Category: travel

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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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

 

 

 

WDS 2017 and Whitewater Rafting

WDS 2017 and Whitewater Rafting

A few weeks ago, I flew to Portland, OR, for the World Domination Summit.  Ooh, sounds intriguing!  What is the World Domination Summit?

It’s a conference for people who want to live their lives on their own terms instead of blindly accepting what is prescribed by society.  We are a global community of adventurers seeking to change the world for the better.  Some of us are entrepreneurs.  Some of us are location independent (which means they travel so often that they don’t need a “home base”).  But all of us reject the idea that society set limits on what we can and can’t do with our lives.

I was so grateful that I was able to attend this year’s conference.  I had been sick for two months, but feeling well enough to attend.  My first event to kickoff the conference was the whitewater rafting trip that I led.  I knew there was a possibility that I wouldn’t be able to go rafting, but I decided to wait until the morning of the trip to see if I felt well enough to raft.

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Group photo after rafting. Photo credit: Sean Ho; Back row: Kristin Brethova, Joanna Hoang, Mark Allen, Olena Zhygylevych, Josanne Johnson, Martin Breth, Monica Gill, Drew Hitchcock, Sean Ho; Front row: Dana Massaro, Steve August, Rebecca Palmer from EntreLaunch, Kam Kubesh

I was ecstatic when I found out I would be able to go with some minor modification.  And it was such an amazing experience!  We started out as a group of strangers, including one from Singapore and one from Ukraine. We overcame our fears together.*  We paddled together.  We swam in freezing water together.  And after we conquered the rapids together, we celebrated with a meal in front of a gorgeous view of Mt. Hood.  We had a great group that bonded after a wild day on the river.

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Mt. Hood as seen from our lunch table.  Photo credit: Josanne Johnson

Whenever we saw each other at meetups, academies, and parties, we felt like we were with our tribe.  The group had such a great time on the trip, people were still hearing whitewater rafting stories near the end of the conference!

Later that night, I checked my schedule and found a sustainability meetup I couldn’t miss!  I was about to rearrange my schedule when I realized the event was full.  I decided to go anyway.  When I got there, I discovered that none of the people who RSVPed showed up! And it did not disappoint.

The group organizer, Rebecca Wilcox, had been living in Sweden for several years and attended grad school for sustainability.  She shared her experiences living in a country where people are more aware of the environment than in the United States.  Muffadal Saylawala quit his Wall Street job to get back in touch with nature.  He now owns an eco-hostel in Nicaragua, despite lack of recycling facilities there.  We shared our visions for building a sustainable future and gave each other great ideas on how to implement them.  I have always been interested in sustainability and was looking for ways to apply my engineering skills.  This meetup made me realize that it is possible to travel around the world to learn about sustainability and to help communities work towards their goals.  I am currently saving up to make this round-the-world trip happen.

That afternoon, I attended a meetup on how to improve your live-streaming video on your social media.  I had never used live streaming video and I hadn’t really planned on it.  But I ended up learning a lot and I’m so glad I went.  I learned that social media algorithms favor live video over everything else.  Most importantly, I got lots of great ideas on how to keep my audience engaged.  These ideas are sure to boost my social media to the next level!  Stay tuned!

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An old friend and a new friend meeting Vanessa Van Edwards with me at the World Domination Summit Kickoff Party.

After being misunderstood my whole life as that woman with crazy ideas, I have finally found my community.  Instead of telling me that I’m crazy for wanting to travel, and that I should forget about it and go back to my corporate job, they say “I want to do that too!”   But most of all, I was floored by how unconditionally supportive everyone is.  For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a supportive community of like-minded people.  We inspire each other to come up with creative ideas and do our best work towards dominating the world with kindness.  I can’t wait to see what our community creates by next year!

 

*Watch the WDS Rafting group overcoming our fears by jumping off of a bridge!

 

 

Throwback to Cave Rappelling and Yosemite in California!

Throwback to Cave Rappelling and Yosemite in California!

In the summer of 2012, I was sitting at my desk at work when my boss ran in.  Very excited, she said, “You’re about to get a phone call.  They are going to ask you two questions, and if you answer correctly, you might be sent home immediately to pack a suitcase and catch a plane to go work on a winery in California.”

That was the most exciting news I could possibly hear at that time!  I was so bored in Excel hell.  I couldn’t wait to get out of the office and get some hands-on experience!  I don’t remember what the two questions were, but I must have given the correct answer.  The next day I was on a flight to San Francisco for a business trip to Wine Country!

At the winery, we worked long 16-hour days outside on a construction site.  They worked us hard, but we had one day off every week.  I decided to take full advantage of this short “weekend.”

The night before my first weekend, I left the winery in Livingston, CA, and headed to San Francisco.  My phone somehow got bricked within a few hours of landing in San Francisco, so I had to navigate the old fashioned way – with a map and handwritten directions.  I visited a friend from college who (like every time I visit) tried to convince me to come back to do the Escape From Alcatraz Shark Swim competition that he does every year.  It’s easy to see why we are friends.

The next morning, I drove three hours to Moaning Cavern.  I read about the place in a brochure about ziplining and rappelling and decided to try it out.  It was in a very remote place with no cell phone signal.  The roads and buildings made it look like I was transported back to the 1980s in a one-horse country town.

The “parking lot” was a field of dead grass.  There was a white trailer in the corner.  I started to panic.  “I drove three hours to the wrong place! Where the hell am I??”

I got out of my car and looked around. A few minutes later, I heard screaming from overhead as someone flew by on a zipline.  Yes! This is definitely the right place!

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The entrance to the cavern

I went inside and registered to rappel.  There were a few people ahead of me in line.  The entrance to the cave was on the ground level, so I didn’t have to worry about climbing up before the rappel.

When it was my turn, they fitted me with a harness and hardhat, and taught me how to use their rope system.  Then they opened the gate and let me in.  It was a dark narrow tunnel.  Cool!  Not what I was expecting, but it looks like fun!  I climbed down to about 15 feet to the first platform.  After the platform, I had to maneuver around a rocky area to get to the next section, which was also a tunnel.  After about 10 more feet, the tunnel opened up, and was just a flat wall.  This is going to be easy, I thought.  All I have to do is walk down the wall.  But I was wrong.

