Lake Michigan & Grand Traverse Bay!

I had one day to fill after I left Kevin and Karen’s before heading to Ann Arbor.  I have always loved the Traverse City area so I eagerly made plans to spend a day there. Monday morning Kevin headed back to Chicago way before Karen and I were up. Karen and I had some coffee and then I said goodbye and headed out the door. It was a cloudy cool morning, and there was a strong chance of thunderstorms all along Lake Michigan that day. But, I was determined to have a wonderful day, no matter what the weather!

I started up 31 North, and it was my plan to stop at as many points of access for Lake Michigan before stopping at Sleeping Bear Dunes for a visit. At my first view of Lake Michigan, I saw and heard the thunderstorms looming off to the west. I snapped a few pictures before getting back to the safety of my car, whereupon the skies opened up and it poured.

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The picture in my head of a perfect summer day at Sleeping Bear Dunes seemed in jeapordy, but I reminded myself not to let the weather affect my positive attitude! As I drove closer to the dunes, I noticed that the skies became a bit brighter. I stopped at another nice little spot with a historic lighthouse that unfortunately was closed, but had a nice view of the beach.

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I also saw this early sign of Fall along the way. Sigh….I know many of you love Fall, but I’m always sad to see Summer go.

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Finally, I pulled into Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.

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My plan at Sleeping Bear Dunes was to drive the Scenic Loop and then drive the additional mile to do the traditional “Dune Climb.” I drove the loop and came to one of the most famous spots. I walked out and saw these signs in front of me.

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This sand dune was the GRANDADDY of them all. I saw about three folks who had just finished climbing up this mammoth 450 foot dune. They were soaked with sweat and their faces were red. And all of them proudly proclaiming the time it took them to scale up. I overheard someone say that one of them, a young girl, had climbed it in 11 minutes. Uh…wow! I looked down the massive dune, looked at the folks at the top, took off my sandals and said, “Ok folks, see you later!”

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It is crazy getting down this dune. You really have to keep your weight back or you will pitch forward and tumble head over heels to the bottom. I kind of turned myself a bit sideways and made it all the way to the bottom in about 3 minutes. I snapped some pictures at the bottom, but it really doesn’t give you an idea of the how high it really looks from all the way at the bottom. I found some pictures online that really illustrates the scale of the hill.

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I found it impossible to stand upright and climb. I had to lean over, almost in a crawl, and use my hands. It was exhausting from the start, but here’s how I did it. I took 30 steps, then rested. I repeated that all the way to the top. It took me 20 minutes to climb. I think this woud be an ideal crossfit challenge workout. And Erin Stimac would like to use a weighted vest!

After the climb, the more sedate Dune Climb a mile down the road held no more appeal to me, so I headed out of the park. After a few miles I saw the perfect stop and rewarded myself for my workout on the dune.

ice creamI continued north and in no time made it to the quaint little town of Leland. I parked my car in the waterfront Fishtown area and wandered into a few cute little shops and then down to the waterfront.

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The afternoon was waning, but I had one more stop to make. Many years ago, my brother Kevin had taken the family on a weekend trip around this area. We’d stayed at the Chateau Grand Traverse Inn within the Chateau Grand Traverse Winery on the peninsula in the middle of Grand Traverse Bay. It’s a magnificent winery, and I wanted to go and pick up a few bottles to bring back with me. I made the easy drive up the peninsula and made it to the winery around 5pm.

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I elected for a little tasting of 6 delightful wines before making my decision, and walked up to the checkout. The girl at the register and I started chatting.  I said I’d been there about 8 years ago and she asked what brought me back. I told her my story about my adventure around the country, and how I’d found a couple of cities along the way to where I was considering relocating. When I came to Montana, she told m that she’d lived for years in Missoula, one of my spots! She shared with me what it was like to live there, the culture, the weather, etc.  Amazing what can happen when you start opening up yourself to others. I left the winery with a big smile on my face. Oh, and with some nice wine.

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Traverse City, my destination for the night, was only a short 10 minute drive from the winery. I arrived to my motel, which was right across the street from the Bay, checked in, and found my room. I walked right past a group of three women, relaxing outside their room on comfy chairs, drinking beer and laughing and having a wonderful time. I greeted them with a jolly “what a great start to the weekend!” before I realized it was Monday evening! They laughed and so did I, as I admitted that I have no idea what day of the week it is anymore.

I unloaded my belongings into my room and took a quick shower, washing away the sweat and sand that I’d collected on my climb at the Dunes. I dressed and headed out to The Filling Station, about two miles down the road. The Filling Station is in a historic railroad depot, and it was filled inside and out with a lively evening crowd. I walked in, ordered a beer and a lovely pizza at the bar, got my drink, and relaxed. I was also treated to a live little Celtic combo, playing some really fine tunes. The pizza arrived shortly thereafter and I pretty much demolished it, having worked up quite an appetite from my day at the Dunes and subsequent shopping.

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The next morning, I made my final stop in the area. I made the short drive down to Interlochen, MI, home of Interlochen Arts Academy, where I’d spent the summer before my graduate studies at University of Michigan. Unfortunately gates were up at the entrances prohibiting me from wandering around, but it was a nice memory!

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Next stop: Ann Arbor. GO BLUE!

Anchor and Refuel!

Isn’t it convenient that my mom lives along the route of my journey? I posted on FB that I had made it to my mom’s house, and a former coworker commented that she was glad to see that I was” back in the harbor”.  I replied that I wasn’t quite done with my journey yet, and she accurately assessed that I was just at the harbor to anchor and refuel. So true. I was exhausted by 9 weeks of traveling and needed to just hang out with my mom for a few days with no decisions to make and really nothing pressing to do.

