A Year in (Financial) Review: 2017 by the Numbers

So let’s get reeaaalllly personal for a sec. Let’s talk about money. Specifically just how much money I spent on travel in 2017. I began tracking this partly due to my own curiosity – although I generally budget carefully prior to taking a trip, I take a relatively relaxed approach while on vacation, so I’ve never paid more attention than to know that I stay close enough to my budget to count. Secondly, sometimes this level of detail could be helpful to those considering planning their own vacation. If money talk isn’t your thing, you may want to skip this post. If it is (or if you’re just curious) read on!

In this total, I am including all major trips and weekend getaways that I took in 2017. What I did not include is our many camping trips, even those that felt more like vacations. Mostly because the mountain air distracted me from my cell phone enough that I forgot to keep track. Overall, our spending on camping trips was minimal due to most campsites being inexpensive (ranging from no cost to $31 a night on the very high end) and most camp activities being on the cheap (read: free) side. However, camping was the vast majority of the travel and weekend getaways we did over the summer. I also did not include the out of town conferences I attended. Because those were not paid for by me. Other than those oversights, I think the list below is comprehensive. Also note, for most of my travels, expenses were shared with Brandon, so I’m documenting what I actually spent, not the total cost of the trips.

California

Transportation (aka gas money): $40

Lodging: $125 for a hotel on the way to Cali. Brandon paid for the VRBO where we stayed for the weekend.

Food and Drinks: $150 with additional meals paid for by Brandon

Tours and Activities: $32

Total: $367 for an elegant weekend in California wine country

Portland Weekend

Transportation: $41.26 for gas, valet parking, and an Uber

Lodging: $143 for one night at a chic hotel

Food and Drinks: $105.84 (I didn’t track this, but Brandon probably spent about this much for our “fancy” dinner out in Portland)

Tours and Activities: $11.45 for a couple of books from Powell’s; the thrill I got from longingly exploring the bookstore? Priceless!

Total: $301.55 for a fun weekend away from small town life

Arkansas

Transportation: $845.69 for flights, a rental car, and gas

Lodging: Free – one of the many great things about visiting friends and family

Food and Drinks: $220.84 spent mostly on coffee, we also enjoyed many amazing home cooked meals

Tours and Activities: Despite being free, time with friends and family is invaluable

Total: $1066.53 for Easter weekend with my favorite people

Jamaica

For this trip, I actually tracked both my expenses and Brandon’s, so I’ll provide both. Just because I can.

Transportation: $373.92 for me – taxes and fees for the flights (which were booked with airline miles) and airport parking; $405 for Brandon – mostly transportation while in Jamaica, including to and from the airport and our driver for the day we went to the south part of the island

Lodging: $623.73 – I paid the deposit for Rockhouse and paid for a hotel in San Francisco so we could get some sleep after arriving back around midnight and not having a flight home until later the next morning; $650 – Brandon paid the remaining Rockhouse balance

Food and Drinks (please don’t judge…): $585 for me; $738 for Brandon; I don’t think either of us have any regrets – so. much. lobster.

Tours and Activities: $306 for me, including some relaxing spa time; $288 for Brandon

Other: $413 for me – a trip like this had some extra stuff, like yellow fever vaccines, but this also includes souvenirs, travel insurance, and dog sitting; $255 for my love, whose insurance, unlike mine, did not cover the $225 vaccine…

Total: $2301.65 for me and $2336 for Brandon for an amazing, life changing, magical week in paradise (side note, our plan for splitting expenses apparently worked perfectly – Brandon brought cash and used his credit card at the hotel and I covered any and all other expenses that could be paid for with a credit card)

Wedding Dress Weekend

Transportation: About $25 – expenses for gas and valet parking were split between myself and 3 sweet friends

Lodging: $65 – not a bad per person price for a gorgeous and roomy suite in a fancy hotel

Food: Maybe $150, I didn’t track this particularly well, but we had some amazing meals

Tours and Activities: If I don’t include the $1300 I spent on a wedding dress, wedding dress shopping was pretty much a free activity 😉

Total: $240 for a super fun women’s weekend finding the most beautiful wedding dress that has ever existed

Grand Total (not including camping trips and conferences): $4276.63

Of course, these are just the broad categories. If there are specific things you’re curious about, for instance the cost of a certain hotel or tour, I’m happy to share! I will confess, this was interesting for me to calculate. And if I’m being honest, I feel like I actually  spent less than I thought I had. I know this is still a lot of money, but traveling, at least for now, is a priority in my life and something I choose to spend my money on over other things. I can’t think of a single trip or experience I would change from 2017 and I am incredibly excited about my travel plans for 2018!

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Rick’s Cafe

If you’ve seen any picture of Negril, it is probably this: levels of white stone balconies connected by stairs, a crowd of people with brightly colored drinks in hand, all against the backdrop of an unbelievable Jamaican sunset. It just looks like a good time, the place to be. And really, it is. On any list of things to do in Negril, sunset at Rick’s Cafe is near the top. There are countless tours and booze cruises that make a stop at Rick’s, leading to a revolving door of buzzed, swimsuit clad tourists, dancing along to the live reggae music and taking a dip in the pool, some of whom gather the courage to jump off of the 10 to 35-foot cliffs into the ocean. First opened when Negril was still a sleepy fishing village, Rick’s has become an icon of the west coast.

So, one evening in Jamaica, we made our way to Rick’s. You know, because it’s the thing to do. We opted for the fully clothed, take a taxi from our hotel, no cliff jumping experience. One of the benefits of wearing clothes was that we could enjoy the sunset from the upper deck of the restaurant, providing not only a great view, but also a slightly less chaotic experience.

I’ll be honest, this was probably my least favorite thing that we did in Jamaica. I mean it was fine and I can see how it would be fun for some, but it was really not my thing. It’s the kind of place designed to be experienced while intoxicated, and that’s just not what I do.

Despite that, we found things to enjoy.

Like the reggae music

And Brandon singing along to all the reggae music

And of course the sunset

And the obligatory sunset shots, if primarily for the photo opportunity. I’m pretty sure drinks shouldn’t be this color.

But most of all, the time spent with this guy. With him, even an ordinary night becomes extraordinary.

What’s not to love about that?

 

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: South Coast

After a day relaxing on the beach, we were looking for a bit more excitement as our vacation continued. Neither one of us is so great at doing nothing for more than a day. Plus, I knew if Brandon got bored, he would start annoying me. In that super fun, 5-year-old, pestering kind of way. We needed to add some adventure to our lives. For both our sakes.

We decided to explore the south part of the island, so we hired Fabian as our driver for the day. There was more to see than we could possibly fit in a single day and it was a bit of a drive to get there, so we settled on YS Falls and Pelican Bar as our stops for the day. We also wanted to stop by the Appleton Rum Estate, but we learned it was closed for renovations.

