Tony Capecchi

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Since age 18, Tony Capecchi has been chronicling his worldwide travel and outdoor adventures for national magazines, including In-Fisherman and North American Hunter. He has co-hosted “Live Outdoors” on CBS Radio, produced television for NBC and worked on The History Channel’s hit series “MonsterQuest.”

Still Running for a Cure

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: October 3, 2014 - 8:33 AM

A year ago, it didn’t look like Matt Zechmann would be around to see the 2nd Annual Desmoid Dash on October 11, 2014. For five years my old high school buddy had been battling an exceptionally rare and potentially deadly form of cancer, a desmoid tumor. He’s survived several close calls over the years, but catastrophe struck last November. 

Major complications followed a 13-hour operation at the Mayo Clinic to remove a football-sized desmoid tumor from Matt’s abdomen. On one horrific night, just weeks before Matt’s 30th birthday, he started hemorrhaging blood at an incredible pace and family members were warned this would likely be the end.

But a diverse team of Mayo’s finest doctors saved Matt that night and he beat the odds––despite losing a staggering 750 milliliters of blood––to earn an appropriate nickname among the Mayo staff: Superman.

And while the original Superman worked alone to save lives, Matt is working with people across the Twin Cities to try to save lives––his own, and others who suffer from the same incurable disease. 

He and his younger sister, Nicole, organized the inaugural Desmoid Dash 5K Run/Walk last year to raise money for researching a cure for desmoids, which affects two out of every one million people in the U.S. 

“I have come a long ways on this, but it’s still a very tough thing for me to ask people to donate their money or time to benefit me,” said Matt, who is funny, charming and gregarious, but never wants to be the center of attention. “I know there are a lot of great causes out there, and there are people who face worse outcomes and odds than I have faced. This community boosts my spirit because I think about my tumor constantly every day––when it will come back, how aggressive it might be growing, the side effects it could cause again.” 

“I also think about how the disease has already changed my life a great deal,” said Matt. “The scariest part is the realization that this is a part of the rest of my life. It’s really scary knowing that none of the current treatments for desmoids worked for me and that I can no longer undergo another surgery. But seeing people signing up for the race, or liking the Desmoid Dash Facebook page, or posting a photo, is a huge boost mentally.”

Because the disease is so rare, virtually no government or public funding exists for research. The only chance Matt and others with desmoids have is through fundraisers like the Desmoid Dash. 

The Run––How You Can Help 

This year’s 5K Run/Walk is on Saturday, October 11 at 9:00am at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, where Matt graduated high school. 

“Matt is one of our own,” said Mike Maxwell, Director of Alumni Relations at St. Thomas. “We want to do whatever we can to help Matt, and we’re honored that the Zechmanns want to host their event at our school.” 

You can register at the event for $40, or in advance online for $30 (children are $20). Tax deductible donations can also be made online

“Following the surgery last winter, Matt will no longer be able to tolerate any more surgeries, so finding new, more effective treatments is our only hope if he has a recurrence,” said Nicole, noting that 70% of desmoid patients who already had one recurrence will have future recurrences. Matt’s tumor has already re-occurred once within a year of being surgically removed the first time. “The work we are doing truly could be what helps saves Matt’s life, and the lives of other desmoid patients.” 

“As Matt’s mother, I’ve felt helpless,” says Sue Zechmann. “Conversely, it’s empowering to try to make a difference through this event, not just for Matt but for the thousands of others afflicted with this rare cancer.” 

Last year, Nicole led a group of Matt’s friends to organize the event and the results were astounding. More than 300 runners came out to the event, and some $50,000 was raised for desmoid tumor research.

“This event is a constant reminder that I have an army of great people supporting me,” said Matt. “Part of why Nicole and I started the Desmoid Dash was to take something negative and turn it into something positive.” 

This year, Matt, Nicole and their team of friends hope to raise $100,000 for research.

Touched by Superman

I know Matt doesn’t want to be a superhero, but he is one. The affect he has on others is profound. “The Desmoid Dash is going to be Matt’s legacy,” said Matt’s friend Ryan Naughton, an active member on the Desmoid Dash committee. “Since his diagnosis, he has raised almost half a million dollars for the Desmoid Tumor Research Foundation.”

“But more than that, Matt has taught me to live every single day. Matt’s journey has been truly inspiring me and all of my friends. How can he go through all of his struggles, surgeries and complications with a smile?” Ryan asked in awe. “Even during Matt’s weakest moments, he was happy, positive and witty. Even when Matt could only stay awake for a few minutes at a time, he wanted to know how other people were doing. He truly cares about everybody he knows.”

