On Life and Traveling … Part 1

23 Jun

Seems as though I’m always coming back to my blog to ask for forgiveness for not being here. This time, I won’t ask for forgiveness. I think you’ll understand my absence.

So, where have I been? I guess the real question would be: Where haven’t I been?

My new life journey started back in February. The foodie bf and I cleaned house, sold a lot of stuff, packed our bags and headed out to explore the world without any set itinerary, time frame, set locations, or definite plans. Most thought we were crazy. Most didn’t understand. Most wanted to know when we were coming back “home.” Some even pressured us to stay. And few and far between, you would find the ones who said, “You’re only young once.” “You don’t have kids, go for it!” “If you can do it, do it!” or “I wish we could do that!” Despite the pressures and the butterflies … off we went.

Before we could leave a few “necessities” were in order. A high quality tent would be our new home. Sleeping pads and a very cool double sleeping bag became our new bed, and a fine selection of cooking utensils, pots and pans, and gas backpacking stoves became my kitchen. Conveniently, each pot and pan, plate, cup and utensil is made to pack inside the other and weighs literally nothing. These items would become my new favorite things. One thing that I personally overlooked was the headlamp, which turned out to be one of our biggest necessities. Thanks to the foodie bf, we had two! It gets dark quickly outside when you’re depending on natural light. Other important items … baby wipes, warm clothes, flip flops for showers, a cooler to serve as a refrigerator and granola. The foodie bf is also an avid rock climber and we had made “plans” to climb as much as possible on this journey. Needless to say, we had a good amount of climbing gear with us, too.

With the car packed, we headed out early in the morning mid-February set for Atlanta to get my brand new hiking backpack “fitted” at the REI. We visited with some friends and family along the way and eagerly anticipated heading west. I’m not too sure the foodie bf was confident in my promised camping skills so we made a three/four day pit-stop in Alabama to “practice.” I’m not sure if it was my excitement or my eagerness to be successful on this adventure, but even a night in the car and then three days of pouring rain in the tent didn’t stop me. In between the downpours, we made a camp fire, cooked spaghetti in our new “kitchen,” found time to chase a turkey down the road, learned you could steal wi-fi from neighboring lodges, and narrowly escaped a tornado. Yes, I said “narrowly escaped a tornado.” Sirens going off and everything. On our way out, we learned there was a “Jig” competition for St. Patrick’s Day at the park lodge. Dance the best jig and win a weekend stay in one of their cabins … if we could have only stayed until March 17th.

After Alabama we made a quick ride through Mississippi and found ourselves at a casino in Shreveport, LA. This would be my first casino. I found a great deal on a hotel on one of those daily deal websites, so we decided to have a bit of fun. Dinner proved to be costly and not nearly as good as my spaghetti cooked by camp fire and I quickly realized that the fresh air of my tent was far more appealing than the stuffiness of a casino/hotel. Needless to say, I enjoyed the gambling and did fairly well on the slot machines. It was a break even weekend.

Leaving Louisiana, we stopped off in Texas to have Bella’s oil changed at Park Place Porsche. These people were awesome and had one of the nicest service departments. After Bella was washed and ready to go we hit the road towards Santa Fe, MN. A couple nights sleeping in the car at rest stops, which by the way is actually pretty comfortable when you have the sleeping pads and sleeping bag, and we were finally there. We encountered our first snow of the trip in Santa Fe. Conveniently, I was driving. I’ve never driven in snow, so this was an adventure for me. Foodie bf is from Alaska and had to hold back laughter every time I would scream, “Look how big that flake is!” or “Look, the snow is sticking!” Poor guy, he’s a good sport! In Santa Fe, I found a really cute hotel that is made of about 30 different pueblos. Each one had its own wood burning fireplace, unique artifacts and colors. We spent one night in Santa Fe, but were able to explore the city, have lunch at a French Pastry Shop, tour the Santa Fe Art History Museum, shop at the Indian market and take an exorbitant amount of pictures. It was cold, I got to wear a scarf, and ended up taking home a huge french baguette.

