Adventure’s End: Final Days and Final Thoughts

My 40th birthday adventure was coming to an end and soon I’d have to return to reality. However, there was still some fun to be had in Phoenix before hopping on a plane and heading home.

Despite sleeping like the dead the previous night, I was still tired when I woke up to another gorgeous Arizona morning. It felt like I had lost the ability to store energy, and my whole body was stiff and sore. I was grateful for a relatively lazy day.

My aunt and uncle, being the incredible human beings that they are, still had a couple tricks up their sleeves. So while I chatted with my Aunt Lynne, who had come over to visit, Cindy was in the kitchen making lunch (spaghetti, my favorite). What I didn’t know was that she’d also made dessert.img_5745

My favorite dessert is from a now defunct restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota. Orchards (formerly known as Plush Pippen) had a sour cream lemon pie that was absolutely to die for, and when they went out of business I feared I’d never taste it again. Fast forward 15 years to Thanksgiving at my sister’s house and voila! She’d found the recipe online. Little did I know that she’d also passed it along to Aunt Cindy. It’s amazing how something as simple as a pie can bring a person to tears. It tasted like my childhood, something I felt was only appropriate as I celebrated the aging process.img_5749

After a day of relaxing, spending time with family and napping, we headed to Macayo’s with some more family for dinner (and margaritas). Although I generally don’t like Mexican food (yes, I know, I’m nuts), I felt like a trip to Arizona wouldn’t be complete without a meal at a Mexican joint.

The food was delicious, the margaritas were large and plentiful, and the company was superb. We finished up our meal, grabbed some tacos to-go for Mary, and went to the airport to pick her up. She’d spent the entire day traveling by helicopter, car and bus to get back to Phoenix after we’d left her in Supai.

Mary and I’s original plan had been to go out on the town for the final night of our ladycation. However, between Mary’s day of traveling all over Arizona, and my body still aching from the previous day’s ten mile hike, we were too exhausted to go anywhere. So, instead of partying the night away at some bar in Phoenix, we opted instead for margaritas at Mark and Cindy’s.img_5766

The four of us were in the backyard, enjoying the prickly pear margs that Mark made for us, when there was a knock at the door. Given the lengths my aunt and uncle had gone to to make my trip so amazing, I wondered if they could possibly still have another surprise in store. Even Mary was looking towards the front door expecting some long lost family member to come walking in.

Instead, it was the neighbor from across the street. He too had been enjoying a healthy number of adult beverages that evening, and was hoping to have a heart to heart with Mark. However, upon seeing that Mark had company he left, and I assumed we’d seen the last of him. I was quite mistaken.

A short while later the neighbor, who we’ll call “Joe,” returned, and he wasn’t alone. Now a party of six, Uncle Mark was back in the kitchen mixing up another round of margaritas, while we were introduced to Joe and his friend, “Bill.” Bill, Joe explained, had just discovered his wife was cheating on him, so he was staying at Joe’s place while he “figured things out,” a term we eventually learned was code for, “traded ugly insults via text with his wife.” It gave me a renewed appreciation for the amicability of my divorce.img_5769

Before too long Mark and Cindy called it a night, leaving Mary and I with Joe, Bill, and our margaritas. It became clear pretty quickly that volume control was going to be an issue, so we moved the party to Joe’s man-cave-garage, where we switched from margs to Jack and Cokes.

Admittedly, we were all pretty drunk. However, I was not so drunk that I had any designs on either of these men. The four of us shot the proverbial shit for a while, before deciding to go looking for scorpions. Yes, that’s right, scorpions; as in the creepy looking critters that nightmares are made of. You see, Mary and I, being Midwesterners, had never actually seen one. It wasn’t until this trip that we learned they glow under black lights, a fact we found both terrifying and fascinating. So, being the gentlemen, albeit very drunk gentlemen, that Joe and Bill were, they grabbed a light and took us on a scorpion hunt.img_5786

Now, when I say “scorpion hunt,” I’m using the term “hunt” very loosely. It was more like a 20 foot stroll around the side of the property until we (very quickly) spotted one crawling up the stucco privacy wall surrounding the yard. It was a lot smaller than I expected. I always imagined them to be bigger, more nefarious looking. But the first thing I noticed, obviously, was that it was glowing. How amazing is Mother Nature?!

