Tags Posts tagged with "United States"

United States

Incredible day in a Hot Air Balloon Park City, Utah

Hello from Park City Utah! Yesterday I flew for the first time in a hot air balloon with Park City Balloon Adventures! That was an amazing bucket list way to start the day. I am driving with ZipKick to Yellowstone National Park. I have always wanted to go and am so excited to be going today. There are 58 National Parks in the USA. Looking at the whole list, I realize I have been more than I thought. Our National Parks are a treasure and the National Park service is nearly 100 years old!

Many people have written to me asking about how can they visit our National Parks especially with their families. I have an idea for you!

Participate right away in the EveryDay Park Moments Photo Contest for a chance to win a trip for four to one of three iconic National Parks: National Mall and Memorial Parks (Washington, DC), Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) or Yosemite National Park (California) where the ZipKick road trip began. You need to enter between July 30th and August 31st so get your photos ready and caption with #EveryDayMoments

CONTEST INFORMATION:

To enter,  share a “selfie” or other snapshot that captures special #EveryDayMoments at local and national parks with family or friends – along with a caption. Submissions will be accepted from July 30 to August 31, 2015. Each of the winners can bring up to three guests to join them at one of three (1 of 3) National Parks packages:

  • A trip for four (4) to Yosemite National Park, including round-trip airfare to Fresno, CA, three (3) nights’ accommodations at Tenaya Lodge, an America the Beautiful Pass a choice of two (2) activities from a list provided to the winner, and a $1000 activity and spending allowance awarded to the winner.
  • A trip for four (4) to Grand Canyon National Park, including round-trip airfare to Phoenix, AZ, three (3) nights’ accommodations at The Grand Canyon Lodge, an America the Beautiful Pass, and a $2000 activity and spending allowance awarded to the winner.
  • A trip for four (4) to the National Mall and Memorial Parks of Washington, DC, including round-trip airfare to Washington D.C., three (3) nights’ accommodations at The Grand Hyatt, a Monuments and Memorials half-day photo shoot, and a dinner cruise, and a $1,500 spending allowance awarded to the winner.

ENTER HERE (see site for all contest rules and details contest closes August 31, 2015)

5 Must-haves for your family road trip

 

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The Natural Gemstone of the United States

 

In the protective confines of my household, even a straightforward, five-minute walk to my music class requires strict accompaniment by a parent, much to my utter distaste. However, having been denizens of India for over thirty years, my parents and their motivations are understandable, and I respect their underlying rationale, regardless of how much I hold it in contempt. Nevertheless, I still dislike crossing the street with my fingers interlocked with my mothers’, or calling my father after a two minute jaunt, or periodically updating my family by hourly text messages or missed calls if I’m outside the sheltered enclosure of my residence. Yet, I abide by their rules because a small, surrendering part of my mind agrees with them, and appreciates my family’s concern for my well-being.

And so, for the ten years of my life spent in Bangalore- a crowded, metropolitan city of southern India, enveloped by the impenetrable cloak of pollution and unhindered development- I lived a life of absolute dependence, which I gradually grew to be accustomed to. I accepted my way of living- until I turned sixteen, and my family and I took a trip to Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

A wooden cabin, in the midst of nature at its purest and most unfettered- akin to the versions of the woods and cottages one pictures in fairy tales. Simple ways of living, miles and miles away from the clamorous sounds of civilization, automobiles, and other symptoms of the technological advancements that plague humanity. Clear, refreshing, invigorating air. Green canopies of leaves shielding the ground from the sparkling rays of sunlight emanating from the golden orb hanging from the tapestry of the azure sky. Billows of eddying mist clouding our vision, accentuating the aura of enigma owned by the trees, the soil, the heavens. A sudden, newfound sense of independence blossoming in my soul, crashing down in implacable waves, sending sprays of anticipation relentlessly beating against my mind and heart.

