Author Archives: kellyrae66

Super Grand Canyon South Rim

We noticed the gas prices getting higher as we got closer to the Grand Canyon. We left the interstate and drove straight north for a long time through seemingly unending forests. We’d pass through a town or two with just one stoplight before reaching Tusayan, the tourist town with more hotels and restaurants. Our free campsite was just past all that, right outside the park entrance. Many sites were full but we found a good sized flat spot. The only problem was there was no privacy to go to the bathroom. Travis took initiative to set up a tarp between two trees for me to be able to go in private. As I weaved my way past shrubs, I inhaled deeply. These weren’t just bushes, these were lavender! It was an entire field full of lavender. We are a dinner of tuna Alfredo with Ritz crackers and went to bed, excited to finally see the Grand Canyon in the morning. 

We got up not too super early, found a parking spot pretty close to the visitor center/restrooms and marched toward Mather point. I wanted to hike the entire 13 mile south rim trail and didn’t want to see the canyon first from the bus. As we approach Mather point, I experienced a familiar gut-drop feeling I’ve come to know all too well: the excited-I’m-about-to-go-do-see-something-I’ve-never-done-before feeling. A rush of absolute excitement, anticipation, nervousness, and a bit of trepidation, because I would never get to experience this first again. We weaved our way through the swarms of people, a lot of Chinese, some German, even fewer American, toward the edge. I stared at the deep chasms in the earth before me, too awestruck to take pictures yet. I took several pictures in all directions as my eyes got a little moist. This was THE Grand Canyon, classic America. I asked Travis what his first thoughts were, and he said he wasn’t impressed. I wondered at his lack of wonder as we boarded the free shuttle bus to start our trek. In the summer, you weren’t allowed to drive past a certain area and had to take a free shuttle to the vistas. We got to the end of the line, started walking the paved Rim trail and immediately stopped. I need my camera in my hands now! The canyon was different from practically every step we took. A lot of the time, I just stood there taking it all in. Then when Travis would ask was I ready to keep walking, I’d bring my camera up and meekly reply no. By an hour, we hadn’t made much progress along our 13 mile trail. By two hours we realized we’d split this into two days. We were traveling at about 1 mile an hour on this paved flat trail. We took a break on a bench and Travis dropped a few crumbs accidentally. A squirrel immediately showed up to clean up our mess. We were surprised at his friendliness and, not knowing any better, fed it from our hands. We took a few pictures of the squirrel eating out of our hands and all I could think of was my dog, Bailey. She loves to chase squirrels from our yard. The next day we would find out it’s against the law and carries a hefty fine to feed wild animals in the park. I continued taking pictures every 10 steps until we stopped for lunch under some shady trees. Travis cut some sausage and cheese to put on our Ritz crackers. We hiked just a bit more and took the shuttle back to get out of the heat of the day. We filled up our water bottles, washed some dishes and headed back to camp. We’d seen an RV back further than we’d been and they weren’t there today so we parked there. We were happy to have a more private site surrounded by more trees. Travis cooked tuna alfredo for dinner, masking the taste of tuna pretty well  (we both don’t care for tuna that much, he more so than I). We tried to go to sleep at dusk but our closest neighbors were having a party.

 I woke up with the sun beating down on my tent and fix up our breakfast of protein powder in our breakfast essentials chocolate drink. We still beat the crowds into the park and hopped on the shuttle back to where we left off. We walked past Bright Angel Lodge and several other places deciding to explore those later. Our path passed Kolb Studio and Lookout studio and gift shop so we explored those. The rim Trail was filled with people whose conversations were mostly not English. There was German, Chinese and several others I didn’t recognize. We came upon the free Yavapai Point and geology museum which shared more about the geology of the canyon and how it was formed. After the museum, the trail kind of emptied, save for the occasional biker that would race around the corners, almost colliding with us. We saw a guy taking photos of his friend who was off the trail, out on a shelf above the canyon. Of course we started scrambling town, dropping our packs safely out of sight. I grab my Nikon P510 camera and down we went. Travis clambered down first, showing me where to put my hands and feet. I tried to put my feet where he had but I didn’t even come close. I laughed as I told him he had to think a lot smaller because I’m short. Once we’d bouldered down a bit, it was an easy flat walk to the shelf. It was glorious and felt like we were out in the middle of the canyon. There was no one else in sight and Travis finally felt the awe of this great geological wonder. Now this trail was exciting and I was learning to rock climb/boulder. We eagerly looked for the next shelf island piece. I spotted one and the best way to get down was a tree next to the cliff edge. Aha, I knew how to maneuver this one! Travis hardly had time to set his pack down before I deaftly monkeyed down the tree and around the edge, waiting for him to help me with the next bouldering bit. I still didn’t quite trust my brand-new shoes on the loose rocks and boulders. The people on the trail ogled at us climbing way out there. I really liked the feeling of being able to hoist my body up boulders and maneuver around rocks that were twice as tall as me. I could tell Travis was enamored with this new make-your-own-path with a teensy bit of danger. The end of the rim Trail was anti-climatic, finishing at a viewpoint with a bus stop. 

We shuttled back to our car, preparing to go find where the showers and laundry were. Luckily we were able to find parking right by the building and we gathered our electronics to charge while we waited. The women’s restroom was being cleaned so Travis went first. There was an elk grazing by the car as I made sure I had all my cords. I have a Phone, Fitbit, and two cameras, one with four batteries that I go through quickly! Travis has a phone and two battery packs. So we have a lot that needs charging. His phone mostly charges in the car because we use it for maps and research. Travis finished his shower and gave me the shower bag with supplies as we were sharing soap, shampoo, conditioner, separate deodorant and lotion. I went to go take a shower but there was a line after it opened from cleaning. I waited a bit longer for the line to die down but it just got longer. I got in line behind 8 ladies and by the time I got to the front they were at least 14 of us in line. It was 6 quarters for six minutes so Travis gave me 12 quarters. The ceiling was moldy so I hurried, getting done before the second time ran out (I can’t take a shower quite that fast). We put our laundry in and finally one Nikon camera battery finished charging. We drove back to our site, which hadn’t been taken, through some traffic caused by people stopping in the middle of the road to see male elk. We ate dinner of tortilla pizzas, making enough for part of lunch tomorrow, and went to bed early as we were getting up at the crack of dawn to hike partway down into the canyon.

