The Adventurous Woman

There is nothing more inspirational to me than seeing a woman in the outdoors. Whether she’s bagging peaks or simply relaxing at her campsite, it’s refreshing to see women out experiencing the natural world. I truly believe Instagram has done wonders in forging ahead a new path for women in the outdoors. It has given us an easily accessible platform to share our experiences and motivate each other into participating in activities which can still be considered taboo in today’s society. When I open up my feed, I am flooded by photos of women back packing, hiking, camping, rock climbing, surfing, road tripping, traveling to foreign lands, and breaking ground further and further into a world previously and arguably still, dominated by men.

I have always considered myself an independent woman. I have never feared being on my own, and I have never thought twice about being able to do and doing all the things that the boys can do. Although, this honestly doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me the more I reflect upon my background. I have come from a long line of incredibly strong women who have been pioneers and strongholds in their fields. My Nana is the absolute strongest woman I know. She survived two wars in England, two bouts of TB, and several types of cancers. She was separated from her family many times during WW2, and eventually left her home behind to move countries and start a career in medicine. She eventually became head of an entire hospital ER department down in South Florida in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. My grandmother moved around countries with my military grandfather before the collapse of their marriage, where she went on to work full-time to provide for the four children she raised on her own. This taking place in an era where this was looked down upon. My mother is a powerhouse in all aspects of her life. She spent 6 months studying and backpacking around Europe in college, and is now a professor in exercise science, leading grant research and educating our future doctors and scientists. She has always been a go getter, and has thrived in a heavily male concentrated field. Independence and strength run through the blood in my family. We are a line of women who don’t back down, and who don’t see the lines in the sand indicating what we can or cannot do.

However, these stories, my stories, are not just my stories. These are the stories of women all over the world. Families of women coming into their own and breaking down the doors of opportunity. It shouldn’t be surprising that more women are venturing out, pushing the boundaries, and eliminating the confining ideas of what is thought of as safe and appropriate activities for us. We are approaching a fascinating time in our history, where we are raising young girls in a world that is starting to show that we as women are truly capable of whatever we set our minds to. We are learning from the women that came before us, and passing on our knowledge and experiences to the next generation. These social media platforms, as much negative as they can carry these days, are also the very tools we have needed to put our outdoor women (and any woman conquering life) on a canvas for all other young women and older women alike to gain inspiration and realization that we can accomplish our dreams.

There are so many women out there that I have never met and will likely never meet, that I have drawn so much courage and motivation from. I see their pictures post back packing trips and world travels, and I say to myself, “Well if she can do that, I certainly can.” I have spent umpteen hours perusing the accounts of women I admire, pulling ideas from their endeavors. I have a bucket list the size of an encyclopedia and it’s only growing. It’s for this reason that I find so much joy in sitting down and sharing my experiences and knowledge with others seeking out their own adventures. I want everyone to be able to experience what I have. You learn so much about yourself when you can go get lost in nature or delve into new and unfamiliar landscapes and cultures. The stories I have read of women coming to crossroads in their lives, hitting rock bottom, fighting through illnesses and disease, overcoming devastating obstacles and finding healing and strength in the wild, is beyond what words can describe. Personally, it’s like getting back to my roots, hitting the reset button on all the “stuff” that weighs on me in every day life. It’s a state where I can just be me, through and through. Every time I travel or spend a couple days in the outdoors, I rediscover the woman I know and love within myself. That woman is a force to be reckoned with, kind and compassionate, open minded, freely flowing, and strong enough to climb mountains and beyond. Sometimes she falls by the wayside, but she is always there, waiting for me to get back out there to the wilderness to remind me of who I am.

The adventurous world is not just for men anymore. We are here to experience every daunting peak, every snowy slope, every dirt road, every dense forest and jungle, every winding river, every endless desert and ocean. We are here to experience the tingling of our nerves as we enter the unknown, the butterflies in our stomachs in anticipation of a new day, the sheer sensation of awe and disbelief at what this earth has created, and the euphoria that comes with these aforementioned feelings. We are here to get dirt under our fingernails, get bruises and bloody knees, light our own fires, put up our own tents, pack it in and pack it out. We’ll discover foreign lands, summit the highest peaks, surf the toughest swells, and climb the steepest canyon walls. And who knows, maybe we’ll do it all while in a dress. It doesn’t matter. We are strong and courageous women out here traveling the world, finding joy and life and freedom. We are mother nature herself, no matter how many “Be careful,” “Don’t go alone,” or “Are you sure that’s safe?” comments we get. We are women of the wild.

 

 

 

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Torres del Paine: The “W” Trek, Day 4-5

Day 4, the day of death. Okay not quite, but to anyone else, it definitely could have been. Kendra and I handled this day like champs though. There were absolutely moments of stress and unknowing, but I think they were warranted. So, with the bridge being out, we had to backtrack out of the park and to Refugio Grey, where a shuttle bus was departing for the visitors center at the main road at 2 PM. We probably should have left a little earlier than we did, but the 22-26 kilometers we hiked the day before really took us by surprise and we were beat. At least we had already hiked this segment of the trail, so there wasn’t much more for us to stop and look at. We hit the trail, goals in mind. It wasn’t too bad, just 11 km out of there. We made decent time, but as we approached the Refugio, we could see the shuttle bus ahead of us, loading up the last few passengers. We started running! I was waving my arms frantically over my head as we got to the bus just as the driver started to get into his seat. We had made it. Now would come the fun part. We were still a bus ride, a boat ride, and an 11 km hike away from our campsite. There was a boat that left at 4:00 and one that left at 6:00. There was only one bus that left at 4. That meant, we wouldn’t start our 11 km hike until after 6:00 PM, which seemed far too sketchy to us. So, in true Kendra and Kelly nature, we hitch hiked. It was like New Zealand all over again! I am terrible at asking strangers for rides, however, this is where Kendra excels in our little duo. She actually found a ride surprisingly fast. I think it was maybe the second person she asked that agreed. I came out of hiding (I don’t know why, I’m so awkward) and we hopped in this family’s SUV. It really was awesome. We got some great pictures of guanacos and of the park itself. The family driving us spoke enough English that it was fairly easy to communicate. The couple had a 7 year old daughter who was one of the most friendly and outgoing children I’ve ever met.