Naperville is a quick three hour trip from Iowa City, and I made the drive following alongside a line of thunderstorms that stayed conveniently to the south of me. I arrived at my mom’s around 12:30 and walked in the door, scaring the living daylights out of her because she thought I would be there the following Tuesday! Hah! She gave me the biggest best hug and we spent the afternoon catching up and looking at pictures of my trip. That evening Mama asked about dinner – if I wanted to go out or if i wanted her to cook something.  I said I while I was home I wanted to cook.  Being on the road for nine weeks had kept me from one of my favorite activities, and I just wanted to grill. Mama was only too happy to oblige!

The next morning I slept in, and then enjoyed a peaceful morning cup of coffee on the patio with the company of birds and the resident chipmunks

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I’d missed cooking, and specifically cooking BREAKFAST. So enjoy pictures of all the breakfasts I enjoyed while I was at my mom’s.

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IMG_4815Later that afternoon, Mama and I drove to downtown Naperville . I had entertained thoughts of going to Centennial Beach as it was quite warm out but it was already closed for the season…and it’s not even Labor Day.

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IMG_4797Thursday morning I woke to the sound of thunderstorms. It was so nice to listen to them in a sleepy haze. I had a relaxing morning and then drove to the neighboring town of Batavia and met up with my new friends Anna and Paul, whom I’d met at Glacier National Park. We had the most lovely lunch at a great little Italian spot (mmm, pistachio gelato!) and afterwards, after the skies had conveniently lightened, walked along Batavia’s Riverwalk on the Fox River. Batavia is a lovely little town, with a history of windmills, and we passed several old windmills as we viewed the wildlife along the river.

Thursday evening I was thrilled to get a visit from my little sister, who looked fitter than ever, tan from her summer of running races. Friday was a nice lazy day, relaxing and watchinga  Cubs game.

Saturday I woke and headed towards Grand Rapids to my brother and sister-in-law’s house. After a short three hour drive, I pulled up to Kevin and Karen’s house to see them out front working on the yard. After our hellos, Karen mentioned she had to complete her ALS Ice Bucket challenge – perfect since I needed to do mine as well – and it was blazing hot! Kevin was only too happy to help us out by dumping ice water on our heads. After he was done mowing the back yard, we all headed out for a short ride to the Bostwick Lake Inn, where all three of us selected the fried perch for dinner on the most perfect evening on the Inn’s back patio. After dinner, we visited a local ice cream stand for some dessert, and came home to see a lovely cloud formation just off to the west.

IMG_4826Sunday morning, Kevin prepared a simple yet delicious breakfast variation of an egg mcmuffin, after which we headed to Grand Rapids. After parking at what looked to me to be a deserted warehouse, we walked inside the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, bustling with activity, filled with all varieties of little stores. Our first stop, right inside the entrance, was a fantastic Bloody Mary Bar. Kevin treated me and Karen, and we sipped them while we meandered around the market. One of the highlights of the market was this fabulous fishmonger. Here’s one of his beauties:

IMG_4828From that little shop we shared some of the best clam chowder I’ve ever tasted. Karen and I wandered around for a bit and then finally found Kevin at a wonderful cheese counter where he must have sampled a half dozen varieties of blue cheese. The remainder of the lazy afternoon was spent watching baseball and reading the paper on the warm deck while Kevin smoked a great-smelling cigar. Every time I visit them in Grand Rapids, I marvel and the beautiful, perfectly-proportioned tree in their back yard. At this point in the summer it looked just stunning to me.

DSC03192When it came time for dinner, Kevin lifted the cover off the grill to find this little guy enjoying a little late afternoon nap on the propane tank:

DSC03197Dinner that night was a lovely grilled salmon and some tasty grilled veggies. The night’s sky was perfectly clear, so Karen and I walked out onto the deck and viewed the stars. I saw a display of at least 7-10 shooting stars. Had to get to bed early because the next morning I was heading north to Traverse City!

Iowa City – Great Friends and Memories

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As I was finished up my big destinations out west, there was one place that I longed to visit and looked forward to with great anticipation: Iowa City. Although I only lived there for three years (another two up in Ames as I completed my doctorate), in that span I fell in love with that great small city and made some incredible long lasting friendships. Most of my friends within the music program had left and started lives elsewhere (and I visited Ab, Gretchen, Pat, and Veronica along the way!). However, several other friends were living there and I couldn’t wait to see them.

Jen and Dawn lived in Iowa City when I first met them back in 1992, subsequently left for several years and eventually returned. I’d last seen them YEARS ago when they lived in the San Francisco area while I participated in the GALA festival in San Jose with VOICES in 2000. At the time they had a young daughter McKinley who was around 2, and since then had also adopted another girl, Bree, whom I’d never met. So I could not WAIT to see them after all these years. Plus I was dying for some good company after being completely alone for the past month.

I made the long drive from Sioux Falls SD to Iowa City on a very foggy morning. I chose to take the scenic route and drove through southern Minnesota and entered Iowa from the north. It felt like home as I drove through my old stomping grounds – the countryside was beautiful with the corn growing high and green. I arrived at their house, knocked on the door, and was greeted by one large old friendly dog Riley and McKinley who at 16 was already way taller than I. After that, I saw the wonderful smiling face of my old friend Jen, whose face was unchanged by the years. We caught up for a bit before Dawn and Bree returned from a trip to the store. Dawn, like Jen, unchanged by the passage of time, and Bree, a delightful precocious twelve year old. There was one more member of the family, a dog Willow, who was at the vet but who would be returning that evening! We all had a wonderful time catching up and I had a great time getting to know the girls as we got things ready for dinner. And how wonderful was it to sit down to a home cooked meal, with dear friends, fantastic kids and friendly furry companions.

IMG_4786The next day, after I slept like a baby for the first time in a month, we had a wonderful breakfast prepared by Dawn and headed out for some fun. The first stop of the day was the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, where we rented a paddleboat, paddleboard, and double kayak. Dawn and I manned the kayak, McKinley the paddleboard, and Bree and Jen hopped in the paddleboat. We paddled around the lovely little Sand Lake, talking about life and enjoying watching the girls have a good time in the lovely sunshine.

