Grand Canyon: Going Over THE Hill to Turn Over The Hill

The day after my 40th birthday was going to be amazing. I’d traveled all the way from Cleveland to the Grand Canyon to turn 40 the right way: literally going “over the hill” at my favorite “hill” in the world. Having that adventure awaiting made getting out of bed at the ass-crack of dawn a little bit easier.

I was only slightly hung over when I woke up in the morning, which was surprising considering the astronomical amount of vodka and wine I’d had the night before. Between that and the fact that I was now in my 40’s, I sort of expected to wake up feeling like death (combating a killer headache, needing to vomit, questioning my life choices). What a pleasant surprise to only feel sort of crappy! 40 wasn’t looking too bad.IMG_4845.JPG

We had a big breakfast at a kitschy diner in Williams before we headed towards the National Park. I was so excited by the time we finally got there that I felt closer to 4 than 40. I was practically skipping across the parking lot, unable to fully contain myself, when I got out of the car. As we approached the rim, the magnitude and majesty of the Grand Canyon came into view. My breath caught in my throat and my heart skipped a beat; it was even more beautiful than I’d remembered. The enormity of the Grand Canyon is stupefying. It can’t be fully captured in photographs. There’s just no way to appreciate this tremendously massive place without seeing it for yourself. It’s impossible not to feel small when you’re staring out at landscape so spectacular. I can’t emphasize enough how amazing it is, it’s awe inspiring.

the Grand Canyon National park

Since Mary had never seen it before, I was almost as excited to see her reaction as I was to see it again for myself. She has such an energetic personality. I’m not sure if it’s her youth (she’s only 25), her seemingly endless optimism, or if she’s just more full of life than most people, but Mary has this incredible ability to make every situation fun, to turn the most mundane task into an adventure. Add to that the fact that she’s easily impressed, and I couldn’t wait to see her face when she saw the it for the first time.

Mary enjoying her first trip to the Grand Canyon

There’s something interesting, and quite lovely, that happens to people when they’re at the Grand Canyon. It’s as if everyone understands its natural sanctity, knows it’s a place to be revered and respected. Everyone gets a little quiet, like they’re in church. So, instead of freaking out, Mary, like so many others, was speechless; but her expression spoke volumes.

After admiring the view, we walked towards the gift shop and purchased some prickly pear margarita mix before  heading to the Bright Angel trailhead. Although we weren’t looking to get any serious mileage in, as we wanted to be fresh for our ten mile trek the following day, we did want to get our legs warmed up. We only hiked about 3/4 of a mile before deciding we were ready for lunch, taking a few pictures, and hiking back up to the top.IMG_4890.JPG

We got our over-priced hot dogs at the Visitor’s Center soda fountain and enjoyed the sunshine as we ate. There were plenty of other tourists roaming around, but despite the number of people, the area is so open that it never felt crowded. I’m sure that’s not always the case (especially in the summer months), but I was pleased that, on this particular day, it wasn’t too packed.

After finishing our lunch we decided to try out another trail on the South Rim, the South Kaibab trail. We moved our car and parked along the main drive, near the shuttle bus access road that leads to the trailhead, and began walking. IMG_4945.JPG

Though I’d done some serious backpacking in Washington only a couple months earlier, I wasn’t sure how well I’d fare on the switchbacks in the Canyon. Going uphill for that long, at that elevation, was intimidating. I didn’t want to hike too far down the trail and wear myself out for the next day’s big hike.IMG_4977.JPG

We hiked down to Ooh Aah Point which, as the name suggests, has one hell of a view. It’s a great spot to stop, catch your breath, and really appreciate your surroundings. Mark, however, being the Pro Grand Canyon Hiker that he is, wanted to get a few more miles in, so he kept going while Mary and I had a snack and smoke break at Ooh Aah. We chatted with some Australian tourists, and admired the breathtaking view, while we waited for Mark to return.IMG_4987

Once it was time to hike back up, I got serious. I took a long drink of water, a deep breath, and up we went. I’m not sure how far I’d gone when I realized I wasn’t struggling, but there was a moment when I thought, “I should be out of breath by now,” but I wasn’t. That’s when I really started to feel empowered. All the hard work I’d put in: running, yoga, new eating habits; a complete lifestyle change, had paid off. Mary wasn’t quite as in love with the uphill trek, and was going a bit slower. I was so grateful to Mark for staying with her so I could keep pushing. I couldn’t stop smiling! I was having the time of my life.South Kaibab Trail

Getting to the top was a wonderful feeling. It made me more confident for the big hike in a few days. I was still a little nervous about a ten mile hike out of the canyon, but I knew I could do it. And even better, I knew it would test my limits, push me. I do love a challenge.

We went to refill our water, but were greeted by an elk who’d decided his thirst trumped ours. He was going to town on the leaky spigot, and was not about to move aside for some dumb, thirsty humans. We were sitting at a picnic table waiting out our long legged friend, when we were approached by a chatty teenager. I was instantly annoyed. He seemed to have either undiagnosed or untreated ADHD. He was all over the place, just being around him made me anxious.

 

The kid explained he was on a road trip with some friends from college, and that they’d wanted to hike further than he did, so he was waiting for them to come back. He wondered if he could hang out with us for a while. After he explained his situation, I kinda felt like an ass for being irritated by his very presence. This poor kid was alone, with no way of contacting his friends, and he was starting to freak out a little. I think he just wanted to be around a grownup. However, he was also very awkward and annoying, and I just wanted him to go away.

