Western States Adventure

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Well hey friends. :) It’s a weird year, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who is missing more adventurous days. So if it helps, join me on a little virtual road trip to the West Coast and some other gorgeous destinations that direction.

In fall 2017, Lyssi and I did our first real big outdoorsy adventure, along with our bestie/sister Brie. Since that first thrilling and confidence-building journey, adventuring in the great outdoors has become a regular part of our lives. I hope you’ll do it, too. :)

So come along to Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah!

(Click on a picture in the mosaics to scroll through them full size.)

ARIZONA DRIVE

After an afternoon flight into Phoenix, we hopped in our rental and just started chasing the sunset west. Desert in the dark, California road signs warning of high winds, and, eventually, sprawling lights and speeding cars as we descended toward Palm Springs. One thing we didn’t really grasp ahead of time was the significance of “fire season” out west. A midnight drive through Los Angeles, a few detours for roads closed due to wildfires somewhere in town. When we hopped on the highway heading north, we saw orange blazes all over the hills in front and to the side. It was . . . strange. Heading north from Los Angeles in the dark was quite the way to whet our mountains-appetite, with steep winding ascents for miles. After a long night of driving and a couple hours at a rest stop, we passed through Sacramento and made the long drive up to Portland. Near the Oregon border, we drove up into green, green mountains and stopped to explore Lake Shasta. Around there, we began to realize the “haze” and “fog” we’d been seeing all day was just smoke from wildfires burning all over Oregon and northern Cali. Even closed in our car, it stung our eyes. Our second morning in Portland our car was covered in ash.

NESKOWIN OREGON & THE GHOST FOREST

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After a winding drive through woods of cedar trees, under a starry early-morning sky, we arrived in Neskowin at dawn. Walking out onto the beach to the sound of crashing waves was magical. We could hardly see around us, the mist was so heavy. As the mist rose and the tide slowly came in, a hundred ancient tree stumps covered in marine treasures sank slowly into the ocean. The “Ghost Forest.”

OREGON COAST DRIVE

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A smoky but incredible drive down the Oregon coast. Each bend in the road was incredible.

CALIFORNIA REDWOODS IN JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK

Towering redwoods that remind humans of their relative smallness and just how young we really are.

SECRET BEACH NEAR BROOKINGS OREGON

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So this was a little treasure some research uncovered before our trip. It’s not really a beach, it’s the ocean crashing on the rocks in a little cove. It’s just that when the tide goes all the way out, there’s a spot where you can pull off to the shoulder of the road and venture down to a “Secret Beach.” It did not disappoint. More wonder in this little spot than just about anywhere I’ve seen.

CENTRAL OREGON

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Oregon wasn’t exactly what we expected. I didn’t realize it had literally everything. Deserts, giant cliffs, mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, ocean, and even painted hills. And then these massive rolling grassy plains that I didn’t expect to be as breathtaking as they were. They came right after a drive through a massive, mountainous forest with a stop at Mount Hood–a forest that made me feel like I had found Home.

SMITH ROCK STATE PARK OREGON

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Smith Rock State Park is one of the most other-worldly, shockingly epic places I’ve been or even seen in my life. In the middle of not-too-mountainous central Oregon, a short drive from where we stayed in the adorable city of Bend, Smith Rock’s giant volcanic ash formations rise hundreds of feet straight out of the ground, offering views for miles around and some pretty spectacular and spectacularly-nerve-wracking hikes. We did the aptly named Misery Ridge route. Our views were a little faded with smoke from the wildfires that knocked all the forest, river, and hot springs hikes off our itinerary. But it was still incredible. Honestly, the smokiness just made it feel more enchanting. A highlight of Smith Rock is Monkey Face, a 350-foot narrow rock tower that rock climbers frequent. If you find yourself in Oregon, I can’t stress enough: Smith Rock. Incredible.

CLIFF JUMPING AT STEELHEAD FALLS

If you like cliff jumping, waterfalls, or both, Steelhead Falls near in Terrebonne is an awesome spot. Seemed like a fairly private spot. Easy hike. Absolutely gorgeous and a lot of fun.

PAINTED HILLS IN JOHN DAY FOSSIL BEDS

What can I say about the drives across Oregon?? . . . by the end of it, we had all but decided to move there. Anywhere in Oregon. It was all so beautiful! We drove from Bend straight down to Utah, and a good chunk of the first day we spent driving through John Day Fossil Beds (wow) and stopping for a while in the Painted Hills. It was like visiting another planet.