I realized how strange it is that so many of our fears are rooted in ignorance. The thought of seeing a scorpion had scared the shit out of me. I imagined a terrifying, fist-sized monster; bloodthirsty, and hellbent on repeatedly stinging me till I was nearing death’s doorstep. What I found was just a big spider. Granted, it was a big, glowing spider, but it certainly wasn’t interested in attacking me. Simply seeing a scorpion erased my fear of them. Imagine all the fears we could eliminate if we all stepped out of our bubbles to seek out new experiences once in a while. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the world’s problems that could solve.img_5778

Once staring at the scorpion got boring we headed back to the man-cave. I went in Joe’s house to use the bathroom and was immediately in love with the décor. It was beautiful: high, vaulted ceilings, open and airy, full of old family photos and bold, rich colors. I’ll be honest, I totally snooped around. Every room I went into was more fun than the last. It was like being inside a magazine.

As I was heading back to the garage (while planning a new Joe’s-house-inspired photo wall) Joe came staggering in. My Lady-Sense (it’s like Spidey-Sense, but instead of sensing danger or crime, we sense impending sexual advances) began going off immediately. Predictably, as I was complimenting him on his beautiful home, he leaned in, and with hot, whiskey breath, slurred, “You’re so hot.” Ugh, here we go. He continued heaping drunken praise on me, as I awkwardly avoided eye contact and inched closer to the door, trying like hell to deflect his advances.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it was a compliment. But it was the compliment of a drunk man who has lost his grasp on self-control and had clear ulterior motives. I didn’t go all the way out to Arizona to have a quickie one night stand with my uncle’s drunk, married neighbor. Hard no on that. I also wasn’t about to leave Mary alone with his on-the-rebound buddy in the garage any longer either. It was time to call it a night. Mary and I made our exit soon after and headed back to Mark and Cindy’s.img_5774

Mary went to bed almost immediately after we got back. Being our last night in Arizona, I didn’t want it to end, so I sat in the backyard for a while. I drank some water, smoked some bud, and tried to soak in my surroundings as much as I could; to breath in the Southwest. I wanted to bookmark the memory, remember how the warm, dry air felt, the smell of the citrus trees, and the serenity in my spirit. If feelings could be bottled. . .

Just like the first night we’d been there, I looked back on my life and was grateful. When I’d first decided to embark on this adventure for my 40th birthday, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect trip. From the moment we landed my family had gone far above and beyond to make the experience special. I didn’t know how to thank them, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully repay their generosity and thoughtfulness. They’re the kind of people who exude kindness and love, the kind of people it’s impossible not to like. They go out of their way to make others feel welcome and accepted. The entire week with them, the others we’d hiked to Supai with, and those we’d met during Heather’s rescue had restored a bit of my faith in humanity.

We flew home the next afternoon and boarded the plane with exhausted, but strong bodies and centered, serene minds. Obviously, I would’ve preferred to stay and explore more of the Southwest, but reality was calling. As we flew home I started remembering all the responsibilities awaiting me in Cleveland, and my quiet mind got a little more noisy. Bills, housework, kids, my job; a whole world of obligations patiently waited for me to come back.img_5804

My friend Bridget picked us up from the airport and drove us home. When we pulled in the driveway I saw the “Happy Birthday” sign in the yard. Bridget had been busy. My entire house was filled with balloons, streamers and handmade signs. On the dining room table was a cake with candles, a bottle of wine, and some weed. Chocolate, wine and weed. My B-Ridge knows me well!

Bridget had gotten my son to let her in. She cleaned my house (let’s just say I’m no June Cleaver) and decorated the whole thing. She reminded me why I come home from vacations. Some of the noise that makes up our lives is actually beautiful music. Like a Foo Fighters song. . . Alright, fine, like Mozart, but you get where I’m going.

