Saturday, July 31, 2010

From Coast to Coast and Back Again

After 40 days and 40 nights on the road, Kt and I arrived back in WPB late last night. Our reunion in DC was definitely bitter sweet as it meant I was leaving my family behind, I would get to see one of my best friends, but only for a few short hours, and our journey was coming to an end.

My time in Winchester was exactly what I needed: relaxing and comforting. I was able to spend some wonderful QT with my parents, Nana and extended family. There were outdoor concerts to jam, family reunions to attend, trails to hike and errands and car maintenance to get done.

Skyline Drive with my dad

After enjoying the small town of Winchester for a few days, I was starting to feel slightly out of place outside a National Park so my parents and I made a short trek to Shenandoah National Park for Skyline Drive and a short hike. Shenandoah is a beautiful park and so different than many of the others I'd seen. The mountains are thickly wooded and often foggy and provide a panoramic view of the valley my parents live in. We decided to hike up to Mary's Rock after being directed by a ranger to this "easy" hike. Though it was relatively short, easy would not be my description of it. The trail was rocky, steep and narrow through bear country (you can imagine my joy at the prospect of being attacked yet again) and met up with the Appalachian Trail about half way to the summit. My 57 year old parents completely amazed me as they charged the mountain leaving me to follow them in awe up the path. What can I say? My parents never cease to surprise me.

Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley

From the top

The 'rents after our hike

Meanwhile, Kt was in Philly with old friends for a mini-reunion and then traveled to New York where she conquered Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, Coney Island and trapezing. Yes, trapezing.

The District

After our week apart, we met in DC's Union Station to spend a few hours on the mall before meeting the fabulous Tara. We walked around the Washington Monument past the WWII monument and reflection pool to the Lincoln Memorial just in time to beat the approaching storm. Even after everything we'd seen, these landmarks still managed to impress us, not only with their magnitude, but also their historical significance. We returned to our car via the Vietnam Wall and after glimpsing the White House continued to Tara's (which was brick).

On the Mall

Lincoln Memorial

Vietnam Wall

I'm afraid this may be the closest I'll over get to Obama...

It was wonderful to see Tara, and not just because we watched the premiere of the second season of Jersey Shore with her. Unfortunately, our time there was short and early the next morning we were back on the road, this time headed south towards Florida.

The long straight shot down 95 was a drive I was definitely dreading, but it actually was one of my favorites as we reflected on our time apart, and the impressions our trip has left on us. After a brief stop at South of the Border, we spiced the remainder of our drive up with some pretty pimp glasses and mind blowing caraoke.

Why not?

We've seen the real ones, now onto the rest

New sunglasses for the ride home
(we're laughing because we couldn't get closer to each other with these monstrosities on)

Kt wailing NKOTB in a little caraoke

After 15 hours driving, we rolled into home sweet home where we were greeted by some of our favorite people (and cats).

There is still so much to be felt, thought and said in regards to this endless summer of sorts. At least that's what I hope it will become. Not just a crazy drive we did one time, but an inspiration to suck the marrow out of life, a reminder to value how beautiful our country is and a lens to shade our perspectives of the future. I could wax on for awhile, so for now I'll stop to instead digest quietly.

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
-Mary Oliver

Saturday, July 24, 2010

And then there was one...

Yesterday afternoon, Kt and I parted ways. Three nights after our Badlands blow out, we rolled into the Harrisburg, Pa train station where Kt went on to Philly for a few days, then to New York, while I'll stay with my parents in Winchester, Va. We will meet up again Thursday in DC and then continue to Fla. Life feels different when you know you'll be in one place longer than three days.

After the storm passed in the Badlands, and we enjoyed a night listening to the rain fall on the roof of our motel as opposed to our tent, we decided to stick with our original plan and spend two nights in the park. Now that the tent had been duct taped up, we felt confident that as long as no gale force winds began to blow, we could safely use it to our content.

Notch Trail

We returned to the park in the morning to hike Notch Trail to an overlook of the White River Valley. The hike felt more like an obstacle course, as we hopped over drop offs, waded through (or dodged) mud puddles, climbed a ladder, and wove between the giant formations. The path varied from dirt, to prairie grasses to loose and slippery gravel. At one point we could hear the rattles from a snake over the chirping and creaking of the cicadas. Let's just say Kt got out of there fast.

The ladder, with surprisingly large spaces between rungs.

