Wake and Wander’s ‘Holy Shit Moments’ of 2012

I made a comment yesterday at a New Year’s Day party in Philadelphia (during the Mummer’s Parade) that incited laughter and resulted in being labeled as an “old man,” but I’ll say it again here because it’s one of the truest things I know: Life goes faster and faster every year, and there’s not a damn thing we can do but enjoy the hell out of every inch of it.

When I first announced that I would write this piece and asked others for their “holy shit moments” of the year, everybody started spouting off about negative or scary experiences. Those are well and good and definitely memorable, but a holy shit moment doesn’t have to be terrifying — they can, as you’ll see from mine, be quite beautiful.

I thank everyone who has been a part of this year, friends and family and colleagues and all those I’ve been fortunate enough to meet along the way. I’ve told you before I have a knack for using the holidays as a life reference point of comparison and the new year certainly has a lot to live up to given how great 2012 turned out to be. Writing this piece and going through all the photos and stories was a perfect reminder of how much fun I had and all the things I was able to experience. Cheers to that.

I’ve linked to stories and videos throughout this article in case you’d like to dig a bit deeper and read more about one of the moments that made the list. Here they are, my Holy Shit Moments of 2012, in no specific order:

Swimming with Pigs on the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas:


Okay, I’m cheating – it was just before the year turned last November — but I didn’t do one of these recaps last year (I did countdown my top happy hour spots of 2011, though). We’ll start fresh with those rules next year. This was too excellent of a moment to leave off the inaugural list. It’s actually the experience I’ve written the most about in my career, and one of the rarest things I’ve done to date.

You will soon be able to check out a narrative of the experience in my adventure travel column this month on Farewell Travels, and look for an article about it coming up on Travel and Escape in a few weeks (I’ll pass them both on). See the short video that was shot during my visit by Mike Corey from Kick the Grind – he was so kind as to let me make a cameo. Here is another perspective from a video by Jess Parker. Gotta love those piggies. We also fed french fries to an endangered species on this trip.

Hiking in Galachica National Park above Lake Ohrid in Ohrid, Macedonia:


When I was in Macedonia in November, I came up with the concept of this column after witnessing a sunset over Lake Ohrid from the hills of Galachica National Park. It had been cloudy for most of the hike, but during our descent the sun broke through. I cut through a field and upped my pace – running at times – to reach the north face of the hill. I crested, and it was just spectacular, the coast line curving and glowing and golden.

During the sunset, I sat down on a rock and recorded a video, speaking into it for about four minutes. I suppose I was somewhat leaving a message to my future self. Watching it now, the man in the video tells me that he’s experiencing one of the greatest moments of his life, that he’s enjoying complete bliss and saturation of beauty. He told me to do whatever I had to do to keep it going, to keep pushing my limits and seeking to experience all the planet has to offer. The reward was well worth it, I certainly remember that, and it’s no surprise Lake Ohrid is the most popular vacation spot in Macedonia.

You can read about the food and booze of Macedonia, see the beauty of Lake Ohrid, and hear about my first-ever paragliding experience over Skopje. I’ll have a photo essay on Lake Ohrid running in Travel and Escape shortly that I’ll pass on. I also talked about my trip in a recent radio appearance.

Ice Hotel and Ice-Canoe Racing in Quebec City


Who knew freezing your face off could be so much fun?

One of the reasons I like to travel is to see the way in which other people choose to live their lives. Before visiting Quebec City, the only appreciation I had for a culture that embraced winter came from spending time in ski towns. Quebec City has skiing nearby, but it’s certainly no one-trick pony. The photo above captures the yearly ice-canoe races, which is without a doubt one of the most insane sporting events I’ve had the pleasure of attending. Teams navigate large chunks of ice floating in the St. Lawrence, and when there’s nowhere else to go, they climb right over them (seriously, see video below). You can read the story here.

The fact that the locals cross-country ski in the heart of their city is also pretty wild, and if you want more seclusion, you can be snowshoeing in Parc de la Jacques Cartier in under an hour. I stayed a night at the ice hotel and never appreciated a hair dryer more. I walked the European-influenced streets during the day and later defrosted at a rave inside of an igloo.