We planned on watching the sunset, but it was starting to cool down and we’d left our hoodies in the car. Although we felt bad leaving Mark alone with our new, chatty, young friend, Mary and I set off to return the trekking poles and retrieve some warmer clothes . . . and smoke a bowl, cause that kid, and all his nervous energy, was stressing us the hell out.

Thirsty elk at grand canyon national park
Thirsty Elk

Walking along the access road seemed to be taking forever, so we decided to take a shortcut by cutting through the forest. We thought we had a pretty good sense of where the car was parked, so we took a diagonal path, and were feeling like a couple of trailblazing badasses, when we started to notice all the snake holes in the ground. Like, everywhere. Dozens of them–and we were in rattlesnake country. I thought I was going to completely lose my shit. We took off running like we were being chased by a swarm of angry bees, no longer caring where our car was, just wanting to get the hell out of there. We must’ve looked like a couple of lunatics, but I was not about to ruin what was left of my trip with a snakebite. Hell. No.

We emerged from the woods nowhere near our car. I’m not sure if that was due to our panic-stricken dash after realizing we’d wandered into downtown Snakeville, or if we just had no idea where we were going to begin with, but we had a bit more walking to do before reaching warm clothes and cannabis.

enjoying the view at grand canyon national park

We stuck to the road on the way back to the rim (learning from one’s mistakes is so adulty, I was already good at being 40), and found Mark playing cards with Boy Awkward when we arrived. I had the thought, if we’re stuck with this kid for sunset, with him prattling on like that, when I just wanna find some freaking zen, I’m throwing his ass over the edge of this canyon. Obviously, I wouldn’t actually do that, but I was beyond relieved when his friends finally emerged from the trail, and we were off the hook (and no one would be arrested for murder: bonus).IMG_5122

The sunset was as breathtakingly beautiful as I imagined it would be. We sat and watched the shadows float over the canyons, as the sun sank below the horizon, setting the whole world aglow. It was so peaceful I felt like I could almost hear the sun going down, as if it was whispering goodnight. IMG_5120

With the sun went the heat. The temperature was dropping and we were chilly even in our hoodies. We walked back to our car, stopping so I could take pictures about a dozen times, along the access road as the crescent moon rose in the sky before us.

Once back in Williams, we hit up the Route 66 Diner (so. freaking. delicious.) with Mark’s newly arrived friend Peter, before heading back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep. Morning would be upon us before we knew it, and with it came the big day: Hiking to Supai!IMG_5196

Thank you for stopping by! Be sure to come back for LadycationSunday when our Arizona adventure continues!

Follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips, and tales. Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends.

~Steph

Road Trip: Getting Our Kicks On Route 66

When I decided there was no way in hell I was going to spend my 40th birthday in Cleveland, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect day than it turned out to be. From waking up to the warm Phoenix sunshine, to hiking in Sedona, to falling asleep in a funky hotel on Route 66, it ranks among my top ten favorite days of all time.IMG_4644

I couldn’t believe all the little ways my Uncle Mark and Aunt Cindy made this trip–and especially my birthday–exceptional. I was eyeing the chocolate chip cookies Cindy baked for our road trip when my uncle plugged in his iPod, said, “I hear you like these guys a little bit,” and started blasting Foo Fighters. Like the Foo? I LOVE the Foo!img_6522 I love them so much I had the FF inked into my flesh, for christ’s sake. Mark had done his homework (and his source, my daughter, is a very good secrets-keeper, which should probably scare me a little bit). If there’s one thing I want to hear on a road trip, it’s Foo Fighters (and Guster, but now I’m off topic).IMG_4626

Our first stop was Bell Rock, near Sedona. Although I will never end my love affair with trees, there’s something starkly beautiful about the desert. The contrast between the red rock and the brilliant blue sky was so spectacular, it almost looked fake, like an oil painting. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen such a deep, rich, blue sky before. IMG_4670

 

After an hour or so we decided it was lunchtime, so we headed into Sedona. We sat down at Sedona Pizza and Pasta Co. and, though we were warned by the hostess about a bee issue, we enjoyed a delicious, leisurely and relatively bee-free lunch on their patio.

After lunch it was time for more hiking. We headed to the West Fork trail to do some more hiking. The trail follows the West Fork Oak Creek and, although heavily trafficked, is a lovely trail that offers the perfect mix of red rock views and lush forest. In late October, the entire trail was bursting with fall colors.

mayhew lodge fireplace

At the start of the trail is an old homestead, the Mayhew Lodge. It was once a popular retreat for the likes of Walt Disney, Herbert Hoover, Clark Gable, and other early 20th Century icons. Little remains of the lodge now but the fireplace and a few crumbling walls, all crawling with ivy. Considering the view, and what must’ve been complete solitude in the early 1900’s, it’s not difficult to see why the rich and famous would choose this place for their getaways.

mayhew lodge window

We hiked for a couple of hours until we were running out of light, and then headed to Williams, where we had rooms reserved at the Grand Canyon Hotel. Located on Route 66, according to its website, it opened its doors in 1891, and is the oldest hotel in Arizona. Once a busy establishment (at one point renting rooms by the hour), it closed its doors in 1970 after Interstate 40 bypassed the town. It remained empty until being purchased in 2004, renovated, and reopened to the public.

Grand Canyon Hotel on Route 66

We were in the WWI room. It had a bunch of war memorabilia, including a creepy portrait of a soldier, whose eyes seemed to follow us no matter where we were in the room. Between that, the age of the building, its extensive history, and the long, dark hallway next to our room, it felt, for a second, like a small scale version of The Shining. I was expecting to see a set of twin girls at the end of the hall, begging me to play with them forever, and ever, and ever . . . We were convinced the hotel was haunted. So convinced, in fact, that when the lights in that long, dark hallway suddenly turned on, I almost leapt right the hell out the window before realizing they were on a motion sensor.

