Settled in Small Town PA

Never in my life did I think I would #1: live in Pennsylvania, and #2: enjoy it. This part of Northeastern PA reminds me of the wilderness of Northern Minnesota, with thick forests cut through by rivers and lakes, small, winding roads with frequent deer crossings, and not many people. Unfortunately the climate is similar as well, but without the extreme cold. It keeps snowing, even though it’s April, but at least it melts by the end of the day here. All in all, I’m happy being in a new place, even though it feels familiar.

The best part about this location is its proximity to everything Northeast. I’ve started a board of all the places I’d like to go to before I move again, including hiking the “high points” of PA, NY, DE, MA, and NJ, and checking out parts of the Appalachian Trail. States are generally much smaller out here, so I can cover more than I could out West. The place I’m most excited to visit is New York City, where I’m headed tomorrow with my bestie. I went to the Big Apple as a freshman in high school, falling in love with the buzz of the city immediately. I don’t have many “must-do’s” on my list because I did all the touristy things during my trip as a kid. My only one is going to Ground Zero because it was still in the process of clean-up when I first visited. Now, more than a decade after visiting, I’m interested in getting a feel for what the actual city is like, and I’ll hopefully be able to accomplish that with a few visits while I’m nearby (although I may be destined to live there for a bit at some point – we’ll see).

So I’m all settled in at my new home, which is a cute little cottage by the river. I finally have a kitchen, and I’m excited to not be eating out all the time – although there is really good seafood here. This town has a population of about 1,800 people, making it the least populated place I’ve ever lived (and about 18.679 million people less than my last home city of Los Angeles). I’m enjoying being back at work, although it’s not busy so I have plenty of time to think about my future travels and how to accomplish them. I think they call that, “too much time on your hands.” But now that I’m totally unpacked and in a routine of grocery shopping and going to the gym, I can start doing fun things on my Sundays off, starting with tomorrow. Stay tuned for stories of my adventures out east!

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Enjoying having a kitchen!

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Breaking Up with LA

I love Los Angeles, I really do. But after 9 months of vacationing here in the past 4 years, LA has lost its pull on my traveling heart. It feels like HOME, which is great for a while and then makes me want to leave (the curse of being wanderlust). This city and landscape has so much to offer, and aside from a few hikes and a few places I want to check out, I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to. Sadly this also includes the road trip back and forth to California. I’ve been to my favorite places multiple times now, and it all feels too familiar. So this is it LA, we’re breaking up. I’ll always love you, and want to be friends (visiting you a few times a year), but it’s time to move on. Maybe I’ll be back to semi-permanently move there, but the rest of the world is calling.

Okay, all drama aside, I am super sad that LA isn’t a glittering city full of unexplored places anymore! This trip I’ve met such wonderful people and strengthened my existing friendships, that I now have the highest concentration of favorite people (non-family, of course) in this city. “How lucky am I to have such wonderful people who make leaving so hard?” -said someone famous in different wording.

So what have I been doing the last few weeks, instead of keeping up with my blog (you ask, with a judgmental stare over the bridge of your nose)? Yoga in Grand Park, exploring Big Sur, checking out the Salton Sea and Joshua Tree with my parents, enjoying the view from Spire 73 – the highest open air bar in the western hemisphere – with my ladies, hiking and strolling in Griffith Park, soaking up rays at Venice Beach, checking out The Edison and Clifton’s (a cool bar and club in downtown), and sampling cuisine from everywhere (my stomach will be happy to go back to non-restaurant food soon). A few of these things constitute their own blog posts, and I’ll play catch-up sometime soon. But now I’m off to enjoy Chinatown, and then pizza (seriously, my stomach is going to be sooo happy).

What’s next? Like I ever actually know what’s going on in my own life – HA! But I do know I’m moving to the Eastern part of the United States for an unknown period of time, pretty much uncharted traveling for me. I’ve been to NYC and Orlando in high school, but that’s the extent of my exploration. For some reason I’m incredibly nervous to be moving forward to the Eastern Time Zone, because I so easily adapt to falling a few time zones behind. Plus, I’m going to be traveling during the Daylight Savings Time change, so jumping 4 hours ahead in the span of a week sounds like it’s going to mess me up. Wish me luck! So even though the rest of the year will be full of work, it should also be full of new hikes, new places, and new cultures. I’m excited, and you should be too! I’ll take you with and let you know how much the East sucks – just kidding (that was a West Coast joke). Thanks for reading my heart strings!

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My beautiful and talented LA ladies (hey that’s me! on the far right)

 

When Life Slows Down in California

I have always been an advocate for the saying, “work hard, play harder,” traveling as much as possible, seeing and doing everything I can when I have time off. But just as important as playing hard, is slowing down. I’ve slept in several mornings, stayed up later than I normally do, eaten one too many Oreos, and enjoyed days of doing nothing in particular. By allowing myself to rest and enjoy things I normally don’t, I’ve recentered, feeling more human than I have in a long time. I’ve always struggled with balance because life just gets so busy between work, family, and trying to have a personal life, so I seem to bounce from one extreme to the other – completely swamped or on vacation. C’est la vie, as the French would say (I’ve met a lot of people from France on this trip).

So my vacation hasn’t been incredibly exciting, but it’s definitely been enjoyable to live the SoCal life. I spent a few days hanging out at Venice Beach, one of the most well-known beaches in the world for the interesting experience and atmosphere. You can hit the Venice Beach Boardwalk and meet all sorts of people: undiscovered and very talented street performers, gym rats working out at Muscle Beach, wanna-be rappers who will generously give you their CDs for a “donation,” some of the best skateboarders and surfers in the world, and the very friendly homeless who have found their place in the sand. Venice Beach is an experience everyone should have. Aside from the boardwalk, Washington and Abbot Kinney streets are full of great food and shopping, and the Venice Canals are tucked into the neighborhoods just a few blocks from the beach. I could do LA life if I lived on the canals, which are a little slice of Venice, Italy.

