Travel Dreams: Summer 2014

I have frequently discussed dreams and goals on the blog recently, mostly related to moving to Oregon. I am incredibly grateful to see that dream becoming a reality. As much as I am enjoying the process, even the packing part (I have gotten rid of so much stuff!), it has come at the temporary expense of another important part of my life – travel. And that is okay. Sometimes one area of your life takes precedence over another. That does not mean I have not been thinking about travel, however. If I cannot actually go somewhere, the next best thing is planning to go somewhere. So, today I am thinking, and thus writing, about the top places “on my list.” In no particular order, they are:

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1. Peru: If you have been reading my blog at all, you know this is one of the next big trips I would love to experience. In fact, I have a tentative date set for the fall of 2015. Of course, that will partly depend on finances and available time off, both of which I will have a better sense of once I begin my new job (in Oregon!!). Because this will likely be my first solo trip outside of the US, I plan to join a small group tour such as those offered by G Adventures and Wilderness Travel.  I am so excited to see how this particular trip comes together over the next few months.

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Eiffel Tower

2. France: And by France, I mostly mean Paris, although I would also love to spend some time in Provence. This may seem like an odd choice as a place to travel alone. Paris is, after all, the city of love. However, I cannot help but get excited about perusing the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay at my leisure, which is inevitably longer than anyone else I would travel with could possibly enjoy. I think about having a quiet picnic next to the Seine or in one of Paris’s many parks. I dream about strolling the streets of Paris or sitting in a cafe alternately reading a book and people watching. All of that sounds pretty amazing to me with no travel partner needed.

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3. Caribbean Cruise: This dream gets at my current desire to have a low stress, beachy vacation. Cruising is great when you do not feel like doing much planning and between a trip to Peru and a trip to France, I might be a bit tired of planning (if that’s even possible). Considering that this could be another solo trip, I will probably look at cruises with Norwegian or Royal Caribbean, both of whom offer cabins for singles on certain ships. Norwegian even has a lounge solely for people booked in single cabins. I have cruised in Alaska and the Mediterranean, but not the Caribbean, so this sounds like the perfect balance of relaxation, fun, and something new.

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4. China: Sometimes travel is about taking advantage of opportunities. In this case, two of my best friends are currently living in China. It only makes sense for me to make a trip there sometime in the near future. Although I will hopefully get to see some of the iconic sites of China, like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, I will also have the less typical experience of seeing firsthand what it’s like to live in China as I spend time with my friends. It is also the perfect opportunity to make not-funny-at-the-time memories. Given my propensity for getting lost, China seems like quite a likely place for that to happen. I promise to share the details.

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5. Arkansas: Obviously, Arkansas is “home,” so there is nothing particularly new or adventurous about going there. But that’s where my family is and with the move to Oregon, I am sure that many future trips will be to this place. And I am more than okay with that. A chance to see the people I love and the beauty of “The Natural State” is a hard to beat combination.

These are just a few of the travel goals I have floating around in my head at the moment, although I feel like this list is always changing. Who knows when each of these trips will actually happen, but it never hurts to consider the possibilities! What about you – any particular travel plans or dreams?

A Tennessee Weekend: Sunday Hike

And I’m back to (finally) wrap up the series of posts about my (now not so) recent trip to Tennessee. If you want to read any of the previous posts, they are:

A Tennessee Weekend: An Introduction

A Tennessee Weekend: Reunion

A Tennessee Weekend: Saturday Adventures

Rarely in life is anything truly perfect. I think that is a good thing. At least for myself, I know that if the great and wonderful moments in life were not frequently tinged with imperfection or followed by things less wonderful, then I would spend too much time looking back, wishing to return to that “perfect” moment or day or time rather than living in the present. That is a reality that I appreciate even more as I continue to learn how to fully live in and experience the present, whatever it may be. However, there are a handful of times in my life that I would consider to have attained that elusive perfection – meals or hours or sometimes even days where life was, simply put, transcendent.

