Travel

It’s Always Sunny in Seattle & Canada (At Least When We’re There): Spring Break Day 5&6

Day 5

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I’d like to consider me, Natalee and Mel pretty similar. For example, when we come across a highly recommended restaurant online and its menu includes things like “homemade biscuits” and “chocolate fudge waffles,” we’ll all agree it is a must taste. That being said, it wasn’t really a question whether we’d wait out the line in front of Jam Café on Wednesday morning.

It was our first stop of what was sure to be a full day, so after spending a solid 40 minutes waiting in the crisp Vancouver air, we sat down and ordered exactly what our hearts desired. For me, that included a chocolate milk and this masterpiece known as the “biscuit breakfast.”

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Animated GIF-downsized_largeFrom there we made our way up the highway to the Capilano Suspension Park, which was one of our most anticipated sights.

First order of business: crossing the bridge.

While none of us are afraid of heights, it is impossible not to wobble on this bridge, as the entire thing literally wobbles as you cross. To be honest, it kind of feels like standing up from a stool at a bar and realizing you’ve had too much to drink but are determined not to show it, so you try your best to walk straight, only to zig zag your way straight into a stranger.

Once we were in the middle of the bridge, we made sure to take a bunch of photos and videos, both to commemorate the experience, and to deviously show to my dad later who is terrified of heights. #sorrydad

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Awaiting us on the other side of the bridge was a series of paths that led us up amongst the trees and offered us views of the river down below. We walked slow, looking up and down and all around, trying to soak in as much as possible, knowing any pictures we took could never completely showcase the beauty of what we were seeing.

Back on the other side of the bridge, we took a final turn that looped us around on an even thinner path—again, sorry dad!—and then we made our way back to the car. Seeing as we’d soaked in a heavy dose of nature, we thought it was only fitting to head into…more nature!

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So, we drove back into town and rented a few bikes (we used Yes Cycle) to take a personal tour of Stanley Park. The loop around the park was about 5 miles, and we did it in an hour, which included stops to take pictures, say hello to Canadian geese, etc.

By the time we returned our bikes, it was about 3:30 p.m., and since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, we thought the perfect spot for dinner would be Granville Island. So, after dropping our car back at our hotel, we walked the whopping 5 blocks to the dock and took an Aquabus across the water.

OriginalPhoto-543368639.672033Once inside the market, we had a few things we wanted to accomplish. First, we did a quick lap, taking in all the options both for dinner, dessert, and everything in between. Our waiter at the Jam Café had told us to “follow our nose.” But with the amount of sugary, salty and sweet smells, blindly following that advice would have left us running in circles for the rest of the day. So, after eating everything we possibly could with our eyes, we sat down for dinner on the top floor. From there we did a second lap around the market, this time making stops for a honey dip donut from Lee’s Donuts (a personal recommendation from our waiter), some caramel corn (which I’m currently munching on as I write this), and some red velvet cake (which Mel said was DELICIOUS.)

On our ferry ride back, we were all beginning to fade, but after a solid hour-long veg session, we rallied and made our way to the Shameful Tiki Room, another recommendation from our waiter at Jam Café.

As he promised, the outside of the restaurant was completely blank and easily missable for the average passerby. Once we walked inside however, we were transported into a zombie-fied tiki haven that was as dark and foggy as it was vaguely Hawaiian. The three of us opted to split “the mystery bowl,” a drink served in a large shell that was lit on fire and delivered in precession with the ringing of a gong.

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Note: it was far less poisonous and far more delicious than this picture might suggest. These reactions were primarily provoked by the flash, which in the moment felt like a direct attack on our corneas.

After we finished our drink (which was approximately 4 minutes later) we talked about our favorite parts of the trip, each of us remembering different moments than the other. And as we made our way back to the hotel, there was again a bittersweet air that hung around us, except this time it was mostly bitter.


 

Day 6

On our last day in Vancouver, we were in a bit of a time crunch. Since we were all flying out around 3:00pm and wanted to have ample time to return our rental car, we knew that any last minute adventures had to be timely and organized.

So, with Mel fully loaded with Wi-Fi researched and copied down directions, we pulled away from our hotel for the last time and made our first (very Canadian) stop at Tim Horton’s for breakfast.

