Monday, August 14, 2017

"Traveling. It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller."- Bryce, Denver and St. Louis

It's been a crazy couple weeks since we returned to PA so finishing this blog was put on the back burner. BUT, I believe in finishing what I started, even when I don't feel like it. I plan on writing one more blog post to recap some of the our favorites, least favorites, frequently asked questions and things we learned along the way, but for now, here is the story of the last week of our 33 day journey.

When I last wrote, we were in Zion National Park, Utah. From Zion, we drove a short 2-3 hours to Bryce Canyon. As a bartender in San Francisco told us, Bryce is the "hidden gem" of national parks. He was right. We arrived at Bryce Canyon in the early afternoon and immediately started our first hike, the Navajo/Queens' Garden Loop. You start out on top of the canyon along the rim trail which overlooks and circles the entire park. We looked out at what we discovered were called "hoodoos", or large landmasses that stand straight up in the air. The sight was incredible; it was orange, red and pink everywhere and an endless display of hoodoos, arches and canyons of all shapes and sizes. 
We walked down into the canyon through another long switchback similar to Walter's Wiggles in Zion and saw the Queens' Garden comprised of hoodoos that looked like a queens silhouette. The hike was about 5 miles and one of the more popular hikes but it was late in the day when we started so it wasn't too crowded. The next day we did an 8 mile loop called Fairyland loop. We got up super early to avoid the heat and the crowds and it was perfect. This hike was similar to the one the previous day just on the other side of the canyon. We saw a ton more hoodoos, walked through incredible archways, and had a great hike. If I thought Zion was unlike anything I've ever seen, Bryce was Mars. It was breathtaking and beautiful. I'm not going doing Bryce Canyon justice in my description so I'll let the pictures do their job.

Bryce is a small park compared to what we'd been to so in two hikes we got to see about everything we had hoped to see and called it a day. Exhausted from 7 straight days of National Park hiking and 26 days on the road, we finished our Fairyland loop hike in the early afternoon and headed back to our KOA and sat by the pool for a little to rest our legs and cool off. (Yes a lot of the KOA's have pools. Pretty awesome.)

On Monday July 24th, we left Bryce and drove to Denver, Colorado. It was an 8 hour drive and we lost an hour changing time zones so we arrived around 6pm. Greg's high school friend, Kelli, lives in Denver and offered for us to stay at her house so on the first night we went to a cool brewery, Breckenridge Brewery, with her and her boyfriend for dinner.

Again, it was great to talk to people other than each other and we were so grateful for the lodging and the company! By the time we hit Denver Greg and I were beyond tired and it was starting to affect our drive to see and do things. Our first full day in Denver we took the train into the city and walked around a little before going to Greg's uncles for dinner. He lives in Denver so we got a home cooked meal and got to hang out with some family which was a great treat. The next day we went to a nearby lake to go paddle boarding before going a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater. We wanted to see a show at Red Rocks so we bought tickets for the one night we were free- Glass Animals. The amphitheater is amazing but unfortunately we didn't get to see much of the show because as soon as the main act came on it started raining. We tried to wait it out but it eventually was a downpour and by the time we decided to make our way to our uber, the show was being cancelled, the amphitheater was flooding and there was a mass exodus of people fleeing to the parking lot. We were soaked.

We left the next day, Thursday the 27th for the day long drive to Kansas City. Greg made a pit stop for me at the Wizard of Oz museum which happened to be on the same street as the Wizard of Oz winery. We got there just before it closed and I was in heaven. By the time we got to Kansas City it was late so we grabbed dinner, checked into our hotel and passed out.

We got up the next morning for a short 4 hour drive to St. Louis, Missouri. We walked around the city to see the Arch, the old courthouse where the original Dred Scott Case was filed (history nerd alert!), and the Cardinals Baseball Stadium.

We found our way into St. Louis' version of X-finity LIVE in Philly. It was right outside the Cardinals Stadium and was almost an exact replica of X-Finity. There was a game that day so the place was starting to fill up. We then found a rooftop bar that overlooked the stadium and had a great view of the city. Craving some St. Louis BBQ, we walked about 2 miles to a place we found online only to discover it was closed. From there we called an uber to another BBQ place and by the time we got seated we were so hungry that we ordered one of everything on the menu. I wish I was exaggerating.

Finally, on Saturday the 29th we crossed back into Pennsylvania!