When the tunnel opened up to a flat wall, I could see the entire cave.  It was breathtaking!  It looked like something I would see on a SCUBA dive, but without the water.  I climbed down a bit more.  For a split second, my brain was tricked into thinking I could swim over to the far side of the dimly lit cavern to get a better view.

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The cavern wall opened up and my feet couldn’t reach the wall anymore

The cavern opened up even more – my feet were too far away to touch the wall!  I was dangling from a rope 150 ft in the air!  I panicked and for a moment forgot how to use the device to climb down the ropes.  Then I realized I was stuck; the only way I could move was to use the device.  I struggled for a second, but then it came back to me.  It was fascinating to be able to see the walls of the cavern up close.  On my way down, I could see people from the walking tour (read: too scared to rappel, but still wanted to see the caves).  I waved hello to them and continued my descent.

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Cavern selfie

I finally made it to the bottom!  Still shaking from the adrenaline rush, I got a selfie inside the canyon.  And then it hit me:  If the entrance to the cave was on ground level, then I’m currently 165 ft below ground level.  How do I get back up?

Climbers join the walking tour at the bottom of the cavern.  The tour guide pointed out some named features inside the cavern.  Shortly after, it was time to go up.  The way up?  A 17 story spiral staircase made entirely of WWII scrap metal!  As an engineer, the idea of an old rickety spiral staircase erected from used scrap metal was more terrifying than rappelling down the cavern!

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The view from the top of the spiral staircase

I made it all the way up the terrifying spiral staircase and back to the lobby.

I did it!  It was awesome!

But I wasn’t done yet.  Since I only had one day off, I had to maximize my time by squeezing more than one adventure into a day.  I headed off to Yosemite National Park.

 

 

After a two hour drive, I arrived at the entrance to Yosemite National Park.  This was my first time at a National Park.  I pulled up to the hut and was handed a map.  I figured it would be like a theme park.  Pay for parking, get handed a map, and given directions to the main attractions.  Wrong, again!

After driving a few miles without seeing any signs, I pulled over to look at the map.  The entrance I just drove through wasn’t even on the map.  I had no idea what I was looking at.  I decided to just keep driving, and I’d probably come across a sign eventually.  Several miles later, I still hadn’t seen a single sign.  I started to wonder if I drove all the way out here for nothing.  Maybe I was at the wrong entrance?  Maybe I won’t be able to find anything and still make it back to the winery at a decent hour.

Finally, I saw a sign.  There was an arrow pointing left with a name (presumably something that was on the map), 65 miles.

Sixty-five miles?!  I already drove two hours!  I need to be somewhere now!  Not in 65 miles!  I decided to pass on that one.  Too far.

After what seemed like another lonely 10 miles, I found a parking lot with people walking towards a rocky path.  Not exactly what I was expecting, but I figured it was my best chance at seeing something before the end of my short weekend. I parked and saw lots of other people there.  It turned out to be Olmsted Point.

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Olmsted Point (the big and little domes near the horizon), as seen from wherever I was when I got lost.

Among the rocks, there was a path down into the valley.  It was gorgeous! I walked around and soaked up the view.  I took a few pictures and headed back to my car.  I felt like there was more to see and time was of the essence.

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I found a paved path among the redwoods.  It was so humbling to be among such enormous trees!  Being from Florida, I had never been on a real hike before (except in Costa Rica).  When I first got there, I preferred the paved path.  But after walking among all of those trees, the paved path in the middle of a forest seemed very artificial.  I understood why real hikers preferred unpaved trails.

I decided to keep driving a bit further.  Just past a campground was the entrance to Hetch Hetchy, which I honestly had never heard of but recognized the view.

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Hetch Hetchy
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While crossing the bridge, I discovered that Hetch Hetchy is a dam!

There is a trail that goes around the lake.  After walking over a bridge and then through a tunnel, I came out around the left side of the lake and started hiking.  The trail was magical. Despite the long day, I felt more and more energized with each step along the trail.  As nightfall began, the trail became darker and darker.  I started to wonder if I’d encounter a bear.  A coworker told me he had gone to the non-touristy parts of Yosemite the previous weekend and had a close encounter with a bear.  I still wasn’t sure if I was on the touristy side or not.

305027_10101895299596233_1125771702_nThe trail turned out to be much longer than I expected.  I turned around and raced the darkness, trying to make it to my car before nightfall.  Lights illuminated the inside of the tunnel.  Though the sun had set completely, the moon was very bright.

I got back in my car and started my journey back to the winery.  But first, I stopped at the campground to use the restroom.  When I entered the restroom, I was greeted by an awesome sign:  step-by-step picture instructions on how to poop in the woods.

293077_10101895300170083_800385655_n While there was running water and flush toilets, there weren’t any lights.  (Sorry for the glare in the middle of the picture.)

As I left the restroom, the park ranger came to ask me if I was leaving because they were just about to close the park gates.  I made it out just in time!

On my long drive back to the winery, I reflected on all of the awesome experiences I had in just one day.  I was in disbelief!  I had seen more in a short weekend than I had in any other weekend in my entire life!  I am so happy that I had the opportunity to make this happen.

Cross-Country Road Trip: Texas

Cross-Country Road Trip: Texas

My first stop in Texas was Amarillo.  I arrived just in time for a workout at a gym that a friend highly recommended.  Tornado Alley Crossfit was very friendly and welcoming.  I got an amazing workout that kicked my ass!

The next day, I arrived in Dallas.  I was a week early for the Texas Old English Sheepdog Rescue picnic, which was the only event I had planned on attending from the beginning of the road trip.  The picnic also happened to be the end of my plans.  What would I do after the picnic?  Would I turn around and go back to Washington?  Should I keep going until I get to Florida?

I was still trying to figure out if I could squeeze in a trip to Topeka, Kansas, before the picnic.  While I was considering the additional stop, a friend from college texted me saying he wanted to meet up in Austin.  I wanted to see the Equality House, but wasn’t sure if there was anything for visitors to do there besides drive by.  That’s a long drive for a potentially small payoff.  I decided to head to Austin the next day.