Now, it should be noted that of the 5 days we’d been gone, this was the first and only day it rained. But when I say it rained, I mean it rained. Clearly Vancouver was as upset at our leaving as we were. Nevertheless, we proceeded with our sightseeing marathon, never hesitating to run out into the rain and take a picture.

First on the list: the Gastown Steam Clock.

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Next was the Olympic Village, though after following an address to a town square that had street names like “Athletes Way,” we didn’t find much else that memorialized the 2010 Olympics. (Note: we later found out the Olympic Rings are actually in Whistler)

IMG_3853Our final stop was the World’s Largest Tin Soldier. A delightfully tall and unexpected international WRLA! He stood overlooking the Fraser River, both welcoming us and wishing us well as we made our way back to airport.

Once we were on the plane—Natalee and I on one and Mel on another—I took my seat and looked out the window, wondering if I could see any of the sights one last time before we took off. A few minutes later, a family boarded and took a seat in front of us. It was a husband and wife and their three children. They were all on their way to Disneyland for the first time. The kids excitedly looked out the window, amazed at the prospect of flying and propelled by the promise of their first big adventure. It made the sting our adventure ending a little dimmer, as it reminded me of the promise that new adventures are always around the corner.

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It’s Always Sunny in Seattle & Canada (At Least When We’re There): Spring Break Day 4

Tuesday morning had a bittersweet taste to it. We were sad to leave Seattle, but we were excited for part 2 of our adventure: Vancouver!

Around 10:00 a.m. we made our way to the airport to return our rental car and rent a second one that would take us across the border. About two hours before we reached the border however, we made our first pit stop: The World’s Largest Paper Airplane!

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Similar to a few of the other WRLA’s we’ve found over the last couple years, this one was in quite an ordinary place. We spent a solid 10 minutes standing on the lawn in front of an office building, each of us taking a turn in posing with the airplane, until suddenly a woman from inside the office came out and offered to take a group shot.

“Do people come by often?” we asked, slightly embarrassed.

“All the time,” she said with a smile.

With another WRLA crossed off the list, we piled back into our car and headed for the border. Once successfully across—and only minorly traumatized by the border patrol agent—we headed to the Vancouver airport to return our rental car and rent, you guessed it, ANOTHER rental car. This would be our third and final one and would provide us with the perfect disguise (i.e. a BC license plate) to blend in with the locals.

Cut to a half hour later: we realized we didn’t have any service in Canada, meaning we couldn’t use Google maps, so we had to rely solely on the paper map we were given at the rental desk. Now, I understand this is how people have traveled for hundreds of years, thus it should not be terrifying, but it was. Thankfully Mel is a directionally gifted map whiz (a.k.a the ideal Amazing Race partner) and she was able to get us to our hotel (and around the city for our entire stay, thanks Mel!).

First order of business in Vancouver: dinner.

We were staying at the Holiday Inn-Downtown—which I’d highly recommend if you’re ever in the Vancouver area!—so we had access to a wide variety of shops and restaurants. Just a block down from us was Firecrust Neopolitan Pizzeria, which we all collectively agreed was the obvious choice.

From there we walked to our hotel to regroup—and to get Wi-Fi to figure out where everything else was. We skimmed the list of things we wanted to do in Vancouver and came across Lighthouse Park.

“Do you think we could make it there to see the sunset?” Mel asked.

We all looked at our watches: 6:45. Then looked up the time for sunset: 7:25. In unison, we stood from our beds.

“We could try!”

Grabbing our jackets, we ran downstairs to the car and immediately jumped on the road.

“Okay,” Mel said from the backseat holding the map in both hands. “You’re going to make a right and then a left to go over that bridge up there, then you’re going to take another left and that should eventually loop us around to the park.”

“Sounds good, let’s do it!”

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So, we oohed and ahh-ed our way through Stanley Park and across the Lions Gate Bridge, then we hung a left on Marine Drive and drove up the coast until we saw a sign for Lighthouse Park.

By the time we parked the car, it was 7:15.

Knowing we were short on time, we looked quickly at the information kiosk. Comparing her finger length to the distance scale at the bottom—I’m telling you, she’s an icon—Mel estimated we were about a half mile away from the point.

“I think we can make it!”

