2014, The most Rewarding and Overwhelming Year of our lives

I originally started writing this post with the intention of going through some of our greatest adventures of the year but then as I sat staring at my blank computer screen, I realized that 2014 was one extraordinary adventure from beginning to end. I marvelled at our schedule and sat in awe at our stamina. I'm not going to say that I intend to ever keep up this pace of travel again, but when looking back at the year, I can understand why Dave and I feel that it was the most rewarding and fulfilling year of our careers, but also the most exhausting and overwhelming of our lives.

Our 2014 travels started off on January 3rd where we began our year long adventure with Ontario Tourism promoting activities in our own backyard. We took a drive up to Haliburton Ontario to do some dogsledding. It wasn't your average dogsledding adventure, we went out with Hank DeBruin of Winterdance: Iditarod and two time Yukon Quest finisher with his all husky team of race dogs. We were the first people outside his inner circle that he allowed to ride with his race dogs, and after a few days of learning about dog racing, going out on a few practice runs and meeting his family, we spent a night on the trail with him and his dogs as they went on their final practice run before leaving for the Yukon Quest.

The Beautiful Dogs of Winterdance

To book dogsledding in Ontario, visit Winterdance Dogsledding

For the Love of TV

We finished at 5:00 am and drove directly to Toronto where we joined the ladies of The Social on live television to talk about using adventure travel to put the spark back into your relationship. Smelling like dog slobber and going on zero hours of sleep, our adrenaline was pumping as we told our story and shared our travel experiences with Canada. We love going on that show and visiting with the ladies, especially segment producer and regular guest star Kate McKenna. She's been amazing to us, thanks Kate!

On Set of the Social

Expedia Viewfinders

Our next trip took us to Seattle, Washington where we met up with our fellow Expedia Viewfinders to discuss the year ahead. If you didn't know, we are a part of a team of esteemed travel bloggers that write for Expedia.com. We're their Viewfinders. There are a dozen of us that write for Expedia and represent the brand around the world and they really are the greatest group of Bloggers out there. We think of them all as family and love meeting with them yearly to discuss ideas and brainstorm ways to make the travel and blogging world better.

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Spencer Spellman and Rick Griffin: Fellow Expedia Viewfinders

Epic Adventures

There was no rest after the meeting as we were back in Ontario to take on our most epic challenge we have ever done!

Once we arrived back in Canada, we packed up our car and drove to Sudbury, Ontario where we met Dave and Kielyn Marrone to begin our 100km trek through the Arctic Watershed. This was by far the most difficult thing Dave and I have ever done in our lives. We had to survive in -35 degree weather as we trekked the frozen Missinaibi Headwaters on snowshoes, pulling our own gear, chopping down our own firewood, chipping through ice for our drinking water and creating a bed of spruce boughs to sleep on. If it weren't for the guidance of Dave and Kie, plus the amazing camera work and support from Dave Hartman and additional support from Tyler and Leslie, we never would have made it through the 10-day trek way up North.

To take on your own Epic Canadian Winter Adventure, check out Lure of the North

Milder Winter Adventures

As soon as we finished that trek, we drove directly to Huntsville where we took on a more leisurely winter adventure in Arrowhead and Algonquin Parks where we did some ice skating on the world's only forest ice trail, did some back country snowmobiling, winter tubing and tried our hands at fat biking: The new winter craze that's just like mountain biking, but you do it in the snow! Muskoka Ontario has it all, from find dining to great outdoor adventure and romantic getaways. See all there is to do at Sample a Taste of Everything in Muskoka.

Don't forget Public Speaking

Once we finished all our winter adventures, we shared our stories and experiences at the Outdoor Adventure Show in Toronto. It's the largest outdoor show in Canada and we had six slots where we talked about Ontario, shared our videos and answered questions about traveling through out great province.

We'll be speaking again this February! Join us at the Outdoor Adventure Pavilion Feb 22 and 23 in Toronto. Details here!

Off to Australia!

The night the show ended, we boarded a plane to Australia to explore Queensland. We spent a week traveling around Australia's tropical north doing everything from White Water Rafting, Stand Up Paddle Boarding and taking a helicopter tour over the Great Barrier Reef before diving below the surface of the world's largest coral reef.

