Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Garden Kaleidoscope

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

Trying to catch up on the last days of my road trip, it has been kind of hectic so bear with me! Here is the account of my final day in Madison, Wisconsin.

One of my favorite features thus far throughout Madison are all of the amazing gardens. From ALlen Centenntial Garden, to the Abrotetum, and now finally the Olbrich Botancial Gardens, all have been spectacular displays of nature within the confines of a major city.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens was like a playground for nature lovers. From amazing fountains, art exhibits hidden in the trees, and my personal favorite, a kaleidoscope of succulents. IMG_9791

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My view of all the different gardens around the city had begun to feel like a kaleidoscope mash-up of everything I had seen thus far. I had luckily caught a period of time right before the major frost where flowers were still blooming and beautiful but leaves had begun to change colors already. I was getting the best of both worlds and I knew it. So I reveled in the amazing gardens and was shocked by the array of colors and textures I found everywhere I went.

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There was even a Thai pavilion in the gardens that was ornate and beautiful with the backdrop of flowers surrounding it.

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Everything was beautiful and so much fun to explore with my Aunt, we really had a great time.

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There is one thing I forgot to mention thus far and it is the frequency with which Madison has free libraries in front of their homes. It always makes me very happy to see free book boxes in neighborhoods but Madison had an astounding abundance of ornate and well stocked free libraries. A neighborhood feels healthy and lively whenever there are free book boxes lining the streets. I really enjoyed this one which was a vibrant orange and had a beautiful mosaic of a tree on the side. Well done Madison, well done.

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I went off on my own again with a more serious mission in mind this time: visit the University of Wisconsin- Madison campus and check out the English Graduate Program. I spent the rest of my day slowly meandering around campus (with an additional stop inside of a wonderful liitle bookstore on State street) and visiting the English Department.

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The campus was really and truly very nice, I was genuinely impressed. The buildings were beautiful, the people were kind and generous with their information, the scenery was amazing (right on the lake and covered in colorful trees), and the available opportunities to talk to students and faculty was very abundant. I quite enjoyed it.

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I even found an acorn friend that sadly rolled away from me and got crushed by a car. It was slightly heartbreaking. Can you tell I haven’t been terribly sociable? I have started befriending acorns.

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But honestly, it made me miss Berkeley. There were so many things that kept reminding me of my alma mater and it left me with a heavy heart burdened by homesickness. There was even a tower that looked like the campanile (complete with carillons) and several of my favorite professors from Berkeley were going to be visiting campus to give lectures in the coming weeks. I missed my friends, my mentors, and the feeling of belonging to a community regardless of whether the people around you knew you or not. Despite actually really liking this campus, I left full of sadness because I wasn’t sure if anywhere else would ever feel like home in the way that Berkeley was. I know this is naive in many ways; I know I will go somewhere and I will learn to call it home, but Berkeley will always have my heart.

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It was a hard day, the first of probably many to come in the next few months, but not something that would stop me from moving forward. Some days are worse than others, but every day on the road is a step farther from home that I am proud to be taking even on the days when I wish for nothing more than to be back where I was. I am learning to miss the things I love and I hope each day to miss these things with happiness rather than sadness, but sadly that day has not yet come. Despite my sadness, I know nothing is gained without losing something first. Growth can be painful and I would be foolish to wish that pain away, so for now I grit my teeth and try to push forward to days when it hurts less.

But I know it is worth it.

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A Rainy Day in Madison

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

I woke up to the sound of rain against the window. It was the first time in a long time I had heard rain calling me outside. I lay in my bed listening and for the first time it became real. I knew I was very far from home; I knew that I was no longer in California and would not be returning for quite some time. In many ways this whole trip has been so surreal. A strange mixture between road trip and living in a bunch of different states. I bounce from one location to the next, usually with someone I know waiting at the end of my drive so it never feels like I am truly alone. But this morning I woke up and felt alone. I felt far from my friends, family, and all that was familiar to me. I felt it ringing in the rain drops like a vibrating siren and each drop sang out the sound of total strangeness. It was an odd moment, of finally letting it sink in that I wasn’t going home, at least not for a while. I had to make a home wherever I could find it now.

For now home is with my Aunt in Madison but even that is not for long. I pulled my tired body from bed and looked outside at the cardinal on the bird feeder below, unfazed by the rain and even more vibrant in it. The roads ran like rivers and the fall leaves had been glued to my car like some child’s scrapbook of autumn.

