “The restaurant across the street is cheaper and has bigger portions.  Say no more,  before you knew it, we were ordering one plate of chicken Milanese with mashed potatoes and a salad.  The owner walked over to greet us and asked us where we were staying.  When we said the bus station she said, “No, you will be my guests in my hotel tonight.”  When we finished dinner, she gave us directions to the hotel and told us it was all arranged.  The next morning we went to the bus station early to box up our bikes.  We needed to find tape, scissors, and big boxes.  Before we knew it, one shop owner brought us tape and scissors another found us big boxes and another invited us to breakfast.  When the bus finally came, they helped us load up and handed us a bag of home-made bakery goods for the road.  And so, on the road, when you least expect it, amazing things happen!

In total we rode 1,760km (1,072mi), met people from all over the world, enjoyed many days of sun, hiked, drank craft beer and never-ending supply of crappy coffee with powdered milk, got colds but never got hurt of robbed.  I’d call that a huge success and loads of fun!  Until the next adventure…adios amigos!!

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Instagram:  If you are interested in seeing photos of my trip, you can find me on instagram at deelafountaine.

 

 

 

New Year; New Adventures!

“If you can’t be with the (bike) you love; love the (bike) you’re with.”  – Stephen Stills

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Happy New Year! 2017 was epic and now I have my sights set for an equally awesome and challenging 2018.  To start things off, I bought a new bike in Buenos Aires.  After Mariano (Nano) and I reviewed the used bike site “Mercado Libre” a handful of times and checked out a number of bikes stores (used bike stores don’t exist), I finally decided on an Argentinian made bike called, “Olmo.”  It’s a 27 gear Mt. bike with middle of the road Shimano components (sorry bike geeks that’s all I’ve got for you at the moment!  As usual, I was more focused on the colors).  I’m not totally in love with this bad boy (yet?).  I need time to process this new relationship.  To help the transition, I brought the same Schwalbe tires that I used on my Surly last year, and a friend (Jain!) who is coming to Argentina this month graciously agreed to bring my beloved pedals…who knew you could fall in love with pedals?

In Argentina, you can’t try out bikes before you buy them and you can’t bring them back if they don’t work.  All I could do was sit on it in the store and get a general idea of the fit. Along with the bike, I also needed a rear rack, fenders, water bottle cage and a new  adjustable stem for the handlebars.  When it came time to pay, I handed the cashier a wad of crisp $100 bills that I brought just for this occasion.  Nano told the owner that I didn’t need a receipt.  Suddenly, this transaction became a whole lot sweeter.  The owner threw in all the extras, and I walked out paying only the price of the bike.  This generous exchange helped ratchet up the love factor just a bit!

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Maiden Voyage January 2018

With that part of the adventure over,  we are now trying to figure out how we will get to the start of our trip.  We want to start either in Bariloche or San Marin de Los Andes, both situated along the spine of the Andes in the western edge of Argentina.  Both are about a 20hr drive from BsAs.  Painful!  We looked into flying (2hrs) but the price was outrageous for us ($240 one way!! That’s equal to three weeks of travel for me.).  We are hoping for some sort of carpooling or ride-share situation but will also consider a bus (20 freaking hours on a bus!!) or hitchhiking.  Realistically, no one is going to pick up two people with two bikes and tons of gear leaving BsAs, but never say never.

Before we start our bike adventure at the end of January,  we are taking Nano’s 13yr.old son on a two-week road trip about 1,100Km west into the Andes region starting in Mendoza and working our way south.  We plan to do a lot of camping, hiking, swimming and exploring.  Buenos Aires is merciless at this time of year in terms of the heat and humidity.  It’s one thing if you can refresh in cool water or escape to a higher elevation, but in Buenos Aires Provence those options do not exist.  We will visit the mountain areas of Mendoza, Soneando and Malargue along Route 40.  This zone is also scorching hot, but escape into the higher elevations in the foothills of the Andes offers occasional mountain lakes, rivers and cooler temperatures.

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Mendoza along Route 40

Oh ya, Christmas and New Year’s Eve were super fun with Nano’s very warm and welcoming family.   The traditions here in Latin America and more specifically Argentina are very different from the USA.  To get an idea, folks start to gather around 10:00pm and eat dinner around 11pm.   Then, and this is my favorite part, they eat ice-cream! Here, because of the heat, instead of sitting by the fire drinking hot chocolate and listening to Christmas carols, you sit outside on the patio, eat ice-cream and listen to Electronica or whatever is hip at the time.  Buenos Aires has delicious ice-cream.  On Christmas Eve and New Years Eve all the ice-cream stores are filled with people buying quarts of ice-cream. Brilliant!

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Nardi Family New Year’s 2018!

To end the year, I was looking over photos and video from last year and found this interview archive from Tornquist, Argentina.  I decided to post it here although it is in Spanish.  The radio host asked me questions super fast then barely gave me time to answer, so I had to speak in Spanish as fast as I could.  It’s not pretty.  If you speak Spanish, it will no doubt make you laugh.  If you don’t speak Spanish, you will laugh just the same!

http://noticiastornquist.com.ar/noticias/2017/04/05/una-docente-estadounidense-recorre-varios-paises-en-bici-y-paso-por-nuestra-ciudad/

Wishing everyone exciting adventures in the New Year whether it be exploring what your neighborhood has to offer or stepping into uncharted territory.  Discovery at any level is life affirming!

Best,

Denise