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DSC03159After that adventure, we dropped Bree and Jen off at home and Dawn, McKinley and I drove a short way to Wilson’s Orchard, where we spent a lovely hour and a half sampling and picking some yummy apples, and then enjoying a specialty of the house, a freshbaked apple turnover! I also spotted and grabbed up a bag of fresh, wonderful, squeeky cheese curds!

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DSC03166We headed back to the house, picked up Jen and Bree, and had a FANTASTIC dinner at Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack, where we demolished some ribs, fries, and sandwiches!

IMG_4776The next morning Jen and Dawn had to return to work, but the girls and I planned one last hurrah. After telling my tale of disappointment at Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, the girls took me to a local favorite within walking distance of their house, Daylight Donuts. We made the short walk, chose several yummy doughtnuts (Bree treated), and came back to the house.

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IMG_4779While Bree and I enjoyed the doughnuts, McKinley started on her apple pie made with the recently picked apples. I must say for a 16 year old, she sure knows her way around a pie! It was delicious!

DSC03169The girls had school appointments and I had things to do, so we said our goodbyes and I made a little tour of some old familiar spots:

My very first apartment in Iowa City, 416 Grandview Court. Still looks exactly the same.

DSC03173908 Governor Street. Lived there for two years with Sue and then Veronica.

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DSC03183My old Hy-Vee grocery is still there. Had to stop and get a taste of the old days

DSC03180A heartbreaking visit to the site of the School of Music, which was destroyed in the flood of 2008. Hancher Auditorium, Clapp Recital Hall and Voxman School of Music all gone…empty demolished nothingness left….

DSC03178That evening, I met up with two other beloved old friends, Laurie and Julie. at Julie’s fantastic pet product store, Leash on Life.

DSC03184Laurie (a Director at the U of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics) showed me around the store while we waited for Julie to finish up for the day. We then headed to a new restaurant in town, 30 Hop, where we enjoyed a wonderful variety of beers, yummy burgers and fries, and great conversation. After that, we headed back to their house on the outskirts of Iowa City, where I met their adorable bassett hound Cooper and two cats, Simon and Manchego. We grabbed a beer and sat under the stars in their back yard, reminiscing about old times, marveling in the revelations revealed in my summer adventure, and just enjoying a friendship that has lasted over 20 years. The next morning Laurie left for an early morning meeting, and Julie and I enjoyed a nice quiet breakfast together before I left for Naperville. A short but very sweet visit – but I’m bummed that I forgot to get a picture of us!

Trusting My Step

This post has no pretty pictures of beautiful scenery. It has no pictures of yummy food I’ve eaten. But it comes straight from my heart.

When I was in Sedona, I went on a fabulous hike with my new friends Chris and Steve. I wrote  about it in my Sedona Blog. It was a great hike – I wonder if perhaps the boys were testing me – and I was determined to show them how tough and fit I was. Plus I was just reveling in the joy of the hike itself. I noticed something as we hiked back down the trail. I followed Chris, who was in the lead. As we descended down the trail, I noticed that his step was effortless, and he moved down the trail with an ease of footing that I envied. However, as I hiked down the rocky trail, I stared at each footstep, and I could feel my brain just working – which step is best? The rocks are loose there, I should avoid that step. Oops, watch out for that tree root, watch out for the uneven ground. And I realized that the more I thought about my footing, the more tedious and awkward it became. I looked at Chris’ step, so effortless, and thought to myself, I’m not going to think about it – I’m just going to let my footsteps fall where they want naturally – and lo and behold, my feet just seemed to find the right footing.

We’d started our hike late in the afternoon, and as we neared the end of it, darkness quickly overcame us. Chris knew that this might be the case – he had some headlamps just in case it got too dark to see the trail. But he called back “I think we’ll make it without them,” and we continued to the end of the hike. The darkness was a bit disconcerting – how in the world was I going to see what was on the trail? How was I going to keep my footing not being able to see in the rapidly enveloping darkness? But again, I just had an instinct to trust my senses – and to trust that my footing would find itself – and to trust that my body would naturally discern what was on the trail in front of me. And as far fetched as that sounds, it worked. I never lost my footing in the dark, although the trail was far from smooth and flat.

The night before I went to Yosemite, I read Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild. It’s an absolutely enthralling account of her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. (Thank you Claudia!). In the book, she describes an incident in which she was kicked out of a campground in the middle of the night, and had to pack up her stuff and hike in total darkness. She talked about how her other senses took over and she felt the trail and her body more acutely by just letting go and not thinking about it or trying so hard.

I made a post on FB several days ago about heading back East and eventually making my way back home. I’ve had more than a few of you ask me, on FB or text or email,  “Where IS home??”

When I started this journey, I left myself open to the Universe to the idea of finding someplace that called to me. I’ve been to a few places that I think would be fantastic to live. I fell in love with Sedona, and Flagstaff, and Montana. I still love Louisville and the life I’ve lived there for the past 17 years. I’ve told myself throughout this trip to stay in the moment and enjoy every single thing in the present, and not to dwell or ponder the “what if’s” of the future. But as I approach the final month of my adventure, on some of these interminably long drives through some stark, barren states, I’ve found myself focusing on the end of my trip, and the questions surrounding that. Where will I live? Louisville? Flagstaff? Montana? What will I do? What kind of job can I get?

The harder I’ve thought about it, the more confused I get. And suddenly, amidst that confusion, I remembered my hike down the trail in Sedona. And I realized that the more I let my brain to try to figure out the “correct” next step, the harder it becomes. But if I just – to use the analogy of the hike – allow my senses and my body (heart) to guide me naturally, the universe will be open to me and the decision will become clear.

So, my dear friends, although many life changing realizations have come to me over the course of the past nine weeks, I’m still not certain where I will make my next home.  In about three weeks or so, I will end my adventure in Louisville, where I will be thrilled and overjoyed to see many of you. And then, I will free my mind of fear and worry, open my heart and follow my intuition to the path that appears in front of me.

