It was the back door. The way you had to twist the knob halfway to the right, then pull, then twist it again in order for everything to click into place when you locked it. Getting that down was part of making the place feel like home. Like you belonged. Because you knew the trick.
After a while, everything became familiar, and every quirk became common as we began to know our house inside and out, thus making it our own.
Our house became the go-to spot on Mondays, when The Bachelor would be on and I would hustle inside from my evening yoga class, saying, “hi,” to friends on the couch who were ready to catch up and half watch, half talk over the ridiculous television drama.
Our backyard became the place where my sister could pull weeds beside my dad, preparing the soil for seasonal flowers and vegetables, hopeful they’d bring some relief to her busy work schedule and upcoming grad school exams.
Our upstairs hallway became the place where we could stand at our respective bedroom doorways, rehashing the events of the day, whether it was good, bad, or entirely unbelievable. It was where a rogue feather from a newly cleaned down comforter always landed, where the quietness of the morning was broken up by hurried feet charging out the door, and where communal decisions on shoes, sweaters, hair and makeup could be made.
Our dining room table became the place where we updated our collective wall calendar and where ate Jack-in-the-Box tacos at midnight, hoping to avoid the hangover. It became a place where we played board games with cousins visiting from out of town, sometimes laughing so hard our stomachs hurt, and where we threw anything that didn’t have a defined place into “the mug” that sat in the center.
Our kitchen became the place where potluck meals came together, and where drinks were mixed, and shots were taken after hard days. It became the place where cookbooks were propped up, followed closely, and inevitably stained with oil, butter and spices, where a week’s worth of breakfasts were prepped on Sunday nights, and where my sister made her famous chocolate chip cookies for every holiday and celebration you could imagine.
Our living room recliners became the place where my sister and I sat side by side, to eat dinner, talk, vent, do homework, watch TV, play a video game, laugh, cry, and wonder where life was going to take us next.
Laying in my bed on our last night in the house, I looked up at the skylight in my ceiling, taking note of the small handful of stars that had always seemed to watch over me. I turned on my left side to look at my window, remembering all the afternoons after work when I’d lay there and watched the setting sun turn my room golden orange. I looked at the pictures, paintings, and shelves on the wall, each of which went up in their own time, with their own set of frustrations, and their own purpose, story or memory. I thought of the pacing I’d done on our very first night in the house, the frantic energy that had come with the newfound freedom of living on my own, and the growing panic that I might not know how. And then I turned on my right side, the side I always fall asleep on, the side I’d often lay, praying, crying, reading, or watching a movie—sometimes far later into the night than I intended. I lay on my right side, unable to remember every single thing I’d learned during these last six years, but overtly aware that I’d been changed for the better.
I was leaving this house, but I was taking it with me. We were starting a new adventure, but those we had here would never be too far away. So when we packed up the house the next day, trucks loaded with furniture, clothes, and boxes and boxes of little things, I turned off all the lights and then locked all the doors—leaving a few extra seconds for that back one, to do a final twist, pull, twist, and click.
Since we had fully committed ourselves to Boulder rather than Denver at this point, Allison and I woke up Wednesday morning and didn’t even think twice about where we wanted to eat breakfast.
Referring to this list this time, we decided on The Buff, mostly because I was hypnotized by the Pecan Caramel Quesadilla sampler.
Spoiler alert: it was everything I hoped it would be.
For our entrees, Allison ordered the Saddlebags which are pancakes stuffed with bacon, and I ordered the Granola Pancakes which, if I’m honest, I felt like I was expecting too much of after the crunchy granola French toast from Syrup in Denver. It’s not that they were bad, they just…weren’t the granola French toast from Syrup, you know?
Allison and I had kind of a tight schedule to fit today. Our primary reason for coming to Denver in the first place was to see two of our favorite artists, Needtobreathe and Gavin Degraw, join forces at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre for what was sure to be the concert of a lifetime. We’d planned our trip around the concert, scheduling it to be somewhat of a grand finale.
The concert was at 7:00 on Wednesday night in Morrison, which was 20 minutes from our hotel, but after a recommendation from a friend we decided to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park, which was north of Boulder, just under 2 hours from our hotel. As we ate our breakfast at 11:30 in Boulder, we knew we had enough time, we just didn’t have enough time for anything to go wrong.
Misleading Spoiler Alert: Nothing went wrong.
We arrived at Rocky Mountain National park around 1:00. The cost for a day’s (or hour’s) entrance was $20, but trust me when I say that it is worth EVERY PENNY.
Allison and I pulled off the road at a couple of spots, taking pictures and making an uncontrollable amount of audible “OH MY GOSH’s.” The sky was absolutely perfect, the fields and trees were a living breathing kind of green, and every once in a while a burst of a breeze would blow right through you, forcing you to close your eyes and take a long, deep breath. It was one of those places that I don’t think you could ever feel like you spent enough time in. You become instantly attached to every inch of it, wishing there was some way you could keep it with you, to remind you how perfect the world can be at the times when it seems farthest from it.
Just before 7 o’clock, we pulled into the parking lot for the concert. We had plans of eating before we went, but ran a little short on time, so as we waited in line alongside the massive red rocks, we started brainstorming on what we hoped would be offered inside. And while it never would have crossed my mind in one million years, as is turned out, bratwurst was exactly what I was craving. Allison and I both ordered a beer and a bratwurst with cheese, chili, onions and peppers and my stomach all but applauded in thanks.