 We woke up at five as it was getting light, drank our breakfast essentials and headed all the way into the park, parking at bright angel trail head. We filled up our water bladders and headed down. This was unlike any trail we’ve ever done, where you head up then down. This you did the easy downhill part first then headed back up once it got hotter. It was about 100° at the bottom of the canyon most days and almost full sun. I didn’t want to get any heat related illnesses. We made it down to Indian garden, 3 1/2 miles in 1.5 hours. There were vault toilets, water and a shaded rest area at 1 mile and 3 mile points. The trail was not too steep but was mostly sand with poor rock water run off builds and completely destroyed by the mules. We ate snacks in the shade at Indian Creek then turned around to go up. We stopped at the 3 mile rest area next to a family of five from Winchester, VA that was hiking Rim to Rim. The mom was curious about what I was eating: pizza Travis had made last night. We continued chatting about backpacking and they were all amazed at how light my overnight pack was (~25lbs or less). The mom also questioned how an experienced hiker like me got heat related illness is so easily. I didn’t know the answer to her question and often wonder that myself. I wet the cooling towel and stuck my head under the water spigot before leading the way up the trail. We kept leapfrogging the family and several other hikers as we would all take breaks after hiking for several minutes. I was pretty hot but avoiding getting too hot so far. We’d hike a switchback or two and then rest in the tiny shade at the switchbacks if there was room. Everyone was plodding uphill resting at every shade spot. My rest stops started getting longer than my moving. I couldn’t believe people were still coming down the trail. Didn’t they know it’d be torturous coming back up at high noon? But maybe they were only going down a bit. We finally made it to the 1 mile rest area and sat down with the same family. I dunked my head under the spout again to keep my brain from frying and a lot of hikers around me followed suit. Someone passing by mentioned ice cream and that made all of us excited. I’d seen the ice cream store yesterday and tried to get motivated, telling myself I could have some if we made it up by noon. I sluggishly kept going one foot at a time, taking a break every five steps. I started getting nauseous so Travis made me sit down and get cool for a long time. We would make it up one more switch back up before I had to sit down again. Noon time passed and Travis told me we can still get ice cream but that didn’t help me much going up the mountain now. There were lots of other hikers that looked like me, taking long breaks and only walking for a few minutes at a time. I could see the top of the canyon getting closer and closer and I was getting done with this mountain mentally. I started getting frustrated with my body physically because it wouldn’t go up the mountain any quicker and my skin wouldn’t cool itself, making me scared of heat exhaustion or stroke. Although I thought a helicopter ride through the canyon sounded cool, this is not how I wanted to do it. I found a piece of the canyon that had a part the chat it out just like a seat. God, please help my skin, my body, my brain, my body to work together to get me off this path. I was near tears as Travis kept handing me bites of granola bar to eat and wrapping the cool towels around my back and neck and stomach. Eventually we made it back up, through the two tunnels, to the pavement again at the trailhead sign. As we shuffled over to the sign to take our pictures I glared angrily at the people just now heading down. Don’t they know they’re taking such a high risk? Or is it just me and my body that doesn’t work right in the heat and sun? I was deeply saddened that my body wasn’t working right but Travis had to remind me that we did it! We hiked partway down into the Grand Canyon on the bright angel trail and made it all the way back up! We went straight to the ice cream store and bought ourselves two cones with two scoops each. We weaved our way back through the crowd to sit in the shade of the gift shop to enjoy our cool treat. Several people stopped and asked us wow! Those look amazing where did you get them and we were able to point them in the right direction. We went back and explored several of the gift shops to buy our postcards and collectors patch, passing by the Hopi house where they were having a native American demonstration. We watched for a few minutes as the announcer shared with us some of his peoples styles of dancing and music. Another guy showed up to dance to the rhythm. We continued on into the Hopi house to see all the pottery and jewelry collections of the local native American population. We were pretty tired from our hike and getting up early so we went back to the car and went back to our campsite. Travis set up his hammock and I got on my Thermarest Zrest and we tried to take naps but were both unsuccessful. After the wind picked up and it got a little chilly, we decided to make dinner. I had said earlier if we were up for it, we could go watch the sunset back at the park. So we cooked and headed back into the park. Travis was still eating dinner and we thought about taking the shuttle bus to a further point to watch the sunset but figured out that would be too late and we weren’t sure when the shuttle bus came back. So we just went to Mather point and I squeezed in between the masses of people along the railing. We waited and waited and finally the sun begin to set. Everyone was quieter for a little while and then when the sun dipped below the horizon, hordes of people left. We stayed so I could get pictures of the canyon in the afterglow. There was enough space at the railing that I could freely move about to get all the different angles. It started getting a little colder so we were almost about to leave when someone shouted look! There she is! 

They were talking about none other than the moon! A strawberry moon no less. It began peeking up over the forest, steadily glowing more and more. With my camera I could zoom in real close and get amazing shots of the moon. I jumped up and down like a little kid because the moon has always been mine for some reason. My sister Emily and I always split everything between us, she had the sun and I the moon. I was giddy and smiled at Travis and thought, this was just perfect. We’ve hiked a bunch around the Grand Canyon Southrim and now I watched the sunset and the moon rise. We could leave the Grand Canyon now. We got back to camp and went to bed knowing that we would drive out along the desert view Drive the next morning.

We slept in a bit knowing that we did not need to get there early for parking and headed east out of the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t quite sure where all the vistas were but I knew I wanted to stop at at least two of them. We pulled over at a few that weren’t very good and then we finally saw the nice big view. I took lots of pictures and got back in the car to go to the next one. We found another area to go bouldering in. Travis went down first and at first I wasn’t going to follow him. But then he looked like he was having too much fun so he helped me climb down. This was a longer climb but the other ones so we got a little bit sweaty. I enjoyed being able to take pictures without people in them. We made it back to the car and continue to the desert view watchtower.  The watchtower was made by a female architect sometime ago and was pretty cool with Native American inspired drawings on the inside. We meandered through the visitor center and bought a cookie. We weren’t going to eat lunch there so we just sat outside and enjoyed ourcookies. Soon after that we exited the park borders and began our long journey east, north, west and back south to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. It was only 10 or so miles away as the crow flies but the roads are long. 

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Scorching Saguaro

We kept driving across the desert, watching the heat roll off the road and the mountains change as we crossed into Arizona. Most of the billboards advertised Tombstone. It was only 45minutes out of the way so why not? The temperatures kept climbing into the triple digits so I wasn’t too keen on walking around much. We found a free parking spot and wandered back into the Old West. We wanted to watch a shootout but didn’t want to pay a lot of money. We made our way past western style shops to the OK Corral shop. The tickets were too expensive but I spotted grow-your-own saguaro kits. It included 2 or 3 baby cacti, dry soil, a small planter and a wooden marker saying OK Corral. I’ll take it! From there we continued by saloons until we heard a guy yelling that there’d be a shootout in 5 minutes down by the railroad depot. We hurried down there and purchased our affordable tickets to a comedic shootout. We sat on partly shaded bleachers in front of an old western street style stage. The town drunk announce told us, the audience, had to boo and clap for the bad and good guys as they came out. The show went on, with a plot of a guy stole a miner’s mule. It was hilarious, complete with a drunk sheriff, dumb sidekick and backstabbing, or shooting. But the good guys always win, right? We posed for pictures with the actors and tipped them, glad to have seen a great shootout worth the cost. We explored all the gift shops, buying postcards and sarsaparilla, a yummy root beer like drink. We enjoyed our sodas at the gazebo in the town park. Our bottles each had a bit about the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. After we’d seen enough of the wild west, we continued to Tucson, heading up Mt. Lemmon to our campsite. We drove up, and up, and up! The saguaros appeared all over the mountain then gave way to conifers. Our campsite gps coordinates were at 8500ft elevation so I was excited, hoping it’d be at least 15degrees cooler than it was now at 85degrees at 7pm. Our coordinates were a little off but we eventually found the correct road. The trees were conifers and the perfect site was just a couple minutes in. We set up our tents and Travis cooked dinner in the dark. We went to sleep at about 60 degrees.