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South Dakota: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

After my last true “out West” adventure in Yosemite National Park, it was time to head back East. After leaving Yosemite, I drove as far north as I could make it after a full day in the park, and ended up in Sacramento, CA. The next few days were spent in the car for many hours. The first day I headed east on Interstate 80 through the gorgeous Tahoe National Forest and the famous Donner Pass in eastern California:

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Then I continued through the horribly barren state of Nevada (seriously, there is NOTHING in that part of Nevada after Reno except one pretty little town called Elko, surrounded by the Ruby Mountains), and into Utah through the desolate Great Salt Lake Desert (I was so scared I played my harmonica for 45 minutes to lighten the mood) and spent a return night in Salt Lake City. The next day I hopped back on to Interstate 80 and drove all day through the rest of Utah and much of Wyoming. I found this southern part of Wyoming not appealing in the least – and wondered what sort of folk would want to live there. I made it as far as Casper before having to stop for the night. Close by I passed a neat little historical marker!

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THE GOOD: The next day I left Casper and started the short-ish drive to South Dakota and my next destination, Custer State Park and the Needles Highway, Crazy Horse Memorial Mountain, and Mount Rushmore. I drove all back roads from Casper to South Dakota, and it felt very lonely indeed. However, once I drove into the little town of Custer, there was no lack of people. It seems like the nearby town of Sturgis has been host to motorcyclists all summer, so they were EVERYWHERE! I drove just a bit out of town and entered into Custer State Park, into the Black Hills National Forest!

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Custer State Park is reknowned for its scenery and wildlife, mostly bison- I saw lots of pretty scenery but no bison! And my obsession with pretty little creeks continues.

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DSC03014One of the most notable features of this park is the famous Needles Highway (thanks Emily Mull!), named after the high granite “needles” it winds among. It also features several very very narrow tunnels!

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After making my way through the park on the Needles Highway, I headed for the Crazy Horse Memorial. Folks, if you have not been here, GO! It was stunning – still a work in progress, but amazing nonetheless. I toured the museum and then took the little bus trip to the bottom of the mountain.

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DSC03053My last stop of the day was nearby Mount Rushmore, but folks, having just come from the grandeur and immensity of Crazy Horse Mountain, it was a bit of a letdown!

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DSC03067THE BAD(LANDS): After spending the night in Rapid City, SD, I rose early the next day and left for Badlands National Park!

IMG_4727The Badlands National Park is interesting. It is an amazing contrast of about 250,000 acres of sharp buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest area of grass prairie in the United States. Very beautiful indeed! Enjoy!!!

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DSC03147THE UGLY: My friend Claudia urged me to take a little detour south of Badlands National Park to visit Wounded Knee. So once I made the short trip through the Badlands, I headed south out of the park into the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. After about an hour, I arrived in Wounded Knee. As I’d been advised in advance, upon arriving at the little historical marker, I was approached by no less than 8 Lakota Indians, all looking to sell their crafts. I politely declined until after I’d seen the memorial and crossed the street and climbed the small hill to that famous monument on the hill. Again, as it did at the Alamo, the sight of such a historical spot gave me goosebumps, and while viewing headstone after headstone, I was moved to tears, thinking of that ignominious massacre that late December day long ago. Here’s an overlook of Wounded Knee and the sign at the turnoff:

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DSC03149Here’s the site itself at the top of the hill:

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When I walked down to the bottom of the hill, I supported the Lakota Indians and bought a lovely little dreamcatcher:

IMG_4743After that very thought provoking visit, I drove the two hours back to the interstate all through the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation. It’s sobering to realize that this reservation sits on land so rich in beauty, yet is populated by those so poor. It made for a very solemn drive across the rest of  South Dakota. Peace to you all.

Yosemite – Thanks to all my FB friends!

To all of my FB friends who urged me to go to Yosemite – THANK YOU!

And now let me start this post on a tangent: motel rooms. I have stayed in many a motel room on this trip. Priceline has been my best friend. I have paid around $60 and gotten a mansion like this- there were three TVs in this suite. THREE! One in the bathroom.

Huge SuiteI have paid more than that for this interesting room in South Tahoe – Yes, that is CARPET on the WALL in the bathroom.

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Before I reveal the final gem, let me say that there have been good and bad things about not having a schedule. I can come and go whenever I please. However, when it comes to getting a room on the weekend around any of the national parks in the summer, that presents somewhat of a challenge, as most of the motels and campsites have been booked WELL in advance. I was looking to find a place to stay Saturday night, before going to Yosemite on Sunday. I wanted to be near the East Entrance, which is challenging because there are only teeny tiny towns around there. Actually, they’re not really towns – they are “census-designated areas.” The closest one of those to the East Entrance is Lee Vining, CA. There was nothing available there. The next closest “census-designated area” was Bridgeport Jct, about 40 minutes from the East Entrance. I looked on Priceline and found a room in Bridgeport at the Bridgeport Inn. Priceline indicated “Double Room, Shared Bathroom.” I thought, hmmm, well, I’ve done the shared bathroom thing in NYC. That’s fine, I can live with that….it’s so close to Yosemite and there really isn’t another choice. It was available, they had free wi-fi, and the price wasn’t exorbitant.  The Bridgeport Inn is an old historic Victorian Inn, built in 1877, with rooms in the Inn itself, as well as a modern motel square of rooms behind the Inn itself. I arrived there, checked in, and went up to my room. Folks, this was the TINIEST room I have EVER been in, even tinier than most NYC rooms. Ok, I was fine with that. I took out my laptop to start blogging, and the Wi-Fi did not work. Grrr….I needed a cup of coffee anyway so I went next door to a great little coffee cafe and did some work. I came back to the Inn and asked about the Wi-Fi. “Well, we’re here in the mountains, so no surprise that it doesn’t work,” was the answer to my inquiry. I replied “I just was next door at the coffee cafe and the Wi-Fi there worked just fine.” A shrug of the shoulders was all I got. So, I took a book up to my room to read. I needed to plug in my phone, and to my dismay discovered that there were NO ELECTRICAL OUTLETS in the room! So, I guess it didn’t matter that the Wi-Fi didn’t work since I wouldn’t be able to plug in my laptop!