Our friends Madeline and Alex live in Pittsburgh so we stopped there for the night to break up the drive. It was a long 9 hours from St. Louis with another hour lost changing time zones and they were kind enough to made us delicious steak tacos for dinner. It was a great night relaxing with our hometown friends. We went for breakfast in Pittsburgh the next morning before hitting the road for the last time. I've never been so happy to see our little house. My parents brought Finny over for us and my sister and her fiance came over to welcome us home. We ate pizza, talked about our adventures and snuggled with Finny.

In all, we spent 33 days on the road and had the adventure of a lifetime. The things we saw and did on this trip are things we will never forget. I feel so lucky to have been able to get such a wonderful and exciting experience, all with my best friend by my side. We loved (almost) every minute of it but, as Dorothy says, "There's no place like home."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try." Zion National Park

Zion National Park

We drove into Zion from our disastrous sleeping experience in Yosemite with the plan of staying in an air bnb for a night and then getting up super early to get the first come first serve campground in Zion National Park. For once, it all worked out. We got up at 4am and were the first car in line at the campground at 4:50 am. They didn’t start letting cars in until someone came on duty at 7 but we slept a little in the car while waiting in spite of the guy behind us circling his car opening and slamming every door in succession for about 2 hours straight.

We got a spot and got ready to start our day. Let me just start by saying that Zion is an incredibly well managed park. Of all the parks we’ve been to, Zion has its shit together. They have a free shuttle so there is no traffic and you can get on and off every 6-10 minutes at varying locations in the park. That being said, the park is very small. To give you an idea, to get from one end of Yellowstone to the other was upwards of 4 hours. To get from one end of Zion to the other is a 40 minute shuttle ride. So, while I know I’m not being fair, it’s a nice change.

We started by doing Angel’s Landing Trail. If I thought I had been on unique hikes in other parks, Zion outdid my expectations. Angel’s Landing is so named because the first people to arrive here believed it was so high that only angels would be able to land on its peak. This trail had “Walter’s Wiggles” which was basically Lombard Street on the side of a mountain. It then took us up the side of the rock face for one of the most technically challenging (and scariest) hikes I’ve ever done. I asked Greg at one point if we were rock climbing, not hiking. They had one row of chain handrails at some points because it was so steep. It was one lane traffic so there would be people waiting to get up or down wherever the trail widened enough for people to stand aside. The views from the top were unlike anything I had ever seen and totally worth the climb. Red rock of the canyon against the blue sky with the river flowing below. It was unreal. Every so often Greg or I would stop in our tracks, look up and just say, “Wow”.

Angel’s Landing then connects with another more moderate trail of the Emerald Pools. It was about 3 miles round trip and had some cool views of water seeping out of the canyon and pools where kids were playing but it was super crowded and had gotten very hot by that time of day.

We headed back to our campsite to change and wipe ourselves down (thanks Tina and my students who bought us very handy body wipes since we had no running water) and walked into town. Zion has a really cute little town, Springdale right outside of the park all accessible by the shuttle or a short walk. We went to the first place we saw with air conditioning which was the Zion Brew Pub. We went back to our camp after being up since 4am and crashed. It may have still been light out.

On day two we forced ourselves up early so we could hit the Narrows before it got crowded and hot. The Narrows is described in the trail guide by saying “There is no trail. The trail is the river.” It’s a short walk along Riverside trail to get to the Virgin River. From there, you walk through the river as far as you want/are able. We rented special walking sticks and water boots (I highly recommend if you decide to do this trail) the night before. We looked like goons but once we got started anyone without a walking stick or proper footwear were the ones looking like goons. (More on the general ignorance/stupidity of people we’ve seen on this trip in a later post.) This hike was, again, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. For 3.5 miles, Greg and I trudged upstream in an ever narrowing canyon. A lot of people will walk a mile or so in or stop and play in the water but Greg and I wanted the real deal. The farther you go, the more narrow the canyon gets leaving you no escape from the water. At some points, we had to put our packs on top of our heads to walk through because the water came to our chest. We finally decided to turn around when we reached a point where we didn’t know how deep it was and figured we were going to have to swim to get across it. Neither of us really wanted our packs to get all wet and we weren’t even really sure how much farther you could go or what was waiting for us if we ever arrived. At that point we began our walk back downstream which was relatively easier because we were finally going with the flow of the water. By the time we got to the wider section of the river, it was packed. SO many people and kids playing in the shallow water.
We were both so glad we got out early to experience the Narrows. For most of our journey, we were alone. Every so often we'd see a few hikers as we passed or coming back in the other direction. After days and days of hiking, running and walking up steep hills and mountains, the Narrows was so peaceful and fun. Oh and I can’t forget to mention that standing at the bottom of a narrow canyon may be one of the most incredible and mind blowing experiences of my life. We are so small and the world is so big.