I awoke with a loud, “Travis, hep me!” My nose was pouring blood. I tried not to get any drops on my sleeping bag, pillow, or anything in my tent as I scrambled to get out. I failed. I stuffed toilet paper up my nose while shuffling to a comfortable standing place. Travis made sure I was ok before attempting to scrub out the blood on basically everything in my tent. I couldn’t get it to stop bleeding for a good while which was super frustrating because I was fully awake, hungry, and had to pee. We suppose it happened because the dry air, wind, dust, and possibly altitude. Finally it stopped after I filled a whole bag with bloody tissues. I got to pack up, eat, and we were on our way down to the western portion of Saguaro National Park.

We drove to the visitor center and wanted to fill up our water bottles but the Africanized killer bees were buzzing around the faucet and ground. The rangers normally keep a dish out for them but it had run dry. We collected a map and ventured out into the desert. Our first path was a paved interpretive trail 1/2 mile long. I had on my long sleeved sun shirt, capris, hat, and a cooling towel on my neck. I was prepared to hike through the desert. Every other informative sign had a shaded bench that I’d race toward and let Travis read the sign out loud. I had fun posing by each cactus, especially the giant saguaro, although Travis got bit by the teddy bear cholla. It sure was fuzzy alright. That trail was only 1/2 mile long and it was supremely uncomfortable for me so we decided to skip the other trail I’d picked out that was .7miles and go straight to the driving loop. We passed many more saguaros with lots of arms. There were several cacti that were blooming and of course I wanted to get pictures of every one. there were reds and pinks, in varying shades, and sometimes orange as well. We did set out on another 1/2mile trail to see the petroglyphs. This trail was a bit up so I just took my time, trying not to die. Petroglyphs are carved into rock and pictograms are painted or drawn on. These markings were from the Hohokam people from AD 900-1200. The view from the top of the hill was neat, saguaros dotting the landscape as far as the eye could see. I was hot and felt close to dying, so we headed back to a smoothie cafe I’d seen a sign for on the way in. The ice cold blended fruit was incredibly refreshing but didn’t fill me up much. Travis wanted Taco Bell but I wasn’t sure I could eat there and not get sick so I got Burger King nuggets.

Now that we were out of danger of heat illnesses, we went to a place where we could spend some money: REI. I needed new shoes and hoped they’d have an ample selection in my size. This REI wasn’t too different than our home store but did have a bit more climbing gear. I wanted to try on the Altra Lonepeak 3.0 but all they had was the Superior. I trounced around the store, trying to see if these aggravated my achilles and had enough tread for rocks and were sufficient support for my ankles. I bought them and there was a bit of a mix-up. The shoes were labeled wrong on the rack; the Lonepeak and Superior were switched. So I was buying the shoes I had researched and wanted. We headed back up the mountain in plenty of daylight and again watched the temperature drop into a comfortable range. We picked out a different site (because our previous one was occupied) with view over the hill past the car. I got another nosebleed as I tried the saline nose squirt bottle, which Google had said to try. That and neosporin were supposed to re-moisten the inside of my nose. Travis made chicken alfredo for dinner and we went to bed as the sun set. I got up to no nosebleed (yay!) but enormous bloody boogers (yuck!). We decided not to try to hike in the desert today but just to take the 8 mile route in and around the eastern part of the National Park. It mostly looked the same, but more hilly and the cacti had more blooms. We’d get out with me decked out in my sun-protective clothing and read the blurb written on the informational signs. It was already scorching by 11AM when we finished the Saguaro loop so we set our gps straight north to the Grand Canyon!

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Wacky White Sands 

We set our GPS to Brantley lake state park, New Mexico to take showers and possibly stay, if we liked it because it was only $8 for primitive site, $5 day use. The road took us by a dam with a very low river. We approached Brantley lake state park and it looked like it was last in line for funding. We kept driving until we reached the primitive camping but it didn’t look appealing. The showers were OK, ‘free’ with the $5 per vehicle day use fee with a two second pushbutton. Ahh, it drove me crazy! I’d picked the handicap stall for a little more room and at least the handheld showerheads stream lasted a  little little longer. While I waited for Travis, I saw a jack rabbit with reallyyy long legs. A couple in an RV told us they been road tripping across the US and had a similar future route and that this was one of the worst places they’ve stayed. We decided to continue, did some research on freecampsites.net and found a place at roughly 8000 feet elevation in Cloudcroft, 45 minutes from White Sands. We climbed from scruggly (scraggly, shrubby) desert to high fir forests. I was hoping against sleeping in the desert and was incredibly excited to see so many trees again. We saw aspen trees and then an elk, and another elk! on the side of the road. Travis was super hungry and we weren’t looking forward to either cooking or setting up in the dark so we decide to stop if we saw an affordable looking diner. We passed a couple fancy looking places before finding one that looked reasonably priced. I ordered steak fingers and fries that came with gravy and Travis ordered a burrito with rice, beans, chips, and salsa. I had a few left over fingers for lunch tomorrow. Feeling satisfied, we set our sights towards finding a home for the night. We reached our gravel road turn off and continued up. This was our only second time using free dispersed camping. We parked near a few other vehicles and tents and start walking towards a clear area. A man’s voice gruffly yelled out, “Hey, what are you doing!?” We replied we were looking for a dispersed campsite. He angrily yelled again, “Get out! This is taken!” Even though there were plenty of tenting areas with car spaces. We hurried back to the car. I was both upset and frightened; I sure didn’t want to camp near those kind of people. The next group we saw had a fire and Travis was more confident in approaching them to inquire about the free camping. They were indeed nice and told us just to keep looking, that there were plenty on down the road. Just about when we couldn’t see much because it was getting dark, we found a pullover spot next to a large field. We made sure it was flat enough, set up our tents and got in because it was pretty cold!

I was hoping to wake up to elk grazing in a meadow but alas, it was just us. It was just 45 minutes from White Sands through the town of Alamogordo. Occasionally the interstate we were on closed for military missile testing. The White Sands visitor center was styled like an old Adobe pueblo. I gathered some maps and information on the 8 mile loop drive and short quarter mile and half mile hikes. There were longer hikes but I didn’t want to hike far in the real desert. Our national Park pass got us in for free again ($10/vehicle) and we drove off into the dunes. At first it looked like normal sand dunes, with a few bushes and grass clumps on them, but soon turned into all white bare sand. We pulled off onto a sand parking lot to hike a boardwalk discovery path with lots of informational signs. It’s actually gypsum sand. 

As the pavement ended, we finally found a parking area to be able to walk on the dunes. I took my shoes off and started climbing. Wow, it was cold sand! I fully expected it to be hot under the glaring sun. We watched as other people slid down on the dunes on their sleds. You could buy or rent a slide to sled down the dunes. I guess it didn’t hurt the dunes much. We soon collapsed onto the sand, playing with it like at the beach, burying our feet. Ooh, the ocean. This much sand should have an ocean or some body of water. Instead there were mountains, which were cool…but not an ocean. 