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Oh, and the shared bathroom??? Two bathrooms for 10 rooms upstairs. And folks, most those rooms had more than two people in them. So, I decided to just go to bed early. The next morning, I rose at 5am, opted not to take a shower in the communal shower, brushed my teeth, and got out of Dodge. I headed towards Yosemite and my adventure there. It was cold!!

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38?!?!?

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I got there so early there were no rangers at the gate!!

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As if you all don’t know already, I’m obsessed with rivers and creeks. Found a couple pretty shots

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It seemed like I had the park all to myself. I started driving further and further towards Yosemite Valley. Got a couple of nice shots from Olmsted Point.

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And then I saw this off in the distance:

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I knew that there were alot of fires in the area –  I’d even seen smoke and haze back at Crater Lake. This one was marked a “controlled burn.” As I got closer to the Yosemite Valley, the more hazy and smoky it got. Finally I drove through the tunnel, got out of my car to see the FAMOUS TUNNEL VIEW!! The one you see on every single postcard! El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall rising from Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome in the background!!! THE SHOT!!!!!

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Waaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh! Oh, well, I thought I would still see some beautiful sights. And I did. Instead of me blathering on the the same ol’ superlatives,  I’ll just post lots of pretty pictures! Yosemite is GORGEOUS!

Here in Yosemite Valley:

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I talked to a ADORABLE little ranger at the Visitor’s Center. I mentioned the smoke and haze and she said, yes, today’s the haziest it’s been in weeks. She commented that it might clear as the day went on and said try the tunnel view later. As she was showing me a map of some spots, I noticed I’d driven RIGHT PAST Bridalveil Falls, and I said “How could I have missed that?” She gave me a look and said, “Well, there’s not much there.” She was right! And oh, yes, watch out for that strong current!!!

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Ok, this is supposed to be a big waterfall!!! It’s been SO dry though.

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No water at all!!!!

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After walking around the Valley for a while and seeing the non-existent Bridalveil Falls, I got in my car to head for Glacier Point. This time I had a MUCH better view coming out of the Tunnel!

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I found a parking spot at the Sentinel Dome Trailhead and got ready for a nice hike to that. Great hike with a FANTASTIC payoff at the end!

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After that, I made the final push up to Glacier Point! WHOA!! Paula Head, you were RIGHT!!!

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As I left Glacier Point, I stopped and took a shot of some pretty flowers.

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And also got a much clearer view of El Capitan than I did in the morning!

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Ok, and my final pass through the tunnel. I was rewarded with the best one yet. Fantastic visit, in my mind, second only to Glacier National Park.

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A Quickie in Tahoe

After my visit to Crater Lake, I hit a wall. After 7 ½ weeks on the road, I was exhausted – physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I also felt a bit let down after the beauty and excitement of Montana had been left behind. I had two more places out West cirlced on my map – Lake Tahoe and Yosemite – but I wasn’t so sure that I had the energy to make that trek. I sat in my room in Klamath Falls, OR in tears, struggling because I just didn’t know what to do next. Keep going? Head to Boise and then back to Montana and all the beauty there? Go to my mom’s?? Go back to Louisville? My thoughts swirled in my mind, and finally I just gave it up to the Universe. I told myself to just be open, stop thinking about it, and trust that it would be clear in the morning. I slept soundly.

When I woke that morning, I was 90% decided that I’d head to Boise, get through the Dakotas and head back towards home. I posted my inner struggle on FB and folks overwhelmingly urged me to Tahoe/Yosemite. Feeling a bit re-energized (especially by a lovely comment by Matt Traub), I headed south towards Lake Tahoe.

However, as I drove, I started to second guess my decision. I must say that the drive between Klamath Falls, OR and South Lake Tahoe was one of the most stark, desolate, depressing drives I have made on this entire adventure. I certainly hoped that the payoff would be worth it! I drove through Reno, and then through Carson City. I started an ascent up a mountain that was taking its toll on many a car. My trusty Matrix made the climb with no problem, and the landscape became stunningly beautiful. I drove down to South Lake Tahoe, made it through the crowds, and headed for DL Bliss State Park, which I’d read offered a wonderful view of the Lake.

I stopped at Inspiration Point Vista for my first view of this lake:

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The crowds thinned the further I drove from South Tahoe and the closer to the park. I found a parking space and hiked a two mile trail. Thank goodness no bears in sight. A cool highlight was an old lighthouse at Rubicon Point.

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Once I got down to the beach, I was rewarded with a beautifully secluded little beach. I took my shoes off, soaked my feet in the cold clear water, sat up on a big rock, and enjoyed the sights for a while.

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Lake Tahoe is indeed beautiful. However, the overwhelming crowds and the glitz of the hotels and casinos I can do without!

See you in a few at Yosemite National Park!

Cannon Beach & Crater Lake

When I was visiting with Veronica, I asked her “If one wanted to put their feet into the Pacific Ocean, what would be the best spot nearby?” and she answered without hesitation “You have to got to Cannon Beach!” It was not the direction I intended to head, but what the heck, what else did I have to do?

So the next morning I headed northwest on Route 26. The skies were beautiful and clear but as I neared the coast, the clouds built and the temperature kept dropping! – for the first time on my trip I had to turn the heat on in my car! Finally I pulled into the little town of Cannon Beach, which despite the cool weather was PACKED with people. However, I had no problem parking in one of the many huge lots, and made my way down to the beach, and there it was, Haystack Rock!