I enjoyed my first Sunday-Funday back in LA with my friend at Leo Carrillo State Park/Beach, a secluded beach with rocks, caves, coves, and tide pools, that has been the scene for many movies and photoshoots (like Inception). It’s unlike the typical sandy and busy beaches of LA as it’s in North Malibu, and looks more like a beach at Big Sur. I also went to the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple in Santa Monica/Malibu while I was staying in that area, enjoying the beauty and serene space for meditation that I fell in love with the first time I lived in Los Angeles. Slowing down has given me plenty of time to meditate and really enjoy the spaces I’ve been at.

After Venice I headed to a new neighborhood to me on the border of Atwater Village and Los Feliz. It’s north and slightly east of downtown, across the 5 by Griffith Park (directions in LA are always based off of the main freeways crossing through and around the city). My Airbnb host was spectacular, and our personalities quickly meshed. He’s an actor from NYC, and as it turned out, I had already watched one of his roles on the only episode of Seal Team I’ve ever seen. That’s as LA as it gets. His space was great, and I had the pleasure of meeting some of his friends as well. This is why I love Airbnb – I’ve met so many wonderful people, both hosts and guests. This part of LA is pretty chill, a nice neighborhood with the “best bakery in LA” and being very walkable. My host even took me on a guided tour of the neighborhood, past the horse stables and to the LA river (yes – there are horses in LA, it’s a cool city).

I’ve lost track of time again so I’m not sure when, but at some point I went on a hike in Angeles National Forest which spans most of the impressive San Gabriel mountain chain on the outskirts of Los Angeles. I brought a friend who enjoys panning for gold in the rivers, so we hiked a trail called Cooper Canyon Falls that loops to a waterfall and past the Pacific Crest Trail (a backpacking trail that spans the entire west coast of the US). We detoured off trail for a while to go up the creek in a gorge, encountering a little snow on the hike. When we eventually came back to the trail to continue to the waterfall, we somehow ended up on the Pacific Crest Trail going back up a different mountain peak in the wrong direction. We realized our mistake after about a half mile of uphill-trekking, but were still delighted to be on the very PCT I’ve learned about (I’ll hike it someday). As we turned back, I found a ravine full of the most perfect pinecones I’ve ever seen. They were all about a foot long, weighing at least 3 pounds! After tasting the sap on the cones, we headed back to where we made a wrong turn, deciding our hike was awesome and strenuous enough with our detours, and heading back to the car. We enjoyed driving Angeles Crest Highway back through the mountain chain, popping out the other side in Los Angeles.

Aside from that hike, I’ve gone on a few trails in the beloved Griffith Park (huge park in the middle of the city – LA’s version of Central Park that I think tops NYC’s). One was a luscious nature walk next to a slow creek, another hiking past the abandoned old LA Zoo,  and another submitting two mountain peaks – Glendale Peak and Mount Hollywood. The hike to the top of Glendale Peak and Mount Hollywood was my favorite because of the 360 degree views of all of Los Angeles. Plus the air was so clear that we could see Catalina Island and the ocean in the distance! High visibility is something to be celebrated in a big city. I also went on a cool hike to the ruins of a beautiful Malibu home tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains in Solstice Canyon. On the hike, the most annoying birds I’ve ever heard screamed at you as you passed. I was lucky enough to snap a picture of these annoying birds, who actually look like they should be in the tropics.

I’ve done so much more in my few weeks here, including a trip up to Big Sur, but I’ll save those for the next post. I feel sorry for those back home in the Upper Midwest who keep getting feet of snow dumped on them, but hey – move to California instead! Stay warm out there.

Sleeping Under the Hollywood Stars

My soul feels at rest when I’m in Los Angeles. This city is so teeming with life and culture, it offers enough to put my restlessness at ease. The past few nights I have spent in Hollywood, “glamping” in the backyard of an Airbnb. I love waking up with the sky above my little cabana, hearing the birds in their nest under the same tree. But then I can walk off the property and into the bustle of Hollywood, what a perfect haven! To top it off, my host is from Sweden and enjoys conversing about the country and culture (my great-grandmother was from Sweden, and our seasons/weather in Wisconsin are similar to theirs). I cannot recommend this place enough!

Before coming to LA, I spent some time in San Clemente – a surfer city in-between San Diego and Los Angeles. The slower and more relaxed California lifestyle drew me in, with lazy shopping, trips to the beach, and hanging out at the artsy-surfer hostel as the only things on my agenda. As much as I love LA, I can’t picture myself living there for an extended period of time, but I could see myself enjoying Orange Country life for a while.

The relaxed feel carried with me as I drove up the Pacific Coast Highway 1 to Los Angeles on Thursday, stopping in Newport Beach for coffee and some sun. I could feel the tension of the busy city-life when I entered LA county, so right away I headed to Venice Beach to enjoy my favorite smoothie on my favorite pier to keep the surfer-vibe going. I resolved to stay relaxed regardless of the traffic and stress of the locals that comes with keeping afloat in a major city. Life is too short to stress.