Back at the visitor center we washed our dirty dishes, filled our water containers and ate lunch. I had my leftover steak fingers and gravy and Travis made a Vienna sausage taquito. We bought our patch, what we decided to collect from every place we visited. We saw the same guy we’d seen at Carlsbad Cavern asking about the camping fee. We told him we were camped on a nice mountain up the road and about the website we’d been using but he replied he liked it here. The dunes were great and all but temperatures were still rising and soon they’d be like a sauna. But to each his own. We drove back through Alamogordo, picking up a few items at Walmart and getting gas. We stopped at a few touristy gift shop and I really liked the store with lots of colorful pottery and metal work. Travis pet the store dog and leaned in a little too close so the dog jumped and bared its teeth, making contact with Travis’s nose and lip. I was probably more scared than him. I really liked a metal mountain silhoette and Travis said if I still liked it the next day we would get it on our way out. I really wanted to hike at least a short trail in this area because it was much cooler and to walk because we driven around White Sands. We pulled over to an old railroad valley crossing. The railroad used to bring people up to the mountains for cooler weather and the trestles were still standing. Travis researched a roughly 2 mile hike that actually began super close to where we spent the night. Soon we looked up and saw the old trestle  from above. The trail wasa nice mixture of dirt, rocks, and roots and looped around to a beautiful meadow. If it were later in the day we probably would’ve seen elk or deer. We headed back up to our site but the whole mountain was full. We continued down the gravel road, found an ok site but it was filled with shotgun shells, crushed beer cans and general litter so we ultimately decided against it, opting to drive closer to Las Cruces, our next destination. We drove down into the desert, winding around the city to its south eastern side, next to the mountains. I was worried it would be hot at night but there were no roads leading up the mountain. The GPS coordinates were a little off but we eventually found a spot near trailhead parking. I was paranoid about the possibility of fire ants all around our site until we scuffed up a few ant mounds and they were normal black ants. The sun was setting as we set up our tents and Travis started making pizzas. We didn’t take time to enjoy them thoroughly though they were still amazing. I enjoy ed the sun setting over the city with the mountains glowing behind us. The sun said hello bright and early, heating my tent into a sauna, forcing me to get up and moving. Lots of beetles found shade under our tents as morning came and we chuckled as they scurried from our disappearing shady spots. My coworker used to live here and had given me tips on where to find a cheaper native rug/blanket and with the best frozen custard was. It was a Sunday so everything opened later, around 10 or 11 AM. We made our way to the historic downtown Mesilla area, admiring the desert architecture. We found a cozy little café bakery to drink smoothies and wait for shops to open. After washing dishes and mailing postcards, the doors began open. I was eager to check out all the stuff, hoping for some bargains, but everything was still over my budget. Travis found a cool blanket and I bought some Christmas gifts, plus a set of colorful earrings for myself. Satisfied with our finds, we set off for Caliches frozen custard. Travis got a vanilla with sprinkles and I had a brownie caramel sundae. Mmm, this was yummy and so worth it!!

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Cool Carlsbad Caverns

It was a long drive from the national Park sign to the actual visitor center, climbing up the more-desert-looking-than-Texas-mountains. We headed straight in towards the info desk to inquire about the hours, pricing and timing. The natural entrance into the cave was 1.5mi long and the big room was too, taking about 2 hours total, depending on how often we stopped and took pictures. It was $10 per person but our national park pass made it free. We packed up jackets and water (it’s a humid 56 degrees down there) and headed out. A guy we’d just seen at the Information Center asking about where to stay with also heading down. The path was very steep and it wasn’t long before the stench of guano (bat poop) hit us. It was almost unbearable to stop and take pictures of the entrance, a giant dark hole in the earth. We kept descending lower and lower, on steep switchbacked paths, eventually losing sight of the natural light, now only seeing by the dim lights overhead. We passed by amazing formations and we weren’t even to the main room yet! We made our way to the big room and were even more awestruck. This was a giant cave, equal to about 14 football fields with a 255 foot ceiling, all 750 feet below the surface. We continued around the big room, creeping past stalagmites, stalactites, popcorn rocks, massive boulders, and other wonders. I wasn’t sure how neat the caves would be or if we wanted to explore more but we definitely did! We enjoyed the cool dark atmosphere and wanted to learn what else was hidden down below the Earth’s surface. We took the elevator up and explored the vast gift shop filled with turquoise jewelry, pottery and other cultural tourist traps. I kind of wanted a native pottery piece but didn’t know what I would do with it. 

We cooked dinner by our car in the parking lot, waiting for the bat flight program. They’d set up an ampitheater just outside the natural cave entrance so people could watch the bats fly out. Around 7 p.m., we wandered over to the amphitheater to get good seats and waited, listening to the distance thunder and looming ominous clouds. The ranger told the gathering crowds that if lightning came within 5 miles, he would have to cancel the program and make sure everyone left the amphitheater. We were all hopeful that the storm would stay away long enough for us to see the great bat exodus. At 7:30, the ranger began, telling us a bit about the bats, but he was cut short. Just a few minutes in, he had to tell us to go away. I was really bummed especially because I didn’t think we’d be here the next evening. It began to sprinkle as we drove back to Guadalupe. The dark storm clouds looked neat against the setting sun behind the mountains. The rain stopped and Travis was able to set up his tent. We researched where the nearest REI was so that I could buy new shoes that didn’t hurt my feet. I had had this problem before and had tried on altra lonepeak 3.0’s and liked them, so I was pretty dead set on finding them when we found one. Conveniently there was one in Tuscon, which would be our next stop anyway, but more on that another time. According to Google, my issue wasn’t in fact Achilles tendonitis but rather retrocalcaneal bursitis, inflammation in the area above my heal that the Achilles slides against. 

We decided to check out more of the caves and leave Guadalupe for another campsite. We slept in, mostly because we wouldn’t be hiking in the heat, packed everything up and headed back to Carlsbad caverns. I thought we were in time for the 10:30 kings palace tour, but the clerk said it would take him a while to print the tickets. I was a little miffed that we would have to wait till the noon hour, if we had been helped by a different clerk 15min would have been more than enough time to print tickets and get to the meeting place at the bottom of the elevator in the caves. We now had an hour and a half to explore the gift shop and eat our lunches. We sat outside in the shade of the building, charging our phones, cameras, battery packs and my fitbit. We made scrumptious peanut butter and Nutella taquitos with delightful dole fruit cups (mmmm fruit!) on the side for lunch. Finally it was time  to head down to begin our tour. The king’s palace tour was 83 stories deep, the lowest part of the cave open to the public. Travis was picked to bring up the rear and make sure any stragglers weren’t left behind. This cave room was stunningly handsome and did indeed look regal. There were different formations everywhere, including soda straws and “tortured lovers kiss,” a stalactite and stalagmite that were permanently 3mm apart. The tour winds through the Queen’s chamber, dressed in ladylike, multicolored curtains of stone. The ranger had us sit and turned off the artificial lights, letting us “see” the natural essence of the cave. He brought out a single lighter to show us how those who first explored the caves would have experienced them. We headed out getting to use a restroom deep below the Earth’s surface, which we both thought was kinda cool. The other tours we’re too pricey so thats where our cave exploration ended.

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Guadalupe grandeur!

The GPS said it would be a 7 and a half hour drive to Guadalupe Mountain National Park, so at least eight and a half hours for us. I realized I hadn’t eaten real Texas BBQ brisket while in Dallas so I wanted some before I left Texas. Guadalupe National Park is still in Texas but closer to Mexico so I wasn’t sure of my prospects. We stopped at Texas Cattle exchange which said Tuesday at noon is the auction, it was 12:30. We started in and I giddily ran up the steps into the auction stage bleachers. I’d seen auctions at 4-H events but nothing like this, this was real Texas auctioning. I giggled standing there watching the calves come up one by one but quickly left, knowing that Travis was smelling the brisket getting hungry. Our brisket barbecue was delicious, served with a side of green beans and sweet potato fries. Okay, now our big food spending was done. 

