Family Trip: Canyonlands & Goblin Valley!

Two of our favorite places with two of our favorite people!

Once upon a time, my mom and youngest brother planned a trip to see us in March 2020 — not knowing that the COVID pandemic would hit right about then. All of our plans were up in the air right up until the week they were scheduled to fly out. They ended up being able to fly here and we proceeded with our trip as planned.

Everything ended up being shut down the very next week, so in retrospect we probably should have cancelled this trip — but we had no idea how everything was going to go down and how serious the pandemic was at this point. However, I avoided posting anything on social media about this trip until much later because I felt guilty that we had traveled when we should have started quarantining, and I did not want to seem like I was encouraging people to continue traveling during this time.

I am really glad they ended up being able to come. We had a great trip! It was the first time we got to spend some 1×1 time with just my mom and Christopher — probably ever! My family is a big group — often referred to as the Kemper Party of 8, or however many people are there at the time — and it is really fun to do things together as a group, but I really enjoyed this trip with just the two of them!

We booked a bougie hotel in Moab — the brand new Hyatt Place — as a surprise. It was supposed to be a low-budget weekend but at the last minute we decided to splurge a bit on the hotel so that everyone would have some more room to spread out. We drove to Moab in the late afternoon/evening and took them to Pasta Jay’s for dinner. It was amazing, as always, but we ordered way too much food. I had just found out that I was pregnant a week before, and didn’t realize it yet but I would have some issues eating for the first trimester. Not morning sickness really, just a general lack of appetite and an aversion to food. So this became a theme for the weekend — me being super hungry and ordering a shit ton of food and then feeling full a few bites in.

Our hotel lived up to the expectations. It was brand new, really beautiful, and even had a hotel bar (a rarity for Utah). Kevin and my mom kept the drinking to a minimum that weekend since I could not partake. We tried several times to go in the hot tub and pool but it was way too crowded — and in retrospect, I am glad we didn’t, because COVID. We had some shenanigans the first night. Christopher normally sleeps with an industrial fan in his bedroom (no joke) so he was using some sort of noise machine app on his phone that was driving me insane. I threatened to get my own hotel room, and then told my mom that she had ten minutes left to read her book because we were waking up early the next day. These are now stories that I will never hear the end of anytime we are together.

The next morning we got up — not quite as early as we had hoped — and there were some additional shenanigans involving Christopher not being able to wake from his deep sleep, my mom spilling her tea several times, and the discovery that our hotel room did not have a microwave. I thought for some reason there was a hot pot in the room, and I thought Kevin agreed with me because he said, “It’s for rice” (he had actually said “it’s for ice”) so I said, “I know it’s for rice, it’s a hot pot” and then my mom spit the rest of her tea on Kevin’s shoes. Another story we will be telling each other for the next five years, and if it doesn’t seem that funny to you, I apologize — I’m really just putting it in here for the people that were there.

We headed to Burger King to grab breakfast and opted to go inside to order to avoid the dreaded drive-thru experience (wherein usually my mom is trying to keep everything organized by ordering for everyone from the backseat of the car, and then inevitably someone’s order is wrong anyway). Canyonlands (Island in the Sky) is about a 30 minute drive from Moab but it’s a very beautiful drive. It was not very crowded but we decided to avoid the visitor’s center since it’s very small and there’s not much to look at. We took them to all of the viewpoints and did a couple of short hikes, including our favorite Mesa Arch.

I convinced everyone that we should drive back to Moab the back way — on the windy dirt road that goes down into the Canyon and follows the river. I said it would only take like 45 minutes but it turned out to take much more time than that. Apparently my concept of time on these kinds of drives is completely unreliable and incorrect, but everyone had a good time and we stopped at a few places to take some pictures of the river.

Back in town, everyone was ready for a nap/some down time so we headed back to the hotel. I think we considered doing another hike but we were all pretty worn out by that point. When it was time to get up for dinner, we drove into town and walked around and went to a few of the shops first. There are a couple of shops there that I love and I stocked up on some homemade soap and artist-made cards.

We decided to eat dinner at a new place that was recommended to us — The Broken Oar. We waited outside for our table to be ready and while we were waiting, we befriended a neighborhood cat. I must have zoned out during part of the conversation because apparently Christopher said, “We should name this cat Georgie”, and then a few minutes later I said, “You know what would be a great name for this cat? Georgie!”

There really was too much comedic family material on this trip for any of us to handle.

I am so glad it was recommended that we go to The Broken Oar because it was absolutely fantastic! They had these sweet potato fries that were like a dessert fry — covered in sugar and honey and who knows what else. Christopher surprised all of us by ordering some sort of pork sandwich with extra sausage on the side (this was the kid who used to order a cheeseburger “plain” with nothing but the burger patty, cheese, ketchup and a bun). Once again I overestimated my level of hunger and Kevin had to eat 3/4 of my meal as well as his, but the fries were so delicious. We agreed that this might be our new favorite Moab restaurant.

Once again our evening hot tub plans were thwarted (thankfully) and we went to bed with minimal shenanigans. The next day we were packing everything up and heading to Goblin Valley on the way home. Somehow we ended up not eating breakfast before leaving town but by the time we got to the Burger King in Green River, it was like 11:02am and breakfast was over for the day. For those who don’t know me, I prefer fast food breakfast over anything else on the menu and this sent me into a brief tailspin where I debated eating gas station snacks instead of ordering anything, but begrudgingly decided to order a burger. To make matters worse, this is also a very podunk Burger King. There are some nice ones and this is not one of them, but Christopher got a BK Crown so he was set for the day.

We arrived at Goblin Valley around noon and set off on our adventure of the day. What I love about Goblin Valley is the fact that there are no trails, you’re just wandering around this giant natural playground. As Kevin and I predicted, Christopher absolutely loved it and was in heaven. My mom also had a great time and definitely leaped out of her comfort zone and was climbing on things and doing her own version of parkour about 30 minutes in to the adventure. Christopher ran off on his own and we had to keep track of him as he climbed higher and higher and eventually ended up on top of one of the mesas.

He also got a bloody nose right in the middle of our excursion — thank you, dry desert — and my mom had limited supplies in her fanny pack so that was an adventure in and of itself, but we made it without having to walk all the way back to the car. We stayed out there exploring for several hours before heading back for some lunch/snacks. Kevin and I really wanted to show them Little Wild Horse Canyon so we drove there, but everyone was pretty exhausted by that point and we all knew there was a 3 hour drive back home, so we ended up opting out of the canyon hike. I am excited for them to come back though so we can do it next time!

They flew back home the next morning and I think about two days later, everything started shutting down and quarantines went into effect statewide and there was a mad scramble for all toilet paper and canned foods at the grocery stores. It’s crazy to think that everything had seemed “normal” and we were able to take this trip right before we ended up being quarantined for several months. It was lucky that none of us got sick while on the trip, but I am so glad we were able to go before being stuck at home, especially since we didn’t know when we would be able to get together next!

Europe Adventures Part 3: Dublin!

**This is part three of our Europe trip, which happened in February, but I am just now getting around to writing about it!**

The view from our hotel room!

We landed in Dublin mid-afternoon, figured out which bus we needed to take to get to our hotel, and set off in the middle of a rain storm (it actually snowed for a few minutes too!). This was the last leg of our trip and I had purposefully booked a bougie-ass hotel by the sea, away from the city, thinking (rightfully so) that we might be tired of all the city life and ready to take a few days to relax by this point in the trip. We stayed at the Haddington House, with a view of the sea from our hotel room, and it could not have been more perfect.

The hotel had a restaurant in it so that’s where we ate the first evening and the food was absolutely delicious. My throat had started to hurt earlier in the day, which I was in denial about and would not accept the fact that I might have been getting Kevin’s cold, so I had a few hot toddy’s with dinner and those seemed to help.

Unfortunately, by the middle of the night, I could no longer be in denial about it and was forced to miserably accept that I was now the sick one. Thankfully, we still had some medicine that we’d gotten from my aunt before leaving Exeter. The next day, Kevin was forced to spend the day alone as I slept for most of the day and neither of us felt like going into Dublin to go sightseeing. He left on several errands throughout the day — in search of food, a pharmacy, and a walk on the pier. We had some burgers for dinner that weren’t great but weren’t terrible, and we should have gone back to the hotel restaurant instead. Kevin still wasn’t feeling 100% and I was at square one of the sickness, so we laid low for the entire day. I wish that I would have felt better but if there was ever a place to spend the day in bed and still have an amazing view out your window, this was the place to be. It didn’t feel like an entirely wasted trip, more like a lot more unplanned rest than we imagined.

The next day, I felt well enough to take a walk on the pier. It was cold and windy but the sea was really beautiful. Kevin also made us some espresso and we had a little breakfast coffee and cookies in our hotel room. There was a Nespresso machine in the room and Kevin fell absolutely in love with it and is still begging me to buy one for our house, along with the Nutella cookies that we found at the grocery store in Paris.

We opted out of Dublin but were going to visit a museum that was right next to our hotel, but unfortunately it was not open early enough and we had to get to the airport for our last flight(s) of the trip. We were flying from Dublin back to London and then flying from London back to the U.S. the next morning — early. Due to some weather issues, our flight in Dublin was delayed for several hours and we ended up not getting back to London until much later in the evening than we expected. At this point, the COVID situation was worsening and people in the airport were wearing masks. We were starting to feel some mild anxiety and concern over whether we would be able to leave the country and get back home.

We stayed in a hotel right by the London airport, ordered room service for dinner, and watched one of the Back to the Future movies on tv, which would have been a great night except for the fact that I was in the my nose is so stuffy I can’t breathe point of my cold. At this point, I was on the 4 hour cold medicine cycle and was certain that I was overdosing on the Sudafed nasal spray. I prayed for a miracle to happen and that I would feel better the next morning, but unfortunately I felt about the same. We visited the pharmacy at the airport before we left to stock up on all the drugs that had been keeping me sane for the last 48 hours. We bought a few more pastries from the coffee shop, and boarded our plane home.

The flight was 12 and a half hours instead of 8 and a half hours and leaving for a long flight in the early morning did not work as well for us as leaving in the evening did. We didn’t eat enough for breakfast and the meal served on the plane did not quite cut it. Kevin went and grabbed extra snacks from the flight attendants several times. I spent half of the flight with tissues plugging my nose because I got tired of constantly blowing it, and the woman behind us had a deathly sounding cough so I was certain I was going to recover from this cold only to get her germs. The flight felt like it took several days and we were ecstatic when we finally landed. Our ears were so plugged from being on the plane and being sick that we couldn’t hear properly for a couple of days after getting home. We ended up both being very sick for a couple of weeks but I can’t say it surprised me since we took so many flights during the trip.