I’ve spent the past few days catching up with friends, enjoying walks with one and attempting karaoke with the others. My mornings have started with a hike in Runyon Canyon (the popular Hollywood-Hills hike that is perfect for city views and people watching) and a meander through the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The cemetery was very enjoyable, with the love people had for their lost ones forever memorialized in statues and headstones. The cemetery was surprisingly full of life for somewhere known for its dead, with flocks of peacocks, swans, geese, and ducks floating and walking around, a pack of stray cats with a permanent home near the fence, and the countless trees and flora blooming from the earth shared with the graves. I teared up at several places, moved by the messages left by the living to those they miss. With the landscape, architecture, and animals, Hollywood Forever Cemetery should be on your list when visiting LA.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with the rest of my day. It’s a cold, lazy Saturday at about 65 degrees (I always adjust very quickly to the temperatures here), so I may head to The Grove to shop for a spring/fall jacket – something I never need in the Midwest because it’s either summer or winter there. 28033682_10215976564190422_1274117685_o27990378_10215976559950316_830236224_o27950729_10215976565230448_174051537_o27951221_10215976563870414_1252469671_o27989933_10215976564110420_1128143480_o27999425_10215976564070419_1026120387_o27951081_10215976559790312_2095426511_o27946900_10215976560030318_1444478027_o28033022_10215976564390427_1825526540_o27951102_10215976563910415_41567041_o27990477_10215976564150421_545323097_o28000123_10215976564270424_1993507735_o27946314_10215976560190322_316145657_o28033403_10215976559830313_1304163252_o

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Venice Beach Pier

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Newport Beach

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San Clemente Pier

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San Clemente Pier

Vortexes and Exchanges

Sedona is said to be a major energy hub because of the existence of a series of vortexes in the area. I had never heard of them until researching hikes in the area, and talking to some locals. These vortexes are supposed to be points of swirling energy that will cause those seeking it to feel the masculine and/or feminine energies present. It is said the more twisted a Juniper Tree is, the closer you are to a vortex. It is not a fact that they exist, but many believers seeks them out for meditation and peace. To see why so many people are certain they’re real, I decided to check them out for myself.

To begin my hiking on Saturday, I stopped at Red Rocks State Park for an easy warm-up hike. I chose to do the Eagle’s Nest Loop, which climbs up a mesa overlooking the valley. On the way up, I read a sign talking about different animal prints. I took interest in the mountain lion prints, and concluded I had never come across them before. I went on my way, enjoying the mix of beautiful forest and the views from atop the mesa. On the way down I encountered a herd of mule deer, who didn’t mind me taking out my camera to capture their beauty. When they continued merrily on their way, I turned and continued on mine, nearing the end of the trail.

Since I was there the very minute the park opened, I did not encounter anyone else on the trails. As I was enjoying the last quarter mile next to the river, I looked down and saw a print I indeed had never seen before – the mountain lion. I stopped to measure it with my fingers, noticing the prints were on-top of the footprints from the previous day, and were going the direction I just came from. Perhaps the king of the mountains was also enjoying watching the herd of mule deer. The hair on the back of my neck did not stand up, and I was nearly overtaken with curiosity that I knew would lead to me following the prints until I couldn’t anymore. Instead I turned myself back towards the parking lot, knowing that even though mountain lions only kill about 13 people per year, there are still 13 people who die from attacks (probably from following the prints). I confirmed with the park rangers that I properly identified the prints.

After sending my family photos of the paw-prints, I headed over to Cathedral Rock, Sedona’s most popular rock scramble/hike which just so happens to have a vortex. When I got to the trailhead I was alarmed to see crowds of people comparable to Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles – maybe this wasn’t going to be a spiritual experience after all. Wanting to leave the crowds behind, I took off up the rock formation like a bat out of hell, successfully losing all but the people already climbing it. The climb up Cathedral Rock was very physically demanding, requiring the use of both arms and legs at several points. While hiking/climbing this, I realized I can call myself an experienced hiker/climber, as the people were parting to let me pass them and watch what I was doing. I think I flew up the rock in record time, driven by the need to get away from the crowds, orrrrrr the lure of the vortex’s energy.

When I reached the top of the trail, I found myself on a ledge with a group of people hanging out and taking turns with selfies at a particularly photogenic spot. I closed my eyes and tried feeling the vortex, but only felt the mild crowd-driven anxiety. Then I glanced to my left and saw a narrow ledge going the opposite direction of everyone else, so naturally I headed that way.  A short hike lead me to a mineral vein that was actually once a magma flow. I always find that the veins offer a good place to climb, since the rock is more jagged and staggered there. I climbed up and up, and gasped when I reached the top. The view was incredible! In front of me was a giant, thin rock, in-between the two walls of the main rock, with a view of the north side of the valley. Behind was a view of the south side of the valley. There was one couple up there who left shortly after I arrived (which was not expected, but this is common courtesy to let others enjoy the view you’ve already enjoyed). After taking my 360 degree photo, I settled in for some mediation.

Whenever I go into an amazing place in nature, I feel the vastness of the earth and feel all the heaviness of everyday life melt away. I had the same feeling as I meditated in the center of Cathedral Rock, feeling peace take over my mind and body. A local told me today that where I was is the supposed center of that vortex. I am unsure that my feelings came from this feminine vortex which is supposed to bring peace and focus on the well-being of others, but it is possible. I decided to hike to another vortex at Bell Rock today to see if I could feel the masculine traits there- inner and outer strength and confidence in one’s self. Some refer to the vortexes as having upward or downward energy instead of masculine or feminine, but they inspire similar traits no matter how they’re labeled.

This hike began with an encounter of a gentleman walking his adorable wolf-faced dog with a very round body (his name was Van Forest). We exchanged hellos and then somehow started conversing about hiking, our families, where we’re from, and our professions. Liam is an artist who creates jewelry and sculptures. He is famous in Sedona for his pink Javelina sculpture I had admired in uptown the day before. Liam creates beautiful jewelry and sculpture pieces, his main one focusing on peace. On his website, artbyliam.com, you can find a pendent he created for world peace that combines the Peace Sign, Jesus’ Cross, Star of David, and Symbol of Islam. His friend sent the beautiful symbol to Donald Trump as a billfold clip, to hopefully inspire the president like the artist has been inspired.