NEVADA DRIVE

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I did not expect the long, desolate drive across Nevada to be one of the best parts of our adventure. It. Was. Awesome. It started with a sign in south Oregon that said, if I remember correctly, “No Gas for 130 miles.” We were truly in the middle of nowhere. The occasional car would whiz by at 100mph, which meant that drivers didn’t have nearly as much time for passing in the opposite lane as they expected, and we were run off the road once by an oncoming truck. Once we got into Nevada, we drove for hours and hours on a long, straight highway lined with desert and ranches and Native American reservation towns and rows of mountains maybe 10 miles away on both sides. It was majestic.

Top five coolest life moments, for sure–doing 90 alone in the Nevada desert, we suddenly heard–I should say felt–this deafening BANG! Our car shook. What the hell just happened?!? We spun our heads looking for whatever just did that and saw a fighter jet that looked like it couldn’t be more than a hundred or so feet overhead. A second later, another bang shook the car and another fighter jet flew low overhead. It was one of the most exciting and thrilling and special moments ever. I bet the pilots get a kick out of doing that.

When darkness fell, we turned onto US-50, which is called “The Loneliest Road in America,” and for good reason. Vulnerable might be the word to describe that chunk of the adventure. I think we saw just one vehicle between dusk and midnight. But we also saw more jackrabbits and coyotes and deer than I’ve seen in my life. It was also like driving through a blizzard of bugs, unfortunately. And the strangest thing was that we seemed to be climbing. The air was starting to get very cold and sort of thin. Eventually the road began twisting and turning as we rapidly ascended. Eventually we made it to Ely where we turned in for the night.

Our drive the next morning was a bit of a shock. Turns out the steep twisty roads we’d driven in the dark were bordered by steep hills and drop offs, and we’d climbed thousands of feet into mountains we didn’t really know were there. Our daylight drive back down the mountains was a little slower and more cautious with no guardrails, and sort of thrilling to realize just what sort of scary drive we’d made the night before. 100% I would take another trip just to drive all around the state of Nevada.

ZION NATIONAL PARK

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Zion was indescribable. Our first legit mountain hike as outdoorsy adventurers–4 miles up, 4 miles down, 2000+ ft of elevation gain, through slot canyons and along winding and gusty precipices–took us to Observation Point and its mind-bending views. This little spot was one of the biggest perspective-giving places I’ve been in my life. Shortly after we got home, I wrote a little about why. Here you go: Observation Point, Zion National Park

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The next day we did Angel’s Landing. Have you done Angel’s Landing? If you have, you know what I mean when I say I have never been more sure we were going to die. But what an incredible and beautiful experience. Once in a lifetime. Long, steep switchbacks up to a lookout. What I saw when we reached the lookout literally made me sit down half-paralyzed. It took me a few real minutes to decide to go for it. All I could envision was watching one of my best friends slip. The next half-mile felt like an eternity, following a narrow ridge with 1000+ ft drop-offs on either side. Steep, slanted, sandy slabs where you hold for dear life onto chains. Stepping a little closer to the edge while you say a prayer, so another group of hikers can pass. Deciding which hiker holds the chain and which hiker just tries to keep their balance. Oh. My. Goodness. It was worth it and I want to do it again, but maybe without friends along to worry about or traffic to dodge. The summit of Angel’s Landing is spectacular.

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Our last big Zion hike was Canyon Overlook Trail, another kind of beauty.

Go. To. Zion. 100%.

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CLIFF DWELLERS ARIZONA

After we crossed from Utah into Arizona, we found a little spot to explore called Cliff Dwellers.

GRAND CANYON

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Just a way-too-brief stop at the Grand Canyon on my birthday.

SEDONA ARIZONA

If you ever go to Phoenix or the Grand Canyon, make the trip to Sedona. You’ve probably heard of it. It is so beautiful. Also, drive this route: 89A between Flagstaff and Sedona. You will not be disappointed! It’s gorgeous enough in itself, but our drive was especially beautiful as we wound back and forth in and out of sunshine and rainstorms.

ARIZONA DRIVE

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We kicked off our road trip with a long drive straight west from Phoenix through flat, hot, dry desert. And then we ended our trip coming back into Phoenix from the north, a much, much different drive. A long gradual descent of about 8000 ft. Mountains all around and big open sky. Our ~4-5000-mile adventure brought us just about every imaginable view. Thrills, hidden gems, climbs, lonely night skies, and dizzying heights. We saw a lot of world in a week and a half.