On our way to explore Madison we first stopped to get some really great coffee and Colectivo. A roomy coffee shop with huge windows, bright furniture, and great study spaces, Colectivo was definitely instantly on my favorite coffee spot list.

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I took my coffee out into the cold rain to warm my fingers as we explored the state capital building. It was truly a magnificent piece of architecture and I loved escaping from the rain under their marbled ceilings and fancy decor.
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It was quite the place and the square that it sat in was surrounded by adorable shops and fantastic restaurants.

After we had circled the captial building a few times, marveling at the architecture from every angle, we drove through the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Going through campuses that are closer to the east coast always impress me because they are so thoroughly different from west coast campuses. The buildings are older, crafted from beautiful stone or brick and much more ornate than the average west coast campus building. I love my alma mater but I cannot help comparing the architecture between campuses and I was thoroughly impressed with the Madison campus.

At the far end of campus we stopped at the Allen Centennial Gardens, a small enclosure of nature next to an old historic home. The gardens, though small, were marvelous. Even in the rain, the vibrant crops like kale, colorful swiss chard, and of course corn, were incredibly beautiful.

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There were some really unique looking flowers, like the ones below, that lit up the entire park with vivid colors. IMG_9697

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From boardwalks to koi ponds, gazebos to vegetable gardens the entire garden was surprisingly entertaining. After marveling at the entire complex we continued on our way.

We decided to poke in at the Henry Villa Zoo. It was a fun little zoo but the alligator was by far my favorite. I had been taking pictures of the fall leaf littered pool, not realizing it was an alligator enclosure until afterwards when I looked at my pictures. It surprised me so much that I hadn’t even noticed the alligator lying quietly below the leaves.

There were also some adorable little badgers having a fun time digging around in the mud, which was pretty quintessential for all of Wisconsin. Go Badgers :)

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After the zoo, my aunt and I parted ways for a bit and I went off on my own to the University’s Arboretum for a hike. It was pretty, but also pretty marshy so my hike kept getting cut short by closed pathways. But what I did see was quite nice; the variety of different trail landscapes that I set foot on in just the few short miles I was able to hike was staggering. It was a wonderfully diverse park filled with prairies, lakes, and flowers.

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We finished out day with a sunset mini walk along some overgrown boardwalks next to Lake Monona. Stepping over a natural bubbling spring, we walked along the creaking old wooden planks along the rim of the lake watching the sky turn pink under wispy clouds. IMG_9754 IMG_9755

It was a good first day in Madison (finished with some really great pizza) but I am finding myself growing more and more tired as each day passes. Michigan is only one day away of driving from where I am now and I can feel the closeness in my road wearied bones. I have been traveling now for exactly two weeks and I have been alone for one week; it feels like a lifetime.

A good rest is in order soon and I know it awaits me on the shores of Lake Superior, so close yet so far from where I am now. For now, there is still more work to be done, more things to see, and always another adventure around the corner.

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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore…

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Literally. Yesterday I drove all the way across the width of Kansas from Colorado to Missouri. It was a long day of solo driving, just me, Mama the Llama, the Serial podcast, and corn. Lots and lots of corn.

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I drove away from Colorado with the Flatirons of Boulder in my rearview mirror and my heart in my stomach as I left behind the state I had grown to love over the last week or so. I traded in my grand majestic views for two lane interstates, the loss of beauty exchanged for ease and speed of transportation. Sometimes I think that places like Colorado have such wonderful single lane roads in order to force you to drive slower through all of the beautiful scenery, while places like Kansas and Nebraska offer speedy roadways so you can get the hell across them as fast as possible.

While I will admit, I actually didn’t hate Kansas like I thought I would, it was still a really long day of somewhat monotonous landscapes. It was still better than my old road trip nemesis Nebraska. There were at least some nice rolling hills across the state and every once and a while the sea of corn fields where swapped with some lovely fields of a red colored crop (possibly old corn?) that contrasted with the rolled hay bales resting like giant marshmallows across open fields in a rather photogenic manner. There were also some impressively large energy wind mills that almost seemed to be stirring the clouds like cotton candy as the gusty winds whipping across the open plains sent the clouds speeding across the horizon. My little prius did not care much for the high winds that kept jerking my car across the roadway like a toy.

But the journey, though long, went quickly with a few fun stops like the Kansas welcome center, the World’s Largest Easel, and the historic landmark of Brown vs Board.