As I trudged up and down the trails of Shenandoah, I was struck by the sense of familiarity my surroundings bestowed upon my spirits. Unlike in Bangalore, where everyone is a stranger, people here greeted each other as one does to an old friend. Contrary to my usual, reticent self, I found myself talking, asking people about their experiences, their countries of origin, and immensely surprising myself in the process. And after nights of thoughtful ruminating, I realized the reason behind my unexpected affability- nature. The untainted squalls, knolls of critters and quaint ambiance had given my soul the rare gifts of appreciation and gratitude. And much to my delight, my movements gradually became more autonomous- I was permitted to hike up paths in solitude, take short excursions to the restaurant just to bask in the warmth of a hot cup of tea, roam about idly… and it occurred to me that I wasn’t the only one who was changed by the sheer beauty of Shenandoah. Being an avid poet, I found tides of feelings, emotions and words lapping against my mind’s eye, subsequently eliciting a new found passion in what is most important to me. Rather than having to assiduously struggle for sources of inspiration, inspiration cascaded down as rain, instilling in me a powerful desire to pen down my experiences as I lived them- whether they were viewing a spider forming its web, the sight of rainbows of butterflies pirouetting with the breeze, light drizzles falling as tears, the exhilarating view from the peak of the highest hill… For the first time, I was free to be myself, free to imagine, free to dream as I had never done before. Away from the imprisoning banalities of populated cities and in the heart of nature at its proudest and most picturesque, I saw myself as an ambitious teenager with an innately independent spirit, with an urge to travel and to escape the old and enter the new. And if this park embodied the beauties of a fairy tale, who knew what other unacknowledged treasures the world boasts of?

All in all, it is fair to say that my stay at Shenandoah National Park was the most enlightening of all the trips I’ve ever been on. It imparted confidence to a person who had lived a life of dependence, gifted liberation to a young girl who had kept her wrath of emotions under the hood of inhibition, and also gave her a sense of identity- as a girl with an unappeasable fancy to explore, to discover, and to add to the magic of nature that the earth possesses.

About the Author:

Richa Gupta is a sixteen year old girl living in Bangalore, India, who has an avid interest in creative writing, poetry and travelling. She loves visiting new places and penning down her experiences in the form of creative non fiction and short stories. She plans to publish a book of her poems and short stories before long.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

 

Lisa Niver We Said Go Travel Camping with the Cows 2015 Sage Porter #CWTC2015
CWTC 2015

Moooooooooove Over Traditional Camping, time for something different!

Each May my family and I pack up our car with our tents, sleeping bags and gear and head out of our busy Los Angeles life for a weekend of relaxing camping. I’m not talking about your usual camping in the woods, secluded from other people, braving the elements with only what we can carry in our packs. Where we go there are no mosquitos, bears or snakes, oh no! But there are COWS, happy cows who graze every day in lush pastures.

Mooooooo CWTC
Mooooooo CWTC

 

One weekend a year for the past 4 years, the family owned Organic Pastures Dairy (who is celebrating their fifteenth year anniversary!) opens up their fields for a customer appreciation weekend of camping, games, family fun and all the raw milk you can drink (and if you’re my family, it’s a lot!)   This year there were 400 people, but you’d never know it, there’s so much space. It’s a two-day event that my family is already looking forward to for next year and we just left!

This year we arrived about 12:30 on Saturday afternoon. It was a perfect, warm afternoon. We picked our site towards the end of the field and started to set up our tents and shade tent as we waited for our friends to arrive.   The kids almost immediately took off to the hay maze (next year they will learn to put up the tent… next year) and as their friends arrived they took off as well.   The environment is one where the kids are free to run around as they want in the kid zone, or the fields, it’s a time where they get to explore and enjoy the openness of the fields.

Tents 2014 CWTC
Tents 2014 CWTC

After a brief welcome from the owners under a huge tent (filled with lots of seating, a toddlers play area, arts & crafts, refreshments and even a charging station for your phone) we headed back to our area for a relaxing drink and catch up with our friends.   The rest of the afternoon was filled with a tractor ride and tour of the farm, a milk chugging contest, a friendly game of Dunk the Dairyman, and my favorite… actually getting to milk a cow named Moolary (she was really adorable!)