Although, as with Appleton, there were instances when things were not open because it was the off-season, we actually loved being in Jamaica when things were a little slower. We could decide to do something a day or two before, or even last minute, and be able to make arrangements. During the high season, we would have had to do much more pre-booking to ensure that we would be able to do all of our desired tours and activities. That’s not really our style. Our preference is to research (okay, for me to research) all of the things we might like to do, perhaps prebook one or two especially important activities, and then take a relaxed, day-by-day approach once we are on vacation. Jamaica in the off-season was ideal for this. Having a private driver for the day also added to our go with the flow approach – we could choose exactly where we wanted to go and stay there for as long as we wanted. Although there were more affordable day tours to the spots we visited, our day would have been much more structured and, at times, rushed. As it was, we could take our time and create a day that was perfect for us.

One thing that cannot be denied, Jamaica is gorgeous. Like constantly-being-in-awe-can’t-believe-your-eyes gorgeous. Even sitting in the car for a couple of hours is a pleasant experience. That being said, we were pretty excited to get to YS Falls.

Honestly, we did not really know what to expect. We had sort of randomly picked this spot from our list of things to do that we had put together before the trip, but had not looked much beyond that into the specifics. We knew there was a waterfall. And we knew that we would probably get wet.

What we learned is that this property is a farm that has been owned by the same family for several generations. In 1992, the property, and its seven-tiered waterfall, was opened to the public. Although there is still some farm activity related to cattle, the farm no longer produces sugar cane and timber. When we arrived, we paid $19 a person to access the falls and the other attractions. From the main building, we took a short and scenic ride in the tractor-pulled, open-air cart to the site of the falls.

Once at the falls, we had a moment to look around before the guided portion of the tour began.

Pre-waterfall

And then the part we were really not expecting: at the falls, small groups (in our case, our “group” was just the two of us) were led up the falls by a guide who also took photos throughout the climb. I don’t know why I had not considered this given that walking up waterfalls while someone periodically takes pictures of you, specifically at Dunn’s River Falls, is one of Jamaica’s most well-known and popular attractions. Thankfully, I had thought to wear clothes that could easily be slipped on and off over my swimsuit and to bring towels (my favorite beach towels, still holding up after lots of use). I was also glad to be wearing shoes that could get wet, as well (thank you, Chacos). It made climbing up the waterfall a bit more comfortable than it would have been in bare feet.

The walk started off nice and easy, literally just getting our feet wet with the gently cascading falls creating the perfect photo backdrop. Soon, however, we were getting into the first pool. After we posed for pictures at each stop, we had time to enjoy the pleasantly cold water before moving on.

To be honest, the water was shockingly cold at first, but wonderful after we acclimated and as the day got warmer. Although Brandon would have loved to explore on his own, the nice thing about having a guide (other than the pictures, obviously), was that the guide knew where to swim, where to jump, and any areas to avoid.

If you need a laugh, take a good look at the intensely worried look on my face in this moment. I am wonderfully skilled at having fun while also being simultaneously anxious.

There were also two rope swings. Brandon, of course, did the “big” swing. I, on the other hand, was pretty darn proud that I did any swing at all.

Due to safety issues, they do not allow people to go the very top of the falls, but we had as much time as we wanted at the final pool. We could have climbed up the falls again, as well.

Promise there won’t be too many kissing pictures

After tipping our guide, we took some time to explore the rest of the property. And to discuss whether we wanted to do the zipline. This was one reason YS Falls had been on my radar. Brandon enjoys ziplining, but it was something I had never done before. This seemed like the perfect place to do something fun and adventurous together. However, when it came down to it, the anxiety started to creep up. But you only live once, so we paid our $70 and got ready to go. Although the ziplining is on the YS Falls property, it is operated by a separate company and is an additional fee. Also know that the credit card system may or may not be working. Or at least you may be told that it is not working. Point is, bring cash just in case.

Brandon looking cool, calm, and collected. Me trying to look cool, calm, and collected.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was A-N-X-I-O-U-S. Like heart racing, palms sweating, jittery, slightly lightheaded, anxious. And I think the guys working the zipline could tell. They did their best to help me calm down before the first line, but ultimately the only thing that made a difference was taking that first step out into open air.

It was equal parts fun and terrifying! But the second one was a little less scary. And I think I actually managed to stop clinging to the harness line at some point.

I look like I might be having a good time

But just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, there was this:

The long line all the way down the falls. It was invigorating to fly over the falls, but there were also complicated directions for steering given the length of this line. My mind went something like this: “This is fun, look at the beaut…oh goodness, left! left!…okay, feet are forward…look at that water…weeee!!…oh my, right! no left! okay, I’m good…I can do this…this is amazing!…and here’s the end…feet first, feet first, feet first…I made it!! That was incredible!!!”

The rest was a breeze and I even managed to look (almost) relaxed by the end, if a little shaky.

Would I do it again? Absolutely!!

Even so, I needed to calm my autonomic nervous a bit, so we spent the rest of our time at YS Falls leisurely checking out the lush gardens and floating in the natural spring pool.

When we finally pulled ourselves away from the water, we were ready for our next stop, Pelican Bar.

This isn’t just any tropical bar. To get there, you have to take a boat about a mile out to a sand bar, where Pelican Bar is located.

We negotiated a price for the charter. And by negotiate, the boat owner said a price and I said yes. There are some things I am really not good at. Don’t be like me and (probably) significantly overpay for a short boat ride to a hut seemingly made of driftwood and discarded Red Stripe bottles.

If there is a cooler way to arrive at a bar, I really do not know what it is.

Traveler’s tip: when you are dropped off at a bar in the middle of the ocean, try to remember where the boat you were on was from. That way when it is time to leave, you know who to ask the people at the bar to call, instead of pointing and rambling about yellow buildings and blue roofs and places that possibly start with a B, or a D…

We ordered some Red Stripe and a lobster plate to share (because when you’re in Jamaica you can eat lobster all day every day and it is glorious) before finding a spot to settle in.

The bar was colorful and quirky and oh-so-laid-back, the perfect place to waste away a sunny afternoon doing nothing. And everything.

Slightly sunburned and perfectly content, we made our way back to Negril and the Rockhouse.

I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating relaxing by the pool with relaxing by the ocean.

Brandon spent the rest of the afternoon jumping off of cliffs into the ocean and snorkeling.

And that, my friends, pretty much sums us up.

Remembering Jamaica has been so fun and I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. As I write this, I am sitting on my couch cuddled up in blankets while drinking hot apple cider because it is cold and cloudy outside. I am thankful for memories of warm, tropical days filled with sunshine and adventure and love. And perhaps a touch of adrenaline.