The Zechmann family has countless stories of Matt’s incredible grace. “The day following Matt’s surgery (last winter), Matt could barely speak,” recalled Sue. “He struggled to whisper to me, ‘Mom, please thank the nurses for me because I can’t.’”

“While fighting for his life in the hospital, he managed to remain grateful, positive and maintain his sense of humor,” Nicole said. “When praying with hospital chaplains, he would always pray for others, but never for himself. It was remarkable.” 

Of course, there were lighter moments, too, thanks to Matt’s indomitable spirit and sense of humor. 

“I remember Matt coming out of his 13-hour surgery,” recalled Nicole. My parents and I walked into the room and the nurse asked Matt if we were his family. He kept a straight face and said, ‘I’ve never seen these people before in my life!’” 

 “He is an inspiration to me. I’ve always looked up to Matt, but the way he handles this situation has made me recognize even more so what an incredible person my brother is,” Nicole said. “Matt has truly made me a better person, and I feel really fortunate that he is my brother.”

I am certainly fortunate that Matt is my friend––and that I know someone with his extraordinary grace and strength. And so, while this story isn’t about traveling or the great outdoors, it’s a story that must be told. 

Because if a person like Matt doesn’t deserve our help, who does? 

For his part, Matt continues to be realistic yet optimistic. “Sometimes the reality of there not being a cure sets in,” Matt told me quietly. “But truthfully, I feel very lucky. I have many wonderful things going on in my life, including amazing family and friends.” 

To sign up for the race, click here

For more general info on the Desmoid Dash 5K Run/Walk, visit www.desmoiddash.com.

To "like" the Desmoid Dash Facebook page to show Matt your support, visit https://www.facebook.com/DesmoidDash5K

Above: Matt and his sister, Nicole, thanking the 300 people who participated in last year's Desmoid Dash. 

Below: The Zechmann family (from left to right: Jim, Sue, Nicole and Matt) at a recent fundraiser run in Philadelphia which also raises money for the Desmoid Tumor Research Foundation. 

The shirts were a gift from Matt’s employer, Schneider National. While recovering from surgery, Matt missed eight straight months of work. His co-workers had a surprise waiting for Matt on the first day he was healthy enough to return to work. When he walked into the office for the first time in three-quarters of a year, all 150 office employees were wearing shirts they created. The shirts read: “It came, he fought, he conquered, Zechmann Strong.”  

Top 3 Fishing Moments of 2014

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Fishing Updated: September 16, 2014 - 12:48 PM

The birth of my son––coupled with the arrival of autumn––signals the end of my fishing season for 2014. Sure, I may yet sneak onto the river for a half day here or there to catch a few walleyes for dinner or chase muskies, but by and large my season is over.

Hanging up my fishing pole for the year always makes me nostalgic, and I enjoy looking back at the past season and reflecting on my best moments on the water. This past year, I caught my first of several notable species, including bonefish and king salmon. I also had a single day in which I hooked seven muskies, ranging from 30 to 46 inches. It wasn’t just about me, either; I took my cousin fishing and helped him catch a 51-inch sturgeon––a fish three times bigger than anything he’d previously caught. 

During my fishing pursuits, I also got to witness wildlife and wild beauty in some of the most pristine places in North America. Through it all, three moments in incredible settings stand out as the best fishing experiences of my year. 

Here are my top three fishing adventures from 2014, each one incredibly unique in its own right:

1. Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
British Columbia 

Our helicopter mirrors the waterfall, descending down 300 feet parallel to the raging waters. At the base of the falls, we hover above the turbulent pool of blue and white. We are above the clouds, in a separate world of 10,000-year-old glaciers and pristine streams that salmon fill and grizzly bears hunt. In this other-world we have hiked and climbed and fished, but at the moment we simply hover. I feel weightless. 

...

Days before boarding the aircraft, we had seemingly already explored as far into the Great Bear Rainforest as one can push––taking a small plane from Vancouver to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, then crawling into a float plane for a 20-minute flight over fjords and bays until landing on a floating dock at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, which clings to the base of Mount Stephens.

After a sun-filled Day 1 of ocean kayaking, paddle boarding, bear-watching and hiking through old-growth forests, Day 2 finds us embarking on Nimmo Bay’s signature experience: a dreamlike day of heli-fishing and heli-hiking in the high mountains. 