Me, Lisa with WSGT & Moolary CWTC
Me, Lisa with WSGT & Moolary CWTC

VIDEO: Camping with the Cows 2015

Milk chugging 2015 CWTC
Milk chugging 2015 CWTC

After a delicious catered dinner everyone gathered around on blankets and camping chairs under the stars for a movie in the field. We watched A Bug’s Life on a huge outdoor screen with cookies and milk.   The kids snuggled in as the temperatures dropped to a lovely cool evening and once the movie was done, some went off to bed and some stayed up for s’mores around the bonfires (you just cannot have camping of any kind without s’mores!) We had a friend with a guitar playing in our group around the bonfire and an evening of fun.

Dunk the Dairymen CWTC
Dunk the Dairymen CWTC

On Sunday morning my kids and I awoke really early. They went off playing as the sunrise overtook the fields.   A bit later as more of the campers awoke everyone walked, jogged or rode the tractor to the site where Organic Pastures Dairy just broke ground for a new milk parlor that will open later this year.   The owners made a beautiful and emotional talk about their passion for sharing great health and a wonderful product with everyone gathered around.   Owners Mark (a former paramedic) and his wife Blaine (a former nurse) spoke of the nutrition, safety and comfort of their customers AND their cows.   Their milk goes through third party triple testing and can land in stores and farmer’s markets within 24 hours.   They also sell other products like cheese, butter (to die for!), cream and kefir.

Sunrise fun CWTC
Sunrise fun CWTC

 

CWTC 2015
CWTC 2015: Lisa and Sage won awards for social media participation during Camping with the Cows 2015

After, we headed back to our campsite and started to pack up our site.   We played a bit more and reluctantly got back in the car for our drive home.   Before heading on the road we stopped at their little store and filled up our cooler with milk, butter and cheese so we could make the coming week a bit more delicious.   We headed back home complaining that we only got to spend one night there at that peaceful, fun farm, but knowing our next trip back would only be a year away.   Moooooooooo!

Fresh field growing CWTC
Fresh field growing CWTC

The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier

Redondo Beach, just 40 minutes south of Los Angeles, is the perfect escape for a weekend. Far off the freeways, you’ll quickly forget you are anywhere near LA and become immersed in the relaxed beach culture. For your next weekend trip, here are the must-dos for a Redondo Beach vacation:

To Do:

After the Rainstorm
After the Rainstorm

1. Paddleboarding (SUP)

Hit up Tarsan when you want to try out paddleboarding. The instructor Elizabeth is nice and helpful, providing equipment for everyone to check out the marine life under the water. Paddleboarding through the marina offers ample opportunities to see sea lions and spot garibaldi fish.

2. Diving

Visit the Dive n’ Surf shop when you’re ready to get underwater. The Dive Pros there shared how Redondo Beach is unlike any other diving destination: divers spotting whales is a frequent occurrence and you can swim through a handful of different shipwrecks.

3. Whale Watching

The whales aren’t shy in Redondo Beach. They frequently come close to the beach because they follow plankton (their meal of choice) into a deep crevice near the shore. Whale spotting is frequent, even from your hotel room window!

4. Boating

Whether sailing or speed boating is your game, the local marinas offer a selection of opportunities for you to get out there and enjoy the fresh sea air. When I went out, a big rainstorm had just passed. The sky was beautiful as the clouds mixed with the light from the setting sun. Getting out onto the water cannot be missed!

 

To Eat:

A Sampler Plate at Kincaid's
A Sampler Plate at Kincaid’s

1. Kincaid’s

For a nice dinner out, look to Kincaid’s. The menu is vast and delicious, offering amazing appetizers. The short ribs cannot be missed, and the key lime pie is a must for dessert. The massive windows are perfect for watching the ocean. When I ate there, it was raining. Watching the rain from Kincaid’s was beautiful.

2. Tony’s

If the coconut shrimp from Tony’s crow’s nest bar won’t get you there, the view will. Add their signature mai tai to your tab, and relax. This nautical-themed restaurant is perfect for an afternoon drink and casual lunch.

3. Barney’s Beanery

If you’re ready for pub food, get to Barney’s. The chili fries and wings are perfect for sharing, and the drink list is a beer-lovers dream. For someone looking for a fancier drink, the WeHo is a delicious blended drink. If nothing else convinces you that you’re on vacation, the WeHo, served in a pineapple, will.