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Seven Mile Beach

Seven Mile Beach is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and is one of the “must do” spots if you find yourself in Negril. At least that’s what I read. What I also read was that should one find oneself on Seven Mile Beach, one should be prepared to be approached by people selling jewelry, shells, and, well, other things… Knowing that this was a spot we definitely wanted to visit and because we were desperately in need of beach time after our long days of travel, we set off for the beach on our first full day in Jamaica.

But first, we had to get there. Seven Mile Beach is a few miles from Rockhouse, so we were able to get a taxi there for about $10 (including tip; make sure to bring cash). Rick’s Taxi usually has drivers waiting at the Rockhouse front desk that can take you wherever you want to go. That is how we met Nelson, who, in addition to Fabian, was the other taxi driver we got to know during our vacation.

As the name implies, Seven Mile Beach is several miles long (although according to some sources, not actually 7 miles). We asked to be taken to the beach and then got a blank stare as Nelson waited for us to tell him where on the beach. After some back and forth, we settled on Margaritaville. I know, I know. That is probably just about as touristy as you can get. But many of the other beach clubs were closed for renovation or because it was the (s)low season and it was an easy spot at which to be dropped off. Depending on where on the beach you want to go, there are beach clubs and restaurants and even one beach park toward the quieter end. There are also many, many resorts at which beach access above the tidal line is for guests only. And yet somehow we ended up at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.

On a quiet Monday morning, it was not a bad place to start. In the “don’t knock it before you try it” category, we actually enjoyed sitting in lounge chairs and having someone bring us overpriced daiquiris and pina coladas for a bit. We alternated staring out at the gorgeous ocean with getting into the perfectly warm ocean to play in the waves, which were actually a bit unusual and due to the hurricane elsewhere in the Caribbean.

It was beautiful and lovely and quiet. As I sat there sipping a mango daiquiri and enjoying the view, I felt so much gratitude for the moment, for the opportunity to take a vacation, and for time with Brandon.

We actually ended up back at Margaritaville later in the week after we spent a morning doing another activity that left from the beach. It was a Saturday afternoon and a completely different atmosphere – there was a DJ playing dance music and, even during the low season, a beach full of people having a good time. There were also some rather attractive young men dancing and dancing well, although I don’t think Brandon was too impressed. In fact, he was so unimpressed, he kept taking my attention away from the dancers, who I thought were quite talented. 😉

One of the the other benefits of settling in this spot was that there were employees at the edge of the property that kept hustlers away, which was a nice respite. And there was a nice guy that did a pretty darn cool magic show, too.

Speaking of hustlers. Yes, it is true. When on Seven Mile Beach, you will constantly be approached be people selling something. The funniest interaction I had:

Me: (walking along the beach hand in hand with my love, feeling the ocean breeze in my hair)

Hustler: Respect, man, respect. Want some ganja? It’s good stuff, man, good stuff.

Me: No thank you, we don’t want any.

Hustler: Okay, okay. I’ve got the good stuff; I’ve got some cocaine…

Me, In My Head: Ummmm, what on earth makes you think that if I don’t want marijuana I’m going to be all about some cocaine?

Yeah, I’ve never been offered so many drugs in my life. Side note, although marijuana is widely and openly used and sold, it is not legal in Jamaica.

The frequent approaches from individuals trying to sell stuff, marijuana or other products, was interesting. And consistent. Just about any time we were not on the property of a restaurant or resort, someone would come up to us. Everyone was friendly and no one got aggressive when we said no, but they could be persistent. And it did have a tendency to make us a little paranoid anytime anyone wanted to have a conversation.

For instance, this guy just wanted to say hello and take a picture, but we both kept waiting for him to try to sell us something

Although it was a little uncomfortable at times, I realize that these were people just trying to make a living. And like I said, I never felt unsafe. Nonetheless, knowing that there was a spot we could go (aka Margaritaville) where we would be left alone for a bit was nice. If you go (and really you should), just be prepared for this to happen and it will be fine. Also, there was a guy selling shells for $1, which would make a great and cheap souvenir if your boyfriend didn’t insist that it would be a more fun and authentic souvenir to only bring back the shells you found yourself. Not that I know anyone like that…

I loved our day at Seven Mile Beach. We had a great day doing nothing. We relaxed, we played in the ocean, we walked up and down the beach, we found shells, and we kept pinching ourselves that we were lucky enough to be on a sunny beach in Jamaica.

And when we got hungry, we found a little spot on the beach for jerk chicken and Red Stripe.

Jerk chicken, with rice and peas, of course

It was one of those days, one of those perfect days in a beautiful place with my favorite person. Although there would be more adventure later in the week, a day spent in utter relaxation at the beach was the ideal way to begin an amazing week in paradise. Seven Mile Beach did not disappoint.

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Rockhouse

I cannot remember exactly when or where I first learned of Rockhouse. I am sure it was in one of the many travel blogs or articles that I find myself reading on a regular basis. What I do remember is that from the first moment I saw the clear blue water and thatched huts nestled among the tropical trees, I knew I had to go there. If you’ve ever heard me talk about my list of places I want to travel, you know it is quite (probably impossibly) long. Despite that, I added not just Jamaica, but specifically Rockhouse to that list.

This brings me to last February. As I often do, I was sending Brandon several travel deals and ideas. And then came the moment when he said, “Sure! Let’s do it.” This is not a moment that happens often, for if it did we would be broke and homeless. Someone has got to put the brakes on my travel addiction. At the time, I had put together a plan to go to Singapore with some frequent flyer miles I had earned through two credit card signup bonuses. Although that particular plan did not end up working out, because I had gotten Brandon to agree to take a trip, I kept researching what our other options might be.

Enter Jamaica. This is where the stars aligned and everything came together.

First, Jamaica itself. Although I had heard mixed things about it (some people loved it, some did not), I had a feeling it would be the kind of place we would love. This would also be Brandon’s first international trip. Although I am not opposed to the challenges of international travel because I have also experienced the life-changingness of it, I wanted to minimize the chance of difficulties (I’ve had some humdingers in recent years) and go to a place that would be relatively easy (e.g., fewer language barriers, a place frequented by tourists where the customs process wouldn’t be overwhelming, etc.) where we could also get off the beaten and experience the unfamiliar. Plus, Brandon loves reggae music and I knew the food would be great and the beaches would be beautiful. I wanted to find a place that would get Brandon as hooked as I am on traveling outside of the US. Jamaica seemed to be juuuust right.

Second, availability. Rockhouse books out months, sometimes up to a year, in advance. Reward flight availability is sometimes tricky to find. Put those things together and finding a time that worked was a small miracle. But find a time I did and it just happened to be around our two year dating anniversary in September. This meant going during the low season, but by the end of the trip, we felt that we actually preferred that; it also meant that Rockhouse was affordable for us during that time. Even better, going to Jamaica instead of Singapore meant I would have more airline miles available for another trip down the line (those points may or may not already be used now, but you’ll just have to wait and see…).