We started powerwalking, but when the road sloped downward, we took off running, desperate to catch the sunset in time. To fully immerse you in this moment, let me remind you that 1) we were all horrendously full of pizza and 2) we were not dressed for strenuous physical activity. For example, Natalee was in a jacket with a faux fur hood and I was in leather boots. Nevertheless, we made it! And as we stood looking out at the Strait of Georgia (panting) it began to sink in that we were actually in Vancouver!

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Walking back to the car—which was not nearly as fun, especially going up all the hills we ran down—we looked up at the trees and laughed at ourselves, wondering what we might have looked like to the people we ran past on our way in.

Spoiler alert, we looked like this:

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Worth it.

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Back in the city, we stopped at the Yaletown Distillery for a drink. Immediately after walking in, I thought about making it my permanent address, as it played classic movies on repeat and was directly adjacent to an ice cream shop. Mel and I ordered the Caipiroska, which neither of us could say correctly, even after the bartender repeated it to us, and Natalee ordered a Johnny Walker Red. As we sipped our drinks, we looked through the pictures from the first half of our trip and we laughed at all the inside jokes we’d already formed.

Once we were finished, we paid a visit to Mister, the ice cream shop next door (a.k.a my new neighbors) where Mel and I both ordered life-changing desserts. Mel ordered the S’mores bar, which is chocolate ice cream dipped in magic shell chocolate, rolled in graham crackers, coated in marshmallow fluff and then torched, and I ordered the “double Oreo” which is chocolate ice cream with Oreo chunks inside, stuffed into a chocolate waffle cone.

Yes, friends, these creations do exist right here on earth.

Observe:

 

It took me about three seconds to be transported to absolute bliss. While I know that sounds dramatic, it’s true. Case in point being that when we arrived back at our car and found a parking ticket on the dash, I practically laughed it off and threw it in the back seat.

“I can’t even be mad about the ticket,” I said as we pulled back into the driveway of our hotel. I rolled down the window to scan our room key and as I waited for the gate to the parking garage to open I turned to Mel and Natalee, ice cream in hand. “What can I say, life is just better when you have ice cream in your—”

It was at this point that my affection for the ice cream cone became so great that I squeezed it too hard and it cracked in my hand. In the seconds that followed, I was overcome with feelings of panic, protectiveness and sheer instinct. With my window down and our car a mere 20 feet from the lobby doors, I dropped a giant f’bomb and contorted my body into an ice cream catching shield. Having finished her s’mores bar, Mel handed me her empty cup and I scooped my ice cream pile inside just as the gate completely opened.

All in all, the death toll was low. And once we parked our car, three good things happened.

  1. Despite some minor cone loss, I was able to again reach peak bliss with my ice cream as we made our way back up to our hotel room.
  2. After doing some research into why we got our ticket, Mel was able to call and get us out of the ticket
  3. We laid out our plans for the next day, which was bound to be incredible.

It’s Always Sunny in Seattle & Canada (At Least When We’re There): Spring Break Day 3

With the three of us being Southern California natives, it became a daily ritual to check the weather each morning in Seattle. Was it going to be raining? Was it going to be freezing? Should I wear everything I packed just in case?

Monday morning, as we got off to another (wonderfully) slow start, we layered up for a cold day, but made sure our clothes had a little extra give in order to prepare us for our first activity. Among the seemingly endless benefits of getting to stay with/know/love the Beliel’s is their access to a baseball facility equipped with turf, batting cages and pitching mounds. Being the baseball lovers/ex-softball players that we are, we were anxious to take advantage of such a place. We mostly wanted to hit, mostly to see if we still got it, mostly to pump our retired though still prominent egos.

SPOILER ALERT: We still got it.

SECOND SPOILER ALERT: After hitting 6 buckets of balls each, we would wake up the next morning feeling like we were collectively run over by a truck and would spend most of the day groaning.

From the hitting facility we made our way to The Matador to meet Darryl for lunch. Now, the website for this restaurant notes it as being a “local bar chain serving classic & contemporary Mexican dishes, plus cocktails, in a stylish space.”

Let it be known that all of this is true.