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But mostly it was just me and wide empty expanses of road heading off into the flat horizon and my own thoughts. I had thought a lot about how this day would go, considered whether I would be able to make it all the way by myself or not. This was my big trial day where I was either going to be able to prove to myself that I was capable of so much more than I thought I was, or I would crash and burn. I will jump past the long anxious hours of ruminating about whether I could do it and tell you that I did. I made it in one piece and feeling fine.

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This might not seem like a big deal to most people but this was a huge deal for me. Time for some honest talk. For those of you who don’t know me and even for those who do know me but don’t know about this, here it is: I am sick. No, not sick in some horribly dramatic, I am terminal and will never recover sick, but not in a cough cough I just have a cold way either. I have been plagued by chronic pain, migraines, and unknown illnesses almost my entire life. I have some names to label my pain like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Fibromyalgia, and Alopecia Areata but even they do not encompass what is wrong with my body. The baseline is this: I am an adventurer in my mind and heart, but most of the time my body physcially disagrees with me. I cannot predict or know when I will feel bad (and usually what accompanies feeling bad is headaches, painful muscles, extreme and sudden fatigue, and nausea) so I live in a constant state of anxiety about whether I will feel well enough to do the things I want to do.

Most of the time, there is no physical or external symptom that others can see so it is hard for a lot of people to understand this fear and these feelings. I have an invisible illness that even I don’t fully understand. It is unseen yet dictates most of my every day decisions and actions. This is why this road trip means so much to me as a solo adventure. I am so constantly worried about being incapable or handicapped by my illness and this is my big middle finger to not feeling well. That might be strong, but I have a lot to prove to myself and each day at a time on this solitary adventure I am learning to trust in my own abilities and stretch my capabilities.

So to drive for ten hours by myself is a huge obstacle surrmounted that has lingered in the horizon for quite some time for me. Despite how flat Kansas is, it has seemed like Mount Everest to me. This long day was my veritable mountain to climb, just to show myself that I was capable of anything, no matter my illnesses, no matter my fears.

So driving across the Missouri River into Kansas City where I was staying the night with some incredibly generous and hospitable family friends was like crossing the finish line of my own personal race. I was tired, but it was a well earned exhaustion that was soul satisfying and only bodily tiring.

I had the great treat of trying out a local Kansas City BBQ joint called Gates where your ears are constantly ringing with the sing-songy cry of “How MAY I help YOU?” as you enter into the building. It was the perfect end of a long day filled with conversations with old family friends and good food. I was only stopping for a night and would then be continuing on to Madison, Wisconsin the following day. One step closer to Michigan, one step closer to my next major stop. I am almost halfway done with my trip now, Michigan is the next major stop and I will be there for about a month and then continue onward to the East. My mind is being pulled in a thousand directions towards memories of what I have seen and imaginings of what tomorrow will bring, but all of it boils down to the road, the pavement beneath my tires and the miles speeding past my eyes. I am right where I need to be.

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Rivers and Roads

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

With the sun rising over the mountains on one side and the open horizon on the other, I drove away from Durango, my brother, and the comfort of knowability to begin my first day totally alone on the road. It is never easy saying goodbye to the ones you love, even if it is just temporary. I have loved getting to explore the city my brother now calls home with him and meet some really amazing people that he has in his life. I really feel that a part of my heart belongs to Colorado and my brother is a huge part of that feeling. So I drove away in the dark, the first light of sunrise peeking through the rugged mountain tops, knowing that I was leaving a piece of my heart behind me.

But the road is open, the way is long, and I have many miles to travel before I find more places to leave pieces of my heart in as I move forward.

The end destination for the day, Boulder, Colorado. Another Colorado city that has a lot of meaning to my family; it is where my parents met and fell in love after adventuring and working together for some time. I have visited Boulder once in the past but for a very brief time, so needless to say I am excited to get to dig deeper into what Boulder has to offer. But first, the nine hours of driving in between Durango and Boulder that I completed by myself today.

To leave Durango you have to go over Wolf Creek Pass, a mountain range that climbs steadily to heights of even thinner air than Durango (which was hard enough on my wimpy sea level conditioned lungs). The colors were spectacular and the river that followed along the road after the summit was wondrously beautiful.

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I took about a two hour detour to visit a National Park that I made the mistake of skipping once many years ago and refused to make the same mistake twice. Great Sand Dunes National Park is a natural wonderland of sand, mountains, and colorful trees. I can never pass by a national park, even if it is quite far out of my way. So Mama the Llama and I settled in for a long drive and went to check out the park that lays claim to the highest sand dunes in North America.