I love it when a plan comes together.

Then we just had to wait the 6 1/2 months from the time we booked the trip until we left. Thankfully, we had a busy spring and summer to keep us distracted, but we both spent the months leading up to the trip anticipating our week in Jamaica. We talked about what we wanted to do and reminded each other, in those moments when we were feeling stressed or overwhelmed, about how amazing it would be. And I love that part. A week’s vacation is so short and I love stretching the enjoyment of it with the anticipation and planning. And I love getting to blog about the trip and relive it once I return. But there’s always the risk that a long awaited trip won’t quite live up to the expectations and excitement.

So it was with much excitement and a hint of trepidation that we set out on our Jamaican adventure.

Because I had used reward points, our routing was a bit circuitous, but it actually worked out. Although Jamaica was not significantly impacted by hurricanes over the summer, much of the Caribbean was, as were the airports we would have been most likely to fly through if we had taken a more typical route. For instance, the Miami airport was closed on the days of our flights to Jamaica. But, we were far from Miami as we flew from Eugene to San Francisco to Panama to Jamaica. (Side note here, make sure that you familiarize yourself with all entry requirements before going to a country. Because we flew through Panama, we had to have yellow fever vaccines to enter Jamaica. If I had not read the small print about this requirement being applied even to those who transited through affected countries, we would have been denied entry to Jamaica. Vacation ruined). We also had some super long layovers, so I used all my tricks to make the flights as painless as possible.

I brought some good books that did not require the use of technology. I had audiobooks on my phone as backup, but I prefer to read the old fashioned way on vacation.
We used our long layover in SFO to catch up with family and friends before our technology connections would be limited to wifi.
I dressed for comfort (yes, I may have bought an entirely new outfit just for this purpose)
Best of all, I used the two United Club day passes I had to get entry into the lounge in the international terminal. It is not the best lounge ever, but it was better than waiting in the terminal and the free food and drinks helped a long layover pass more quickly.
Lounge snacks

And I made sure this guy had a good meal before getting on our overnight flight to Panama. You never know how airplane food is going to be, especially because we were flying an airline – Copa Airlines – that I had never flown before. We had dinner at 1300 on Fillmore, which is at the end of the international terminal.
A French 75 and a Fillmore Kiss – Jim Beam, raspberry liqueur, peach schnapps, and sour mix
Some fried okra
Smoked mac n cheese (mine is still better)
And a delicious fried chicken sandwich

Feeling relaxed with full bellies, we both managed to get a bit of sleep on our overnight flight, but we were feeling rather bedraggled by the time we arrived in Panama. Thankfully, we had plenty of time to get coffee before our (relatively) short flight to Jamaica. There was a great moment when Brandon went to pay for the coffee, pulled out a (US) $20, and then realized that $20 bill definitely wouldn’t pay for the coffee (although, to be fair, I had told him that US money is widely accepted in Jamaica; between the cash we had on hand and the use of credit cards, we never had to visit an ATM in Jamaica).

I’ll be honest, by this point we were both pretty done with traveling. We had left Oregon the previous afternoon, spent 6 hours in the San Francisco airport, flown another 8 – 9 hours to Panama and arrived early in the morning. We were ready to be in Jamaica!

Thankfully, the two hour flight to paradise was short and sweet. We could feel the excitement mounting as we peeked out the window to get our first glance of the island.

Let’s get off this plane!!!

Of course, even as we landed, we knew the hassle was not yet done. We still had to get through customs, which was a little slow and at times chaotic. But we made it! Thankfully, I had pre-booked our transportation from the airport with Gary’s Jamaican Taxi, a company out of Negril. Our driver, Fabian, was wonderful and we would end up calling him again for transportation during the week. We flew into Montego Bay, so it was an hour and a half drive from the airport to Negril on the west coast. But the car was comfortable, the scenic drive along the coast was incredible, and the reggae music playing on the radio helped us settle into our vacation. Fabian made sure to point out the two most common buildings in Jamaica – churches and bars, usually right next to one another.

And then we arrived. We arrived at a place I had been dreaming about, literally for years. It was almost like a dream as we pulled up to the open air front desk and were greeted with rum punches and friendly smiles. From that moment, all of the stress and fatigue of traveling became unequivocally worthwhile.

We were personally shown to our room and given a brief overview of the property. Sadly, even in low season we could not afford one of the villas. Not so sadly, our studio room with an ocean view balcony was absolutely perfect.

There was even an outdoor shower with lovely local bath products and the best smelling aloe vera I’ve ever used.

It was immediately apparent that this was a special place well beyond the average Jamaican resort. Obviously, the room was wonderful. Created to reflect a genuine sense of place, the building materials were locally sourced and the design was uniquely Jamaican. But it was so much more than that. There was a clear commitment to making sure guests had an incredible experience. Staff got to know us by name, which is possible when there are only 36 rooms and villas. Moreover, it was a company committed to the community around it. The employees were clearly valued and seemed to enjoy working at the resort. The Rockhouse Foundation has built or transformed schools throughout the area and while we were there, a fifth school, the first school in the region devoted entirely to children with special needs, was soon to be opened. They do all of this while being committed to green environmental practices. A stay at Rockhouse is a special experience and well worth the $125 per night that we paid for our studio room.

And it was not just a beautiful room. The entire property was a tropical garden. Located in the area of Negril known as The Cliffs, there was no beach. However, the water was easily accessible by the bright red ladders placed throughout the property and the tradeoff was a greater sense of solitude than could be found at the large beach resorts. We spent our first afternoon in Jamaica simply exploring, finding all the little nooks and crannies hidden throughout the resort. Little did I know that Brandon had another purpose for all of the exploring…

My handsome man taking in the view

Because of the hurricane, the waves were too high to get into the water and the pool was closed that first afternoon, but there would be plenty of time for that later. For the moment, we enjoyed being in a beautiful place and being together. We took in the views and slowly recovered from our long flights. Rockhouse was everything I hoped it would be and so much more.

 

 

 

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Oregon Beach Camping

Of course I want to be writing about Jamaica. Jamaica was amazing and beautiful and everything I hoped it would be and more. But today, I am writing about another kind of beach in another kind of place. And I’m writing about the thing that made both places wonderful – time with my love.

So here was the scene: Imagine a hot summer day, the kind of sweltering summer day that is thankfully rare in Oregon. To walk outside was to be hit by a wave of heat that made you want to turn around and run straight back into the air conditioning. Except it’s too hot to run, so you just slowly walk and then find a spot to sit where you don’t have to move. Add to the almost unbearable heat the smokiness. For weeks over the summer, wildfires throughout the region settled a tangible haze of smoke into the valley that frequently made breathing uncomfortable. On this particular day, I was also finishing up my work week and feeling hot and tired and stressed.