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We made it to Pudeto, where the catamaran leaves for Paine Grande with plenty of time to make the 4:00 voyage. I was starting to feel a little woozy and fell asleep the minute we got on the boat. The winds were out of control at this point, but the boat was sturdy in the water. We definitely understood why they weren’t shuttling people in the dingy boat anymore. Upon landing at Paine Grande, we were so beat. We had already done a full day of hiking and traveling, and were dreading the final leg. We tossed around the idea of setting up camp at Paine Grande, but after seeing the winds blow a tent out of the ground, across the field of campers, and into the lake on the other side, we knew we had to keep going. Our tent pole had a crack in it, which we had duct taped on the first night, but we knew that it wouldn’t hold in the gusts here. Refugio Grey was much more sheltered, so we had to move forward.

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Looking back, I am so proud of what we did. As we left Paine Grande, we basically entered a wind tunnel. The trail cut through the center of a valley that funneled the wind gusts right into our faces. We found out the next day that the strongest gusts were between 70-80 kilometers per hour. It was slow going to say the least. I also wound up meeting some people the next day who saw us hiking that section and said they felt so bad for us. According to these hikers, we looked miserable and exhausted. I can’t say that we weren’t. However, I can say that it was still a gorgeous hike. The trees that lined the valley were recovering from a fire that happened several years back. This gave the whole scenario a rather eerie vibe.

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There were points where the gusts had us crouching on the ground, holding on to rocks to keep us from blowing over. We did reach one segment of the trail where we found some protection from the wind. I quickly gobbled down some snacks, and added a bandana to my ensemble for extra wind protection. As we got back on the trail, thinking we were making good time, we saw one of those “maps” stating we had much more to go. It was like a slap in the face. The wind had been slowing our tired bodies down more than we realized. Kendra and I found ourselves again, having to put our gears in to full throttle so we could make it to camp before dark. This was the only disappointing part, the views as we hit the last stretch our journey for the day, were incredible. The sun was setting over Glacier Grey. There were icebergs dotting the lake below us, their blue ice glistening in the dimming sunlight. I would have loved to really slow down and enjoy the scenery, but time was of the essence, as we had no idea what the trail looked like in front of us and did not want to be caught out there, unable to clearly see our surroundings.

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I think we could hear Refugio Grey before we even got to it. The campers were in full party mode, sloshing around bottles upon bottles of wine. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so ecstatic to reach a campground in my life! The day had just been so long, we had started at 9 AM and arrived at camp at 10 PM. The vibes were upbeat, everyone was so happy! We found one of the last level campsites, set up our tent and gear for the last time, before joining the masses to cook dinner and do some yoga stretches. As much as I would have liked to dance and drink wine with celebratory crowds, I was done. All I could think about was my snuggly sleeping bag, and was more than happy to bunker down for the night when we were done eating. It had started to lightly sprinkle, the perfect setting lulling me into a deep sleep.

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This was actually the next morning after most of the tents had cleared out

Day 5:

There are two ways you can finish you “W” Trek Journey. We opted for the catamaran that leaves from Refugio Grey. It picks you up on the beach and takes you up close to Glacier Grey. You even get a free pisco sour, chilled with a piece of glacier ice! The alternative is to backtrack the 11 kilometers and take the catamaran over from Paine Grande. Either way, you’re paying for a boat ride, so we opted for the one with alcohol and a view. Kendra and I packed up our campsite, ate a quick breakfast, and took the trail down to view the glacier from the trail. After soaking in the views, we scurried on over to the beach to wait for the catamaran.

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This was it! We had really done it! The trip without detours is supposed to measure around 55-60ish kilometers. Due to the back tracking from the fallen bridge, we wound up hiking approximately 70 kilometers. It was worth it though. We heard of so many people not being able to complete the trek because of the bridge. I am thankful we persevered and completed the “W” Trek.

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Oh, and for the record, while we were on the catamaran drinking our pisco sours, we met those crazy people crossing the river near the fallen bridge. It turns out, they were trekking with a tour guide, who paid for a permit that allowed them to cross the river. They had tied a rope from either side so that they could hold on to something while crossing the rapidly rushing water. One of the girls showed us a video and you could see her legs shaking as they held her up. The guide told me that other people tried crossing, and some people even crossed the bridge, but there were rangers waiting on the other side, arresting people who crossed illegally. So, good thing we didn’t attempt that!

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THE END.

Torres del Paine: The “W” Trek, Day 3

The third day of our hike began with the realization that we would not be crossing the bridge. After discussing our options with the staff members at Los Cuernos, we decided to leave our big packs there and just bring daypacks to do a roundtrip hike up through Valle de Frances and back. We were supposed to be staying at Campamento Italiano, but we knew we would have to turn around the next morning to come right back out. The only downside to this option is that it turned into a nearly 25ish kilometer day. The distance in of itself wasn’t too terrible, but we wound up nearly running the last half which was pretty killer. The plus side, we had another day of gorgeous weather, despite some heavy winds that intermittently raged upon us with their fierce velocity.

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Upon departing Los Cuernos towards Valle de Frances, the trail leads you along a rocky shoreline, gently winding in and out of trees and beaches until you reach the Valle de Frances campground area. There are some steeper areas as you near the campsites, but all in all the 3.5 kilometer hike it isn’t too difficult. From there, it’s about 2 more kilometers to Campamento Italiano.

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As you pass between Valle de Frances and Campamento Torres, the trail begins to turn inland and cross an open valley. The wind velocity picked up quite a bit through here, but it was just a taste of what we would experience over the course of our remaining trip. I heard what sounded like a train or a large plane going by, and it only took me a second to figure out there was an avalanche happening somewhere. I quickly scanned the mountain we were walking near by and saw the snow pouring from the top of the rocky ledges. I had heard this was quite common in the area, and we saw several more small ones throughout the day.