You could say that heli-fishing put Nimmo Bay on the map, and that Nimmo Bay put heli-fishing in the dictionary. The concept is this: You board a helicopter and fly high above the clouds, into the mountains to fish untouched streams that otherwise can’t be reached. The Murray family has access to over 50,000 acres of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year-old glaciers, 5,000-foot waterfalls and 50 rivers and streams.

In all reality, even if you didn’t catch a single fish the trip would still qualify as one of the most incredible fishing experiences of your life. That said, daily catches during peak season routinely top 100 fish per person. 

Click here to read the full story about my adventure at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. 

www.nimmobayresort.com  
1.800.837.4354
heli@nimmobay.com

2. Captain James Nelson
San Diego

I set the hook as hard as I could and seemingly ripped into a small car driving downhill in the opposite direction. “Wow,” I muttered, while holding on for dear life. “This thing is strong.” Little did I know it would take more than eight minutes before we’d even catch a glimpse of what we were up against: a monstrous bat ray, with a wingspan around 5-feet.

I’ve caught 30-pound muskies, 40-pound catfish and sturgeon over 5-feet long, but I must say that ray has an unfair advantage when it comes to fighting––the shape of its body gives it incredible leverage in the water. The sunny San Diego skyline watched silently as my guide, Capt. James Nelson, and I battled the fish. It went on long runs, effortlessly stripping out chunks of 30-pound braided line, before burying itself in the mud. We had to chase after it several times as it stripped the line down almost to the backing.

In total it took 33 minutes to land the beast, and during that time I was sorely reminded how badly I need to start lifting weights. I barely had any time to recover before hooking another ray, this one much smaller, and a sting ray as opposed to a bat ray.

A little later, as we neared the end of our morning together, I caught a beautiful leopard shark–– another coveted species for which the area is known.  The diversity of the fishery, in the shadow of downtown San Diego, is amazing. Earlier in the day we caught a bonefish––my first time ever seeing the elusive Grey Ghost in person––as well as countless spotted bass. 

Potential catches with Nelson also include halibut, corvina, croaker, yellowtail, dorado and mako sharks, depending on the season. 

Click here to read more about Capt. James Nelson. 

www.fishingguidesandiego.com
619.395.0799
 james@thefishicon.com


3. Bon Chovy Fishing Charters
Vancouver

My arm is throbbing, but I can’t quit reeling. A few minutes ago my guide Jason Assonitis and I landed a double––a pair of king salmon each topping the 10-pound mark––and now I’m battling another king that may be twice that size. Mercifully, the fish quits running at the boat and instead turns 90 degrees to the right and dives deep, giving me a temporary reprieve from winding as it peels out line.

“That’s a nice fish,” Assonitis says knowingly. He’s seen more than his fair share in his 30-odd years, the majority of which have been spent guiding. The past 9 years guiding have been the most meaningful, for it was almost a decade ago that he and friend Jeff Copeland decided they had spent enough time fishing for others and would start their own operation called Bon Chovy Fishing Charters. The gamble has paid off as their reputation as one of the elite fishing charters in British Columbia has grown––a fact exemplified by the 20-pound salmon I finally manage to coax into the net.

We’re an hour boat ride from Vancouver, fishing around the famed Gulf Islands, and we’re being richly rewarded for making the run across choppy water through the Strait of Georgia. The bite is on, and we’re catching both quantity and quality. Because of the fast action we're only running two lines, one for each of us. Good thing! If we had more lines out my arm would really be dead. 

In fact, I’ve fished salmon in Ireland, Alaska and on the Great Lakes, and I’ve never had action this good. And the scenery is right up there, too. I first read about the Gulf Islands in the New York Times best-seller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” The archipelago, a string of about 100 partially submerged mountain peaks between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, is surprisingly un-crowded.

Click here to read the full story about my adventure with Bon Chovy Fishing Charters. 

www.bonchovy.com
604.763.5460
info@bonchovy.com

Note: I fished across North America in 2014, yet two of my three best moments occurred during my 1-week trip to British Columbia. For more information on British Columbia, visit HelloBC.com.

The Ultimate Family Getaway ... with Free Deals

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Environment, Recreation, Fishing Updated: August 20, 2014 - 11:02 AM

Traveling with children can be wild, wonderful or woefully misguided, depending on the destination and the kids. For the first five years of our marriage, my wife and I took advantage of being dinks (dual-income, no kids) and traveled across the world sans children.

When we became pregnant last fall and realized we had a few months before life as we knew forever changed, we decided to travel somewhere special for the ultimate Valentine’s Day getaway. Our destination? Sunny San Diego.