Remember, friends, that adventure is therapeutic and nature is healing and exploring the world opens doors you didn’t know existed. And sometimes it’s just an unusually long but surprisingly affordable road trip away.

Go adventure!

Love to you, fellow adventurers! :)

You still are and you still can

I am a world traveler. An explorer. An adventurer.

Salty wind on a gloomy Scottish coast, with an order of fish and chips. Diesel smell from the red double-decker buses.

Giant red Maple leaves painted on the airplanes, a little memory to remind me that I had technically been to Canada, even if it was more through. Little me still wants it to count.

The palpable rush of confidence and swagger as sheltered teen me navigated the Heartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and caught the MARTA, all by myself, to see my adopted family. Atlanta and its suburbs that, after a few trips, was my emotional stomping grounds, my “real home.”

Restaurants on piers in San Diego, with the loud sound of crashing waves. “Red and white,” a cryptic inside joke that out-of-place teen me and all my fellow travelers in San Deigo laughed and laughed at, though I never actually got it.

Homemade black-bean breakfast burritos at dawn on the road in Arizona with my big sister, and the jaw-dropping, don’t-know-what-to-do-with-it massiveness of the Grand Canyon when I first walked up to its edge.

The carefully-choreographed nonchalance with which I’d swing my backpack over one shoulder (only once accidentally smacking a fellow traveler in the face with the cool maneuver). The “oh yeah, this is my every-day, I’ve got this” demeanor I adopted whenever I had traveling companions, just to prove that yes, I’m a seasoned world traveler at seventeen.

Traveling by greyhound bus. Telling people I traveled by greyhound bus. Cred.

A long, long, long flight to . . . Amsterdam? And then to Frankfurt, where I logged onto an internet kiosk to send a quick love-note and discovered that German keyboards switch the Y and the Z. Struggling to keep my eyelids open so as not to miss my connection to Africa.

And then there was Ethiopia. Addis Ababa. I could write and write and write. The collapsed, seat-belt-less back seat of the taxi with the door that would swing wide open around curves. Ululating funeral processions. Wedding feasts. The way Amharic speakers gasp and raise their eyebrows to denote that they’re still listening. The beautiful Ge’ez script that doubled as code for my secret love letters. Morning prayers over loud-speaker. Blue and white taxis with boys hanging out the door yelling their destinations, and chaotic traffic like you’ve never seen (though YouTubing “Meskel Square” may give you a sense). Outrunning a bull down an alleyway. Beautiful old cathedrals. Getting lost at dusk in a corner of the city I’d never seen. Key Wat. And the streets of Addis Ababa coming alive with runners at 5am.

And Uganda. Kawunga ne ebijanjalo for lunch every day. The dancing, the rhythm. The elephants and giraffes as I rode a massive bus from one corner of Uganda to another. The beautiful landscape. The “oh-yeah-this-is-normal” feel of wildfires in the hot Savannah. The warm, generous welcomes in remote villages from the poorest of people. The python I suddenly notice slithering through the grass two feet away. Jack Fruit fresh off the tree. Roaring waterfalls, rivers with hippos and crocodiles. The several-story shopping malls and glamorous houses that told me that I’d learned only a tiny little version of the truth about Africa.

A dreamlike week in Mezzegra on Lake Como in northern Italy. All the pizza, all the wine, and fresh food from the little shop on the corner, where the deli attendant didn’t wash hands after using them bare to wrap our raw chicken, but like in a this-is-normal way. All the little restaurants serving food fresh from their home gardens. Showing up at the local super market fifteen minutes before the hour, only to see the doors shut and someone explain that they weren’t busy so they went ahead and closed early. Beautiful mountains and towers and villages and trails. An intimate elopement at the Villa del Balbianello with just my adventure buddy, our photographer couple, and the reckless driver of our wooden boat. And gelato, of course. Il dolce far niente.

And most recently, a few years of flying or driving or taking a train or doing whatever it takes to get to any and every gorgeous piece of America (or Canada) we can–from Big Bend to Glacier to the Rockies to the Smokies to Zion. And a weekend wandering Santa Barbara, driving its mountain roads, splashing in its waves, eating authentic tacos, and wishing Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster really lived there.

World-traveler.

That’s me.

That was me.