We learned so much on this trip about what works for us and what doesn’t when it comes to international travel. This was our first experience so we really didn’t know what to expect. I’m glad that we packed so many places into such a short trip because although it was nice to check off so many things on the to-do list, we realized that we prefer a much slower pace when traveling. Visiting Exeter was the highlight of our trip because we got to spend time with family, which made us realize that we are probably much better suited to traveling in a group instead of traveling alone just the two of us. We didn’t love Paris, but really all we were there for was the Eiffel Tower, and now that we’ve checked that off our bucket list I don’t think we will go back — though there are other parts of France that I think we’d love to visit. We’d like to go back and actually see Dublin, but we loved the countryside and the hotel we stayed in.

The biggest learning experience for us on this trip was that neither of us are really into the traditional touristy things — which also usually take place in the city — and we’d much prefer to have a more leisurely trip in the countryside or less crowded places. The next time we travel internationally, we plan on visiting only one place and not flying to three different countries in a week and a half, and we also plan on traveling with other people — most likely my brother and his girlfriend on our next trip.

We also found that many of the ways we tried to make our trip cheaper actually made it more stressful and knowing that, we will pay more to have less anxiety and stress next time. For example, in London it was very easy to use the tube and the public transit system so we had no issues taking trains and buses everywhere. In Paris, the system was more complicated and there was a language barrier for us, so we would have been better off booking a more expensive hotel in a more central location so that we could have walked to more places easily. In Dublin, because we stayed so far outside of the city, it would have been easier for us and we might have actually made it into the city had we rented a car. Ultimately we weren’t doing an incredibly frugal “backpacking through Europe/staying in hostels” experience, so spending a little bit more money would have been fine.

Overall, we had a great experience and although it was fairly stressful being on so many planes during the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I am glad we got to take this trip as it seems that we will not be traveling internationally for awhile now. The good news is that we have plenty of time to research and plan for our next trip…we are thinking Germany!

Europe Adventures Part 2: Paris!

**This is part two of our Europe trip, which happened in February, but I am just now getting around to writing it!**

Originally, we were supposed to fly out of Exeter really early on Tuesday morning — like 6:30am early. After the fiasco of losing the blue backpack, I changed our flight to Tuesday afternoon so we’d have extra time if we still needed to get the backpack (and our passports) back. This turned out to be a good thing because Kevin woke up not feeling so great on Tuesday and ended up sleeping until about 11am.

Exeter was probably our best airport experience as it was such a small airport and the people were very nice. Unfortunately for Kevin, it was also a small plane. I like the smaller planes because there are only two seats in a row so I only have to sit next to Kevin and not some stranger, but they’re not as comfortable for someone with a 6’4″ frame.

I think our flight was barely an hour, maybe a little longer, and it was fairly smooth. When we landed, we entered an entirely different experience in the Paris airport. The airport is huge. I haven’t flown to many big cities so this might be the biggest airport I’ve ever been to. It was really crowded when we landed so we had to wait for a space for our plane. We walked out of the plane and followed the passengers in front of us into the airport building.

Immediately we felt like we were in the wrong place. It was like we had somehow gone through a door marked “unauthorized” and we were in this hallway that seemed completely separate from the rest of the airport. It was completely empty except everyone else who had just gotten off our plane. We could also see through the glass window another hallway mirroring ours, with the normal amount of activity you’d expect to see in an airport terminal. It was like we were trapped in some sort of airport alternate universe and couldn’t get back over to where we were supposed to be. We also kept passing doors with caution tape and KEEP OUT signs in various languages, furthering our suspicions that they had told us to go the wrong way when getting off this plane.

But, after about ten or fifteen minutes of walking, we finally made it out of the silo hallway and back into the regular airport traffic. We discovered that we had to take a train to the baggage claim. Not a short train ride, like a train ride that makes you feel as though you are actually leaving the airport and entering the city and you’re 99% sure you made a bad decision and must have gotten on the wrong train.

Eventually we got ahold of our bags and were trying to figure out how to get an Uber or Lyft because Kevin was still not feeling great and we didn’t want to navigate the public transit system. Unfortunately, the airport wifi was not great and we also couldn’t figure out where we would need to go to wait for an Uber or Lyft to pick us up, so we ended up getting in an actual taxi, which was a very pleasant experience aside from the cab reeking of cigarette smoke.

It took about an hour for us to get to our hotel from the airport, so we really got to immerse ourselves in the Paris driving experience. It was around rush hour traffic time, so the motorcyclists were weaving through cars and there was a lot of honking, lane changing, and general chaos. Our cab driver did not seem to want to partake in this sort of aggressive driving — which Kevin said was likely because he wanted to get as much money as he could from us — but I was thankful because it seemed as though many people driving past us were minutes away from getting in a car accident.

We arrived at our hotel and paid about $80 for our cab. Because the buildings were so old in this area of town, our hotel did not look like much but we were stuck with it at least for one night. It was definitely a “don’t judge a book by the cover” moment though, because they had given us the ADA accessible room on the first floor so it was actually much bigger than all of the other rooms and it was very clean.

We did find out that it wasn’t exactly in a central area of the city when we embarked on our quest for dinner. Unfortunately that is probably the one thing I really did not do “well” when planning this trip. I could have done a better job of planning our hotel stays in areas that were closer to the places we wanted to see. In the case of Paris, I had avoided hotels really close to the Eiffel Tower because they were way more expensive, but it probably would have been worth it.

We found a pizza place on google maps that seemed promising for dinner (because Kevin wasn’t feeling well, neither of us wanted to go to an actual restaurant). The pizza place was even better than expected because it had a touch screen menu that you could use to order instead of trying to talk to someone! Paris was definitely the culture-shock, wow no one speaks English here, place for us. We secured our pizzas and walked back to our hotel room. The streets were incredibly crowded — with both cars, motorcycles and people — and everyone seemed to be in a huge hurry. Although our hotel was a little off the beaten path, it was nice that it was not on a busy street because I think that made it much quieter at night and in the early morning.

The next morning, Kevin accepted the fact that he really was sick and it wasn’t just the jet lag or lack of sleep. But we only had one full day in Paris so he had no choice but to suck it up. We decided to avoid public transit and expensive taxis and walk to the Eiffel Tower, and then if we were tired we could Uber back. We walked to a little bakery first and bought some delicious pastries and a baguette sandwich. This was the highlight of the Paris trip for us — the desserts. I think we could have spent an entire day walking around and buying desserts from different shops.

The Eiffel Tower turned out to be about a four mile walk, but it was a nice day and it was fun to walk through the city. Fun for me, tolerable for sick Kevin. When we got to the Eiffel Tower, it was super crowded and also partially under construction which was triggering to Kevin since Big Ben had also been under construction in London. We decided that we didn’t need to pay to ride the elevator up inside the Eiffel Tower so we ate the rest of our desserts on a park bench and enjoyed a few minutes of people-watching. Kevin didn’t want to continue walking around the city so we debated doing one of the bus tours, or one of the ferry tours. Ferry tours won out and we got on one of the boats. Luckily I think the tour only cost like $15 because it was incredibly lame and the bus would have been the better choice.

It started raining when we got back from the boat tour so we had to walk in the rain back to our hotel, which was fine for me because I had brought my raincoat but Kevin had left his at the hotel. We stopped at a grocery store on the way back to get some snacks and opted for a long afternoon nap when we got back to the hotel. We had planned on going back to the Eiffel Tower in the evening to see it lit up at night, but with Kevin not feeling well we decided not to do that. And we went back to the same pizza place again because we are creatures of habit and did not want to have any social interactions, plus I wanted to try a Nutella Milkshake.

If Kevin had been feeling better, I think we would have gone to at least one restaurant in Paris but we weren’t really there for the cuisine and neither of us drink wine. I think our biggest regret was not buying thousands and thousands of desserts from the bakery and packing them into our suitcases.

We had an early-ish flight to Dublin the next day so we were out of our hotel by 8am and took an Uber to the airport. Unlike the taxi driver, our Uber driver was all about speed and efficiency and I have never feared more for my life than I did on that drive, but in a thrilling sort of way. We made record time getting to the airport and had plenty of time to get through security (where an airport employee called us “funny Americans”) and hang out and grab some coffee while we waited for our flight. At this point, COVID was on the news and was becoming a bigger deal, although it still seemed to be isolated to China. Still, it was starting to become a bit nerve-wracking to be flying so much during this trip.

A few hours later, we landed in Dublin for the last portion of our trip!

To be continued…

Europe Adventures Part 1: London!

**I started writing this post back in March but clearly I was derailed, mostly due to the COVID pandemic stress. Kevin and I are healthy and doing well and I am finally back on track and working through my backlog of blog posts and life updates!**

In February, Kevin and I traveled internationally for the first time ever! It was a really awesome experience. We had a lot of fun and we also learned a lot about how we like to plan our travel and what we will do differently for our next international trip.

This was our first time on a long flight. I think Kevin has been on flights up to 6 hours before. The longest flight I had been on before this was like 3 hours. We left in the evening and had an 8.5 hour direct flight to London. Because Kevin is so tall, we paid a little extra for the Comfort+ seating which gives you quite a bit of extra leg room. We were in a row of 2 by the window, so we had no neighbors which was nice — however, we did not upgrade to the extremely bougie lay-completely-flat-and-sleep-comfortably seats.

The flight wasn’t too bad. We had a meal about 90 minutes in and then pretty much tried to sleep the entire rest of the flight. We had several free (alcoholic) beverages, hoping that would help us fall asleep. Kevin watched a few movies, and eventually I wandered back to an empty row and slept there for a few hours (the flight wasn’t full). Flying in the large plane made a huge difference for me as I usually get motion sickness when I fly, and the full-size bathroom was an added bonus.

Day 1 – The Arrival

We landed at like 11:00am London time. Kevin was keeping tabs on what time it was back home but my internal clock had reset to the time displayed on my phone. We had written down which train we needed to take in order to get to our Airbnb — we just had to find it. We ended up in what we thought was the right place — we confirmed with an airport employee who was standing there helping people — and we already had Oyster cards (you add money to them and can use them on London’s pubic transit system) from when my family had visited London. All we had to do was put money on them.