We enjoyed a spectacular week hiking, sailing, fishing, whale watching, paddle boarding, swimming and relaxing on the beach. In short, it was the perfect destination for our final romantic getaway pre-kids. But we also realized how ideally suited San Diego is for families. All the activities mentioned above––not to mention our day feeding giraffes and rhinos at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park––provide awesome experiences for children and adults alike. 

Not only was San Diego the spot we wanted to visit for our last trip before kids, it is also the first place we want to visit after we have kids old enough to travel. 

I cannot think of a city in America that’s a better place to bring your kids for a family vacation–– a reality that makes the upcoming “Kids Free San Diego” event this October the perfect proposition.
 

During the entire month of October, more than 90 San Diego hotels, restaurants, attractions, museums and transportation companies offer families with children special deals, so you can enjoy San Diego without emptying your wallet.    

Here are some of the best deals: 

Tour & Transportation Deals

  • Amtrak is offering one child, ages 2-12, a free ride with one paid adult rail fare aboard the Pacific Surfliner route, servicing San Luis Obispo to San Diego. Stops en route include the Santa Ynez Valley, Carpinteria, Ventura, Oxnard, Van Nuys, Burbank, Glendale, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Orange, Santa Ana, Irvine, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and more. 
     
  • Hornblower Cruises & Events and Flagship Cruises & Events are offering kids, ages 12 and under, a free ride on their popular 1- and 2-hour harbor tours along picturesque San Diego Bay. Hornblower's offer is good for two kids per each full-price paid adult admission, while Flagship offers one child per paid adult. 
     
  • One child, age 12 or under, rides free per one paid adult on the entertaining, on- and off-boarding Old Town Trolley Tours of America and the thrilling San Diego SEAL Tours Sea and Land Adventures.
     
  • San Diego Speed Boat Adventures, Incis offering kids a free guided and narrated San Diego Harbor Tour aboard their own mini speedboat, with a paid adult tour.   

Deals at Major Family Attractions 

  • Home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego, LEGOLAND® California Resort and the historic Belmont Park, San Diego is offering substantial savings this October with free kids' admission to local attractions. 
     
  • All kids, ages 10 and younger, are admitted free into the San Diego Zoo, home to 3,700 rare and endangered birds, mammals and reptiles, and the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which is now home to the Tull Family Tiger Tail, featuring a new forested habitat for the Safari Park's Sumatran tigers with up-close views of the critically endangered species. 
     

  •  
  • Click here to read about my trip in February to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park––we got to feed giraffes and rhinos. 

  • SeaWorld San Diego wants families to join in the celebration of their 50th anniversary by offering one child, ages 3 to 9, free admission with one full-paid adult admission. The same offer is valid at Dine with Shamu, and kids, ages 10 to 13, can participate for free in SeaWorld's Dolphin Encounter and Dolphin and Beluga Interaction Programs with one paid adult participation (kids must be at least 48" tall to participate).


     
  • LEGOLAND® California Resort, featuring 128 acres of LEGO-themed fun and more than 50 interactive attractions, and SEA LIFE™ Carlsbad Aquarium,with 36,000 sq. ft. of play zones and marine exhibits including the new Jellyfish Discovery, are offering a free one-day Child Hopper Ticket for one kid, ages 12 and under, with purchase of a full-price one-day Adult Hopper Ticket. 


     
  • Belmont Park, a turn-of-the-century-style seaside boardwalk and amusement park in Mission Beach, offers kids, ages 12 and under, free rides, meals and treats with adult purchase of the same offering. Kids can play unlimited laser tag or ride for free on the park's 11 ticketed rides, including the National Historic Landmark "Giant Dipper," one of only two remaining beachfront wooden roller coasters on the U.S. west coast. 

Hotel Deals

  • More than 30 hotels across San Diego, ranging from budget to luxury, are rolling out the welcome mat this October for kids. Kids can eat free at many hotels or receive special welcome gifts upon arrival at others. 
     
  • Kids can eat free at a number of family-friendly properties, including the luxurious Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego along San Diego Bay and The Westin San Diego in the historic Gaslamp Quarter.  At the family friendly Paradise Point Resort & Spa on Mission Bay, kids will be able to play for free on land and sea with free bike, kayak and SUP rentals for children. The offer is limited to one rental per room.
     
