Category: adventure

Nicaragua: Expectation vs Reality

Nicaragua: Expectation vs Reality

The week before I left for my solo trip to Nicaragua, I was so excited for my upcoming adventure! Unfortunately, many of my friends were not. I received many texts begging me to cancel my trip immediately to avoid certain disaster:

“There are riots going on over there. It’s not safe for you to go there right now.”

This was true at one point in time. I have friends who live in Nicaragua. When I originally wanted to go in Fall 2018, they said it was not safe. They suggested waiting. I ended up going in February 2019. I was in close contact with them while planning my trip. I waited until they said it was safe, instead of listening to fear-mongering by people who have never been to Nicaragua.

While I was there, the locals mentioned that few Americans come to visit. I told them Americans are scared to go to Nicaragua. They were surprised, and said Nicaragua is only dangerous for people who live there or people who recently left who are trying to come back. They said if you are a tourist or Nicaraguan who moved away years ago, you will be safe.

“There is a lot of human trafficking over there. They will scoop you up off the street so fast, nobody will ever know what happened.”

This sounds like a generic solo woman traveler fear. Sure, this could happen. But it could also happen in your hometown. Or anywhere. It’s not more likely to happen in Nicaragua. To ensure safety, my friend sent one of his drivers to pick me up from the airport. I asked him about potential scams to look out for. I never felt unsafe during my trip.

“Nicaragua?! Get ready to rough it. It’s a third world country. They might not have water there.”

Wrong. They had water there. The water out of the tap is not potable, but everywhere I went had filtered water available. Bottled water was also available in stores. I drank the filtered water and it was fine.

“Don’t eat the meat over there. You might actually be eating guinea pig.”

Nicaragua is known for their meat – carne asada. It’s amazing and you have to try it if you go (unless you are vegetarian or otherwise goes against your dietary restrictions.) I didn’t meet anyone there who had heard of eating guinea pig.

“Don’t go in the water with open cuts. They have bot flies that lay eggs in your wound.”

Botflies look similar to small bees. They can’t breathe underwater. Or swim. They deposit their larvae on mosquitos. If you get bitten by an infected mosquito, it’s possible for the larvae to be injected into your skin. Though they are native to Central America, I never heard of anyone getting botflies during my trip. If you do get infected, it looks like they are easily removed with petroleum jelly or iodine and tweezers. Keep in mind, everywhere you go will have bugs. They may be different from the bugs you are used to back home. Whenever you hear a crazy story about bugs you’ve never seen before, it can seem like a horror/sci fi come true. But when you see it, you realize it’s just another bug.

So what did I actually do? I went to the beach, surfing lessons, ziplining, ate local food, and went swimming. It was an amazing time, and I’m so glad I went! Check it out:

Epic Adventures: Chernobyl tour with Ivan

Epic Adventures: Chernobyl tour with Ivan

Are you looking for new ideas for adventures to try? In my Epic Adventures series, I interviewed some friends (and then made new friends to interview!) in search of adventures I’ve never heard of.

This week, Ivan Salazar, a nine-to-fiver and adventure travel enthusiast, discusses his recent trip to Chernobyl. Ivan booked his tour with SoloEast.

Epic Adventures: Volcano Hiking with Joanna

Epic Adventures: Volcano Hiking with Joanna

Are you looking for new ideas for adventures to try? In my Epic Adventures series, I interviewed some friends (and then made new friends to interview!) in search of adventures I’ve never heard of.

This week, Joanna Hoang, a full time biotech engineer and part time adventurer, talks about her experience hiking a volcano in Indonesia. Look for more of Joanna’s adventures on coffee then adventure (coming soon).

Epic Adventures: Shark Diving with Campbell

Epic Adventures: Shark Diving with Campbell

Are you looking for new ideas for adventures to try?  In my Epic Adventures series, I interviewed some friends (and then made new friends to interview!) in search of adventures I’ve never heard of.

This week, Campbell Miller talks about the time she went SCUBA diving with sharks!  Campbell teaches dance lessons in Texas.

Epic Adventures: Running with the Bulls with Chase

Epic Adventures: Running with the Bulls with Chase

Are you looking for new ideas for adventures to try?  In my Epic Adventures series, I interviewed some friends (and then made new friends to interview!) in search of adventures I’ve never heard of.