For the concert, the opening act was The New Respects, who kind of gave me a Jackson 5 vibe. They were very upbeat and melodic and made you want to dance right alongside them. The second act was The Lone Bellow. They ended up replacing Gavin Degraw due to unforeseen circumstances and had a Lumineers/Civil Wars sound. After their first few songs, the lead singer took the mic and addressed the crowd, saying, “I was at a bar in Denver last night, and I met the most beautiful soul. He was singing at an open mic night and I’ve never seen someone exude so much light when they perform.” He said he talked to the man afterwards and learned that at the age of about 60, the man had already beat cancer twice and was currently fighting another disease. But even amongst all of his struggle, the man said that when he sang, he felt no pain.
“So I thought,” the lead singer continued, “why don’t we bring him out to sing with us?”
The man then walked on stage with a wide smile spread across his face. I, of course, instantly started crying. And as the four of them started singing “Angel from Montgomery” by Bonnie Raitt, the tears kept on coming. The lead singer had been right about the man’s ability to exude light when he sang and as I watched them all sing together, I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was witnessing something really special.
Next was Needtobreathe, who is not only my favorite band, but my favorite live artist of all time. This was my 5th time seeing them and Allison’s first, which I think is what made the performance my favorite of theirs by far. We danced, we laughed, we cried, we stood speechless, and to top it all off, we did so in by far the coolest venue I’ve ever been to. If you’re ever in the Denver area, please do yourself a favor and see a show at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. And if you’re ever in the Denver area—or anywhere else really—at the same time as Needtobreathe, please do yourself a favor and see them live. It will change your life.
Our last day in Colorado came with an early wakeup call. It wasn’t our earliest, but it was by far our hardest. We packed our bags and gathered the last of our belongings from our hotel room. We checked out, returned our rental car and took a shuttle to the airport. There was mild conversation, but it all had an invisible weight brought on by the prospect of leaving.
In a couple hours, I’d be on a flight back to California and Allison would be headed back to Oregon. We didn’t know when we’d see each other again, and we were well aware we’d be going back to a friendship that mostly exists through texts, emails and phone calls squeezed in between our very busy and very different schedules.
Our gates were right next to each other and our flights were leaving one minute apart, so once we got through security, we sat side by side in a pair of chairs directly between the two doors we’d soon be walking through. We watched the screens update our flight information and we listened to the intercom announce the arrivals and departures of surrounding planes. We fantasized about getting on a different plane. Making this vacation last a little longer. Avoiding responsibilities for even just a day or two more. But then a woman’s voice came on the speaker and announced it was time for us both to board. We stood from our seats and gave each other a hug, both of us feeling the separation anxiety starting to set in quick.
I walked up to the counter and scanned my ticket with the agent, then walked down the jet bridge alone. I waited in line behind a man with a giant carry on suitcase and then took my window seat near the back of the plane and plugged in my headphones. As the rest of the passengers continued to board, I got a text from Allison.
I looked out the window of my plane, over at the series of windows on the neighboring plane, wondering where my best friend was sitting, feeling weird that after almost a whole week of being together 24/7, we weren’t sitting together. Then, as my eyes grazed the middle of the plane, I saw something.
I smiled. It was moments like these that made me feel confident in the upcoming days and months we’d spend apart. Because even when things got tough, we’d always be there for each other to shine a little light and help each other out. So as my plane backed out onto the runway, I leaned back in my seat, sad this trip was over, but optimistic and excited about the many adventures to come.
After another slow, relaxing morning, Allison and I made our way back into Denver for breakfast. This time we referred to this list, and decided on Syrup, not only because the name screams BREAKFAST, but also because the menu boasted items such as “breakfast pizza” and a “pancake and waffle flight.” I ended up trying the “crunchy French toast”, which is the breakfast classic fried in granola and I was instantly obsessed.
The restaurant was found inside a suite in a downtown building, so when we walked back outside, we expected to be thrust into the hustle and bustle of the city. Strangely, however, we found the city to be a far cry from those we were familiar with. The streets were almost silent. Coming from Los Angeles, I felt a strange yearning for honking and cursing and yelling and then immediately felt ashamed about it. Maybe cities could exist without all of that. But then, as we drove around, checking out Coors Field and the surrounding streets, I also started to wonder, was I too far gone to enjoy a city that didn’t?
“Okay, things to do in Denver,” I mumbled to myself as I did a Google search on the side of the road. “Uhhh, want to go see this nosey blue bear?”
“Sure,” Allison said, and she got to work on directions.
Meet the nosey blue bear, also known as the “Big Blue Bear” that stands outside of the Colorado Convention Center:
To be fair, I’m not sure if we totally gave Denver a shot. After checking out the Baloo the peeping bear, we drove around a little bit more, before ultimately heading back to the city that had stolen our hearts: Boulder.
We made the 40 minute trek, found a parking spot just outside the Pearl St. Mall and spent the next few hours walking from store to store. We walked up both sides of the mall, taking in the many unique art installations that peppered its sidewalks, we browsed boutiques that boasted price tags we could only dream to ignore, and we spent far too much—which really means not enough—time in a local bookstore.
Around 4 o’clock, we got back in the car and once again let our Googling thumbs decide where we should go next.
“Do you want to go to The Leanin’ Tree?” I asked Allison.