Getting away, taking a break, a change of scenery; it all serves to help us appreciate what we have back home. Without the responsibilities and obligations, would the desire to explore be as great? Or would we just remain stagnant, living and dying in our small corner of the world? I don’t think any of my ladycations would be as amazing if I didn’t have reality to compare them to. They say comparison is at the heart of all unhappiness, but in this respect, it provides the contrast needed to truly relax and gain perspective. Just goes to show, everything in moderation. . .

Thank you for stopping by! I hope you’ll all come back to read about future adventures. And don’t forget to follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips and tales. Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

Leaving Supai: A Successful, Sweaty Solo Hike

I’d flown over 2000 miles, driven almost 5 hours, and hiked ten miles to see the waterfalls at Supai to celebrate my 40th birthday. Amazing as it was, the real test had come: hiking out. The last time I’d left Supai I’d had to do so on horseback. This time, I was determined to hike out on my own two feet.

When we woke up in the morning and began packing up our gear, I knew immediately that Mary would rather chew on broke glass than embark on the ten mile hike out. Her face was a combination of exhaustion, pain, and dread. She asked if it was too late to ride a horse out and, upon hearing that it was, the last glimmer of hope in her eyes vanished.img_5657

As we hiked to the village (two miles, and all uphill) Mary barely spoke. She was walking slowly, her aching legs struggling with each step. When we reached Havasu Falls, and hiked down to take some pictures, she stayed up top, too sore and tired for the short walk down.

I arrived in the village well before Mary, and ordered some breakfast at the cafe. When she and Mark arrived about 30 minutes later, she told me she was not hiking out with us. She’d decided to stay in the village for a night, and fly out on the helicopter with Heather the following day.img_5639

The selfish part of me was disappointed that my hiking partner was ditching me, but the rest of me completely understood. I remembered all too well how it felt to know I wasn’t physically capable of completing that hike. She wasn’t ditching me, she was taking care of herself, and preventing a second mid-hike rescue from being necessary. I respect that. We said our goodbyes after breakfast and, leaving Mary behind, Mark, Peter and I set out for the Hualapai Hilltop.IMG_5704

The three of us began the hike together, but I soon found myself far ahead of my hiking companions. Peter’s feet weren’t doing so great, and Mark was keeping pace with him. I’d do the obligatory fake-stop to allow them to catch up a little before I kept going, but after we reached the halfway point, Mark could see I was in my groove, so he gave me his car keys and told me to have at it. It was the greatest news I’d heard all day! With Mark’s keys in my pack, I took off to complete the last 4 miles of the hike on my own.

It was hot–and I mean hot–that day. The sun was blazing down and I was wiping sweat off my brow to keep it from getting in my eyes seemingly every few steps. It was a losing battle. About two miles into my solo hike, I found a spot with some shade to take a smoke/pee/cool-down break. I took off my pack and my entire back was soaked with sweat. Gross. Not wanting to continue battling the endless stream of perspiration on my face, I took my shirt off and tied it around my head. I may have looked ridiculous, but hiking isn’t a fashion show.img_5727

I’m a very social person with an anxious mind that never quiets. I’ve always thrived on social interaction, and had never considered that I could find happiness in solitude. Alone time has always been my enemy. When I’m by myself for any length of time I start heading down the rabbit hole of insecurity, over-analyzing every interaction of the day.  Yet here I was, alone in the wilderness, and completely content. Perhaps it’s the confidence that comes with age, but I was loving every second of my solo hike.

My trip to Washington had taught me that I could find peace and clarity in the wild. Though I wasn’t alone on that trip, I had learned the value in being far removed from civilization. Being alone on the hike out of Supai seemed like the next step in my journey of learning to enjoy my own company. Like in Washington, my mind was clear and focused, free from the anxiety that usually fills my thoughts with self-doubt and worry.IMG_5711

When I approached the final leg of the trail: the switchbacks, I hesitated for a moment. I looked up at the path before me; I knew it was going to be tough. The negative little voice inside my head began to rear it’s ugly head again, “What were you thinking? You’re not strong enough for this.” I took a deep breath and a long drink of water, told that bitch to shut the hell up, and off I went.