I however, do not feel I can give you a completely accurate personal review of the restaurant, because after binge eating the pre-meal chips I ordered a meal that was too spicy for me to completely enjoy. In fact, after taking a few bites of the street tacos (which were loved by everyone else at the table, by the way) I realized that I, a giant wuss, was not properly equipped to enjoy them, and began trying to scrape some of the sauce off with a chip—which I quickly began referring to as my “safety chip.” Yes, this IS a completely ridiculous thing to do, however, it does work and I’d like to officially submit it as a lifehack for those similarly afflicted with baby tastebuds.

Around 2:00 p.m., the four of us wished Darryl goodbye and headed to Flatstick, a pub chain native to Washington known for its craft beer and indoor mini golf. Since we were all full—or in my case, still slightly aflame—from lunch, and were worried we wouldn’t be physically ready for all the bending and moving involved in mini golf, we opted for some beers and some Duffleboard.

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You read that right: duffleboard. It’s basically the love child of shuffleboard and mini golf. You play to 21, but you have to get exactly 21. If at any point you go over, your score drops back down to 15. If I were to give you my best piece of advice, it would be: pay attention. It is so easy to get caught up in getting your form right or worrying about where your ball is or isn’t that you completely forget there are other players and then suddenly they have 21 and you only have 9 and the game is over.

This lesson took me about 15 games to learn. And of the near 30 rounds we played in total, I still only won two games. Thankfully, Flatsick also has Nintendo 64, where I was able to get some of my mojo back playing Mario Kart. My inner six-year-old was living. for. it.

Once we’d successfully completed every course of Mario Kart, we decided it was finally time for mini golf. Unfortunately, a private party had the entire course booked until 9:00 pm, and since it was only 6:00 p.m.—because yes, we spent 4 hours in the mini golf bar, not playing mini golf—we decided to go home, regroup and come back later.

In that time, we created and completed our own version of the Hot Guy March Madness bracket, this time crowning Channing Tatum as the winner, and ate Wendy’s in the Wendy’s parking lot like the classy adults we are.

When we arrived back at Flatstick around 10:00 p.m., we all grabbed a club, took to the course, and showcased some solidly sub-par mini golf abilities. Afterwards, we returned to the duffleboard table—where we may or may not have accidentally broken the club—and we sipped beer and laughed. At one point we talked about the plans we had made for that Monday. There was a ferry we were supposed to take. There was a park we were supposed to explore. There were sights we were supposed to see. But as we all leaned over the table, talking trash and watching the night tick by, we didn’t regret a thing.

As we lay down to sleep that night, knowing it was our last night in Seattle, Natalee, Mel and I kept saying the same three things:

1) We needed to make our own duffleboard at home

2) We wished we didn’t have to leave in the morning.

3) This trip was already everything we hoped it would be.

It’s Always Sunny in Seattle & Canada (At Least When We’re There): Spring Break Day 2

While it’s common on vacation to want to get up and out and on the road as soon as you can so you have ample time to do as much as you can, there’s something to be said about moving slow and cruising out and going where the day takes you. While preparing for our trip, we made a loose plan of what we wanted to do each day, but were all in agreement that we didn’t want to be locked down by that plan. So Saturday morning, as we all yawned our way out of bed, we smiled, knowing the day was ours to own.

OriginalPhoto-543093134.401059Since this was Mel’s first time in Seattle, the Space Needle was definitely a must on the to-do list. Unfortunately the Speedle (as no one calls it) was under construction, so while we did get to go to the top, there was a whole section closed off and a lot of wood and cardboard lying around. Thankfully it was another sunny day so the views (almost) made up for it.

Just down the road from the Speedle (which I’m now calling it forever) is the Armory. Home to a wide variety of restaurants on an average day, this particular Saturday it also happened to be the hub of an Irish Heritage festival. As we walked through the double doors we were met with Irish accents, foods, and souvenirs. And when we took a seat to eat lunch, we were gifted with some Irish dancing.OriginalPhoto-543098255.940794

With our senses then peaked, we made our way to Chihuly Garden & Glass, home to a collection of glass work done by artist Dale Chihuly, where we spent a solid hour dragging our jaws around on the floor. Honestly, if we were given a nickel every time we said, “wow,” this trip would have paid for itself in the first 20 minutes we were inside. It was such a different kind of art and the pieces always took you by surprise. If I had to choose a favorite, I’d say the Persian ceiling. Over the last year, after noticing how much we all have a tendency to look down when we walk, I’ve tried to make it a habit to consciously look up, be it at the ceiling, the sky or the trees. That being said, turning the corner to find this above me brought an immediate smile to my face.Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 10.34.39 PM copy