People still say I travel a lot. I guess I do, when we’re not hunkered down waiting out the coronavirus. But like . . . sort of traveling. I don’t fly on airplanes very much anymore, mostly shockingly long drives (think sixteen hours in one day), and pretty much just in the United States. But I didn’t mean to be a United-States-traveler, I meant to be a World-traveler.

When I left my home country for Africa, I discovered that a big portion of my heart belongs to exploring countries and cultures all around the world.

That just is me.

“But,” I haven’t left the country in five years. When I was twenty, I envisioned this World-traveler me flying off to a new land to explore at least once or twice a year. I knew how to, I learned all about it . . . this was what my life was going to be about, in a big way.

In the ten years since, I’ve flown across the ocean only once. Been to Italy and Canada. In ten years. Not what I envisioned. So . . . am I a World-traveler?

 

What is something like that for you? Something that is a huge part of daydream-you? Maybe a thing you used to experience, do a lot of, love, dream about, envision as one of the main threads in your life?

Maybe something you haven’t gotten to keep doing quite like you envisioned it?

Traveling? . . . Running? . . . Writing? . . . Drawing? . . . Volunteering? . . . Journaling? . . . Singing? . . . Playing sports? . . . Being romantic? . . . Adopting fur-children? . . .

Have you felt like you’ve had to give it up? Like you shouldn’t claim that title for yourself anymore, because it’s not accurate?

Maybe you used to be a runner, but not really anymore now that you’ve had kids. 13.1 used to be your jam, but now a slow 1 or 2 miles is a major accomplishment, when you even get the time for it.

And you still love “running.” You want it. You remember it. You know it. You miss it. You have your old medals, photos, miles logged on your running app, memories of worn down pair after pair of shoes. You occasionally look at your old race bibs and get very opposite feelings at the same time–happy and sad. . . .

Are you even a runner anymore?

 

Whatever your big thing is–and maybe you have a few of them–I wonder . . .

. . . why does time matter so much in your identity?

. . . and why can’t you still have it, even if in a more these-days version?

 

Why do we get so wrapped up in the passing of time when it comes to our identity?

You will always, always, always have the miles you’ve run. You’ll always have the countries you’ve visited. You’ll always have the people you’ve loved. You’ll always have the dances you’ve danced, the songs you’ve sung, the books you’ve read, the letters you’ve written, the rock walls you’ve climbed, the parties you’ve thrown, the puppies you’ve snuggled, and the accomplishments you’ve accomplished.

Why do they count less ten years later?

One day, it will be one hundred years later. And then, which will count as you? The one-hundred-years-ago you or the ninety-years-ago-you? At your funeral, who will be remembered? Only the you of the final couple years? Or the you that has lived a long and vibrant life of twists and turns and adventures and accomplishments and passions and stories and favorites?

Your memories and photographs of 10-year-old dancing you, 20-year-old dating you, 30-year-old running you, and 40-year-old parent you . . . they’re no less real or important or wonderful or YOU than they were 10, 20, 30, and 40 years ago.

Why do we judge ourselves by arbitrary measurements of time when we tell ourselves and others of our identity–of what makes us us? Why don’t we just access our deep down selves, even if our deep down selves haven’t had the chance for many years to show up the way they love to? The love for the thing is still there. The memories are still there. The reality is still there. The identity is still there.

You don’t have to throw back-then-you away. Now-you will also one day be a back-then-you. They all count. Let go of time a little when you know and share yourself. Let you still be you.

 

And why can’t you still do that thing you once loved and still love? Is it not normal for this stage of life? No problem, be abnormal. Are you not as physically capable of it as you used to be? No problem, do it slower/lighter/easier. Is it too expensive to do as much as you used to? No problem, find (or make up) a cheaper version of it, no matter how unique.

What would happen if we still just did that thing we loved–still love? What would it take?

Among other things, it would take just letting go of the need to be “the best at” or even “good at.” Can we let go of that? If we can, there’s a lot of epic life to be lived.

It would also take accepting the fact that the experience will just be different now. When I was sixteen, I could eat a lot more pizza in one sitting than I can now. And I don’t feel as great the next day as I used to. Okay. . . . That’s okay. And before my concussion, I could run a lot harder than I’ve been able to since. Okay. . . . That’s okay. And exploring and traveling for me looks a little different now than it did when I was nineteen. Now, instead of living on the other side of the globe for the better part of a year, I sneak in a couple quick hiking days into a long weekend bookended by long drives. A little less glamorous. Okay. . . . That’s okay.