This week, Chase Boehringer, founder of The Bucketlist Lifestyle, talks about his experience Running with the Bulls in Spain.  Chase leads epic bucketlist vacations with small groups of awesome people.

Epic Adventures: Northern Lights with Arabela

Epic Adventures: Northern Lights with Arabela

Are you looking for new ideas for adventures to try?  In my Epic Adventures series, I interviewed some friends (and then made new friends to interview!) in search of adventures I’ve never heard of.

This week, Arabela Navarro, an adventurer and travel enthusiast, recounts her Northern Lights adventure in Saariselka, Finland.

Epic Adventures: Stratosphere Sky Jump with Monica

Epic Adventures: Stratosphere Sky Jump with Monica

Are you looking for new ideas for adventures to try? In my Epic Adventures series, I interviewed some friends (and then made new friends to interview!) in search of adventures I’ve never heard of.

This week, I interviewed Monica Von about her Stratosphere Sky Jump experience in Las Vegas. Monica is the founder of Giving Adventures, which organize a epic international vacations that center around connecting to and giving back to the local community.

Watch Monica’s Stratosphere Sky Jump video!

Epic Adventures: Rappelling for Charity with JR

Epic Adventures: Rappelling for Charity with JR

Are you looking for new ideas for adventures to try?  In my Epic Adventures series, I interviewed some friends (and then made new friends to interview!) in search of adventures I’ve never heard of.

This week, JR Hinds talks about the time he rappelled off of the tallest building in Portland, OR, for charity! When he’s not doing extreme sports, he likes to fly airplanes and woodworking.
To find rappelling for charity events near you, check out Over The Edge.

Epic Adventures: Bungee Jumping with Ryan

Epic Adventures: Bungee Jumping with Ryan

Are you looking for new ideas for adventures to try?  In my Epic Adventures series, I interviewed some friends (and then made new friends to interview!) in search of adventures I’ve never heard of.

This week, Ryan Sefko recounts his bungee jumping experiences. Ryan is an aerial sports enthusiast on a quest to find the top 10 bungee jumping spots in the world. For more inspiration on where to bungee jump, check out 17 highest bungee jumps in the United States.  Many states have banned bungee jumping due to accidents, so make sure you go with a reputable and legal company.  Due to these laws, you may need to travel out of state to go bungee jumping.

Epic Adventures: Swimming with Whale Sharks with Devin

Epic Adventures: Swimming with Whale Sharks with Devin

Are you looking for new ideas for adventures to try?  In my Epic Adventures series, I interviewed some friends (and then made new friends to interview!) in search of adventures I’ve never heard of.

This week, I talk to Devin Horne about swimming with whale sharks. Devin is a teacher who is a real estate investor on the side.

 

Epic Adventures: Canyoning in Switzerland with Nick

Epic Adventures: Canyoning in Switzerland with Nick

Are you looking for new ideas for adventures to try?  In my Epic Adventures series, I interviewed some friends (and then made new friends to interview!) in search of adventures I’ve never heard of.

This week, Nick Huggins, from Adventurous Pursuits, explains what it’s like to go Canyoning in Switzerland.  Nick leads digital detox retreats.

Epic Adventures: Cliff Jumping with Slade

Epic Adventures: Cliff Jumping with Slade

Are you looking for new ideas for adventures to try?  In my Epic Adventures series, I interviewed some friends (and then made new friends to interview!) in search of adventures I’ve never heard of.

This week, I interviewed Slade Sundar about his experience cliff jumping in Jamaica.  Slade runs a fitness apparel brand called KRKN Brand.  His brand uses humor and positivity to promote fitness.

Solo Christmas Travel Adventure

Solo Christmas Travel Adventure

Several years ago, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, for a job without knowing a single person there. When December arrived, I didn’t have enough money (or time off work) to fly home to Florida for Christmas. It took almost a whole day to fly home, especially after the time change and layover. I tried to join a get together with friends, but that fell through. Everyone else either already had plans or was leaving town. I eventually came to accept that I would be alone on Christmas.