First order of business in Austin – my car needed new brakes.  I felt awkward about potentially going to the mechanic with everything I own in my car.  When I arrived at my hostel, several wonderful people helped me unload my car and store everything in the house.  Unfortunately, the mechanics were all closed by the time I arrived, so I had to wait until morning.

I arrived at the mechanic around noon.  My friend picked me up, and we headed to lunch to catch up.  Afterwards, he brought me back to the mechanic and shortly after, my car was ready.  We had planned to meet up again the next day.

When I got back to the hostel, I hung out for a bit with the other friendly guests.  A group of us were sitting in the living room when a belligerent old man came in.  He made inappropriate comments to all of the women, but for some reason was not kicked out.  I knew I was going to be moved to a different room that night, so I asked staff to double-check that he wouldn’t be anywhere near me.  They checked the reservations and realized they were overbooked.  They apologized and said they made a mistake, and I would have to leave.  I tried to find another hostel or AirBnB in Austin, but there was nothing available at a reasonable price.  I was so upset.  It was already past 5pm.  Couldn’t they have let me know earlier in the day?  As I made many trips from the house to repack my car, the previously friendly staff now completely ignored me.  They didn’t even look at me as I walked by; they pretended I didn’t exist.  Nobody offered to help me repack my car, even though it was their mistake.  I felt so invisible and dehumanized.  I had nowhere to go.  Sometimes I felt like I spent most of my days looking for my next place to stay.  I was so frustrated.  I ended up going back to the hostel in Dallas.  They had plenty of room and welcomed me back.

I still had a few days before I had to pick up my mom from the airport, so I went sightseeing.  A teacher from Australia joined me for a day at the JFK museum, which is inside the building that JFK was shot from.

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The former Texas School Book Depository.  The sixth floor window on the far right is still open.

After we parked the car, he saw a lady on the sidewalk selling tickets for a bus tour.  He asked her about it, and she said it was leaving in less than 5 minutes.  We decided pay up and hop on the bus.  It was an amazing tour that explained a lot of the background and political climate of the early 1960s.  It took us through neighborhoods that look exactly the same as they did on that day.  The bus also followed the route of the motorcade.  The museum was on the sixth floor, right where Lee Harvey Oswald was perched, waiting for the President to drive by.  The window is open a crack, just like it was the day JFK was shot.

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The day we went to the museum happened to be the day of the United States Presidential Election of 2016.  Because it was election season, the special exhibit on the 7th floor was related to the Kennedy election.  They also had selfie props so that you, too could get in on the action at that moment in history.

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After I left the museum, I visited the gift shop across the street.  Since my nephew is a history buff, I bought a book about JFK for him.  It would be a great book for him to read with his grandpa, who was about his age when the President was shot.

I headed home, ate dinner, and gathered around the TV with the other hostel guests to watch the election.  We were all very disappointed that the results were not available until a few days later.

The next morning, I went to the grocery store to order a cake for my mom’s birthday.  I ordered her a photo cake.  The picture was of an Old English sheepdog wearing heart-shaped sunglasses.  They had her name printed on the photo as well.  When I saw the cake, I was horrified!  They spelled her name wrong.  The cake was only a single 8″ round instead of the usual double layer cake.  It was so tiny and pathetic.  When I showed the bakery associate that they spelled her name wrong, I dropped my car keys into the cake and made a hole in the top!  They were able to cover up the misspelling by writing her name on top of it with frosting.  But they couldn’t do anything about the hole.  Or the fact that it was half the cake I was expecting.  I wandered around the store for a bit, wondering if I should just hide the awful cake on a shelf and leave.  Why should I pay for such a disaster?  Against my better judgment, I ended up buying the cake.

I headed over to the picnic location to help them set up.  I left the cake there overnight, 14963249_10107343653396543_8471943472468892684_nhoping someone would figure out a way to salvage it.  Shortly after I arrived, I was introduced to some of the group members’ Old English Sheepdogs.  It was the first time I had seen a “sheepie,” as they are called, in almost 20 years.  And it was the first time I had ever met one with a tail!  I was in sheepie heaven!  I was so excited about the picnic.  I couldn’t decide if I should send my mom lots of pictures, or make it a surprise.

That night, I picked her up from the airport.  She sent me a text to let me know her flight was delayed a few hours.  I sent her a picture of two sheepies waiting behind a fence and said “ok, we’ll wait.”  I went about my business, putting final touches on a gift basket for the picnic.  One of the items in the basket was my own handmade dog soap.

When she texted me that her plane had landed, I got a brilliant idea.  The hole in the cake was approximately the size of the hole that a large candle would make.  Now what type of candle would work?  I quickly swung by the grocery store bakery section to look at the birthday candles.  All they had were small candles and some number candles.  I stared at the birthday candle display for about 10 minutes, knowing that she was probably already standing on the curb waiting for me to pick her up.  Finally, I decided to get an “8” and tell people that’s how old she was turning in dog years.  I grabbed the candle, sped through the self checkout, and hurried to the airport.

When we arrived at the picnic the next day, she was so happy to see all of the sheepies.  I 14963193_10107343636151103_6745425943141442954_nquickly slipped into the kitchen to put the candle on the cake.  She quickly made friends with everyone from the rescue in attempts to adopt a sheepie for ourselves.

We also looked at the items for sale.  We ended up getting a t-shirt.  She also got lots of phone numbers and called frequently to find out if the rescue had any dogs available for adoption.

Lunch was catered from a local barbecue place.  There was also an enormous cake, so it didn’t matter that ours was so small.  After lunch, I made an announcement that there was a birthday in the house, lit the candle and brought the cake over to my mom to sing Happy Birthday.  She was so surprised!  She absolutely loved it!  It was one of the best birthday presents ever!  Hopefully we get to go again next year.

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A great turnout at the 2016 Texas Old English Sheepdog Rescue picnic!

The next day, I brought her back to the airport.  A friend in Florida needed my help, so I decided to extend my road trip all the way to Florida.  I headed east towards Louisiana.

 

Road Trip Series:

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: Mississppi, New Orleans, and arrival in Florida

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

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

I didn’t really have a plan for what to do in Utah.  I knew I wanted to see Zion National Park, The Wave, and some other hikes.  On my way up, I drove through Zion.  I thought about going in, but didn’t want to pay $30 near the end of the day with little time left.