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In the center of this picture a little cloud of the avalanche aftermath

When we entered the campground at Italiano, we could see guards and large tree trunks blocking the entrance to the bridge. The bridge that, to our dismay looked fully intact. We questioned some of the people surrounding the barricaded entrance, to which they responded that a group of people had crossed it and as they passed over, the bridge began to swing dangerously back and forth. One of its side rails collapsed and they were scared that the entire bridge would fall. The water rushed below, powerfully and terrifyingly swift, over massive rocks, making me feel confident in their decision to prevent anyone from falling off, surely to their death. We knew we had made the right decision to leave our packs behind, and we started the 5.5-7.5 km ascent to the Mirador Britanico. (I’m telling you distances were so confusing. Different maps said different things.)

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The trail wound up through the trees before spitting us out onto a rocky opening overlooking the glacier where the river originated. We saw two groups of people crossing the river up here! We watched them for a while and even though they were quite far, it seemed like crossing the river was a dangerous undertaking. So, we continued on our hike, as the winds pummeled us in various outcroppings that we would find ourselves on from time to time.

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It wasn’t until we passed a “map” stating it was approximately 6.5 kilometers one way from Campamento Italiano to the Mirador that we realized we needed to step it into high gear. It was getting later into the evening and we needed to be able to get back to Los Cuernos in time to set up our tent and eat dinner! We made it to the Mirador as fast as our tired legs could move us, before we high-tailed it back down the trail towards camp. I think we made it back just a couple hours later, which is thoroughly impressive considering how much ground we had to cover. But, back to the Mirador… before you reach it, you come to the incredible opening. The opening is a massive rock field with all of the granite mountain formations surrounding you. It is incredible! From there, you hike up a little further to this lookout, which gives you some seriously awesome views of the valley. It began to sprinkle on us as an ominous storm cloud loomed over the mountains, threatening us with some volatile Patagonian weather. We quickly hit the trail to get back to camp.

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Upon arriving at the campground, the staff members gave us confused looks as they seemed to have forgotten their promise to us to reserve a campsite in our names. After a few minutes of fumbling around, one of the staff members had us follow him to a really depressing looking spot sandwiched between a couple trees, with rooted and bumpy ground. We asked if there was anything else, to which he replied “No.” We were exhausted, and were grimly accepting what would be a rough night of sleep, when he said, “Okay I know of another spot, but it’s a secret.” He led to one of the already set up tent platform spots and reminded us that it was a secret! It was such an upgrade, Kendra and I were thrilled! We settled in for the night, happily knowing we would get a good night of sleep before the long day ahead of us.

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Torres del Paine: The “W” Trek, Day 2

Kendra and I had survived our first day and night on our journey across the “W” Trek within Torres del Paine National Park. We awoke to another beautiful, warm and sunny day. It felt great to sleep in a bit, but since we were getting a later start to our day we quickly packed up our tent and belongings, and hit the trail. Day 2 of hiking was the least iconic in my opinion. It was still absolutely gorgeous, however, there was no remarkable destination that we were aspiring to reach. And yes, I know how that sounds, “it’s supposed to be about the journey, not the destination”… and the journey really was fantastic! To be perfectly honest, we were mainly just trying to get to our refugio in time for dinner.

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Kendra and I trekked down from Campamento Torres, out of the valley, and across the front of the mountain range. Over the course of the 16ish kilometers, Lake Nodernskjöld  grew from a little blue, grey spec in the distance, to this massive turquoise lake we hiked alongside all day. The weather was still warm, but the wind added a chill to the air. I was constantly in and out of layers all day. Shorts and a tee shirt, pants and a tee shirt, shorts and a jacket, shorts and another jacket. It was a never ending game of finding comfort as the temperatures changed around every bend in the trail.

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Word on the trail was that the fallen bridge was still unaccessible, although rumors were starting to pop up about how people were getting around it. Some hikers told us that they heard of groups of people crossing it in the early hours of the morning, before rangers could catch them. Others said they heard the really adventurous were crossing further up river. We still had two more days before we needed to cross it, so we remained hopeful that we would find a way to get to the other side without back tracking. In the meantime, we crossed over what I feel was the most sturdy bridge on the trek, hiked up a couple of challenging and steep hills, and basked in the beauty of the land.

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We eventually began our descent through a forest of Magellanic deciduous trees to our final destination for the day, Refugio Los Cuernos. We had opted to stay at Los Cuernos with full board and dinner, as it was actually the cheapest option for places to stay due to the actual campground being fully booked. We arrived just in time for dinner, and I was ravenous. The food did not disappoint! We feasted on salad, vegetable soup, salmon and mashed potatoes with a lemon butter sauce drizzled over top, and a delectable caramel flan.

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A little post dinner exploring lead me down through the campsites to a rocky beach. The refugio is nestled amongst the trees on the bank of Lake Nodernskjöld, with the granite mountains towering behind the quaint building. I took some time to soak in the late evening rays, in awe of my surroundings. I continued to tinker around on the water’s edge for a while, gazing up at the sun as it slowly set over the mountain range in the distance. It was difficult to truly catch the actual setting of the sun, as the sun doesn’t really set until 11:00, with light lingering in the sky well into the night. In fact, the only night I ever even saw stars was during a bathroom run at around 3 AM. However, the peacefulness of watching and listening to the low lit waves crashing on the shoreline was just the mind clearing meditation I was needing after a long day on the trail. Afterwards, I walked back up to the refugio, played a couple of songs on the community guitar, and hit the showers before climbing up and settling into my third story bunk bed.

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Torres del Paine: The “W” Trek. Day 1

5 days, 4 nights, something around 70 kilometers… I still can’t seem to find anywhere with a definitive sum of distances that you hike along the “W” Trek within Torres del Paine National Park. You learn to guess-timate how far 6 hours of hiking equivalates to, as that’s how distances are “measured” in the park. They do have signs with some ambiguous distances listed, but at the end of the day it really seems to be a rough estimate. Anyway, the entire backpacking trip was beyond incredible. There were some bumps in the road, and by bumps I mean a broken bridge that gave Kendra and I a run for our money, but nothing we couldn’t handle!

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It is recommended to stay in Puerto Natales the day before starting your treks in the national park, so that is what we did. We stayed in a quaint, quiet hostel called the Yagan House, where we could relax and organize all of things we wanted to bring in our packs. Since backpacking wasn’t the only thing we would be doing during the entirety of our trip, we had a few extra articles of clothing that we were able to store with the hostel while we were away. We also rented a tent and some cookware here as well. While initially planning for the trip, we had decided it was worth renting as we didn’t want to lug around too much unnecessary gear after the trek was through.