At first, we thought our cards weren’t working because we were out of the country — we kept getting a “card declined” error. But then they said that all of the machines were having issues, so they told us we’d have to use the cash machine to get cash. Fine. No problem. The cash machine only had an option to withdraw Euros, so that’s what we did. Then we’re putting the Euros into the machine and the same guy who told us to use the cash machine is like, “No, this machine only accepts pounds.”

At this point, my frustration bubbled over and I told Kevin I was leaving. I meant leaving this particular area and this super unhelpful airport employee, but Kevin asked if I was getting on a plane back home. We ended up just deciding to try to use the Oyster cards for this train ride, since they had some money on them — just potentially not enough. We walk over to the entrance and another employee asks us where we’re going.

And we find out that we were actually not even in the right place! Even though we had asked the other clearly very unhelpful employee and he’d said we were. It’s worth noting that literally everyone we met in London was so helpful and kind, except for that one airport employee who was — unfortunately — our first experience.

We get to the right place. The machines work. We load up our Oyster cards. We get on the train. We figure out what stop we need to get off at. We shake off our airport frustrations. We ride the train for 40 minutes to our stop — South Kensington.

We realize that London looks so much like Oregon. It’s very green, it’s raining, it’s kind of gloomy. We think this is sort of hysterical. We’ve flown 8.5 hours and somehow it looks exactly like the area we grew up in. Except of course, the really old buildings and the people driving on the opposite side of the road.

We get off at our stop. The train station is chaotic. We have to go up several escalators and flights of stairs. People are running up and down the escalators so you have to stay on the right side. We make our way out of the station and it’s raining. We have our directions saved, but we can’t find any street signs (we later realized that they’re on the buildings themselves). It’s raining and it’s busy — lunchtime — and people are smoking. However, Kevin’s entire trip was made worth it at this point, because we saw a man walking who got a piece of string stuck around his shoe and he tried to shake it off and yelled, bloody hell!

Finally, after about five minutes of wandering around looking for street signs, I pull Kevin into a Starbucks and order us coffee so we can sit for a minute and use the Wifi. We update the family that we made it safely, and we load our map to the Airbnb. We drink our coffees and wait for the rain to stop. Kevin’s backpack rips — not completely — but just enough that he can’t sling it over his shoulder anymore.

Our Airbnb is a 30 minute walk. We didn’t bring an umbrella, but the rain has turned into a drizzle. We can’t check into our place until 3:00pm so we set out in search of a nearby pub. It’s so fun to walk through the streets of London and look at the beautiful buildings. The drivers are a bit stressful to watch, and the roads are so narrow. Kevin is losing his mind over his ripped backpack, so I take one of his bags.

First meal in London!

When we get to the pub, we order burgers and I ask Kevin what kind of beer he’s going to order. He looks at me like I’m insane and says something about it being 6:30am. I say, no babe it’s 1:30pm. He tells me how he’s so jet lagged and tired and his body is breaking down. I ask the Airbnb if we can check in early. They respond immediately and say yes. We finish our burgers and walk over.

The Airbnb is one private room and bathroom inside a flat. It’s a very small room, with a very small bed — double beds are standards here — but Kevin doesn’t care. He immediately strips off all his clothes and gets in bed. I could rally and go sightseeing but not by myself, so I get in bed too. We take a reasonable nap — from about 2:00pm-6:00pm — and wake up just in time for dinner!

Our Airbnb hosts have left us a list of nearby restaurants and pubs. We decide to go to the Duke of Cambridge. It’s only about a five minute walk from our place, the food is superb, and the people are very welcoming. We thought we’d stand out like tourists for sure, but our server actually asks Kevin if he knows him from somewhere, which cracks us up. Kevin orders a Guinness and it is absolute perfection, everything he’s ever wanted.

We end up still going to bed by 10pm and I feel like I am back on a regular schedule — not jet-lagged — but Kevin continues to have issues with his sleep schedule for several days.

Day 2 – Sightseeing

Before we jump into day two, a little more information on our first night in London. Double beds are the standard — and we recently upgraded to a California King — so the first night was a little bit of a rough adjustment (but much nicer than trying to sleep on a plane). It was also hot, with no A/C (because it’s winter) so we opened the window in the middle of the night and luckily it wasn’t too noisy outside (apart from some strange night birds).

I woke up in the middle of the night to pee — not unusual — but forgot about the wonky setup in our bathroom. It’s essentially a very tiny closet with a toilet and small shower, and the toilet/shower are on a raised platform. It kind of feels like you’re sitting on a throne while peeing. I remembered to step up onto the platform to use the toilet, but when I was done I forgot that I’d be stepping down about eight inches. In the middle of the night, in the dark, I essentially fell off of the toilet platform and caught myself/slammed my shoulder into the doorframe, and landed awkwardly on my right ankle.

Breakfast at Flour to the People!

Of course, Kevin stayed completely asleep for this and heard nothing.

We awoke fairly early to get started with our day. The plan was to hit up as many of the tourist destinations as possible. We googled nearby breakfast places and ended up walking a short distance to Flour to the People. It was a very cute restaurant with delicious food, but very tiny. A lot of the restaurants/coffee shops we passed were very small with limited seating. But the people were wonderful. We didn’t even feel like tourists!

We walked back to the South Kensington station and started our whirlwind of a day from there. We had a lot of places to cover, so we decided to go to the farthest place and circle back from there. King’s Cross was our first stop — and the Harry Potter store, of course, which was filled to the brim with people and screaming children and we bought nothing (although Kevin really wanted an authentic HP trunk, seeing as our luggage seemed to be slowly crumbling around us).

Next up was the British Library, which was massive but admittedly very cool. They have a lot of old books, manuscripts, paintings, etc. on display. And not all of it is that old. We saw some original scribbles of Beatles lyrics, as well as Shakespeare and other fascinating historical artifacts. No photos allowed.

Next, I think, was the British Museum. It’s really all a blur. We did so much walking and train hopping. It was a great way to get really proficient with the London Underground system in about eight hours. The British Museum was also a lot to take in. Even more massive than the library. We walked through almost the entire museum until everything started to blur together and our brains hurt. Although apparently we did not see the Rosetta Stone, which is there and is apparently very cool — and I kept thinking people were talking about the other Rosetta Stone (the whole language learning program — obviously named after this actual stone) so I kind of missed that whole connection. But there was a whole room full of clocks which I thought was really cool. And lots of statues with missing dicks — we were left to speculate whether they were just excessively touched over time or if someone had purposefully removed them. In comparison, all of the breasts seemed largely intact.

We stopped for a quick bite to eat after the British Museum and I discovered my love for baguette sandwiches. Next was Trafalgar Square, which Kevin thought was really cool and I did not quite see what the hype was about. We briefly walked into the National Portrait Gallery but left after walking through room after room of White Jesus paintings. I did see some really beautiful landscape paintings on our way out, so I went to have a look and by the time Kevin noticed I was gone, he’d already gone out the exit and they wouldn’t let him back in.

Kevin is not happy.

At this point, our feet were starting to hurt and we were getting burnt out by all of this museum education. We had a few more places to see. Big Ben — which apparently was Kevin’s most anticipated sightseeing venture in all of London — was under construction, so that was a bit of a bummer. Westminster Abbey was also closed by the time we got there — it closed early, at like 3:00pm, and they were also doing some construction there. We will have to go back and see the abbey and the Churchill War Rooms.

Our last stop was back near South Kensington — the Natural History Museum (Kevin was enthralled by the dinosaur exhibit and that’s all we did) and the Victoria & Albert Museum (which looked to us like a whole lot of the same stuff we had just seen at the British Museum, so we didn’t stay long). At this point, our feet were aching (and I realized my ankle was actually pretty sore from falling out of the bathroom) and we still had to walk all the way back home.

Walking through the streets of London was probably my favorite part of the whole trip — minus the fact that everyone outside is smoking. The buildings are all really old and really beautiful. It’s so fun to just walk through the neighborhoods. That, to me, was more fun than any of the museums. But Kevin and I are a rare breed of tourist — we tend to dislike the popular places that draw large crowds, and a lot of the trips we take are outdoor-focused so we’re used to wide open spaces. Being in a big city with a lot of people was different, but overall we really enjoyed London.

We had a slightly awkward dinner experience that night. In retrospect we should have just gone back to the Duke of Cambridge pub, but we wanted to branch out. We went to another pub, which I don’t remember the name of, and the food wasn’t great so I wouldn’t recommend it anyway. The pub we’d been in the night before had open seating, so we walked into this one and didn’t see a sign that said “please wait to be seated” and it seemed fairly casual so we assumed it was another seat yourself scenario.

When a waitress finally approached us with a weird look on her face, we realized we’d made a mistake. We apologized profusely and said we could wait or sit somewhere else, but she insisted it was fine and brought us menus and we went about our dinner. Everything seemed completely normal until she took our dinner plates after the meal, and then never returned. She continued to serve the table next to us, never asked us for dessert, and after waiting to try and catch her attention for an hour, and the table next to us (who had been seated after us, already ate their dinner and left) Kevin finally had to physically go up to her and tell her we were ready for our bill. The whole thing was incredibly strange. Kevin thinks she was salty that we sat ourselves. I think that she was just rude. But it was the weirdest thing we have ever experienced at a restaurant because in America, if your server hates you and wants you gone, they’re going to try and get you out of there as soon as possible. And in general, they try to get you out of there as soon as possible so they can get new tables. I will say that the general slow dining experience in Europe was very refreshing. No one rushing you out the door, instead letting you take your time with your meal.

Day 3 – The Journey to Exeter

To avoid another restaurant mishap, we went back to Flour to the People the next morning. We had really enjoyed their breakfast and wanted to try some different menu items. They were happy to see us back and we squeezed into a shared table at the busy, tiny restaurant. After breakfast, we took a bus to the London Victoria Coach Station, where it took forever for us to find a bathroom for Kevin — who was in dire need after trying espresso for the first time — and we also bought a new luggage bag, discarding the two bags that had ripped on the first day.

We had to wait a few hours for our bus to Exeter, which is where my aunt lives. I read a book while Kevin listened to a little British girl talk to her mom and he kept interrupting my reading to tell me how adorable her accent was and how we have to send our children to boarding school in London so they will have British accents.