We then spent a week relaxing in a luxury apartment on the Gold Coast courtesy of Peppers Resorts where we did nothing but relax, meet up with our old friend Duncan who we met in our travels way back in 2003 and explored the most beautiful coast in the world.

Queensland's Gold Coast

Put to the Challenge

Once we cam back from Australia, we took our motorcycle test in Toronto. We spent a weekend with Motorsoul Riding School to learn how to ride a motorcycle because come the end of the summer, we had the intent on circumnavigating Lake Superior (the world's largest fresh water lake) by motorbike!

We passed our test, but didn't have long to celebrate because we jetted off to Oregon to take part in Instagramming the beauty of this great US State. Oregon surprised and delighted us. We couldn't believe the beauty of this place and wondered why every American doesn't choose to live here? It has mountains, deserts, fine dining, micro breweries, a wonderful coastline and no taxes! If I were American, I'd be there in a Heartbeat! But I'm not so we had to settle on just visiting. We also had the opportunity to meet Bo Baumgartner and the lovely ladies behind the fabulous travel blog Wave Journey. And we ended our trip visiting with our long time friend and blogging mentor Andy Hayes!

Our Guide Bo Baumberger looking over Smith Rock

Not one but two trips to Ireland in 2014!

We were then off to Ireland for our first of two trips to the country to drive the Wild Atlantic Way. We had the honour of being the first media to drive the entire length of the Wild Atlantic Way from bottom to top. All 2500 km of it. We instantly fell in love with Ireland. It became our favourite country in the world and it was the most beautiful and romantic trip we've ever taken. How can it not be romantic, we stayed in castles!

 

Back to Canada

After Ireland, we did an about face from romance and relaxation and high tailed it up north to take an intensive week-long course of whitewater kayaking. I was terrified about flipping upside down in raging cold water, but our guide Fidel at Madawaska Kanu Centre was so amazing, that I enjoyed every minute of it and by the end of the week, Dave and I were running class 3 rapids, we'd mastered the roll and had an amazing time doing it. If you are ever in Ontario Canada, make your way to Madawaska Kanu Centre to learn to white water kayak, it will be the greatest adventure of your life, and the bonus is, World Champions teach you! The only have the best. Book your course there today!

It was then time for our first motorcycle ride on the open road. The guys from Northern Ontario Travel and Ginny from Motorsoul Riding School came to meet us at my parents house with a camera crew. We all then hopped on the motorbikes and the gang took a four day trip through Grey Bruce County. Grey and Bruce counties are probably the most beautiful counties in Ontario with the Blue Mountains, Georgian Bay and the Niagara Escarpment. This area was our old stomping ground when training for the Tour d'Afrique way back in 2007 and when we used to have seasons passes at Blue Mountain Resort for snowboarding. We stopped to see the sights, but it was more about riding and getting used to the bike during these four days.

On the Water

Once we finished up here, we packed our bags yet again and joined wildlife photographer Rob Stimpson and Voyageur Quest on a canoe trip through Algonquin Park in search of moose. It was a successful expedition as we saw 18 moose and had an incredible time camping in the Great Canadian wild, canoeing through beautiful Algonquin Park and making new friends. Steve Bruno from Outdoor Ontario joined us and he is the greatest guy on earth that you could ever work with. That was a big bonus getting to hang out with him.

Adrenaline in the Forest

It was then time to up our skills on the motorcycle a bit so we took a weekend dirt biking course in the Ganaraska forest. We met Steve Weycamp: Owner of Trail Tours in Peterborough and followed him into the forest where we geared up with all the protective padding to keep us from breaking anything as we whizzed through the forest. Our instructor Al taught us how to hop over logs, do skidding stops, stand up on our bikes, make tight turns and so much more. By the end of day one we were driving through narrow trails in the forest having a rip roaring time on all the obstacles. We especially loved the mogul type bumps in the middle of one trail.

Hobnobbing with Celebrities 

In the middle of all this, we popped over the Universal Studios for the opening of Harry Potter's Diagonally. It was a huge media event where we got the chance to see all the starts (Sans Hermione, Harry and Ron) walk the red carpet at the studios. But was was better yet, we had VIP passes that gave us free run of Universal Studios, we saw Jimmy Fallon introduce Jimmy Buffet and we popped in to see the Blue Man Group! We even attended a private VIP concert with the Beach Boys. We stood right at the stage and shook hands with Mike Love!