When I got to the Cowboy Bunkhouse Hostel in Kanab, I met the Trail Boss.  He gave me

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The Cowboy Bunkhouse

lots of awesome ideas on what to see and where to go.  He also informed me of a little known fact among visitors:  you have to enter and win a lottery in order to hike The Wave, so that is out of the question.  With his help, I was able to plan the best trip to suit my needs.  I could have stayed for a whole month and still not seen everything.  But it was the end of the season, and many places were getting ready to close for the winter.

Each trail was a long drive from the hostel.  The parks and trails are vast and spread out along southern Utah and northern Arizona.

On my first full day, I went to Capital Reef National Park.  A few miles outside of the park, I stopped at a visitor’s center.  I was hoping to scope out which trails to hike.  But instead, the visitor’s center employee threw a whole bunch of judgment at me.

“You drove all the way out here by yourself?  You’re so brave! Your momma let you drive here alone? Jesus Christ, you need to call your mom, she must be terrified!”

Thank you for your unwanted opinion.  But you don’t know my mom.  You don’t know if she’s still alive, or what kind of relationship I have with her.  I’d be lying if I said this encounter did not spoil my mood.  Sure, she probably “meant well,” but perpetuating gender stereotypes is not always helpful.  Sometimes it is dangerous.

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Hickman Bridge at Capital Reef National Park.

Once I got inside the park, I was in complete awe.  I’m very happy I got to experience this park!

On the second day in Utah, I decided I wanted to take it easy and just do a short hike.  I headed out for the Toadstools at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  The sign for the entrance was so small, I passed it a few times down the two-lane highway through a country road.  I almost missed it! The trailhead was further from the entrance than I expected.

14724374_534539253403136_1250298869823765830_nI almost got lost looking for it.  Then once I found it, I almost lost the trail pretty early on.  It was very narrow and on the sloping side of a roof!  (Shown on the right.)  That didn’t seem like the way I was supposed to go!  I stayed around long enough for other hikers to come by, and they assured me that was the trail.  After that, I made it all the way to the toadstools with no issues.  Once I got there, it started to rain!  The cover picture is me standing next to the toadstools.

My next trip was to Bryce Canyon.  I was told if I only have time to do one hike, I need to

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View of Bryce Canyon as seen from the rim

do the Navajo Trail, which is a 1.3 mile moderate hike. It starts at the rim of the canyon and goes inside on a narrow, winding path on the side of a cliff.  It’s one of the best spots for spectacular views of the canyon.  I set out about an hour before sunset.  Plenty of time. Not too far into the trail, I spent a lot of time taking pictures.  There views were amazing!  But about half a mile in, I realized that the sun was setting.  I needed to hurry back to the rim before dark!  But I felt so exhausted.  I gave myself a break and took a few minutes rest before what I thought would be a sprint to the end of the trail.  After my break, I didn’t feel any more rested.  I still couldn’t catch my breath!  I knew I should probably rush to the end of the trail, but I couldn’t push myself.  I was so out of breath! I kept going at a slower pace.  Better than not moving at all.  I just didn’t want to be out on the trail in the dark.  I started to feel nauseous.  Still out of breath, I tried to keep moving.  But it was

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Bryce Canyon as seen from the Navajo Trail

inevitable:  I would be stuck on the narrow, winding trail on the side of a cliff in the dark.  Once the sun set and darkness came over the trail, I realized something.  I had altitude sickness.  This was my first hike over 9000 ft.  I can’t catch my breath, despite taking plenty of rest.  And now I was in the dark on the side of a cliff.  I didn’t panic.  I was just fine in the dark.  I just wished I brought my headlamp that was in my car!   I decided to keep going in the dark, but if I had any sense of panic or if I couldn’t see where I was going, I would attempt to call for help.  I wasn’t scared, but I knew I had to stay safe.  I pulled out my almost-dead cell phone and used it to light up the trail.  At this particular point on the trail, only one side was on a cliff; the other side was a wall.  I stayed as close to the wall as possible.  After about a quarter of a mile and a few hairpin turns, I finally made it to the end!

The next day, I was hoping to check out Zion.  Then I would head to the Grand Canyon North Rim (the less popular side).  But due to altitude sickness, hiking was out of the question for several days, even at lower altitudes.

Several friends recommended I check out Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.  It was only

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The Wishing Fountain at Best Friends

five miles from my hostel, and didn’t require hiking.  I signed up for a tour of the sanctuary.  Since I arrived early, I had time for lunch in their all-vegetarian cafeteria.  During the tour, we drove by the horses on our way to see the rescue cats.  We got to go inside and pet all of the kitties!  Then we drove over to where they keep the rescue dogs.  They don’t allow people to play with the dogs, but they brought out one of the dogs for us to pet.  He was so cute and sweet.  I wanted to take him home with me!  But I wasn’t sure if the rest of my hostels allowed pets.  Or if I could afford to feed him.

When I left Best Friends, I headed south to Arizona.  I drove through Glen Canyon.  I stopped at a little pull-out on the side of the highway and took this video:

I got to my hostel in Flagstaff with every intention of getting right back into adventures.  At check-in, I asked the people who worked there about Grand Canyon tours and Sedona trips.  The first guy said he recently moved to Flagstaff and didn’t know the area.  I asked a few others and they didn’t know either.  Oh well, I could figure it out on my own.  I used to live in Arizona, and this wasn’t my first trip to Flagstaff.

I went upstairs to my room.  There were two bunk beds, a tiny fridge, and a sink.  Two of my roommates were from Europe.  They were friendly and chatted about their time in Flagstaff.  I offered for them to join me on my trip to the Grand Canyon South Rim, but they already booked a tour.  Everywhere I went since Las Vegas offered their own private Grand Canyon tour.  They also had a list of third-party tours that they recommended, in case the in-house tours were full.  Most of the tours were well over $100!  Since I already bought my National Park annual pass, I got in free.  My only expense was transportation, which was easy since I was driving.  Many of those trips seem overpriced and don’t offer much for what they are.  But I suppose if you don’t have a car, those tours might be your only option.

The next day, one of my roommates got very sick.  The day after, the other one was very sick as well.  They thought back to what they had eaten the previous days.  The only thing they both ate was something from the hostel kitchen.