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Packing and repacking
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Yagan House Hostel

Kendra and I had originally walked to our hostel from the bus station, but we opted to treat ourselves to a cab ride the morning of our departure. I had been advised by an REI employee during a chat about the trek, that the buses can be a little crazy on the way to Torres del Paine. He was not lying. Thank God we had purchased bus tickets well in advance. There were so many backpackers waiting, hoping to get a seat. We were at the bus station 15 minutes early, and barely got our bags under the bus and ourselves into our seats before the vehicle took off on the two hour journey to the park. Upon arriving, we had to pay the entrance fee and sit through an information session, which can be paid by credit card FYI. It was about 30$ USD. The visitors center is still several miles from where you begin the trek, so we caught another shuttle from the center to the trailhead area.

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Last minute stop shop for gear

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There is quite a bit of debate as to whether you should hike the trail East to West or West to East. Kendra and I decided on East to West and I am so glad that we did. Enter: Broken Bridge. The bridge was supposedly down between Campamento Italiano and Paine Grande. We would be getting to its location on Day 4 of our trip. This damn bridge became the forefront topic of all conversations had along the trails. Would it be fixed by the time we got to it? Would there be a boat shuttling people over? Could we just cross it, as heard it wasn’t that bad? Could we cross the river somewhere else? How were other hikers dealing with it? Well, other hikers getting royally screwed. That’s the answer to that. Camping reservations were getting all messed up as people were having to turn around and go backwards, hiking many more kilometers per day than they should have been. People were having to shell out even more cash for the main catamaran that transports hikers to Paine Grande. There was a shuttle boat for maybe one day but winds were far too strong to not have stable transportation after that. We heard nightmares of people hiking for hours and hours extra just to be turned away from campsites that were deemed too full. It seemed that the people hiking the circuit West to East were the ones having the most difficulties in this aspect.

The first day of the trek consisted of roughly 9 kilometers of challenging inclines. Right out of the gate, the trail climbed quite quickly until it reached a valley of which it ran along side.  The sun was beating down on us, and our packs seemed heavier with every step. But honestly in retrospect, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The rest of the trek seemed so much easier, even the extra long days.

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The trail descended through the valley, following Rio Ascencio. The trail flattens out near the end of the valley as you reach Refugio Chileno. Kendra and I had opted to camp for free at Campamento Torres, which was still a steep hike up the next mountain.  If you have the extra funds, I would say to stay at Chileno. That way you can just take a day pack up and leave the heavy stuff down below.

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The remainder of the trail crawled up through a forest of tall, thin, twisted trees. I was hot, tired, and wondering if we would ever reach our destination. Everyone who was coming back down the trail, kept telling us, “It’s only 15 more minutes.” For the record, it’s NEVER just 15 more minutes, it’s FOREVERRRR. Ha! But honestly, when I finally saw the semi-hidden entrance to Campamento Torres, I was ecstatic. Our plan was to set up our tent, rest for a short while, and then complete the hike up to the Mirador Torres. Patagonia is notorious for strong winds that snap tent poles, and we were a little worried about our rental tent whose poles were showing their wear. Thankfully, the Torres campsite was well protected, tucked away securely below the trees. We set up our tent and I changed my shoes before starting the ascent to the base of Las Torres. As a tip, I would really recommend having an alternate pair of shoes. Mine were just a lightweight pair of trail runners, but they saved my feet.

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Kendra hiked ahead as I took my time climbing up the rocky trail, absorbing the vast scenery. There were also segments of scree which made the trail tough on my knees. When I took the final turn on the trail, the view opened up onto the beautiful towers and lake. And right as I started walking towards the water, a grey fox popped out from behind a large rock. We had a few moments of eye contact before she scrambled atop a small boulder, sniffing around for tidbits of food. She didn’t seem bothered by me at all, as I stood there snapping picture after picture of her. I actually ran into this beautiful creature several times while meandering around the crumbling granite walls bordering the Torres lake. The place was nearly empty, as we had gotten there later in the evening, avoiding most of the daytime rush. The sun had begun to set on the other side of the towers, creating a beautiful beam of light that shown onto the emerald lake below.  The whole scene was breathtaking and I couldn’t help but sit there in awe of the granduer surrounding me. After we had soaked in enough of the views, and the temperature began to drop, we climbed back down the mountain, cooked dinner, and hit the hay.

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Patagonia Bound

If you’ve been following along on my blog, then you know that I haven’t posted stories on about half of the road trip that John-Hilton and I completed over this past summer. It has been a whirlwind of a few months since then and I fully plan on updating that section of our story. But for now, I will give you a brief update on life and the unfolding of events that have caused the delay of activity. After we arrived back in Florida, I immediately headed south to Marco Island with my family to celebrate the life of my late Nana in a beautiful memorial service out off the coast. That is, also, another wonderful story that I fully plan on writing about for another day. After that John-Hilton and I met up in Siesta Key with a bunch of our friends to celebrate the union of our dear friends, Chase and Lindsay. After several more days in Florida, I hit the road once again to begin my journey back out to Colorado. Oh yeah, and John-Hilton moved out here a month later!!! As I keep saying, I have so much I’d like to share, incredible photos and stories from friends who visited over the past few months, but one thing I will share which is pertinent to my state of life as of now is that I began and finished a yoga teacher training program.

I began my yoga teacher training back in September and I just graduated two weeks ago! My life was, in a nutshell, out of control busy! I was working full time at a research company in Boulder (I live in Denver), going to class 4 times a week (for extended blocks of time), volunteering at my studio, and participating in yoga classes we were required to take in order graduate. Let’s just say that being up for work at 4:45-5 AM and not getting home until 10:00 at night is slightly intense. There’s not a lot of room for the in between, you know like showering, cooking dinner, seeing your amazingly patient partner and beloved puppy, just all those normal people things. So like I said, it’s been a whirlwind of a few months. But, it was one of the best things I have ever done. I have learned so much about myself, met so many amazing women, and gotten to be a part of community whose foundation revolves around love and light. It really isn’t often in life that you get to try new things, put yourself in situations potentially outside of your comfort zone, and receive no judgement from the people you are surrounded by. The program created a safe space for learning and growing, and I am excited to apply what I have learned to my physical and spiritual life.  Will I walk down the road of teacher life? I’m not sure! But I have plenty of adventures to fill my schedule in the mean time.