We were pooped after the several days of hiking and by the time we finished the Narrows it was early afternoon and about 100 degrees in the desert sun. We decided to hang up our hiking boots and call it a day, favoring walking into town to soak up any air conditioning we could find.

A word on Utah. Utah state law prohibits the sale of alcohol in restaurants without a food sale to accompany that alcohol. There are no “bars” in Springdale/Zion due to their clientele often being families. We ordered chips and salsa a lot.

The next day we packed up camp, hit one more super short mile long hike, the Canyon Overlook, on the way out of the park and headed towards Bryce Canyon. Man, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure" - Yosemite

Yosemite National Park 7/17-7/18

For weeks before our trip I bugged Greg about making a plan. I didn’t need to know every single day what we were doing but I wanted to have a list of campsites in each area and look into how early things get booked in case we were out in the middle of nowhere with no service and didn’t have a place to sleep. Now, I’m fine with camping. Campsites are great but even if we were to camp in the woods with no running water or bathrooms... No big deal. I did not want to sleep on the side of the road in the car. That was all that I kept saying. BUT, because Greg is perfect, I got chastised by people. “Go with the flow, Kelly”, “It’s part of the adventure, Kelly”, “You could always sleep in the car in a Walmart parking lot”.

Let me just say that I have not seen a Wal Mart since we left Pennsylvania. And our first night in Yosemite, we had nowhere to sleep. Camping in National Parks fills up quickly and to spend the night inside the park not in a campsite requires a permit. All of the KOAs anywhere near Yosemite were full. There are no air bnbs or hotels. The “first come first serve” campsites fill up at 9am and we were driving from San Francisco. So, our first night, we did “dispersed camping” which is legal but is basically saying you can sleep in your car on the side of the road as long as you’re so far from roads, trails or water. We found a pullout in the road where a few other cars were parked and spent the night there. I was not thrilled but in that moment there was nothing we could do. I know Greg felt bad and the next night, he found us a hotel in a weird little town on the other side of the park, the only place within 2 hours that had a reservation. The next day we got up super early because we were on the side of the road and got to the park before the crowds and heat hit. All in all, we survived and one day, probably not soon, we’ll laugh about it.

Ok. On to the good stuff.

Yosemite was awesome. We drove on Monday from San Francisco to Yosemite which was only about 4 hours. We stopped along the way so Greg could get his California fix of In-and-Out Burger for lunch. By 3:30pm we were ready to go on our first hike. We picked “Mist Trail.” It was such a unique hike, taking us up the side and to the top of two water falls, the Vernal and Nevada. Along the way, the trail turned into steps due to the incline and the water from the falls soaked us because we were so close and the water was so intense. This felt great on the way up because we were it was 100 degrees. It was a little less pleasant as it got colder on the way down. The lookout at the top was beautiful and we could see right over the edge of the waterfall. It was about 8 miles round trip so we got some amazing sunset views on the way back down. We were set back a little when I left my $20.00 gas station sunglasses on a water fountain. It ended up being about half mile back in the other direction but Greg is too nice and insisted we get them because I was so excited to buy the stupid things in the first place. On the plus side - we got to see the sun setting on our way down. The sunset turned the mist from the falls red which was amazing. We returned back to the car by about 8pm and began our hunt for a place to sleep. (See above). When we got to our “dispersed camp” we planned to make a pb&J for dinner only to realize that we had left our jelly at our  air bnb in Portland and so we had peanut butter on bread and went to sleep.