After two days in bed with the occasional trip next door for Pad Thai and Vietnamese Iced Coffee, I decided to get up and do something. Now would be a good time to start experimenting with homemade dog shampoo.  I went into the hostel kitchen to make my first batch.  At some point, I saw a huge rat run across the floor and hide behind the fridge.  I went downstairs to alert the staff.  Their response?

“This place has been infested with rats for years.  There’s no way to keep them out.  It’s ok, they won’t hurt anything.  What, you mean you want us to get rid of them?  How do you propose we do that?  There are some stray cats outside.  How about I let them in?”

Guests frequently cook food in that kitchen!  Hmm, maybe that could explain why my roommates got sick.

I left early the next morning and headed to the Grand Canyon South Rim.  It was nothing like what I expected.  The Rim Trail was like a really wide sidewalk that is wheelchair accessible. It’s awesome that such a well-known trail  at a National

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Grand Canyon South Rim

Park is accessible.  But the crowds were overwhelming.  The South Rim is the Disney World of National Parks.  Many of the visitors are not hiking enthusiasts.  Nor even National Park enthusiasts.  But once you get on the trail and see the Grand Canyon with your own eyes, you realize that no picture you’ve ever seen has done it justice.  Spectacular views as far as the eye can see.  I was not feeling 100% yet after getting altitude sickness, so I stuck to the Rim Trail.  The guides at the Grand Canyon info desk suggested I also go on Bright Angel Trail, which is one of the trails that went down to the bottom of the rim.

You can’t hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in the same day.  And you have to leave early if you plan on going to the bottom.  She said about 200 ft into the trail, there is a lookout point that is great place to stop and get spectacular pictures.  Many people go to that lookout point and come right back.  I stood at the Bright Angel trailhead and looked down.  Those first 200 ft were very steep!  Just the thought of climbing back up that hill was exhausting, so I passed on the Bright Angel Trail lookout point.  Maybe next time.  The next morning, I checked out of the hostel and headed to Sedona.  I couldn’t wait to get out of that rat-infested hole of a hostel!

I planned on getting to Sedona early, checking out all of the sites, then heading to my AirBnB.  I’d spend the night and then head to my next hostel in Santa Fe, NM.

It was Halloween!  I found the touristy area of Sedona.  There are lots of little gift shops and restaurants that span several blocks.  I found a visitors center, and they explained that Sedona is famous for it’s vortexes.  (Yes, they are called “vortexes,” which isn’t even a real word.  Nobody calls them “vortices,” which is the correct plural form of vortex.)  These vortexes are locations that have lots of energy.  Supposedly, if you stand on a vortex, you can feel the energy from it.  Many people have traveled to Sedona and had life-changing experiences.  I wasn’t sold on the energy idea.  But I figured they would be great places to take pictures.  Maybe it would make more sense when I got there.  I took a map with the vortexes labeled and set out.  I went to the furthest one first, and figured I’d make my way back into town, have dinner, then go to the AirBnB.

I followed the map to the first vortex.  It was on the side of a country road.  I found two trailheads nearby.  I parked and got out, looking for directions that said “This way to the vortex,” or “vortex here.”  No signs of a vortex.  Even the signs that explained the history of the trail made no mention of a vortex.  I tried to use Google Maps, but I did not have phone signal.  I found several other people who were looking for the same vortex, just as confused.  How would I know if I found it?  I decided to give up and move on to the next vortex.  I ended up having a similar experience.  No signs of a vortex.  I decided to give up on the vortex scavenger hunt and head to the airport.  The lady at the info desk highly recommended that I see the sunset at the airport.  It had the best views in all of Sedona, she said.  The airport at the top of a hill.  Halfway up the hill, there are about four

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View from Sedona Airport at sunset

parking spots.  That’s the spot I where I was supposed to watch the sunset.  All four spots were taken, so I decided to go all the way up to the top.  On my way back down, I found a spot.  The sunset photo op spot is a bit of a hike from the parking spot, on top of another hill.  I walked around and enjoyed the views, then hiked up the hill.

I remembered there was a vortex at the airport.  Again, no mention of a vortex.  The place was crowded.  I overheard people saying the vortex is at the top of the hill.  I climbed up and saw the amazing views.  I stayed up there for quite a while.  As the sun began to set, I got an itchy feeling like I didn’t want to be there anymore.  (Does that mean anything about the energy at the airport?)  I grabbed some dinner from a nearby grocery store and headed to my AirBnB.  Sedona Airport View:

My AirBnB was advertised as only 20 minutes away from Sedona.  It turned out to be an hour away.  It was on top of a large plateau that had no cell phone signal.  My host didn’t seem to mind that I arrived late.  Bonus: she had a cute dog.  We chatted for a bit, and then she said she was going to bed.  Shortly after catching up on texts, I realized I had left my bag in the car.  I go out to my car and realize I don’t have my keys.  Maybe I left them on the coffee table.  I go inside and tear apart everything in the bedroom and the living room.  No keys.  Maybe I left them on the roof of my car?  Or dropped them on the lawn?  I went back outside.  No keys on the roof.  I got on my hands and knees, picking through the lawn using my cell phone as a light.  No keys.  I started to panic.  I couldn’t call anyone because I had no phone signal.  But I had a spare set of keys inside my car.  Maybe I could call a locksmith in the morning?  But I didn’t have any clean clothes or contact lens solution.  I went to go sit in bed to try to calm down and figure something out.  When I sat down, I realized it was an air mattress instead of a real bed.  I hate air mattresses, and never would have booked had I known.  But it was too late, and I couldn’t get ahold of anyone anyway.  I started to feel nauseous.  What if she took my  keys in order to control me, to make sure I didn’t leave?  I felt trapped.  I just wanted to escape this situation, but I had no way out.  There was nothing I could do until morning.  I threw away my contact lenses and went to bed without showering, brushing my teeth, or putting on clean clothes.  My best bet was to try to rest a little bit until morning.

In the morning, my host said “funny thing happened, I found your keys on the desk in my bedroom!  I wonder how they got there?”

Not funny.  I never went into her bedroom.  Terrified and attempting to escape in one piece, I got some clean clothes, glasses, and a toothbrush out of my car and took a really fast shower.  I made a quick smoothie and hit the road.  I couldn’t get out of Arizona fast enough!