Hmm, now what? Having a traditional Christmas was no longer an option. I had already been living in Arizona for five months and I hadn’t been to the Grand Canyon yet. Or to that ski resort in Flagstaff. And I had just been given the perfect opportunity to go explore them. That’s it! I would go on a Christmas Road Trip Adventure!

As Christmas got closer, I became more and more excited about my upcoming trip. Some coworkers told me about a really cool ski resort in Flagstaff, and I hadn’t had a chance to go skiing since high school. They said lift tickets sometimes sell out, so I bought them ahead of time from a ski shop in Phoenix.

I booked a hotel with a hot tub and packed my ski suit and bikini in my suitcase. On December 23, I headed north to Arizona Snowbowl!

Ski suit? Check! Bathing suit? Check!

It was an easy, two hour drive straight up I-17. I checked into my hotel, then stopped at the store for a ski hat and some gloves. I woke up early the next morning and drove up the mountain to Arizona Snowbowl!

The view from the parking lot at Arizona Snowbowl.

I was so excited to go skiing! I went inside and rented skis and poles. They asked me if I wanted a skiing instructor. Pshhh! I already know how to ski! I politely declined, then suited up, headed outside, and got on the chair lift.

It was the most terrifying chair lift I had ever been on. There was nothing keeping me from jumping (falling?) out of the seat from so high up. I closed my eyes and held on tight as the chair swung back and forth. When I finally arrived at the top, I pushed myself off of the lift.

The view from the top of the mountain.

The views were gorgeous from the top of the mountain! I stayed up there for a while enjoying the view and taking pictures. I thought about all of the pictures my friends posted on social media of them selecting their Christmas tree, strapping it to the roof of their car, and decorating it. I decided to select one to be my Christmas tree. I looked over at all the trees. They were all so beautiful. It was so difficult to pick one. Finally, I saw one by itself in the snow in front of the mountain. That’s the one! That will be my Christmas tree! But I’m not going to chop it down and haul it away to decorate it. Nature already decorated it perfectly. I stood there for a minute, soaking up the views and enjoying the moment. Then I took a picture to show my friends.

My Christmas Tree

I decided to take it easy on my first run. I hadn’t been skiing since I was a teenager. There was no designated “bunny hill” at the Arizona Snowbowl, so I chose a green circle slope, which is the easiest level slope. When I was a kid, I sped down the blue square (intermediate) slopes like it was nothing. And I loved it so much!

This time, it was much more difficult. At first, I started going fast, and it was fun. But then I realized I couldn’t slow down and had very little control. There were lots of people around, so I didn’t want to hit anyone. I ended up jumping/falling off to the side of the path. When I landed, one of my skis fell off. As I started to look around for my missing ski, I realized I was stuck.

I reached for the ski and tried to snap my boot back into it, but it popped back off. A guy on a snowmobile rode by several times without saying anything. I wondered if anyone could see me. At least I wasn’t hurt. I felt like I was laying in the snow forever. Maybe I should take off my other ski and boots and walk down the hill in bare feet?

Eventually, he asked if I needed help. He helped me put my ski back on, then I got up and made my way to the bottom of the slope. I felt a pain in my hip as I tried to walk.

I decided to call it a day. Maybe I should have paid extra for those skiing lessons. I returned my equipment and went back to my car. I met some people in the parking lot and sold them my remaining ticket. Oh well, at least there’s a hot tub at the hotel.

When I got back to the hotel, I put on my bathing suit and went to the hot tub. I reached for the door to the pool area, but it was locked. On the website, it said the hot tub was open until 8pm. It was only 5pm. I went to the office, and they said the hot tub closes at 5pm. What a bummer.

I went back to my room and laid in bed. There was no way I could go to Grand Canyon the next day. I was in too much pain after falling on my hip. At this point, I was even dreading the two hour drive back to Phoenix.

I searched the internet to look for alternative plans. I found Meteor Crater Observatory – a national landmark at the site where a meteor hit. It sounded pretty interesting. But upon further research, it was closed one day a year. December 25. The day I needed to head back to Phoenix.

I decided to go to bed early and get some rest. In the morning, I checked out of the hotel and headed back towards Phoenix. Driving south on I-17 felt like a roller coaster ride. Zooming down the mountain, shifting into neutral.