  • Families staying at the Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa and the Bahia Resort Hotel  along scenic Mission Bay can enjoy free rides for kids, ages 12 and under, aboard the Bahia Belle, an 1860s-era sternwheeler that tours the bay and offers transport between the two resorts. Click here to read about my stay at the Catamaran Resort this February. 
     
  • Kids staying at the Tower23 Hotel,located just off the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, can enjoy a complimentary milk and cookies amenity as well as a free movie rental. The offer is valid for two children per paid adult guest. 

Restaurant Deals

  • After a day around the city, parents can have a taste of San Diego's emerging culinary scene while kids eat free at participating family friendly restaurants. 
     
  • After exploring the historic sites of Old Town San Diego, parents can unwind with a margarita and some traditional Mexican fare at Casa Guadalajara, while kids enjoy a free meal from the kids menu with every paid adult entrée.  Inspired by the late singer-songwriter Jim Croce, Croce's Park Westin Banker's Hill offers parents a classy and cozy atmosphere where they can dine and relax to the sounds of jazz, while kids enjoy a complimentary meal. 
     
  • Kids can munch on a grilled Italian-style sandwich or a flat-bread pizza while parents savor one of many Tuscan-style entrees at Pinzimini in The Westin Gaslamp Quarter, where up to two kids can eat for free per paid adult.

Cool and Unique Deals

  • During October, kids can enjoy a variety of unique free activities, from learning to ride the waves of the Pacific Ocean, to visiting a local farm and harvesting organic veggies to take home. 
     
  • With a purchase of one adult surfing lesson or session, one child, ages 6-12, receives a complimentary surfing session or lesson from the Surf Diva Surf School in La Jolla, the world's first all-woman surf school.
     
  • At H&M Landing, kids can adventure into the ocean and experience the thrill of catching their own fish. Kids fish for free with every paid adult, and reservations are required.  With the purchase of a paid adult public harvesting tour, kids can enjoy a free tour of Suzie's Farm, which is located thirteen miles south of downtown San Diego. During the 90 minute tour, families can learn the history and operations of the 140-acre USDA-certified organic farm and will have the unique opportunity to harvest veggies to take home.
     
  • Kids can embark on a free sailing excursion of the Pacific Ocean and learn about San Diego's wildlife aboard one of Sail San Diego 's three hour tours. Guests can choose to take the wheel or sit back and enjoy the sights of San Diego. One child sails free per adult reservation.  

Our son just turned one month old, and I already find myself thinking about future trips I will take him on. I know San Diego will be a special one, someday. 

Ironically, my wife and I found out the joyous news of our pregnancy in October, so it seems fitting that some October, years from now, we take advantage of the annual deal and bring our son to San Diego––the last destination we ever visited before he was born.  

A complete listing of "Kids Free San Diego" Month participants and their special offers is available at SanDiego.org/KidsFree.

Best of the Best: World's Top 5 Dining Experiences

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: September 10, 2014 - 11:43 PM

They say the stomach is the way to a man’s heart. Traditionally, this advice is given to young ladies courting that special someone with hopes that a home-cooked meal will seal the deal. Yet I think the guidance rings equally true for resorts, hotels and fishing lodges.

Give me a delicious dinner or a superb shore lunch––a signature dining experience to cap off an exciting adventure––and you’ve not only filled my belly but have cemented your place in my memory. 

I’m a simple man and am more than content to stay that way for the rest of my life, but I have to admit I have become a bit of a food snob––or, more accurately, have developed a nuanced appreciation of high quality cuisine. I can’t help it. In my travels, I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to dine at a wide variety of the highest regarded restaurants on the planet. 

Allow me to share three examples. 

At a castle in the highlands of Scotland, my wife and I enjoyed supremely tender beef while watching the sun set on the tallest mountain in the U.K. The King of Norway donated the furniture we sat on for the feast, and one waiter’s sole responsibility was to help us select the perfect wine to accompany our food––and then to rush to our table and top us off, seemingly after every sip.  

At a remote fly-in fishing lodge in Manitoba, I saw the shore-lunch concept taken to a new level by a dedicated guide who painstakingly measured the temperature of his oil to ensure the beer batter would have the ideal viscosity––a skill he honed six days a week, four months a year for the past decade. My dad and I sat on a pristine island and ate perfectly bronzed walleyes that were swimming just an hour ago, while watching a bald eagle soar overhead. 

On a tropical island in the Atlantic Ocean, my wife and I enjoyed a tiki-torch lit, five-course dinner on the beach with a personalized menu congratulating us on our wedding anniversary––all while a pianist played in the background and a key deer wandered up to our table. 