As we approached Mexico, the gas stops and towns became more degraded. We left the interstate and were shocked at the desert landscape, complete with oil Derricks and flaming vent stacks. We steadily climbed into the mountains passing through deep chasms cutting to the sides of the mountains. We found the park with an hour left till sundown, explored the sites and pick #10 100 feet from the car. We set up our tents and Travis cooked dinner, chicken alfredo. We were at 5600 feet elevation and it was much cooler. We didn’t set an alarm, wanting to wake up naturally whenever we were rested. I ate oatmeal and Travis had Breakfast Essentials before heading to the visitor center to get some info on the trails. I left my tent up to reserve our side but Travis had to take his down because he needed his trekking poles. We set out for Guadalupe Peak Trail, an 8.4 mile round trip to the tallest mountain in Texas, 8749 ft. We ogled at the prickly pear and Cholla cacti along the trail. The trail was tough, a lot because we just driven across half the country, with no working out, and possibly some elevation acclimation. I was wearing my new long sleeve Sun shirt, hat, and capris to try to protect myself from this sun/heat. It was a little uncomfortable making me whine my way up the trail, eventually I got used to it and started noticing the views. We crossed a precarious cliff ledge, straight up on our right, good 5 feet wide Trail straight and down on our left. I wanted to do that my whole life. The fulfillment of my dream made me forget to feel any fear. We thought the mountain in front of us at the parking lot was the mountain, but it was actually one of five. The clouds started rolling in, making me think we weren’t going to make it to the top before the sky let loose. I wasn’t worried about rain but going down slippery rocks sure wasn’t making me leap for joy, I was worried about thunder and lightning. Clouds just kept rolling, giving us glimpses of the other mountains and valley that made them so much sweeter. Soon we turned the corner to find the monument marker high on the rocks above us. Immediately we dropped our packs and kept turning around, taking in The 360-degree View. Whew, we made it! I’d never have thought the highest mountain in Texas was this tall. There was a hiker box at the base of the pyramid or a geocache type box full of goodies like MREs, bandanas, coins, knives, a lighter, cards and a Piezo igniter. Most stuff we just sorted through but we took the igniter. I don’t like using lighters and this would never run out. My Achilles heel had been hurting slightly on the way up but had gotten worst the past 30 minutes. Travis wrapped it like he’d seen on YouTube as I rushed him because the Thunder and clouds were right there! As soon as he finished, I grabbed my pack and headed down. We passed people still climbing even as it started sprinkling. We put on our rain jackets and pack covers and continued racing down the mountain. Of course the sprinkling stopped​ and we got hot, so the jackets came off, down came more sprinkles. we passed loads of people going up even as we approached the car. I wondered if they would make it all the way to the top as the suggested completion time is six to eight hours and it was 4 p.m. It tookus seven and a half hours with all of our many breaks.

 Travis got excited to cook dinner because he was going to make pizzas! That’s right, pizza with our four and a half inch frying pan on top of a Optimus Crux gas canister stove. He brought out the tortillas, tomato paste, pepperoni stick, mozzarella block, and parmesan cheese making magic happen. First cut the cheese and pepperoni, then make tomato sauce, combine into the middle of a 12 inch tortilla and fold like a Crunchwrap from Taco Bell. Heat until golden brown on both sides. Let cool, enjoy! Oh what a glorious meal to celebrate our hike! 

Morning brought a beautiful sunrise even though the forecast was for overnight and afternoon thunderstorms. We got a late start to our 4mile desert hike through McKittrick Canyon. It was supposed to be mixed shade and Sun but of course was mostly sun. We bandaged our car in the reflective bubble wrap, reflectix, that Travis had specifically cut for each window, hoping that it would keep the car from getting unbearably hot. On our way to Platt cabin, we saw numerous lizards, a baby tarantula and a snake in the creek we crossed. We crossed a couple dry washes before reaching one with water flowing. Wallace platt had built a cabin there in the 1930’s because it was an oasis in the desert, the most beautiful spot in West Texas. It started barely sprinkling as we headed back, keeping us cool enough with an icy raindrop here in there. We ate a few bars for lunch before heading up the road to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

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Delightful DFW

We made it to Plano where we were going to stay around 5:30pm. I couldn’t believe it! I was in Dallas again, to see all my friends! After bringing in some of our stuff, our thoughts turned to food. Michelle and Aaron took us to Cafe Brazil, one of my favorite restaurants during my college years. Kristen also joined us. Of course I ordered frozen hot chocolate. Mmm! My chorizo crepes and Travis’ chicken fried steak we’re also tasty. 

Saturday morning brought a trip to Ikea with Michelle, Melissa and Justin. I’d been to Ikea once and Travis never. We don’t have one near home so I thought it would be a cool thing to check out. We wandered the whole store, checking out all the cool and weird ideas before eating the famous swedish meatballs. I’d never had linden berries before. Travis and I felt certain our food had a sleep aid as we became super sleepy. I felt guilty taking a nap because I certainly didn’t come through Dallas to sleep. But I knew I wouldn’t be any fun without proper rest. 

We made it to Kristen and Charles’ apartment, ate delicious fro-yo (frozen yogurt), checked out the Love Sac store in Stonebriar mall, then the Nebraska furniture Mart. Travis had seen a large fluffy bean bag type chair and thought it would be perfect for me. I informed him that that was a Love Sac and I’d seen them in Dallas. We just wanted to sit in them and ponder what it would be like to have one in our house. The Nebraska furniture Mart was more impressive than Ikea. It had its own parking garage and was certainly twice the size if not more. I recommend not checking out two furniture places in one day…it’s a little overwhelming. I enjoyed sitting in and pouncing on all the soft chairs and beds. But eventually the massage recliner won out, forcing me into its fluffy soft folds. Eventually we left to get pizza and watch Moana. Such a great movie! 

We slept in some Sunday morning before meeting Mary at Buzzbrews, another one of my favorite restaurants. We walked around our Alma mater, the University of Texas at Dallas, bought new sunglasses at REI (I’d left them in Little Rock), shopped at Walmart, explored a free samurai museum, ate delicious Mexican food and cookies. As we spend all afternoon and evening together, I felt relieved. I’d wondered if 2years since the last time I’d seen my friends would make our time together awkward or just out of touch. But we picked up right where our friendship had never changed. We picked up Lacie, Mary’s dog, and went to White Rock lake. So many doggies and puppers!! I loved them all, telling them to send these vibes back to my dog. I watched Mary interact with Lacie, knowing it wasn’t Mary that had done the rescuing of a stray in need of love. We watched the sun set over the lake, taking pictures and making fun of the gen Y’ers next to us that spent all their time smelling their screens, hardly noticing His glorious display behind them. 