And then Brandon texts. “Hey babe. I’m at your place packing the camping gear into the car. Let’s go to the coast.”

Music to my ears.

I rushed home from work, eager to head out on our adventure. With no specific plan in mind, we loaded Sydney into the car and headed toward smoke free, cooler weather. An hour and a half later, we were breathing easy and enjoying the novelty of not sweating every time we did something intense, you know, like sitting quietly and breathing. On the drive, we chatted about where we might settle for the night. After some debate, we decided to try to find a spot at our “secret beach.” Although there were no official campsites, camping was allowed on the side of the dunes opposite the beach. After another terrifying drive down the terrible road leading to the beach, we parked and made a few trips to carry our camping gear the short walk to the spot we decided to camp. If we had a vehicle that could drive on the sand, we could have pulled right up to the campsite.

I hate mosquitoes!!!
Our home for the next couple nights

From there, the weekend became everything. And nothing. I cannot even begin to describe how much I love weekends like this with Brandon. Days spent relaxing that end with nothing to do except sit and watch the sunset, days where I don’t have to share him with anyone or talk to anyone else (I know, I know, I’m kind of unsociable sometimes). Days where I can recharge and reset from the stress of day-to-day life.

We walked to the beach and watched the sunset before settling in for the night.

We literally spent the entire next day walking along the beach. See what I mean by everything. And nothing. It was absolute perfection.

We did not see another person the entire day.

At one point, we set out our beach towels, ate a picnic lunch, and then took naps. We know how to have a good time.

Sometimes you just need to get away – from the heat, from the smoke, from the stress and routine of everyday life. I needed to recharge and reconnect. I am thankful for days when we can load up the car and randomly head to the coast to get away from it all.

And up next on the blog, the gorgeous and amazing Jamaica (spoiler alert: aka the trip where I came home with a ring)!

 

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California Campcation: Glass Mountain, Modoc Indian War, and Petroglyphs

When I last left off, I had shared our caving and camping adventures in California. But that’s not all! There was so much more to see. As I mentioned before, this area of northern California has some of the most fascinating and unique geology that I have seen.

One morning, we set out to find the Glass Mountain of Brandon’s childhood. When we did find it, I do not think it quite lived up to his memories, but I found it astounding nonetheless. Despite it being July, we ran into some snow on the road that my little Civic could not surmount. Not one to let a little snow deter us, we pulled the car out of the way and set out on foot.

Like much of the landscape in the area, Glass Mountain developed as the result of a lava flow. It gets its name because much of the rock that formed it is made of shiny obsidian. It is impossible to capture the scale of the place. Once on top of the black mountain, the rock stretches almost endlessly in every direction. After taking in the vastness of it all, attention turns to the details – how each rock has its own form and pattern.

Don’t miss the butterfly in this photo

Although the snow would belie this fact, it got hot and we were both thankful we had arrived in the morning. We finished up our hike on and around the obsidian mountain and spent the remainder of the day relaxing (see previous post and the picture of Brandon floating in the lake – that pretty much sums it up).

Our final morning, we packed up the car, but we were not nearly done with our trip. We spent the morning learning the history of Captain Jack and the Modoc Indian War. This was a timely reminder of the ugly history of this country we sometimes try to gloss over or ignore. It may be easier to look the other way, but confronting this history and remembering this history is important. This is a history where people, because of the color of their skin and their beliefs, were forced off their land, the place that was their home, because people with a different color skin and different set of beliefs were powerful enough to do so. This is a history that should not, must not be forgotten.

The war began in November 1872 when a handful of Modoc Indians decided to move back to their home. This set off a series of conflicts between the Indians and white settlers. Eventually, a group of Indians led by Captain Jack retreated to the lava beds where they were joined by others. There were 50 – 60 warriors and their families who made a stand here. Later named Captain Jack’s Stronghold, this area of lava bed was home for this group of people for months of fighting against a vastly larger US Army. The war ended in June of the following year with the defeat of the Modoc Indians. Captain Jack and other leaders were hanged and most remaining Modoc who were at the stronghold were relocated to Oklahoma – a place so very far from their home. As we walked these places where such a tragedy had occurred, I could only hope that we have learned to do better, to be better as a country and as human beings.

At both Gillam’s Camp (where the US army camped) and Captain Jack’s Stronghold, there were brochures that provided the history of the war through a self-guided walking tour. I made Brandon stop at every number and we took turns reading the information. And he still wants to marry me. He hasn’t been to too many museums with me, though. Yet. I might hold off on that until it’s too late for him to back out.

A tribute to Captain Jack

Our final stop before going home was Petroglyph Point. Separate from but also a part of the National Monument, this rock formation used to be an island. The nearby Tule Lake used to cover this entire area. All along this formation were petroglyphs, some of which were carved as much as 6,000 years ago.

This was completely worth a stop.

This weekend had it all! We camped, we hiked, we learned, and we saw some things that were just plain cool. If you are a person living in southern Oregon or northern California, this is an easy weekend trip that I highly recommend.

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California Campcation: Medicine Lake and Lava Beds

I thought we were going camping. After all, the weekend had all the typical trappings of a camping trip. And then there was this moment, this moment when I was standing on the edge of a volcanic crater, breathless, fascinated, and suddenly aware that this was so much more than a camping trip. Sure, we were sleeping in a tent and cooking our meals over a campfire, but we were also, really, taking a vacation. We were in a new (to me) place, we were learning about geology and history, we were going caving. This was no mere camping weekend.

The decision to come to this particular location had been prompted by Brandon. This area of California had been the site of one of his favorite childhood trips. He had spoken about this place for literally as long as I’ve known him. So when I learned I would have a 5-day weekend because of the 4th of July, we decided that we would spend the weekend in the Modoc National Forest and Lava Beds National Monument. Of course, revisiting Brandon’s childhood memories had not always lived up to his abundant praise (cough, porcupines, cough); I honestly was not expecting much. But I love him, he wanted to go back, so we did. Spoiler alert: it was amazing.

We reserved a lakeside campsite in the Medicine Lake Campground, which had just opened up for the year. As the park ranger with whom we chatted said, “It is a little more lake front than usual.” The lake was feet higher than normal, but even so, our campsite was wonderful.

Whether we were drinking coffee by the campfire, floating in the lake, playing cards, watching the sunset cuddled up in the hammock, or simply relaxing, we enjoyed every second. Conveniences like running water and vault toilets made the campground seem practically luxurious after our recent backpacking trip.