After Santa Fe, I convinced the foodie bf that we really needed to visit Sedona, AZ. This would turn out to be one of my favorite spots. We drove into town from Flagstaff along a beautiful winding mountain road covered in snow and surrounded by unbelievable red rocks. The first night we were lucky to get one of the last available spots in the area’s campground. We paid about $15.00 for the night and bought a $6.00 bundle of wood from the camp host. We had a fire, cooked some dinner and headed to bed. We had seen lots of signs for off-road adventures, so the next morning decided we would stop in a shop to learn more. Come to find out, we can take Bella off-roading through some of these beautiful red rock areas and can even stop and tent camp for free! Who knew? So we packed a lunch and headed out to the trail. Simply put, this was probably my favorite day to that point. Bella performed wonderfully over some huge rocks! For the most part, the foodie bf drove but on some of the more simple areas, I took a turn and had a blast. We found an amazing camping spot along the trail overlooking some amazing rocks and decided to stay for a few days. I ran into town to grab some groceries and we were all set. The foodie bf made us a huge campfire and I got a considerable amount of computer work done sitting on a huge log next to the fire. That my friends is living.

We spent a few days in Sedona and then decided to get a move on towards California. Our goal was to get to Joshua Tree National Park, also known as rock climbing Mecca, and max out their two week maximum stay. Along the way, I experienced my first In and Out burger, slept in a few more rest areas, and drove through hundreds of miles of desert. Finally, we had arrived. Joshua Tree held a special place in the bf’s heart as he had spent a considerable amount of time here earlier in his life, and from the stories he had told me, I anticipated J-Tree to be like heaven on earth. So, when we arrived early evening to a 40+ mph sand storm and near freezing temperatures, I was a little confused. There are many different camping areas within the park, but “Hidden Valley” is the most popular with climbers because of the number of great climbs close by. We were lucky to find a spot in Hidden Valley. However, we should have slept in the car that night. Instead, we decided to try and pitch the tent in 40 mph winds. At one point, the tent actually picked me up while I was holding it … literally, off the ground. Once we had the tent standing and huge rocks placed on top of the stakes to ensure they didn’t come out of the ground, we quickly realized the wind was blowing so hard, sand was coming through the mesh and was creating a lovely sandbox inside our home. The foodie bf was a doll and slept in the tent to ensure it stayed with us, I on the other hand slept in the car!

We ended up staying in Joshua Tree for a little over two weeks. So much happened while we were there. There were days where we did nothing at all, days were we climbed multiple climbs a day, days were we took a bottle of wine and some snacks and found a rock in the middle of nowhere to relax on all day, so many different things. We had lots of sunshiny days, a few days of snow, and a couple nights where the wind rivaled the first night. It was certainly entertaining. We also met some really wonderful people in Joshua Tree.

I guess the biggest obstacle for me in Joshua Tree was overcoming the fear of climbing in front of other people who obviously are better climbers than me. Rock climbing is a scary thing and its definitely not easy. You have to place a lot of trust in your climbing partner and you have to be very aware of yourself and your surroundings. The simplest move or mistake could cause you to fall or die. Pair that with the fact that this is “climbing Mecca” and there are hundreds of climbers watching and waiting for their turn to climb the route you’re on … and my self consciousness was out in rare form. Shallowly, my only saving grace was that I loved my climbing clothes and climbing gear and really felt like I “looked the part.” In hindsight, I probably didn’t look the part at all … real climbers actually look like they’ve USED their gear! ha ha …

The other entertaining part to Joshua Tree is taking a shower. There is this adorable store in town where they sell all kinds of climbing gear, souvenirs, fire wood, and shower time. $6 bucks gets you about 8 minutes of hot water. Try sharing a shower with someone and only getting 8 minutes of hot water! The idea here is to wash everything as quickly as possible and then stand in the water until it runs out. The opposite of what I would do at home. The showers were super clean, but it did feel a little bit like what I would imagine summer camp to be like for a kid. The grocery store (and the showers) were about 20 minutes away from our camp, so we tried to only come into town once a week. All-in-all, I really enjoyed Joshua Tree but still think the climbers there are pretty intimidating.

By this point, we have been living in a tent for a little more than a month for the exception of our stay at the casino in Shreveport and the pueblo in Santa Fe. Surprisingly, living in a tent is pretty comfortable. You develop a routine of how you set up the tent, what you put in there so you’re not too crowded, how you arrange your shoes, wood and cooler in the vestibules, etc. You become accustomed to going to bed with the sun and waking up with the sun. Plus, we were active throughout the day, so when you come home to the tent you’re ready to eat, relax and sleep. There was very little cell phone service in the park and that made life very relaxing too. It’s incredible when you learn you don’t actually have to check Facebook every time you look at your phone … it’s all still there later. I really enjoyed our time in Joshua Tree.

So, that’s Part 1 …. considering I wrote a mini book here. Here’s a couple pictures from this leg of the journey.

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