My weekend in Tennessee was one of those times. It is no surprise, then, that Shannon and I found the ideal way to end an already remarkable weekend. Sunday afternoon we drove to South Cumberland State Park. About an hour from Murfreesboro, the park was worth every second of the drive. Of course, we could not begin the drive without the necessary supplies, which in this case were coffee and CDs from our freshman year in college.

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Two songs in and we were suddenly transported to the many previous car trips that had occurred with the same soundtrack.

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Between the coffee and the music, which prompted countless “do you remember whens” and seemingly endless laughter, the drive to the park passed quickly. It didn’t hurt that the scenery was beautiful, either.

Our first stop was the visitors center, where the helpful lady at the desk gave us various information about hiking recommendations and sites we could see.

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Given that the reason we had chosen this park was that it was on a list of “Best Waterfall Hikes Near Nashville,” seeing a waterfall was kind of a goal. She also provided us with this lovely and not exactly to scale map.

The highly technical map of the park
The highly technical map of the park

We only got turned around once, so I would say it was an effective map despite its rather rustic initial appearance.

Shannon and I thoroughly enjoyed our hike. We chose to hike the 2-mile Grundy Forest Day Loop and part of the Fiery Gizzard Trail (at around 13 miles one-way, this is a common hike for overnight hikers) to get to Sycamore Falls. At a little over 3 miles, it was a perfect afternoon hike. Although on any day South Cumberland State Park would be a wonderful place to be, and I highly recommend it (plus, unlike state parks in Texas, it’s free; totally worth a hand drawn map instead of a glossy brochure), on the day we were there it was particularly magical. The temperature was perfect and the light, oh the light. It was like we entered another world – one with waterfalls and trees and a light that made everything glow beautifully as it filtered through the trees. Sadly, the exquisite luminosity was impossible to capture in a photograph. But the experience was enchanting and only added to the already perfect weekend.

I'm ready to go...
I’m ready to go…

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We kept trying to get a cute picture together. This was the best we could do. Shannon looks cute, but I’m not sure what’s happening with my face.

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We of course could not leave without seeing Foster Falls. Not having time to hike down to the falls (another day…) we contented ourselves with watching a bit of the sunset from the observation deck. Even from a distance, it was breathtaking.

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Again, I can highly recommend a visit to South Cumberland State Park. Although we did a relatively short hike,  there are longer, more challenging trails designed for overnight hikers. There is also an area that is supposed to be excellent for experienced rock climbing. If we had thought to wear swimming suits, many of the areas below the various waterfalls make excellent swimming holes. I could imagine that being lovely later in the summer or on a hotter day.

By this point, Shannon and I were hungry. We had asked for local recommendations from the friendly lady at the visitors center earlier in the day. Her top choice was the, hopefully not too aptly named, Gizzard Grill.

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Although they did, in fact, serve gizzards, thankfully their menu did offer some variety. One of my (flexibly applied) rules for life is that hiking deserves a hamburger and french fries. After hiking is just about the only time I eat such a meal, which is probably somewhat ironic. I am so glad I decided to splurge after this hike; I had one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. It had all the necessary basics for a quality hamburger, but the toppings took it to the nothing-short-of-amazing level.

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There were candied jalapeños. Candied jalapeños! 

Enjoying a really good meal in the middle of a random small town in Tennessee just added more charm to the weekend.

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As we headed back to Murfreesboro, somewhat more subdued than earlier in the day, we reflected on the weekend and our friendship. Later that evening and early into the next morning, we would continue to reminisce while looking through old scrapbooks instead of sleeping. Times like this weekend are rare gifts. So often, our friendship is characterized by hurried text messages and brief Facebook interactions. We do not often take time for a phone call (and, seriously, we both hate talking on the phone), but we look forward to the times when we can be together. We have lived and celebrated and grieved together, we have loved and supported one another just as we have been frustrated with and hurt by one another. Nothing in life, not even the best of friendships, is without its flaws. But, every once in a while, there exists a fleetingly perfect moment or day or time and this weekend with this friend was absolutely, unquestionably perfect.