WWI memorabilia at the Grand Canyon Hotel

After we got settled it was time for dinner. There was a steak house next door to the hotel, but we had an hour to kill before our table would be ready, so we headed to Barrel House for a cocktail. An old saloon dating back to the days of the Wild West, when Williams was a logging and fur-trading post, they now serve craft beers and cocktails to locals and tourists alike.

Dinner was divine. I ordered the filet mingon, which was cooked to perfection. They even had my favorite wine, Chateau Ste Michelle’s Riesling. I ordered a glass, at which point my uncle said, “Don’t you want a bottle?” Why yes, yes I do. My uncle is a genius.

Barrel House in Williams, AZ

We laughed and talked, and I kept drinking wine, and by the time we’d finished our meal, I was pretty drunk. We were all tired, but it was the last few hours of my 40th birthday, and I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I had a sort of Cinderella-like complex, I think. The day had been so perfect, so magical, so memorable (and I was so drunk), that it almost seemed like a dream. It felt like, if I went to sleep, I’d wake up in the morning, back in Ohio, going to work, and coming home to clean up cat puke, while my children communicated with me only in grunts and interpretive expressions. No, calling it a night was just not happening. Not yet.

So, while Mary and Mark headed back to the hotel like responsible adults, I kept the party going at the bar across the street. It was a dive bar, as one would expect in a small town, and it was karaoke night. Bonus. Bring on the prime people watching.

There were only a handful of people in the bar, including a straight-up cowboy. I mean, this guy had the hat, the boots, chaps, and a long, leather trench coat. Dude was legit. I was sorta disappointed he didn’t say “Howdy, ma’am.” with a tip of his hat, to be honest.

Singing bartenders in Williams, AZ

Being such a slow night, the two bartenders were left to pick up the mic between karaoke “performers.” I sat on my bar stool, watching as they sang country (of course) songs, wiped down the bar, poured beers, and checked their phones, seemingly all at once. These women were master multi-taskers.

After they finished their rendition of The Dixie Chicks, “Cowboy Take Me Away,” I ordered a double lemon drop and a water (balance, people). I watched her pour the vodka over ice in the cocktail shaker, then pour it into a glass. And then I watched her pour the excess into another glass, and put them both in front of me. This was no double shot, folks. These were two glasses of vodka. Try as I did, I couldn’t get anyone to help me drink them. These were beer people who, when offered vodka, looked as if I’d just offered them up their first born child to eat. But I wasn’t about to let good vodka go to waste, so I drank it all and started making friends (I’m a very happy, social drunk).

Route 66

It was about 45 minutes later that it started to really hit me. I was wasted. Those shots were unnecessary and ill advised. I went to the bathroom and somehow couldn’t figure out how to get out of it. I literally just stood there for a solid minute, looking around, utterly confused as to how I’d even gotten in there to begin with. There was a door that was locked, and it took a conscious effort to find the beaded curtain around a corner (which you’d think I would’ve remembered) that led back to the bar. By the time I found my way out I was stumbling and dizzy, and I knew it was time to call it a night.

WWI soldier portrait at the Grand Canyon Hotel

I walked outside and sat on a bench on the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette and enjoying the absolute desolation that is Route 66 at 2am. I half expected tumbleweed to start rolling down the street. In the end all that passed me by was a pickup truck, which seemed so cliché, and after sending out a drunk Snapchat of myself lip syncing to a Miley freaking Cyrus song that was playing on the bar’s patio (like I said, definitely time for bed), I headed back to the hotel.

My 40th birthday had been as epic and wonderful as I’d hoped it would be, and then some. I’d spent it under the bluest sky, hiking along a canyon creek, eating my favorite foods, listening to my favorite music (the Foo, not Miley), drinking my favorite drinks, and spending time with some of my favorite human beings in the entire world. As I fell asleep under the watchful eye of the WWI soldier, my heart was filled with gratitude. I mean, my head was spinning from all those favorite drinks, but as my friend Shawna would say, my love tank was overflowing.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll come back for LadycationSunday to check out the next installment in my Arizona adventure as we head to the Grand Canyon!

Follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips, and tales! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

One Last Day In Seattle: A Happy Ending

We had come to the end of our time in Washington. It had been an epic two weeks. We’d kayaked, hiked, camped, and road tripped our way through some of the most beautiful wilderness we’d ever seen, but there were still a few things we wanted to do before our Ladycation was over.

Our flight out of Seattle departed at 10:30pm so we had the entire day to explore. We had some things we still wanted to see, but after hiking over 85 miles, what we really wanted was breakfast and a massage.IMG_3935

We checked out of our hotel and headed to Portage Bay Cafe. If you’re ever in Seattle this should be your number one destination for breakfast. Holy deliciousness. Everything is made with locally sourced, natural ingredients, and it’s all incredible. I have never seen such enormous pancakes in all my life, but the best part was the bar. I don’t mean booze, I mean the bar with all the toppings you could ever dream of putting on your pancakes: fruits, nuts, berries, fresh, homemade whipped cream; it was breakfast paradise (did I mention the bacon was also amazing?). We loaded our plates and savored every last bite until we felt like we were going to burst. It was like Thanksgiving; you know you’re full, but the food is so plentiful, and it tastes so good, that you can’t stop shoveling it in your face. It definitely ranks among the best meals I’ve ever had. It was that good. We had to wait over an hour to get a table, and it was absolutely worth the wait.IMG_3948