I stopped at a rest stop in Sedona. I had heard a lot about that place. Lots of artist type people have been known to go there and have life-changing experiences after seeing the red rocks, or perhaps from the energy fields that radiate from the ground there. I enjoyed a picnic lunch from the rest stop. I could see the red rocks in the distance.

McGuireville rest stop picnic area with views of Sedona red rock.

It was quite a bit warmer in Sedona than it was in Flagstaff. I took off the hat, scarf, and ski jacket and wore just a sweater. By driving 60 miles south, it warmed up significantly!

When I got home to Phoenix, I ended the day in a bathing suit in the hot tub. It was so nice to finally relax and look back at my adventurous Christmas. Even though a lot of things went wrong, I had no regrets. It was something I really wanted to do. I got to explore places I had never been before. But most importantly, I learned how much fun it can be to go on solo adventures, even when nothing goes as planned. I was hooked on adventures! Especially since I hadn’t spent much time out west. Everything was new to me.

A few days later, I resigned from my corporate job, packed a suitcase, and drove to Las Vegas, NV, for a New Years adventure with a group of friends from college.

I already had another job lined up, but I was scared to resign. The people I worked with were nice. I felt like I was screwing them over. But going on my solo Christmas adventure allowed me to see that I needed to do this for myself. I needed to do what’s best for me.

Coincidentally, some friends from college in Florida were flying into Las Vegas for vacation/New Year’s Eve. My next adventure was right around the corner!

Have you ever turned a lonely holiday into an epic adventure?

VLOG: Packing Light Challenge

VLOG: Packing Light Challenge

I recently went on a weekend getaway trip with my mom and my dog.  My mom booked the trip on Spirit Airlines with no checked bags and no carry-on bags.  Later, I learned that the dog does not get a personal item (for food, treats, and poop bags, etc).  Here is how I packed light enough to share a personal item with the dog, and fit everything into one bag.

 

 

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Solo Cross Country Road Trip Survival Guide

Solo Cross Country Road Trip Survival Guide

I spent many years avoiding solo cross-country road trips.  If my destination was more than a five hour drive away, I got on a plane. But while I was living in Portland, I realized that there are a lot of National Parks and other destinations that are not near an airport.  Sure, you can bring a friend and switch drivers.  But how many of you have put off a road trip because none of your friends were available?

I decided to go back to Florida with my car.  I didn’t have the money to ship my car.  I looked at a map and saw tons of destinations I’d otherwise never get to see: the Pacific Coast Highway, southern Utah, the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe.  I was sold.  Time to face the wall I had built up in my mind around cross-country road trips.

PLANNING

  • Do you have an origin and a destination?  When I started my trip, all I knew was that I was going to Dallas, TX by mid-November.  I didn’t know where I was going beyond that. And that’s ok.  But it makes things easier if you know your origin and what direction you want to travel.
  • Once you have a rough idea of what direction you’d like to go, look for points of interest along the path.  Some points of interest might be on a short detour.  If it’s something you’d really like to see, try to make it work.  It can be a National Park, Theme Park, or any other place you’d like to visit.  Feel free to think outside the box.  I’ve been to the Pulse Nightclub Memorial in Orlando, FL, and Kurt Cobain’s house.  These points of interest may change along the route, and that’s ok.
  • Figure out your maximum daily distance.  You don’t want to end up exhausted and needing to stop while you’re on a really long stretch of highway with no exits.  Are you a road warrior that can drive 12 hours straight?  Great!  You’ll be way ahead of me!  For me, I can’t drive more than five hours before I get stir-crazy.  Knowing this, I kept each daily trip under 300 miles.  Make sure to leave enough time to spend at each destination.  Keep in mind, you might have some days where you won’t be driving by any of your chosen points of interest.  This would be a good time to check what’s in the area and try something you might not otherwise do.  For example, I wasn’t excited about stopping in Amarillo, TX.  But I found an awesome gym, had a great workout, and made some lifelong friends!  If your trip has too many days with no points of interest, try to find a more interesting route, if available.
  • Want to avoid snow?  Or tornados?  Know your limits, and make sure to avoid anything you can’t handle.
  • Look for places to stay, but be flexible.  I knew I wanted to go through southern Utah.  I searched for hostels, and it turns out there’s only one.  But don’t book immediately.  Make a note of it, but stay flexible in case a local makes a stellar, must-do recommendation.