It’s Really Happening…

Okay, so I know that I promised to finish writing about my trip to Tennessee, which I will. But last week, something happened. And that something is…

…I got a job in Oregon! Almost exactly six months after my last-minute, first-time trip to Oregon, I will be moving halfway across the country to start a life in Oregon. In Oregon! In six weeks, give or take a couple of days, I will be leaving Texas and driving to my beautiful new home. How crazy and wonderful is that?! That being said, my blog has taken a bit of a backseat. I have had a few minor details to address such as how to get all my stuff from Texas all 2000+ miles away to Oregon. And where on earth I’m going to live when I get there. So perhaps I may not have quite as much time to write. I promise to make up for it by writing about all the awesome stuff I do when I get there!

I’m not someone who believes that one can do “anything they set their mind to.” For instance, even with utmost determination and perseverance, I would never, ever be a basketball player. Anyone who has ever seen me attempt to play basketball can attest to that. That is, if they can interrupt their laughter at the memory of said attempts long enough to provide a description. However, I do believe that there is much that can be accomplished with a dream, concerted effort, and the support of loved ones. I am so fortunate to be able to live out this dream and am excited to see what is next down this road.

Freedom and The Road Less Travelled

I spent the Fourth of July weekend in Arkansas with family and friends. As I made the drive from Texas to Arkansas and back, I had plenty of time to think. As I considered the holiday, I became thoughtful about freedom and what it means to me. Unsurprisingly, my thoughts quickly landed on the freedom to travel and how grateful I am that my life includes the opportunity to go to new places and have novel experiences. Sure, there are a limited number of places that I, as a single woman, am unlikely to go, but there are abundantly more places on this earth to which I can go without hesitation.

Out of curiosity, I searched for “women travel pioneers” and found this list on Wikipedia. What an inspirational group of women! I may not have aspirations to be the “first” woman to do something or to set any records, but reading about the lives of these women inspires me to take full advantage of the freedom to travel for which they paved the way. These women, and others, accomplished the seemingly impossible, overcoming cultural norms and gender barriers to fly airplanes and climb mountains and document in black and white photographs their journeys to unfamiliar and sometimes dangerous places. As a result, no one (except perhaps my parents) thinks twice when I mention that I want to go to Peru next year on my own. There is no reason why, if I so desire, I cannot simply hop in my car for a last-minute road trip this weekend. However, I am also mindful that this freedom is not one afforded to women everywhere and that I am fortunate to live in a country where women have the same rights as men. The freedom and ability to travel, especially as a woman, is something I do not want to take for granted.

How do I honor the legacy of these courageous woman and the freedom I have to travel? For me, it begins with the act of actually traveling – taking advantage of every opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone to learn about other people and cultures in order to broaden my own understanding of the world and myself.

But more than that, it is about the willingness to embrace the unknown and the unexpected in my day-to-day life. I am at a crossroads in my life with possibilities stretching out in front of me in every direction. Although there have been other times in my life when I have made important decisions, such as where I wanted to go to college and who I wanted to marry, these decisions were generally in line with a predetermined pattern, one that looked strikingly similar to the lives of those around me. There were only rare moments of uncertainty and doubt. It is so tempting to go back to this path because it is paved with familiarity. But now I can also see other roads, enticing, yet certain to contain the unexpected and perhaps the unconventional. As I consider what is next for me, I want to choose “the road less travelled” despite the fear and uncertainty.  Because by accepting the inevitable uncertainty along a new path, I give myself possibilities and hope, hope that, by making different choices than the ones I have made before, I can have a different kind of life. Yes, a life with heartbreak and pain and bad days just like any other, but the opportunity to live those days amid the good kind of days of my choosing. Days filled with beauty and friendship and, of course, travel. So that is how I want to use my freedom – walking down a road to the unknown with trepidation, anticipation, and hope because that road leads me to where I want to go, not just where I have been.

The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have. – Anna Quindlen

I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it. – Rosalia de Castro

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. – JRR Tolkien

I will be back next week to wrap up my recent trip to Tennessee. In the meantime, I am curious about your thoughts on travel and freedom. Please share! Also, if you want to ensure that you never miss a post, you can subscribe to my blog using the box on the right.