We hadn’t found a spa in the area with availability (and we really needed some time to digest our meal) so we decided to head to our next destination: Chateau Ste Michelle, maker of one of my favorite wines (their late harvest Riesling is the bomb). The grounds were beautifully manicured, with a large estate and separate building for tastings and purchasing merchandise. There were families dotting the lawn having picnics, or just enjoying the sunshine and scenery. The women were what I imagine when someone says, “ladies who lunch,” so I felt a little out of place in my jeans, Red Hot Chili Peppers tee shirt, and flip flops. I was also wasn’t nearly stoned enough, so the noisy throngs of people, and the extravagance of the estate were a little overwhelming. After going through the tasting rooms and deciding we didn’t want to wait in line for one, we went outside, away from the crowds, and walked among the grapevines; even tasting a few grapes before moving on.

Once we got back in the car Lindsey started calling spas again and finally found one with openings. It was tucked into the corner of a nondescript building occupied by random shops and offices. There was a tiny waiting area inside the door, with a tinier desk, and a couple of plastic chairs (normal sized). Everything was a weird pink color, like being inside a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and it smelled funky. I couldn’t quite identify what the smell was, but it seemed to be a combination of ass and pungent incense (an attempt, I presume, to cover the ass). We kind of looked at each other uneasily, both wondering what the hell we’d just gotten ourselves into.IMG_3965

A very friendly, petite, Asian woman came down the hallway to greet us, and quickly ushered us into our rooms. Minimalist would be a generous way to describe the decor of the room. It was sparse, random, and bordered on bizarre. There were silk roses glued to one wall, on the adjacent wall were bird decals like you’d expect to see in an old lady’s window; a table covered in various lotions and oils sat in one corner, a shabby chair in the other, with the massage table in the middle of the room. It was all a bit confusing and I stood there for a hot minute just trying to make sense of it all. I remember thinking, I’m not even remotely high enough for this.

After I’d undressed and was laying Naked and Afraid on the table in this strange, smelly, little pink room, my masseur came in. Like the woman who’d greeted us, she was petite, cheerful, and, I learned, Chinese. She asked what kind of massage I wanted, how much pressure I wanted, and then she got to work.IMG_3962

I’m not going to say it was a bad massage because it wasn’t . . . for the most part. At first it felt amazing. It was just . . . odd. She kept massaging my bones like she thought they were knots in the muscle–which wasn’t particularly enjoyable–but when she did find the muscles it was fantastic.

Outside the room, this place was hoppin’. I heard at least a half dozen customers come in while I was there and, interestingly, they were all men. Their interactions seemed sort of off to me. Everyone was just a little too flirty and familiar. Sometime around Man #4, I had a disturbing feeling that I knew why this place seemed so strange. It wasn’t the funky smell or the weird decorations. We’d apparently stumbled upon the kind of massage parlor that caters to those wanting . . . uhh . . . release at the completion of the massage; a “happy ending,” if you will. It was all beginning to make sense.

At the end of my massage the masseur did the karate chop move–which I didn’t know was really a thing. I thought that only happened in the movies, so I was very confused. But there I was, getting chopped by this tiny woman, in this strange, little pink room in Seattle.

Just when I thought it was over (and, frankly, that it couldn’t get any weirder), she picked up my feet and let them fall to the table. Uh, okay, that was weird. Then she picked them up and let them fall again. What the actual f*ck is happening right now? When she did it a third time I couldn’t hold in my laughter any longer. What was she doing?! It was too much. When I laughed she sort of giggled, and said something I didn’t understand, before telling me to go ahead and get dressed on her way out the door.IMG_3972

I was still befuddled and cracking up when I walked into the lobby and saw Lindsey, who looked like she’d also had quite an interesting experience, waiting for me in one of the chairs. We were given little Chinese mints and sent on our way to ponder what had just happened. We both concluded we had come across an establishment better suited to men with a fetish, but we did feel relaxed, and we couldn’t stop laughing, so all in all it was a positive (albeit bizarre) experience.

It was late afternoon by then, but we still had some time to kill before finding a place for dinner and heading to the airport. We wanted to be outside. It was a beautiful day; our last few hours in the Pacific Northwest. Being inside wasn’t an option. We looked at our map to see what was nearby and found a park at a place called Cougar Mountain. It sort of seemed like destiny.IMG_3985

Cougar Mountain turned out to be mostly residential: beautiful, newer neighborhoods of modestly sized, charming houses on quiet, hilly streets. We parked the car and went for a walk on a short trail, then sat down to kill some time in the pavilion at the trailhead.

As we sat at the picnic table we were so full of gratitude and joy. We’d spent two weeks hiking on volcanoes and mountains, through ancient forests and along the ocean. We’d fallen in love with Washington, with backpacking, and rediscovered why we’d been best friends for a decade. It had been one of the most incredible experiences either one of us had ever had.

This trip transformed me. It’s much easier to get clarity and perspective when you completely disconnect from all the distractions of everyday life: work, family, social media, current events; it all makes the world seem so loud. Leaving it all behind, getting out into the peacefulness of nature for that long, is a truly therapeutic experience. My mind was clear and focused, and I felt an inner peace I’d forgotten was even attainable. It was like all the mental clutter had been washed away.

You know when you clean your house really well, light some candles, pour a glass of wine and put your feet up to admire your work (moms are less familiar with this phenomenon, but I promise you’ll get there)? The laundry is caught up, the bills are paid, the kitchen is full of groceries, and you get to just relax for a minute. That’s how my mind felt: simplified, organized, focused.