The most interesting part of our conversation however, was when Liam told me about his photographer friend capturing a crazy photo of Bell Rock. The picture shows two lavender ladders leading to the top of it, and the face of a Native American in the only clouds in the sky above it. His friend believes God used his photo to show what the rock really is – what the vortex really is. Vortexes are supposed to be places where spirits gather and can travel upwards or downwards. The ladders reminded the friend of Jacob’s Ladder to heaven, and the Native Americans believe their spirit guards the passage at Bell Rock. Personally I believe the story, because this gentleman is a genuine person and would have no motive for making the story up. But whether you do or not, no matter, it’s still an amazing place for the sake of it being beautiful nature.

After finding out where his gallery is (I did visit it after my hike), I continued up towards Bell Rock. Unlike Cathedral Rock, this hike does not go up far on the rock formation. That’s okay though, because the energy of the vortex is supposed to be so strong you can feel it when you step out of your car. I love a good challenge though, so after following the trail to where it stops, I found a route I could take up the rock. Before I could start, I came across a couple – the woman was talking to her man who was trying unsuccessfully to come down from his climb. Honestly, there are no easy or really good routes up that double as good routes down. I offered my suggestions and rooted him on before continuing on my way up. When I found my route, the guy who had previously been stuck warned me it was slick further up, and his wife told me to be careful. When I said I probably wouldn’t go all the way to the top because of the lack of a safe route, the husband cheered me on as his wife told him to stop telling me to go further (she hadn’t gone up).

At this same time, I encountered a foreign couple who were not rock climbers that were looking for the path up. After talking about where the path ends and the difficulty of the climb, they decided not to go further. A wise choice, as someone without experience could seriously injure themselves with a misstep. I made my way as high up as I felt I could safely go down, and soaked in the view and loneliness of this height. When I descended, I found a mineral vein to follow – always a good choice! Except at the end of this vein was a 10 foot or so drop to the next part of slick rock. The alternative route would include a leap of faith onto a nearby rock. Having learned my lesson of knowing your limitations and not taking unnecessary risks that could cut my trip short (or life), I doubled back, climbing back up the formation to where I started and choosing a different route. It was a lot more work going down than it was up, which seems to always be the case, but I landed next to the couple who had climbed it before.

We talked about the climb, and how the masculine vortex is supposed to inspire strength. The husband comically pointed out he wasn’t sure if his feelings of strength were from the vortex or the adrenaline. Once again I found myself locked into a wonderful conversation about our lives and traveling, and parted ways with a full heart. My short couple mile hike/climb turned into a 3 hour venture because of the delightful interactions I had. After the hike I headed to Tlaquepaque, an adorable Mexican style shopping town in Sedona where Rowe Art Gallery was displaying Liam’s work.

I’m currently writing from the back porch overlooking the one-acre garden of the most calming Airbnb I’ve ever stayed at. It is called Kapila Gardens, and it is a yoga-type retreat. I’ve learned various different yoga and life practices from the hostess, Wendy, whom I had a connection with instantly. Everyone here has been delightful and so welcoming, it feels like we’re family. I’ve loved exploring and hiking in this area, but more than anything else, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the people. I have had so many great interactions with locals and tourists, and everyone seemed to be genuinely happy to be alive. Maybe the energy of the vortexes causes such great interactions, or maybe people just really enjoy being here. Sedona will stay on my radar, as my experience here had been so positive. Tomorrow I’ll head to my favorite state, California. Surfs up!

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Cathedral Rock – center of the vortex

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Mountain Lion print – they don’t have claw marks on their prints

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Bell Rock from halfway up

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A cupcake I may have eaten for lunch

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History, Nature, and Good People

I have lost all sense of time. Am I really going to be in California in a few days? I can feel it though, since it’s 75 degrees in Sedona/Cottonwood, Arizona and the sun has been out everyday. I’ve missed the sun. Already I feel balanced and happy, two things I have to fight so hard to be in the gloomy winters of the Upper Midwest. So since I lost track of my days already, let’s back-track.

Friday I stayed in Blanding, Utah, one of the small towns I’ve driven through before saying, “I can’t imagine living here.” Although it’s in an awesome location for hiking the national monuments and parks, I still couldn’t imagine living there. I enjoyed Moab (and think I’ll probably live there at some point) because of the energy and excitement of everyone using it as a hub for their Utah adventures. Blanding was more of the typical small town, but I still enjoyed my stay there.

Bears Ears National Monument is one of the national monuments/lands that has had its boundaries tightened and is now open for mining. After seeing the two magnificent buttes that inspired the Native American story of Bears Ears, visiting the ancient Pueblo ruins and petroglyphs, and hiking below the natural bridges, I feel the importance in protecting this area. It is sacred land because of the history it holds, and is delicate due to the unique natural formations and ancient structures. We have to ask ourselves, is it worth risking the loss of history and environmental wonders for the sake of harvesting natural resources? I stand with Bears Ears.

Saturday morning I visited the Sand Island petroglyphs on the way out of Blanding. A local told me these markings show the existence of humans at the same time as the long-extinct sea monsters. Since I am new to reading petroglyphs, I took many pictures to study and interpret what the markings could mean. It’s incredibly humbling to see the lasting impact of people who walked the same places 3,000 years ago.

Next I headed to Monument Valley, the strange stand-alone rock formations the West is famous for. On the drive towards it, I saw a puppy on the side of the road, stopped to feed and water it, fell in love, got super emotional about having to leave it behind, puppy chased my car, I stopped and cried, went back to get it – not knowing what I was going to with it, but knowing I couldn’t leave it, had a local stop who had taken in 8 dogs and 5 cats left by people already, and then he left with the puppy who now had a home with a good person. Talk about a whirlwind of emotions! I bawled my heart out when I almost left the puppy, and bawled after the guy took him because I was so happy, and bawled some more because the puppy had had such a rough life already and was still so sweet and loving. I learned that there are two types of people in this world: those who leave puppies on the side of the road, or don’t stop to help it – and those who help the needy. Always be the ones who help guys, always. There was no way I could have left that puppy when it needed help. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Preach it Gandhi.