But you know us. We could not be content with just hanging out at a campsite all weekend. This is where the “vacation” part kicked in. We spent our first full day in California at Lava Beds National Monument. I really had no idea what to expect, other than that there would be some caves. Lava Beds is accessible from Modoc National Forest along a gravel road and was about 16 miles from the campground.

Our first stop was Mammoth Crater. The crater was formed 36,000 years ago and is the volcano responsible for the lava flows that created most of the caves in the park. This is also where I realized this was so much more than a camping trip.

Our next stop was the visitor’s center. Because we did not come in the main entrance, we needed to pay the entrance fee and get cleared to enter the caves (I’ve talked about white nose syndrome and bats before, which I think says a lot about my life with Brandon).

He’s so handsome and I love him

After a this quick and scenic stop, we began exploring the caves. Not all of them, of course. There are over 700 caves in the park and over 2 dozen of them have developed entrances. That was definitely more than we could see in a day! While at the visitor’s center, we picked up a brochure with information about the developed caves. This included information on the caves’ locations, difficulty, and any special features. We started with the caves near the visitor’s center before driving Cave Loop Road, where many of the most popular caves are located. We finished our day of caving with a quick stop at Skull Cave, one of the few remaining ice caves at Lava Beds, and a hike to two caves that displayed Native American pictographs.

When I say “developed cave,” this is probably what comes to mind – a marked entrance, a way to get into the cave without using a rope, a clear path, and some type of lighting. Sure, that applied… to exactly one cave in the park. Near the visitor’s center, Mushpot is a great place to start because of all of the above. The lighting also provides the opportunity for educational information to be displayed throughout the cave.

Then there was the rest of the day, when paths and lighting were nowhere to be found. Sure, there were ladders to get into the caves when needed, but from there, we were on our own with the exception of the occasional path. And that’s what made it fun. We wandered and explored and discovered, each cave unique ensuring there was always something new to see within the light of our headlamps.

After a picnic lunch, we set out for the greatest adventure of the day – The Catacombs. Brandon could not wait to explore this, one of the largest caves in the park. The description about the cave says (and I quote) “A cave map is highly recommended for any group planning to explore the entire cave, as multiple levels and numerous side passages can be confusing. This cave is not recommended for inexperienced cavers.” Ummmm…. Cave map? No, of course not. Sense of direction? I am the girl who can get lost while listening to the GPS telling me exactly where to go. Cave experience? Hardly, unless you count the few caves I had been in near Bend. How could this possibly go wrong?

Maybe I did not have a map, a sense of direction, or adequate caving experience. But at least I had a hard hat and knee pads. I think my face says it all.
Brandon, on the other hand, could not wait to get inside the cave.

We (obviously) made it out alive, but we had very different experiences in this cave. I was stressed out and constantly worried about finding our way out. Brandon was having a great time and had no concern about taking whatever path caught his fancy.

I pretty much just followed him around, letting him choose where to go, reminding myself that we would (more than likely) be okay. Until we got here:

After crawling through on his belly, the space too small for his bag, he came back to reassure me that the cave “opened up on the other side.” Nope, not doing it. Despite his efforts at persuasion, this was as far as we went.

The rest of the day was rather less stressful as we fit as much of Lava Beds as we could into the day.

Where’s Brandon?

We had such a great day! I loved that we could start and end the day among the pine trees next to a lake and spend the time in between in the desert seeing unique geological features. Truly, it’s a fascinating place. We were just getting started. Up next, geology, history, and art. I told you this was a vacation!

Packing Post: Backpacking Food

Let’s talk food. Backpacking food.

As I prepared for our recent 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip, I had a lot of questions, many of which centered around what we would eat. I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time figuring out the answer to those questions and in order to not let all that time and effort go to waste, I wanted to share what I packed and what I learned in the process. Hopefully this will help if you’re planning a similar trip of your own!

First, let me note that Brandon and I have been doing a ketogenic diet. Although I quickly decided that sticking to that through this weekend was likely impossible due to the nature of most dehydrated and packable foods, I still made an effort to choose some low carb options. Hence the pork rinds.

Breakfast: 

For our 2 breakfasts, I made oatmeal packets. You can get pretty creative with the add-ins, but mine had quick oats (because slowly cooking oatmeal over a stovetop wasn’t exactly an option), powdered milk, stevia, chia seeds, walnuts, and dehydrated blueberries. We just dumped the packets in our bowls, added some hot water, and then enjoyed a satisfying and warm breakfast each morning. And then there was the coffee. I might be willing to temporarily give up some luxuries like, you know, running water, but I will not give up my coffee. Give me coffee or give me death! I pre-portioned servings of coffee and included a mini shelf-stable creamer for Brandon. I LOVE my drip coffee maker when camping – it’s quick, easy, light and portable, and makes excellent coffee.

Lunch/Snacks:

This is where I maybe went a little crazy. Perhaps I spent one too many afternoons worried about starving to death in the wilderness. My goal for lunch and snacks was having foods that would easily fit into our daypacks for hiking, knowing that we probably wouldn’t be around camp at lunch. I put everything into smaller containers, dividing it in half so that we each had a bit of everything. The jerky, olives, and cheese combo made for a great lunch and will definitely be something I do again. And, if you’re wondering, according to my extensive research, Babybel cheese can be unrefrigerated for a few days. Judge your own tolerance and willingness to do that, but we thought it was fine.

Dinner:

For dinner, I had purchased two kinds of Mountain House dehydrated meals – Beef Stroganoff and Mexican Style Rice and Chicken. Of course, it’s hard to tell just how good they are (or aren’t) after being outdoors all day because at that point almost anything tastes good. However, we both thought they tasted quite good and would eat both meals again. On the first night, Brandon finished off an entire pack of the stroganoff and I had most of mine. On the second night, we didn’t even finish one package of the chicken (the package contained three servings) and could have left the other package at home. We added some of the white cheddar into the chicken, which was a nice touch. Best of all, we enjoyed some of the fish that Brandon caught. I had come prepared with foil and seasonings, just in case. There is nothing like freshly caught fish cooked over a campfire.

One Last Touch:

We both thought it would be nice to have something warm to drink by the fire in the evenings. After considering different options, we finally settled on apple cider with a little spiced rum. We brought along packets of cider and a small, plastic bottle of rum that was easy to carry. It was a bit of a luxury, but a nice way to end the day.

After getting all of my food supplies together, I packaged everything as compactly as was possible. I then divided everything in half. We both ended up with two dehydrated meals and one gallon size plastic bag full of food which easily fit into our respective backpacks.


What I Learned:
All in all, I think I did pretty well preparing for this first trip. But I did learn a few things along the way that will be helpful next time. Because there will be a next time – this was one of my favorite weekends all summer.