 

So that big thing of yours . . . that thing that holds so much of your identity, but that you feel you’ve lost . . . are you sure you’ve lost it? Won’t it always be a part of you? And could you still find a way to live it and celebrate it some more?

 

I’m still a World-traveler.

I hope to do lots more actually physically visiting other countries in my lifetime. I’d love someday to do it very regularly. But for now, I take hiking road trips in North America, study languages from places I want to adventure, learn about other cultures through documentaries, and explore those places on Google Maps for hours at a time.

I always will be a Word-traveler. Even when I’m stuck at home for a season.

It’s who I have been. It’s who I will be. And both of those make it who I am.

 

Who are YOU, “even though” . . . ?

 

Big Bend Adventure

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When I think of adventure, I think of Big Bend National Park.

Nestled in the “big bend” on Texas’s southwest border with Mexico, Big Bend is the 7th largest national park in the contiguous United States. Despite its size, its remote location (4.5 hour drive from El Paso, 7.5 hour drive from Dallas) helps it remain a well kept secret. It sees less than 4% of the annual visitors that Great Smoky Mountains National Park does, and ranks only 40th in visitors among National Parks in the contiguous US. In other words: It’s a hidden gem.

Our visit in early 2018 was marked by a peaceful, quiet, lonely feel. Like we had finally found wilderness. Isolated enough to feel free and away-from-it-all, but developed enough to feel safe.

Even more than the feeling of escape it offers, we were struck by Big Bend’s variety and other-worldliness. 7000+ foot mountains, strong cold wind blowing around each corner. A hot, dry desert floor only a quick drive away. Animals everywhere: Coyotes and road runners, deer, birds. The one we didn’t get to see, despite warnings posted everywhere, was the mountain lion.

The views from the top of the Chisos Mountains were just magical. “Other-worldly” is really the only term I’ve found to do it justice. Especially from the mountain range’s “South Rim.” (Don’t miss the South Rim pictures/videos, about halfway through the pictures below!)

Big Bend is also known for its completely dark night skies. You can see the stars and the Milky Way like almost nowhere else. And OMG the sunsets!!!

We went in late February, and it was absolutely perfect weather. If you visit, make sure to read up on the difference between Big Bend in the winter and summer. It gets hot.

We flew through Dallas and rented a small SUV with unlimited miles (thank you Enterprise!) for the 7+ hour drive. We ended up loving the drive across Texas. Long, quiet, and very unique. High winds on the roads and what seemed like dare-devilish semi-truck driving led to a few close calls and left a confusingly high number of over-turned semis along the highway (. . . to any locals–what is that??? . . .). We stayed at a beautiful Airbnb in the awesome little city of Alpine, giving us an hour’s drive into and out of the park each morning, along big mountains and under big sky.

We spent two days at Big Bend National Park. The first day, we explored the mountains with a roughly 17-mile hike (almost 8 hours), ascending over 3000 feet. We hiked up to Emory Peak (the highest point in Big Bend at over 7800 feet), down through Boot Canyon, and then up around the South Rim with its jaw-dropping views.

The second day we drove the long Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the park’s southwest corner, stopping at the Mule Ears and the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off for some quick desert walks, and arriving at the end of the road for a hike along the Rio Grande through the Santa Elena Canyon. We finished the day with a long drive toward some breath-taking mountain ranges on the park’s southeast corner at the Rio Grande Village.

We left feeling like we could have spent another two weeks there and still not explored everywhere we wanted to explore.

Guys, if you’re looking for adventure, make the flight and/or the drive to Big Bend. You will NOT be disappointed!

Below are some highlights and pictures to share with you!

On a personal note–friends, nature is inspiring and healing and so happy. And usually we can go explore. Today, all across the world, people are experiencing some version of “shelter-in-place,” or quarantine. Nobody is going on adventurous travels, as we join in solidarity to make it through the Coronavirus Pandemic as safely as we all can. But at some point, all this is going to be over. And beautiful nature will be there for us on the other side. And the great outdoors are not hard to get to. Take a hiking adventure as soon as you can! If you need any tips, let me know! In the meantime, I hope these pictures offer you some inspiration, healing, and happy while you’re being safe at home. :)20180225_053025

(Shout out to Foundation Training for keeping us feeling good and strong on our long adventures with long flights and long drives!)

(And shout out to Lyssi, the greatest adventure buddy I could ever ask for!)