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Before we hit the dunes though, we went and explored a small side trail that wove uphill through colorful aspens and alongside a fast moving creek. It was quite a nice spot even though it had nothing to do with the sand dunes that give the park its name.

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I hiked out from the main parking lot across trickling remants of a river and a wide expanse of flat sand to reach the base of the dunes. I must have been quite a sight to the other people out there who were decked out with walking sticks and proper hiking gear, while I was walking bare foot and in a dress. One man asked me where my high heels were as I climbed up the side of a gigantic sand dune.

But I didn’t mind, I was out there, I was doing it, and that was all that mattered to me. Deserts have always struck me strangely since I am not a terribly big fan of the sun or anything hot in particular, yet I have always deeply enjoyed going to desert parks. Death Valley is one of my all time favorite National Parks and here again, I found myself loving the desert sands of this entirely new national park.

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I hiked to a vantage point on a ridge of one particularly long sand dune and sat down to eat my lunch. This didn’t go as perfectly as I had imagined it as I was working my way up the ridge because I was being sand blasted the entire time. I think I ate more sand than I did sandwich. But it was a magnificent view and to watch the sand shifting under the powerful winds right before my eyes was awe inspiring. The way that the sand blows in high flying eddies feels like the entire world is vibrating and moving with exuberant life. I always have to bury my feet in the sand when I watch the world move beneath my feet because when they are buried you can feel your own pulse in your feet, but it feels like the heartbeat of the Earth beating in tune with your own.

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Mama had a bit of a hard time at the park and actually took quite a tumble down a sand dune because the wind was so incredibly strong that she couldn’t stay grounded even with her feet entirely buried in the sand. IMG_9247

Covered in sand, we both returned down the dunes as the wind whirled around in pirouettes. On the way down some very nice women actually let me borrow a sled to slide down one of the sand dunes, which was wonderfully exhilarating except for the tumble I took at the end. But still, it made me laugh and it made me feel alive. I waved my goodbye to the friendly group of women and Mama, PriPri and I left the Great Sand Dunes National Park receding in the rearview mirror. IMG_9260

The rest of the drive was a confusing mixture of flat nothing and bounding mountain passes covered in colorful trees . There was such an amazing array of autumn colors that I kept stopping all the time to take pictures because I was so awe-struck after rounding every corner by the new landscape that lay before me.

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I even did some off roading down a National Forest side road that provided some amazing aspen forest views. IMG_9283

No matter where I went, it was breathtakingly beautiful. I have never in my life seen sights like these and I cannot believe I am lucky enough to be able to take my time driving through all of it so I can soak it all in on my own time and at my own pace. IMG_9288

The most beautiful array of fall colors was at an overlook by Kenosha Pass. The entire mountainside was covered in a kaleidoscope of colors, like a chameleon caught between hues, the trees were somewhere between deep orange reds and fleeting green that could be completely gone tomorrow.

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After the astonishing natural beauty of this day of driving, I also have to throw in some kitschy weird things too; namely, a weird Coney Island hot dog stand that is shaped like a giant hot dog. Yeah, there are some pretty random and strange things to see out on the open road…

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Finally I cleared all of the mountains and descended into Denver. I didn’t stop in Denver proper, but I did take a quick trip to the Red Rock Amphitheater.

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After many a stop light and countless rush hour traffic jams, I made it to my hostel in Boulder where I am currently crashing and burning because I am so exhausted. It will be interesting to meet my roommates and see what sort of people they are, but I already like the hostel complex, which comes complete with a slack line yard that I am dying to try out and a wonderful river running directly through the complex. I can’t wait to see it in day light.

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Most importantly (at least to me), I did it. I made it. I completed my first solo day with no great tragedies, no misadventures, scary happenings. I was fine. If I can do one day I can do many more. This was almost like a trail for myself, I needed to prove to myself that I could actually do this, not just talk about doing it, but actually succeed in doing it. And here I am, all in one piece, a little tired, but ready for more adventure tomorrow. I cannot wait to see what adventure the newly risen sun will bring with it tomorrow.

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Final Day in Durango

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

It has been a long final day here in Durango that started out horribly and got better as it went along, which is normally the opposite of what happens. Normally as the day progresses it deteriorates into a nervous mess of unpacked bags, future travel plans, and unfinished business. However, this time the day began at 2am in the bathroom with food poisoning. After spending a few lovely hours wrapped around the toilet throwing up everything I had in me, I finally got a few precious hours of sleep (on the day I was supposed to be able to sleep in) only to wake up a short time later to try to start the day.