Our bus ride to Exeter was a long one — almost 4 hours — and we were in the middle of some sort of storm. It was very windy, rocking the bus from side to side — and rainy, so it was harder to look out at the scenery, which was okay because it still looked just like Oregon to us, with a few castles sprinkled in here and there. Thankfully, the bus was equipped with a bathroom because I think I had to pee at least twice. I thought peeing on planes was unnerving but it’s even more strange to pee on a moving bus in the middle of a wind/rain storm.

After an incredibly long four hours, we made it to the bus stop at Exeter. My aunt was waiting for us outside and we hurried off the bus to greet her. Unfortunately, in the excitement of hurrying to get off the bus, Kevin and I had a miscommunication where he asked if I had all the bags, and I replied yes, thinking he had the blue backpack over his shoulder (he was wearing a blue raincoat). We didn’t realize until we were sitting down at a restaurant ordering dinner that we’d left the blue backpack on the bus.

It would have been a much more manageable, less stressful situation had our passports not (unfortunately) been inside the blue backpack. Other than that, the backpack had a bunch of my clothes in it and nothing else we really needed. I spiraled into an anxiety attack while my aunt called the bus company to try and figure out how we could get the bag back. Eventually, we found out where the bag would most likely end up, we felt assured that it would be locked up safely, and we knew we could not get it until Monday. After a few gin and tonics, I was able to power through my panic attack and move on.

I would highly recommend not losing your passports in a foreign country though, even if you are not prone to high levels of anxiety.

Day 4 – A Tour of Exeter

On Sunday, Kevin and I went out and explored the town with my aunt Cassie and cousin Amir. We absolutely loved the town. It reminded us a bit of the beach towns in Oregon. We enjoyed walking through the narrow alleyways and cobblestone streets, and despite seeming like a very small town, Exeter had a large city square with a mall that was bustling with activity even on a Sunday.

We spent the day walking around town and hanging out at home. My aunt cooked us a wonderful roast for dinner, and of course we had some more gin and tonics to top off the evening. We also spent about two hours looking at real estate online, specifically castles that we could buy for Kevin and I, my aunt and Amir, and my parents and brothers to all share.

Day 5 – Reunited with the Blue Backpack

On Monday, Kevin and I set off on a journey to find our blue backpack, which really did end up feeling like a journey to Hogwarts and back. We rode buses and trains the entire day. We started off the day with a tour of an Abbey out in the country. We missed our first bus initially because we did not have Apple Pay set up to buy bus tickets and we needed a wifi signal. Thankfully, we connected to the wifi of a local grocery store from the bus stop and were able to get it set up. In retrospect, we realized we were idiots and could have just used the “tap” credit card feature to buy the bus tickets instead. The Abbey was really beautiful and very secluded, but there wasn’t a ton to do there so we quickly hopped on another bus after our tour and left in search of the blue backpack.

We still weren’t sure where the backpack was but the bus company was going to either call my aunt and tell us where we could pick it up, or they were going to arrange to have it delivered to her house. The most likely place it would be was Plymouth, in a bus depot at the end of the line. We decided to bank on it being there and took the train all the way to Plymouth. It turns out the bag was not in Plymouth but they arranged to bring it there from wherever it had ended up, so we ended up arriving there only about 30 minutes before the bag did.

Reunited with the blue backpack!

Ironically, as the bus driver was bringing the backpack over to us, he spilled about half of a can of coke on it. But we did not complain because our passports (and my clothes and toothbrush) were back in our hands safe and sound. The train ride home from Plymouth was also very beautiful and we got to see the English Channel. It was actually a very enjoyable day, despite it revolving around getting our bag back, because we got to take trains all over the countryside from Exeter to Plymouth and back.

Thankfully, we had our passports again because the very next day we were scheduled to say goodbye to my aunt and Amir and head to our next destination: Paris!

To be continued…

Weekend Adventure: Petrified Forest & Grand Canyon

I’ve been behind on blog posts so far this year — and now with the recent quarantine it seems like a good time to get caught up! Today is the first day that I’ve actually felt like doing something “productive” during this quarantine time, so I’m taking that as a positive sign.

Our first weekend adventure of 2020 took place the third week of January — and it almost didn’t happen! We got in a car accident on December 1st and still hadn’t gotten our truck back from the shop. We ended up getting the truck back only a few days before we had to leave. Then, we had a snowstorm.

But we checked the roads and everything seemed to be fine south of Provo, so we went ahead with our plans.

This trip was a huge undertaking for one weekend. Ironically, both of us had thought we had MLK Day off (Monday) so we figured we’d have an extra day to drive back. Turns out, neither of us had the day off so we ended up needing to come back on Sunday night!

We left Friday afternoon at around 2:00pm and drove all the way to Page, Arizona — right by Lake Powell — which was about a 5.5 hour drive. But since we left so early, we got there at a reasonable hour and had enough time to have dinner and pop into the hotel hot tub for half an hour.

Saturday morning, we were up early — 5:00am — for our 3.5 hour drive to Petrified Forest National Park. We got the sense that the landscape was probably very beautiful, but unfortunately couldn’t see anything because it was still dark. Kevin stopped at a gas station that was quite literally in the middle of nowhere.

Then we ended up stopping at the wrong town for breakfast — at a McDonald’s with no dollar menu. By that time, the sun was up and the terrain was boring (sorry, Arizona). Kevin saw a sign that said we were only so far from “New Mexico” and I had to explain to him that we were going to be driving very close to the Arizona/New Mexico border (I think Petrified Forest is about 60 miles away). At that point, I think he realized how much driving this weekend would really entail and his spirit was crushed.

We passed some sort of a meteor crater monument and contemplated stopping in, but it was kind of an all day/take a tour kind of thing, and we didn’t have that kind of time. I’m confident that we’ll be back down there someday and we can check it out then.

Petrified Forest was not what we were expecting. It’s right off the freeway, which was fascinating to me as I watched all of the people driving down the road as we took the exit, wondering if they realized that this cool little park was right here and all they needed to do was take a brief detour. The park is pretty small, compared to some of the other parks we’ve been to, and it’s not as hiking-centric.

Per usual, we stopped first at the visitor’s center to buy some stickers for our cooler and so Kevin could watch the video about the park. Then, we got our map and started our drive through the park. There is an old inn/restaurant called the Painted Desert Inn, which was really cool to explore. It looks more like a regular house than a hotel, and they’ve kept it beautifully restored.

Kevin thought the views of the park were pretty bland initially, which is one of the things that’s hard for us since a few of our first national parks had absolutely stunning landscapes (thanks, Arches), but it definitely got cooler the further in we drove. We did a few short hikes/walks and started to be able to see the petrified wood up close, which is really the entire point of the park. The wood is scattered all around and it’s absolutely beautiful.

One of the things I thought was super cool about the park is that part of route 66 is actually preserved within the park, and you actually drive across the freeway to get to the other side of the park. Again, this made me marvel at how many people just pass by the park during their commute and might never stop here.

All in all, I think it took us about five or six hours to get through the entire park. We didn’t do every single hike/walk, and we didn’t get to stop and look at every piece of petrified wood, but I would say this is one of the smaller parks that you can definitely visit in only one day. We only had one day, so we didn’t have much of a choice, but this park is probably one that we’ll cross off our list and won’t come back to. Whereas some other parks, I think you could go a dozen times and still not see everything.

From Petrified Forest, we had to drive to Williams, AZ (another 2.5 hours, back the way we came). We stopped in Flagstaff and had an amazing dinner at this restaurant called The Northern Pines Restaurant. It had great reviews but I was a little skeptical when we pulled up, because it was attached to a Days Inn — but oh my goodness, what a hidden gem of a place! I highly recommend eating here if you are in the area. They have amazing food and drinks.

But, part of me wishes we had waited until we got to Williams to eat because it’s a very small, tight-knit town and the businesses really look out for one another, especially in the offseason. When we checked into our hotel, they asked us if we’d eaten dinner yet and had coupons for various restaurants in town. We didn’t get to eat any meals here, except the hotel breakfast, but I think we will be back. It was a really beautiful little town. Some of the hotels were closed since it was the offseason but there were plenty of open restaurants and coffee shops — which we did hit up on Sunday morning. We do try and find small, family owned coffee shops to support during our weekend travels. Sometimes the coffee is great, sometimes it’s not so great, but either way, I feel better about giving my money to them instead of Starbucks (Kevin loves Starbucks though, so it’s hard to tear him away).

Williams is about an hour from the Grand Canyon, so we didn’t have too far to drive on Sunday morning. We drove in through the south entrance and surprisingly, it was pretty packed. I don’t even want to know what the parking lots look like in the summer. It was cold and windy, but sunny, and there was still a bit of snow on the canyon. Kevin had been here before, so he took me to all of his favorite viewpoints and even jokingly proposed to me again a few times.

We watched the park video — of course — and immediately started making plans to hike down into the canyon. I’m not sure when we’ll be able to do this, because I think we’d want to have at least a week off for that kind of excursion, but it’s definitely on our list.

We drove out a different way than we came in — to the east — which ended up being really cool, because there were more viewpoints to stop at along the way and they were significantly less crowded than the main areas of the park. It did take us forever to get out of the park due to the amount of times we stopped to take photos and look at the view, but it was worth it. The Grand Canyon is definitely one of those places that I could see us coming back to several times — especially to actually hike down into the canyon.

Once we finally got out of the park, we began the grueling six hour drive back home. Fortunately, it was light out, so at least we could see all of the beautiful terrain we had missed on the way in. We ended up stopping one more time at the famous Horseshoe Bend. It seemed like a good time to check that one off our list — during the offseason — and again, I cannot imagine going there during the peak tourist season because it was so, so crowded on a Sunday afternoon in January.

Several Maverick sodas later, we finally made it home. It was the farthest we’ve ever driven just on a short weekend (Friday afternoon-Sunday). And when I say we, I mean Kevin because he does all the driving. I’m really inconsistent with my driving speed and he likes to drive as fast as he is allowed, all the time, so he does all of the driving on these trips.

But, as much time as we spent in the car, we were stoked to knock two national parks off our bucket list in just one weekend in January. We’ve got several other trips planned in the upcoming months. I think a few of them will be postponed due to the current quarantine situation, but the good news is that they’re just weekend road trips, so we can reschedule them for anytime. I think we will still get to go on all the trips we have planned, even if we have to wait a couple of months.

Last year, we did a lot of traveling in the peak tourist season (i.e. May-September), so traveling in December and January definitely opened our eyes and made us realize that even though the weather might be more unpredictable, it’s so worth it to do some traveling during that time. We get to avoid the crowds and pay way cheaper prices for hotels. I think both of our hotels on this trip were less than $60 per night, and they were both nice hotels (I am very anti-Motel 6 if that’s any indication).