So, on top of everything I undertook in the last few months, I had to plan out my trip to Patagonia! It was a trip I knew I would be making, I just hadn’t really hashed out the details. I am flying down to Chile to meet up with my friend Kendra, a true beast at planning and booking itineraries. This is the same friend I traveled to New Zealand with last year, and if it wasn’t for her I would not have been able to get anything done planning wise for our current trip. She sent me all the links that I needed to look up the potential places we could go, and then single handedly contacted and confirmed our dates with all of the campsites, hostels, and tours we will be attending. We both have a passion for adventure and exploring new places, and have created a pretty epic trip in my opinion!

So far, the itinerary looks as follows:

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Day 1: Fly into Washington D.C. to ensure adequate time the following morning for my flight to Santiago.

Day 2/3: Travel, travel, travel.. so many hours in airports and on planes; fingers crossed my delayed package containing my inflatable neck pillow arrives on time.

Day 4/5: We will stay in Punta Arenas for a night before heading to Puerto Natales and prepare for our 5 day hike on the W Trek of Torres del Paine.

Day 6-9: Hike the W Trek! This will be my first backpacking trip and the weather in Patagonia is known for being extremely volatile. Winds of 60 mph and spur of the moment rain and snow storms are considered normal. Those views though… I can only imagine!

Day 10/11: Take a catamaran back to Puerto Natales where we will stay for two nights to recover from the hike!

Day 12: Travel to El Calafate, Argentina! Yay, passport stamps!

Day 13: Hike the World’s 2nd largest glacier, Perito Moreno. Apparently you get a shot of whiskey at the end containing ice from the glacier itself. Yum!

Day 14/15: Travel to El Chaltan, which from what I’ve seen in pictures looks absolutely incredible, to do some day hiking.

Day 16/17: Travel by bus back to El Calafate, Puerto Natales, and finally back to Punta Arenas.

Day 18: My last day in South America! In the morning, we are going on a Penguin viewing tour where apparently we will see thousands upon thousands of these little guys!! I fly back to Santiago later that night and hop aboard my red eye to the states.

Day 19: Home sweet home to my little Colorado family.

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Stay tuned for pictures and stories to follow the trip! I am SO excited albeit incredibly nervous! I am hoping to use my yoga zen practice to calm my nerves and help me get through the tougher parts of the trip. I have also recently parted ways with the job I’ve had for the past year as it was no longer serving me and my goals. So, I feel that Patagonia is happening at such a transformative time in my life, and I know this trip will really test my limits physically and mentally. I am incredibley excited to see what this experience will bring!

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Musings in a Clover Field

It is a warm, sunny, post rainy day here in North Hampton, New Hampshire. Bella and I are relaxing in a small field of luscious, green grass that is peppered with the blossoms of clover flowers. I’ve always thought clover was so pretty, despite its common classification as a bothersome weed. I enjoy watching the bees buzz and bounce around to each individual blossom, drawing life from their sweet nectar. Clovers and dandelions are actually very important “weeds” for the life of the collapsing bee colonies, and for many other species of animals (not to mention a clover is technically a legume, not a weed, and is great for the nitrogen balance in your yard). Did you know that you can eat the greens of dandelions and the flowers of clovers as well? In fact, dandelions are incredibly good for you. So stop weeding out your clovers and dandelions, people! Help the bees thrive, and eat a healthy lunch for free!

Anyway I’m sitting here freshly showered, basking in the sunshine that dances in and out of the moving clouds, letting its rays work to dry my dripping hair, and warm my dampened skin. I am in full relaxation mode. I wish I could say the same for my counterparts. Bella is trying her best to place fetch but is constantly being harassed by a few biting flies. She leaps around, snapping her jaws, and contorting her body to get at them as fast as she can as they land on her back or fly by her face. Sometimes she retreats and hides under the picnic table, only to be drawn out by her lust to chase her squeaky rubber ball. She throws, and yes I mean throws, the ball at me, begging me to toss it back for her, and I happily pause my writing to oblige this request.

John­-Hilton is currently at an auto repair shop, getting our traveling home checked out. It has been sputtering and protesting when the gas pedal isn’t being pressed, before shutting off entirely. While one could look at this scenario and be turned off by the inconvenience, we are not. We have been most fortunate to find ourselves in this little town. The people are some of the friendliest we have met so far. The Shel­-Al campground is incredible; Shelly, one of the owners, has given us several coupons for local restaurants, and directed us to a fantastic brewery within walking distance. When she heard of our troubles, and that we would need to stay an extra night here, she blessed us with a complimentary night at a sight with firewood and electrical hookups. She stated she had been in our shoes before and wanted to pay it forward. Not only did this wonderful human being give us shelter, but she took her personal time to transport John­-Hilton to and from the auto repair shop to the campground, and offered us her car to take Bella to the beach or wherever else we would like to go. Thank you Shelly, you are truly a kind hearted and loving soul.

The other group of kind hearts we have gotten to meet are those over at Throwback Brewery. This place is a must if you are ever in the North Hampton area. Having been living in a brewery hotspot (Denver, CO) for the past year, I’d have to say this is one of the best I’ve been to. The location, vibes, staff, and flavorful beer put it right at the top of my list. We walked over to the farm that the brewery is located on as the sun was beginning to set. The first thing you see is this beautifully historic, white painted, 1800’s farmhouse that they brew out of. I read that it was once an old sheep barn! Next we walked around an old silo, and I was in heaven. The outdoor area had plenty of seating and two cornhole sets, perfect for some friendly competition. There was a large planted field, a barn, and chickens in the immediate surrounding area. Their indoor bar area was just as beautifully built, with glossy wooden tables and a glass wall looking into to their fermenters and tanks. My favorite part about their whole operation is that they are locally oriented. Throwback Brewery aims to have all of their ingredients sourced from within 200 miles, and to even begin growing a lot of it on the farm itself. After brewing, they send their used grain to local farmers as livestock feed, “Drink a beer, feed a pig,” as they say. John-­Hilton walked inside to place our first order as I secured a cornhole table, and Bella wandered over to sniff the chickens. He brought our beers out and ran back inside to start our tab. Upon arriving back at our table he had this ear to ear grin, his eyes were twinkling, and he excitedly exclaimed, “Babe, you’ll never guess what I just got!” Now to quickly add in this relevant fact, we have been binging on X­-files for the past few months. We’re basically obsessed. So, Hilton continues, “They give you a bobble head when you start a tab to help keep track of which one you are! You’ll never guess who they gave us!” He presented a Fox Mulder bobble head from behind his back and we both laughed. How awesome! We had definitely found our spot. The staff and owner (we only met one of the duo that run Throwbacks) couldn’t have been friendlier, either. They let us bring Bella inside after it had started to become pretty buggy outside. Oh, and in case you were wondering the beer was phenomenal. We tried several different ones, and my favorite was the Rhubarb Wit, John-Hilton’s was the Oyster Stout.