Make sure everything fits in your car. Do I really need two camping chairs on a solo trip?

GETTING READY

  • Check your car’s maintenance schedule.  Will your car require scheduled maintenance while you’re on the road? If your trip is longer than 3000 miles, you might need an oil change during your trip.  Don’t avoid maintenance when you are on the road!  Check your tire pressure before you head out.  If your tire pressure is off, you might not get optimal gas mileage, which goes a long way on a long trip.  Also, double check that your registration won’t expire during the trip, and that you have car insurance cards that are up to date.
  • Pack your car.  What do you need to bring?  Will you be going to the beach?  On a ski trip?  Will you go camping in the backcountry along the way?  You don’t want to have lots of unnecessary stuff taking up space (and weight) in your car.  But you also don’t want to be camping in the snow without a sleeping bag or jacket.  I organized my car with plastic storage containers, and that ended up saving me lots of time (and preventing me from tearing apart everything in my car).  Make sure items you will need most often are most easily accessible.
  • Consider meal planning.  Are you planning on eating fast food every meal?  Make sure there are restaurants available throughout your trip.  Are you going backcountry camping?  I always looked ahead on my trip to figure out when’s the next time I’ll be near a grocery store. I’d stock up for a few days at a time, especially when I went hammock camping in the redwoods for more than one night.  There were no restaurants or grocery stores nearby.  Also, pack non-perishable snacks and drinks for when you are driving.  I brought fruit, granola bars, and gallon jugs of water.  The water also came in handy when I went backcountry camping with no running water.
  • Make sure you know your route.  You want to know where you’re going, even if you lose GPS signal.  Are you taking Route 66 all the way to Santa Monica, CA?  Are you taking I-10 from Los Angeles to Jacksonville?  Are you going off the beaten path?  If you know your route, it will be easier to deviate from it when you find unexpected must-do detours.
  • Be your own DJ.  Get together some music, podcasts, or audiobooks to listen to.  I get my audiobooks from the library on my phone.  Then connect to my car’s sound system via bluetooth or an AV cable.
  • Check for gas stations along the route.  This may seem silly, but I have been on road trips where there were no gas stations in any direction for a hundred miles.  And almost ran out of gas in the snow in Oregon because it didn’t occur to me there might not be gas stations.

The rare self-serve gas pump in Oregon.

ON THE ROAD

  • Be flexible.  Ask locals for recommendations.  Taking a detour to follow local recommendations turned out to be the best part of my trip!  Don’t miss out!
  • Take pictures!  You’ll want to remember this.  And show your friends.
  • Be safe!  Don’t leave valuables visible in your car.  Be aware of your surroundings.  I put my blanket on top of my plastic storage containers, and then a Love Conquers Hate poster leftover from Pride on top of that.  When I went camping, I used a headlamp to pitch my tent if I arrived after dark.  I never felt unsafe, except when I got harassed by people telling me it’s “unsafe” for women to be alone.

 

The path to one of many lookout points at Capital Reef National Park.

HACK THE TRIP

  • Look for cheaper accommodations.
    • Hostels are great for areas that have lots of attractions.  Usually they have free guided tours, and you get to go with other travelers.  It’s a great way to do group activities while traveling solo.  Bonus: some have discounted tickets to popular attractions.
    • Paid and free campsites are great when you are in the wilderness.  I stayed at a few throughout my road trip.  The data is populated by other users, so sometimes the information is inaccurate.  But many entries have links to official park websites.  I found some spots too difficult to find in the dark, but the one in Mississippi was magical.  I will definitely go back to that campsite on future road trips.
    • AirBNB and an outdoorsy version, hipcamp, are great when cheaper options are not available.  However, I have found some really cool places for under $20/night on AirBNB.
    • If you’ve never tried CouchSurfing, it’s probably not what you think.  It’s NOT sleeping on a stranger’s couch for free.  It is a social media site where you meet other people who love travel.  Chat with potential hosts and get to know them first.  Maybe they’ve been to your dream trip destination.  This is not free accommodation – it’s more about a shared experience.  That being said, it’s nice to get them a gift from your hometown or from somewhere along your road trip.  Or cook them dinner.  Due to the time it takes to exchange messages with a host, this method will require a little more planning ahead.  I have used CouchSurfing on my road trip from Cleveland to Atlanta.  I had an amazing time in Knoxville, TN.  I plan on trying it again on my next road trip.
  • Look for apps that connect users with couriers.  Maybe someone will pay $100 for you to bring a guitar or suitcase from your origin to a place along your route.  If so, it could pay for gas money.