Coming up on the next blog post: our second adventure of 2020, the longest trip we’ve ever taken, and the first time we both traveled internationally (aside from Canada)!

Weekend Adventure: Death Valley National Park

Death Valley was our last weekend adventure of 2019. The name, Death Valley, took on quite a literal form when Kevin and I both got sick a few days before we were supposed to leave for the trip. It was just a regular head cold — nothing crazy — so we decided not to cancel our plans.

Well, we ended up being sick for almost two weeks so you can imagine how that weekend went. But we made it! The best part was that because Death Valley is only about an hour and a half away from Las Vegas, we decided to get a hotel there for the weekend. Vegas is about a five hour drive, so we left at a reasonable hour on Friday afternoon (also my birthday) and were on track to get there at a decent time until we hit some traffic on an unfortunate two lane highway in Arizona.

By the time we got to Vegas, we were tired of being in the car and we were hungry and I was really starting to feel like shit. Kevin still felt fine at this point so he was in good spirits (he loves Vegas, I had never been). But although Kevin loves Vegas, he has never driven to Vegas, so he’s never had to deal with having a car in Vegas.

A piece of advice for anyone who has somehow still never been to Vegas: do not take your car there. I don’t care if you’re within driving distance, just get on a plane or Uber over there because it is a nightmare.

In the last few years, we’ve been focused on paying off debt and saving money which has — naturally — turned me into a fairly frugal person. I knew Vegas would be an expensive place to visit, but we got a great deal on a hotel (which I still had to pay some absurd resort fee for). We’re in the midst of this sea of cars trying to get to the hotel and I’ve just had the realization that I could never live in New York (or really any city) and I literally at one point close my eyes while Kevin is driving because the whole thing is giving me too much anxiety.

We finally make it to the parking garage, and it’s at that point that I discover that not only am I paying that stupid “resort fee”, I also have to pay for parking for the entire weekend. I briefly considered turning around and driving all the way back home, but I knew Kevin would lose his shit if I even suggested that under these circumstances.

So we park in the stupid not free parking garage and head inside. It feels like we have to walk ten miles through the casino to get to the hotel check-in and I’m following the signs that tell us which way to go, but by the time we get there I have absolutely no idea how to get back to the parking garage.

I was aware that the air in Vegas casinos is 90% cigarette smoke, and I’ve been to a casino in Reno before so I thought I was prepared. I was not prepared to actually see people smoking indoors. That was strange. I was not prepared for my eyes to start hurting immediately upon entering the building. I was not prepared to be sick and to be surrounded by people. Obviously this was not the ideal time to be in Vegas, but there was nothing I could do about it.

We set off in search of a restaurant after checking into our hotel, and the restaurant was in another casino. I don’t know why this was such a surprise to me, but I literally started to cry as we stood in line waiting to get into the restaurant. I knew I was acting like a two year old, but I felt like absolute shit, I was literally carrying DayQuil around in my purse and drinking it, my eyes hurt so bad from the cigarette smoke, and I am not a big fan of crowds.

Unfortunately, there was nowhere to escape to in order to have a temporary meltdown so I swallowed my tears and told myself to stop being a little bitch and apologized to Kevin for being a terrible wife, and went and ate one of the best burgers I’ve had in my entire life.

Another piece of advice: don’t go to Vegas if you can’t drink. I will never understand what compels people to take a family vacation there, but if you do drink alcohol — you’ll want to be able to drink it there. Because I was so sick already (and we were getting up early to go to Death Valley), I didn’t want to compromise my immune system even more by drinking so I did not have a drop of alcohol the entire time I was there. I can’t say for sure, but I’m almost positive the only way I could have an enjoyable time in Vegas is if I were drunk the entire time.

But I have learned my lesson. If cigarette smoke kills your eyes and makes you feel sick, you hate large crowds of people, and you hate paying extra for everything — Vegas may not be the place for you. I can now say that I’ve gone once and I won’t be going back.

Unfortunately, on Saturday morning I was not miraculously better — and Kevin woke up feeling like shit. Walking through Vegas in the early morning when everyone’s finally gone to bed was a surreal experience. We made it to Death Valley by 9:30am, and the drive was actually beautiful — we will have to go back and explore the Red Rock area just outside of Vegas sometime.

Surprisingly, there were quite a few people at the visitor’s center. I don’t know why but I think we expected no one. We got our map of the park and watched the movie (Kevin’s favorite part if you have been following our national park travel for awhile), which — as an added bonus — was narrated by Donald Sutherland! We also found out that it was the 25th anniversary of Death Valley National Park — which felt really special because I had just turned 25 the day before — so the day was shaping up to be a good one.

At the very least, we were determined to make the best of it. We were now both drinking DayQuil out of my purse every 4 hours and we had almost gone through an entire box of tissues.

We discovered that — unbeknownst to us — Death Valley is actually the largest national park in the continental US (one of the Alaska parks is the largest overall). So, it turned out that we were going to have to do a lot of driving in order to see everything. Luckily, we were putting miles on a rental car because the truck was still in the shop (we got in an accident on the way back from Oregon over Thanksgiving).

Immediately after reading the map, I told Kevin we would have to come back at some point (with the truck) because there are a whole bunch of ghost towns in the park. Most of them are off dirt roads and in remote locations so we couldn’t take the rental car, and we didn’t have enough time.

Since we were both sick, we decided this would not be a hiking-heavy trip. Kevin wanted to see the Charcoal Kilns so we drove there first. I think it took us at least an hour to drive there — maybe longer, I dozed off in my DayQuil haze — if that gives you any indication of the vastness of this park. There is a trailhead up there for an 8.4 mile hike to Wildrose Peak that I definitely want to do when we come back.

Next, we drove to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. I wanted to do the Mosaic Canyon hike but you have to drive several miles up a gravel road and we decided not to try it in our rental car. So we’ll save that for the next trip as well. The sand dunes were really cool though. It was like a little beach in the middle of the park, where the surrounding landscape looks completely different, and obviously there is no water in sight. You can walk miles out onto the sand dunes, but we walked about 50 feet from the parking lot and called it good.

Next, we drove to Badwater Basin, which was by far the highlight of the trip. It’s a bit of a walk out to the salt flats, but so worth it. Because it’s winter, they were covered in a few inches of water and that made it look so much more beautiful — and it made our pictures look really cool because you can see the reflection of the mountains in the water.

We took the artists’ drive loop on the way back which is a one-way 9 mile scenic drive through some beautifully colored hills. You can stop at a place called Artist’s Palette to take pictures, but it was getting late at that point so we just drove through. I highly recommend driving this way on your way back from Badwater Basin. The road is very narrow and has some crazy twists and turns that make you feel like you’ve been swallowed up by the landscape. It’s incredible.

There were a few other places in the park that we didn’t have time to drive to — Keane Wonder Mine, Ubehebe Crater, and all the ghost towns — but we got to most of it in one day. We’ll definitely come back and do some actual hiking, maybe next fall/winter.

My biggest takeaway from this trip was, why on earth would anyone want to come here in the summer? I cannot imagine doing Death Valley in the summer heat, especially the salt flats and sand dunes. I would highly recommend visiting in the winter. The weather was great. It was cold and I wore a jacket most of the time, but didn’t need it once I started walking.

We returned to Vegas — after a quick stop at the grocery store for more cold medicine and Powerades — and got in a brief fight in the middle of the casino over where to eat dinner. The place we wanted to go was booked for the night, but we ended up eating at a different restaurant that had almost the exact same menu. Kevin is apparently obsessed with Gordon Ramsay so we ate at his burger place on Friday and ate at his restaurant inside Caesar’s palace on Saturday.

The point of all that being, Kevin got to try Beef Wellington, and it was just as delicious as he always imagined. I was feeling better on Saturday night and actually told Kevin I would be down to go have a drink somewhere, but we had traded places at some point that day and Kevin was now feeling like absolute shit so we ended up back in our hotel and in bed before 11pm (we like to party hard).

Beef Wellington in all its glory!

On our way back home on Sunday morning, we stopped at Hash House A Go Go in St. George, Utah. Ironically, there is also one of these in Vegas and it was recommended to us, but we wanted to get the hell out of there by Sunday morning. I only bring this up because if you do go to Hash House A Go Go, you do not need to order your own food — split it with someone, the portions are huge. Kevin and I made the mistake of each ordering some insane fried chicken/waffle/benedict concoction and did not finish either of our meals.

And that concludes our last national park adventure of 2019! We’ve already got a 2020 travel calendar up and plan on visiting at least 10 national parks this year, and I can’t wait to share our adventures here! We’ve already had one trip in 2020 so I’ll be writing another blog post here shortly.

A quick administrative announcement: Kevin and I both deleted our Facebook accounts at the beginning of 2020, which means we no longer have our Life After Oregon Facebook page. If you’d like to follow the blog, you can subscribe to it by entering your email on the left side of this page. You will only get an email when a new blog post is published, I won’t be spamming you with anything else 🙂

Weekend Adventure: Mesa Verde National Park

Kevin and I were able to take Friday off last week so we could have an extended weekend adventure at Mesa Verde. We left Wednesday afternoon and returned Sunday. It’s a 6 hour drive (but does not feel like one) so it was nice to spend a few extra days there before having to drive all the way back home.

Day 1 – Wednesday

Ideally, we wanted to get to the park at a reasonable hour (before it got dark) and we managed to leave by 2:30pm on Wednesday afternoon. We didn’t hit any traffic and — despite stopping several times for me to pee — made it to the park before 9:00pm. We stayed inside the park at the Morefield Campground and had been able to reserve our campsite a month in advance. Although you are able to make a reservation, you do not get to reserve a specific campsite — so we had to drive through the tent camping area and find one that was open.

Already, we were having a much better camping experience than we had the week prior at The Needles. We were staying somewhere much higher in elevation than the Utah desert, so the temperature was much better for camping (about 85 during the day, cooling off significantly at night to around 45). We set up our campsite and went to bed shortly after since we’d both been up early that morning and were planning to be at the visitor’s center at 7:30 the next morning to sign up for the guided tours.

Day 2 – Thursday

We made it to the visitor’s center by 7:45am and there was already a huge line to sign up for the tours. I think we waited in line for about an hour. The morning times were already full but we weren’t stressed about it since we were going to be there until Sunday. We ended up signing up for two guided tours that afternoon, and one on Friday morning. Since we had some time before our first tour, we headed back to camp to make breakfast (Mountainhouse Breakfast Skillet is a 10/10) and get ready.