Dangerous cliff. Sweet. (Notice I sent Kt first)

At the end, in the Notch.

Over the valley


That afternoon we headed over to Custer State Park where we were promised that we would see more than enough bison to satisfy us. We drove the wildlife loop and were not disappointed on the 18 mile trip.


Kt, in heaven. I had to hold her back because she was convinced she could ride one. Silly girl.

Burrows. The norm.

Trying to bite me (or be fed).

The cutest thing ever!


We saw the herd of bison, the pronged antelope, elk, wild burrows, and some goats. We even made it back to Badlands in time to watch the moon rise over the cliffs.

Sunset over the Badlands

The next morning we drove through South Dakota and Iowa and into Illinois where we stayed for the night in Bloomington. We were definitely in the midwest as the temperature rose, the land flattened and crop dusters and corn became our new scenery. From there, we continued on to Columbus, Ohio (where I grew up) and visited some of my old stomping grounds before settling in at my wonderful friend Molly's house for the night. Molly and her husband Chad grilled some extremely delicious pizza and old friends, with new babies, came over for a fun night of catching up, good food, and laughter(I have no pictures of this night (like an idiot) so if any of you Ohioans have pictures please email me!). It was a wonderful time to catch up with people I've watched grow up and was definitely bitter sweet knowing I would be leaving in the morning.

And leave we did. Kt and I are continuing our separate journeys for the next week, but in a lot of ways it feels as if it's already over. Perhaps it's the return to familiar surroundings, or the lack of extreme open spaces and mountains. Whatever it is, it too is bitter sweet as I reflect on what's past but still look forward to what's ahead.

Please ignore our dorkiness and ridiculous comments in this video and instead enjoy the cuteness of the burrows.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kt Strikes Again

Kt hunting wildlife hoping for a photo opportunity on our way into Yellowstone
(she sat like this for about an hour and a half).

As I've mentioned before, it's nice to be traveling with Kt to share perspectives, thoughts and opinions about the places we've been. Once again, Kt took a moment to reflect on our trip thus far and here is how she sees it:

Painted Pot in Yellowstone

California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Wyoming again, and South Dakota…. When I’m cringing at my credit card statements this month I will be doing it with a smile on my face. It’ll look weird. Worth it.

Four weeks ago Emily and I were sleepily checking into our New Orleans hotel, the first of our stops on this journey we’ve been enjoying so much. It seems so long ago I was drooling over my first sight of the Mississippi and now I, after taking a full loop around the contiguous United States, we are not far from the mouth of Ole Miss. It is pretty surreal.

The Red Floor in Seattle's Public Library

Now I write this from yet another hotel room, this one unplanned. The Lord has blessed us with a safe trip (regardless of crazy Mount Rushmore drivers trying to run us off the road) and agreeable weather… until today. The hurricane-like winds that nearly destroyed my father’s tent (whoops) didn’t quite ruin our night, but it did change the pace a bit. After a little recon, we decided to retreat to a lovely 1980’s style room in the Budget Motel. We did get to see a bit of the unique and bizarre Badlands of South Dakota before calling it a day.

The Badlands

Two weeks ago we were living the high life (literally) at the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental in San Francisco. It was on the Top of the Mark, a point where two roads intersect on top of a very windy hill with a stunning view of the city. California was not quite what I expected (mostly the chilly to cold to very cold weather as we ascended up the coast) but the desert, the visit with Tommy (thanks again!), the Haight (yessssss), the wine and the redwoods were well worth the hit it took on my wallet.

Yellowstone by sunset

Last week we were kicking Nicole out of her bed a fourth and final time in beautiful Seattle. I cannot express in words how much I enjoyed that city and the company it provided. The Pike’s Place Market was reason enough to love the city. It was a fabulous mix of fresh everything (from flowers to seafood to vendors, HEY-O!), funky street music, and life-loving crowds… I’ll take two of each, please! After a lengthy stay in Seattle, I give it two thumbs up and cordially ask Nicole when I may intrude on her again.

Yellowstone was big, cold, and beautiful. Much to my dismay I only saw one bison, but it certainly quenched my appetite (if only for a day or two) of buffalo-viewing and made me text 30 people “I JUST SAW A BISON!!!!” I hope to see more tomorrow at Custer. Denver was also a long visit (props to Christina and Dave for keeping it real and letting us commandeer their living room for almost a fortnight) and a much appreciated one. It was perfect seeing multiple friends (great times Andrea, Brian, Jeff, and Tim!) and meeting new ones. The city is beautiful and it’s surroundings are icing on the cake (multiple 14ers (one we hiked), beautiful Boulder, and of course, the Rockies (that John Denver’s full of ****, man!))! Woah, punctuation mark overload.