As incredible as those meals were, in terms of food quality, presentation and overall ambience, none of them crack the list for Top 5 dining experiences. Let that serve testament to the level of competition. 

Without further adieu, here is my list of the five best dining experiences at resorts, hotels and lodges around the world. 

1. Ashford Castle
Cong, Ireland

The Restaurant: George V Dining Room

The Scene: The dining room, built specially for a visit from the Prince of Wales, is the cornerstone of a magnificent, 800-year-old baronial castle on Lough Corrib in Ireland’s untamed Connemara region. Eleven Waterford crystal chandeliers hang from the dining room’s ceiling. 

If you catch Atlantic salmon or brown trout during your stay, the kitchen will clean and cook the fish to perfection; otherwise, the roasted rack of lamb with red pepper coulis and spinach is tremendous. The breakfast buffet with fresh ham, beef and made-to-order omelets is an event itself, after which you may need to stroll around the castle’s gardens to avoid a post-breakfast nap. 

Why It’s the Best: Eating in the castle’s dining room is like going back in time to spend an evening as royalty. 

What Else You Should Know: The Guinness family owned Ashford Castle centuries ago. As a hotel, Ashford was named #1 Best Resort Hotel in Europe by Conde Nast Traveler in 2010. My wife and I stayed at Ashford Castle our last night in Ireland. We are glad we saved it for last––it blew away everywhere else we stayed on the Emerald Island. 

Click here to read my full article about Ashford Castle, including my adventures with salmon fishing, falconry and hiking. 
 

2. Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior
Tofte, Minnesota

The Restaurant: Three Options: The Bluefin Grille, Coho Café and Bakery, and Waves of Superior Café

The Scene: A diverse array of fresh, locally made food ranging from Lake Superior salmon and lake trout to award-winning pizzas to apple walnut french toast served with pure maple syrup, fresh fruit and locally wild rice sausages––all with spectacular views of the world’s largest freshwater lake. 

“We make everything from scratch without any preservatives added,” said Diani Dimitrova, Coho Café and Bakery Manager. “We buy local as much as we possibly can for fish, sausage and seasonal produce so everything’s as fresh as it can be.”

Why It’s the Best: Outstanding food with even better scenery, perched on the big lake. “Guests are surprised how incredibly close our resort is to Lake Superior,” said Dennis Rysdahl, owner and general manager of Bluefin Bay. “People are stunned by these amazing views––you can’t get closer to Superior than this.” 

What Else You Should Know: The Bluefin Grille was voted “Minnesota’s Favorite Resort Restaurant” by Minnesota Monthly Magazine readers. Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior is hands-down the most beautiful resort in the Midwest, in my opinion. 

Click here to read my full article about Bluefin Bay, including my adventures kayaking, biking and mountain climbing.


3. Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
British Columbia

The Restaurant: Nimmo Bay dining room for breakfast/dinner; glaciers, mountains and islands for lunch

The Scene: Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is only accessible by helicopter or float plane and sits at the base of Mount Stephens, just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage. The dining room is built on an anchored dock. During my week at Nimmo Bay there were only four guests, yet two full-time chefs––that is how serious they take their cuisine, which consists of fresh Dungeness crab you catch during the day, as well as local halibut and wild salmon.
 
Why It’s the Best: Breakfast alone consists of three courses, plus fresh fruit smoothies and hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate croissants. I promised myself I wouldn’t name a “favorite” out of the top five because it’s a matter of taste (besides, who’s better, Beethoven or Mozart?), but I will say this: I have never been anywhere with better food that Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort.

What Else You Should Know: Nimmo Bay is routinely named one of the top ten wilderness resorts in the world, and was named the best dining experience in British Columbia in the New York Times best-seller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” You will be hard-pressed to find a more breathtaking place on the planet to enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch. 

Click here to read my full article about Nimmo Bay, including my adventures heli-hiking, ocean kayaking and mountain climbing. 

4. Ritz-Carlton, South Beach
Miami, Florida

The Restaurant: DiLido Beach Club

The Scene: The only restaurant on world-famous South Beach that is actually on the beach, the setting couldn’t be cooler. And the food you eat, while watching the rich and beautiful stroll along the beach, couldn’t be tastier. Our seven course, ocean-inspired lunch included award-winning cerviche, shrimp, marinated mahi, Pacific tuna and pan-seared salmon that––get this––was flown in that morning from the Pacific Ocean. 