I shrugged and clicked to view the Yelp reviews. “This person says, ‘Amazing and free’”
At the sound of our two favorite words, Allison immediately buckled her seatbelt and typed in the address.
About 15 minutes later, we were pulling into a parking lot. A small “Leanin’ Tree” sign let us know we were in the right place, but when we parked our car and looked out the passenger window, passed the wooden fence marked “Leanin’ Tree,” we were still unsure. It was a park with a bunch of bronze sculptures grouped closely together.
“I was kind of expecting a…uhhh…a tree,” Allison said.
Allison went to work on her phone, trying to figure out where exactly we were, then she looked up at me with a frown. “I think it’s closed.”
I glanced down at the clock: 4:15.
“Dangit. Did it close at 4?”
Allison shook her head. “No. I mean, I think it’s closed forever.”
She showed me her phone. An article read: “Boulder closes Leanin’ Tree Museum after 40 years of service.”
We both sighed. The article was dated only a few weeks ago. I sat back in my seat, wondering what we should do next and Allison leaned into the glass of her window.
“You know,” she said. “The gate is open.”
We got out of the car. At the very least, we figured we could get a closer look at the statues and maybe take a picture with one or two.
(Which we did)
We walked through the gate and followed the sidewalk around to a set of double doors.
“Should we go inside?” I asked.
Allison shrugged and opened the door.
Inside we found a large desk with two women sitting behind it.
“Hello,” the woman on the left said. “Feel free to look around. To the right is our Christmas room.”
This woman then walked away. As if “to the right is our Christmas room” is a completely casual thing to say. Allison and I exchanged a look, and without saying a word, we both b-lined to the “Christmas Room.”
What is a Christmas Room you might ask? Well, it’s EXACTLY what it sounds like. After turning the corner in the beige walled, grey-carpeted lobby, we were thrust into a candy apple red, frosted shelf, Christmas trinket wonderland. Tables and shelves were COVERED in Christmas decorations, holiday knick-knacks and seasonal greeting cards. Santas came in every size. Everything was sprinkled with glitter. Every closed box promised the potential of a jingle. Allison and I looked at each other and immediately started laughing.
WHERE THE HELL WERE WE?!
We stood in the Christmas room for a few minutes, until we felt we were composed enough to face the women at the desk again, then walked back out into the lobby. This time the woman on the right stood to greet us.
“Hello,” she said. “Do you know what we do here?”
“No,” we said desperately in unison.
“Well we used to have a Western Art museum, but that recently closed. Our main source of work here, however, is greeting cards.”
She gestured to her left. “Feel free to look around.”
We followed her hand to the room on the other side of the desk. Inside we found a collection of, well, everything. There was jewelry, there were t-shirts, there were hand painted wooden signs that moms hang in their gardens. There were candles and perfumes and purses and a collection of 50% off posters of the western art the museum used to display. To top it all off, when you moved to the back of the store, you were led into another room FULL of greeting cards. We’re talking aisles and rotating displays and shelves and tables full of greeting cards for every occasion.
Again, we asked ourselves, where are we?!
Regardless of the answer, we spent a good 45 minutes inside, looking at absolutely EVERYTHING. Just after 5 o’clock, we made our way back to the counter, where we purchased the following items:
A Colorado post card
2 greeting cards
A child XL t-shirt with a brontosaurus standing under the night sky
A mason jar with an apron inside that said, “you look radishing”
Only the essentials, obviously.
When we got back in our car, we calmly set our purchases in the backseat, buckled our seatbelts, then looked at each other and let out another loud, long laugh. Once we were composed, we went in search of a snack before dinner.
We had planned to watch the sunset up at a friend-recommended spot known as Realization Point, and thought that popcorn sounded like something good to munch on. Long story short, we spent the next hour looking for Doc-Popcorn, which our maps had two locations for in Boulder, only to find out that neither of them exist. SO, we settled for smoothies instead, stopping at a place called Wonder to satisfy that craving.
While seated at a table in the very trendy, brick walled café, Allison put both hands flat on the table.
“I don’t feel very well,” she said. “I feel like I’m about to have a panic attack.”
I’ve never had a panic attack, but I’ve read enough to sympathize with their unpredictable nature and paralyzing symptoms. I took a big gulp of my smoothie. “How can I help?”
Allison stood from the table and we made our way back to the car and up the hill to Realization Point. She said she wanted to take in the sunset and then we agreed to pick up something light for dinner and head back to the hotel to watch a movie. As we drove, she apologized, feeling guilty even though she had no reason to. I knew she felt like she was “ruining the evening” and I worried she had thoughts she was somehow ruining the trip.
I think we all tend to put so much pressure on ourselves when we’re on vacation. Like we need to feel our best all the time or we’re just wasting our time. So often we forget that part of vacation is rest. It’s having the time to recognize the feelings our busy workdays may require us to harbor.
Allison and I spend most of our time thousands of miles apart, so the best part of any vacation together is that freedom to get be on vacation together. Whether that’s going on some crazy, adrenaline pumping adventure, or staying up late talking about everything, or tucking in early to call it a night. So as we made our way home with some soup and a movie, I had no worries this vacation was in danger of being ruined. In many ways, it had already been more that I could have ever imagined.
At home, a typical September Sunday morning usually consists of church, with the occasional play of hooky to watch a Giants football game on television. They are always slow moving and relaxing and comfortable, which made this Sunday morning in Bend feel just like home. After getting the chance to catch up on some sleep, Allison and I curled up under a blanket on the couch and talked about nothing.