We decided to stay all day Monday because we’d been delayed a day and everyone had off work Memorial day. Kristen, Travis and I went to the ft Worth stockyards and Billy Bob’s just to see it. The stockyards smelled great, with wafts of cow mingling with steak and fries. We became tourists and meandered through many knick knack shops. The cattle drive was only about 60seconds long. I had come before for a parade apparently and remembered it wrong. We spotted Blue Bell ice cream and dove in. We made our way to Billy Bob’s, the world’s largest honky tonk. It was hot by the time we got back to the car so we put the fort Worth water gardens into the GPS. The first fountain was okay and it didn’t inspire great expectation for the others. However, we approached the second one and it stunned us. This one you were able to walk down​ into on cement floating blocks. The roar of the water once we descended was too great to even hear each other speak. Descending and ascending was a little difficult with so many people and kids everywhere. I stood at the bottom smiling for a picture with Kristen; it didn’t even seem like we were in Texas at the moment with waterfalls surrounding us and trees above. Next we climbed the dry “mountain.” It was a bunch of cement blocks rising up above. We spotted another water design so we raced down to it. It was a quiet reflection pool with walls overflowing with water. It didn’t take long for us to get our feet wet and start playing in the water. The kids around us got in and tried not to get their clothes wet. Soon they were splashing and swimming. 

We headed back to Dallas to pack and maybe get together with another friend Liz. After we got out laundry started, Travis and I headed to dinner with Liz and Caleb. It was a short time filled with laughter. I was so glad to have stayed another day than planned so I could see Liz. I left Texas about 5years ago and it’s been hard to maintain friendships. It was so wonderful that I got to see my best buddies from college again and catch up, reminsce about old times and make new memories. 

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Jehovah Jireh

Sputter, sputter, bleh. 

My mom’s 2013 Subaru Forester said no at the red light leaving Hot springs national park. We stared at the dash, trying to restart the vehicle, but nothing. Traffic flowed haltingly around us

The ride to Asheville, NC was uneventful. As we exited the interstate to our home for the night, an enormous motorcycle brigade passed before us. After about 600 bikes (no joke) roared by, it was our turn to go right. We came upon a Harley Davidson dealership filled with all the biker people. It looked like a military/veteran bike rally. Driving 5 more minutes put us climbing into a beautiful neighborhood with large forested yards. Our friends of friends for our first night of our adventure were incredibly gracious.  We unpacked what we needed for the evening, joined our hosts for some leftovers, cooked chicken alfredo, and sorted through the vast movie collection. Travis hasn’t seen The Sound of Music and I haven’t seen Les Miserables. I put it to Facebook but didn’t come to a consensus quickly so we went with Tangled. 

Up early, we continued our voyage down I-40. The rain came down in sheets at times and then periods of bright sun. I was super glad I wasn’t driving because I’d be the driver that slowed to 20mph in the rain. We crossed the Mississippi River, ogling at the fact that it was way flooded. The next few hours gave way to much of the same, flooded out farms, with tree tops as bushes. The phones gps routed us away from a backup which brought out both of our cheerleader sides. GPS said our first freecampsites.net site was only 2 miles off the interstate. It was my first find in our country’s free camping land and I was anxious to see if what the internet had said was true. We declined the first grass/dirt road but found an alternate road that was fully paved and voila! A designated campsite sign! There were gravel pullouts big enough for trailers to circle on both sides of the road with a water spigot. We set up our tents in the grass, ate our leftover chicken alfredo with garlic Ritz crackers and relaxed on our buckets. We laughed, God is so good! This site turned out perfect. It was setting the standard high though I knew we would come across much less savory sleeping places. The rain had brought the temperature down, way down so I got a little chilly overnight. A van pulled in just before nightfall, parking on the other side of the road. 

The sun rose, illuminating the rising steam from the field across the way. I had a no sugar added chocolate breakfast essentials drink and a chocolate banana bread oatmeal square. Travis had French vanilla breakfast essentials with chocolate chip oatmeal bars. In less than 5minutes in the car, we were cruising to Hot Springs National Park. I’d been been to it before with my family and enjoyed the architecture and history. We found free parking and free restrooms (high priority there) and meandered along bathhouse row. We decided hiking first before it got too hot would be our best plan of action. We followed an assortment of trails to the Watchtower which unfortunately, cost $8/person to go up. My attitude turned sassy because the guy at the visitor center that we’d asked about all the trails and sights hadn’t mentioned that fact after suggesting this trail. Travis turned my attention to finding our first patch, what we’d decided on collecting from all the national parks on our trip. We purchased a cute bear in a bathtub patch and found the free pagoda with a view. After taking pictures, we skipped back to bathhouse row and took the free self guided tour or the main bathhouse. It was neat seeing the immense amount of marble they used for their baths. By this time we were hungry and we walked out the front doors which was conveniently right in front of a sweets shop. Never go in a candy store when you’re hungry…just…don’t. After salivating over every baked good, we settled on a cookie sandwich. There was a hideaway space to eat our treasure, tucked among the shops that had plenty of benches and a small waterfall. We hurried back to the car, not wanting to depart with any more of our money in this town, especially because we had lunch in the car. We plugged in my friend’s address in Plano (yay!) and left the park. 

Sputter, sputter, bleh. 

A cop showed up to help us get our car safely out of the road and into a gas station parking lot. Cue the process of calling my mom (car owner) and the insurance company to figure out what to do. My parents and I discussed car part, car parts, car parted. I don’t know what thise words are. After Travis spent some time on the phone with insurance, we had a wait time of 40minutes for a local company to tow us to the Subaru dealership as the car is still under warranty. I wasn’t too stressed, even as we were sitting in front of a sketchy gas station. Sketchy people offered help in way of a jump, but we didn’t think that was the issue. Slowly, our tiny piece of shade disappeared, leaving us to stand in the 80degree sun. I was trying not to get frustrated that we were stranded at a sketchy place with a bathroom with no toilet paper and poo splash on the toilet seat. The tow truck finally arrives, almost an hour past our wait estimate of 40minutes. The guy is affable and him and Travis chat about life as we very bouncily return to Little Rock. Subaru doesn’t quite know where to put our car because they are backed up, but they make me and Travis feel confident in their ability to help us. We’ve both been to less than helpful dealerships and this place was fantastic. They immediately offered us a loaner car and assure us they will look at it first thing in the morning. We start loading what we think we need for the night into a 2017 Subaru Forester. I’m stressing, trying not to be sad that I’m not with my dallas friends and not wanting to find a place to spend the night. We debate about going back to the place we slept last night which was great but an hour away. I text a friend from home that’s from Arkansas that might know somebody. This might be tmi, but I was on my period. Long car rides, hiking and camping aren’t the best experience. I wanted to sleep in air conditioning and I wanted a shower. I was practically in tears as Travis suggested we cool off with some ice cream. As we drove off to Sonic, we discovered the loaner had an excellent sound system. We were the thump thump car sitting at Sonic eating our milkshakes. Our friend had success finding friends that could offer us a couch or floor space. 5minutes away! My jaw dropped, Travis laughed, my eyes moistened, God is so good! He was providing a way when I thought we were heading into a stressful and unfun situation. We cranked up the music and felt the beat in our chests. I put my toes on my door speaker and they bounced. 

“Oh no, you never let go, through the calm and through the storm. oh no, You never let go, every high and every low!” 

Our hosts were amazingly hospitable. They were inviting a couple of their friends over to learn how to cook pot stickers. We set our tents out to dry and sat and mostly watched this process. There’s no way I would ever put that much time into making a food. They ground up carrots and spinach to add to the flour for coloring. Next was rolling out the dough into miniature circles to put a dollup in of pork, cabbage, shrimp or mushrooms. Soup was simmering on the stove as I tried not to fall asleep at the kitchen table. At 9pm, dinner was set spectacularly on the table, the colorful pot stickers arranged in patterns on their serving platters. Such amazing flavors! Then shower and bed. As I stretched out across the bed, clean and refreshed, I recounted the day’s events. 