Around 2:30 we were back in the car, heading to an equally important, though not nearly as exciting destination: Safeway. You see, when I travel I always—ALWAYS—forget toothpaste and tend rely on my travel mate(s) to back me up. When packing for this trip however, I made it a point not to repeat history and focused nearly all my energy on remembering it. This however, proved fatal, as in doing so I forgot my toothbrush. And since (remembered) toothpaste on the finger can only work for so long, a trip to the grocery store was rudely in order. Luckily Safeway came through in a major way, not only providing me with a toothbrush, but with a Star Wars light saber toothbrush that lights up and includes sound effects. Needless to say, I’ll never leave home without it.OriginalPhoto-543105850.493854

Next on the agenda was Kerry Park. After traversing our way through the hilly streets of Seattle, we parked our car and looked out at the city from a new vantage point, again silently savoring the sunny weather. Just up the road from the park—and down the road from Meredith Grey’s house!—we found a sign for an open house on the prestigious Highland Ave. It was a modest 4 bed, 4 baths, 5,000 square feet with a view of Kerry Park and the Speedle. We took a tour, asked for the details, and put a cool $4 million dollar (cash, obviously) offer on it, figuring it could be, you know, a casual summerhouse or something.

Then, with a new tour guide in tow, we went to see the hottest guy in Seattle, the freakiest guy in Fremont, the brawniest brute to ever live under a bridge, Timmy* the Troll. (*More commonly known as the Fremont Troll, however, “Timmy” has yet to be  disproven)IMG_1558

This handsome devil didn’t come up in our searches prior to the trip, so seeing him ended up being a perk of knowing a local. We popped in, took a photo, and kindly asked him not to haunt our dreams.

From there we went to Gasworks Park, which is green and hilly and overlooks Lake Union. We spent a solid hour and a half there, just sitting in the sun, making easy conversation and watching planes go by. A few days later, when our trip was coming to an end and we were talking about our favorite parts, this place and this whole day, really, would be a common choice. We were just existing, not worrying about time or responsibilities, and none of us were looking at our phones. It was a quiet kind of happy that I can still feel when I look at the pictures.

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For dinner we made our way back into the city to Li’l Woodys. We all opted to build our own burger, and Mel and I split a big order of crack—French fries with a milkshake for dipping, which DEFINITELY lives up to its name, by the way.

To cap off our night, we headed to Roxbury Bowl, where we learned three valuable lessons:

  1. I have a future as a sideline reporter. (Unfortunately all footage of my exhilarating work is lost to the Snapchat black hole, but let’s just say ESPN should keep their eyes open)
  2. Tickets won in arcade games can be used wisely.
  3. In life and in bowling, it is important to let go, let live, and keep it loosey goosey. (There’s really no explanation I can give for this one other than, you had to be there. But let me suggest that whenever you’re feeling down or stressed or in need of a strike in the 10th frame, just lean back and shimmy those shoulders and feel the pressure melt away.)

It’s Always Sunny in Seattle & Canada (At Least When We’re There): Spring Break Day 1

Similar to our last trip to Seattle, this one started early. After waking up to a 3:50 a.m. alarm, my sister and I made our way through the doors at LAX by 5:15. Lucky for us, the Virgin America check-in desk was there to welcome us with the soothing alarmingly loud sounds of Beyoncé and Sean Paul. I tried to be mad, but I couldn’t. In fact, I’m pretty sure I tapped my foot at one point, bringing incredible shame to my fellow non-morning people.

Once we boarded our plane, Natalee and I were excited to find a wide selection of movies and television shows available to enjoy during our three-hour flight. We were also excited to see the Virgin America safety video, which is known for its fun and outlandish choreography. Three hours later however, when I woke up with my mouth slightly open and a crick in my neck, I realized I’d missed everything, including takeoff, landing and snacks. I was both bummed and impressed.

After grabbing our luggage, Natalee and I took a seat to wait for our friend Mel who was flying in on a later plane from Utah. We made use of our time by playing the Washington lottery, where Natalee won $7 and I started our trip $5 in the hole. Once Mel landed, we picked up our first rental car and officially started our adventure.