After pulling myself together (it took a while – this soft heart!), I arrived at Monument Valley. It is Navajo owned and run, and you can pay $25 to drive the loop through the valley. My poor car. I was not the only one practically off-roading in a non-lifted, non-four wheel drive vehicle, but it was still quite the bumpy ride. Well worth it though! The monuments are incredible, looking like giant tree stumps rising out of the dirt (my friend believes that’s what they are). The drive not only brings you past those, but leads you around and between mesas which have beautiful rock formations near them. It’s an amazing place, and people come from all over the world to see these unique monuments that are only found there.

While driving the exit part of the loop, I picked up a Navajo gentleman, Russ, who was walking to the town junction outside of the park to get his groceries. He told me all about life inside Monument Valley, as he part of the few families who live there. Russ used to live in Anaheim (LA area of California) until he had a stroke. Then he moved back with his family, and has made a living selling jewelry to the tourists who come through the valley. He’s very happy and content with his simple living of jewelry-making, taking care of cows and horses, walking all around the mesas and monuments, and occasionally catching a ride to the grocery store. I think we can all learn from Russ. (SIDE-NOTE: I do not typically pitch up hitch-hikers, but this was a unique situation as I knew and understood why he needed a ride, and it was a short drive that was heavily populated the entire time. He was a sweet soul, and I’m happy we shared a few miles together.)

I spent yesterday and today in Arizona, and will write about it in tomorrow’s post (because now I am aware of what day it is). But know I am relaxing and enjoying the warmth.

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Monument Valley

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Monument Valley

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He wanted his belly rubbed more than he wanted food

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Sand Island Petroglyphs

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Statue at Bluff, UT Park

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Natural Bridge

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Petroglyph at Natural Bridges

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Bears Ears National Monument

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Pueblo Ruins at Butler Wash

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On the Road Again – Utah is Calling

Ten months is a really long time to be anywhere, especially home, when all you want to do is travel. The first seven months were doable, enjoying exploring the North Shore of Lake Superior, the cities of Duluth and Minneapolis, attending events and checking out local spots with my friends, and most importantly – spending all the time I could with my family. But when winter moved in, my happiness moved out. Some people are just affected too much by the weather, and my body and mind just hate the cold dreariness of winters up north. So needless to say, when my job ended and I could take off for a month or so, I was ECSTATIC to hit the road again!

I was so happy to be road tripping out west again, that I did not mind driving through Iowa and Nebraska (if you’ve ever driven through them, you know this is a big deal). Although the drive wasn’t boring because I had to dodge the many semis drifting into my lane or pulling out at inopportune moments to pass an equally slow semi. But I survived and stayed in North Platte, NE my first night, meandering over to Buffalo Bill’s 1886 ranch home for a few pictures. I finally got myself a legit camera, so I can share high quality photos with you all.

When I hit the road on Wednesday morning, I witnessed the blue moon/blood moon solar eclipse, although at the time I thought there were clouds in front of the moon – whoops! Pretty cool start to the day. I spent half the day driving through all of Colorado, swinging past Denver and into the mountains. I love checking out all the mountain and ski towns along the way, making a pit stop in my favorite little city of Georgetown. Although I enjoyed weaving in and out of mountain peaks and over the Colorado River, I was eager to get to one of my favorite states of all time – Utah.

I arrived to Moab, UT early in the afternoon, checking into my favorite budget motel – The Inca Inn – and then headed over to Arches National Park. The visitor services associate was not nearly excited as I was about my purchase of the America the Beautiful pass (the key to all the national parks), but agreed it was cool I was getting my second pass from the park that made me fall in love with national parks. I stopped at a few short trails, including The Windows arches, eventually making my way to The Devil’s Garden. This is a loop trail with 7 arches, and an option to take a primitive trail labeled as “difficult hiking.” I enjoyed a few miles of it, checking out the Landscape Arch at 306 feet long (one of the largest natural spans in the world), the Wall Arch, and the Navajo Arch. The trail had some rock scrambling and was an enjoyable first hike. I lost track of time exploring though, and had to run back to my car to find a spot to catch the sunset.

The next morning I woke early and headed over to my favorite park for views, Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky. I greeted the sunrise with yoga and meditation on the edge of the canyon – with the best balance I’ve had so far. I inspected rocks with strange circle indents, including a marking that may be remnants of an underwater shell. Next I headed over to an overlook, being greeted by a female bighorn sheep at the base of the trail. She looked at me, I looked at her. She kept munching on a delectable piece of shrubbery, and didn’t mind as I inched closer for pictures and observation. I hung out with my new friend for ten minutes, and then headed to the viewpoint for photos.

Canyonlands really is awe-some, taking my breath away because of how beautiful and vast it is. Standing on the edge of the cliff, I could see over 100 miles away. I soaked it all in, and then decided I wanted to hike to the bottom of the canyon to experience it from both angles. I decided on the Lathrop Trail, a 13 mile round trip through a grassland prairie, over large rock, and then down the mesa/canyon. The first few miles of the hike were easy, passing through the grassland shrubbery and walking over beautiful, wavy rocks. The rocks in the part of Canyonlands reminded me of Utah’s most famed park, Zion National Park. Eventually the hike leads to the edge of the mesa, and begins the descent down the 1500+ foot canyon.