Mesa Verde is huge and everything is really spread out, so it was a 20-mile drive to the area where our tours would start. We drove over there early so we could stop at some of the viewpoints along the way and also check out the museum. Of course, the museum had a video playing so we had to sit and watch that. The museum had a lot of really cool artifacts and information about the archaeological sites. If you’re into that sort of thing, you could easily spend an hour at this museum. It’s not very big but it’s packed full of cool stuff.

We had some more time to kill so we drove along the Mesa Top Loop, where you can look at some of the early Ancestral Pueblo sites. These sites are pit houses — homes dug into the ground — and while they are super fascinating, there are a ton of them. If you’re not interested in reading the specific information at each site, you probably don’t need to stop and take a look at every single pit house.

Our first tour was Cliff Palace, one of the most popular tours. We had about 40 people in our tour group and a great ranger guide (shout out to Ranger Pete!). The tour is an hour long — and tickets for these tours are $5 a person — and it’s only about a half-mile long. Essentially, you’re walking down steep steps to the site and then walking back up. Most of the tour time is spent looking at the site and listening to the ranger tell the story of the site. It was absolutely beautiful — and amazing that it’s been preserved so well over time — and I love the feeling of being transported back in time and imagining how people lived back then and what their daily life was like.

Our second tour was Balcony House, another popular and more challenging tour. We had an hour in between tours to drive over to the next place and eat a snack. We had another amazing tour guide and again, about 40 people in the group. I think the tours are capped at 50 people, but there are early bird and evening tours that you can reserve online (for a higher price) that are smaller groups, but they were sold out online. Balcony House was really fun because it involved climbing a 32-foot ladder and crawling through an incredibly small tunnel. It also allowed us to have a more intimate look at the house, walking behind it as well as in front of it.

If you’re going to Mesa Verde, I would highly recommend doing both of these tours.

After our second tour, we finished driving around the Mesa Top Loop and headed back to camp, stopping along the way to check out the Farview Sites. Back at camp, we enjoyed free, hot showers and cooked beer brats over the fire. We also had watermelon (my fav) and chips and dip (Kevin’s fav) to complete our little 4th of July dinner.

There was a ranger talk at 9pm that Kevin really wanted to check out, so we drove over to the Amphitheater. The ranger started out his talk by making everyone sing, which was hilarious because you could tell that nobody wanted to but we all felt like we couldn’t tell him no. I was amazed that even the kids were shy — I feel like when I was a kid I would have been singing at the top of my lungs. We sang about four songs and then he began his talk, which was about the history of the national parks and what we’re leaving for the future. It was a great talk — particularly for the 4th of July — and it helped me to focus on the things that America has actually done well (i.e. preserving this land and creating National Parks and National Monuments so that future generations can enjoy them). I feel like it’s so easy to focus these days on what’s not going well or the ways in which we’re failing as a country — and it’s important to continue to work on these things and not turn a blind eye to them, but it’s also important to appreciate the things we’ve done well in the past and hopefully will continue to do. It felt so much more patriotic to me than any 4th of July I’ve ever had — plus I really don’t get the big deal with fireworks. They’re cool but I really only want to see a fireworks show every few years.

Day 3 – Friday

We had a tour at 10am, so we got to sleep in a little bit and then head out 20 miles to the other side of the park. Our last tour — long house — was probably my favorite tour. It’s a longer tour — about 2 hours — and requires hiking about 2.5 miles round-trip. It’s a much more in-depth tour and you’re able to walk throughout the house and really feel like you’re immersing yourself inside it and trying to picture what life was like when the Ancestral Puebloans lived here. We thoroughly enjoyed this tour and would highly recommend it.

One thing to note — about all 3 tours — is that they are somewhat redundant. Of course, they are 3 different archaeological sites so each site has a different story, and each ranger has their own style of storytelling, but by the time we got to our third tour — a lot of the information we were hearing we’d already heard before, especially the questions people were asking. So just keep in mind that you might hear information you’ve already heard — and it might be someone’s first tour even though it’s your third — and you can still ask your own questions and appreciate the new information you do learn on each tour.

After the tour, it was around lunchtime. We walked down to Step House, which is a self-guided hike very close to Long House, and that was a really cool site to check out but a very steep climb in and out. There are two ways you can get down to it and the option on the left is a more accessible paved trail, while the option on the right has steep stairs. Definitely a worthwhile hike, and fun to be able to explore yourself without a tour guide. The other self-guided hike, Spruce Tree House, was closed due to some rockfall hazards but you can still see it from the viewpoint. I would definitely want to do that hike if we come back.

We did stop at one of the restaurants/cafes near the Farview Lodge to see if we could get some lunch but the food was incredibly overpriced so we grabbed a scoop of ice cream and decided to head into town for lunch. We ate at a Mexican restaurant called Tequila’s, which was delicious and reasonably priced, and then we decided to drive to Four Corners since it was only an hour away and we’d never been.

Four Corners is the definition of American tourism. You have to pay like $5 a person to get in, and then stand in a long line of people waiting to take a photo of themselves (or their family) standing on all four states at one time. Yes, we got some cool photos and we can check this off our bucket list but I would not recommend this if you don’t really care about the whole “I stood in all 4 states at once” thing. The reality is you’ll spend an hour in line getting sunburnt just to take a couple of photos — and get asked to take photos for other people. I’m glad we did it but we both decided we definitely weren’t coming back with our kids in the future — they can go as adults if they want, we’ve got cooler places to see! The only cool thing about Four Corners is they do have kiosks all around the square with people selling t-shirts (of course), but also people selling unique jewelry and pottery — and I think that’s really cool and absolutely support that.

We stopped at Safeway — oh how we’ve missed it, there are no Safeways in Utah — to grab some more hot dog buns and of course, s’mores ingredients and more Coronas for Kevin. We had our 4th of July dinner spread for the second time — along with s’mores — and spent some time reading and sitting in front of the fire.

Side note: if you’re allergic to grass or pollen or trees or anything, come to Mesa Verde prepared for an allergy attack. Living in Utah, my allergies really only flare up in June and then they settle down — but I was definitely allergic to some sort of plant in this camground/area and unfortunately became that person who is constantly sneezing and blowing their nose.

Day 4 – Saturday

By this time, we’d pretty much seen everything in Mesa Verde. We’d done all the tours and stopped at the sites and view points. There are several hikes that we didn’t do — we just weren’t feeling it — but I would like to do them if we come back. We decided to drive out to the Canyons of the Ancients visitors center on Saturday and check it out. We met a very nice employee at the visitor’s center who gave us several maps of the area and told us where he recommended we go, since we had the entire day, and we set off on our journey.

We drove to Lowry Pueblo, which was really cool because you could actually walk inside it. Then, we drove to the Hovenweep National Monument area and hiked to three structures — holly, horseshoe, and hackberry — and also did a 2-mile loop hike behind the Hovenweep visitor’s center where you can see several structures up close. We also played some Pokemon Go during this hike — we haven’t played consistently since last summer but it is something fun to do when you’re exploring new places.

After all the driving and hiking, it was about 5pm and we were done for the day so we headed back to camp — after I convinced Kevin that we should just eat the food at camp and not go out to eat again. We found a little surprise back at our campsite — our cooler and one of our totes was missing!

Left behind on the picnic table was a friendly little note from the park law enforcement that our cooler and tote had been confiscated. Thus began our not-so-fun adventure of figuring out how to get our stuff back. After asking a ranger who was in the campground and being redirected to the ranger station, we were finally told that our cooler was in the back of some law enforcement person’s vehicle somewhere in the park and eventually that person would drive back around and return it to us but they had no idea when.

We had to wait an hour and a half at our camp — since we had to be there when they returned it, we couldn’t just leave and grab dinner — and it was finally returned to us along with a lovely $80 citation (not just a fine, a federal citation). We found out — after the law enforcement officer had left — that while the cooler was being driven around the park, one of the bottles inside it had broken and we had to clean up the spill and the broken glass, and some of our food was ruined.

So, a friendly PSA to anyone visiting Mesa Verde (or any other National Park in bear country) — the park law enforcement is allowed to take your personal items from your campsite, and they do not care if your food items are in a bear-proof cooler — it apparently doesn’t matter, the cooler cannot be left “unattended” and must be in your vehicle or in their bear-proof storage containers (our campsite didn’t have one of these) — and they will fine you at least $80 (we found out this is actually the lowest fine, the highest is up to $300). And apparently if the cooler had been left inside our tent (our flimsy, not bear-proof tent), that would have also been fine — but it was under our tent’s vestibule — so just make sure that if you’re going to camp in this park, you follow the rules to a T because unfortunately, the money you’ll have to pay will go to the law enforcement, not the park itself (I think if it had gone to the park directly we’d be happy to think of it as an $80 forced donation).

Obviously this was a shitty way to spend the last night of our trip. We were incredibly frustrated, since we had thought we were following the rules with our bear-proof cooler, and embarrassed because we’ve both been camping and hunting since the beginning of our existence. Also, they had literally confiscated all of our food so we were starving by the time we got it back. But, lesson learned — always double-check if you’re not sure what the specific rules are, and don’t just assume that because your cooler is bear-proof that it follows the guidelines of the park, oh and remember that if you’re camping on federal land the law enforcement can just take your stuff.

And a little note to everyone who is thinking, “Well, Sami — this is what happens when you don’t follow the rules and they’re just doing their job trying to keep the park safe.”

I am very appreciative of the rangers and law enforcement who are working hard to keep the park safe for everyone — I just wish that the efforts were more concentrated on the campsites where food was literally being left out on picnic tables, leftovers from breakfast still in the pan and food left out on plates. Also, I’m still weirded out that my stuff was driven around in a vehicle all day rather than being dropped off at a ranger station, but we’ve paid our fine and we did let them know that our things were mishandled and glass was broken in our cooler so we’ve done our due diligence there.

While we probably won’t look back on this and laugh in 50 years, Kevin did find it incredibly funny that this whole ordeal brought out my right-wing, redneck, conspiracy theorist personality that I didn’t even know existed. I spent a few hours ranting about how my rights were being infringed upon and how dare they look through my personal items and, not only that, actually take my shit and this is exactly why people don’t trust the government and won’t give up their guns. It’s possible I was a crazy doomsday prepper who lived on some land in an isolated area and shot at anyone who came within 50 feet of my house in a past life.