Have fun, and make sure to slow down and enjoy the journey!

 

What are your favorite road trip tips?

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SCUBA + Halloween = Underwater Pumpkin Carving!!

SCUBA + Halloween = Underwater Pumpkin Carving!!

What’s the best way to celebrate Halloween with your SCUBA diving buddies?  Underwater Pumpkin Carving Competition, of course!

My first Underwater Pumpkin Carving Competition was with Gator Scuba Club in 2010.  At first, I was unsure about it. How can I possibly carve a pumpkin underwater?  Isn’t carving on land difficult enough?  I’m terrible with knives.  Am I more likely to cut my fingers off??

When we arrived at Blue Grotto in Williston, Florida, we gathered around the picnic tables.  We paired up with a dive buddy, and each group was issued a pumpkin.  We were ready to begin.  But first we needed to prepare the pumpkin for carving (above ground).

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My buddy and I removing guts from our pumpkin.  Photo credit: Gator Scuba Club

Each team cut a hole in the top of their pumpkin and scooped out the seeds and guts.  When it was all cleaned out, we then drew our design on the pumpkin with markers. My buddy and I decided to free-hand draw my design, just like my dad did when I was a kid.

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Scooping the guts out of our pumpkin.  We drew a shark with a little fish.

Others teams brought stencils and traced them onto their pumpkins.

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Drawing designs on our pumpkins.  Some teams drew free-handed, some used stencils.  Photo credit: Gator Scuba Club

After we finished marking up our pumpkins, we put on our SCUBA gear, grabbed our tools, and got in the water.

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Diver carves pumpkin and collects pieces in mesh bag. Photo credit: Gator Scuba Club

There are several key elements that made our underwater pumpkin carving possible. We needed to have space to carve without damaging any underwater vegetation.  Blue Grotto has a concrete platform at 15 feet, which made it the perfect place for underwater pumpkin carving.

The pumpkins are buoyant.  In order to keep them grounded on the platform, each team put a weight inside their pumpkin.  As pieces of pumpkin are carved off, they float to the surface.  In order to keep Blue Grotto clean for the next divers, we grabbed a mesh bag and put a weight inside.  As we carved pieces of pumpkin off, we were careful to grab them and place them inside the mesh bag.

We descended to the platform with our pumpkins, mesh bags, and carving tools and started carving.  I found it difficult to cut small, narrow pieces.

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My buddy and I checking our progress on the carving.

Divers who were more skilled knife users than I am didn’t have a problem.

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The teams on the platform carving their pumpkins.  Photo credit: Gator Scuba Club

Here’s how the pumpkins turned out:

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The finished pumpkins, underwater and on land! Photo Credits: Gator Scuba Club

I had such a great time that I did it again after graduation.  I found a local dive club in Atlanta, and we went to Dive Land Park in Alabama.  Learning from my first attempt, I decided to carve a simpler design into my pumpkin – a shark with less detail, without the tiny fish.

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Carving a shark into my pumpkin at Dive Land Park in Alabama.

Do you have any unique Halloween traditions?

Why Dana’s Epic Adventures?

Why Dana’s Epic Adventures?

Hi, I’m Dana.  Welcome to my blog.

This blog is about my travel adventures, including my 6 week Cross-Country Road Tripextreme sportsinternational travel, and culture.

I love travel, and I think as many people as possible should have the opportunity to travel.  I will be adding “how to” guides in order to break down some of the barriers to travel.  Let me take you on a trip!

If you’d like to learn a bit more about me, check out my about me page!

 

Throwback to my Hang Gliding adventure!

