Friday, July 27, 2012

{Happy Friday} In Nature

Needless to say I got a nice serving of nature during our two week road trip. Not only did I finally give camping a try and get close and personal with the flies in our RV, but I also enjoyed trekking through lush greenery (hoping we wouldn't encounter a bear) and then trying to capture the stars at night. For someone who loves shooting landscape photos and animals, it was a dream. Even A. was smitten with the scenery in Wyoming and Utah and I think he surprised himself when he was completely overtaken by how cute buffalo are. ("It's so fluffy!!") I actually had to keep the man from running out the door to hug one and get gored in the process.

I don't know where I'll end up setting my roots, but one things for certain: I'd be happiest near water. There's something about hearing a flowing river or just staring out onto a lake reflecting the sky above that's so meditative to me. Perhaps because it completes the trifecta needed to sustain life: air, earth, and water. I just hope things remain as they are so that someday my children can set off and see our beautiful environment as I had years before them.

Images: all mine except for buffalo and soaring eagle photos, which were taken by Andrew Gonsalves

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Anthology Issue 8 Trailer: It's a Living

For its eighth issue, Anthology takes on the theme "It's a Living: Exploring the Creative Connection Between Work and Home" and visits the residences of creative types who run their biz from home. As a freelance writer who does just that, I really wish my apartment had a separate office to do it up all nice and organized and then close the door when the workday was done. (Right, like that would happen.) Instead I carry my laptop all around the house trying to get settled at my desk, the dining table, the couch, in bed...you get the point.

Check out Anthology's summer issue (see the trailer below and preview here) for smart d├ęcor ideas that don't involve squeezing your IKEA desk right next to your fridge and then read my interview with interior stylist/thrift store junkie Kirsten Grove as she takes us around her Boise, Idaho home.

Do you work from home? What does your workspace look like?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fear and Falling

I have a huge fear of falling so please tell me why I found myself in more precarious situations in the past two weeks than I have in all my years combined? I had freaked out and had panic attacks more times than I can count and while I pushed past the fear numerous times, it simply got the best of me during others. The thing is oftentimes the most breathtaking views are ones the come after the most harrowing climbs and when you dare to peek out over the edge.

Winding Around Mountain Roads

When you're driving through a mountain pass, up, over, and around these curvy roads 8,000 ft above sea level with steep drop-offs and no barriers, the last place you want to be in the RV is in the cabin bed above the driver. Because your point of view is higher than the driver's and you see nothing directly below the front window, you get the feeling that you're floating above the road. Add to that the fact that the cabin juts out a couple feet and it makes me feel like I'm going to fly over the edge even though the RV still has quite a bit of clearance down below.
Unfortunately, this is exactly where I found myself during two separate encounters with crazy switchbacks and steep slopes. The first time occurred on our way to Devil Canyon in Montana when I was paralyzed and on the verge of tears. I couldn't dig my nails deep enough into the cushions in an attempt to stop all motion. All I saw was the coming curves and the emptiness that laid just beyond that waiting to swallow up the RV. Then I'd get whipped to the left, to the right, and on it would continue until we finally reached some peak or valley and a chance to regulate my nervous system again.

The switch backs to get down into Zion National Park after driving through a cool 1.1 mile long tunnel at the top of the mountain were also very not fun for me. I later learned that I don't get as scared if I record the road while we're driving it and I watch my video camera screen instead. It makes it seem like I'm just watching a movie rather than thisclose to death's embrace.


Devil Canyon

The thing I loved most about visiting Devil Canyon (aside from the fact that it was a complete detour we took after meeting an old Lovell, Wyoming couple at a roadside moose sighting) is that the entire viewing area was fenced. That allowed me to relax, enjoy the amazing views of the golden eagles soaring overhead, and even lean over to watch the Big Horn River carving its way down below.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Lower and Upper Falls

The trail to check out the 1000 ft deep Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was fine except for the fact that we're traveling with three boys. Boys like to climb shit and go off the path and explore all the areas that are off-limits to those who value their lives. A sign asking hikers not to do something was just a way for them to bookmark the things they needed to do. My fear of falling extends to those around me so I couldn't bear to watch some of the stunts they'd pull. I overheard one woman tell her child, "Come on, I don't want to see him" soon after A. went off after the others to some rocky ledge.
In order to view the Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River, you have to go down 300 steps and then go back up the steel staircase to get back onto the trail. It'd be totally cool if a) you couldn't see right through the steps and into the abyss below and b) if the steps weren't all wonky and bent CLEARLY INDICATING their ability to give way to weight. Who cares if I barely weight 85 pounds? It could be all it takes…