As soon as I got to Albuquerque, I contacted AirBnB and let them know about my terrifying experience.  I ended up getting a refund.

I stayed at a hostel in Santa Fe.  They had a lot of different tour options, including some free ones.  I was given a tour of the property, and given my key.  I stayed in a room by myself this time.  The people at the hostel weren’t very social.  I only ever saw other people during breakfast, and none of them acknowledged my existence.  I slept in and then did laundry.  It was good to feel safe again.

The people who worked at the hostel highly recommended Ojo Caliente, a hot springs resort just north of Santa Fe.  I saw that they had a campground.  Sweet! I can stay in my hammock and relax at the hot spring.

It turned out that none of their available campsites could accommodate my hammock tent.  There aren’t too many trees in New Mexico.  And even then, finding two that are sturdy enough and perfectly spaced for a hammock is rare.  I decided to go to the hot springs and spend the night at an AirBnB in Albuquerque.  My hot springs experience at Ojo Caliente was much different from my experience in Oregon.  It was expensive to get in.  Once I got in, I was given a robe, a towel, and a locker.  I put my stuff in the locker and headed to the water.  There are 10 different pools.  Each one is naturally enriched with different minerals.  Some are indoors, some are outside with a great view.  There’s even a mud bath!  It felt really good to finally relax after my bad experiences in Arizona.

 

Full albums from this part of the trip: Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon and Sedona

 

Road Trip Series:

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

Part 4: Cross-Country Road Trip: Texas

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

I was very excited about my next adventure on this road trip – camping in the Redwoods in my hammock tent.  On my way, I drove through the Northern California desert. There’s a lot of desert to drive through before you get to civilization.  I got run off the road for having a “Love Conquers Hate” poster in my car.  It had the names of all of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub victims on it.  I don’t understand how someone could be so hateful that they become violent towards a complete stranger for having a memorial poster in their car.  Just like I don’t understand how someone could initiate a mass shooting to begin with.  It just goes to show there are hateful bigots everywhere, even in California.

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Aside from the haters, being off the grid for a few days was very liberating.  But coming back to civilization was very stressful.  I stayed in Redding, CA for a few days to rest before continuing my adventures.  That was before I learned that off the grid adventures were more relaxing and energizing than anything in town.

My campsite was somewhere in the Redwoods, far from cell phone reception and civilization.  I made sure to stop by REI to get hammock extension straps to be sure the straps were long enough for the trees.  There were lots of other people at the campsite, and they were all very friendly, though none of them spoke English.  They asked me if I came here to work, and it took me a long time to figure out what they were talking about.  What jobs could there possibly be that are off the grid in the forest?  Eventually, I figured out that they were all there from other countries to trim marijuana leaves.  Apparently, it pays well.

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I stayed there three nights.  I spent the days reading books, exploring the forest, and going on hikes.  I found the lookout point on the main trail, but got lost on the way back to the campground.  It was starting to get dark.  I wondered if they had bears and wildcats.  Luckily, I made it out of the woods before finding out.

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The next stop was Monterey.  I stayed in a very welcoming hostel just a block from the coast.  I explored the beautiful beaches and enjoyed the nice cool weather.  I got a massage on the pier, and went on a tour of an old lighthouse.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  The full Redwoods camping trip and Monterey photo album is on my facebook page.

I fell in love with the coast and decided to take the Pacific Coast Highway the rest of the way.  The roads were narrow, winding, and on the side of a cliff.  But there were spectacular views of the ocean.  Here is a picture from the Pacific Coast Highway, just outside of Big Sur.  You can also check out the rest of my Pacific Coast Highway pictures.  Check out the waves crashing at Monterey Bay:

 

My next stop was at a friend’s house outside of Los Angeles.   It was good to take a break from the road for a bit.  I got a chance to get an oil change on my car, as well as have some job interviews over the phone.

14642475_530517580471970_9029717842036202476_nHe let me experiment in his kitchen with homemade dog treats.  His dog loved the treats, but unfortunately they got moldy a few days later.  We also went to an awesome local food truck rally.  Over the weekend, we hiked to the place where the TV show MASH was filmed.  Thanks, Marcos!

You can find the rest of my MASH hike pictures on my facebook page.

I had originally planned on heading straight to Kanab, Utah.  But I got a late start on the road.  I decided to take an unplanned trip to Las Vegas, NV.  I stopped for gas just outside of town.  Guess what the gas stations have?  Slot machines!  Inside the gas station!  I was amazed, but gambling isn’t my thing so I did not partake.

I found a hostel on The Strip in Las Vegas for $30/night.  It turned out to be a party hostel (no surprise there!).  There was a huge fenced in backyard with a bar area.  Everyone met up and went on a bar-hopping excursion together, so I didn’t have to deal with any unwanted drunken shenanigans.  I found an Arepa restaurant not too far from the hostel, so I walked down and ordered some food.  When I sat down, I looked out the window and saw The Stratosphere!

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The last time I was in Las Vegas, I did not know you could pay $100 to jump out of The Stratosphere at 855 feet high!  Ever since I found out, I wanted to go back and jump.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford it this time, but I at least wanted to see it up close.  After dinner, I went over to the base of The Stratosphere and watched two people jump out.  I was very excited, and hope that next time it will be me jumping out of The Stratosphere!

 

 

 

Road Trip Series:

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

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

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

Road Trip Part  4:  Cross-Country Road Trip: Texas

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

Cross-Country Road Trip: Washington and Oregon

Cross-Country Road Trip: Washington and Oregon

When I set out on my road trip, I figured I was already going ridiculously far.  Why not take an extra weekend to drive up to Canada?  I heard a friend from college was in Vancouver, BC, on a business trip.  Sold!

I made sure not to pack my car before going to Canada.  After all, having everything I own in my car would look suspicious.  I made sure to pack only what I needed for the weekend and headed north.  I reserved a bed at a hostel and looked around for some nearby restaurants and coffee shops that would be suitable to meet my friend.

When I got to the border, I handed them my passport card.  That’s it, right?  Just swipe your passport card and I’m good, right?