Conundrum Hot Springs in Aspen, Colorado


That’s right — Aspen in the summer beats out Aspen in the winter, however it’s not fair to compare the two experiences. It takes a lot snow for a ski trip to become a “Holy Shit Moment,” but an 18-mile backpacking trip to the highest elevated natural hot springs in North America requires none (it sits at 11,200 feet). I wrote an article about the adventure for Outside Online discussing some of the environmental issues associated with the remote location, and also posted a bunch of photos and wrote a narrative of the experience here on Wake and Wander.

It’s not everyday that you walk nine miles into the wilderness and come across 50 people partying in a natural hot tub. Clothing, for sure, was optional.

Exploring the Alaskan Fjords with Royal Caribbean


When we were standing in line to check our bags before boarding the ship, we started up a conversation with the people behind us. They told us they had been planning this trip their entire lives, that they had worked all that time to save up the money. I smiled at my friend, both of us in the latter half of our twenties and boarding the same boat.

The biggest difference between an Alaskan and Caribbean cruise is the type and frequency of the scenery (read my thoughts here). When you’re cruising the Caribbean and between islands, all you see for the most part is water. That’s beautiful and romantic in its own right, but the arms and fjords that make up the Inside Passage in Alaska provide a constantly changing landscape, including mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers (Dawes Glacier is shown in the photo above).

I’ll never forget the waiter pouring the table an after-dinner glass of champagne at around ten, and when I looked out the window I could still see the snow on the tops of the mountains at 10:44 p.m. The sun rose between four and five and didn’t set until well after ten — pretty awesome given the amount of scenery to take in. You can read about my lessons in prostitution, my salmon feast on Tako Glacier, how journalists ruined the lives of many during the Gold Rush, and see some shots from the ship.

Experiencing the Energy Surrounding the City of Sedona, Arizona


Given that there are more than 100 hiking trails in the area, you won’t have to sit on the sidelines — something I always like about a destination. The town is known for being a New Age eclectic mix thanks to the reputation of the area as being an energy vortex. It’s certainly a crossroads sort of place, with each person’s path bringing them to Sedona for a different reason. My final night in town I had beers with a hitchhiker, a retired Air Force veteran, a traveling bartender and three wanderers having the time of their lives working in a restaurant by night and soaking in the scenery by day. Now that’s diversity.

I had an article run today on Travel and Escape about exploring the energy vortexes in Sedona. I’ll be posting a few more stories and photos on the area in the coming week here on Wake and Wander. I had my first psychic reading over the phone with a Sedonian woman shortly after leaving town, which I will tell you about soon.

Taking on an Airbus 340 in Maho Bay, St. Maarten


St. Maarten is a half Dutch, half French Caribbean island located close to St. Barths and Anguilla. Last year during my visit I hiked to the highest peak, got drunk watching the planes land during happy hour, drove a Jeep around the entire island, got stuck in the best traffic jam of my life, and broke my sunglasses just before visiting a nude beach. I did some other stuff, too.

As for messing around on Maho Beach by the infamous Princess Juliana Airport, I’ll let the videos speak for themselves. If you’ve never heard of the airport, it won’t take you long to see why it’s a tourist attraction. The first video is of when a plane lands on my head, the second is when I stand behind it during takeoff and a million grains of sand introduce themselves to my face.

I say in this second video that it’s a 747 I’m standing behind, but it turned out to be an A340 coming down the runway. Whoops!



  1. Happy to share the swimming pigs moment with such a great partner in crime. Also, Will vs. the Jet was intense!

  2. My sister and I went to Quebec City a few years ago for the Winter Carnivale. Growing up in Alabama, I was nervous about going there in February of all months. I must say it was by far one the best trips I have ever taken. I loved that the locals choose to pull their children in sleds instead of using stollers and that all of the innocent looking sledding opportunities ended in me almost peeing my pants in fear. While we didn’t stay the night in the ice hotel, we did go for a few drinks. It was the most amazing experience. I’m glad you got to see all of Quebec’s beauties!