Off Roading

There were times when we'd pull off to the side of the road to check out random cool stuff: a jutting cliff, an overlook, a river bed below the road, etc. I'd participate in a much as I was comfortable with (like Firehole River, which we accessed by walking down a rocky, dirt hill). Even though I went down slowly and then clung to a tree after I made it back to the top of the hill to steady my nerves, it was so worth it to have that section of the river to ourselves while the crowds formed by the waterfalls a few yards up ahead.

Bryce Canyon

This was my biggest challenge the entire trip; the one experience that so quickly broke me down and had me fighting to finish the trail out. I don't know if I would've stayed back had I known what I was getting myself into or if my stubbornness would've forced me to go along with the group. Either way, there I was staring down into Bryce Canyon from Sunset Point more than 550 feet above its floor. I knew I wasn't going to like it right then, but I couldn't turn back now. I took my photos from the safe viewpoints with my back pressed against the cliff walls and slowly followed the others to the beginning of the Navajo Loop 3-mile hike until we reached the sloping switchbacks.
Cue the tunnel vision; all I could see was how far down I could fall and felt that if I tripped, I'd roll all the way down til I reached the bottom. A. had to hold me hand the whole way down and talk me through it, but at one point I just couldn't handle anymore and I caved. I crouched down into a ball in the middle of the dirt path completely petrified and convinced that if I moved a muscle I was going to fall down and die.

"I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't do this," I sobbed into my hands. It was all I could repeat in whispers. "I'm so scared."

I looked up at A. not knowing how I could get over this paralysis and realizing that I either had to keep going down or suffer through what I'd just walked through to get back to the top. With A.'s support and nearly stopping the flow of blood to his hands, I somehow made it to the floor (it's so serene and curious down there) and managed to enjoy the view a bit, but I was still dreading the impending climb back to the plateau rim.
Looking out at the rocky amphitheater of iron red, orange, and white hoodoos and then up at the dwarfing spires from the ground was amazing, but don't ask me how any of it looked from the midway points because I never stared out long enough to remember.

Zion

After my experience at Bryce, I was a little more hesitant to join the group on their hike plans. I didn't want to find myself having another unpleasant experience and too nervous to enjoy any of it. So when A., Ky, Aaron, and Bret decided to do one of the most popular and craziest trails at Zion National Park, Angels Landing, I Googled images of the five mile hike and immediately said, "Oh hell no." A 1,488-foot climb along a narrow ridge with steep drop-offs on either side and then pulling yourself up by chains to reach the rock fin? I don't think so.
Still, I beat myself up for the rest of the day after the four of them left. "You let your fear win," I kept thinking as I walked down a much calmer trail along the river. Shouldn't I be pushing past the things that hold me back? Or is it smarter to acknowledge that we all have our limits and it's fine to abide by some of them? While I enjoyed my three hours of alone time and finally exploring at my own pace, I felt like a total loser by time A. came back with all his stories to tell.

The next day he and I spent it exploring the Kayenta and Emerald Pools trails that take you through rocks and sand paths a much more manageable 150 feet up.


Grand Canyon

I have to admit that I could only handle about an hour of the Grand Canyon. It's not that the view wasn't beautiful (though honestly, after Devil Canyon and Bryce very little can compare), but I just couldn't enjoy myself again. I kept shuffling along the path slowly and dreading it when the others wanted to stray from the path. Eventually, I turned back to the RV with A. whose feet were feeling the effects of Angels Landing.

Horseshoe Bend

Viewing the Horseshoe Bend along the Colorado River wasn't terribly harrowing. I just stayed a safe distance from the edge, carefully took some photos, and then diverted my attention whenever someone else got too close to the canyon edge for my comfort.

Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

When the group decided to take on a "strenuous hike" that involved climbing a 32 foot tall ladder along the side of a cliff to explore cave dwellings, crawling through a 12 ft long tunnel, and then two more ladders to return to the top, I thought I wasn't going to like this very much. Still I went, but I don't even know why we decided to pay $3 a head for a tour of The Balcony dwelling. It was enjoyable enough for me (because I saw it more as "Yay! I can actually do this without freaking out. Pat on the back for me."), but the other thrill seekers were disappointed and the tour guide was beyond long-winded and completely uninformative.

Monday, July 23, 2012

America the Beautiful

Hi, all! I'm happy to say that I'm back from an incredible trip with stories and even more photos to share. I'm also sad that I'm back in city because as beautiful as our skyline is, even the view of the Empire State as we drove into Manhattan at 1 in the morning couldn't compare to some of the sights we saw on the road.
During our trip, I loved seeing the different landscapes that comprise the U.S. and that through this trip I caught glimpses of our country in many of its dresses. I happily stared out the window watching the view change state after state. From the flat plains of South Dakota and its miles (and miles!) of cornfields to the lush pine and fir forests of Wyoming, then climbing 8,000 ft through Utah's mountains and exploring the bottoms of its crimson canyons and finally bearing a seemingly endless stretch of Arizona's desert heat. You don't even know how many photos of the sky and road we've taken.
Even with all the traveling I do I always look forward to being surprised, to turning the corner and having my breath taken away by some new discovery. I have to admit that I now find myself addicted to that search. I want to explore, I want to be exposed to something entirely different than what I've grown used to in my 30 years of living in New York City. In the last 17 days I've rolled in the yellow wildflowers of Minnesota, strolled within a supervolcano, nearly busted my ass in a freezing river gorge, skipped on the cracking Earth under the Arizona sun, screamed my stress away at the top of Bryce Canyon, and watched the same sun tuck behind a different landscape every evening.
So can you blame me that I'm sad to return to the busy city scene I've always known when I've just made most of America my own playground? It was exhilarating! Exhausting, yes, and Lord knows some of camp spots we stayed at left plenty to be desired (like showers), but it was worth it if only to see just how vast, how different, and how gorgeous this planet can be. This kind of beauty never gets old. We traveled more than 6,000 miles to see a piece of what this country is made of and for that I consider myself one of the lucky ones - not only for being able to get out and see it firsthand, but for also having the curiosity to explore it in the first place.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

America Via Instagram: Part 2

The Instagramming continues! Here are some of the things we've captured during our travels:

Dorkys (@dorkysramos)
1 / 2 / 3
4 / 5 / 6
7 / 8 / 9

Ky (@kylagbe)
1 / 2 / 3
4 / 5 / 6
7 / 8 / 9

Bret (@sorkness)
1 / 2 / 3
4 / 5 / 6
7 / 8 / 9

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wall Drug Hijinks

During our drive through South Dakota, we stopped into a popular tourist trap called Wall Drug. I can't even explain the thing because it just seems to be a Midwest-style strip mall meaning you've got shop after shop selling you stuffed moose heads, kitschy souvenirs, straw hats, and Native American artifacts. We even got made fun of for taking photos around the place. (Yeah, well we do the same to you fools when you come to our turf!) While there, the group came across an out-of-business "antique" jukebox in which instruments were programmed to play the tunes. Well leave it to the boys to only see it as a fun challenge...

How to Make the Most Out of Your Road Trip

Last summer, Brandi from Not Your Average Ordinary moved from her San Diego home and drove back East on a solo four-week road trip across the northern states in the U.S. and even a dip into Canada. So I've asked her to share some tips about how to make the most of a long drive and how to relish the experience.

And P.S. we're having a wonderful time out here even if I haven't been popping in so regularly. Internet and cell phone service is pretty much non-existent once you enter parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. It's probably for the best; we could use the reminder to step away from the electronics and enjoy the view. That said, our Facebook maps look awesome with all our check-ins!
When I first told friends and family that I was planning a solo cross country road trip, I don’t think they really thought I was serious. But as my departure date approached, it became clear that I would do it. Most people are unaccustomed to – and sometimes even uncomfortable with – traveling alone. I had never done it before, but I wanted the long miles of road to myself.

It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I met new friends, discovered cities I had never been to before, fell in love with mountains in the distance and alleyways and lazy days. I would do it all over again – and I may. This time, however, I know even better the essential keys to a successful solo road trip.
1. Listen to books. Get some good audio books, ones that make you want to keep driving just so you can keep listening. Maybe they’re bestselling works of fiction, maybe they’re guilty pleasures – but find ones that hook you.