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Fans with Tom Felton: Draco Malfoy of Harry Potter

It was back to work when we came back to Canada though where we joined Bill Spicer of the popular fly fishing TV show, The New Fly Fisher as guest stars. He taught us how to fly fish in the St. Mary's River in Sault Ste Marie before hopping on a float plane to Timberwolf Lodge where we spent the next few days fishing for steelhead. We practiced our casting and worked on finessing our moves. I can't say that it made a fisherman out of us, but we certainly loved the act of casting. I think I could do that all day. As a matter a fact we did!

Deb with The New Fly Fisher, Bill Spicer and his Cameraman

Our final motorcycle practice trip took us through the Kawarthas in Ontario where we spend 3 more days getting comfortable on our bikes, seeing the sites and filming more footage for the motorcycle series following our journey on Ontario Motoroads.

We were then back in the North of Lake Superior to kayak the Slate Islands in search of caribou. The Slates have the highest concentration of woodland caribou in Ontario and we ended up seeing about 9 of these beautiful creatures. Our trip started at the Rock Lodge of Naturally Superior Adventures and this is the place to be on the lake. It seems that every adventurer and paddler stops in here either to camp, stay in the spacious and comfortable lodge, to shop at his gear store or to grab a bite of their delicious home made meals. We spend a night there before driving another 3 hours to our boat shuttle out to The Slates. It was 5 glorious days on the water where we felt the power of Lake Superior and witnessed the beauty of this untouched land.

It was then off to Manitoulin Island to enjoy the Great Spirit Circle Trail with four lucky winners of The Best of Outdoor Ontario Contest. We met four incredible beautiful ladies from Michigan and spent seven days taking on adventures on the world's largest fresh water island. We also had the honour of learning about Aboriginal Culture and to take part in many ceremonies and First Nations activities. But most importantly, we came away making new friends!

Our Northern Ontario Travels weren't over yet, as we finally had our great motorcycle adventure around Lake Superior. We'd love to give this trip another go on a longer time schedule. We were so busy filming take after take for the camera crew that we never got to enjoy the beauty of the 2500km shore line that passes through three US States and a huge portion of Ontario. It is one of the epic rides in the world that many motorcyclists yearn to conquer. We think it's a journey not just for motorcyclists but for anyone. I'd even do it in a car. Maybe rent a convertible, let the top down and enjoy the view. There are so many amazing places to stay, things to see and people to meet, we say, take a couple of weeks of your summer holiday and get out there to explore the Lake Superior Loop!

It was then time to pop over to Winnipeg Manitoba for GoMedia. It's Canada's largest media market place where journalists and tourism boards and travel agents can meet up and plan travels for the year ahead. We were also very excited to be finalists in two categories for our Canadian stories, Expeditions are Glamorous in Retrospect and Under the Veil of Winter, Images that define Northern Ontario.

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Lake Superior was a huge part of our lives in 2014 and we ended our summer hiking the Pukaskwa Coastal Trail. We were terrified of this hike worrying that we weren't in good enough shape for this. It was 65km of rugged coastal trail and it's one of Canada's most remote trails. It's known as a very difficult and challenging hike, but we ended up loving every minute of it! We chalk it up to having another amazing guide provided by Naturally Superior Adventures and to the fact that we gave ourselves enough time to enjoy the route. We took 7 days to hike the trail. I think 6 days would have been enough, but 7 gave us the chance to create a video and take photos of this awesome landscape. It was the best way that we could think of ending our summer. We loved it so much, we'd do it again!

We didn't even have time for our tent to dry before we were on a plane for the next adventures of our lives. With Ontario coming to an end, it was now time to set our sights on International Travel.

International Travel Again!

Our first stop was Cancun Mexico where we spoke at our favourite travel blogging conference TBEX. But before the networking of the conference, we explored the Cenotes of the Yucatan, and swam with Whale Sharks near Isla Ballestas. Being back in Mexico made us remember why we fell in love with this place. We always talk about how we plan on buying a place in Mexico and this trip sealed the deal. We're looking in earnest now! We also had an amazing time at the conference. I think it was the most fun we've ever had working. We caught up with old friends, made new friends and developed some amazing business relationships.