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I had a ways to walk to get closer, but I did go down to the water and dip my feet into the FREEZING cold Pacific Ocean.

Brrr!

Brrr!

As I neared Haystack Rock, the clouds began to break and the sun started to come out and warm up everything nicely.

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I walked down right next to Haystack and along with everyone else, observed the many interesting sea life and formations in the tide pools. I was lucky enough to see orange and purple starfish!

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Satisfied with my little visit to the Pacific Ocean, I got back in my car. I drove for a bit down 101, as I heard it was a very pretty drive and offered a great view of the ocean. I was not disappointed, as I snapped a couple of the most beautiful shots of the Pacific.

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Early the following morning, after a quick overnight in Bend at an old but very well kept motel, I headed towards Crater Lake National Park. It was a short drive there, and I pulled into the last  stretch. I spotted the Crater Lake National Park sign, and pulled off in order take my usual selfie in front of the State Park sign. As I did so, I noticed two motorcyclists there – one was standing and posing atop the sign (I wonder how he climbed up there) and the other one had his pants unzipped and was peeing. I was hoping that once he saw me drive up he’d have the decency to put it away – but he didn’t. Not wanting to deal with that, I drove on. Ugh.

Between the fee station and the park itself, I passed what is called a “Pumice Desert. “ Wow, but also managed to find some pretty stuff growing.

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Pumice Desert!

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Pretty Purple

Once into the park, I pulled off the first chance possible at the North Entrance for my first look!  Amazing that there was still some snow at the base of one side of it!

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My First Look!

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Look closely and you can see some snow

I hit five of the seven highlights that are suggested as one drives around the rim. I think it’s also fascinating to note how the colors of the water changed from early in the morning to afternoon. Here’s some pretty pictures folks!

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Cloudcap Overlook – The highest point there in the park. Great view, and you can see the line of haze above the horizon from the wildfires in CA. Also, look at the Whiteback Pine Trees, and see how they are bent permanently from the high harsh winds up there.

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Line of haze at the horizon from wildfire smoke

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Whiteback Pines – permanently bent over

Pumice Castle Overlook – Look! It looks like a Hoodoo from Bryce Canyon!

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Hoodoo-like!

Phantom Ship Overlook – A little island that resembles a ship. It isn’t notated in the guide, but I got a WAY better look at a little trail called Sun Notch.

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Vidae Falls – A lovely little waterfall. Not much rainfall lately so it wasn’t as cascading as I’ve heard it can be.

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Discovery Point – It is said that in 1853, gold prospector John Hillman became the first Euro-American to see Crater Lake. Some stunning and beautifully colored pictures.

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Hi Everyone! Miss you!

 

Whew! I’m getting tired!

Some pretty stuff in and around Portland

I left the very unattractive city of Spokane early in the morning, around 7am. (I didn’t even blog about it becaue it was so non-descript). I headed west towards Portland, a very long drive. I’d heard that I MUST drive along the Columbia River and see the Columbia Gorge and Multnomah Falls. Driving west along the interestate 90 and then 395 South in Washington was NOT attractive to me. It was fairly flat, and there was NO green. It was endless fields of yellow and brown. Flat flat flat! Talk about the immensity of the sky! But not at all pretty like Montana.

A bit after I got onto Interstate 84 I saw the Columbia River to my right. It was enormous! But a long time passed until it began to really be pretty, once I hit The Dalles. I exited off 84 and followed scenic 30 as much as I could, seeing some pretty sights along the way.

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Columbia River – first look

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The Falls are a highlight of this little area, (there are five of them) and Multnomah Falls is the most popular.  I drove along a very crowded but beautiful little stretch of scenic route 30 – searching for a little parking spot anywhere I could. Luck! I pulled in and walked about 25 yards down to Horsetail Falls. It was beautiful!

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And Multnomah was supposed to be better than that! I got back in my car and drove along. Traffic became heavier and I finally saw a sign for Multnomah Falls! But, it was the middle of Sunday afternoon, and the parking lots were full. I thought, oh well, I’ll just see if I can find a  spot a ways down the road. And I’m not kidding, as soon as that thought popped into my head, I saw a spot just at the edge of the parking lots, perfect for my little car. I pulled in and then walked back to the Falls. They were magnificent to me, although I heard folks saying over and over how little water there was and that they are actually quite a bit more spectacular. I was happy with every single view I had of them!

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There were more Falls along the way, but it was approaching 4:30pm and the crowds were a bit overwhelming. I hopped back onto I-84 and drove the last 20-30 minutes to my motel near the Portland Airport.

The next day, I headed out with a purpose – Voodoo Doughtnuts! I’d seen several segments on various Food and Travel channels, and was eager to see if they lived up to the hype. Downtown Portland was a LONG drive from my motel – it took me nearly 30 minutes by the time I’d found a place to park. I walked a few blocks and there it was – with a line out front that appeared to be moving at a decent pace. I took my place in line and waited. I’d had many suggestions from everyone, the famous Voodoo Doll doughnut, the Maple Bacon, but I love chocolate and peanut butter, so I tried two – The Mempis Mafia, which is a fritter banana chunks and cinnamon covered in a glaze with chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips on top, and The Old Dirty Bastard, a yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting, oreos and peanut butter. I took those and a cup of coffee and sat outside to enjoy them.

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Well, folks, although the Memphis Mafia was indeed very good (I ate about a third of it) the Old Dirty Bastard felt flat, and I can honestly say that THIS doughnut place and these doughnuts beats Voodoo Doughnuts into the ground.

Shipley's Doughnuts in Houston

Shipley’s Doughnuts in Houston

After that intake of sugar, I spent the next couple of hours walking around downtown Portland, checking out the little shops and sights. Portland is unique in its preponderance of food trucks. I actually wished I hadn’t wasted my stomach’s food storage space with the doughnuts.