Throwback to my Hang Gliding adventure!

Ever since I was a little kid, I always thought it would be fun to go hang gliding.  I could soar above the trees and it would be just like I was flying!  I dreamed about hang gliding often, but figured it was something obscure that I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to try.

In September 2012, I heard that my friend Clay was putting together a hang gliding trip to Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga.  Yes!! Here is my chance!

I RSVP’d for the trip and was very excited about going.  Unfortunately, my brother died before the trip and I had to cancel.

Clay and his friends enjoyed the trip so much that they decided to go again.  This time I was able to go.

My friend Heather had recently moved from Atlanta to Cleveland, Tennessee.  She recently started skydiving and loved it so much, she wanted to become a skydive instructor.  She loved the idea of hang gliding but was unable to fly, so she came to watch.

Heather and I met up at a Mexican restaurant near Chattanooga for lunch, then drove over to Lookout Mountain.

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Lookout Mountain Hang gliding launch ramp

When we arrived, we found the Lookout Mountain launch ramp.  We watched several people do a “running launch,” which basically means they strap a glider to their back and run off the side of a cliff.  I had seen videos on YouTube such as this one.  I’m not going to lie, the only Lookout Mountain videos on YouTube at the time were of running launches.  I thought that’s what I would be doing and hesitated.  Is that safe?  I’m really bad at running.  What if I don’t run fast enough?  What if I trip over my feet?  What if I don’t know how to land?  But Clay assured me that running launches were only for people who were experienced.  We would be towed up to altitude by a plane.

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Ready to learn to fly!

We signed waivers, attended safety training, and got fitted with harnesses.  We paired up with an instructor, and one by one we took off!

First, we each got in the glider with an instructor and were strapped in.  Then the glider was attached to an ultralight airplane.  The plane took off and towed us up to height. Once the glider was at the desired height, the glider was released from the plane.  We were flying!

Soon after we were disconnected, my instructor asked me if I wanted to fly it.  I said, “Hell no! I don’t know how to fly a glider!”

He let go of the bar that steers the glider. That is how he tricked me into steering it.  At high altitudes, it’s pretty foolproof.

The view was breathtaking.  From Lookout Mountain, I could see Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama!

After I got comfortable hang gliding, he showed me some tricks.  He stalled the glider by putting the steering bar over our heads.  That caused us to slowly stop moving.  But once we he pulled the steering bar back to chest level, the glider dropped like a roller coaster going downhill.  He did another trick where he made the glider spin in a downward spiral.  He said he knew more tricks that could make me feel like I’m on a roller coaster.  I told him that roller coasters are not fun for me because they make me feel sick.

That was one thing that surprised me about hang gliding.  It was not as smooth of a ride as I imagined.  I did feel a little motion sick, but it was worth it!

Hang gliding was a blast, and I’m glad I did it.  Like many of the best extreme sports, it is pretty expensive.  I would go again in the right situation, but it would have to be a special occasion.

Here’s the video of my hang gliding experience:

Cross-Country Road Trip: Mississppi, New Orleans, and arrival in Florida

Cross-Country Road Trip: Mississppi, New Orleans, and arrival in Florida

I found a free campsite in Louisiana on I-20 near the Mississippi border.  I stopped in Shreveport for dinner and restocked my camping supplies.  On my way to the store, I saw a homeless man with a puppy standing on the corner.  I remembered I got some dog food samples at the picnic, so I parked my car and talked to him.  I gave him the dog food and told him about the picnic.  He told me I definitely need to get a dog.  Great advice!

The campsite was near a boat ramp.  I found the boat ramp, but couldn’t find any campsites nearby.  It looked like it was a residential area.  Afraid of accidentally ending up in someone’s backyard in the Deep South, I decided to abandon this campground.  I found another one about 30 minutes down the road in Mississippi.

This one was a bit further from the interstate but it seemed like my best bet.  I arrived around 11pm.  I found the bathroom, got ready for bed, and went to scope out a campsite.  After circling around, I found the perfect campsite to accommodate my hammock tent.  Using my headlamp, I pitched my tent in the dark.  I grabbed some blankets and laid in bed reading before falling sleep.