That about brings us up to date. (Oh, Joshua Tree was brief but smashing. I shall return one day.) Tomorrow we scour Custer for bison and beauty and then we’ll cruise back into central time for a night before making it back to the east coast for a little train tour to Philly, New York, and D.C. The journey continues…

our drive through the Badlands

Monday, July 19, 2010

Who Knew the Badlands were this Bad?

Before I explain how truly bad the Badlands are, I have finally been able to upload pictures.

Watching the sunset over Seattle

Yellowstone: the path up to Mystic Falls

From the top of the mountain we climbed in Yellowstone. The white is a geyser basin.

On the way to Mystic Falls.

The Falls.

Old Faithful not erupting...

...beginning to erupt...

...and then, erupting.

The Grand Tetons, as seen on our way out of Yellowstone.


Our hosts.

Biking through Denver on "B Cycles"

The giant dust pan and broom at Denver Modern Art Museum with my sister.

Coors Field by bike.

Kt and I playing a little impromptu Heart and Soul downtown.

Yarn flowers on the fence noticed on the Denver bike tour.

One mile high on the capitol steps.

Mt. Evans. The Fourteener. My first.

14,258 feet.

Echo Lake from the top of Mt. Evans

Big Horn Sheep on Mt. Evans

Examining the view 14, 258 feet high

From the top with Kt and our new Denverian friend, Cody.
(In Kt's defense, it was cold. And the hat is borrowed. She does still have hair.)

We rolled out of Denver early this morning in pursuit of Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands. Yesterday we enjoyed our last day in Colorado at the Boulder Art Festival and then closed our night with Jazz in City Park. Now, sitting in a motel (yes, we were supposed to camp, I'll get to that) I'm amazed at how quickly our time in Colorado sped by. We saw so much while there and were so excited to have nice weather.

Our trip to Mt. Rushmore was uneventful as we traveled back through Wyoming to South Dakota. With a few minor hick-ups (who knew you have to pay CASH to park in Mt. Rushmore?) and the kindness of the parking lady who let us in anyways, we marveled at the faces in the mountain. First impressions? They're much higher than they appear in pictures.

We walked the short loop to get closer to the giant faces and took numerous pictures before we sat down to lunch. Though our time there was short, it was still amazing to realize I was seeing something that has become so iconic in person. It was also amazing to realize just how much time, effort, planning and money went in to the sculptures.

From there we continued east to the Badlands and reached the park just in time to set up our tent as black clouds rolled over the startling landscape we are now in. We popped our tent up in record time (4.59 minutes) threw in our sleeping bags and pillows and climbed back into the car as the first giant raindrops began to fall. As Kt and I congratulated ourselves at our marvelous timing, we watched something terrible happen: wind.

Massive and violent wind gusts began to sweep through the flat land the camp site is located in and proceeded to literally flatten our tent. Kt and I watched in shock, horror, and a somewhat comic disbelief at what was happening as poles bent straight and stakes went flying. The few tents around ours were also flattened and I began to wonder if the Wicked Witch of the West would soon be flying by on her bicycle. Thankfully, no witches were spotted and the storm blew over relatively quickly so we could survey the damage. I felt like we were back in the dub PB after a hurricane hits and all the neighbors slowly peek their heads out their doors to see what's left of the hood. The RV residents wandered over to ask if we needed help and those of us with demolished tents compared damage. Kt and I were actually very lucky with only one snapped stake, a broken pole and minor water damage to pillows and blankets. At that point we threw our hands up, took pictures of the double rainbow and looked for the nearest hotel. Which is a motel.

the beginnings...

Our spirits are far from damaged and we even managed to duct tape our pole to some semblance of working order to help our tent dry out. We will stay in our uber fancy motel tonight, enjoy the 100 year old sourdough (really?) pancake breakfast in the morning, hike the crazy landscape and decide whether to stay another night or move on early.

We are so lucky that this happened near the end of our trip when we have no other plans to camp. We are also so fortunate to have found a vacancy quickly as many people from the park left to find other accommodations.

From this point the adventure continues as we move back towards the east. Remember, it's always an adventure.