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Road into the Chisos Basin, surrounded by the Chisos Mountains
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Kicking off our ~17 mile/8 hour hike to to Emory Peak, through Boot Canyon, and around the South Rim
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The first few minutes of hiking from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center
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Casa Grande peak from the Chisos Basin
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The Pinnacles
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Hiking through high winds and crazy terrain toward Emory Peak
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Significant rock scramble up a rock wall to the top of Emory Peak
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Dizzying views from the rocky precipices of Emory Peak–not for the faint of heart
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Emory Peak, 7825 feet
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View from Emory Peak with Casa Grande on the left, Lost Mine Peak in the middle behind Toll Mountain, and Crown Mountain on the right
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Chisos Basin–incredible, other-worldly, too perfect, a green gem hidden in a desert in the middle of nowhere–I want to go back!
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Nearing the South Rim from Boot Canyon
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And the most breath-taking part of it all, the South Rim, one of the spots from all our exploring that we talk about the most as the spot we need to go see again
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Breath-taking (South Rim)
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Chisos Mountains
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Mule Ears, off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
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The desert along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, with the Chisos Mountains in the distance–you can see Emory Peak (highest point) right-middle of the range farthest in the distance
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The beautiful Chihuahuan Desert
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A hot, sunny walk with views of the cliffs on Mexico’s border
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Santa Elena Canyon
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Hiking up into Santa Elena Canyon’s trail along the Rio Grande River
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Standing in Texas, just across the river from Mexico
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Mexico, from the bottom of the unique and beautiful Santa Elena Canyon
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Rio Grande
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Santa Elena Canyon hike
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Mexico and the United States
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A short desert hike from the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive on our way to the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off
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Back in the Chisos Basin for one last look through “The Window”

Santa Barbara Adventure

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“What isn’t clear is why people always say ‘goes without saying,’ yet still feel compelled to say the thing that was supposed to go without saying. Doesn’t that bother you?” – Shawn Spencer, Psych

When my adventure buddy asked me if I wanted to tag along to Santa Barbara, California, where she was headed for a 3-day certification program, it was an immediate omgYES for two big reasons: a) Travel, obviously. And b) Santa Barbara is where Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster run a psychic detective agency. At least in the TV show, Psych, one of my all time favorites. Unfortunately, they didn’t film the show in Santa Barbara, and the city doesn’t even have a commemorative Psych office. Oh well. It was fun to imagine. (Santa Barbara, if you build it, the PsychOs will come.)

I thought about coming up with a full itinerary to experience all the best things I could in the three-and-a-half days we’d be there, but in the end I decided to start with absolutely zero plans, and just explore, solo, seeing where each day took me. Turns out that is an amazing way to travel. I think the word is “wander.”

Here are a few of the magical moments I got to be a part of in sunny Santa Barbara:

 

THE BEACHES

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Santa Barbara’s east beach–great spot to just sit and watch the surf–calmer than some a lot of west coast beaches.

The sandy beach itself was never crammed full of visitors on the weekend I visited and was a great place to escape for some quiet.

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A completely empty itinerary allowed me lots of time to just stop and be still and relax and reflect and just be for a while. It was deeply refreshing, helpful, inspiring. After lunch on day 2 I spent the entire afternoon letting the surf knock me over and tumble me around and then journaling and dreaming in the sun.

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On the morning of day 3, the tide had risen so far that it left long, wide (cold!!) pools toward the back of the beach.

The sound of waves rolling and crashing was mesmerizing. It was like its own meditation. It’s an amazing spot to find presence.

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I’ve never loved the beach as much as I did on this trip. I found a lot of peace, and rest, and simplicity there. Thanks for the incredible place to just be, Santa Barbara.

THE TOWN

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The town of Santa Barbara is awesome. So many great little spots, lots of little holes-in-the-wall to be discovered. And its very Spanish architecture is so unique and beautiful! There’s a great view from everywhere, it’s easy to get around, and a great place to explore on foot!

A long stretch of the east beach is bordered by a long, narrow park of grass and palm trees. In the morning, it made for a peaceful walk. In the afternoon and evening, it came alive with community! People strung hammocks between the palm trees, meditated, practiced yoga, had hula-hooping parties. It became a sunny outdoor party, all to the sound of waves crashing a short jog away. It seemed that this mile long stretch of grass was Santa Barbara’s real beach scene, which made the less crowded sand a little more welcome for travel weary introverts in need of an escape.