After recovering somewhat and rehydrating I decided that the best remedy was a calm walk along the Animas River and some fresh air.

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My dad and I meandered along the river next to the railroad tracks for quite some time savoring the thin crisp Colorado air that he would be leaving later in the day.

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Clouds hung in the distance looming with thunder held close to its chest, ready to out pour rain on the mountains of Durango. The ominous clouds began to gather and we out ran the clouds to the airport to drop my dad off at the tiny Durango airport. It was a bittersweet moment watching him walk away behind the security screen feeling so happy that he was able to accompany me on the first leg of my long journey, but also deeply saddened that he couldn’t continue with me any farther. It was a strange moment as I walked away knowing that the next part of my journey was beginning, but this part I would have to do alone.

Now the solo trip truly begins. I leave early in the morning for Boulder, CO where I will be staying for a few nights by myself to finish my adventure in Colorado, a state that I have come to love dearly. I am nervous, excited, and not sure what to expect in the days that lie ahead on the beginning of this truly solo adventure.

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The Face in the Forest

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

The rain against the window pane sounds like chimes in the wind; a sound I have not heard for quite some time in California where the land is dry as old bones being bleached in the sun. Soothing and persistent the rain falls here in Durango as I sit in a coffee shop called the Steam Bean in the historic downtown of Durango. The crowd has slowly multiplied as the sidewalks become drenched in water and the awnings drip continuously. I have missed this. Rain, no matter where I am, always makes me feel instantly like I am home. Maybe it is the smell of the earth that rises when the rain falls, petrichor, that rattles around in my brain like a phone call from a friend you have talked to in ages. Maybe it is the feeling of being unabashedly alive as the cold water hits your face and stings with the freshness of new life springing from dry soil. I am not sure, I have never known why or how the rain can make any place feel like home, all I know is that it does. So I sit in this cafe full of college students studying, businessmen working, women chatting of chai lattes, a woman in black making jewelry, and a group of weary backpackers joyously reunited after a month on a backcountry trail and feel like I have always been here.

Before the rain there was a cloudy morning out on the trail. We began our day, after Gabe finished class, with a hike up Animas City Mountain. We climbed up the switchbacks in a very different sort of setting than the previous hikes that were enveloped in the branching arms of colorful aspens. This trail was more arid with cacti, bare twisting trees growing out of boulders, and small but colorful wildflowers.

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Amongst the scenery we found a hidden gem that we almost passed by: a face in the low lying forest skillfully carved into a tree stump.

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We then continued on along the trail and made it to the viewpoint that overlooked the entire city of Durango and the Animas River snaking out of town towards the surrounding mountains.

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We sat on the edge of the mountain enjoying the view and reveling in the beauty that this amazing town has to afford.

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This is my brother’s city, his home and I am so grateful that I have been able to see it through his eyes and experience the things he has grown to love about his new home. It has been almost a week since I left California and soon I will be moving on from Durango to continue on my way. I have only been here a short while and I wish it didn’t have to end, but there is still so much to see and do.

But for now, I am here, right here with the rain on the window even though my mind is already a thousand miles away. Being present is something I have always struggled with and now is when it means the most to be in the moment and I won’t let this experience pass me by. Here I am, I am Here.

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Taking a Break at the Lake

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Five days after being on the road we finally decided to get away and get off the main road for some back country driving. Gabe took us out to a place called Spud Lake in the mountains behind Durango.

Trusting that our Subaru would get us through, we took to the unpaved rocky mountain road (pun somewhat intended). We drove slowly through extremely rocky terrain spotted with pot holes on a path lined with aspens. Yellow leaves falling from the tall white trees fluttered down from above like butterflies dancing in the wind, littering the roadway with the colors of autumn.

After an arduous journey up this winding back country road we found a lily pad filled lake where we picked up a hiking path that led up to the mountainous lake.

Hiking through the aspen forests we found hidden messages and little surprises everywhere. My favorites were a smiley face tree and a lovely little reminder to Live, Laugh, and Love no matter where you find yourself.

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After hiking for about a mile we came upon the lake that filled a small basin between the surrounding mountains. The water was still, the trees changing color, and small fish biting at the surface of the lake.

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After going non-stop for almost a week it was about time to slow down and take a break. So I found a spot, set up the hammock, and started a new book. But I let Mama the Llama try out the view first.

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Reading Kerouac’s On the Road at this point in my life is beyond applicable and I don’t think I could have found a better spot to sit back, relax, and read.