Back to Ireland

Directly from Mexico, we flew to Ireland to revisit our friends on the Emerald Isle. We had already explore the entire West Coast, so now it was time to explore Northern Ireland. The Giant's Causeway, the Dark Hedges, and Belfast were out of this world. Once again, we had unbelievably beautiful weather and once again, we decided that Ireland is our favourite place on earth!

We spent 10 days exploring on our own before meeting up with a tour we had planned in conjunction with the Adventure Travel World Summit. Unfortunately Dave sprained his ankle just prior to this tour and I caught a flew bug of some sort, so we didn't get the chance to really go crazy on this tour. But we did a lot of newspaper and radio interviews with the Irish press as the rest of our group went off on hikes.

After Ireland, we flew to Greece for the very first time in our lives and went directly to Santorini. This was a dream destination for me and it didn't disappoint. Santorini turned out to be the most beautiful and romantic island on earth. We were lucky enough to stay in luxury at three different accommodations around the islands. We had the good fortune of experiencing two luxury cave hotels complete with infinity pools and private dining on our balconies and a local cave villa in a quiet village with our own private pool and courtyard. Stay tuned to read all about it in 2015!

 

After Santorini, we spent a little time in Crete, but we didnt' do enough to talk about there, so we'll skip Crete and hopefully we'll get to go back to really see it properly.

TBEX Europe

We were then off to Athens where we attended TBEX Europe and had so much fun meeting up with old friends. It was the first travel blogging conference we've attended since 2010 that we weren't speaking at and it was wonderful to have zero pressure and just sit back to watch and learn. We made amazing connections and forged future partnerships. We loved Athens and can't wait to go back one day soon! We were thrilled with the amount of press we got too. We ended up being interviewed for a few different newspapers in the country.

There was no rest after Athens, immediately after TBEX, we flew to Hong Kong. We had been to Hong Kong once before, but we were on a tight budget and only had 2 days in the city. This time, we did it in style staying at the Mira Hotel. We spent 7 days exploring downtown and the outer limits and fell in love with this city. If it weren't so expensive to live there, I'd say we'd make this our Asian home base. We haven't had the chance to talk about Hong Kong on the blog yet, but we can't wait to share everything we did there. You are going to be blown away!

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We had to pop back to Ontario for a few days to speak at the Ontario Motorcoach conference in Ottawa. We had such an amazing time talking to the industry about our time in Alberta. It solidified our goal of doing more public speaking and we thank Travel Alberta for the opportunity.

dave and deb speaking

It was a short homecoming though, because after Ottawa, we were back on the plane to Sri Lanka where we attended the Professional Travel Bloggers Association's first conference – TBCAsia. Sri Lanka has a special place in our hearts. We spent a month there in 2010 and have always wanted to go back. Unfortunately this trip was a whirlwind and we felt that we didn't get to experience the country again the way we would have wanted to. We realized that we should have skipped the pre conference tour. We were preoccupied with working on our keynote presentation and we hate sitting in tour busses. One of our early mottos of ThePlanetD was to inspire people to look out from behind the glass of a tour bus, and here we were exploring Sri Lanka by tour bus!

TBCAsia Paper

We had an amazing time at the conference though and made a lot of future connections

Peru

We didnt' have the luxury of staying in Sri Lanka to explore on our own, because we were finally going to the Amazon. We had been talking with International Expeditions for over two years about going to Peru. We could never make our schedule work, but we knew that if we were to go to the Amazon, we'd want to go with them. It finally happened and a few days after Sri Lanka, we found ourselves on the Amazonica Estrella, floating down the world's largest river delving deep into the jungle.

It was a beautiful trip filled with an abundance of tropical birds. We saw pink dolphins, monkeys and three toed sloths. We walked through villages and met the local people that live on the Amazon River. We had fabulous guides discuss the flora and fauna we saw each day and we were just getting into the rhythm of the trip when Dave took a fall and broke two vertabrae in h is back!

He had to be air lifted out of the Amazon by float plane where he spent a week in hospital in Iquitos before being flown back to Canada via air ambulance. He spent another 9 days in hospital in Canada and is now at home recovering. It's been nearly a month since he took his fall and he's walking and healing nicely. He'll be back and ready to go for 2015, so stay tuned….2014 was amazing, we can't wait to see what's in store for 2015!



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