The switchbacks down the canyon were extremely physically demanding, as they are part of a giant rock pile. Each step must be carefully placed, as the “stairs” are just staggered rocks winding back and forth. I can honestly say the descent and ascent were more difficult than my hike in the Grand Canyon. This trail is not frequented often and is very remote and natural. It was easy to feel like the first explorer of this part of the park, as the silence was deafening. I realized I was the only person in the world in this very spot, and the closest human to me was several miles away, as no-one else was on this trail. Although it was a freeing thought, it made me realize the extreme importance to not get injured or lost since no one was there to save me.

While making my way down the canyon, I spotted a few caves. Curious, I planned to check them out when I reached the bottom. When I got to the turn in the path where I could follow the rock piles the correct way, or go check out the caves, I spotted a pile of fur and bones at the bottom of a creek bed. Closer examination found that they were the remains of a male bighorn sheep, and the smell of rot and buzzing flies made me think it must be a few days old. Until this point, I was enjoying being alone. But. When you find the remains of a powerful animal in a place where you’re vulnerable, it’s not enjoyable anymore. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I looked all around me, now imagining what must be living in those caves – a cougar? a group of wild people? a giant tarantula? What even lives in this part of Utah anyways? Needless to say, I continued looking over my shoulder for the remainder of the hike.

I looked at the time and concluded I should head back, because I always try to be close to my car well before sunset. And if I were to say, get injured and have to drag myself back to my car, it’s good to have a few extra hours of wiggle-time. I plan for everything. I took my final photos of the tall, steep mesa walls, the vast desert leading to the Green River, and the mountains and rock formations I could see way in the distance, and headed back up the canyon. Now, as I was headed down the switchbacks, one of my hip-flexors started aching. It acts up every now and then, so I decided it wouldn’t be an issue. Then my other hip-flexor started having shooting pain every few steps down. I’m familiar with this kind of pain, and decided I could hike through it. When I was headed up the canyon though, it became difficult to lift one of my legs, as the hip-flexor was done for. I reminded myself I had two options: either force myself to hike through it, or spend the night in the canyon with whatever ate that sheep. So. Up the canyon I went, thinking about all the horrific things that could live in that cave, forcing myself to keep moving.

Finally I reached the top of the canyon, hurray! But then I remembered, I still had about 3 more miles before I reach my car. Somehow I made it over the giant rocks and to the prairie, but at this point my legs are screaming in pain. Have you ever seen a track or long-distance runner wipe out, and hobble the last stretch to the finish line? I decided that was my best bet, so I did the most pathetic jog of my life through the last mile and a half back to my car. I collapsed into my front seat, lifting one leg into the vehicle and then the other, just like my grandma has to do when her knee is acting up. I sat there for a while before driving to an overlook, where I drug myself to the fence only to realize I had a better view already on my hike, and it was time to go back to the motel. After showering and eating a good meal, my legs decided to work again. Today the hip-flexors are a little sore, but I’m in much better shape than I thought I would be.

Lessons learned: 1. Listen to your body when it says, “That hurts”  2. Hip-flexors are stupid  3. My stubbornness and determination will get me places, like out of a canyon and into my car.

Although this hike was the most physically challenging one so far, it was my favorite. I learned valuable things about the limitations of my body and strength of my mind, and I am still so in love with Canyonlands. I don’t want to tell everyone how absolutely breath-taking this park is, because part of the beauty is that it isn’t a zoo like the more popular parks, but it’s important for people to experience places to understand the importance of preserving them. On that note, I am headed to Bears Ear National Monument, one of the protected lands on the chopping block so our country can mine more resources. I want to see the natural and ancient beauty we’ll be losing in the name of industry.

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Rocky Mountains

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Arches

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The Windows

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Landscape Arch

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Navajo Arch

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Shell?

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Canyonlands – Island in the Sky

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Prairie Plant

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New Year, New Friends, New Places

2017 was an amazing year. If you’ve followed my blog, you know I’ve travelled and hiked through the year, meeting wonderful people, spending time with some of my old favorites, and growing into a pretty cool human being. To end my year of travel and start a new one, I decided to go to the 5th largest city in the US, Phoenix, Arizona.

While flying the 3 hours from -10 degree weather to sunny and 75, I counted 4 silent and deadly farts let out by one of the people in front of me. My fellow travelers, when you are contained in a flying tin can, sharing sparse air with a group of people, please have the decency to hold your gas in or use the restroom. After happily landing and running away from the fart-plane, I found my Uber and almost cried upon sight of a palm tree (my future home is definitely somewhere tropical). Tired from never getting enough sleep before travel, I checked out the downtown Phoenix Sheraton hotel restaurant and 4th floor rooftop pool and hot tub before calling it a night.

Phoenix is known for having some of the best hiking within the city limits, and I took full advantage of this by headed to Camelback Mountain as the sun rose. On the drive there, I was taken aback by the multitude of mountains surrounding the greater Phoenix area, and the many green, leafy trees and palm trees scattered about. Definitely not the barren, Vegas-like desert city I was expecting!

Camelback Mountain is the highest point in the city, at 2,706 feet tall. There are two ways to reach the summit: the moderate hike being Cholla Trail, and the difficult hike being Echo Canyon Trail. Naturally I took Echo Canyon, which was busier than I’d hoped. Most of the trail was rock scrambling, and a brief detour away from the trail brought me to borderline-rock climbing at a 110 degree angle (which you should definitely NOT DO if you are not crazy and well-versed in that activity). On the way back, I chose not to detour because my logical mind weighed the risks of one slight slip of the hand or foot, and realized that would 100% result in death or paralysis. So. The rest of the hike was awesome, and my arms and legs would argue it was a good workout as well. Sadly this was the only hike I took advantage of since I did not have a vehicle, but I will return someday soon to conquer the rest of the Phoenix-peaks.