4. R10

For the hipper crowd, the R10 is the spot to hang out. With great appetizers and a nice bar, the R10 packs in the deliciousness with their whisky loaf, and my personal favorite, their thai curry mussels. For you oyster fans, their prep is excellent, serving them with a yuzu cream.

 

To See:

The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier
The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier

 

1. The Whaling Wall

Painted by renowned muralist Robert Wyland in 1991, his Whaling Wall, officially titled “Gray Whale Migration,” is part of his worldwide series of marine life art. He started the 100 piece series in 1981 and completed in 2008.

2. The Pier

The Pier makes for an awesome walk past great restaurants, an arcade, and plenty of surf shops. I even spotted a free yoga class being taught. The real feature of the pier, besides the view, is the engravings of sea life. From whales to sea lions, there’s plenty to see, even if you’re somehow tired of looking at the ocean!

3. The Sea Lions and Other Wildlife

Redondo Beach is not short on amazing wildlife. From beautiful birds to plentiful sea lions, and of course, whales, the marine life is a huge draw to Redondo. There’s always something cool to see, making it the perfect family destination. What child doesn’t want to watch the sea lions play in the water?

 

To Stay:

The Lobby at the Portofino
The Lobby at the Portofino

1. Redondo Beach Hotel

Recently remodeled, the Redondo Beach Hotel is the perfect family spot. Across the street from the marina, the Redondo is a convenient choice for all of your waterside vacation activities. The breakfast bar in the lobby has both delicious and healthy options, from oatmeal to waffles!

2. The Portofino

For an upscale spot, the Portofino is located on the water, with spectacular ocean views. Sea lions are something of a mascot for the hotel, as they frequently settle themselves right outside the hotel. It’s the perfect waterfront hotel for a luxurious weekend.

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I am aware that I could’ve written about one of my favorite vacation spots, places where I feel I can lounge, relax, and regroup. However, when I think of a place that helps me feel brave and inspires me to save the day, no place stands out more than my mother’s house. Just to clarify, my mother’s house is not where I reside. In fact, I have not lived with my mother since I was three years old, a mere young one! Ever since then, I have lived with my grandparents in Pfafftown, North Carolina, a small, friendly town just outside of Winston-Salem. My mother resides in Graham, North Carolina, a small town outside of Burlington. Now, obviously, this is not very far from my home. Yet, emotionally, it is quite far from me.

I have been separated from my mother for most of my life. It’s not great, but hey, I’ve gotten used to it. What I have not, and will not, grow accustomed to is being separated from my two younger brothers. Hakim, the older of the two, is ten years old, friendly, and bubbling with enthusiasm! The younger of the two, James, is seven years old, just as enthusiastic as the former, and very, very loud. The physical wall that has separated us from each other is not the only characteristic that makes my brothers unusual and different; they are both autistic. To me, this is a difference that can be sad, disturbing, and yet also adorable; it is a difference that I have accepted easily and with open arms. I have taken them under my wing, so to speak, and when I go to visit them, we do practically everything together.

When I see my brothers, mentally and verbally handicapped, and educationally and communicationally stifled, I feel the strongest motivation to be brave, a desire I always attempt to share with them. And saving the day?? The day I want to save is tomorrow…the tomorrow that my brothers will have, the tomorrow that they could have. Who knows who they could be? Autism is a disorder, quite a powerful one. But it is not powerful enough to stop thoughts, dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It can’t be!! If it is, then what is the point of life? What is the point of life if you are to be stopped by a handicap or the ones you love are to be stop by a handicap? Seeing my brothers inspires me to want to do something, anything to save their day. Their yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Their yesterday because I insist that they not have fought through all of the obstacles they have faced in their young lives, all of the tough times and struggles, for nothing. Their today because when I see their faces, their smiles, their frowns, and their tears, I am moved…not only moved, but forced, to do something to help them. Their tomorrow because each time I say goodnight to them, I promise myself that I will make tomorrow a better day for them than today was. Tomorrow must be their day! And I must save it. I do not know how I will, I do not know when, but one tomorrow will be saved, one day they will have what they want, need, and deserve.