John­-Hilton has returned from the auto shop, and we are now listening to music, cooking lunch, and waiting for the van to be diagnosed and worked upon. Bella munches on a broccoli stem, temporarily distracted from her relentless nemeses, the flies. The tantalizing aroma of fresh, locally grown, simmering onions and green veggies fills the air, Pink Floyd and Joe Cocker serenade us with sweet melodies, the sun still shines, and the day is perfect.

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Bearskin Neck

If you’ve been following along from the beginning of our journey up the East Coast, you will recall that I wrote my first post from a roadside breakdown. I have now come full circle to that moment. John-Hilton, Bella, and I were on our way home from enjoying a tranquil evening at Halibut Point State Park, when the van shut off and coasted to a stop alongside a craggy shoreline in downtown Rockport. This was the second time in one day that Max, the van, had lost engine power. John-Hilton was stressed for obvious reasons, but luckily we were able to get the van started and made it back to the campsite. I type out “we” as if I had some help in this matter, but I meant he. He got the van started.

During our roadside escapade, I stumbled across a little spot called Bearskin Neck whilst looking up stuff to do in the Rockport area. Bearskin Neck is a small “neck” of land jutting out into Rockport Harbor, containing a plethora of small shops and restaurants. Apparently it was named after a fisherman who had seen the skin of a bear drying out on the rocks. The story of the bearskin tells of a man named Ebenezer Babson who saw a bear attack his nephew. He jumped in the water to distract the bear and lured him to where he would stab the bear with a fishing knife. So now they have a saying, “Babson, Babson, killed a bear, with his knife, I do declare.” The pictures of the rustic strip looked adorable and I convinced John-Hilton to let us make a stop there on our way out of town the next morning.

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We awoke to a crisp spring morning, sun shining in full force, beckoning us to start our day. John-Hilton wanted to swing by an auto store to pick up a fuel filter and Sea Foam to see if that would help Max with his engine troubles. We made the quick stop at a Napa and then drove into Bearskin Neck. Max shut off a couple times while we looked for parking along a busy street in front of the colorful strip. After we secured a space we wandered down onto the neck that was dotted with cute, artsy shops. The plus side of van life is that there’s not much room for storing extra items or trinkets you pick up along the way. So, the only purchases we made were for a bowl of lobster bisque, a couple of ice cream cones, and a small donation to a local band playing on the street. We meandered to the end of the neck where people were walking along rocks out in the harbor and traded photo op moments with other visitors. As touristy and bustling as this area was, we still really enjoyed our time there, the place just had good vibes.

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I’m not sure what our final destination for the evening was supposed to be. I believe somewhere along the border of New Hampshire and Maine, if not all the way into Maine. At this point we did not know we wouldn’t make it into Maine for several more days, but we were happily driving up through the area of Essex into Newbury Port. Antique shops riddled the sides of the road through Essex, pulling at my internal desire to go in search for a hidden gem. However, we kept driving and I kept reminding myself there was no space to store anything extra. Upon nearing Newbury Port, we stopped at a farm to pick up some fresh veggies for dinner. There was the friendliest cow here and I scratched his back while John-Hilton decided to look into changing his fuel filter. He didn’t quite have the necessary tools so we kept on keeping on until we reached a K-Mart parking lot where he could purchase the tools and replace the filter.

While working on Max, John-Hilton made friends with a man who was living out of his car in one of those kind of moments that has to make you smile. The man had clearly not had anyone to talk to in ages and went on and on about his life and about vehicle troubles and whatever else subject he could think of. After the replacement was complete, the man handed John-Hilton a couple of McDonald’s coupons. It was so touching as this man did not have much to give. We felt guilty taking the coupons as we would most likely never use them, but the gesture was too kind to rebuff. We would just have to pay it forward at another time.

After successfully replacing the fuel filter, we headed onward towards our destination. However, Max did not make it a quarter of a mile before shuttering and cutting off at a gas station. John-Hilton was frustrated and we were at a loss. I think that’s when we knew we wouldn’t be making it much further. We found a campsite nearby in North Hampton, New Hampshire and crossed our fingers we could make it there safely. And we did. We made it to the Shel-Al campground, thrilled to discover there was a brewery within walking distance. You know, it’s a funny thing about life, it seems to have these plans for you, these tests to see how well you can handle the ups and the downs, the crests and the troughs of the waves. This really was the beginning of some of the best and what could have been the worst moments of our van life trip.

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Rhode Island Luna-Sea

I joke that I had a past life in Rhode Island. For some reason I had a profound internal desire to visit this state. I had this resounding urge and anticipation to see it. Honestly, this is also true for Massachusetts, but we were preparing to spend the next 2 days in Rhode Island and I couldn’t have been more excited. We had left New Jersey, and were driving through Connecticut, planning on at least one stop in the beautiful Constitution State before arriving in the Ocean State. I have a friend that grew up in Connecticut, so I had asked her for advice on a cool place to check out. Laura sent me a to do list of which included Gillette Castle State Park. The park wasn’t too far out of our way, and looked like it would be a fun spot for a quick stop.