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We stayed in this pristine spot for a couple of hours of hammocking, book reading, hiking along the lake shore, and unsuccessful fly fishing.

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Begrudgingly we left Spud Lake to return to Durango, but the best part of it all was that in either location everything was equally wonderful, albeit beautiful in different ways. Even on the short drive back we found a weird natural geyser just on the side of the highway. Yes, that is its natural, unenhanced color. It was a truly bizarre little roadside attraction and is a great example of how incredible the scenery is in Colorado.

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I have been loving Colorado and cannot believe the natural wonders that are hiding down empty dirt roads and behind curtains of aspens. There is something about seeing every car splashed with mud or covered in the red dust of off-road driving and the people here who are so friendly and welcoming. The air is full of adventure and some new exploration awaits around every bend or switchback in the road. I am just happy to get to take part in the culture of exploration and adventure that thrives in this Colorado community.

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Desperately Seeking Fall Leaves

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

This is my Californian confession: I have never experienced a true fall. I have never had the pleasure of being in a location that truly changes with the seasons. This is both a blessing and a curse; I have been lucky enough to live in a moderate, sunny climate for my entire life, but that also means I have never seen the trees transform into pillars of fleeting color.

I will admit, one of the many reasons that I decided to take this trip was to travel in the fall and see the fall leaves change as I moved across the country one state at a time. Colorado is the first (hopefully of many) states to come where the once green rolling hills become a sea of vibrant yellows and oranges.

My desperate pursuit of fall leaves has now begun and the first thing on my mind (and my to do list) in Colorado is to hunt down some gorgeous color anywhere I can find it. I am not going to lie, I was a little disappointed that Durango itself doesn’t have much color yet so we decided to take a little tour of the mountains surrounding Durango.

We gave little PriPri a break from driving and jumped into my brother’s Subaru in search of fall leaves and mountain towns tucked away between towering peaks.

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And of course Mama the Llama came along to keep a sharp eye out for great fall colors.

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Our little mountain drive first took us to Telluride; a small but charmingly upscale ski resort town nestled in a basin amongst walls of jutting mountains.

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We wandered around the quaint little streets that fell somewhere between an Old Western town and an affluent playground for nature lovers. Wandering around the streets and between adorable (and extremely expensive) little homes we decided a new vantage point was necessary to take in the view of fall colors that I so desperately wanted to see.

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Luckily Telluride is a ski resort with numerous ski lifts to the top of the mountains that loom over the town. We took a gondola all the way up (with me sitting wide eyed, slightly terrified, and astounded by the speed of the lift as well as the surrounding beauty) and saw a truly breathtaking view.

Breathtaking not only because of its astonishing beauty, but also the dramatic 2,000ft elevation climb we made to get to the top.

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Mama also liked the view.

Returning down the gondola (now squished between a man who refused to take part in the experience and a burly firefighter who stepped on my toes and wedged me uncomfortably between him and the taciturn stranger) we had our last few jaunts of exploration in Telluride before continuing onward through the mountains.

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Circumventing the tremendous mountains, we arrived at our next little mountain town, Ouray.

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Ouray is a mining town that has more of an old world charm than Telluride but lacks a lot of the sophistication that the previous city had. Honestly, I prefer the unpretentiousness of Ouray even though Telluride is astoundingly beautiful. Similarly nestled between peaks, Ouray actually had the most amazing fall colors surrounding it once we left the city on the extremely narrow and winding road that leads to Silverton from Ouray. While terrifying, this road held all of the beauty that my California mind had built up real fall color to be.

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I had known going into this road trip that I was probably romanticizing a little bit too much about how incredible and beautiful a real fall season would be, but today demonstrated that all my dreams were true.

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You may be asking yourself as you look at the last photo, is that river gold? and the answer is YES. The river near Ouray is indeed that rich of a gold color because of the contaminants in the water left over from the mining down in the nearby hills. Not good for life but great for photos. Sorry mother nature, I actually benefitted from your loss in this instance, thanks for taking one for the team.

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We got to explore some beautiful aspen groves as well. Aspens are one of my favorite types of trees so this truly was a treat for me!

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My pictures cannot do anywhere near justice to the amazing and varied colors of the mountainsides we drove along.

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All in all, I would declare today a successful mission. Three major scenic mountain towns knocked off the list and an incredible display of fall colors witnessed. The fall is just beginning and I cannot wait to see the transformation continue. As always, the mountains are calling and I must go, see you all tomorrow.