And now we can joke about how Kevin’s got a record because of his “unattended cooler”. So there’s that.

Day 5 – Sunday

We left pretty early on Sunday morning and got back home by about 2:00pm, with plenty of time to get everything unloaded, go to the gym (me), play Xbox (Kevin), and wash and vacuum the truck (a team effort). On the way, we stopped at an adorable coffee shop in Cortez, CO called The Silver Bean. It’s a coffee shop inside an Airstream and you can either drive-thru or go inside (we went inside, obviously). Great coffee and such a cute coffee shop — 10/10.

Although it was really fun exploring the nearby areas and visiting Four Corners, we probably could have done Mesa Verde in a shorter weekend trip. Although it was a longer drive and it was nice to have that extra time, there isn’t as much to see and do as some of the other national parks we’ve been to — and we could have easily fit all of the tours and hiking into a weekend trip. So if you’re planning on visiting Mesa Verde, give yourself about two full days and that should be enough. If you want to spread things out and take more time and relax, you absolutely can — we’re just used to packing as much as we can into each day that we forget we can also just hang out at camp and read (which we did and it was awesome).

If there’s one thing I am learning as a part-time traveler, it’s that things are never going to go exactly as planned. Sometimes you’re going to eat out more than you thought, or it’s going to be hotter or windier than you thought, or you’re going to have terrible allergies. For me, this has helped manage my anxiety so well because what triggers me is uncertainty, ambiguity, the unexpected — and what helps me deal with that is knowing that life goes on when things don’t go as planned, and I get to decide how much that affects me. Sure, I could let an $80 fine ruin my weekend or I could be mad about it for awhile and then find ways to laugh about it later.

There is nothing routine or certain about weekend travel — and I’m starting to really love that. No matter where we go or what happens, it’s always an adventure!

Weekend Adventure: Can You Guess How Many Times We’ll Go To Moab This Year?

We may need an intervention. We might be slightly obsessed with Moab. But where else are you going to go to test out your new truck than one of your favorite places ever?!

I love planning. I’ve pretty much planned out my entire summer at this point. But, as we all know, things don’t always go as planned. On Friday, we were supposed to have our shit together and leave even earlier than we did the week before — at like 3:30. Well, we ended up leaving at like 5:00.

We did not have a reserved campsite because we wanted to try snagging a campsite along the river. We thought, surely, there’d be at least one available.

Note to self: Moab is crowded AF all summer and also it was Father’s Day Weekend.

So we got there much later than planned and for some reason I had to pee twice on the way (yes, I’m your stereotypical road-tripping female with the small bladder). Oh, I remember. Because I told Kevin earlier that afternoon that I was no longer sacrificing my hydration for a quicker drive so I was drinking a ton of water.

We drove around for about an hour trying to find a campsite on the river and they were all full. We later found out from a friend that those campsites fill up early in the day and we pretty much will never get one. Finally, we found a campsite with a ton of open spots — this should have been a red flag — so we got out to investigate.

And immediately got eaten alive by mosquitos.

I am not exaggerating, I think we both got at least 10 mosquito bites in like literally two minutes of being out of our car. So we grabbed some abandoned firewood, threw it in the truck, and went on our way. At this point, it was getting dark and I was pissed that we didn’t have a campsite and we were both really hungry, so we called it quits and returned to the rv park/campground that we stayed in over Memorial Day Weekend.

The good news was it was 9:30 so there was no wait at Pasta Jays. We had a delicious dinner and headed back to camp to sleep.

Or at least that was the idea.

I am now officially no longer a fan of rv parks. Or at least crowded ones. There are so many people in such a small space and it can be so loud. We had these people next to us who were literally up all night. At 2am, we called the police and filed a noise complaint (this was the policy at the campground — we didn’t just like overreact and go straight to the police). I looked up “white noise” on Apple music and put my headphones in, took another Benadryl, and slept from about 2:30am-5:30am — at which point I was woken up by some very loud birds and the very same people still talking and laughing.

I’m not joking, I think they were up all night. They also had a member of their group who was clearly having the worst allergies of his life and was also the loudest nose-blower I’ve ever heard.

I told Kevin that if they were staying another night, we would not be. Thankfully, they packed up and left and we were able to actually get some quality sleep the second night.

Disclaimer: Yes, I absolutely would have preferred to just ask them to be quieter — but I did not feel comfortable walking up to a group of 8 men in the dark, in the middle of the night, so I asked Kevin to go talk to them and he decided to just call and complain. He wanted me to talk to them and I told him that a) I was not comfortable and b) if I went to talk to them, I was not going to say nice things at all.

This sounds very immature and stupid, and trust me — it absolutely was. I am the worst when I haven’t gotten enough sleep. All of my logic and reasoning goes out the window and I believe at one point I actually considered murder to be a reasonable solution to this problem.

Needless to say, we will hopefully be avoiding rv parks (or at least finding some less crowded ones) in the future. But, on to the fun stuff! I don’t know if it’s just me, but somehow when you’re camping it is easier to operate on very little sleep. It’s as if your body knows it’s not going to sleep well anyway so it just deals with it.

We were at the Arches Visitor’s Center by 7:30am and got our Fiery Furnace permits for the following day. We have been wanting to do this hike since we first came to Arches but we’ve never been able to get a permit! With nothing specific left to do that day, we decided to take the truck out to Tower Arch and the Klondike Bluffs via the 4WD road. To get there, we decided to just take the gravel road that is not a 4WD road and that was very smooth and not bothersome at all.

We got to the trailhead for Tower Arch and realized that it was going to be like a 3.5 mile hike to the arch — but if we drove over to the other side via the 4WD road, it would literally be a 0.5 mile “hike”. Since we had planned on driving back that way anyway, we decided to go for it.

Now, there are several signs in various places that say things like “TECHNICAL 4WD ROAD – DO NOT ATTEMPT WITHOUT 4WD” and “ENTER IF YOU DARE” and “THERE’S NO TURNING BACK NOW” — but Kevin and I have been camping in Eastern Oregon our whole lives, driving on roads that one should not be driving on and roads that are meant for 4-wheelers, so we were not bothered by these warnings.

In retrospect, we probably should have heeded the warnings. Obviously, everything ended up being fine and we didn’t do any damage to our brand new truck — but let me tell you, it was seriously stressful at times. And I don’t know if it was more stressful for Kevin, who actually had to maneuver the truck on these “roads” that did not even resemble roads, or me, who had to sit in the passenger seat doing absolutely nothing helpful the whole time.

We did get to a point where Kevin threw up his hands and said, “We’re done, there’s no way.” But I did not want to go back the way we came, because that seemed equally as shitty as continuing on, so I walked up to the top of the “road” and looked down to see if it got any worse than this. “It’s just sand, right down there, babe!” I said. “Look, it’s just sand after this — this is the last hard part.”

I really believed that but somehow could not see at least two more places where Kevin would say again, “We’re done, there’s no way.” But, Kevin decided to keep going, which made me immediately feel like I made the wrong decision and it was going to be my fault that we got stuck or completely wrecked our truck or Kevin had a mental breakdown.

Slowly but surely, we eventually made it to Tower Arch. And the road did pretty much turn to sand eventually, and it wasn’t so bad. We ran into a couple of other vehicles that were less equipped than we were to be on this “road” and that made us feel better about our chances. Tower Arch was really cool and I highly recommend going — but probably do the hike, not the 4WD “road”. Also, the gravel road that takes you out there is totally passable in a smaller car. We definitely could have taken the Corolla on that road.

We made it back on the 4WD road with no further incidents and I did take a video of Kevin driving on a particularly steep spot — but he’s disappointed because it doesn’t look nearly as bad as it was. It was so steep that he had to push himself off of the steering wheel (honking the horn and scaring me in the process), but videos never make anything look as intense as they really are.

It’s much steeper than it looks!!

Driving on the 4WD road was a fun and slightly anxiety-ridden experience and I think we’d both recommend it if you have a Jeep — not so much a truck, and definitely not a truck with a long bed — but it was doable.

We were so exhausted after having our heart rates up so high for several hours that we decided to head back to camp and take a nap before hiking the Grandstaff Trail. I would highly recommend this hike — particularly on the hot summer afternoons — because it’s a nice, long hike with a cool arch at the end, but it’s very shady since it’s at the bottom of the canyon so you stay cool.

After actually getting a full night’s sleep, we were ready to take on Fiery Furnace the next morning. We decided that rather than paving our own way, we would try and follow the marked arrows. We still got lost three or four times and at one point really did not think we’d be able to find the next arrow, but we made it out in less than 2.5 hours. Despite getting lost several times, the hike did not take as long as we thought and we will definitely spend more time just messing around and climbing on rocks the next time we go.

We did some pressure climbing and scrambling, which was really fun, but we didn’t know how long the hike would take so we didn’t spend as much time just exploring as we could have. I think it would also be more fun to go as a group. I know that my family would love it so hopefully we can get permits again when they come and visit us next summer! I would highly recommend this hike and I will say that the rangers definitely try and scare you a little bit prior to the hike, to make sure you’re aware that you can get lost and you will have to climb up and down things, but it was nowhere near as difficult as they made it seem.

10/10 would recommend and would do again. And next time, we will find our own way instead of following the path.

Hollow Mountain!

We finished our weekend adventure scoping out campsites near Goblin Valley State Park. We drove all the way to Hanksville to see what the town looked like and if there were any campgrounds/rv parks — and we stopped at a gas station so I could use the bathroom (of course) and this gas station convenience store was Kevin’s absolute dream. It is a store built inside the rock. Little did we know we just had to drive to a little town called Hanksville for Kevin to check this experience off his bucket list!

As a side note, if anyone has any camping recommendations in Moab that don’t fill up by Friday evening every week, we’d love to hear them! Moab is one of our favorite places and we will be back soon, despite the crazy crowds and summer heat!

Stay tuned for our next weekend adventure!

Ice cream at The Spoke – 10/10 would recommend!

How One Weekend Adventure Changed My Perspective On Traveling

I am an all-or-nothing person.

Moderation is a challenge for me. I like to take things to the extreme. When I first discovered minimalism, I wanted to get rid of everything (including our tv — at which point my husband put his foot down). I used to alternate between eating extremely healthy and eating all the foods with no restrictions whatsoever.

I like being “all in”.

I want to be “all in” in every aspect of my life, but sometimes that’s just not possible — or it’s not the best thing for me.