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There is lots of good coffee to be found in Santa Barbara, which is a newer pleasure for me. I found a dirty chai at the Santa Barbara Roasting Company (if you’re a where-coffee-comes-from fanatic, go there!), a yummy iced latte at State Street Coffee (I understand there’s usually a line out the door here, certainly was when I visited, but wonderfully close to the beach), and the adorable little macchiato pictured below at Dune Coffee Roasters, whose sunny and cozy patio was the perfect landing spot for my day 1 afternoon of finishing a school essay.

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It was a little rough trying to choose between so many delicious looking places to try, but one we found ourselves at, literally by spontaneously deciding to ditch our plans and walk down a different alley, was The Nook. The food was very good, the spot was GREAT.

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If you ever visit Santa Barbara, go walk through the old Courthouse, make sure to stop in its old courtroom with the fantastic artwork, and climb up the tower for the best views of the town. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

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With an honorable mention to the pizza we got on our last night at Lucky Penny, I have to tell you (maybe in all caps) about the best food I found in Santa Barbara. TAQUERIA EL BAJIO. Oh man oh man. I could go there every day. It seemed like a more authentic/less touristy little place, in a neighborhoody part of town. I went there for lunch on day 2, and it was so mouth-wateringly exactly-perfect that I made my adventure buddy go back with me on day 3. Fresh, yummy, juicy, and just all-together need-to-go-back. Thanks for being my taste-buds highlight of the trip, Taqueria El Bajio! I’ll be back!

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Oh man the trees.

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Walk a lot in downtown Santa Barbara if you find yourself there. The parking is plentiful, convenient, and cheap, so park your car and get trekking. Especially walk up and down State Street. Such a pretty street and so many spots to explore.

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(P.S. If you’ve ever seen Psych, they did a pretty good job of recreating the feel of Spanish-built, sunny, laid-back Santa Barbara. I intend to go back.)

THE MOUNTAINS

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So here is a treasure that it seemed most visitors miss. A short (and steep) drive from town is E Camino Cielo, a long road that runs miles from well west of Santa Barbara all the way past and on to the east. Exactly as lonely as you’d like beautiful scenery to be.

It is NOT the scariest road I’ve been on, if nerve-wracking drives are not your thing. But you do very much feel like you’ve found your way above it all.

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Yes, that’s the road you see running along the mountain. Spectacular drive.

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The variety of colors and textures was amazing.

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The 360 views were incredible. You’re in the Santa Ynez mountains looking out over the ocean, Santa Barbara, and other nearby coastal cities. Spin around and you’re looking miles and miles out over Los Padres National Forest with its massive desolate-looking mountains.

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And sunny California is sunnier-California at that elevation. The sun feels like your next door neighbor. Bring sunscreen and a hat if you’re going to make a day of it.

There are so many perfect spots to hop out and explore and just take in the views.

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Lots of bicyclers struggling up and zipping down the steep mountain roads, and lots of hang gliders taking off from the top and gliding out over the hills behind Santa Barbara.

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In the picture above you can see Santa Barbara with its renowned Stearns Wharf jutting out into the ocean. To the right of the wharf is Santa Barbara Harbor. Far in the distance you can see one of the islands of the Channel Islands National Park. I so wanted to get there. Someday!

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“Camino Cielo” translates “sky road.” Accurate.

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THE OCEAN

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Visiting on a weekend, I felt like Santa Barbara’s ocean had the ideal balance between popular and quiet. On the actual beach, and especially out on the water, it was never crowded, but you were also never felt totally out on your own. There was a carefree feel to it.

Stearns Wharf was basically a little city on a big dock. Lots of little places to stop, and a lot longer a walk than you’d expect. Lots of fishing, too. And lots and lots of wildlife. I sat and watched a little sea lion friend play around the wharf for about ten minutes.

Thank you to the Paddle Sports Center at the Santa Barbara Harbor for making one of my dreams come true! I got to kayak for a while out on the ocean and it was so beautiful and so much fun!

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If you visit, consider getting a kayak or paddle board and getting a good ways out onto the water. Sitting on the ocean surface, right down level with the water, you start to see and feel the ocean breathing. You rise and fall and rise and fall and it is so, so, so magical.

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Santa Barbara is one of my chillest memories in the world. It’s the perfect place to go without an itinerary. It’s sun and sand and waves and mountains and tacos and a beautiful town to explore.