Step by step, foot by foot of elevation gain, I hiked. It was strenuous going uphill for so long, but it wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected it to be. Each turn brought me closer to the top, each switchback behind me was one less in front of me. And every step I took gave me more confidence. I was strong enough.

I was about two thirds of the way up when I heard a familiar, but out of place sound. Is that the Game of Thrones theme song? Confused, I took a drink of water, thinking I was beginning to hallucinate due to dehydration. Somehow, despite hydrating, the music was getting louder. As I rounded another switchback, I was relieved to see I was not slipping into dementia. The nurse and her friend, whom we’d met the previous day during Heather’s rescue, were ahead of me, and they were blasting the GoT soundtrack on their phone.IMG_5719

Both of the women were in their late twenties. They’re what I would refer to as, “The Pretty People.” They were thin, looked fit, and were beautiful; the kind of girls I would’ve hated in high school. But they were struggling. It looked like every step they took physically pained them, and neither appeared to be having much fun.

I smiled as I approached, and complimented them on their stellar taste in television shows. The nurse said, “It’s the only thing getting me up this fucking mountain.” I laughed, said, “Yeah, this is a hell of a trek!” and passed them by. Me. The 40 year old lady who hadn’t been able to hike out at all when I was their age, passed them right up and kept on going. I’m not gonna lie, I took immense pride in leaving The Pretty People in my dust.

Passing the twenty-somethings gave me a renewed sense of determination. My legs were starting to feel weak, I was soaked with sweat everywhere–and I do mean everywhere–and my lungs were reminding me that I need to quit smoking. But instead of slowing down, I picked up my pace. I rounded another switchback, realized it was the last one, and practically sprinted to the top.

I’m not sure how to describe the way I felt when I reached the hilltop. I don’t even think I fully understood it myself. It was a high no drug can duplicate. I took off my pack and guzzled what was left of my water, and once I’d caught my breath, I just started laughing. I must’ve looked like a complete nut-case. I looked back at the trail I’d just climbed with total elation. I did it! I actually effing did it!

The Pretty People emerged from the trail about 10 minutes after I did, and I congratulated them on their accomplishment. They were so exhausted they barely grunted back in response before heading to their car. That made me laugh again, only this time it was the boastful, nah-nah-na-boo-boo laugh of a Disney villain who’s about to meet her demise. Karma would strike a couple hours later when I realized I’d left my trekking poles at the top of the trail, never to be seen again. Humility is clearly something I need to work on.

I dug Mark’s keys out of my pack and was doing some stretches by the car, when I noticed an absurdly sexy, beefcake of a man approaching. In any other situation I would’ve been mortified to talk to a man like that in my condition: makeupless, hair a hot mess, no shirt on, stinking to high heaven. But I felt so good after kicking that trail’s ass that I wasn’t the least bit self-conscious.

We chatted for a few minutes while we both waited for the rest of our people, and I quickly learned that he was 100% not my type (though fun to look at, the beefcakes never are). He was the stereotypical “hot guy.” You know: full of himself, and way too flirty in an overtly sexual, objectifying, and rather misogynistic way. I was actually relieved to see Mark and Peter approaching, and bid farewell to the beefcake. Saved by the . . . uncle.

After the three of us congratulated each other on the completion of our adventure, we piled into Mark’s car and began driving back to civilization. As I sat in the backseat I realized just how exhausted I was. The adrenaline had worn off and I began to feel my age. Everything hurt. But it was a “good hurt.” The kind of soreness that says, “Yeah, that’s right, bitches. I did that.” I was so happy I could’ve cried, but so tired I just fell asleep.img_5734

We had dinner at the Route 66 Diner in Williams we’d eaten at just 3 days earlier, and I felt zero guilt at devouring my entire burger, fries, and mozzarella sticks. Then, in a “treat yo’self” moment, I ordered a chocolate shake to-go for dessert. I earned that shit.