These feelings that seeing them brings upon me are not just basic emotions, such as sadness, happiness, love, and determination. They are all a very strong feeling, one that I sum up as bravery. I must be brave for them! If they are to believe the things I believe about them, they must see that I believe them! They must understand who they are, who they were, and who they can be. Not who they will be, but who they can be. No one’s future is set in stone. And my brothers’ futures are definitely not set in stone if I have anything to do with it, if I can save their day. I must. And for this reason, I can find the strongest, most viable reasons to be brave when I am in Graham, North Carolina.

 

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean at sunset

I have had a crazy 18 months. I knew I would (finally) have some free time, so I planned a vacation where I could really get back to myself. I set out on a restorative trip to find some peace. I went to Santa Barbara, and stayed at Four Seasons The Biltmore.

I had been there before as a teenager, but had never experienced the place as an adult. I’ll admit, I wanted a lazy vacation where I never had to get in the car. I wanted good books, poolside drinks, and palm trees. The gorgeous views were expected, but there was no way I could predict how relaxed I’d feel only a few hours into my stay. Here are the highlights of my trip:

Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean
Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean

1. Outdoor dining. For three days, I didn’t eat a single meal indoors. Breakfast on the patio, lunch by the pool, dinner across the street on the balcony at Tydes. I never got tired of the spectacular ocean views available from the Bella Vista restaurant at the hotel. It’s quite easy to spot dolphins swimming by every day. Some of the hotel staff told me they have spotted an occasional blue whale, as well. Above, you can see our drinks the first night, over looking the ocean. The poolside lunch menu was clean and delicious, featuring an amazing chicken salad that I couldn’t help pairing with a decadent piña colada.

2. The service. Having stayed in top notch hotels all over the world, the Four Seasons Santa Barbara has some of the best service I’ve ever experienced. By the pool, the wait staff came around with complimentary smoothie shots and fresh fruit. The concierge were always happy to rework a dinner reservation, and even afforded me a luxurious late checkout, so I could squeeze a few more hours by the pool. My book was just too good to stop reading!

Lounging by the pool
Lounging by the pool

3. The incomparable atmosphere. The pueblo-style compound immediately put me in the mindset of warm-weather vacation. The sound of the ocean drifting through the windows while I got a massage was amazing. And the beautiful, colorful decor in the rooms, including some fantastic, artful tiles, made me want to stay in my room almost as much as I wanted to hit the pool.

4. The beach. Santa Barbara is not your standard SoCal destination. It’s on the cooler side (during my visit the weather stayed between 68 and 72 degrees), but the beach is perfect for surfers and taking scenic walks (with a sweater). There is even a very unique graveyard on a cliff overlooking the ocean within easy walking distance. If you want to stay out of the cold, both pools at the hotel are wind protected and it feels way warmer on a sunny day!

Morning coffee on my balcony
Morning coffee on my balcony


After such an intense year and a half, it was amazing to sink back and feel the stress melt away in only a short, three day trip! I highly recommend taking a lazy vacation. Perfect weather, perfect pool days and perfect piña coladas!

 

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I walk out of the shady, pine-scented woods, and stop, mid-stride, frozen in fear and wonder. I can feel the panic rising up my throat, threatening to choke me. Below me, in all its miniature widescreen glory stretches the Yosemite Valley. Less than twenty-four hours earlier I had stood in that valley, craning my neck to look up at this very spot.

To my right, I can see the sensuous granite mounds of the Yosemite Wilderness, and, far in the hazy distance the jagged snow-crested teeth of the High Sierra beyond. To my left, looming above the tree-line, is the bald, grey pate that is Half Dome. It is my wildest dream and my worst nightmare all rolled into one.

I have travelled thousands of miles to be in this place. I have researched, planned, and trained for months so that I am prepared for the challenge. And yet, now that I stand here, staring in horror at the part-peeled onion layers of sheer rock in front of me, it might all have been in vain.

Since yesterday, I’ve climbed an arduous seven miles, over rocks slick with rainbow-hued waterfall-mist, and through root-tangled woods, still cool with lingering snow-drifts. My aching legs have been forced up sheer slopes that from a distance seemed impossible. There have been minor demons to conquer in the shape of wild camping, composting toilets, and a hungry young bear trying to take the rucksack out of my tent. And now my courage has failed me. I am terrified.