When I woke up, I saw light shine through the trees.  Two yellow leaves fell from branches above me.  This was my first glimpse of Mississippi in the daylight.  It was beautiful!  I loved being surprised by the scenery in the morning.

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Morning view from my hammock at the free campground in Mississippi

I stayed in my hammock for a while before getting up.  It was so peaceful laying there, watching the leaves fall above me.  I felt so refreshed.  This was one of the best camping sites I’ve ever been to.  And it was completely free.

I packed up and got back on the road.  Before I got to Jackson, I stopped at a local convenience store to get some snacks.  As I was getting into my car, I saw that a cashier had followed me and was calling out to me.  He must have been 17.  I looked at him and he ran towards me, “Hey!  I was just wondering if you have a boyfriend or a husband?”

I ignored him, quickly got in the car and left.  I was so frustrated and repulsed.  Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common in my life.  I wish men would stop being creepy.

From Jackson, I headed south and didn’t stop until I got to New Orleans.  When I arrived at my hostel, I parked on the street and headed inside.  Everyone was very nice and very friendly.  This is the type of hostel where you can sit in a room with a bunch of strangers and instantly become best friends with everyone.

I hung out for a bit and chatted with people from Paris, New Zealand, and Australia about their travels around the world.  After a few hours, I decided it was time for dinner.  I looked around and found a restaurant called “Tacos and Beer” that was only a block away!

I sat at the bar and ordered some tacos to go.  As I was waiting for my food, I found out it was karaoke night.  I was not interested – I was waiting for my food so that I could take it back to the hostel and eat.  Then the DJ called out to me.  He must have seen me sitting at the bar and thought I was drinking, because he told me it was my turn to sing.  I told him no thanks, I was just waiting for my to go order.

“That’s ok, you can sing while you are waiting on your food.”

Ok, he got me there.  I looked through his books and found a song I HAD to sing! Lonely Island – “I’m On A Boat.”

The restaurant was completely empty except for a party of 6 or 8 sitting in the back corner.  As I started singing, they all got up and hit the dance floor, singing and dancing along with me.  I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to turn an empty bar into a party in less than 3 minutes.

The next morning, I talked to the owner and asked for suggestions on where to go.  New Orleans was one of Aaron’s favorite places and it was my first time there.  The owner was very happy to give me suggestions on what to do.

I hopped on a streetcar towards the French Quarter.  I got off near downtown.  My sister-in-law said she spread some of Aaron’s ashes by the water, so I had to find that place.  I walked by Harrah’s and the outlet mall towards the water.  I got some frozen yogurt at Pinkberry.  I wasn’t fully recovered from the altitude sickness, so I tried to minimize walking.  There was so much more I wanted to do, but I was exhausted so I headed back.

 

When I got back to the hostel, they were having a huge barbecue on the patio.  I ate some food and hung out with my new friends and chatted some more about what places they were visiting next.

The next morning, I headed out for Florida.  I was tempted to drive around Biloxi to see what it was like, but couldn’t find anything of interest.  Also didn’t see anything I wanted to do in the 66 mile stretch of I-10 through Alabama.  I was tempted to stop by the beach in Florida’s panhandle, but hesitated because there might not be enough trees to hang a hammock.  I found a campground that looked perfect in Apalachicola National Forest, just outside of Tallahassee.  Unfortunately, it was hunting season, so camping was out of the question.  I ended up staying at a motel and heading straight to my hometown of Gainesville in the morning.  I finally arrived to see my friend and her six dogs.  And I made it to the end of my road trip before Thanksgiving!

After six weeks and over four thousand miles, I arrived at my destination.  I left Washington not knowing my final destination – only that I was stopping in Dallas for a picnic.  I learned a lot about myself and about travel over these six weeks.  Previously, I didn’t think I was cut out for a cross-country road trip!  But it was an amazing opportunity that I am so grateful to have experienced!

 

Previous road trip posts:

Part 1: Cross-Country Road Trip: Washington and Oregon

Part 2: Cross-Country Road Trip: California and the accidental stop in Las Vegas

Part 3: Cross-Country Road Trip: Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico

Part 4: Cross-Country Road Trip: Texas

Part 5: Cross-Country Road Trip: Mississippi, New Orleans, and arrival in Florida