Jehovah Jireh! God will provide, God has provided. God is good y’all. He cares for me! The simplest of details, a shower complete with soap and shampoo! A soft bed with soft sheets and a memory foam pillow. (I really like really soft things). A car with a sound system to belt out His praises. Wonderful people to encourage us on our journey. These aren’t coincidences or lucky right place in the right time happenings. This is God, caring for us. 

Our hosts departed for work, Subaru called and said everything would be done by noon. Travis found an adorable little park, Old Mill Park, to explore. It was charming, something I’ve only seen in all the puzzles I’ve put together. At noon, we completed paperwork and got back on he road to Dallas by one! 

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My eyes leaked a little today

Just like the sky this morning.
Almost two years ago, just after my farewell party for my European adventure, a guy texted me, “Maybe would you like for me to maybe join and your dog for a walk at oak grove lake maybe? Later that day I answered with as much sass as my little dumb phone would allow me, “Maybe.”
As we walked around the lake, I got the feeling he kinda liked me. But I just wanted someone to distract me so I wouldn’t bawl like a baby at my last walk with my dog for a while. 

Now, I’m taking him with me on a national park tour across America. For the first time, I have a human adventure buddy! We will be driving through the south to San Francisco, up to WA where we’ll poof home after Yellowstone. This is a different kind of adventure than I normally take, in a car, with someone else. I pray my feet enjoy the faster lower miles (I’ll still be day hiking!) and my heart enjoys the companionship. 
Again, I walked my dog around the lake, trying not to cry but failing this time. She’ll be looked after by family and friends, but still I’ll worry when there’s a thunderstorm or fireworks. 

I’m excited to traverse across my country, in awe of God’s magnificent landscape.

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So, Why?

So why did I come to Europe? Why is my blog name kraezfernweh? Why am I not liking it or having as much fun as I thought? Why is traveling and all these new amazing experiences so difficult for me?Well, let’s start with the easy question. My blog name is two different words. Kraez is a nickname I got in college after I got a little crazy on a sugar high from eating a chocolate treat and a chocolate shake. It’s a play on my first and middle names, Kelly Rae. Fernweh is a German word for homesick, a longing for a place you’ve never been, at least according to Pinterest. I thought the two sounded good together and WordPress said all my other ideas were taken already. 

I came to Europe to try to get rid of anxiety. I had hiked the Appalachian trail and through hiking, God had healed me of depression. I wanted the same thing for anxiety. I struggled with depression for much of my high school, college and adult life, at times pretty severe. I resisted getting professional help, thinking that counseling was silly and refusing to experiment with antidepressants which could have all sorts of side effects, most of which I didn’t want to mess around with. I do not think antidepressants are wrong to take; I just knew that they weren’t for me. 

Then, some bad stuff happened to me in college in Texas, parts of it from within the Christian community I’d become a part of. I remained calm, determined, and fearless, enough to finish my degree. I still struggled with my health and a cough that wouldn’t go away. I went to the ER when I couldn’t breathe and was dismissed with a diagnosis of panic attack. I laughed at that, thinking how wrong they were, that it must be allergies or something. Oh how wrong I was. Fast forward a bit, to when a guy at a church event complimented me. I couldn’t breathe, I was sweating and my hands were shaking so hard I could hardly hold onto my plate of food. I would later realize this was my first panic attack. As time went by, normal things got hard. Grocery shopping became incredibly difficult. I couldn’t decide between vanilla or strawberry yogurt. My brain would freeze and just not make a decision. I would usually end up not deciding and just walking out. As I tried to find a job, moved back home to where I had no community, things got worse. I had trouble sleeping at night and could only sleep as the sun broke across the horizon. It was difficult to make any decision in a reasonable amount of time, what to wear, to eat, how to compose emails, whether to go left at that green light, etc. I found two churches that I liked and tried to get involved but I was too weak to do anything but sit there. I bought a dog and she quickly became my best friend, needing me to get out of bed in the morning to feed her and walk her. 

I decided to thruhike the Appalachian trail and it was the second most greatest decision of my life. The first being to follow Jesus. I believe I was healed of depression the instant I set foot on that Trail. I had one goal, to reach Mt Katahdin. This was easy to focus on and while it required great physical and mental strength, it was also quite simple to walk north through the wooded mountains. I finished feeling quite accomplished but knew life after trail would be difficult. It didn’t take long for the endorphins to wear off and for my troubles to come back tenfold. I had trouble getting used to society and civilization and my anxiety made it worse. I got a part time job doing cashiering and packaging at a UPS store. Trying to work more than 28hours a week absolutely exhausted me, to the point where I couldn’t even chew the food my mom had cooked for me. My arms and legs would feel like lead, too heavy to move. My neck would feel like it could no longer support my head. Going to church every Sunday made me shake so much I couldn’t breathe. Going to small group bible studies made me shake so hard I couldn’t speak. The place where I should’ve felt safest I felt terrified of. It got worse, I would shake so hard and have trouble breathing, I didn’t feel safe driving, making myself late to social events, making the anxiety even worse. I would try to be me, but would be unable to speak, leaving people bewildered. 

I refuse to live like this anymore. I refuse to be silent. I struggle with (social) anxiety and PTSD like symptoms. When I get a panic attack, I shake (unnoticeable to most unless you are touching me), I can’t speak or have trouble forming sentences, I can’t make decisions, and I have trouble catching my breath. Please don’t tell me to just breathe or calm down. It’s not that easy. I don’t know what I want you to do. I don’t always have panic attacks but I do still feel anxious most of the time. I feel like I’m fighting with my body, against my body and mind most of the time. I know I should learn to work with my body in harmony, but that still looks like a fight. I know it’s irrational. It doesn’t make sense. 

Traveling helps. It forces me to live in the uncomfort every minute. I must make a choice or risk losing much more. I have no choice but to meet people, in hostels, tours, and restaurants. I meet some amazing wonderful people, some friends for life. There are times when it’s just too much and I stand on the street corner and tears flood my cheeks. I back up into the walk of the nearest building and pray. God, fight this for me! I have no idea where I am or how to get to food, shelter or smiles. Traveling solo is difficult. Traveling solo dealing with anxiety is insane. I’m glad I came across the oceans, trust without borders. 

The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14

Hug me.

Pray with me. 

Cry with me. 

Walk with me. 

Do messy with me.

Eat with me.

Laugh with me.

Be alone with me. 

Fight with me. 

Be still with me. 

This doesn’t quite articulate all that I want or need to say but it comes close. I write this at 4am as I’m about to get on a plane to home after almost 3months of traveling so it might be more rambling word vomit than inspiring or thought provoking but that’s all I got. 

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Enjoyable Echternach

Tuesday July 28I hadn’t set an alarm because I wanted to sleep in and enjoy waking up on my tent. The morning sun didn’t quite hit me as I hoped but it was close. It was pretty chilly so it was a little stretch to get up and out. I boiled up some hot water for my oatmeal to go and took my time getting ready. The tourist office didn’t open until 10 anyway. I went down to reception and went ahead and paid for two nights. I headed to the city center just past 10 and found it much easier to navigate when I wasn’t frustrated and hungry. The office lady gave me a small map of the town and paths but only pointed out one 12km loop trail. She said it was the best day hike in the region. I wandered into the cathedral next door before setting out to find the beginning of this trail. 