As sad as I was to leave, I felt centered. I went home knowing that travel would become a bigger part of my life. I started looking up new hiking trails, places I wanted to explore. Forest bathing is everything it’s cracked up to be, like spring cleaning for the soul. We knew this was only the beginning of our travels, and we couldn’t wait for our next Ladycation!

Huge thank you going out to everyone who’s stuck with me though this whole adventure. I value and appreciate each and every one of you. Though Lindsey and I’s Bestieversarycation has come to an end, I hope you’ll keep coming back for future Ladycation adventures. Next week begins the tale of my 40th birthday adventure trip: Arizona and the Grand Canyon! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

Seattle, The Last Hurrah: The Night Kevin Thought He Was Getting Lucky

Leaving Mount Rainier National Park was bittersweet. Though our bodies were fatigued from all our wilderness adventures, we’d loved every minute of it, and knowing our Ladycation was coming to an end was a little depressing.

Despite Lindsey’s blisters, the hike down the mountain went pretty quickly. All downhill this time, it took half as long as going up. And, as an added bonus, the view was improved by two incredibly sexy man-hikers we came upon, who were on their way up the mountain. We chatted with them for a couple minutes, and after what ended up being some very odd flirting that started to feel a little weird, we decided to move on. Sexiness only gets you so far, gentlemen. We continued on our way, made it to the car, and drove back to civilization.IMG_3856

We stopped at a little burger joint in Ashford, just outside the park for lunch, where we devoured our food before driving back to Seattle where we had a hotel room for our last night in Washington. Once we got checked in, our first order of business was to shower. Nothing beats that first shower after days in the wilderness. After we’d gotten clean and fresh it was time to get fancy and go out on the town. Lindsey and I’s ladycations are such a good representation of who we are: strong, beautiful, and active; dirty, natural, real, and sassy; occasionally fancy.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot more social when I’m on vacation than I am when I’m at home. I just like people more when I’m on vacay. A perfect example of this would be a trip I recently made to the gas station to get a pack of smokes. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t want to leave my house at all, but addiction’s a bitch, so I put my big girl pants on and got in the car. Once I got there an old, toothless, drunk woman in front of me in line wouldn’t stop talking. I assume it was a misguided attempt to seem sober (something she most definitely was not), but I really just wanted to get my smokes without having any actual human interaction.

This dirty, old, hot mess of a woman was talking the cashier’s ear off about her mother who’d died of brain cancer (9 years ago). “They gave her 2 months, she lived 2 years—and I mean she was up and walkin’ around, ya know? She was good. Those doctors don’t know anything.” I felt so bad for the cashier, who looked like she was in her own personal hell, but all I wanted to do was pay for my smokes and go home. Instead, this lady kept looking back at me while she talked, like she wanted to let me in on their conversation. No thanks, hard pass. I did everything I could to ignore her, including staring at the candy bars (I don’t even like candy bars) like I was trying to eat them with my eyes. I would’ve bought the whole damn rack of ’em to keep from talking to that broad.IMG_3861

Had I been on vacation, however, I would’ve had a much different reaction. Generally, I’m in a better mood when I’m traveling. If a stranger tries to talk to me while I’m in a new city, I jump at the chance. It’s a part of the experience. I should probably try to live everyday that way, but Cleveland. . .

We had dinner reservations at The Pink Door, and figured we’d just play it by ear after that. We arrived at the restaurant in an Uber whose driver dropped us off right by the door, despite there not being an actual street there, but an alley that was strictly for, and crawling with pedestrians. We certainly know how to make an entrance. After ordering a cocktail at the bar, we were seated on their outdoor patio. Although we were disappointed that we didn’t get to see the burlesque show, the food, atmosphere and service were perfecto.IMG_3869

Lindsey had heard from some friends about a bar at Pike Place Market, nearby the restaurant, so we walked over to check it out. Il Bistro is an easy-to-miss spot right outside the entrance to the market, sort of underneath it. It has a hip, almost speakeasy feel to it. Though they serve food, which we were told is fantastic, we arrived too late to order, and were still full from dinner anyway. We just wanted to get our drink on.

Once we sat at the bar the cute, young bartender came over for our drink orders. He was tall, sexy, and gave off a hip vibe that befit the establishment he was slinging drinks for. He just seemed to somehow go with the place. He was charming and gracious, no doubt because he knows that flirting is the best way to elicit tips from drunk women. I told him to make me something sweet, that I liked strawberry, and I have no idea what he made me, or what was in it, but it was freaking delicious, and very strong. He’s like the Walter White of bartenders: an artist.IMG_3877

There were all sorts of people in the bar. Because we were on vacation, and also because we were drunk by this point, we started chatting up the people around us. Lindsey was talking music with a guy in a baseball cap with a flat rim, and I got to know the couple next to me, Dirk and Andrew. We chatted and laughed and drank for hours with our new friends; Dapper Dan, smooth as hell, moving behind the bar like some sort of bartending ballerina (minus the tights). Lindsey wanted her drink carbonated and voila, Dan made it so. It felt like we were at the center of the activity, like our vibes were drawing people to us. We were having a fabulous time.IMG_3892

I noticed an attractive man sitting alone at a table near the bar. He was well dressed, in his late 30’s, with dark, salt and pepper hair, and a beard. We made eye contact a few times before I went over and sat down at his table. I’m not sure if he wanted that or not, but I’d had enough of Dan’s cocktails to not particularly care. I had become the drunk old woman in the gas station. Those in glass houses. . .