Oftentimes being a guest in someone’s home creates a kind of pressure on both sides where both parties want the other to feel comfortable and happy. But there is a special kind of magic when you can just sit and exist and not feel like a guest at all but rather a member of the family. Allison and I talked about our plans for the day and lazed around a little bit longer than we probably should have, but it gave the day a perfect start.
Around 11:00 we went to Jackson’s Corner, one of my favorite places from the last trip I took to Bend (which you can read about here), where I once again got The Cristo, the French toast sandwich I’d been dreaming about ever since. This time I remembered to take a picture:
From there we went to the Lava River Cave, where I got to sport my first winter coat of the season as we walked through a mile long underground lava tube. Mike, Allison and I walked side by side, shining rented flashlights into the pitch dark, making jokes about what it would be like to get stuck down there, while all silently agreeing it would probably be the worst thing ever. We walked up close to the damp, textured formations on the walls and in the dirt, having a constant stream of “I can’t believe this exists right alongside us” moments. By the time we were back up the 150 stairs that lead into the cave, the sun felt as hot as it looked bright and we hobbled our way back to the car, still in awe of what we’d just experienced.
One thing I’ve come to learn about Bend is that with its easy access to breweries, there’s always a bar or restaurant close by to unwind with a cold one. So after our trek through the lava tube, it was only fitting that we head to Atlas Cider Co. to have a drink and watch some late afternoon football. I ordered the apricot cider and Allison ordered the pineapple mango cider, both of which hit the spot perfectly, and we each helped ourselves to a bag of free popcorn the pub offers in the back room next to the arcade.
We were all in between bouts of hunger, wondering what we should do with rest of our evening. But as we sipped our ciders and munched our popcorn, we decided the best plan was least related, in other words it consisted of tacos, cinnamon rolls and wine.
For the tacos we went to ElSancho, where Allison recommended everything and I settled on carne asada and carnitas. For the cinnamon rolls we went to the grocery store where we braved buying ingredients to bake them homemade, the results of which were everything we hoped for. And for the wine we went home, where we uncorked the bottle in the refrigerator, turned on the Emmy’s and let another good day come to a close.
At 4:15 a.m. my alarm went off and my eyes blinked slowly open. Waking up seemed impossible, unbearable, illogical, but somehow I dragged myself into the bathroom, turned on the surface of the sun grade light, and brushed my teeth.
It was 6:00 when I got to the airport, and everyone seemed to be thinking the same thing as me: why the hell are we here this early? followed closely by: because the adventure ahead will be worth it.
I boarded my first flight, and almost immediately after my butt hit the seat, my eyes closed. The flight attendant walked by and tapped me on the shoulder, informing me that while I was more than welcome to sleep, I was also sitting next to the emergency exit. Me and the other three people sitting in the row were required to audibly agree to our responsibilities in case of emergency, but judging how fast the lot of us fell mouths open asleep after take off, I’d say the plane was pretty lucky they didn’t need us.
On my second flight, I was sat next to a man who immediately pulled out a laptop and began furiously typing. I pulled out my copy of The Glass Castle and read the last few chapters, all the while feeling my stomach begin to churn and my fingers begin to fidget.
The first day of any vacation is the hardest for me. Expectations run rampant through my mind, promising to be let down. I knew my best friend was waiting patiently for me on the other side of this flight and I worried that the stories I’d been waiting to tell her wouldn’t be interesting or exciting enough. What if the distance between us had made us grow apart? What if this trip wasn’t everything we’d been hoping it would be?
The captain came on the intercom and announced our initial descent into Redmond, Oregon, and for a split second I wished I could stay on the plane forever, free from all the responsibilities to satisfy, impress and succeed that awaited me on the ground. But before I knew it, the wheels hit the pavement and the plane rolled to a stop. I walked through the terminal to the baggage claim, knowing there was no turning back now.
When I stepped outside, I saw my best friend, Allison, waiting by her car, her dog Jersey’s head poking out of the back seat. A wave of relief washed over me as we made a series of nerdy jumps and squeals to close the distance between us and initiate the hug we’d been waiting 6 months for.
“How are you?!” she said, and her voice in my ear was a startling reminder that she was no longer a text message or an email or a late night notification on Instagram, she was a living breathing person that I call my best friend, and we had finally been reunited.
“So we have an interesting afternoon ahead of us,” she said once I got in the car.
“Tell me more.”
Being a producer for a news station in Bend, Oregon, and the girlfriend of an anchor for a rivaling news station, Allison had been challenged to race her boyfriend—and fight for her channel’s honor—in a heated, balls out, tricycle race.
We stopped by her house for a quick change of clothes, she squatted and mimed tricycle riding motions to ensure she’d chosen a good pair of pants, and then we drove into town, where the Bend Oktoberfest—sure, it was September and we were a bit confused, but we won’t talk about it—was in full swing.
Beer steins were in every hand, pretzels crumbs were on every face and there was one very bold man sporting lederhosen. We took a seat on the bleachers that sandwiched the 200ft tricycle course and, alongside Allison’s boyfriend Mike, stared at the incredibly small tricycles, wondering how on earth either of them would not only fit aboard, but operate them in a way that would lead to success.