After dinner, we dropped Peter off at his car, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways. Uncle Mark and I had several hours to talk on the drive home, and it’s a memory that will always be close to my heart. We reminisced about our trip, discussed planning our next hiking adventure (rim to rim hike at the Grand Canyon, perhaps?), and talked about how, despite being polar opposites with regards to religion and politics, we were united by our love of nature and family. Turns out, what makes us similar is so much more powerful than what sets us apart.

I don’t know that I’ve ever slept better than I did that night. The physical exhaustion was so great that even my mind was too tired to keep me awake. I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do, had reconnected with family I love, and had lived to tell the tale.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll come back next week for the completion of my 40th birthday Arizona Ladycation. And be sure to follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips, and tales! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends.

~Steph

Visiting Supai: A Complete Guide

If you’re a backpacker and you’ve never seen the waterfalls of Supai, it’s time to start planning your first visit! The trip to Havasupai is gorgeous, and can be made February through November, and should be planned well in advance, as reservations are limited and sell out quickly. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting one of the most spectacular places in Arizona!

Reservations: Advanced reservations are required, can be made on their website, and are not easy to get (2018 has been sold out for months). The entire year is open for booking on February 1st at 8am, Arizona time. Day hiking is NOT permitted. There is a 4 day / 3 night maximum for all reservations.

Prices: This isn’t a cheap hike, but it’s well worth the price. Camping prices per person are as follows:

  • 2 days / 1 night = $140.56
  • 3 days / 2 nights = $171.12
  • 4 days / 3 nights = $201.67

If you’re not up to camping, The Lodge may be the option for you. All reservations for the Lodge must be made via phone by calling (928) 448-2111 or (928) 448-2201. Rooms can accommodate up to 4 people and are $175 / night. An additional entrance fee of $90 / person will be collected upon arrival.

Getting There: There are three ways to get to Supai: horseback, helicopter, or on your own two feet.

  • Horseback: Reservations for a saddle horse must be made in advance by calling (928) 448-2180 or (928) 448-2237. The cost is $175 one way, or $250 round-trip. The horses will drop you off at either the Lodge or the campground, and can accommodate up to 250 pounds.
  • Helicopter: Helicopter rides between the Hualapai Hilltop and Supai are available on a first come-first served basis, with tribal members taking priority, for $85 / person. It is recommended that you arrive as early as possible to secure your spot in line. Keep in mind that the helicopter drops you off in the village, the hike from there to Mooney Falls is two miles. Their schedule is as follows: March 15 — October 15, 10am to 1pm on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday. October 16 — March 14: 10am to 1pm on Sunday and Friday.
  • Hiking: The Havasupai Trail begins at the Hualapai Hilltop. It’s eight miles to Supai, and an additional 2 miles from Supai to the campground. Since there is little protection from the sun and temperatures are known to hit triple digits, it’s recommended that you begin your hike as early as possible to avoid the midday heat (though it can get pretty chilly at the hilltop, so be sure to bring the appropriate layers). Make sure you pack plenty of water and sunscreen!

Pack mules are available for your gear at $132 each way. Each mule can carry up to 4 bags / 130 pounds. They must be reserved in advance by calling (928) 448-2180 or (928) 448-2237. Also, when hiking, remember that the mules have the right of way. When a mule train is approaching, move to the canyon side of the trail and wait for them to pass before continuing on.

Water: Ready to drink spring water is available at the campground and in the village. If you are taking water directly from the creeks make sure you bring your filtration system of choice!

Footwear: Since the terrain can be pretty rocky and uneven at times, you’re going to want to make sure you have good ankle support. You’re also going to want a pair of water shoes. Swimming and walking through the river is one of the highlights of this trip, but the rocks under the water are razor sharp. Make sure you have good water shoes that protect your feet and won’t slip off in the current. Tevas or Keens are both excellent choices.

Bathrooms: There are pit toilets at the campground. Please be respectful of the land and use them whenever possible.

Wildlife: There are many critters and furry friends that call Havasupai home. Always respect the living creatures you come across, and make sure you check your shoes and bags for snakes and scorpions before putting them on.