The end of my journey is within sight. A mere mile. The trouble is, I know exactly what that last mile contains. Four hundred yards of vertical ascent and the Half Dome cables, nemesis of the vertigo-sufferer. I will myself to relax. Breathe in. Breathe out. Slowly. Stop the panic. Gradually, my pulse returns to something approaching normal, and I try to think rationally.

An iridescent flash of cobalt blue catches my attention as a Steller’s jay swoops from a nearby tree to land a few yards away on a low branch. It watches me for a while, head tilted to one side as if in question, before fluttering to a point a few yards ahead of me. Almost without conscious thought, I follow it. As I get near, he takes flight and, in a graceful arc, moves further along the trail. We continue our dance, moving closer together and further apart in an unconsciously beautiful meeting of species, before the jay, clearly bored by my pedestrian progress, glides effortlessly away from me and out of sight.

I look up, and realise that I am within a stone’s throw of the switchback – the first part of the final ascent. Nearly as steep as the cable ascent, though not as exposed. Suddenly, the decision is made for me, thanks to my feathered friend. I will go on, one step at a time, until I either reach the summit, or get so scared that I have to turn back, but there is no way I am backing out now.

The rest of the climb passes in a daze. The switchback is challenging but not too frightening. I struggle to walk over the narrow shoulder between it and the cable climb, but I surprise myself on the cables by climbing strongly and steadily for most of the way. I have to stop once to let someone pass me on their descent, and I foolishly look at the four thousand foot drop below me. Having briefly, but vividly, considered my mortality, I cling to the metal cables until my head stops swimming, and plod on upwards.

Suddenly, it is all over. I haul myself over the last step, and I am walking across a vast, flat plateau of smooth, sparkling granite. It feels as big, and as safe, as a football pitch. I still don’t care much for the drop below me, but as long as I don’t get too near the edge I can keep the fear at bay. I even manage to shoot a whole roll of film on the awe-inspiring views. I lie on a flat piece of rock and bask in the midday sunshine, along with some creature which I think, bizarrely, might be a marmot.

I let my mind wander back over the journey to here. The long trek up the Mist Trail, past, and through, the mystical beauty of the Vernal Falls, the hard slog up the side of Nevada Falls. The sleepless night, post-bear, in the Little Yosemite Valley. And now I have it all to do in reverse, including the cables.

I haul my weary limbs upright, and with a massive grin, start the descent. After all, I’ve done Half Dome – I can do anything!

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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On October 3, 1999, I stood in disarray on the edge of a sidewalk in Singapore and stared at a busy street. I looked up from the small cars and motorcycles rolling over the steaming asphalt to the sixth floor of Singapore General Hospital.

 

How did I end up here? was the only thought that I could verbalize.

 

Over the past two years, I had accumulated thousands of dollars in debt in the United States health care system. My wife’s family was Malaysian citizens, but they had heard that Singapore had some of the best hospitals in the world. So when my in-laws offered to meet us in Singapore, I had no choice but to comply.

 

After a week she was released from the hospital. We stayed in Singapore for the rest of the month in order for her to continue to check up with the doctor. I tried to find a job, but legal work is difficult to obtain when you’re not a citizen. Jobless and helpless, I wandered around the streets of Singapore-Orchard Boulevard, Pagoda Street, Serangoon Road, Sommerset Road, …sometimes I sat on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and alighted at random stations. After a month of aimlessly drifting around the island of Singapore, I told my wife’s family, “I am American and I belong in the U. S. We will return as soon as she is well.”

 

On November 3, 1999 my wife, her family, and I took a bus across the Johor-Singapore Causeway from Singapore to Malaysia. We stayed in her home town of Maran for three and a half months. I think they had hoped that I would find a reason to stay in Malaysia, but in my culture shock, my lack of competence, and to my wife’s frustration I insisted that we return to the United States.

 

Late one night in February of 2000 my wife and I strolled through the Mobile Regional Airport in Mobile, Alabama. The next day we rented an apartment and began our life again in America. Over the next four years, I became a successful guitar instructor. Despite my success, I often found myself telling friends and students that in Malaysia I saw monkeys causing trouble in parks like squirrels play in your yard; Singapore General Hospital is as good as any hospital in the United States; or Kuala Lumpur is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. In the fast food restaurants of Mobile, I would say ‘take away’ instead of ‘to go.’ I spent hours studying Mandarin so that I could communicate easier with my in-laws.