The first heat of racers left the starting line, giving life to every fear we had. Grown men leaned and wobbled and one woman let out a terrified squeal. Allison and Mike shared a glance, then took their places in line, fitted themselves with a helmet, and shrugged at me with a “here goes nothing.”
In the end, neither of them came out on top. While Allison finished in a close 2nd place, Mike’s long legs proved to be his greatest enemy and a resounding reminder that he was in fact an adult trying to operate a children’s bike. We all shrugged a collective shrug, then agreed that pizza was the obvious next step.
Mod Pizza, which is a build it yourself Pie-ology/PizzaRev equivalent, proved to be the ultimate right choice for our lunching festivities. I ordered a chicken, corn, tomato, red onion and feta masterpiece, then allowed myself to be tempted by the “no name cakes” that sit next to the cash register.
Tip: Always get the No Name Cake. It’s like a freshly made Ding Dong that your taste buds need.
Back at Allison’s house, we took a seat on the couch and let the conversation start flowing. We covered the topics that sat just below the surface, shared a few current music obsessions, and looked out the window at the impending fall weather.
At 5:30, we drove over to see Mike’s 6 o’clock show, where he Ron Burgundy-ed Bend’s latest news. Allison and I sat off camera, a mere 50 feet from him, in fold up chairs. She watched with trained eyes, all too familiar with the format and production of a newscast, and I sat with my hands in tight fists, worried I might accidentally scream or sneeze or pass out and ruin the show.
Afterwards, the three of us drove out to The Bite in Tumalo, which is essentially a corner street park converted into a homey picnic area with food carts, a fire pit, corn hole, and a bar with a ton of beers on tap. We all ate at Ronin Sushi & Japanese Grill, which, bottom line was delicious, but listen to me and listen to me now. Do yourself a favor and order the Bento Box with the Japanese fried chicken. Listen to me when I tell you that anything else is a mistake. Listen to me when I tell you that while I’d previously never heard of Japanese fried chicken, it’s also safe to say I was previously living a dark and dingy life. Also, from the bar, I’d recommend the Atlas Blackberry Cider, it tastes like the mature, has-their-shit-together-cousin of red wine.
Once we were thoroughly full, though not even close to finished harping on the magic that is JFC—Japanese fried chicken, a.k.a the new, improved and as far as I’m concerned ONLY colonel of protein I’d like to associate with—Mike headed back to work to prepare for the late show and Allison and I went to McMenamins.
Now, if I had a way to explain McMenamins briefly, I would, but I feel as though that would be both dishonest to you and a disservice to McMenamins. On their Facebook page, they tag themselves as related to pubs, breweries, historic hotels, concert venues, wineries, distilleries, coffee roasters, movie theaters, golf, and spas, and honestly that should tell you everything you need to know about this place, which is that you’ll probably never know everything there is to know about this place.
Allison took me through an outdoor cigar lounge and into a building with dark carpet and wood paneled walls.
“We’re going to find the secret bar,” she said, “but first you have to find all the other secret rooms.”
I looked up and down the hallways, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, then I looked back at her.
“The only clue I’m going to give you is blue light,” she said.
And while I’d love to be the spiller of all secrets, Internet, this is the only clue I will leave you with as well. Just know that it is actually a great clue and that there are hidden doors among the wood paneled walls that lead you into rooms like this:
As well as a hidden bar that will give you some major speakeasy feels upon discovery.
I’d like to say I Sherlocked my way through every puzzle and celebrated with a beer at the top, but unfortunately a handful of people in front of us ended up giving away a bunch of the secrets. So after checking in at the secret bar, we made our way back down to the car and over to Bonta Gelato. Allison and I both got waffle cones full of goodness—I recommend the Vanilla Bourbon Pecan!—and cheers-ed to the first day of our adventure.
On perhaps my most dreaded day of the entire trip, my sister and I awoke not to the rise of the sun, but to the sound of an alarm. At 5:15, we slipped out of bed and put on our bathing suits—we were going surfing and I was pretty sure I was going to throw up.
Two days earlier, when Alison initially announced that Monday was surf day, I cautiously asked if there were any alternative activities available.
“What about standup paddle boarding?” I asked nervously. “Is that an option?”
Being a less than superb swimmer and an active worrier, I had no interest in surfing. For days I had pictured myself falling and drowning and getting swept out to sea, as if Alison was going to drop us in the middle of 50-foot waves with a foam board and a slap on the butt. I am also extremely prone to seasickness. So as I pictured myself falling again and again, I also envisioned the motion of the waves rocking me all the way to the bathroom for the remainder of the night.
“You’re going to do great,” Alison said, looking at me in the rearview mirror, “I promise you’ll be totally fine.” But alas, there I was, dressed and (not so) ready to go, hands shaking in my lap as we made our way down to our intended surf spot.
Emily, a new friend from Canada, sat quietly beside me. The night before, as we were given a quick briefing on what to expect for surf day, she’d leaned in and asked me what my thoughts were. Turns out, she too was terrified. A long breath escaped my lungs in relief. I had been dreading surf day for weeks, and the fear of its arrival had only been matched by my admission to want to skip it. However, in the spirit of “jumping”, I had been honest with how I was feeling, which not only gave me the slightest bit more courage, but also gave those around me—like Emily—the slightest bit of comfort.
As we pulled up to the surf spot, our would be instructor, Bear, hopped out of his car with a frown. The water was flat as a pancake. I tried my best to hide my relief from everyone except Emily, who gave me the slightest smile when no one was looking.