After not sleeping all night I was waiting for the alarm to go off at 6:30. We got up and headed into the park for day 2. Greg and I are overly ambitious and on several occasions we plan to do a few hikes a day, but due to there only being so many hours of sunlight, it’s usually not possible. That’s what happened this day too. We wanted to do two hikes in Yosemite before driving the 4 hours to our hotel. All of the hikes in Yosemite are over 7 miles so we picked two that we had heard great reviews of that were both fairly short for Yosemite. The first hike, Four Mile Trail, was actually just short of 5 miles one way for a total of about 9.7 miles round trip. It was a switch back and a steep incline but we got to see Half Dome from several different angles as well as El Capitan. There is a shuttle that takes people to the top also but you can only see El Capitan if you hike and it was well worth it. At the top you could see Half Dome and down into the valley below as well as Yosemite Falls and the two falls we had hiked the day prior, Nevada and Vernal Falls. We hung out at the top soaking in the sun and the views thinking we could take the shuttle back down to save us some time and get us to our next hike. The shuttle didn’t go back down to the Valley where we came from. SO we started the sprint back down. It worked out because we had already seen all the amazing views. Unfortunately, there was a terrible wild fire that just broke out near Yosemite and filled the valley with smoke making the lookout very hazy and hard to see on the back side of the hike. Lucky for us that we got up so early to get some great views! By the time we got to our car it was about 3pm and the second hike we wanted to do was about 7 miles round trip and more than an hour from where we were. At that point we decided we didn’t want to risk
El Capitan
hiking in the dark and would rather get to our hotel to clean ourselves up and get ready for the drive to Zion.

It was another 2.5 hours from the edge of Yosemite to our hotel in Tonopah, NV. The hotel happened to be a casino, restaurant, RV park and hotel all in one! It was an interesting little town to say the least.

Overall, Yosemite was a great park. It was a cool combination of the forests and waterfalls we saw in Yellowstone and Glacier. On top of that, it had incredible rock formations everywhere you looked that just make you feel so small. We also loved being able to climb right next to the waterfalls in Yosemite. There was so much left to explore there and we would have loved to have had more time. But, it’s on to Zion!

And, in case you’re wondering- People aren’t as worried about bears in Yosemite. They only have black, not grizzlies, so we took off our bear bells because people were looking at us funny. I kept my bear mace on me just in case. And although the threat of bears wasn’t as intense I had a new object of fear: Rattlesnakes. I heard them in my sleep - I swear.

On a similar note: People love squirrels. The squirrels are treated so well here that they don’t even try to get out of your way when you’re walking by. People stop to feed and take pictures of squirrels. I don’t know if it’s just a PA thing, but I’m not that impressed.

Until next time!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"I left my heart in San Francisco..."

San Francisco 

I have been dying to go to San Francisco forever. It is home to my two favorite shows, Full House and Charmed, I’ve always wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge (mostly because of the opening scenes from both shows), and because I’ve heard it is just a really awesome city. Oh and my dad is a huge Grateful Dead fan and San Fran is where Jerry and the boys lived for some time. We drove from Napa to San Francisco arriving around 7pm, checked in with our air bnb host and went to a notable fast food Mexican place right in the Mission district where we were staying for dinner. We crashed pretty early ready for a full day ahead.

Last year when Greg and I went to Hawaii we always had too much to do and not enough time to do it. We started a routine of going for runs around different parks, landmarks or cities that we wanted to check out but didn’t necessarily want to take time out of our day for. This way, we got in a workout and got to see a lot of cool stuff. Most of the cities we’ve been in we’ve done the same thing getting to check out different parks or, like in Chicago, Wrigley Field.

We started every morning in San Francisco by going on a run to a different destination. Friday morning we “ran” to a nearby “park”. It was more of a small mountain/very large hill. Tons of people around walking their dogs and running also. We stopped about a million times because a) everything in San Francisco is straight up hill and b) the view from the top was was too cool to pass by.  

Saturday, we drove to Golden Gate Park and ran through it to the coast. It was a beautiful 6 mile run and we got to see the Pacific Ocean where the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees and a huge fog sat over it compared to the weather just a few miles in the other direction.

Sunday, our anniversary, we drove to Golden Gate bridge and ran across it, about 3 miles total out and back. This, by far, ranks as one of the coolest runs we’ve done. The Golden Gate Bridge is really a marvel even from a distance but standing on it and under it’s gigantic pillars is hard to describe. From the Bridge you can see out to Alcatraz Island, Angel island and a good part of the piers and shoreline across the bay. It was amazing and a great way to start the day.