Our drive through Connecticut was absolutely beautiful! I would not have minded staying here for longer but it just wasn’t going to work out that way. We drove through lush, green forests along rolling, twisting roads. The homes we passed along these roads were stunningly quaint, visions of New England style and flare. We arrived at the castle just after the park closed, which was fine, we weren’t planning on doing a guided tour of the grounds anyway. The castle was named Seventh Sister, sitting upon the most southern hill in a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. It had been designed and owned by William Gillette, a famous actor from the early 1900’s until his death. We walked around the property, admiring the castle from the outside and peeking in the windows. The backyard garden overlooked the Connecticut River which was stunningly gorgeous. A thick, deciduous tree line bordered the wide river bed that wound around a large bend, flowing out of our sight. After meandering along some of the surrounding trails we decided it would be best to be on our way.

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John-Hilton had another solar buddy named Dan who was living in Johnston, RI. We would be staying at his home for the next 2 nights as we wanted to have a whole day to explore the small state and all it had to offer. Dan and his fiancé, Lisa, graciously offered us their spare room for this adventure. Bella, John-Hilton, and I arrived at their home shortly after leaving the castle. We ate on a delicious pizza from a local joint, and I headed to bed while the guys hung out, drinking whiskey and catching up.

We awoke early to a foggy morning, but headed to Newport hoping the clouds would lift by the time we got there. Laura had recommended the cliff walk in Newport, saying it offered incredible views of the ocean and several old mansions, and that it was dog friendly! Well, luckily for us the fog cleared and “incredible views” was an understatement. Spring flowers were popping with color, and the water near the rocky cliffs was a turquoise blue. Unbeknownst to us, the cliff walk was a 3.5 mile one way trek. We had parked at the paved end (the other end turns into a rocky pathway) and had only paid for 2 hours of parking. Plus, we were not dressed for a 7 mile hike. We looked at the map of the walk and decided to do the paved part, turn around, repark the van halfway, and start again from there. The mansions on this part of the walk are enormous. It seemed that most were built as summer homes for families that had come from old tobacco money. A few have since been donated to the local university and you can tour most of them. After we turned back for the van, we decided there was no way we could continue without eating first. John-Hilton had never eaten fried clams before, so we drove over to Anthony’s Seafood to remedy this unfortunate lack of tantalizing, taste bud euphoria. That might be a bit of an exaggeration but I grew up eating fried clams, and I think they are delicious. So, we got a large thing of fried clams and a container of clam chowder, and drove off to find parking for the second half of the cliff walk. I’m not sure if where we parked was technically allowed, but it was the off season so the lot that was typically designated for those touring one of the mansions was nearly empty. We decided to go for it, devouring our lunch and changing our shoes before walking up to the cliff’s edge. Oh and John-Hilton gave a big thumbs up mid mouthful of his first fried clam taste!

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The second part of the cliff walk was breathtaking. The mansions were more dispersed and there were much fewer people walking around. The paved path had turned to gravel and eventually began to take you out on the rocks beside the ocean, where you could venture down and admire the pebbled pools full of colorful yellow and green sea plants. In one area of the rocky section, a horseshoe crab had gotten beached by waves that were thrashing him back to shore every time he would try to make it out to sea. He would swim out only to have a wave crash in and fling him on his back, stranding him on the rocks. I was finally able to flip him upright in perfect synchronicity with the receding waves, enabling him to dive down and escape the perilous trap he had found himself in. We wound further along the cliff walk, eventually coming to its end near a road that we were able to use as a shortcut back to the van.

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We were determined to see as much of Rhode Island as we could in the remaining hours of daylight. There was so much we still wanted to do and experience, but we would have needed a week to accomplish it all. After taking the scenic Ocean Drive through and around Fort Adams on the southwest corner of Aquidneck Island, we headed to Beavertail State Park. This state park sits at the southern tip of Jamestown on Conanicut Island where a lighthouse stands guard over the Narragansett Bay. It’s actually the third oldest lighthouse in America. We walked along the rocky shoreline and relaxed for a bit, watching a few birds dive in and out of the waves hunting for their dinner. Speaking of dinner, John-Hilton had been obsessing over this burger place he saw on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. It’s called Crazy Burger, and I swear he watched 20 videos on the place throughout our drive up the coast. It was all Hilton could talk about when we discussed food and where we wanted to eat while in town. Crazy Burger is located in Narragansett and there was one more place I wanted to stop before the sun set that was sort of on the way there.

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Rome Point was our final destination for explorations. It is a known seal sighting area and although it was a little late in the season to spot them, I couldn’t give up the chance that we might get lucky. It was only 6 pm and Crazy Burger didn’t close until 9 so we had plenty of time. Well that is until John-Hilton locked his keys in the van. Thankfully he figured it out before we left for our 3 mile hike instead of afterwards. We decided to walk and call for roadside assistance as we knew it would probably take a while for anyone to get out there and help us out. This was another good call. We made it out to the point which was beautiful, but as we figured would be the case, there were no seals to be found. We tailed it back to the van, passing through dense brush, spotting old cars and building structures along the way. Time was ticking and it was nearing 8pm, putting Hilton on edge that we wouldn’t be able to fulfill his burger dreams. Just as we were beginning to accept defeat, the locksmith arrived! Our hero! He had us back inside the van and on our way to Crazy Burger in no time.

I must say that Crazy Burger did not disappoint. The menu had so many options, there was something for everyone. I eagerly settled on the Wild and Crazy Mushroom Burger, which was a mouth watering vegan “burger.” I’ve actually come to find that I really enjoy the vegetarian and vegan options of burgers as they are usually incredibly unique, and dripping with succulent and diverse flavors. John-Hilton couldn’t decide between the Whassupy Burger, a wasabi coated burger topped with melted Brie, and the Luna-Sea Burger, a salmon pistachio pesto mix baked in a crispy phyllo wrap. So he got both. They were both delicious, but he liked the salmon burger the best, because as I was saying earlier, the unique flavors were unmatched. We were floating on Cloud 9, the day had been long and adventurous. After totaling over 10 miles trekking around and filling ourselves with good food, we headed home, blasting sing alongs on the radio with a tired pup, full bellies, and smiles on our faces.

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Caterpillar Olympics

John-Hilton had previously worked with a solar company in the state of Maryland. He lived there for about a year, before taking his dreams to the road. His year spent in Maryland enabled him to save up to pursue his van life passion, and also gifted him with several great friends. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet a couple of these fellows during the course of our journey.