My hike only consumed a few hours of my morning, so I spent the rest of the day wandering around downtown and Old Town Scottsdale, and taking advantage of the rooftop hot tub. Honestly, downtown Phoenix doesn’t have much going on. I was shocked at how quiet it was, and I heard from the locals it has recently cleaned up over the years and is starting to grow. Scottsdale on the other hand was a little slice of luxury. I enjoyed the shopping in Old Town, purchasing a watercolor cactus and earrings from a local artist, and then walked along the canal. The canal has a beautiful art display over and alongside the water, and was a relaxing place for a stroll. After meandering around, I headed back to my hotel to get ready for New Year’s Eve.

My big plans consisted of going to the Flannel Ball in the arts district, mostly to eat at the food trucks, and go to bed by 10pm. I even bought my first flannel for the occasion, a flannel dress, which is funny considering I come from the land of flannel. After a Lyft ride the wrong direction (my bad), I arrived at the “ball” and found my food truck – a glimmering bus with chicken wings and mac n’ cheese. I sat at a picnic table with a girl from LA and her boyfriend, who quickly became new BFFs. My plans to go to bed early were spoiled, as I spent the rest of the night with them, listening to the live music and eventually climbing on top of a VIP shipping container, where we made even more friends.

My hot yoga instructor always reminds us that in each moment, we are exactly where we are supposed to be. When I’m struggling or questioning the meaning of what’s going on in my life, I revert back to this idea. Standing on top of a shipping container with strangers, watching a piñata drop against the downtown Phoenix skyline, it hit me at the first second of 2018 – my choices and my drive are what brought me to this place, at this moment. I am responsible for and determine the outcome of my own life. 2017 was awesome because I wanted it to be and made it that way. This year is going to be even better. And it will be.

I started off the new year by exploring Papago Park, a beautiful desert oasis. I made friends with about 50 ducks who also enjoy Cliff bars, and soaked up the sun by the lake. Everyone probably thought I was an unprepared city-slicker, because I had to bring my rolling luggage with me, and I drug it all through the park like it was normal. Note for next time I have a late flight: make sure the hotel has a luggage-hold for the day of departure! I doubled back to the canal in Scottsdale for a late afternoon coffee, before heading to Tempe to meet a friend for dinner. Tempe is a very hopping and alive city next to a river, with a butte in the middle of it. Mill Avenue seemed very trendy, with restaurants and shops on both sides. While walking to Tempe Beach Park, I crossed the street at the same time as a chatty local. Immediately we started walking together, chatting about life, and becoming friends. I love traveling alone, because somehow I never get lonely.

After walking the beautiful river-side Tempe Beach Park, I headed to Four Peaks Brewery, where the lamb burger was almost as delicious as the coldbrew beer. The friend I met there has lived in Tempe for three years, and had great things to say about the area. I had not seen him for at least five years, and was happy to catch up. A travel habit of mine is that if I know someone in the area I’m traveling to, I reach out to them to try to get together. I figure that you never know when it’s the last time you’ll cross paths with someone, so you have to take advantage of their presence while you can.

With a full belly, sore legs, and a suntan, I headed back to the airport to catch the red-eye flight back to Minnesota. It was -10 when I landed, and my car almost didn’t start because of the cold. So happy to be home. Thankfully my job is nearing completion, and soon I will have some time off before moving to a new state. Who knows where I’ll go next, but I think we all know it’ll be somewhere warmer than the current -26 degree climate. Happy New Year!

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Camelback Mountain Summit

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Papago Park

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Downtown Tempe

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Camelback Mountain

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Tempe

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Scottsdale

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365 Days Later: A Reflection

Exactly one year ago today, I hit the road on an adventure that would change my life. I was so excited to reach Lincoln, Nebraska that night (words you don’t hear too often) after driving away from home – I must’ve known it was a pivotal day, the start of a four month journey to happiness.  The first time I moved away to Los Angeles, it opened my eyes to the world. This time, it opened my eyes to myself.

Embarking on a road trip and travel alone, as a young adult, and as a female, was incredibly liberating. I found strength in my abilities, confidence in my aloneness, and peace in the deepest realms of my heart. I grew with each experience gained, every stranger interacted with, and every mile hiked. My wandering spirit awoke, and nothing can stop me now.

This year was a roller coaster at times, but my positive personality and attitude persisted through it all. I’ve discovered passions, tried exciting things (like uni – sea urchin sushi, gross), and immersed myself in new places. I got my first tattoo as a memoir of my favorite year so far, and have been working towards making my passions and love my life.

Cheers to day one of the next 365 page chapter.

 

Mindfulness in Denver

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I love getting together with my loved ones, sharing food and stories, and playing games that reminds us how competitive our family is. I’m so very thankful to have a network that supports me and encourage my dreams (even if they don’t always understand or agree with them). And after my most recent trip to Denver, I’m incredibly thankful for the strangers we make connections with.

I typically don’t look forward to the airplane ride on a trip. It’s not that I don’t look forward to it because I don’t like it, but it’s the last few hours before getting to the destination I’m so excited about. But thanks to my seat mate, a very recent transplant to Denver, I now see the plane ride as part of the journey. Every once in a while, you meet a person who is a breath of fresh air, whose views of the world enlighten your own. For 2 hours, we discussed life choices, the way of the universe, and things we’ve learned so far. The idea of Mindfulness, living in the moment, echoed in my mind all weekend, enough for me to begin to practice it in my life.

I recently started going to a hot yoga studio, and have felt such peace and re-centeredness from my practice. My seat mate gets the same thing from jujitsu, which makes you focus ONLY on the situation at hand. If your mind goes elsewhere, you’re going to be choked out (he assured me it’s not as violent as it sounds, and it’s more like chess), and in yoga you will lose your balance. In life, we can’t enjoy or even really exist in the present moment if we are always thinking of the past or the future. Don’t get me wrong, we need to learn from our past mistakes and work towards our future goals, but we can’t enjoy what’s happening in our lives and give it our best self if our mind is elsewhere. The major reason I love traveling is that I am so utterly present in what I’m doing, taking in everything I’m seeing and feeling. That’s what every moment of life should be.