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And as always, shout out to the world’s greatest adventure buddy. We only got little bits and pieces together down by the water and up in the mountains because she was so busy with her certification, but I’m thankful for all the little moments we got to stand together on the beach.

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“To travel is to live.” – Hans Christian Anderson

My Little Broken Buddha

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My best friend gave me a little figurine of a meditating Buddha. Its head was still on.

I meditate and I really like Buddhism. In a nutshell to me, it’s about letting go of our need for things to be just-so.

Our first big excursion to the mountains since my last concussion, a long road trip to the Canadian Rockies. . . . I was really nervous as we prepared to leave, because travel is my thing and mountains are my best friend’s happy place . . . but my concussion on our last adventure had done a number on me, and each month since then had felt hard, sad, gloomy–anything-but-adventurous.

So I brought my little Buddha along. To remind me not to hold on too tightly to my expectations for the trip. To help me know that it would be okay if everything didn’t end up being just-so. Its head was still on.

Things did NOT go just-so.

Morning, middle-of-nowhere, Saskatchewan, my adventure buddy’s wrist started hurting where a few days earlier she burned it on the stove. It started getting red and it became a small bump. By the end of the day it was a not-at-all-small bump, the entire arm too painful to use much. We checked into our Canmore hotel and after several frustrating calls to insurance we drove to the local emergency room where after a quick glance the doctor hooked her up to an IV for antibiotics.

Four visits to the emergency room in three days. Fevers, dizziness, red lines starting to spread, needles, blood draws, tubes installed in my best friend’s arm, a panicky midnight outing to find a thermometer interrupted by my phone ringing and my best friend telling me that she was now shaking so violently she could hardly hold onto anything.

Honestly, it was scary as hell. I think scarier for me than for her. It got a lot worse before it got better, and I knew that an infection going bad isn’t a thing you want to experience.

Just out of the woods, day two or three–the days became a blur of emergency room and hotel room–I hopped in the car to go pick up some groceries–completely drained of every kind of energy. I grabbed my little Buddha and held it in my palm as I drove, more for its vague feeling of comfort and familiarity than for anything else.

I hopped out of the car at the grocery store and tossed my little Buddha into the center console, and heard two things bouncing around. I picked it up. Its head was gone.

*feeling when your heart sinks but even sinkier*

I broke my little Buddha. :(

And then I sort of grinned. No sh**, may as well, everything else is broken. I guess it’s exactly appropriate that my little token of not-holding-on-too-tightly broke.

At first I thought about replacing it, but more and more it seemed perfect to me that it stay broken. Because now–every time I see it on my desk–I remember just how much holding on too tightly doesn’t work. That “broken” is only “broken” in the context of my need for things to be just-so.

 

In the 5th century BCE, a man named Siddhartha Gautama lived in what is now Nepal. His family was wealthy, but he was struck by the pain and suffering he saw in the world, so he tried being intentionally-poor instead. It didn’t “work” for him, so he embraced “the middle way”–a life of moderation: not desperately seeking ease and pleasure, but also not seeking pain and self-abasement. In all this practice, he learned a lot about life and then he taught the people around him a lot about life and then he became known as “The Buddha.”

“Dharma,” the teachings of The Buddha, have at their heart the “four noble truths.” Dukkha, Samudaya, Nirodha, and Magga. And the first three are why I love my little broken Buddha.

Dukkha: Suffering is a thing. It’s a part of life.

Samudaya: Why is suffering a thing? Because we think things are supposed to be just-so. We crave pleasure, we desperately try to control, and we hold on too tightly to what we think we want or need or love. Attachment.

“According to Buddhist psychology, most of our troubles stem from attachment to things that we mistakenly see as permanent.” ~ Dalai Lama

Nirodha: There is an antidote to suffering: Letting go of attachments, obsessive cravings, and desperate control, and living–not in a bitter past or an anxious future–but fully in the present, one day at a time. Acceptance.

 

What are you holding onto too tightly?

 

I still bring my little broken Buddha with me whenever I go out of town or when I have a big scary thing that I think needs to go just-so.

It’s a perfect reminder not to hold on too tightly.

Things break. Things hurt. Things fade.

Life is weird, and needing it to not be weird will only lead to frustration.

But life is also beautiful. And a strange and strong beauty and peace can be felt when you let go of your need for things to be just-so. . . . when you remember not to hold on too tightly.

~

“The root of suffering is attachment.” ~ The Buddha

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