“Alright,” Alison said, bummed, “new plan!”
We hopped back in the car and jetted over to a bay, our car now stocked with snorkels and fins. I walked out along the rocks to the water line with a boogie board and leftover anxiety, still the slightest bit scared for what we were about to do.
“Ready?” I said to Emily, and she nodded.
We swam out towards a building crowd. Swimmers and kayaks alike were gathering in the center of the bay, screaming and laughing with excitement. I held the boogie board out in front of me, steadily kicking my fins behind me.
“There they are!” someone shouted in front of me. My pace quickened.
“Look down now!”
I pushed my snorkel beneath the water and my ears popped. Suddenly I heard a high-pitched noise coming closer and closer. I turned my head and three dolphins were swimming right towards me. They moved smoothly, effortlessly and I was hypnotized. Once they were out of sight, I popped up out of the water with a bright smile.
“That was amazing!” I said
I rested on my boogie board, completely in awe. Wow, I thought. There were just three dolphins swimming right below me!!What a day.
Fast forward an hour later, I’d seen over 100.
Excuse me while I let that sink in again. Yes, I did in fact swim with one hundred dolphins. Me. The person who doesn’t swim. What is life?
From the bay of (100!) dolphins we made a quick stop for some local organic ice cream, then spent the remainder of our afternoon snacking, laughing, and working as hard as this monk seal we found lounging on the beach.
As far as I’m concerned any day that starts with carbs is going to be a good day. So as I sat around the breakfast table with people I’d grown to really care about, eating a scone at sunrise, I was loving my life.
By this point we were all very comfortable with each other and were not afraid to make a bit of a touristy scene when it came to properly documenting a good view. To give you an idea, allow me to introduce our group by way of shameless photograph.
And this chick with the orange shorts that kept following them around (a.k.a me!)
We were an undeniable family, so much so that—as you may have noticed—we often posed the exact same way, and people constantly asked if we wanted our picture taken together (which we almost always obliged) (in the exact same pose).
On this day, we took in the sights of yet another breathtaking beach, unique in topography but not in grandeur to those we’d seen before, and we also got a little lesson in survival.
For those of you who don’t know, Alison had a very unique upbringing, the likes of which gave her the slightest advantage (if one can exist) on Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid a few years back. So as we took a seat under a shady tree a little ways up the shoreline from the water, she stood up with her signature enthusiasm.
“So we’ve just been dropped here,” she said, pulling us into an imaginary scenario, “and we need to use what we can find around us to survive the night. Do you know what the four most important tools for survival are, and in what order?”
*pauses in case you’re the kind of person that wants to make they’re own guess.*
Alison then walked us through the Jurassic Park-esque landscape, pointing out different materials we could use for shelter, what to look for in terms of food, some key facts about tropical plants and some basic survival tips we could take with us to any terrain.
Afterwards we walked back over to our camp—which included a minor trek across a river—and set up for a relaxing afternoon on the beach.
Again we split off into the napping and non-napping, the swimming, the tanning, the exploring, or in my case, the writing. I took a seat up against a tree, pulled out my notebook and let my mind spill out onto the page.
One thought that kept coming up was about a conversation we had in the car a few days prior. I was sat in the middle of the backseat between Natalee and Emily, with Alison and Jack riding in the front. Emily had asked Alison how she defines her—some could argue unorthodox—profession.
Alison kind of laughed, and bobbled her head around, her face revealing she’d not only been asked this question many times before, but has also spent a good amount of time pondering the answer herself. She said she usually sums it up to “filmmaker” as films are the center of what she does.
I remember sitting there quietly, wishing I could sum it up better, if only to be more apt to brag about her to my friends and family back home. But it wasn’t until I found myself under that tree that I felt as though I’d finally found the right word.
I played with it, threw it around my brain. I understood it wasn’t correct if taken in the logical sense. However, in the same thought that not all artists draw and not all athletes play baseball, I felt as though architect too could lend itself to interpretation.
The way I see it, she builds moments. Be it with her films, her adventures or her one on one conversations with you. She designs them, lays them out, and invites everyone to be a contractor in the steps that follow. On this adventure alone, she’d given us the tools to build ourselves up to be something bigger than we could have imagined. She’d reminded us that each of our lives is our own adventure and it is not only our job to live it, but also our great opportunity.
So as I sat there underneath that tree, watching the breeze sweep across the beach and the waves crash along the shore, I felt something I never would have expected in the chaotic weeks leading up to the trip: peace. For even though I was constantly being challenged to test my limits, I was starting to realize, that should I invite the possibility, I no longer had to have any.
So I’ve been talking to a lot of different friends recently, and they’ve been telling me about all of the exciting trips they have coming up in the summer months. And while I’m jealous, and the tiniest bit bitter, I’m also genuinely excited for them, and would love to help out on arguably the most important part of any trip: snacks.
You see, my sister and I just recently went on a long road trip, and in order to survive it, it was vital that I excelled in snack shopping. The way I saw it, we were going to be spending most of our time in the car, and often wouldn’t have a grocery store cookie/cracker/chip aisle at our beck and call, so we needed to more or less turn our backseat into a mobile Am/Pm.