First on the list of sights to see: The World’s Largest Cowboy Hat & Boots. (Obviously.)

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As some of you may know, I have a weird fascination with the World’s Largest Roadside Attractions, and one of my goals for this year was to see three. So after pulling up to a park in Georgetown and Vanna White-ing the hell out of this bad boy, I officially checked one off the list.

gold pigFrom there we made our way to Pike’s Place Market, where we did our due diligence and pet the golden pig. We also aggressively hovered around the flying fish booth, munching on free samples of dried fruit as we waited for a headless halibut to go airborne.

We then did a few loops of the market, popping in here and there, smelling and tasting and touching all of the things. Some impulse important purchases here included apple chips (which are made of magic and dreams), ghost pepper garlic salt, and jalapeño raspberry jelly (both of which may or may not make you breathe fire).

For lunch we ate at Le Panier, a French café where we each ordered a macaroon and a sandwich on a baguette, and the only words we pronounced correctly were “water” and “yum.” Afterwards, as we walked back through the market, we took note of all the blooming daffodils and the undeniably sunny weather—the latter of which we tried not to mention in fear of jinxing it.

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Our next stop was the gum wall, which after seeing it I can now say is really more of a gum hallway. Once you turn the corner you are literally surrounded by half chewed pieces of gum in every color. Some are simply stuck to the wall while others are pulled and warped, trying their best to emulate art. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little grossed out, but that didn’t stop me, or any of us, from immediately making our own fruity (and minty) contributions.

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From there we made our way through the gum hall and down the hill to the boardwalk. We walked along the water and rode the Great Wheel, again marveling at the untraditionally dry weather we were being blessed with. Then, after making our way back up to our car, we officially wished Pike’s goodbye and headed outside the city to stay with our ever generous Seattle hosts: the Beliel’s.

For our first night in Washington, they truly went above and beyond the call of duty. After treating us to an incredible dinner—which may or may not have been a strategy to convert us to Seahawks fans—they joined us for a green beer in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and challenged us to some shuffleboard. (Kim + Dee Dee = shuffleboard champs)

When we got in bed that night, Mel, Natalee and I could safely agree on three things:

  1. We were happy.
  2. We were blessed.
  3. We couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow would bring.

A Late September Adventure (Day 5 & 6: Boulder, Morrison & Home Again)

Day 5

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Day 6

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.

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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.

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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.

A Late September Adventure (Day 4: Boulder, CO)

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:

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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.

“What’s that?”

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.

“Me too.”

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)

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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.”

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.

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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?”

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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.

How to Survive an Alison’s Adventure (Day 7)

Day 7

In a smooth transition from the previous day’s adventures, Day 7 of our trip started off with a morning yoga session where Deb introduced us to the Sanskrit term, “shanti” which means, “peace.”

“Shanti shanti shanti,” she said as the sun rose up over the ocean.

I let the words sink in as deep as they possibly could, knowing I’d need as much peace as possible. Today was the newly scheduled surf day, and I was already shaking.

Unlike our initial, crack of dawn attempt, our surf shenanigans were set to start around 11 a.m. (high tide), at a new location that promised waves. I slid into my bathing suit, envisioning not as many, though still a few possibilities of me falling, drowning, etc.

Emily and I took our seats next to each other in the car, both of us silently hoping there would be a simultaneous lack of waves for us and great waves for everyone else. This however, would prove as impossible as it seemed, because just under an hour later, we were wearing surf shoes, rash guards and listening to our instructor, Bear, give us a quick intro on the “need to know” of surfing.

I was doing everything I could not to cry, including looking into Bears eyes, which were so genuine I felt as though letting him down by not surfing would be equally as damaging as fulfilling one of my drowning prophecies.

He put a surfboard down on the ground and mimed a paddle out into the water and the proper way to jump up into a standing position once we were riding a wave.

“Who’s next?” he said, looking out at our oh-my-gosh-we’re-actually-about-to-surf faces.

One by one we lay down on the board, paddling our hands just above the sand and popping up into a balanced squat. When it came my turn, I glided up into the standing position and Bear clapped with a bright smile, “like butter!” he said. This filled me with both pride and dread. I hope this means I don’t have to stay out there longer…

“Alright, let’s go! Everyone grab a board and have Sam, Trae or I help you paddle out.”