Wrong.  They asked me a hundred questions about why I’m going to Canada.  They thought it seemed really suspicious that I was just going to visit a friend from college, have coffee, and hike around the city.  They made me get out of my car and go into the office.  I wasn’t allowed to bring my cell phone.  They wanted proof of where I would be staying.  And proof of US residence.  But my driver’s license doesn’t count.  And neither do reservations on my phone.  After asking endless questions, including “What do you do for a living?” and “What happens if you get sick while you are in Canada?” I was informed that I would not be admitted into Canada.  I was so pissed.  All I wanted to do was visit a friend.

I turned around and headed back south.  I pulled over into the first parking lot I saw and made a reservation for a hip beach hostel north of Seattle, then put it into my GPS.  At that point, my GPS alerted me that this route includes a ferry, which stopped running for the night.  I called the hostel and asked if there’s a way to get there without a ferry, and they said no.  I asked to cancel my reservation, since I had no way to get there.  They were very rude, and told me there was no way to cancel the reservation.

I found a seedy motel near the border.  After being harassed that “it still counts as last night, even though you arrived after midnight,” I got to my room.  Even though I was very upset and disappointed, I didn’t want this leg of the trip to be a waste.  I was determined to find adventure, with or without Canada.  With or without the beach hostel.

I heard that the popular soap-making website Bramble Berry had a storefront in Bellingham, WA not far from the Canadian the border.  In the morning, I stopped in and took a self-guided soap-making class.  Through what I learned at the store – Otion, The Soap Bar – I am developing an awesome handmade product that is just about ready for market testing.

After making soap, I headed back south to Vancouver, WA.  (Not to be confused with my intended destination – Vancouver, BC.)  When I got home, I packed my car as quickly as possible, and headed out for the rest of my trip.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone because I would have been embarrassed to tell them I didn’t get into Canada.

I booked an AirBnB in Eugene, OR, and headed south.  I had precious few plans.  All I knew was that I wanted to see Crater Lake.  I wasn’t entirely sure what else the rest of Oregon had to offer.  I had previously only been to places that were a day trip’s distance from Portland.

I hit gold when I got to my AirBnB.  My host was also an avid adventurer.  She gave me enough Oregon adventure ideas that could have taken up an entire month!  I had originally thought I would pass through Crater Lake on the way down south and then head straight to California.  But I decided to take some of her suggestions.  After all, I didn’t have to be in Dallas until the second week of November (and it was only the first week of October).

I decided to take McKenzie Pass to Sisters, OR, then heading south to the hot springs in Umpqua National Forest.  I was excited about my little side adventure!

Shortly after I left Eugene, I lost phone signal.  Most of McKenzie Pass was off the grid and far from civilization.  It was unlike anything I had seen before.  Mountains, forests, and lakes.  I stopped at Lava River National Recreation Trail and the Dee Wright Observatory.  Everything is covered in black lava as far as I could see, and it looked like I was on the moon.  The Dee Wright Observatory is an ominous black tower that looks like something from the dark world of a Zelda video game, especially with the ominous overcast sky in the background.

 

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Dee Wright Observatory
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Spectacular views along McKenzie Pass

After an amazing scenic view through McKenzie Pass, I finally arrived in Sisters, OR.  I still didn’t have cell phone signal, and I could only find two restaurants that were open.  I decided to head towards Bend for the night, since it wasn’t much further.

After having lots of trouble with hostels in Washington and not having luck finding affordable AirBnB options, I decided to go into town and stock up on camping supplies.  I already had a hammock tent and lots of blankets.  I mostly bought food that didn’t need cooking or refrigeration.  Since many campsites in the forest don’t have running water, I stocked up on jugs of water just in case.

I headed back into the mountains towards the Umpqua Hot Springs.  It was another long, scenic drive through mountains and forest.  When I arrived, there was a short uphill hike from the parking lot to get to the hot springs, which made the trek to the hot springs even more intriguing.  The springs look like natural hot tubs strategically placed on the side of a mountain.  They overlook a river with spectacular views.  I was warned that most people that visit bathe nude.  When I got there, I saw that some people were nude and some wore bathing suits, but everyone kept to themselves.

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Umpqua Hot Springs overlooking the river

On my way out, I looked for a place to change into dry clothes, but didn’t find anything.  So I just headed south towards Crater Lake with my clothes on top of a wet bathing suit.

When I got to Crater Lake, I found out that the park was closed for the season.  Luckily, some of the roads were still open.  I drove through and stopped to take pictures.  It was absolutely gorgeous!  There was snow on the ground, and I was still wearing a wet bathing suit.  Maybe that’s why people bathe nude at the Hot Springs?

As I was passing through, I realized I was almost out of gas.  I was far from a town, and hadn’t seen any gas stations since I left Sisters.  Luckily, there was a small town on the other side of Crater Lake.  Highway signs said they had a gas station.  When I arrived, I discovered that the gas station had closed for the night.  It turns out they were also part of an amazing campground.  I actually tried to plan a camping trip near Crater Lake, but couldn’t find anything that was open this late in the season.  This place was much better than anything I could have planned for!  I stayed in a campsite with snow on the ground, still in a wet bathing suit.  But they had hot showers.  I pitched my hammock tent in the dark with my headlamp, got a hot shower, made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and went to sleep.

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The view from my hammock tent at the campground outside Crater Lake

This was my first solo camping trip.  I definitely wasn’t prepared for freezing temperatures, but it was one of the most liberating experiences in my life.  All of those fears of what might happen when I’m alone (even though I’ve lived alone since I graduated college) disappeared.  All of the chatter inside my head was silenced by the beauty and awe of the forest.  I no longer worried about what other people would think about me or my trip, or if other people were trying to get ahold of me.  It didn’t matter because I was far from cell phone signal.  I could be alone in the woods and still be completely independent.  I didn’t need another person “just in case” something went wrong.  I was perfectly capable of handling it myself.  It sounds obvious, but it was a defining moment in my life that I couldn’t have learned from any book, video, or conversation.  I just had to experience it myself.

The next morning, I packed my car, waited in a long line for gas (apparently many others also spent the night waiting for gas), and set off for California.

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The rare self-serve gas pump in Oregon

On to California!

To view the entire photo album for this part of the trip, click here.