The beginning of this trail was also the beginning of many other paths, including a camino with the yellow shell marker. I started up the trail and immediately climbed straight up for half an hour. I stopped and looked back and there was quite a view! I could look out over the town and the surrounding hillsides because I’d climbed up so quickly. I spotted a wooden structure at the very top and hiked just a few more minutes. It was a large gazebo, complete with benches inside. I’d only been hiking for maybe 45minutes but it was around noon/lunchtime and this place just demanded a break. I pulled out a granola bar and began munching away as more people hiked up. No one seemed as interested in the gazebo as I was. I hiked on after eating a bit and wandered through amazingly beautiful forests. There were cliffs next to me and the trees were just perfectly placed all around. I rounded the corner and started descending very steeply into a gorge with high rock faces on either side. I came to an intersection where the trail went straight but it looked like there were trails up to lookouts on either side. I took the one to the left first, climbing many uneven slippery rock stairs before reaching the top. I could look down into the gorge and out across the surrounding areas. There were benches and many worn areas where it looked like people had camped. There was a mother and father chasing their two little boys around on the top. They climbed up here for lunch and the kids looked like they were having a blast. The cliffs were well fenced in all along the top. I could walk on top the cliff looking down at the trail I came in on. I clambered slowly back down the steep stairs I came up and climbed the stairs going to the right. This lookout was much smaller but had a bridge to another cliff island that was pretty cool. There was a troop of young adults that passed by, all grumbling and not very happy, each carrying large heavy packs. None of them stopped to look at either view, just bypassing it without even a picture from the center of the gorge. I was sad they didn’t stop. It really was quite fantastic up here and nothing is meant to be hiked through fast without looking around. I continued on a few minutes after they had passed, walking through some amazing rock formations, all covered in ferns and hanging vines. The rocks had been worn by the wind and rain and had pretty neat textures. It looked like a magical place with the ferns and vines combining to create an incredible aura. I stopped every so often just to stand still, in awe of my surroundings, slowly spinning around in circle. Everywhere my eyes landed was God’s perfect beauty. I passed a picnic shelter with a group of older people. They were all laughing and having a great time. I figured they’d get up and walk on but they all walked to the bus that was parked within eyesight. Well at least they were enjoying nature somewhat. I hiked on, not coming upon anyone for quite awhile. Then I could hear voices and laughter. I couldn’t see them but I could see where they would be. There was a giant rock face looming out over the trail and below it was a cave. This cave had a piece of rock all the way to the ground so you could walk under and around it. The group was sitting in the cave, their now joyful voices mingling and echoing throughout. I felt like this whole area was an incredible secret that Luxembourg kept for the special few. I came upon a sign to go to Berdorf or to continue on my trail. I’d heard that Berdorf was a cute little Swiss town with many shops and restaurants. I could go for an ice cream and it was only 2km there. I headed that way, making sure I remembered which way my correct path went. Soon I left the forest and started walking through fields of wheat and corn, with the occasional colorful poppy. I entered the town and was still able to follow the trail signs but I saw no shops or restaurants, just houses. I kept going but the houses got fewer and fewer. There’d been a turn off but I could easily see that was a highway through more fields. There was a gazebo where the young adult group was gathering. I saw a bar/pub but it only served drinks. Aha! I spotted an ice cream cone on that gate. My pace quickened and soon I was at the door, thinking about what flavors they would be. I pulled and pushed the door but it was locked. It was 2pm on a Tuesday and they were closed. Wow, I’d had such high hopes for this town and the picture of the smiley happy ice cream cone. I sighed and started walking back through the baking hot corn fields, back into the woods. I found my sign and began the way back. This wasn’t through the cliffs or gorge but at least it was beautiful forest with a gently sloping dirt path. 

I got back to town and still wanted a small something to eat so I found a bakery an ordered a cream filled glazed donut. Or what I thought was a cream filled donut. I sat down to eat and was given a fork and knife so I cut into it and took a bite. Mm yummy. I could just barely see the custard now so I cut into that and took another bite. Bleck!! What was that?! It tasted like hard boiled egg. I cut into the donut and tasted more. Yepp, that was egg filling my donut. I stared at it in wonder and disgust. It was glazed with a pretty chocolate drizzle on top. Fluffy. Round. Donut looking. But it was not a donut. I ate the outside, the sweet bread that had glaze but no egg with it. I walked away wanting more, completely unsatisfied with my little (mis)treat. I remembered seeing an ice cream shop but had trouble finding it so I went back to the tourism office to ask. They pointed me in the right direction, probably wondering how anybody could get lost in a town that had maybe 5 roads. Finally, I held in my hand an ice cream cone with hazelnut and caramel flavors. I sat on the steps in the square to polish off my cold deliciousness and just sat there watching people.

I meandered back to my campsite, this time looking in all the shops. I entered one an I thought it was just purses and magnets but at the back I spotted shelves and shelves of puzzles. It started with 100 piece puzzles and went all the way up to 5000! They were all Ravensburger brand. I picked one up and it said authentically made in Ravensburg, Germany. Oh wow, I must go research where that is! I would love to go to the home of the worlds best puzzles! I’d happened upon the Black Forest in Germany as being the home of the cuckoo clock. 

I got back to my tent, set my stuff down and began researching this puzzle city. Turns out it is directly between the Black Forest and Munich. Hmm, my mind started to race ahead of me. I’d like to go but I don’t know if I could fit it in. I’d had to sign up for a specific date to start the European Peace Walk from Vienna and then made reservations for two nights in the hostel in Vienna beginning August 2. It was the first time I’d had a set deadline for time and I was struggling with it. My moms friends friend in the Black Forest area was proving hard to get in contact with. I’d emailed my moms friend and received the contact info for the lady but wasn’t able to call, text, or email. The wifi at the campground was spotty so I tried using my data but that didn’t work. I should’ve been able to make a phone call or text by that wasn’t working either. I tried for several hours, getting more frustrated each minute. I was hoping to leave Echternach on the early bus out to Luxembourg city then down to the Black Forest. From Lux I could go either to Strasbourg, France then across to Freiburg which took pretty much all day or to a city in Germany north of Freiburg but that was way more expensive. I didn’t want to spend the whole day on a train/bus but also didn’t want to shell out big bucks to move a few hundred kilometers. And if course this all depended on if I was able to get in touch with the lady and stay with her or not. I wanted to hike a day and go to Triberg, home of the cuckoo clocks and this lady was right in the middle. I went back up to my tent and started to make dinner. I just wanted to see just a few things while I was in Germany because I only had a couple days to spend. I ate my pasta and thought hard but came up with nothing. I hunkered down in the lounge room as it got cold out and continued to plan. Nothing was coming together and my phone service I’d bought wasn’t working. I couldn’t leave the wifi with no plans if my service didn’t work. I starting shaking, partly from the cold, partly from the anxiety. I was trying not to fret, knowing that it would all come together but this was maddening. I just needed three more days then I’d be in Vienna and on my way down a long distance trail. I finally got the email out but it was past 9pm asking if I could stay there the next day so it probably wouldn’t work out. I wasn’t able to see a whole lot of timetables for trains and buses so I didn’t know how to from here to there. Eventually I went out into the cold and got into my sleeping bag just before midnight, not having a clue as to what I was doing the next day. 

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