We did so many fun things in San Francisco. The first day we went into the “downtown/city” part. We got dropped off at City Hall, ate lunch from some awesome food trucks and then headed towards the financial district where we ended walking through a very sketchy street before getting to where we needed to go. There are, unfortunately, homeless in every city we’ve been to which is depressing and terrible and it’s hard to not feel a little guilty as you walk by them. The homeless in San Francisco however were of a different style. In most cities, they are laying or sitting on the street lethargically. In San Francisco, they were wild. Our assumption being that most of them are totally drugged out. They would be screaming at each other, mumbling to themselves, dancing, blatantly selling drugs and passing needles. At one point, we passed a lady walking the opposite direction on the street and she shouted, to no one in particular, “Is there shit on my feet!?”. It did smell pretty terrible, and we’re still not sure if she was talking about human feces or dog feces. Greg and I made a quick diversion off of our route to get to a place we felt a little less out place as I squeezed his hand tightly and sped walked away. I don’t point this out to make fun of these people I just think it’s an important part of our society that we often ignore. If I had to guess, most of these people probably don’t want to be tweaked out druggies living on the street unsure if the smell around them is because they walked through human poop. They probably had lives and families and dreams and because of addiction, money troubles, unfortunate upbringings or a mixture of those all, they ended up where they are with no one to help them out. It’s sad but a very big part of every city we’ve seen.

We eventually ended up in the very fancy part of San Francisco surrounded by Neiman Marcus, Tiffany and Co. and Louis Vuitton. We obviously did not belong there but we looked around and then ventured to China Town. China town was it’s own little section of the city with Chinese street lamps, decorations and stores. We then headed to the piers where we got awesome views of Alcatraz Island, the bay bridge and the skyline behind us. We got to see the sea lions sitting on the docks though there weren’t many of them because this is the time of year they travel south to breed. We went to Ghiardelli Park where we finally sat down at a Beer Garden they had in the middle of it before heading see the famous Lombard Street. Cars actually wait in line to drive down it and we got a great show of skateboarders coasted down the incredibly crooked street. That night we went to an incredible Indian restaurant in the Mission District where we got a fluffy bread that was bigger than my head. It was delicious.

The next day after our run in Golden Gate Park we walked to Haight-Ashbury, home of all things hippy and Grateful Dead. We got a picture in front of the former home of Jerry Garcia, perused all of the hippy shops and walked through the local park. Haight-Ashbury is definitely what I think of when I think of San Francisco. It was a really eclectic little part of town and we loved it. And then it was the moment I waited for since we started the trip; We were going to the Full House House! For those of you that know me you know that I am obsessed with the Olsen Twins (I’m still waiting to hear if they have a long lost sister they are looking for) and my college friends share my love of all things Full House and Uncle Jessie. The door is painted a different color now and the Olsen twins weren't there to greet us but it was awesome and there were actually quite a few other people there sharing in my excitement.

Full House House
Grateful Dead House

That night, we met up with Kyle, a college friend of Greg, and his fiance Annie. They just moved to San Francisco area and took us to a great Chinese restaurant for dinner and then showed us around to a few cool spots in the area. It’s always great for Greg and I to have someone else to talk to and we had a blast hanging out with them.

Sunday happened to be our one year anniversary AND the new season premier of Game of Thrones. After our run across Golden Gate, Greg and I hung out in Sausalito where we got bloody mary’s and sat by the water. We had an incredibly relaxing day compared to the rest of this trip which is exactly what we both needed. For dinner we went to the Beach Chalet which was an awesome restaurant that overlooked the Pacific Ocean right in Golden Gate Park. After dinner we grabbed a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and headed to our air bnb with fingers crossed that we could stream GOT on the laptop, which we could.

Compared to all of our other adventures I’m sure this seems pretty lame for our anniversary but it was exactly what we needed. By the time we got to San Francisco I was getting really tired. My legs and feet hurt from walking, running and hiking everyday. We get up super early every day and we don’t stop until the sun goes down. It was starting to get to me as we hit the half way point in our trip. San Francisco and particularly that Sunday was perfect.

We LOVED San Francisco. What I noticed most about San Francisco was how diverse, multi-cultural and accepting it was. Most of the best restaurants that were recommended to us were some sort of ethnic restaurant. Every place we went into had gay pride flags. The entire Golden Gate Park exhibit, and I think the overall theme of San Francisco while we were there was “The Summer of Love”, where you saw signs reminiscent of the civil rights movements of the 60's and 70's embracing equality, love, acceptance, peace and choice. Many of the cities we have been to have had similar shows of pride and acceptance in their local neighborhoods or establishments but it seemed like the entire city of San Francisco had taken on this as their motto. It was inspiring.

We love you too San Francisco. And we’ll be back. But for now, we’re getting out of these cities and back to nature! Yosemite, Zion and Bryce Canyon are next on the agenda. We might not have service for a while but we’ll be back on the grid eventually!