I strapped the board to my right foot and timidly walked down to the water. Sam, one the assistant instructors, helped guide me out passed the rocks and then I paddled alongside Bear.

“Are you excited?” he said.

In the spirit of being open and honest, I turned to him and said, “No, mostly just terrified.”

I expected him to say, “You’re good,” or “don’t worry about it.” Something nonchalant and mildly encouraging that would have bounced right off me. But instead he slowed down the pace of our paddle and told me something I have no doubt will stick with me for a long time. “Nervous and excited are the same emotion in the body. It’s all about channeling that energy to the right place. You’re the boss out here, take it at your own pace.”

I nodded, more appreciative than I was able to express, and paddled out next to Alison, where she took this picture, perfectly capturing my still very prevalent fear.

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But then, just like on that first day when I went from sitting firmly on a lava rock to literally jumping off a cliff, before I knew it was paddling through the water with Sam behind me saying, “Stand up! Stand up!”

Spoiler alert: I didn’t stand up…

that time.

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That’s right folks, I totally shredded a two foot wave like my life depended on it. Sure, I looked confused. Worried. As if I had just been teleported onto a surf board without knowing how or why. But I did it. I surfed. Me. The girl who was not going to surf. And I had a great time.

I did end up feeling a little seasick after a few runs, which caused me to paddle in and take my initially desired seat: the beach. But I was immensely proud of myself for trying and was able to watch the rest of my family surf without a stitch of regret.

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Upon arriving back at the house, we met in the yoga studio to do one of my favorite activities: crafts! Well, sort of. Going with the theme of the entire week, we were going to continue on with manifesting our dreams, ignoring limits and defying obstacles, by creating vision boards.

If you’ve never heard of or made a vision board of your own, it is essentially a visual representation of what you want in life. (Here’s a good article on it)

Before we went surfing, Jack encouraged us all to dream about doing well. To visualize ourselves succeeding, as it was the first step in actually doing so. Now, as you know, I wasn’t great at that, however, I understood the idea. Vision boards are the same concept.20108150_1476410822415149_310974896981170149_n

So, Alison gave us all a piece of poster board, put a stack of magazines in the middle of the room, and told us to sift through them to find words, images or any visual manifestation of what we want in our lives, and glue it down on paper. Afterward, we all shared the what and the why of our individual boards, both to let ourselves say it out loud, and to allow others to then hold us accountable.

Keeping with that spirit, here’s mine:

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It includes wishes to be strong, to fight for what I want, no matter how long it takes, to run 1000 miles, to fall in love and have a house and family of my own, and to never stop pursuing even my craziest ideas.

Upon arriving home I stuck it up on my wall and have every intention of achieving the impossible.

Speaking of impossible, let’s cut to back to Day 7, post vision board craft, at 8:00 pm.

I’m on a boat. It’s pouring down rain and I’m standing, shivering in a wet suit, dreaming of dry land. It will be worth it. I’m telling myself over and over and over. It will be worth it.

15 minutes later, I’m snorkeled up, laying face down in the rocking water, with my ankles resting on a pool noodle.

Really take a minute to picture that.

I’ll never know what I looked like, especially from their point of view.

They, of course, being the manta ray.

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Yup, that’s right. While laying face down in the water, these guys came within about 5 inches of us. Our boat would shine lights into the water, attracting plankton, which would in turn attract the manta ray like an ice cream cone would attract me: quickly and with a wide open mouth. Our feet rested on pool noodles so as not to accidentally kick the manta ray, and our hands held tightly onto a raft so as not to allow us the temptation to touch the manta ray. (Though if I stuck my tongue out, I swear I still could have. They were that close.)

To say it was unreal—well to be honest, that’s all there really is to say. It totally felt like I was looking through a glass at an aquarium rather than sharing the same air bubbles as a sea creature fondly known as “Amanda Ray.” Let’s just say there were multiple times I involuntarily screamed into my snorkel. And if I didn’t have the film footage and multiple witnesses to prove I was there, I’d probably chalk it up to another one of my weird dreams.

But then again, upon arriving back at the house and looking at my vision board, I was reminded that dreams, when taken seriously, can be far more than just dreams. That just as swimming with manta rays would have only (if ever) crossed my mind as an impossibility, the things I find myself constantly dreaming about can become that much more possible.