The Jetboil is my friend. I had purchased a Jetboil for this trip (it’s a small propane tank with a tiny metal contraption that screws onto it over which you can cook things). This was literally a game changer. It boils water quickly without getting a kettle all smoky. Even on regular camping trips, this is now how we (and by we, I mean Brandon) make coffee in the morning. Less hassle than trying to heat water over a campfire = quicker access to coffee. I am not exaggerating when I say that it has been an amazing addition to our camping gear.

Related to this, I have now determined the Best Way to Make Coffee. Thanks to being gifted the drip coffee maker, I now have everything I need to make delicious coffee while camping and backpacking. We had experimented with various coffee making methods while camping last summer. Although there were no true failures (well, except the time that Brandon forgot to pack the coffee…), we have conclusively determined that this method is the best. No instant coffee for me, thanks.

As I mentioned above, I brought too many snacks. In the future, I will not give into my fear of starving to death and pack a reasonable amount of food. Which is probably about half of what I brought. My back will thank me.

Dehydrated dinners can be delicious. I was a little skeptical, but I had researched various brands and Mountain House was consistently reviewed as the best. In the future, I could consider making my own given the cost of these meals. But for the occasional backpacking trip, these are good enough that the cost is worth the ease of not making them myself.

I was particularly proud (and Brandon was particularly impressed) that I thought to prepare seasonings just in case Brandon caught some fish. Of course, we would have figured out a way to cook the fish without the foil and seasonings, but having them made the whole process better. If you’re going somewhere where fishing is a possibility, this is a small (literally small – it added almost no weight and took up almost no space) way to take your meal to the next level.

We should have brought a bigger water container. Although our 1L water bottles worked fine, we had to make repeated trips to the lake to fill them (we had brought along a filter and a Steripen to treat the water). Not only were we drinking water, most of our meals required water to prepare. It would have been nice to have had a larger container and to make fewer water runs. After this trip, I bought a 5 gallon water container that folds flat for easy packing.

And I learned that a small treat can make a difference. Even if we had just brought along the cider packets without the rum, it was nice to end the day with a warm drink in hand. Again, this was a small luxury that added an almost undefinable sense of comfort and relaxation to the evenings. If apple cider isn’t your thing, there is always hot chocolate.

So, there you have it! I am hardly an expert, but I feel like I learned a lot through planning and preparing for my first backpacking trip. If you are planning your own similar trip, hopefully this information will save you some time and effort. If you have your own tips, tricks, or favorite backpacking foods, I would love to hear it!

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Nothing Worthwhile Is Easy: My First Backpacking Trip

You may remember that last summer was my first camping trip in several years. I loved it so much that this summer I decided to take the next step and try backpacking. Because what on earth could be not fun about strapping on a 35-pound pack that’s as big as you are and trudging to a campsite with absolutely no amenities?

But that is exactly the point. The things in life that are the most meaningful, the most wonderful, are usually the things that do not come easily. I was reminded of that over and over again during our days in the woods.

It is probably no surprise that I spent weeks preparing for this trip – researching where to go, gathering tips from friends, taking stock of our camping supplies and spending an unmentionable amount of money on Amazon filling in the gaps and buying backpacking supplies, creating a meal plan and spending half a day shopping and prepping the food we would eat (for the curious, I plan to do a separate post on exactly what food I packed and what we ate – I spent a lot of time putting a plan together and it seems worth sharing). This was no small feat – weeks of work for a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip.

And then the day arrived, the day we would load up the car and drive to the Beaver Swamp Trailhead for the start of the hike. I have no doubt that Brandon could have carried his 50+pound backpack for an extended distance. Me, on the other hand, not so much. In fact, I was a little worried about carrying it at all. But you can bet once I got myself strapped into that thing, I documented the heck out of looking strong and sporty with my giant backpack.

Not wanting to overcommit on this, my first backpacking trip, I had found the perfect spot. Fish Lake (not to be confused with THE Fish Lake, the larger lake located near Mt. McLaughlin) is a small lake located in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. It seemed like the ideal spot for a first trip – it would be a 2.5 to 3-mile hike in (depending on the final campsite), we could set up a single camp for both nights, and would have access to many trails for day hikes.

I’ll be honest, the hike in was not as bad as I expected. Of course, that could be because I was somehow blissfully ignorant of the fact that it was downhill pretty much the entire way. Troubling thoughts of the uphill hike that would be required on the way out were far from my mind as I took in the scenery and enjoyed being outdoors on an absolutely gorgeous day. And the trail was clear, too, so there were few obstacles to surmount… Yet.

Sooner than I expected, we got our first glimpse of Fish Lake.

Surrounded by mountains still topped with snow, the small blue lake was quiet and sparkling in the afternoon sun. After a bit of searching, we found the perfect spot and set up camp. Most importantly, we set up the hammock with an unobstructed view of the lake.

We spent the remainder of the day settling in, relaxing in the hammock, reading, fishing, preparing dinner, and simply enjoying 100% of each other’s attention as we sat with warm drinks in hand and talked by the campfire, uninterrupted by technology or the need to do anything except be present and together.

When Brandon said he wanted to make a bow and arrows while camping, I kind of thought he was speaking figuratively. Apparently not.

That night, we (including Sydney) cuddled in the hammock as the sun slowly set and counted the stars as they appeared. Soon, the night was dark and the stars shone brightly in the kind of darkness that can only be found in the wilderness. I noticed I was crying, from the peace and beauty of it, from the perfection of sharing the stars with my love. I could not imagine being any happier and more content than I was in that moment.

Perhaps, other than the whole peeing in the woods thing (an unexpected skill that I have now mastered, by the way) backpacking wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

Cue music that darkly foreshadows things to come.

This is where things really started to become difficult. The silent starry night, the romantic campfire far removed from distractions, the perfect camping spot near the lake – all of that would come at a cost. And that cost would be sleep. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the unenviable experience of “sleeping” literally on the ground, but it does not seem to usually involve actual sleep. Despite our fancy new sleeping pads and inflatable “pillows” (which are not even deserving of the word), it really felt like we were basically sleeping on the ground, uncomfortable slope, pokey sticks, and coldness included. Not to mention the raccoon that came sniffing around (yes, all smelly stuff was hanging a safe distance away from the campsite) that Sydney and I were both certain must be a bear out to get us. Needless to say, there was not a whole lot of sleeping going on.

The next morning, exhausted, Brandon volunteered to be the first out of the tent to make the campfire and the coffee. Because he loves me. And values continuing to be in this relationship.

After a slow start that involved breakfast and fishing and staring blankly ahead at the calm water, we decided to spend the morning on a “nice little hike.” I estimated that the hike I had planned would be about 6-miles and “it didn’t look too bad.” Uh yeah, famous last words. We set off, marveling in the cool morning and the magical golden sunshine filtering through the trees.