It was a beautiful afternoon, warm but breezy. I was weary from walking around, but there really aren’t places to just sit and relax downtown. So, I found a nice shady spot under a tree, sat next to the awesome food truck that was cranking out some great tunes. I sat and just enjoyed watching people walking by.

Finally, around 4pm, I headed to the west suburb of Beaverton to visit yet another friend from my horn playing days at the University of Iowa. My friend and former roommate Veronica had been on the west coast for years, and moved to Portland about 4 years ago. I pulled up to her house in a very nice but hilly suburb, knocked on her door, and was greeted by her two adorable daughters, Rayna and Elia. Veronica walked up and she looked just as she did 20-some years ago! We sat outside on her patio for a bit, enjoying some beers and catching up on our lives. Rayna came out, impatient to head out and show me the sights of Portland. So, Rayna, Veronica and I got into the car and headed out to get a bite to eat. We ended the evening with a drive to the Pittock Mansion. It was a bit hazy so didn’t have the best view, but it was nice and there were lots of pretty flowers.

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Finally, we ventured down to a little creek in the local park near their home. Rayna spotted a crawfish but wouldn’t pick it up, but we did see a huge slug on the trail path! Biggest slug I’ve EVER seen, EWWWW

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We returned to the house and said our goodbyes – Veronica’s eyes welled up with tears as we hugged.  It’s mind-boggling to think that it had been 20 years since we’d seen each other. I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to reconnect with a dear friend. BUT WE DIDN’T GET A PICTURE!!!!!!

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Emerging from the Cocoon

Nothing-change-until-you-changeI left out an important story from my experience at Glacier National Park because I realized it was part of a more important blog combining a couple of experiences the following day. And part of a huge breakthrough in my journey.

Rewind to Glacier National Park. I arrived well before my 8:45am Red Bus check-in time. As I walked into the rest rooms, a young 6 or 7 year old girl  came rushing out. “Well, good morning, Little Bitty!” I greeted her with a big smile. She smiled back and said hi. She was followed by another girl around 9-10 years old, who also looked at me and smiled and said hi. I thought, wow, they have to be sisters, they look so much alike!  I said “Are you excited for your day here?” and she replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

When I returned to the Red Bus stop, the two girls were intently looking at something in the bush around the bus circle. The littlest girl ran up and exclaimed “A bird, we just saw a bird!” At that moment a very fit and trim man in his 40’s walked up and said to the girls “Was it a bluebird?” The little girl replied “I don’t know Daddy!” I turned to the man and smiled and said “I think I’ve seen about 1 or 2 bluebirds in my entire life,” and we started up a conversation about bluebirds and their color, etc. Sitting on the bench just next to us was a woman with another young girl. She looked at me with a smile and said “Are you taking this 9am tour?” and I replied “Sure am!” and she introduced herself as Anna, and said, “Well, looks like you’ve already met my husband Paul.” She proceeded to introduce me to the two youngest girls that I’d run into previously, Erin and Kimi, yet another daughter Josie, and their teenage sons Sean and Nolan. What an entourage! We shook hands all around (yes, all the kids did, very politely and enthusiastically!)

When Bill the bus driver pulled up the big Red Bus, the older boys cried out “Shotgun!” The girls argued back playfully and the boys laughingly teased them back – it was obvious to me that these kids had been raised with much love and respect. When we all loaded ourselves into the bus, Bill decreed that since I was the only solo traveler, I would be awarded the shotgun seat! I looked at the kids and playfully gave a victory yell “Shotgun is mine!”  “AWW!” the kids replied, although with much good humor. (I will note that I actually did NOT retain my shotgun seat – I gave it up to an older gentleman with much longer legs and an artificial knee).

I sat right in front of  The Adams Family on the bus tour and had a wonderful time with them. When we arrived at the halfway point at Rising Sun, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant there. As we walked in all together, Anna turned to me and said “Please have lunch with all of us! Then you don’t have to sit alone and it will make a perfect 8!” So, I sat in the midst of this big loving family and had a wonderful time. Sean showed me all the pictures he’d taken already, and we challenged each other to win the little Cracker Barrel type peg game. Anna and Paul asked me about my journey, so I told them how it had all come about. I found out that they live in Batavia, a Chicago suburb not far from Naperville! We also discovered a mutual love of music – I told them about my background and training in horn, and Anna gestured to two of the kids and said “well, horn players right there!” And the rest of the kids all play musical instruments! Sean told me all about his oboe, and how he recently got a new, non-plastic one. Paul asked where I was going next, and I told him that I was headed west and would be staying that night in Libby. Anna exclaimed “Well, you have to stop at Kootenai Falls and the Swinging Bridge on the way out of Libby the next day.” She explained that it’s a spot of Falls and rapids along the Kootenai River (it’s actually the spot that the movie “The River Wild” was filmed) and that it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. The kids all piped in about the trail, the swinging rope bridge, and how they had actually come across bear scat on one of the trails that they’d ventured off on! “Bear poop?!?!” I inquired a bit fearfully. “Yes!” they all exclaimed excitedly. They all related the beauty of the Falls and I assured them that I would stop to experience it.

So that’s one back story.

After the day at Glacier, I spent the night in the little teeny tiny town of Libby, MT. I stayed at an old but very well kept motel called the Caboose Inn. When I checked out the next morning, I was standing at the desk next to an older man who was chewing the fat with the desk guy. I waited for a lull in the conversation and I greeted them with a hearty “Good morning gentlemen! If one were driving to Spokane, what would be the prettiest route to take?” They looked at each other and proceeded to chat and discuss. They both agreed on one particular route and gave me the details. The older man standing next to me said, “I’ve lived in Montana my whole life. I just came from that direction yesterday. When you go, make sure you stop at Ross Creek and see the Trail of Cedars. Be careful you don’t miss the little sign for it. Once you turn in, it’s about a 4 mile drive off the road, and the trail of Cedars is about a mile long. Don’t miss it!”