I introduced myself. He said his name was Kevin, that he’d just gotten off work, and wanted to have a nightcap before heading home. When I asked him what he did for a living and he told me he was a wine sommelier I decided meeting him was fate. I love wine, he knows wine. It was a match made in Riesling heaven.IMG_3874

I chatted with Kevin for a while while Lindsey chatted with some of the other bar patrons until the bar was closing, and it looked like our night had to end. But we were still enjoying ourselves so we decided to simply move the party elsewhere.

We’d heard from one of the people in the bar about the Great Gum Wall of Seattle that was literally right around the corner. How I’d not read about it during my research is a mystery. Obviously we had to see it, so Kevin walked us there and Lindsey and I each added a piece of gum to the collection. At the time, we found hysterically entertaining (in Cleveland I would’ve simply found it disgusting).IMG_3915

We’d planned on taking an Uber back to the hotel, but Kevin offered to give us a ride, and we were more than happy to take him up on it. I’m not 100% sure what Kevin’s expectations were, but going back to a hotel with two drunk women. . . I can guess. And although this guy was totally sexy, and my occasional irrational optimism causes me never to travel without condoms, once we got to the hotel, it just seemed weird.

Neither Lindsey or myself had any interest in getting nekkid, we were only interested in going to sleep. We hung out for maybe half an hour. We talked a little bit and smoked some weed, but without the noise and energy of the bar (and with our buzz fading), we were sort of ready bed. Being in that hotel room, staring at the empty beds, may potentially have put Kevin in the mood to get freaky, but we were looking at the beds like, I want to be so up in you. . . Alone.

Poor Kevin. He probably thought he was about to have a threesome, but ended up going home without so much as a peek at our boobs to put in his spank bank. Sorry not sorry, Kev, but thanks for the ride home and for being a gentleman. Despite his probable disappointment, it was a great memory to take home from our last night in Washington.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll come back again next week for LadycationSunday when Lindsey and I’s adventure concludes. Hint: It has a happy ending.

Follow Ladycations to stay up to date on my latest trips, tips, and tales. Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

 

 

Curing My Nature Withdrawal

It’s been over 7 months since my last nature trip and I’m in full blown withdrawal. I need to be surrounded by trees and falling asleep in a tent under the stars. I flew to Vegas with two of my fellow ladycationers in March, and we were supposed to camp in Zion National Park for two nights before two nights of Vegasing, but our flight was cancelled and we ended up missing the first two days of our trip. Ever since then I’ve been a hot mess of a tightly wound woman, who desperately needs to escape reality and get her hike on.

Great Smoky Mountains

Funds are tight, a far away adventure is out of the question. I always want to go west when I travel. I love the West! The mountains, the ocean, the weather, the people; I love it all. But living in Ohio, getting to the western USA is no easy or inexpensive feat. So, I started looking for more reasonable, accessible options.

The Great Smoky Mountains are only a half day’s drive from Cleveland, and I’ve always wanted to hike on the Appalachian Trail, which runs through the Smokies. I started looking at a trail map and researching various trails in the National Park, and when I’d picked the perfect route I called my ladycationers.

Locked and Loaded

While you’re reading this (thank you, by the way), Lindsey and I are somewhere in the Great Smoky Mountains, probably getting rained on, if the forecast is correct, and loving every minute of it.

We’ll be hiking the Forney Creek Loop that begins and ends at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the National Park. We’ll hike down the Forney Creek Trail, then up the Jonas Creek Trail, before joining the Welch Ridge Trail, and finally turning up the AT for the final leg of our journey. It’s only about 20 miles, but from what I’ve read, it’s a pretty strenuous and challenging hike. There are multiple creek crossings that are said to get fairly treacherous;fFrequent rain causes the creeks to swell, making them difficult to get across. There’s also almost 4000ft of elevation loss and then gain, so this hike will test our limits.

Gatlinburg Great Smoky Mountains Tennessee

I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am about this trip. I’ve seen The Smokies before, but I’ve never hiked them. A group of girlfriends and I spent a long weekend in a cabin near Gatlinburg, Tennessee a few years ago. We had every intention of hiking, but ended up losing an entire day in the tourist-hell that is Pigeon Forge, never making it into the wilderness. So I’m pretty stoked about finally getting to explore the mountains, instead of the gift shops and chain restaurants in town, this time. We’ll be surrounded by green, passing waterfalls, climbing mountains, crossing rivers. . . It’s just what the doctor ordered (technically a lie. I’ll be having a bone scan the day before we leave to confirm that I have another stress fracture in my leg. I’ve been advised to cease all high impact activities, but I will NOT miss this trip, so it could be a very interesting hike).094.JPG

We’ll finish our hiking trip the way Lindsey and I always do: an AirBnb with a hot tub. Once we hike out of the mountains we’ll head to Asheville, North Caorolina, where we’ll clean up, check out the town, eat dinner, and retreat to the hot tub with a bottle of wine. No work, no kids, no responsibility; just me and my bestie on a long awaited ladycation.

I hope you’re all having a fantastic week and are planning a nature fix of your own. I can’t wait to see what stories and shenanigans this trip will produce, and share them with whoever is inclined to read them. For a sneak peak, follow Ladycations on Instagram where I’ll be posting a few photos from our adventure! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

A Hiker’s Guide to Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob (yes, Gobbler’s Knob)

Mount Rainier National Park is a must-see for any hiker. With over 370 square miles of pristine wilderness, breathtaking mountain views, alpine lakes, glaciers, and valleys to explore, it’s hard to decide where to begin. The good news is, you really can’t make a bad choice; it’s all spectacular.