It was not even 8 am.

And then there was this:

I do not exactly have the best coordination and walking across a moving body of water with nothing but a tiny, unflat log between me and getting soaked and/or a concussion from falling onto rocks? Not my idea of a good time. I was, however, quite proud of myself and relieved after I (slowly and painstakingly) made my way across. Surely the day was won after such a feat.

But no. There would in fact be multiple water crossings that day. Sydney and I both protested each time. She had it easy though. When she refused to cross, Brandon would pick her up and carry her. When I refused, he would impatiently insist that I stop being a baby and walk across the stupid log. Not fair.

And it was not just the water crossings. There were also the countless spots along the trail that were completely blocked by fallen trees. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the trails had not been cleared in a wilderness area early in the summer.

When I wasn’t precariously balanced while walking across a log, I was climbing over, under, or around one. And did I mention that somehow the trail managed to seem uphill for pretty much the entire day? And that the 6-mile hike turned out to be more than 10? Oh, and there were mosquitoes. And snow.

I think I’ve managed to make the case that this was not an easy day.

And yet, there were the moments that made it worth the effort. My sense of accomplishment each time I managed not to fall as I balanced my way across a log or climbed over an obstacle; the moment when, after we were certain we had somehow gotten on the wrong trail and would have to (to my horror) backtrack, we saw the sign confirming we were on the right path and not totally useless at reading a map; the picnic lunch we enjoyed atop a rock overlooking Buckeye Lake; being able to go an entire day without talking to other people (am I the only one who gets excited about that?); the privilege of getting to spend time in an Oregon wilderness surrounded by beauty – all of these things and more made the challenges of the day worthwhile.

I love this picture

Although I will admit this one last water crossing just about did me in.

We had thoroughly earned some relaxation. We spent the remainder of the day trying to move as little as possible and intermittently complaining about which parts of our bodies were hurting the most. We did more of our favorites – I read, Brandon fished, we napped, we were both perfectly happy. And, thanks to the strenuous 10-mile hike, we, almost, managed to get some sleep that night. Bonus!

She was so tired
She kept trying to get into the tent to go to bed

The next morning, we reluctantly repacked our bags. Although I am not certain whether the reluctance was more about leaving our little haven in the woods and returning to reality or whether it was a sudden realization that we would actually have to hike some more.

Of course, I still had not realized that the 3-mile hike out would be mostly uphill. That quickly changed. As I trudged along, my pack feeling heavier with every step, I comforted myself with the thought that at least this trail, which we had hiked two days before, would be clear – no fallen trees across the trail, no logs to cross. You would think I would have learned by now.

Just when I was ready to power through the last bit, Brandon and I having decided that, screw it, we were eating pizza when we got home, there was this little surprise:

The log he’s leaning against is the one we climbed over. I also found Brandon a “man bouquet” aka a really big pine cone

Yep. Somehow in the less than 48 hours since we had last been on this trail, a giant tree had fallen and rolled across the trail. It was a large enough obstacle to require taking off our backpacks and then boosting ourselves over the tree. From the moment I removed my backpack, all my stamina, the rhythm I had found moments before, was gone. Every single step of the remaining hike was painful and effortful. Every. Single. Step.

But I made it.

I feel like you can really see the pain in my eyes

Moreover, I would absolutely do it again. It may not have been easy, but it was worth every bit of it.

And that whole nothing worthwhile is easy thing? It’s not just about camping trips. I cannot help but draw the parallel to my relationship with Brandon. This was so perfectly illustrated in how the trip began.

What I have not yet shared is that my first ever backpacking trip got off to an especially rocky start. Dismissing the sort of funny noise that Brandon’s car was making as air conditioner related, we set out on the 2.5 hour drive to the trailhead. Approximately 2 hours into that drive, the sort of funny noise suddenly became a worrisome and loud noise, leading Brandon to quickly pull over the car. What we learned, to our chagrin, was that the serpentine belt was broken. Being unfamiliar until that very moment with what a serpentine belt was, I had no idea the extent to which I should be worried.

What I did know was that we were in the middle of nowhere, a solid hour away from anywhere remotely likely to have cell phone service, and even farther than that from a place that could help us fix the car. Imagine my relief when a nice family in a truck, likely out to camp for the weekend as we were, stopped and offered to help. They even offered to give us a ride to the market about 45 minutes behind us so that we could make the necessary phone calls. Imagine my disbelief when Brandon’s response was “No thanks, we will just limp our way back.” Despite my silent outrage and rising panic as I imagined us walking the 30+ miles back to anything resembling a building, I kept my concerns to myself as I watched the nice family in the truck slowly drive into the distance and out of sight. Brandon, love of my life, quickly explained that the car could technically function without the serpentine belt and his plan was to “limp our way back” inside the vehicle – thankfully, all limping was to be done by the Subaru, not by my feet.

What he did not explain, and what would later help me understand just how quiet and tense he was on the hour and half drive to the closest auto parts store, was that one of the systems operated by the serpentine belt is the cooling system. Without the cooling system, the car could overheat at any time. Oh, and by the way, the battery could completely stop working, too, because of some reason I cannot remember. Both not overheating/blowing up the engine and having a functional car battery seem sort of important. Needless to say, we were both quite relieved when we pulled into the Napa Auto Parts store in Canyonville, ironically across the street from the diner where we had stopped for breakfast a few hours before. Brandon, with his full knowledge of just how much worse the situation could have been, was especially relieved. We purchased the necessary parts and worked together, me using my internet searching skills and Brandon doing almost everything else, to replace the broken part that led the belt to break and then to reinstall the serpentine belt.

I mean, how can I not love this guy?
My invaluable contribution was finding a diagram of exactly how the serpentine belt needed to be installed

As we high fived and celebrated in the parking lot, apparently observed by the amused store workers, I was so thankful for what we have. No relationship is easy. There will always be the proverbial broken serpentine belts and moments spent stranded on the side of the road. And when those things inevitably occur, it is not easy to be patient with one another, to be kind, to not give in to fear and yell “What are you thinking, you idiot?” when your boyfriend declines the car ride back to civilization. But those moments of loving each other when it’s hard, being selfless and sometimes sacrificing your own wants and needs for each other, that is what makes a great relationship. It takes a lifetime of work to build and to keep a relationship worth having. I am going to get mushy just for a moment, but I love Brandon for the way he loves me when it is not easy to do so, when I am not easy to love. I am thankful that when Brandon is worried and frustrated, he can feel that way without directing those feelings toward me. I am thankful for the way we work together as a team. And I am thankful that even when things do not go as planned, we can still love each other through it. Because nothing worthwhile is easy.

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Learning to fully experience life through travel

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