So I now had a gameplan for the day – I would stop in Kootenai Falls, which was only about 10  miles out of Libby, and then stop later at the Trail of Cedars!

I began my drive – it was going to be another spectacular day. Not a cloud in the sky and already nice and warm. After just a short drive I saw the turnoff at the side of the road with a small parking lot. I had arrived at Kootenai Falls – the largest undammed falls in the state of Montana! I grabbed my camera and started the short ½ mile hike to the Falls.

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As I sat there enjoying the view, I saw a family approaching. An older man, his son, and his two grandchildren. They walked up the rocks to the very tip of the rock overlooking the Falls – much further than I had dared! I thought to myself, wow, that’s pretty gutsy, and I pointed my camera and took a great shot of them.

Family on the Falls

Family on the Falls

When they came back my way, I called out to the younger man. I said “I snapped a great pic of y’all on the Falls – if you give me your number I’ll text it to you!” He did so, and I said although it won’t send now since there’s no service, I’ll make sure to send it once I get a signal. He thanked me and joined his family and walked on.

Just downstream from Kootenai Falls, accessible from the same parking area and path, is the swinging bridge, which crosses the Kootenai River, offers a great view of the Falls, and connects to other hiking paths. I was determined to walk across it, even though it is high up, and swingy, and unstable! When I walked up the ladder to the bridge entrance, I saw a young woman standing there, looking across at her family on the other side. I could see it was the same family I’d snapped the picture of. I said, “Kinda scary huh?” She replied “Yes, and I’m kind of afraid of heights.” And I said, well, we’re in good company cause so am I! And she said, well, then let’s walk across together – I’ll be right behind you!  We made it across and we gave each other a high five on the other side. She walked down to her family and I heard her laugh and say “Waiting much?” They laughed as she joined them.

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Gulp!!!

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Walking the Bridge!

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View from the Bridge (haha)

I returned to my car and resumed my drive along the route suggested by the man at the Caboose Inn. I remembered to text the picture of the family on the Falls. Immediately I got a reply:

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Smiling, I headed south on 56. I barely saw the sign for Ross Creek on the right hand side of the road. I turned and began a very secluded but beautiful winding drive, shrouded by unbelievably tall pine trees. It appeared completely isolated and empty – I wondered if I would be the only person there! Finally I got to a very small parking lot, filled with cars – I barely was able to find a spot. The Ross Creek Cedars is a grove of western red cedars, part of the Kootenai National Forest. In 1960, the Kootenai National Forest set aside the Ross Creek Cedar grove and established it as a scenic area protecting it for scientific and recreational value.

I started the short, .9 mile trail and was amazed. I have NEVER in my life seen such huge trees. The entire trail was enclosed by trees of such size that barely any sunlight could come through.

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After walking the trail for about an hour, I made it back to the parking lot and headed west to Spokane.

So, now to get to the point of this long story. I am now acutely aware of how I have lived my whole adult life. When confronted with strangers or with situations with which I’m unfamiliar, I’ve kept my head down, not looking at nor talking to them. I have insisted that it’s because “I’m shy.” Well, I realize now that that is not true. It’s not shyness. It’s fear. I”m afraid that for some reason people won’t like me.  I have been told that often when people first meet me I appear unapproachable and intimidating. And I have fretted about that, wondering why in the world people have thought that. And now I realize it’s because my fear has kept me from interacting with others in an authentic way, and it has prevented my true spirit from being seen.  And the unapproachable vibe that I’ve put out has kept others from being comfortable with me.  It’s because YOU GET WHAT YOU PUT OUT TO THE UNIVERSE. If you don’t smile, people won’t smile at you. If you put up your guard, others won’t let their guard down. If you put out distrust, others won’t trust you. If you appear unapproachable, people keep their distance.

However, throughout this journey the past 7 weeks, I’ve made a choice to look people in the eye with a smile and greet them before they greet me. I’ve done it at  gas stations, at rest stops, at restaurants, on the trail at all the parks – every single place I go. And because of that small change that requires no real effort (and now I”m not even trying!!) I am getting a COMPLETELY different and wonderful response from the Universe and everyone in it. Many of you who have known me for a long time know what a change this is for me, but because of this – truly amazing things have happened:

Because I smile at little kids and greet them with a friendly hello, they  approach me enthusiastically and without fear – and I met the wonderful Adams Family, who invited me wholeheartedly into their family for the day, surrounded me with love, and told me about an incredibly beautiful spot that I otherwise would have completely and obliviously driven past – Kootenai Falls.

Because I saw an opportunity to take a beautiful picture of a family against the stunning background of the Kootenai Falls – knowing that they could not capture that shot themselves and would appreciate the beauty of it – and asked them for their number so I could send that memory to them – I received a wonderful heartfelt thank you in reply that made me smile and feel happy throughout the whole day.

Because I sidled up to a couple of old guys at a local hotel in a very small town as they drank their morning coffee, and asked them to tell me the prettiest drive to my destination, I had a wonderful interaction with a nice old man who gave me a tip to see the grandest most majestic sized trees – the size of which I’d only heard stories of – and of which I would have sped past without even a second glance.

Because I am living my life on this trip with a wide open heart, I am having the most authentic and loving experiences with the Universe and everyone in it. Prior to starting this journey, I thought it would be about finding or creating a new Alise along the way. But what I’ve discovered is that there is no need to “create” anything new at all. Each day, with all my courage, I am peeling back layer after layer of fear, hurt, anger, and unhappiness that has weighed me down. I am discovering that underneath all of those layers that I mistakenly thought were protecting me, I’m finding my real true self, and I’m so much lighter and happier and grateful, more than I have ever been in my entire life. And discovering that the Universe and all those in it are kind and generous and loving. This is a life changing realization for me – having the courage to let go of my fear, and to let go of the old habits that I’ve had in the past – is allowing me to live the life I’ve never thought possible – a happy one.

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