“The local salmon we were getting wasn’t to our standards,” explained Chef de Cuisine Andres Meraz as he brought us our fish. “So now we get it flown in daily from the Pacific. We do that with the tuna, also, because tuna in the Pacific is better than what’s available in the Caribbean.”

Why It’s the Best: Chef Andres Meraz is a rock star. Mark my words: This immensely talented, personable and good-looking young chef will be famous someday. Not yet 30 years old, the phenom has already worked at restaurants in Spain, Hungary, Italy and Austria. 

What Else You Should Know: Again, I promised I wouldn’t commit to favorites, but I will say this was the best lunch I have ever had. Living up to its name, every aspect of the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach is first-rate. Last year, the Ritz rolled out a “Catch of the Stay” package that includes deep-sea fishing by day and evening stays at the hotel with your daily catch prepared to perfection. 

Click here to read my full article about the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, including my adventures with crocodiles, manatees and sharks in the nearby Florida Evergaldes. 


5. The U.S. Grant Hotel
San Diego, California

The Restaurant: The Grant Grill

The Scene: Boasting a $6.5 million art collection, the 104-year-old U.S. Grant Hotel and its signature restaurant––complete with a Sommelier and award-winning mixologist for fancy cocktails you can’t find anywhere else––is a West Coast icon. The seasonal menu features the best California produce, fresh Pacific seafood, sustainable meats and poultry, and fresh herbs with signature dishes such as Dry Aged Prime Rib Eye with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Marrow, Onoway Potatoes, and Sauce Bordelaise.

Why It’s the Best: Class, grace and elegance envelope the hotel, and the food is produced with exquisite care. Our lovely waitress, Natalie, was the best waiter or waitress we’ve had anywhere on the West Coast. "It's the combination of our beautiful surroundings and rich history, as well as the pride of our ownership and the service excellence demonstrated by our staff every day that makes The U.S. Grant such a special place," said General Manager Douglas Douglas Korn.

What Else You Should Know: The U.S. Grant Hotel is a historic landmark. It’s within walking distance of Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, and San Diego’s popular trolley tours. Nearly every U.S. president has stayed at the hotel. 

Click here to read my full article on The U.S. Grant Hotel, including my adventures paddle boarding, hiking and catching leopard sharks and giant sting rays. 

Photo Essay: A New View

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: August 22, 2014 - 12:00 PM

My interest in photography has grown over the years, along with my penchant for traveling and the great outdoors. Over the past decade, I’ve been dogged and deliberate in my pursuit of the planet’s most beautiful vistas. 

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to see more spectacular sights in the past 10 years than I deserve. 

Italy’s Amalfi CoastBritish Columbia. Alaska. Coronado Island. Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher.
The crown jewel of Hawaii, the Na’Pali Coast of Kauai. The mystical Isle of Skye, a ferry ride beyond the farthest reaches of the Scottish highlands. The island of Capri, where fabled sirens once sang to sailors in Homer’s The Odyssey. 
 
But on July 17, I saw unrivaled beauty in the eyes of my 1-minute old baby boy, Joseph Mario Capecchi. His 8-pound, 13-ounce frame knocked me over; my 20-inch son was more awe-inspiring than the tallest mountain I’m ever climbed.  I could barely fathom the miracle in front of me, let alone do him justice with a camera.

So I brought in a professional. Anna Ligocki is one of the hottest young photographers in the Twin Cities and came highly recommended, so I hired her for a newborn photo shoot. She seemed ideally suited for the gig––herself a new mother and former nanny––and has been on a busy streak for infant shoots, with seven newborn sessions last week alone. 

The photos on her website look fantastic, so I was pumped for our big day. Yet as high as my expectations were, she blew them away. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking, dear reader: With such an unbelievably adorable baby, of course the photos turned out great. Well, it’s kind of you to rave about Baby Joe (and I agree, he is remarkably cute), but a shoot with an unpredictable newborn is no easy stunt. Ligocki’s skills made all the difference.

She brought a trailer full of props, a space heater to help Joseph sleep and a golden touch with babies. When he pooped all over her brand new blanket, she didn’t blink an eye––she just cleaned it up and kept shooting. When we couldn’t get him to sleep, she suggested we turn on the vacuum, and the background noise helped him doze. 

“My dad always told me if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life, and that’s how it is for me,” said Ligocki, who quit her job at Kohl’s two years ago to jump into photography full-time and launch her own company

The 29-year-old grew up in the tiny town of Waterford, Wisconsin, some 30 minutes out of Milwaukee, and first fell in love with photography in a high school photo class. Ligocki majored in photojournalism at Winona State, and worked for a year at a photo studio in Stillwater. 