After leaving Assateague Island, we headed to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. One of John-Hilton’s solar buddies, Jimmy, was staying in the area at his girlfriend, Brittany’s, and invited us to come by. They were throwing a big Memorial Day party, complete with any crab snack you could think of, steamed crabs, crab pizzas, crab dips, crab tater tots, it was delicious! We took Bella out on a paddleboard, played corn hole, some good ole fashioned beer pong, and chatted with all the new people we were getting to meet. Everyone was so friendly, and Brittany’s family was incredibly welcoming and generous. Bella even found herself a friend who did not stop following her around from the second we got there to the second we left. It was pure puppy love. We stayed the evening there so that we could get an early start on our drive upwards through Delaware.

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It only took us a few hours to drive through the entire state of Delaware. We were getting up into the area of our country where you can drive through multiple states in the same amount of time it takes to get halfway across some of our western and southern states. We were catching a trailing piece of the tropical storm that had hit Florida a couple days earlier, so our drive through Delaware was pretty dreary. We did take some time to drive through Dover and saw the state house located there. That was pretty cool, I mean Delaware was our nation’s first state.

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We eventually made it into Philadelphia where we would be staying with our friend, Jessica. I’ve known Jessica and her family for a number of years now, but John-Hilton had grown up with her and her younger brother, Miller, down in Florida. Hilton and I went to college with Miller as well and their family has graciously opened their home to us on numerous occasions throughout the years. It was comforting to see a familiar face so far from home, and we enjoyed a night of dinner, Total Wine shopping, Moscow mules, and movies. In the morning, Jessica had to leave for work so John-Hilton and I packed up the van before heading to check out downtown. Since we had Bella, we were unable to enter into the museums, but we peaked in at the Liberty Bell through the window, walked around Independence Hall, Carpenter’s Hall, and the banks. The sun was beating down on the streets, driving us to seek shady shelters, so we took a stroll through Washington Square and Franklin Square, where we got to see the Chinese Lanterns they had set up as part of the Chinese Lantern Festival. We ended our downtown excursion with a stop at Sonny’s Famous Steaks for a Philly cheesesteak, provolone wit style. This girl doesn’t do cheese whiz. Time had escaped us a bit at this point, causing us to hit the road out of Philadelphia a little later than we had intended.

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I don’t have too many negative things to say about most of the places we visited during this trip, but I might venture to say that New Jersey was not my favorite. I know it wasn’t John-Hilton’s. It wasn’t that either of us can point to a particular moment or event that made us feel this way, I think it was just the vibes. Traffic was a nightmare, there were police everywhere (which is a little odd to see as it makes you wonder what is going on to need that much law enforcement around), and it was so difficult to find affordable, dog friendly camping. Not a single state forest campground was open to dogs, and we couldn’t get a hold of a dog friendly, family campground after 6 pm. Oh and I guess people in New Jersey don’t know that van life is a thing? I’ll get to that in a minute. So, somehow, John-Hilton found a campground called Mahlon Dickerson Reservation that only cost 15-20$ depending on whether you wanted to camp on the RV side which had electrical outlets at each site and bathrooms, or the primitive tent sites. We were arriving at dark, which is always a nerve racking experience, not to mention there were bear warnings everywhere. After making a loop through both grounds, we opted for the well lit, safer looking RV sites. We also decided it would be nice to have flushing toilets, and the electrical outlets so that we could easily make dinner and breakfast. Did I mention flushing toilets?

The bugs were awful, so thick through the forested trees that it sounded like it was raining. The only time we cracked the van doors was to brush our teeth before jumping into bed. John-Hilton got an X-Files episode going, and we settled in for the night. We awoke to the sun peeking through the green leaves of this very beautiful campsite we had so luckily found. There was a patch of soft, green grass between two trees of which Hilton hung his slack line around. I played fetch with Bella as he practiced his acrobatic skills. All was well. Eventually we got to cooking breakfast, laughing and enjoying the morning, when a large, black SUV started to creep by us. It slowly passed, and John-Hilton and I shrugged our shoulders, not giving the incident much mind until the SUV looped back around and stopped in front of our campsite. Two police officers emerged and walked up to where we were sitting, our grill plugged into the electrical outlet as we chugged along with our cooking. I got up and put Bella in the van, thinking they were going to scold me for not having her leashed, but they started questioning our motives and reasonings for being at the campground. We stated simply that we were on a roadtrip up the East Coast. This didn’t seem to register this as normal as they thought it was weird we were in a van. “Usually only RV’s stay over here,” the officers continued, “why would you stay here in a van?” We stated that we felt safer on this side of the road, that we weren’t very familiar with the town or area and liked the fact that there were other campers on this side of the road. I threw in the fact about electricity and flushing toilets, how in the world is this a weird thing?! The officers proceeded to ask for our information and ran our tags, the whole ordeal lasting about 25 minutes. They came back with our ID’s, made a joke about eating our breakfast, and drove off. It was so bizarre.

After that morning interruption, we were ready to get the heck out of there. The experience made us feel uneasy, not to mention about 20 minutes down the highway we saw a vehicle that had been pulled over by 6 police cars. Again, what is going on in New Jersey?! Just another moment of shrugging and brushing off our shoulders. We were heading to Buttermilk Falls in the Delaware Water Gap for a quick hike before heading to Rhode Island. The falls lie across the street from the parking lot, so we hiked up past them to connect with the Appalachian Trail. It still sounded like it was raining, even though the sun was very high in the cloudless sky. We started feeling things falling on us, and quickly learned that there were thousands of caterpillars falling from the trees. We were picking caterpillar after caterpillar off of us. They were in our hair, our clothing, our backpacks, our shoes, and on Bella! Some would be hanging in the middle of the trail by their threads, dangling precariously in front of our faces, testing out our best ninja moves. Even after we had turned back to the car and picked ourselves free of caterpillars, we found them crawling inside the van. John-Hilton and I decided the caterpillars were competing in a form of insect olympics, and that each caterpillar had to inch its way up to the tallest point of the tree it was on to get the gold. Only a few would make this treacherous climb to the top, as most would find themselves plunging to the leafy ground below or onto an unsuspecting passerby. We wished the caterpillars good luck, and took the first road we found out of New Jersey.

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