About a year ago, I found out — via Instagram — that people living in little vans and RVs and airstreams and traveling full-time was a thing. I was already obsessed with the idea of tiny homes, so this was the next best thing. A tiny home that went wherever you wanted it to go!

My husband and I love camping and hunting and being outdoors, so this seemed like an awesome idea. Being “all in”, I immediately did all the research and figured out how much it would cost and what we would have to do to make it work.

We’ve had countless conversations over the past year about wanting to travel full-time — at least for a little while — and how we can make this happen. A few months ago, we arrived at the idea that we really do not need a van, or a motorhome, or an RV, or an Airstream that is completely perfect and built out to our exact specifications.

We have so much camping equipment. We have two different tents, we have sleeping bags, we have a sleeping pad, we have a camp stove, we have backpacking gear, we honestly have it all. As amazing as it would be to have an adorable little airstream perfectly built out exactly the way we want, we really don’t need it.

All we need is a vehicle (hello, new truck!) and the camping equipment we already have.

So I started planning this amazing road trip. I thought, what if we could each take 4-6 months off work and try to travel around the United States in that amount of time. I spent about a month planning this road trip in detail to try and get a better idea of how long it would take and how much it would cost and where we wanted to go. And then I finished planning and I was immediately depressed because the soonest we’d be able to go on this trip is 2021.

I spent a few weeks whining and complaining about how I had this great trip planned and I wished we could just pack up and go, and then I realized that I was looking at this the wrong way. I had an all-or-nothing approach — either we could do this big road trip or do nothing.

I had also started listening to a couple of great podcasts. Before Breakfast, which is a short, daily podcast with productivity tips to start your morning. She talks a lot about time and time management, and how we really do have so much more time than we think every day and every week. I was also listening to She Explores and Women on the Road at the same time, and found a few podcast episodes about women who are part-time travelers.

After our weekend camping trip in Moab over Memorial Day Weekend, I asked my husband what he thought about doing more weekend trips and he was like, “hell yeah!” so we decided to go to Capitol Reef a few weeks later (last weekend) — and it was amazing!

It was about a 3 hour drive. We left by 4:00pm on Friday, spent about an hour looking for a campsite, and still had everything all set up by 8:30pm — and it was still light out! We still did a full day of hiking on Sunday and left at around 4:00pm, made it home by 7:00pm and unpacked the car, started the laundry etc. and still had time to eat dinner, relax and watch tv.

We had planned on trying to do a trip every other weekend, but I asked Kevin what he thought about going somewhere every weekend. Again, he gave me the “hell yeah!” — so we will be driving to Moab again this weekend!

My heart is so full and I am so happy.

For so long, I have been feeling like I don’t “do” enough on the weekend. Either I’m not productive enough or I don’t rest enough. I always end up dissatisfied with how I chose to spend my weekend come Sunday night. But as we were driving back home from Capitol Reef, I kept thinking about how much we got done. We hiked like 20 miles in two days! We saw so many beautiful places. We drove through some really cute tiny towns. We had time to relax and read a book.

There is so much more time during the weekend than we think. Weekend travel might not be for everyone — we are certainly enjoying the ability to pack up and leave without having to worry about kids or pets — but it’s something that has really changed my perspective on traveling. I think we have found a sustainable way to be part-time travelers with full-time jobs. At some point, I would definitely still like to have a chance to travel full-time, but for now this is a great balance for us.

I used to think I needed to take the entire weekend to rest and recharge to prepare for the next work week. This was probably old programming from my swimming days when I was in school all day and also swimming like 20 hours a week. That was the equivalent of a 60+ hour work week. Now — working 40 hours — I definitely do not need to use the weekend to “recover”. I felt more rested and recharged after camping all weekend than I normally do after I do nothing all weekend!

So, if there’s anything in your life that you’ve been wanting to do but you can’t find the time, you might want to take another look at your weekends. And if your job is so exhausting and draining that you need the entire weekend to recover from it and prepare for another week of work, maybe it’s time to find a new job.

I’m sure at some point we will want to spend a weekend at home — relaxing — but for now, we are going to go until we burn ourselves out! I’m going to wait until we’ve gone on a few more trips to do a post on our budget and how we’re making this work money-wise — but it is affordable, it is doable, it doesn’t have to cost a ton of money.

We are so fortunate and privileged to be able to travel, even just on the weekends to places 3-5 hours away. We are so lucky to live in Utah where there are so many amazing places to visit. We have amazing full-time jobs that provide us with enough money to live in a great apartment, pay our bills, and go on these weekend adventures. I am so excited to share these weekend adventures with you all — and I want to thank each and every one of you for your love and support. Our home isn’t just wherever we are — it’s who we have around us — and we have such a great community of family and friends supporting us and cheering us on as we embark on new adventures.

This past weekend was a great reminder to myself that we don’t always have to be all-in. Our dream life might not look exactly like we pictured it, but we can still figure out creative ways to do everything that we want without having to wait for the next phase of our lives when everything will magically be possible.

I hope you all find a way to take one step closer to living your dream life today.

Weekend Adventure: Capitol Reef National Park

As I mentioned in a few earlier posts, we are going to make the most of our weekends this summer! We started planning a long road trip for sometime in 2021 and thought it would be impossible to do a lot of traveling until then since we both work full-time.

But wait, we have all weekend! And there are so many beautiful places just a few hours away!

So we organized our camping gear and made it easily accessible so that Friday afternoon we can just throw everything in the car and get going! This past weekend, we headed down to Capitol Reef!

We’ve never been to Capitol Reef and we wanted to camp instead of hotel, because camping is way more fun and way cheaper. So, I had written down a few campsites outside of the park for us to check out. We didn’t make any reservations ahead of time, so by the time we got to the first campsite on Friday night it was already full.

Our home for the weekend!

On to the next one we went. And at that point, I decided that we might as well check out all 3 so that we knew which one we preferred for next time. We settled on Pleasant Creek campground, which is in the Dixie National Forest just a short drive from Capitol Reef. Camp was set up by 8:30 and we decided to venture back to the small town of Torrey, Utah where we found the absolute best steak ever (easily in the top 5 best steaks I’ve ever had) at the Broken Spur Restaurant.

We didn’t quite have the peaceful night’s sleep we were hoping for, and had to try and fall asleep to the soothing sound of raging winds and pine needles falling from the trees and hitting the tent. But, we were up early the next morning and made it to Capitol Reef by 8:30. It is not the same as Arches or Canyonlands where there is an entrance with a pay station. You can pay at the visitor’s center or use a self pay station inside the park. Since we have the annual national parks pass, we were good to go!

We hiked three trails in the Fruita area on Saturday: Capitol Gorge (2 miles), Golden Throne (4 miles), and Hickman Bridge (2 miles). We started with Capitol Gorge and made the mistake of hiking way too far and eventually hitting a fence and deciding to turn around, turning our 2 mile round trip hike into a 6 mile hike. Capitol Gorge was a really beautiful hike and I would highly recommend it. The trail follows a dry creek bed through the bottom of the canyon (that I imagine would be filled with water during flash floods). You can walk up to The Tanks, which are these huge pools of water with tadpoles living in them. There is also the Pioneer registry, which we have dubbed “ancient graffiti” and Kevin was convinced it was all fake because the dates beside the names are so old. Parts of an old telephone line can be found on the canyon walls, which we also thought was pretty cool.

After our hike took a slightly longer turn, we decided to eat some lunch before tackling our next hike — Golden Throne — which was going to be much steeper with a large elevation climb. We had planned on eating sandwiches, but found out that our loaf of bread was moldy (never a dull moment) so we set up the jet boil and made some Mountain House Breakfast Skillet instead (10/10). Golden Throne was a difficult hike and I have to say, the journey was so much better than the destination. I would still recommend this hike for the stunning views along the way, just don’t get too excited about “getting to the top”.

By this point, it was almost 3:00pm and getting to be the hottest point of the day (and it’s only June so it’s not even “that” hot yet!) so we headed down to the visitor’s center so Kevin could watch the cheesy video (every time), and then we finished by hiking to Hickman Bridge. I think we were pretty exhausted at this point so it may have been better to do this hike earlier in the day, as the beginning is pretty steep, but if you’ve been to Arches you could probably skip this one. Although it’s called a bridge, you cannot actually walk across it — you walk under it. There were a ton of people there when we went so we decided to just take a look at it from afar and call it good.

On our way back to camp, we stopped at a few amazing viewpoints!

And of course, we had to stop at the gas station to buy bread for lunch and Benadryl for allergies & sleeping, and we ended up also buying some beverages and chips and candy! How can you not?

The previous campers had let behind some firewood so we made a nice fire, read our books, ate some delicious freeze dried food (and chips and candy) and then retired back to our tent to play Monopoly on Kevin’s Nintendo Switch. We lucked out with no wind the second night, but the temperature dropped much lower than we expected and we both had to layer up in the middle of the night and sleep practically on top of each other in order to stay warm. Kevin finally warmed up by morning and I literally had to pull the blankets off him one by one and fold them up while I was packing up camp before he finally got up and got dressed.

Because it was so cold, my phone died in the middle of the night and my alarm didn’t go off — so we got a slightly later start to our Sunday hike. We had to stop at the coffee shop by the gas station — I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s literally got to be one of the only coffee shops in Torrey — and I ordered a Chai Charger (chai + espresso shot) and it was literally the most delicious drink I’ve ever had. I’ve had dirty chais before but only iced and I’ve never liked them, but it was so good that Kevin kept trying to steal my drink, so that was a nice start to our morning!

We started at the Cohab Canyon trailhead from the highway and hiked Frying Pan all the way to Cassidy Arch, and then back. It was about 10 miles total and we absolutely loved it (aside from the part where Kevin almost fell off a cliff and twisted his ankle, but he was fine). It was a great full-day hike to end our trip!

We finished our hike at about 3:00pm, headed over to the Gifford House to eat a homemade Strawberry Rhubarb pie with our lunch, and headed home! We made it home by 7:00pm and had enough time to get everything unpacked, eat dinner, and enjoy our evening!

We both got a little sunburnt, we have some blisters on our feet, my allergies were pretty terrible all weekend, and we didn’t get a ton of sleep, but I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful weekend at Capitol Reef. We will definitely be going back sometime soon! We hiked 13.1 miles on Saturday, 9.7 miles on Sunday, and total we climbed 2,700 feet in elevation over the course of the weekend.

Stay tuned for our next weekend adventure! We’re thinking of going back to Moab this weekend to finally hike Fiery Furnace!