2. Stop regularly. Have lunch in cafes and dinner in nice restaurants. Stop before you think you’ll need to. Stretch. Breathe. Enjoy where you are.

3. Take photos. Photograph your meals, the horizon, the sky, the streets. Photograph it all.
4. Talk to strangers. Chat up the people around you. Ask for suggestions of places to go and things to do. Make friends unexpectedly.

5. Carry a GPS. Because it’s really nice to know where you are, even if you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Images: all courtesy of Brandi of notyouraverageordinary.com

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

America Via Instagram: Part 1

We've been feeding our Instagrams like crazy on this trip. Check out some of my photos from the road and then visit our group's blog to see what the other road trippers have been capturing across the U.S.:
1 / 2 / 3
4 / 5 / 6
7 / 8 / 9
10 / 11 / 12

Hello from the Road!

Holy crap it feels like we've been driving for life! So far we've driven through seven states in a mere four days and I wish I could say that we've walked and explored more than we've driven the RV. IN REALITY: we've hauled ass to make it to our campsite reservations on time because we can only go so fast in a 30-foot vehicle. We've already cut out Chicago (too much of a hassle to visit with an RV) and House on the Rock in Wisconsin so we can complete a 10-hour drive to Minnesota from Indiana.

And still at only four days in, it's already been quite the experience. The first night I could hardly sleep in bed while the RV was moving because with all it's shaking and rattling and squeaking, the whole contraption felt like it was going to explode on the highway. (It didn't.) Now I don't know if it's the minor duct tape repairs we've been doing around here, smoother roads, or just getting used to the constant rattles, but it's a bit better now. The jumping bed almost rocks you to sleep. Too bad it can get hot as hellfire in the back of the motorhome.
So far we've camped out at a Walmart (Did you know they allow RVs to stay in their parking lot for free?), at a campsite in Potato Creek State Park in Indiana, and Flying Goose Campground. For the last two I wish we had more time to just relax, take advantage of the activities they had to offer like boating, swimming, and fresh-air breathing, but alas. At least we plan on taking two days to explore Yellowstone in a couple days, which I'm really excited about. It'll be the trip's grand attraction!
Oh hey! Last night this city girl had her first camp out experience! We stopped by a Walmart (they are everywhere outside of New York City) to buy dinner fixings we could cook over a campfire and feasted on hot dogs, grilled corn on the cob and asparagus, and salad. For dessert, s'mores, of course, and banana boats: roasted bananas which have been slightly peeled, sliced in half lengthwise, smeared with peanut butter, chocolate, and marshmallow bits, and closed back up to throw on the fire for 10-15 minutes. I didn't get a taste because I was too busy trying to capture long exposure shots of the amazing starry sky, but I promise one will make it into my tummy very soon.
Afterwards, A. and I climbed into our tent and I'm happy to announce that after two weeks of insomnia, my knocking out abilities have returned full-force.

A few more travel notes:

- This greedy country has a whole lot of land and about 10 million miles of corn.
- So far we've taken spontaneous dips in Ohiopyle, Penn.'s river gorge by Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and in the Mississippi River after sneaking into someone's property to get to their backyard access. Hey, we tried knocking and no one was home.
- Yummy food stops: Cracker Barrel, where the food is too much and the drinks just keep on coming; the Highwaters Grill in Ohiopyle for really good fried shrimp and tender pulled pork sandwiches; and Culver's chain for burgers and shakes.
- I was in the middle of a conversation with A. when I glanced outside and started squealing and running to every window. I never imagined I'd get so excited over wind turbines, but it was just surreal to see how huge they are in person.
- Traveling with these fools has been great! So far so good and I've been getting to know Bret and Spyder a lot better. Our sixth companion Aaron, who we found via Airbnb, is pretty cool, too. There's nothing like spending 10 hours in a confined space and not showering for the first two days to bring people together.
- We were treated to a fireworks show that nearly put Macy's to shame after exiting a highway in Indiana and seeing the colorful explosions in the distance. So we immediately pulled to the side of an empty road and enjoyed what we like to think was a welcoming just for us.