 

In Singapore and Malaysia I lived in regret of what I did wrong in the United States. Why couldn’t I have taken care of my wife there? In the United States, I said our life would have turned out better in Singapore or Malaysia. I lived in regret of what I did wrong in the Southeast Asia. Why couldn’t I have made life work there?

 

In December of 2004, we took our two year old son to Malaysia. It was an adventurous trip to say the least. He cried the entire twenty-two hour plane ride. On the first night in the hotel in Kuala Lumpur he slipped in the bathroom and his head was bleeding. With him in arms I ran down stairs, jumped into a taxi, threw some green American cash in the taxi driver’s hand, and the driver rushed us to Kuala Lumpur General Hospital. They treated his minor head wound and found out that he had been crying on the airplane flight because of an ear infection. In Maran, my wife’s hometown, he hid behind a rack of clothes in clothing store and sent me searching all over the street for him.

 

Early on the morning of December 30, after an exhausting one month visit, my wife and son slept most of the taxi ride from Maran to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. I watched the mountainous jungles rise and fall as the taxi driver flew through the snake like highways of Malaysia.

 

What would I have done had I not been a coward and left Malaysia four years ago? I asked myself.

 

I looked at my son who was asleep in his mother’s arms, and I thought, I would not have had the experience of rushing to Kuala Lumpur General Hospital at 3:00 a.m. because of a fall; or I would not know what it is like to have entire airplanes filled with people from Mobile Regional Airport to KLIA look at me like they wanted to kill me because of a crying baby;  and I would not know the mixed emotions of searching the streets of Maran for a child whom I was ready to kill or die for.

 

 

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I suppose you know a place has impacted you when you return to the place that you’re supposed to call home, and find that, like a coat from your childhood, it no longer fits that ideal of home. The place that managed to shake me this hard was the east coast of the United States, during the month of April, 2014. The time is just as important as the place, because when it came to various places on the east coast, this wasn’t my first rodeo, per se. But something about the timing, company, and the events that unfolded on a twelve-day excursion to this collection of states allowed them to come together to form the lessons that would unlock a world of bravery for me, a world where I’ve become my own hero – and if you knew me, and knew me prior to this trip, you’d know this meant the world.

            The east coast taught me that the world can fit inside of a few days. I never knew quite how much I could accomplish in such a short amount of time until I was jolted awake by the sound of an alarm in a friend’s bedroom in northern New Jersey, reeling from my mere two hours of sleep. Some sort of whispered instinct, mixed with a completely overpowering desire to hone the unpredictable had I and my best friends making a last minute decision to make the four hour drive to try and figure out some sort of way to see our favorite band together for the second time – the first time having been the end of the previous day, a whirlwind of jetting around the suburbs of Philadelphia, crossing busy intersections, impossible-to-find radio stations, being thisclose to meeting said favorite band, and concerts that make our own mental history books. Connecticut quickly turned from an ill-thought-out whim, to an impossibility, to standing in a library in a tiny New York town waiting for a printer to spit out tickets to the last date of aforementioned band’s very first headlining tour, and biggest headlining show yet.

            All this, done in a period of time that I’d spend at home doing little more than binge-watching episodes of Orange Is The New Black and fretting about my future.

            The east coast taught me that all the planning in the world can’t guarantee you the time of your life. In fact you’ll often find more little miracles nestled in with chaos. Most of the things that we found ourselves doing were not set in stone as we left the state of Ohio to begin our adventure. We made up the rules as we went along, kept things in a constant state of “To be announced”, and found out how beautiful a lack of structure truly can be. In the end, we ended up extending the trip two days, attending five concerts on various tours, and making our way up, down, and around four different states.