Road Trip series:

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

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

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

Road Trip Part 4: Cross-Country Road Trip: Texas

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

 

 

Adventures In Costa Rica: Where My Travel Obsession Began

Adventures In Costa Rica: Where My Travel Obsession Began

In 2007, I went to Costa Rica with two friends.  We were there for nine days and packed a whole lot into each day!

On the first day, we had a shuttle pick us up from the airport.  They were waiting for another group as well.  After waiting for hours, they never showed up, so we missed our chance to go to Arenal Parque Nacional – the National Park with the volcano and the hot springs.  Oh well, now I have a reason to go back. (Who wants to come?)

We stopped at this little mom-and-pop restaurant.  They served us authentic Costa Rican food – chicken, pork, or fish with beans and rice and an egg cooked over easy.  When our food came, it felt like they were serving us at their house!  The food was excellent.  The three of us decided to take turns paying for meals.  When I went to the counter to pay for the meal, the lady told me, “That’ll be $11.”

I told her, “No, I’m paying for all three of us.”

She said, “Yes, that will be $11.”

Ok, sounds good to me.

The hotel was gorgeous.  The buildings looked like cabins. There was a hot tub that had a perfect view of the volcano. (The clouds were covering the volcano that day.)

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La Fortuna (the city where the volcano is) is such a beautiful place.  Hopefully I can go back some time and have that view with clear skies.

Another day, we went ziplining.  It was very high up, and one of my friends is terrified of heights!  I was terrified of dropping my camera, so I didn’t get any pictures. It was awesome to see the rainforest from that high up!

We also went whitewater rafting, sort of.  The water level was very low, so it was more like floating down the river.  It was still lots of fun.  We stopped in the middle of the trip and jumped off of a bridge.  Halfway down the river, the guide had everyone get out of the boat.  He dragged it on land, flipped it over, and started cutting fresh fruit for us to snack on. What a treat!

One of my favorites is rappelling down waterfalls.  I saw it on TV when I was a teenager and thought it was the coolest thing ever. I think Costa Rica is the only place where you can do this.  If you know of another place, please let me know in the comments or email me.

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We spent some of our last days in Playa Tamarindo. We had a surfing lessons from a guy that didn’t speak any English.  It was awesome!

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This is us after the lesson. Not bad for our first time surfing. Our other friend wasn’t able to stand up on the surf board.

After surfing, I got really heat sick and ended up on a “sailboat” that turned out to be a booze cruise.  That was the only mistake I made all week, which is very good for a 9 day trip.

It seemed like most people spoke English, except in the more rural areas.  Luckily I’m fluent in Spanish.  That came in handy.  I remember seeing a lot of restaurants that attempted to make American food.  They were overpriced and the food definitely didn’t resemble anything from home.  I met this local guy at a shop and started chatting with him.  I asked him what are the best places to eat.  He said there were a bunch of places down the street.  We tried out the one he recommended.  The food was amazing and very cheap.  It was so good, we went back to that same restaurant for several more meals.  The next day, we discovered that they give free samples at lunch.  And their idea of “samples” are a full serving of rice pudding.  Or a full appetizer.  I’m so glad I found out where the locals eat.

This trip to Costa Rica was the most adventure-packed trip I’ve ever been on.  The idea to go to Costa Rica came from a former classmate. He invited me to go on his trip, which was already planned out.  We lost touch before the trip.  I still really wanted to go, so I planned my own trip to Costa Rica.  On the flight down, we ran into him at the airport.  He was talking about how drunk he was going to get, and wanted lay on the beach all week.  I’m so glad I went on my trip instead.

 

 

Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Birthday to me!

Today, I celebrated my birthday!  What better way than to start documenting my travel adventures.

First, I’d like to explain my home page photo.  As part of the World Domination Summit, I led a whitewater rafting trip on the White Salmon River in Washington State.  It was so much fun!

The night before, I rented a 12 passenger van.  This thing was a beast!

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The first thing the rental car manager said was, “We are closing now.  That means people are going to start coming in and dropping off their vehicles.  If you’re not ready to head out just yet, you can go ahead and parallel park it on the street.”

What?? Parallel park this thing???  But I did it!

I picked everyone up in the morning and we headed off to White Salmon. When we got there, we were warned that the water was ice cold, but we will be given wetsuits.  I still thought we were making a big mistake and we were all going to freeze.  Oh well.  No turning back now.

And I’m so glad the water temperature didn’t scare us away!  This was hands down the best whitewater rafting trip I’ve ever been on. There were plenty of class IV rapids.  There was a 14 foot drop that we couldn’t make.  We got out of the raft, climbed up onto the bank, and hiked on slippery, uneven rocks for what seemed like miles.  I was sure I was going to face plant or fall into the river. Meanwhile, the guide let our empty rafts float down the waterfall.  When we finally got to the end of the hike, they told us we could either jump off of the cliff and into the water or walk down the hill and climb in. Hell yeah, I wanted to jump off of the cliff!!  It did not disappoint!  It was worth the ice-cold water at the bottom.  When we got to the very end, we had a choice of going over a 10 foot waterfall (Class V rapids), or getting out of the raft like we did at the 14 foot drop.  When they asked us what we wanted to do, without hesitation we all said “waterfall!!” in unison.  They said it’s the highest waterfall you can raft over in the country, and second highest in the world!  (The highest is in New Zealand, and it’s 15 ft.  I’ll have to make note of that so I can find that river when I visit!)

By the time we got off the river, we were starving! We got a tip from a local about a nearby restaurant.  It had a really cool outdoor deck with an amazing view of Mt. Hood!  And the food was great!

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Sharing travel stories at lunch after a great morning on the river.  From left to right: Marianne, Chris from Get Busy Livin’, Janne from Seize Your Moments, and (standing up) Andrea from Synergise Training.

We started the long journey back to Portland.  But we weren’t done adventuring yet!  On the way home, we stopped at Multnomah Falls.  It’s a must-see!  Stunning waterfall.  And it’s on the way to many Columbia River Gorge hikes.

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I’ve always wanted to go whitewater rafting for my birthday.  But nobody is ever available because my birthday falls on Labor Day Weekend, and people usually have other plans.  Well, this year I went a month early.  That’s close enough for me.

Click here to see the full Whitewater Rafting Album