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The Weird Llama Lady

Friday, September 18th, 2015

I have officially become that weird person wandering around with a little llama fluff ball sticking out of my purse. I have already had numerous conversations with strangers about it; it is a great conversation starter. The first conversation I had was with some very nice janitorial staff at a rest stop who were entirely baffled by Mama the Llama. They hesitantly followed me around the rest stop as I took pictures and finally came up and asked me what in the world it was that I was holding. I told him it was a llama, which then sparked a somewhat circular conversation in which he insistently question me about whether it was a real llama or not no matter how many times I told him no, it was most definitely not a real llama. Aside from the giggles and pointing whenever I am out and about taking pictures with my lovely sidekick it has been quite a lot of fun even if it is hard to remember to always take her with me places.

Today we left Page for Durango where I will be staying for almost a week with my little brother. I am happy to say that we made it safe and sound with little incident.

After a slow morning where our tour plans for Antelope Canyon fell through and a meandering look at the ever faithful Horseshoe Bend we headed out to Monument Valley.

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We took off from the straightforward route and fit in some adventuring time to visit this tribal park. Sitting right on the border between Utah and Arizona, this collection of monolithic rock formations of fiery red stone and sunset oranges always is a treat to stop for on a road trip.

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At Monument Valley we took a picnic break and then I made an ill-informed decision to try to drive just a short bit of the dirt road loop around the monuments. I learned today that PriPri is in no way, large or small, an off-roading vehicle. There were a few moments on that road (which I was doing by myself since my dad had the foresight to decide not to come with me) in which I really thought my car wasn’t going to make it. I survived and so did PriPri, although the car was definitely covered in red dust for quite some time afterwards.

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From Monument Valley we continued on a smaller road to cut over to Colorado above four corners where we encountered some really beautiful rock bluffs that towered over the road. Driving in the shadow of these red mountains is truly a humbling experience. It makes you wonder at the thunderous sound it would make to hear the mountains crumble and it is impossible not to feel small when underneath them.

There is an extreme beauty in this country that constantly confounds me. The fact that I can drive on these bumpy chewed up roads across this vast nation and be so close to so many incredible natural formations and feel as if it is perfectly normal for them to be there next to me is astounding. I never feel more humbled than on a road trip, especially when I go through the Utah, Arizona, and Colorado. I cannot put into words the incredible beauty that this country has to offer and my photos cannot do it justice either.

Now I am in Colorado, nestled between mountains in the little lively town of Durango. I will be adventuring, relaxing, and spending time with my brother here before I head out on the second part of my journey across the states that will take me to my next big stop in Northern Michigan.

I cannot wait to see what Colorado has in store for me.

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The Weight of Lives I am not Living

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

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One reason I have decided to resurrect my blog is to document my cross country solo road trip. Today I hit the road and won’t find myself back on the West Coast until I have climbed the mountains of Colorado, rolled in the fall leaves of Northern Michigan, put my feet to the pavement of New York City, driven nearly the entire length of the East Coast, let the Atlantic Ocean wash the dirt from my tired feet, sipped a cup of coffee at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, and driven all the way back home. In total, I should be gone for about three months. Just me, my Prius (nicknamed PriPri), vast open expanses of road, and any adventure that finds me along the way.

The main question I have received upon telling people this (after clarifying that yes, I do actually plan on doing this and no, I am not crazy) is WHY?

And this question is not unjustified either, I have asked myself the same thing over and over again as the date of departure creeps closer and closer. I will be the first to admit it, I am terrified. I can make this trip sound so romantic, dreamy, courageous, and many other enviable traits, but the reality is that this is scary; this is going to be extremely hard. There are going to be days I will wish that I had never left home, never gotten out of my bed, never said goodbye to my parents, and never abandoned everything that made me comfortable in life. There is one thing that I know even though the trip has not yet begun: I will never regret this decision.

I could have stayed at my job in the Bay and lived comfortably, but this is the path I have chosen. So to answer the ubiquitous question, which follows me like a shadow wherever I go, I have four things to say.