When the studio closed, she went to work at Kohl’s as a Visual Supervisor, but she kept shooting freelance gigs and always had her eye on returning to her calling full-time. 

“It was scary when I quit my job to do photography full-time,” she admitted. “But it felt fantastic. This was my dream, and I feel very blessed to be able to do this.” 

At the beginning, it was unclear if Ligocki would be able generate enough business to make photography a viable full-time career. A store manager at Kohl’s gave her three referrals for shoots, and from there Ligocki gradually built up her business and today boasts over 250 clients––nearly all via referrals


Her customers rave about her. 

“The photos Anna took of our daughter's first year––from her birth to her baptism to her first Christmas––are among our most cherished,” said Christina Ries, of Inver Grove Heights. “Anna has great instincts. She knows how to manage a shoot, how to collaborate with the subjects and how to sniff out a potential pose or prop. I feel like she gets us, as a family, and somehow that understanding comes across in her pictures.”

Ries hired Ligocki to come to United Hospital and photograph the birth of her daughter, a unique photo shoot that produced the proud mother’s most cherished photos. 

“What an awesome opportunity to have our little girl’s very first moments of life captured so beautifully,” Ries said. “She nailed every shot, delivering incredibly sharp and poignant images of labor and delivery. Somehow she could make a sterile hospital room feel artistic. Anna handled the delicate situation with grace, maturity and reverence.”

Ries was so impressed with Ligocki that she’s already hired the photographer to come back several times to capture key moments in her daughter’s life. “Life gets busy, and it's hard for busy parents to pull out the camera and capture the moment as often as we intend to. We will always be grateful that we hired Anna to do this for us.”

Nick McCarthy, of St. Paul, hired Ligocki as his wedding photographer on July 19 and was similarly impressed. “As a high school teacher and football coach, I have been called many things over the years, but ‘photogenic’ is not one of them,” McCarthy said. “Anna even managed to make me look good in a few photos, so that’s real talent. Plus she was great to work with on the day of the wedding. She was like a great quarterback, like Tom Brady, managing everything and directing traffic to help us get some mementos of our big day.”

As for myself, I am realizing that the mementos in my life will change. The birth of my son signals that. My basement is filled with photo collages of trips my wife and I took––perfectly framed images of Jodie and me carefully posed in front of spectacular scenes and historic landmarks. The photos we take today are on rocking chairs and car seats, ourselves often cut-off in the background and almost always disheveled and un-showered.  

I will always love to travel and will continue to do so, taking countless photos along the way, but having a child changes the lens through which you view the world. You become less interested in your own conquests, and more interested in your child’s development. 

In the future, my photos will be less about the last trophy fish I caught or mountain I climbed, and more about the steps my son is taking in his own journey. 

I can’t think of anything more beautiful. 

Anna Ligocki’s website is www.annaligocki.com. To contact her, call 651.307.6577 or email anna@annaligocki.com.

My wife’s family is from St. Louis and many of her relatives, including her father, worked for the Cardinals for part or all of their careers. At our wedding reception, my father-in-law gave my wife and me this baby Cardinals jersey. During his toast he presented us with the gift, saying that he hoped we’d have kids someday who were part of Cardinal Nation. 

One month later, he died unexpectedly. My wife wears a pendant engraved with her late father’s thumbprint. Joseph won’t have a chance to meet his grandpa so this photo, which Anna artfully captured, has special meaning to us. 

I have over 150 fishing pictures displayed in my garage. For some strange reason, my wife thinks they match the décor in the garage above our lawn mower better than in the living room above the fireplace. The photos feature me hoisting 55-pound sturgeon, 40-pound catfish, 30-pound muskie, 25-pound king salmon and 20-pound pike, plus a wide array of other trophy catches including lake trout, leopard sharks, bonefish and sting rays with 5-foot-long wingspans. 

In the years ahead, I am ready for these ego shots to give way to pictures of Joseph holding a bluegill. I think my fishing pictures will have less to do with the species and the size, and more to do with the smile on my son’s face. 

They say it’s good to talk a lot to your baby, but sometimes I don’t know what to say to a 10-day-old, so I take him into the garage and tell him fishing stories––some of which are even true. 

I look forward to the day when Joseph becomes a part of those stories, though for now I am loving the baby stage and am thankful Anna’s photography skills can help me capture and savor these fleeting moments.

 

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