Rules: Please remember that this is tribal land, and respect their rules. Absolutely no alcohol, drugs, drones, or weapons are allowed on the reservation. All trash must be packed out; please leave the land as beautiful when you leave as it was when you arrived. There are some wonderful people who call Supai home and we should all be immensely grateful to them for sharing their beautiful land with us.

Thanks for stopping by! Since you’re here, why not have a look around? For more detailed information on preparing for your trip to Supai, please visit the official Havasupai website, and most of all: HAVE FUN!

Conquering Havasu Canyon: The Trail That Once Conquered Me

The main event was finally upon us! It was time for our ten mile trek to Supai. An extension of the Grand Canyon, but outside the National Park, Supai is located on the Havasupai reservation. This was what I’d been waiting for: to finally conquer the trail that had defeated me a decade earlier.

We were up at the break of day to get to the Hilltop. The sun was barely starting to rise, and the morning air was crisp and chilly. I’m not a morning person, never have been, but I was so excited for the adventure ahead of us, that I practically leapt out of bed when our alarm went off.IMG_5220

The four of us (Mary, Mark, Peter, and myself) stopped for breakfast (Mary and I having some shenanigans at the faux jail across the street before getting back in the car), then drove to the Hualapai Hilltop, where we met a group of Mark’s friends. There were eight of us total. Some of them knew each other, but we were mostly a motley crüe of random people, all connected through Uncle Mark.

Before we even bought our plane tickets Mary talked about wanting to ride a donkey. To hike with a donkey. To pet a donkey. To at least see a donkey. Despite repeatedly telling her they were horses and mules, not donkeys, and that they would not let her adopt one, she’d hear none of it. When we arrived at the hilltop the pack horses were IMG_5226corralled near the parking area, and that was good enough for her. Mary, as giddy as a schoolgirl, asked one of the caretakers if she could pet one, and when he said “yes,” her face lit up like a Christmas tree. As she pet and talked to him like he was a precious unicorn, he let loose the longest, most powerful stream of urine I’ve ever seen. I think a little bit of the magic died for my Mare-Bear in that moment, but it sure was hilarious to watch her expression go from love and joy to “WTF,” while she stepped out of the pee-path. I could not stop laughing.

After some introductions and group pictures, we loaded on our gear and began our descent down the Havasupai Trail.IMG_5230 The trail is 8 miles from the hilltop to the village, and another two miles from the village to the campground. It begins with a series of switchbacks that drop 1200 feet over a mile and a half to the bottom of Havasu Canyon, and IMG_5265follows the path of an old, dried up riverbed. The steep canyon walls rise up on either side of the often rocky trail, prickly pear cactus and other desert flora dotting the landscape.

There’s great benefit to starting this hike early in the morning. While it was chilly at the hilltop, the steep descent at the start of the trail means it gets very warm, very quickly, and there’s virtually no protection from the sun. It’s Arizona after all, so temperatures above 100 degrees are common, particularly in the summer months. But even late in October, we were feelin’ the heat.
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Around the halfway point we regrouped for a rest and snack break at a spot where the canyon wall opens up along the ground, like a long, shallow cave. It’s the perfect place to stop, crawl under the cliff, and cool down.

As we got closer to the village, signs of the natural springs that feed the waterfalls began to appear. The landscape got greener, and as we entered the outskirts of Supai, the dry, desert sand gave way to crystal clear, turquoise creeks. Mary couldn’t believe such an oasis existed in the middle of such a desolate landscape. There’s something truly magical about hiking all day in the hot, desert sun, and coming upon the icy-cold, flowing creeks, and lush foliage surrounding the village.IMG_5317.JPG

“Can I touch it?” Mary asked as she pointed to the river, her face full of amazement. I laughed, both at her asking my permission, and because it’s exactly this enthusiasm for the little things that makes Mary who she is.