Okay, now that I’ve shared my airplane realizations, I can share with you how cool Denver is. After an awesome plane ride, I took the train from the airport to Union Station in downtown (a great bargain and convenient ride to the heart of the city). I arrived late on Friday to the Warwick Hotel, a boutique collection of hotels with locations across the world. I had booked through Expedia, and they didn’t have my reservation, so after a bit of confusion and forwarding of reservation emails (where I stayed kind and empathic to the cheerful desk workers), I was upgraded to a suite. One of my theories on life is that if you’re good to the universe, the universe is good to you. So I had a sweet pad to lay my head down for the weekend, and also a really, really sweet heated rooftop pool to swim in. I usually don’t spoil myself with sleeping expenses, but swimming in the pool among skyscrapers definitely added to the experience of staying in downtown Denver. And every once in a while, you need to “treat yo’self” (thank you Parks and Rec).

I had to do some payroll for work Saturday morning, and was so thankful I was able to do it from afar. After doing my little bit of work, I head to the Red Rock Amphitheater, in the hills just outside of Denver. The Amphitheater is an incredible stage with tons of stairs and bleacher seating, with a view of Denver way off in the distance. Someday I will come back for a concert, but I enjoyed running up all the stairs and exploring the 1.5 mile trail in the park, where I found a little solitude. The red rocks reminded me of so many other landscapes I’ve fallen in love with, and this is a destination that should be on your must-do list in Colorado.

After hiking, I enjoyed a delicious steak and pastry brunch at Ralph’s, the restaurant at the Warwick. There was no one else eating at 1:30pm, but I enjoyed the company of the servers and manager as they gave me recommendations of the must-do/see things on their lists. After my afternoon swim, I started their list with a stop at the Brown Palace Hotel. This hotel is supposedly haunted, and was built back in 1892, with an extensive list of the notable people who have stayed there. I accidentally went to their cigar lounge, but enjoyed a delicious pear martini regardless of the smoke. They were setting up a champagne glass pyramid in the lounge, which was completed and lit up by the time I left. It is a beautiful, historic corner building (my favorite architectural design), and is worth a stop if you’re in downtown.

Next I headed to Marco’s, where I enjoyed the best gluten-free pizza I’ve ever had. Their pizza is wood fired, and the crust had the most delicious campfire taste to it. After the pizza, I headed to The Viewhouse in LoDo (lower downtown). I imagine I would’ve enjoyed this bar/eatery better if the upper lounge with the view would have been open, or if I would’ve had a travel partner to play bags with, but this was not my favorite place to go. Everyone there was in a group of friends, and I always feel out of place in drinking establishments as I’m not a huge bar-goer. Needless to say, I left there quickly to enjoy a nighttime swim in the pool before bed. I’m so wild, I know.

Sunday morning I walked to a nearby coffee shop for a hot almond latte and scone. My short walk turned into a grand tour of all of downtown (I walked 18 miles total between Saturday and Sunday), so I saw most everything there is to see. I will admit, I skipped seeing the US Mint where coins are made, because I didn’t even know what it was until doing some research and I wasn’t too excited about it. But I did walk through the capitol grounds, enjoying the building and lawns. I also saw the giant bear statue outside the Convention Center, and enjoyed the painted-blue trees scattered throughout the city in honor of the Denver Broncos. Downtown Denver also has a promenade stretch called the 16th Street Mall, where part of the street is an outdoor mall with live music.

After checking out of my hotel, I took a Lyft to the Denver Botanic Gardens. Sidenote, if you aren’t in a hurry while you’re traveling alone, always do a Lyft or Uber Share because you’ll meet some really cool people. I love talking to the drivers, and I met a dozen people from all over the nation by sharing a ride with them. So after a ride full of conversation with two lovely ladies, I went for a stroll through the Botanic Gardens. I imagine it’s absolutely stunning when everything is in full bloom, but it was still well worth it to go there in late fall. I have a mild obsession with gardens in cities, and always find my zen there. I enjoyed a plethora of plants from all over the world, many of which I have never experience before. My favorite was the Lacebark Pine from China, whose bark must’ve inspired the camouflage design. After the gardens I walked a few more miles around downtown, through Cheesman Park and a few different neighborhoods. I found another pizza place where they gave me a snack piece of pizza while I was waiting for the slice of pizza I ordered. So awesome.

My last few hours in Denver were spent at The Tatteredcover Bookstore, where I picked up books about mindfulness and doing what you love (still inspired by the airplane convo), and then meeting up with my seat mate for an hour. How quickly strangers become friends. On my Lyft ride to the airport, I met a delightful southern gentleman who works for Homeland Security and resides in New Orleans, who invited me to come visit for Mardi Grais. Once again, how quickly strangers become friends.

As I took in Denver this past weekend, I realized I’m on a search for where to live. I’ll be a gypsy with work for a while, but someday I’ll grow roots somewhere. I’m not sure if Denver is the place after this trip. I enjoyed the city and what it has to offer, and it’s awesome that it is so close to the Rocky Mountains, but it reminds me so much of the Midwest. At this point of my life, I am searching for diversity in landscape and culture, and Denver doesn’t quite have that. The people were wonderful and reminded me of those I love back home, but it was too comfortable for my taste, an easy transition from Midwest to West. I could see raising a family there because it is a lot like a milder-weather and mountainous version of home, but at this point of my life I will continue searching.

Now I’m off to enjoy time with my family and friends, enjoying the present for what it is. I look forward to my next adventure, and my next move to wherever my next project is, but I will enjoy each moment I have at home as well. Even though it’s cold. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, I am incredibly thankful for your support and love taking you on this journey with me.