It was also important to note the snack ratio. We figured there was no way around eating junk food. And since we’d be out on the road, almost completely devoid of human contact, we should have at least some of our favorite comfort snacks on hand, if only to be reminded of a time when the world around us was more than just dirt, cows and random building-ish structures that almost certainly contained a dead body (or 10). However, as much as we would have liked to deny it, we knew there would undoubtedly come a time when our bodies would want something else. Like fruit, or vegetables, or something that isn’t made out of grease and dentist tears.
Thus we have the ratio.
While shopping for our trip, I tried my best to find a balance of delicious and healthy (and the rare combo of both), so as to keep my sister and I both alive and satisfied—at least until we could find a Subway or a Chipotle.
These are the snacks I packed for us:
Overall, it ended up being a pretty good combination. We finished everything except the carrots and the craisins, and never got into any hangry screaming matches that included insults like “next time you hand me a carrot I’m Thelma & Louise-ing this bitch” or “I’d rather eat that dead possum we just saw on the side of the road than look at you again,” so I’d chalk that up to a win.
To you and all my friends heading out on trips this summer, I wish you good luck, great memories & happy snacking!
What would prove to be the strangest, most body-shocking day of the road trip started just like any other day traveling with my sister: with coffee. We pulled up in front of the Park City Starbucks at around 7:45. The temperature was 36 degrees.
Our driving time was only 10 hours that day, and we would be gaining an hour as we moved back into the Pacific time zone, so we had given ourselves an extra hour of sleep than our previous travel days.
For the first two hours of the drive, the skies were grey and the car windows were cold. The thermometer in the car stayed around the mid thirties. The road curved around dewy green fields and blue glassy lakes, tall snowy mountains and flat snowy plains.
The highway was more or less empty. Cars passed us occasionally and big rigs faded into our rearview every once in a while. I put the car on the cruise control and got comfortable in my seat, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel to whatever song came on the radio.
After a while it started to rain, making the pavement misty. When I would fall behind a car, their tires would spray a healthy dose of moisture on to my window, causing me to constantly flick my windshield wipers off and on, low to high. As we kept moving, the temperature gage held tighter to the lower thirties, and soon the raindrops sounded heavier.
“It’s snowing!” I said to my sister, who thankfully, being from Southern California as well, was just as amazed even though we were in Utah at the end of winter, making this not in the least bit remarkable.
Fog set in, making the view up ahead very scant. I slowed my speed and kept both hands on the wheel and watched as brake lights began to frequent the highway. Soon it snowed a little harder, nothing too serious, just enough to make an inexperienced driver/regularly paranoid human like me think of that old Carrie Underwood song, “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
It’s not that I was actually in need of some omnipotent assistance, it’s just that in the song she mentions black ice and I had no idea when that actually becomes a factor, and I wanted to make sure that I’d studied Fast & the Furious hard enough to know what to do should evasive driving become necessary in the next hour or so.
Thankfully, it didn’t.
As the road continued to wind, the snow passed and the skies cleared. When we made our way into Arizona, the mountains around us turned to red rocks and the snow became dirt. My sister and I quickly shed our jackets, though not our awed expressions, as the highway had seemed to take us from one beautiful site to another.
After another few hours, the red faded into brown, as did the blue sky. Vegas had appeared in the distance, marking us officially in the Nevada desert, and the temperature skyrocketed into the 70s. I fanned my face. Had I forgotten what it was like to be in a temperature that didn’t make me crave hot chocolate? How was this day in Vegas the same day that was happening in Utah?
As we rolled down the I-15 north, leaving Vegas in our rearview for the second time in a week, we watched the crowds start to flood in on the I-15 South. It was a Friday after all, primetime for Vegas arrivals. I wished them all a good vacation, well aware that mine was coming to an end, and then I turned to my sister and asked if she was up for one more adventure.
“Of course,” she said.
Now, if you’ve been following along, or if you’ve been in the Vegas area before, you might know what adventure I was referring to. But if you don’t, allow me to let this picture do all the talking for me.
That’s right, ladies and gentleman, The World’s Largest Thermometer! Found just about an hour outside of Vegas in the (not all that) beautiful town of Baker.
For anyone interested in adding this to their list of nerdy things to get your picture in front of, we parked in a Del Taco parking lot to get this museum worthy shot. I’m pretty sure a truck driver parked on the side of the road completely judged me, but as we were driving away he walked over to the same spot I was standing, so I think it’s safe to say his judgment quickly transformed into #SelfieInspiration
The next few hours of the trip were mostly uneventful, and perhaps the longest of the entire week, because we knew we were so close to home. As can be expected at a time like this, some minor delirium set in. I think at one point I made a joke about the California Aqueduct that had us laughing for longer than it should have, and my sister got into a one-sided fight with a suburban who’s driving was not up to par.
When we finally did arrive home, my sister and I took a deep breath and walked inside. It’s always a funny feeling to have your home feel not as homey once you’ve been away from it for a while. It’s like seeing an old friend and not knowing what to say at first. But after thoroughly showering the road off of us, we quickly fell into step with the rest. We unpacked, laughing at every souvenir we pulled out of our bags, reminiscing where we got them and what made them special, we made dinner, allowing our wallets the chance to breathe for the first time in a week, and we sat on the couch, once again filled with that grateful feeling.
In my bed that night, as I lay my head on my own pillow, I couldn’t even begin to try to wipe the smile off my face. The past week had been incredible, and to have made it home without losing anything, without crashing or getting murdered by a guy at a sketchy gas station, or without getting lost even once, I mean, what else could you want in a road trip? So as I drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t help but ask myself the question we all ask ourselves after arriving home from a grand adventure: where are we going next?