When we arrived at the campground there weren’t too many campsites left, but we managed to find a space large enough for our entire group. We got set up quickly, and Mary and I pulled out some protein bars and crackers for dinner. We were too tired to cook. IMG_5357

As the sun set, the temperature began dropping, and I was freezing. Just when I thought I would have to bust open a fourth hand-warmer, the strangest thing happened. An inexplicably warm breeze began to sweep through the canyon. It was like a giant space heater had been turned on. It reminded me of how it feels to walk through a warm spot in Lake Superior–except in this situation I wasn’t concerned that it may be due to someone’s pee. Crisis: averted. It felt like Mother Nature totally had my back.

I made the decision when I started this blog to remain apolitical in my stories. Social media has made it impossible to not know where everyone stands on everything. We look at Facebook and are bombarded by news, and the thoughts and opinions of everyone we know, on both sides of every issue. Everybody’s an expert, it seems, and I’m as guilty of that as the next guy. It’s on Facebook that I spew my opinions like someone actually asked to hear them (they didn’t).IMG_5300

In the 2016 US election, things got ugly. Suddenly, it felt like the entire world had lost its damn mind. Everyone was a “nasty woman,” or in a “basket of deplorables,” and the middle ground seemed to break open, creating a massive fissure between “us” and “them.”

With that being said, I had some nervousness about the trip. My family in Arizona falls squarely on one side of that divide, while I am passionately planted on the other, and if there’s one thing I’ve always been, it’s outspoken. I worried that discussions could get heated, I worried that the group of people my uncle invited (whom I presumed would align with him politically) would bring up an issue that I feel strongly about, and that I wouldn’t be able to hold my tongue. I worried my cursing would offend, I worried I’d make people uncomfortable when I busted out my cannabis. . . I worried.

Those fears turned out to be unnecessary. Apart from Peter, upon arriving at our campsite, jokingly gesturing towards the tents nearby and saying, “Have we met our neighbors? What do we know about them? Have we seen their voting records?” and me replying with, “Have you seen mine?” while my uncle gave Peter a, “please don’t get her started,” look, the subject of politics and current events never came up. We were just eight random people, all at different stages in life, all from different backgrounds, with different beliefs, and allegiances; united by our love of nature, hiking, and camping, and a desire to have a great time, in a beautiful place. The rest of it didn’t matter.IMG_5298

Unbeknownst to me, my uncle had informed everyone in our party that this trip was to celebrate my 40th birthday (and probably to not bring up politics). So while I thought our traveling companions were making dinner, they were actually doing something far more amazing: deep frying dough to make birthday donuts. These people, these complete strangers that I’d feared I wouldn’t mesh well with, had brought the dough, oil, cinnamon, sugar, and even a candle to help make my 40th birthday adventure even more special. They didn’t care what side of the political fence I sat on, and they reminded me that we’re not as different as the internet would have us believing.

After a round of Happy Birthday that literally left me speechless and tearful, we had what I believe to be the most delicious donuts I’ve ever eaten in all my life. I was absolutely blown away by their kindness and generosity of spirit.

We were all pretty tired, and we had another big day of hiking ahead of us, so everyone started hitting the sack fairly early. Mary and I headed back to our little campsite and smoked a bit before we went to bed. We talked about the day, and how excited we were for the next, and about what fantastic people we had hiked in with.IMG_5256

My 40th birthday trip was turning out exactly as I’d hoped. Every mile we hiked, the built up stress inside me faded away. By the time I went to bed I could feel the shift in my spirit, the shadow of negativity that creeps in through the grind of everyday life fading away; light and positivity filling its place.

When I’d hiked the trail in my twenties I had gone to sleep with feet full of blisters, and legs so sore I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to move the next day. This time I went to sleep blister-free, and bursting with excitement for the adventure to come: climbing down the canyon wall to Mooney Falls, and hiking on to Beaver Falls, the waterfall I hadn’t been able to reach the last time. I had no idea as I climbed into my sleeping bag that the hike would turn into an all day rescue for one of the incredible people who’d just made me birthday donuts.

Thank you for stopping in to check out my blog! Be sure to come back for LadycationSunday to see what befell one of us hikers, and how the tale unfolds!

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

~Steph

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 shitty! 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 a 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, drinking in their every word with those beautiful accents, 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 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. Destiny.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 it 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 to just go to 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!