If you’re looking for a long day hike, or weekend trip, Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob should be on your short list. As if being able to say you went to a place called Gobbler’s Knob isn’t enough, the views and the quiet solitude make this hike truly spectacular. Here’s what you need to know.

Mount Rainier National Park
The view from Gobbler’s Knob fire lookout tower

Reservations and Permits: While day hiking in Mount Rainier National Park does not require a permit, you will need to get a wilderness permit to do any overnight camping. Demand can be high, so it is recommended that you make a permit reservation in advance. The permits cost $20 per party and are good for up to 14 consecutive days. If your request is granted, you (the person requesting the permit) will need to pick it up at any Ranger Station or Wilderness Information Center before 10:00am on the day of your hike.

trail to lake george

Distance: The hike to Lake George is about 9 miles round trip. If you plan to continue on to Gobbler’s Knob (which you absolutely must because the view is out of this world) you can add an extra 3 miles, mostly switchbacks, to that. This hike can be done in a day, but I highly recommend taking the time to spend the night at Lake George to fully enjoy the this incredible piece of the Mount Rainier National Park.

Terrain: The first 3.5 miles of the trail is an old, gravel road that winds up the mountain. It is all uphill, so prepare your body in advance, as this is a rather strenuous hike for those who aren’t in shape. The last stretch is just under a mile, and begins at a poorly marked (at least while we were there) trailhead that leads through the forest to Lake George. It’s a steeper, but exponentially more beautiful climb, with views of Rainier through the trees.IMG_3624

Campsites: There are multiple campsites at Lake George, and a shelter, most of which overlook the peak of Mt. Rainier! They’re spread out fairly well, so unless the campground is full, you’ll have some privacy.

Campfires: Campfires are NOT allowed at such high elevations in Mt. Rainier National Park. Please don’t be the dick who ignores the rule and burns down the forest. Let’s keep our parks beautiful for everyone to enjoy.

Toilets: There are pit toilets in the campground. They’re exactly what you’d expect a National Park backcountry outhouse would be. Unpleasant, but not Sleepaway Camp unpleasant. If you’re planning on camping, I assume you’ve already accepted outhouses as a part of the experience.

Lake George

Water: Since the campground is located on the shore of a pristine alpine lake, water is easily accessible. Just make sure you have a water filter and/or purification tablets to make it safe to drink. Unless you want to spend a lot of time in the a-fore mentioned outhouse.

Food Storage: Bear canisters are required for overnight campers, and there are bear poles to hang food and scented items out of reach. Canisters can be borrowed at the Wilderness Information Center in Ashford for an optional, but much appreciated, and well deserved donation. Support our parks!

gobbler's knob fire lookout tower

Weather: Due to the elevation at Lake George the temperature is going to drop as you ascend the trail. When we left the parking area it was in the low-mid 80’s, but by the time we’d reached the campground, and were surrounded by trees providing abundant shade from the setting sun, the temperature was about 20 degrees cooler. At night, even in summer, it can dip into the low 30’s. Make sure you pack accordingly!

Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob are spectacular. I hope you add it to your list the next time you’re thinking of an outdoor adventure in the Pacific Northwest!

 

 

O’Neil Creek Camp and AirBnb: Hot Tub, Cheese and the Good Samaritans

We wanted to shorten our hike out of the park on our last day, so we packed up camp and headed back down the East Fork Quinault River Trail to O’Neil Creek Camp the day before. Only a few miles from Pyrites Creek, it seemed like the shortest hike ever after so many days of mileage in the double digits. It also allowed us to get there nice and early, so the place was empty. We chose a large site along the river, surrounded by large, moss covered trees that provided both privacy and shade. It was like the Ritz Carlton of campsites: location, location, location.IMG_3539

After setting up camp we put on our bathing suits, grabbed our sleeping mats, and headed to the rocky island in the middle of the river to spend the afternoon. We rinsed off in the icy cold water and stretched out to dry in the hot sun. It was the most amazing feeling. There was no urgency, we were able to just be still; no responsibilities, really enjoying being in the present, appreciating everything that got us to that place, at that moment. It was like combining a badass adventure with a relaxing beach vacation, and a mountain retreat with gurus to guide you on the path to your best life. Only instead of gurus, we had weed.

Lit

We headed back to camp when the shadows moved in as the sun sank below the mountains, and made dinner. Being our last night, we were down to only the food we’d chosen not to eat thus far. So it was a somewhat depressing meal, and I was dreaming of hamburgers and mozzarella sticks, as I begrudgingly ate my vegetable beef soup.

A family from a campsite nearby asked if they could walk through our site to get to the river and, of course, we happily obliged. They were really sweet people, very natural, “granola,” if you will. They’re like the smart kids I went to high school with, who got graduate degrees and are now professors, or running science labs, and are always going on hiking and camping trips with their beautiful spouses and adorable kids. Talking with our new Nature Neighbors was like talking to my high school friends, but ten years in the future.

The Granola Dad laughed at Lindsey’s can of soup as he passed through, saying, “You guys must be going ultralight.” We kinda looked around at all our stuff everywhere and thought, “Huh?” It made us wonder what all he and his family had carried in with them.

O'Neil Creek Camp

Talking to our new friend about soup got us talking about other foods. Real food. We were craving some good, hot meals, but what we really wanted was cheese. Cheese and crackers and wine. We decided to pick some up on the way to our AirBnb after we hiked out of the park. The thought of sitting in the hot tub with a glass of wine and snacks, as we sat on the ground with our stiff backs against a tree, sounded positively orgasmic.