In my July/August Favorites I made mention of loving the Netflix Original film The Fundamentals of Caring. In it a boy suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, who has made a list of America’s “worst” roadside attractions, gets the opportunity to take a road trip with his caretaker to see a few.
Inspired by this list, I researched every roadside attraction in America that has been deemed the “World’s Largest” and made it a goal of mine to see them all.
(I also took note of those outside the US, but I figure my chances of seeing those are much slimmer, so I won’t count it against my list if I don’t, but rather mark them as bonus points, because who doesn’t love a little extra credit?!)
This past week, while my family and I were en route to a glorious weekend in Lake Tahoe, we were able to see two of the World’s Largest Roadside Attractions (WRLA’s) (pronounced Wool-Rahs) on my list, and let me tell you, the excitement. Was. Real.
First off, the World’s Largest Swedish Coffee Pot.
Even as someone who hates coffee, I had quite the time of containing my excitement wiggles as we came up Highway 99 and saw this beauty:
And while I know this was our first one, so you’ll probably take the next thing I say as a result of the novelty but…THIS WAS THE COOLEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN. It was so cute. It was so quaint. It was so THE COOLEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN. Not to mention the fact that the town of Kingsburg, CA (where it is located) is about the cutest place I’ve ever been to. It was one of those towns you see in a feel good family sitcom that probably has citywide garage sales and a guy at the bank that gives you a lollypop. My brother almost moved there on the spot.
Next on our list of WRLA’s, which also happened to be located in Kingsburg—only adding to my brother’s obsession—was the World’s Largest Raisin Box:
And while yes, the Raisin Box was only our second WRLA, thus is still had novelty status, and yes, aside from the Swedish Coffee Pot I’d seen only 30 minutes prior, I might consider it THE COOLEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN, I think the real treat, not only for us but for Kingsburg, came in the way of us going HAM in and around the Sun-Maid Raisin gift shop.
I’m not joking.
We bought t-shirts, we bought snacks, we bought postcards, we took a picture with Mrs. Sun-Maid herself:
My brother became Mrs. Sun-Maid herself:
If I were to venture a guess, I’d say we spent 40 minutes on the Sun-Maid property, which has to be a record for anyone that doesn’t work there.
That being said, I cannot emphasize enough how much these two side trips were worth it. When we got to Tahoe, I already began plotting when I could visit my next WLRA, and believe me, there will be a next one, and a next one, and a next one.
For anyone who is interested in following my quest or seeking out the attractions yourself, I’m going to paste the full list as well as pictures of those I’ve been to on this page.
Here’s to a life full of WRLA’s!
**In other exciting news, I was published on The Mighty today, check that post out here.
If Day 7 was weird to wake up to, Day 8 was worse. Since Natalee and I didn’t fly out until 12:30, we were able to take our time getting ready. That morning, I woke up with my focus primarily on making sure everything was in place for our trip home. I collected my things, double, triple, quadruple checking I had my passport, and I wrapped my souvenirs tightly in the hope that none of them would break on the way home.
While I was packing my suitcase, I came to find that the only way I was going to get it to shut was if I reorganized the entire thing. When I left, everything had fit perfectly, neatly. I’d organized it down to the inch. But as I looked at it now, it was kind of a disaster. So, I sat down in the middle of the floor, removed everything one by one and put them in piles around me. And even though I grew frustrated at first, trying and failing and then trying again to making everything fit, I started to realize that I simply had to approach it differently than I had at home. Because like me, my suitcase was different than it was when I started. With each city it had collected little things, memories, pictures, souvenirs, and they changed its shape, changed how it fit together. And so as I again began to make sense of everything, I began to appreciate these differences and I was thankful for them, because I knew that when I got back home and unpacked everything, I’d still have those new pieces I’d collected here and they would stay with me. Further down the road, when the trip becomes more of a distant memory, I know I’ll come across these pieces, in perhaps the most unexpected of ways and I’ll remember how they changed me, how they helped me grow and I’ll be able to look back at them and smile.
Once I fit the last few things inside my suitcase and zipped it shut, Natalee and I did one last look around our room.
“Is that everything?” I asked, and she nodded, opening up the door for us to roll our suitcases out the door and down the hall.
When we got downstairs, we handed the attendant our room keys and asked him to call us a taxi to the airport. Once the taxi arrived, we quickly walked outside, loaded our bags and got in, the initial action of which seemed like it had only just happened, as if this taxi driver should be that same man who talked football with us only a short time ago.
As he drove, I looked around at all the cars driving past. Some were taxis, perhaps shuttling tourists like us, some were families going somewhere on a Wednesday morning, and some were singles or couples, talking or laughing or sitting silently. In all the driving I’d done for work, I’d seen all these combinations before, and now here I was on the opposite end of the world seeing their mirror image. It made me realize how many worlds there are in our world. How many lives are all happening at the very same time, most of which we’ll never know about. But as the taxi driver continued down the highway to the airport, I realized how many lives I’d gotten to be a part of over the last week. Both those in our group, and those of people I’d met in restaurants and gift shops and pubs. We’d all shared something, even if it was brief. And I think that’s one of the greatest things about traveling. For no matter where you go, you’re going to find worlds upon worlds spinning and lives upon lives being lived, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get to be part of them, if only for a moment.