  1. I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I am not living. This quote from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has resonated in my heart like the rattle of little Oskar’s tambourine since I first read this magnificent book my first year at UC Berkeley. My bones, my body, my mind, and my spirit ache with the weight of not knowing the many paths that my life could lead me down. I plan to go to graduate school and get a doctorate and after that seek a professorship for the rest of my days. While a majority of the people I know are now desperately pursuing a lifelong career, I have found myself unwilling to tie myself to one thing. There are so many things in life I want to do and be that after graduate school I may never get to experience. So I have decided to put real life on hold and go adventure for a while. I do not want to be one thing, I want to be many and I hope to never cease changing in my life. As an English major (aka major book nerd) I have always felt that the most amazing result of reading is that the reader is able to live a thousand different lives through the novels they immerse themselves in throughout their own finite life. I have lived the lives of others both real and imaginary, some more than once, but I have yet to live my own.
  2. Desperately seeking self. Perhaps it is cliche to seek yourself on the open road, or perhaps there is a wisdom in this repetition that proves success. I never feel so inspired than when my wheels are spinning on the pavement and my mind is whirling with thoughts heavily lined with the experiences of yesterday. A solo road trip is obviously a lot of alone time, which both terrifies me and intrigues me with the possibilities of unformed experiences. I have to communicate with me; there is no way around it, no where to run or hide. I am an introspective and introverted person, so this isn’t exactly new to me, but lately I have found myself wrapped around the fingers of others. As time has passed and I have dedicated less time to writing and creating, I have found myself throwing all of my time into others. This is not to say I should not have done this, or that I regret doing this, but I have lost the confidence in being alone that I once had. I have shelved my purpose, my pursuits, and my identity for far too long and traveling alone allows me to be selfish in a way I have not been able to be in a long time. I want to recover the entirety of who I once was and learn how to live a life that is fully mine.
  3. I am a strong young women building my inner independence from the ground (or road) up. Let’s be honest, the main reason people ask me why in the world I would do this is the same reason I have to do this: I am a woman, alone, and the world isn’t always nice to solo women trying to find their place in the world. People ask me, aren’t your parents scared for you? and I can see the real question in their eyes and implied in their words, there is a lot of danger that I am courting just because I am a young woman with no one to watch my back, no one to protect me, no one to stave off the danger of cat calls, rude and greedy eyes, lecherous thoughts of strangers, and the unknown/unpredictable mishaps that could occur on the road. This, however, is the very reason I must go. Yes, I am a woman, yes I can do this on my own. I am capable, strong, independent, cautious, wise, and fear will not hold me back. I am a part of this world and I am going to take part in it. Hiding at home will never change the way the world perceives women. To think that my blog in any way will affect this though is naive and not what I am getting at. What I want this blog to do over the next couple of months is serve as an example that women can do anything. I am just one of many women who has chosen to take to the road alone and just as those women who have served as an example for me, I hope that I can help at least one other woman see that they can do it too. To help show just one person, even if that one person is myself, that it is totally worth it is all I want to achieve.
  4. I am an adventurer and nothing is going to stop me, not even myself. A lot of people see me as someone who is unafraid, outgoing, adventurous, and motivated. In truth, I struggle with all of these things greatly. But still, I must go. Crippled by anxiety, scared, small, often sick, and indecisive, I am horrified by things that are unknown and uncontrollable. But still, I must go. Unable to let go of control and filled to the brim with nervousness, I am unsure about everything I am about to embark on over the next few months. But still, I must go. Why? Why. why. No matter how scared, nervous, chronically in pain, or unsure I am, I am only sure that I must go. Because I am an adventurer; because the road has been calling my name since my mother first introduced me to it six years ago; because I am my own worst enemy and adversaries exist to bring out the best in us; because I am not living my life if I let my fear, anxiety, or illness win. These are the things I know. For some reason my heart picked adventure and I cannot say no, even if the rest of my being is against it.

In some ways, this post is more for me than for you. I am my harshest critic, the one with the most to lose in this, but also the one with the most to gain. I guess you can say this is my manifesto, or simply a reminder for those dark days when all I want to do is give up or cry in a corner. This is my reminder that I can do this, that this is exactly what I want and need, and that no matter where I find myself, I am still me, I am still strong, and I will keep moving.

By the time you read this, I am already gone. Another white streak across the sky, tumbleweed rolling down the road, a stranger in a car window disappearing in the opposite direction. I will see you all again, some sooner rather than later, and hope that you will embark on this journey with me in one form or another.

Ultimately, there are a thousand reasons why I should not go and only one that underlies all of the reasons of why I should: I must. I have told myself a thousand times that I would and now it is hear and there is no backing down. So here I go, down the rabbit hole. Unsure of where it will lead me, this road is the path I have chosen; through all of the exciting loops and digressions, through all the wrong ways and misadventures, through all the new friends and unfriendly strangers, through all the beautiful sights I will see and the empty expanses of nothing, I have chosen this path and now I must follow it to its end.

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