  3. I LOVE the pig. Love. I also relate to the Aspen in the summer vs. Aspen in the winter… I live in Park City, and summertime here is basically perfection. Glad I found your tales of wandering!

  4. Wow, thanks for sharing your holy-shit moments and lacing it with humor. I needed that today. Even though I have traveled some in the past I do so enjoy being home and traveling vicariously via friends! I could not pick a favorite from your travels ~ the pig experience was over the planet but the sunset and other pictures ran a close! Keep up the awesome travels and sharing when you can ~ what great experiences to share when you decide to settle down (smile)!

  5. Hotel de Glace looks amazing! I went to Ice Bar in London a few years ago, which was SO fun, but I think staying in an ice HOTEL would be unparalleled. And cold.

  6. Yep, there are some real holy **** moments here! Whether or not you are really an old man, you are right about time flying faster and faster making it very important to take advantage of every minute. Looks like you do!

  7. Interesting post, and congrats on being FP! I live in Québec city and I have to say the ice canoe races are fun and intense, but you should see the Red Bull Crashed Ice. Every year I see the ramp being built and I fear someone will die in the competition. It’s nuts!

  8. We bought a house, became engaged and I visited the USA twice and flew on an inaugural flight. Also bought a new car, quit a job and learnt how to quilt. Completely different adventures to you but very special to me.

    I loved your comment re the people who saved all their life for the cruise and you and your friend were just doing it.

  9. This is all amazing scenery, I especially want to go to those hot springs in Colorado. The ones in have been to in Big Sur CA called sikes are okay and difficult to find. This blog speaks to the spirit of adventure and sportsmanship in all of us that creates a state of flow that ultimately is a factor that makes life very much worth living. With my job at http://www.playgroundentertainmentgroup.com I try my best to get kids off the couch and to become more active. With our blog http://www.kidssoccerblog.com we allow kids to post content related to sports and use it as a resource for parents to find information to get their kids up and going, so they will hopefully get up off their asses and go on a rad hike to some far off exotic location!

  10. Yes, great post right there, I liked it. My name is Carlos, if you are interested in ‘Surfski’ I invite you to follow our blog! Regards.

  11. Wow what a fulfilling and remarkable experience. I love the view in Hot Springs in Aspen, Colorado. Ideal for family trip. I hopefully try this out. I truly enjoyed your awesome post! Good Luck to your next journey!

  12. Reblogged this on greenemj and commented:
    Really inspiring post, perfect to help motivate the average college student to travel abroad and see the world. There is so much to be said for traveling. Whether that may be enjoying the hell out of every hour of each year or learning about yourself through our interactions and behavior in a new culture. It’s also important to take a step back and look back at all the amazing activities one has experienced, which is why it is so important to capture every moment.

  13. Love that you swam with pigs ! Hilarious photo. Excited to find your blog and looking forward to having a read of some of your adventures. Last year I swam with humpback whales in Tonga – a definitely holy shit moment of the beautiful kind ! Now im gonna have to add swimming with pigs to the list 😉

      • Ahhhh yes ! Enormous. Before I went I was trying to wrap my head around how big they were going to be. They can be around 18 metres long. My friend gave me a visual of that by comparing a semi trailer with another station wagon type car attached to the back !!!
        On my first time in the water with the whales ( there were many many many swims ) the guide told me to “look down”. I was looking and looking and couldn’t see what he was pointing at.
        It was a mother whale – she was so big I couldn’t get her into my vision !
        Frightening but incredible.
        Do it 🙂

  14. Great! Most places I would like to be someday! Only one place I have been made it on your list…Conundrum Hot Spings in Aspen. I hiked there 7 times the summer I lived in aspen!

  15. My 2012 was not a very good one; from the loss of an adored parent to hurricane Sandy… so I prefer to look back on YOUR 2012 because it appears you had a blast from those hot springs to Alaskan snowscapes. I enjoy seeing people happy and appreciating life and nature> thank you for sharing. Here’s to both of us posting a fantastic 2013 year in review!!

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