            The east coast taught me that clichés are what they are for a reason. It’s the little things – looking back after ten months at this collection of moments, I’ve realized how many little moments have stuck with me in a way that I cannot explain. Staring at the NYC skyling from a swingset in central park. Crossing a bridge in New York with my favorite song blasting on the radio. Cracking up over a dumb joke while we were stalled somewhere in Pennsylvania. Waiting for pizza in some Kmart on the way to Connecticut. Somehow, tiny moments like grew into something larger, something extraordinary, little preserved pieces of the past that will always make my heart feel fuller. It’s not about where you are, but who you’re with – Any adventure is special to me. Any chance for me to get out of Michigan is something worth celebrating. But the people I shared this journey with took good times and made them incredible, took incredible times and made them legendary. With these girls at my side I felt in invincible, like I was more than just a confused, anxiety-ridden girl, like I could accomplish anything.

 

            Through lessons learned mostly while staring out of a car window, through joy and love and experience and adventure, I found ways to save the day for myself, to become the hero I always needed me to be. I strolled into my house after being dropped off at the end of twelve days that felt more like years, feeling like someone new. That day, my mother remarked, “You’re not the same girl you were when you left.” She meant it as something bad, but little did she know, nothing could have been better than that.

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I press my fingers into the red rock as the whimper in my gut is ripped up through my throat, mixes with my tears’ salt and pours down my face. I push my boot hard against the rock face and scoot my butt a few inches down the opening. Peter tells me to reach up and grab the overhanging edge and slide my foot down and over to a small ledge, then swing my body back around into the crevasse again. The whimper turns into a wail that silently screams through my skull, and I look down to see the ledge. The silent scream turns into a meltdown, and I press my face into the red of the rock and weep. “You can do this”, Peter says to me.

I have come to Sedona to hike, to look at the beauty of the red rock, and like many others, to experience the sacred energies of the vortex sites. Through the Couchsurfing network, I find a place to stay with Peter who runs the Top of Bell Rock Club. He will host anyone who will hike up to the top of Bell Rock and become a member.

Sun warm and shining bright over the middle of the day, the red rock is rich and vibrant against the blue sky. Our group of four climbs up slowly, places our feet onto a small ledge, pulls ourselves up with some fingers wrapped around a protruding edge of rock. I look up the rock face towards our final destination and it starts.

Did I mention my fear of heights? In my mind, we would slowly wind our way up a trodden trail with the occasional boulder climb.

“Move your foot over to the right and put your weight on that small rock lip”, says Peter, “and grab that rock over your head with your right hand. Now reach with your other hand and pull yourself over onto that ledge.” What? I look over to see the ledge, but what I see is the length of the crevasse below me, the same crevasse that I have been inching up and I am petrified. My heart won’t stop pounding as if it will push through my chest and take flight. My mouth, all gummy from breathing in so deeply, glues my lips together so tightly that I’m not sure I can take air in through my mouth anymore. “You’re almost there”, Peter says as he stands just below me so I can’t see the full scope of the crevasse opening. I pull up and swing my foot tentatively over to the too small ledge and slowly bring my full weight to a standing position while holding on with everything I have. 

Tears don’t roll down my cheeks, they spray salt droplets onto my glasses, rush over my cheekbones like a waterfall cascade. I don’t know what feels worse– the fear of falling and dying or this display of vulnerability. I stop and tell myself I can do this. I breathe deep through the mucus and place my foot over onto another rock ledge, and follow Peter’s directions, the same directions he’s given to 648 other people before me. I reach up and pull myself onto the flat area that is our destination, then collapse.

On the way up, I could focus on the red rock in front of my face as I leaned into the hill. Coming down, I now have to face forward, the whole view of the curved bulges sweeping down in front of me.                                               

Peter smiles while I attempt to work through my personal challenges. Going up,I somehow kept moving one step at a time. Descending, the tears and terror rip through me, melt me down, paralyze me. “Push your left foot against the rock across the crevasse, your left hand on the rock higher up while you place your right foot over here, and grab there with your right hand. Now, shimmy inch by inch down the crevasse “, Peter says as I move an inch, stop and take a deep breath, then move another inch. There is no time now, just each inch.

We finally reach easier rock and shimmy down on our butts to larger and more level ledges. I look back up the crevasse in disbelief that I actually climbed up it, or down it, at all. My legs start to shake a bit in the emotional aftermath, and I feel that I have endured some ancient vortex initiation ritual.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.