We were in bed early that night, and up early the next morning. When we were packing up camp, Granola Mom came over to greet us. To our absolute astonishment, she had cheese, crackers, and granola bars with her. She said her husband overheard us talking about being hungry and wanting cheese, and that they had leftover rations from the night before that they wanted us to have. I’m not kidding when I say we had tears in our eyes as we looked at her. These people were our heroes. It might have been the best damn cheese we’d ever had in our entire lives. It was some kind of smooth gouda that, in the backcountry on day 4, tasted absolutely decadent. That kind, beautiful family restored a little bit of my faith in humanity that day.IMG_3555

The hike out was about 9 miles, and our packs were lighter as we’d eaten all our food. We talked as we hiked about our favorite parts of the trip. One thing we both loved was the quiet, being so far removed from other human beings. While unsettling at first, we’d learned to cherish the solitude, and the connection it allowed us to feel with our surroundings. The few people we did encounter had as much reverence and respect for the forest as we did. We wanted more of it in our lives. We’d fallen head over heels in love with backpacking. But first we wanted showers. And wine. And more cheese.IMG_3564

By the time we emerged from the forest, we were definitely ready for a break, and we felt like we’d earned it; we were unbelievably proud of ourselves. We’d hiked over 43 miles in the backcountry, in 4 days, with everything we needed on our backs. The word, “badass,” was said more than once, but we were next level exhausted. We were so excited to do things like sit in a real chair, sleep in a real bed, flush a toilet, get water from a faucet. . . I love to escape the world, but there are some things I also love to come back to. Nature helps me appreciate all the advances in modern technology. . . Like indoor plumbing.

When we got to the car I noticed something was amiss. In all the excitement of embarking on our big adventure, I’d left the driver’s window all the way down. . . For the last 4 days. . . In the woods. . . Unattended. . . With hundreds of dollars worth of weed, and all the rest of our stuff inside. We just stood there for a second and exchanged an “uh oh” look before surveying the damage. To our relief, and absolute amazement, everything was still there. Someone could’ve robbed us blind, but our stuff was untouched. It was the second time that day that I’d been given hope for the future of mankind.

The few food items we’d left in a Target bag on the floor of the backseat, however, were another story. They’d been feasted on by some small, forest critter. There were tiny teeth marks in all the packaging, and the contents (mostly Lindsey’s dehydrated fruit, and granola bars she was saving for Mt. Rainier) were just gone. We inspected the rest of our stuff to make sure there were no more surprises, and were satisfied that whatever had been in there had moved on, so we did too. We would find out later, of course, that he wasn’t gone. In fact, whatever it was also drove to our AirBnb and then Mount Rainier with us. After two nights of hiking Rainier, and even though all the windows were securely closed, our food was once again gone, with more chewed up wrappers left behind. We never found it. Whatever it was, he was like some sort of tiny, forest ninja. We weren’t sad when we returned that rental car. At. All.

I wish I could remember the name of the pizza place we went to in Olympia. We were exhausted and in a post-nature daze, I barely even remember the drive to get there. What I do remember is that it was the most delicious Coke to ever pass my lips, and the cheesy garlic bread almost made me cry. Honestly, though, it probably wasn’t really that good. We were just overjoyed to not be eating granola or canned soup, so we were pretty easy to please.IMG_3596

After lunch we made a brief stop at Target for our wine and cheese, then made our way to our “home” for the night. The Time and Again Cabin is a little slice of paradise located in the middle of a Christmas tree farm in Cinebar, Washington. Dripping with charm in every nook and cranny, the cottage has a bedroom, a futon in the living room, a mini kitchen, private laundry and bath, and a giant hot tub. It’s the perfect stop between backpacking trips.IMG_3579

The hosts were a delightful couple who gave us a tour of the cabin and introduced us to their sweet, old dog, who would wind up keeping us company most of the night. They left us snacks, plush bathrobes, flip flops, and special mugs for the hot tub, then they left us to bask in the luxury of their guesthouse.

We showered immediately and oh, how glorious it felt! I honestly felt physically lighter when I stepped out, like I’d just washed away 30 pounds of dirt, sweat, and grime. After we were clean, we threw in a load laundry before pouring our wine and hopping in the hot tub.

Cheers!

There we were, stretched out in this 6 person hot tub, staring up at the billions of stars against the jet black sky. We sipped our wine while the hot water and powerful jets soothed away 4 days of hiking up and down the foothills of the Olympic Mountains. We were totally blissed out.IMG_3587

Clouds began to roll in just as we started getting a little hot, feeling like we may need to get out and breathe some cooler air. Then it started to rain. Just a light, drizzly mist that cooled off our faces enough to allow us to stay in the hot tub a while longer, relaxing as the water massaged us from head to toe. Absolute amazeballs. Even removed from the forest, Mother Nature still had our backs. Thanks, Mom!

After we got out, we switched our laundry and sat on the patio; eating our cheese, finishing our wine, and looking at the pictures we’d taken so far. The dog was by our side, sleeping contently as we smoked a joint, reminisced, and talked about the adventure awaiting us on Mt. Rainier.

We slept so good that night. I’m pretty sure I didn’t move a single muscle from the moment my head hit the pillow until I woke up to the sun shining through the windows, beckoning us to the mountains, in the morning. We were ready.

One thing is for sure, my next visit to Washington will include another trip to Olympic National Park, followed by a stay at the Time and Again Cabin. It was the most perfect mix of wilderness and luxury.

Thank you for stopping by! Be sure to check out my other posts, and come back next week to continue the adventure, when Lindsey and I embark on an all up hill hike in Mount Rainier National Park!

~Steph