Going to the Sun Road

Featured image: St. Mary’s Lake, Glacier National Park 

I do a lot of raving about Montana and Glacier National Park on here, but I promise it’s for a good reason. The place really is spectacular. We only got to spend about two days there on our trip, and the only reason we could tear ourselves away from the state was because we knew we were headed to Yellowstone National Park next.

One of the views you get from Going to the Sun Road.

One of the views you get from Going to the Sun Road.

At Glacier, more than 93 percent of the park is wilderness, so it is totally unspoiled. Hundreds of miles of trails cross the backcountry, and the most beautiful parts of the park can’t be seen from a car. I absolutely will to get back to this park to do some hiking once I’m in a little better pulmonary health. I need to see Avalanche Lake and Grinnell Glacier, just to name two, before I die. If you are interested in more about hiking in Glacier National Park I’ve read Hiking in Glacier backwards and forwards.

But the way most of the park’s visitors see it is from their car. Going to the Sun Road, so named either because of an Indian legend or a story some guy made up about an Indian legend, depending on who you ask, is a marvel of modern engineering. The road is about 50 miles long and east-to-west across the park. It curls around and cuts through mountains and it hugs cliffs and traverses valleys.

It’s a great way to get a slice of what the park has to offer, especially for people who aren’t otherwise able to get out onto some of the trails and experience the park. But, for the love of all that is holy, if you have working legs and lungs, GET OUT AND HIKE THIS PARK. Do it. Do it for me. Do it for yourself.

If you have a fear of heights or falling, I'd suggest you lay down in the passenger's seat while someone else drives.

If you have a fear of heights or falling, I’d suggest you lay down in the passenger’s seat while someone else drives.

When we – Lacey and I – visited this park we did not hike. It was a travesty. But we didn’t hike because we got robbed of a day’s worth of visiting in the park because of a blown-out tire and incompetent rental car company. We had just enough time for an awesome horseback ride – that I can still feel in my back – and a trip across Going to the Sun Road.

It was enough to whet our appetites. We’ve been dying to go back since then.

Parts of the road are open year-round, so there is always something to see or do at the park, even if it’s snowing at the upper levels. Just but sure to check the vehicle requirements if you are driving an oversized vehicle on the road because there are some restrictions. If you don’t want to drive, there is a shuttle service that operates in the park and it is included in the price of admission.

But enough of the boring details. You can find all of these things out for yourself from the park’s website. For now, I’ll leave you with some meh video of the Crown of the Continent.

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#TBT Manhattan Beach

I have a confession to make: I am terrified of the ocean.

Stepping into a large body of water – with or without a life jacket – creates a silent kind of mind-numbing terror. Part of this is that I literally sink like a Stone – its not just my last name, it’s what I turn into in water: total dead weight. I don’t even panic, I just fall into a calm state of giving up. I accept the water as it wraps its cold arms around me and drags me to the bottom of the abyss.

When we reached the Pacific Ocean on this trip, it was late at night. Around midnight, I think. We were bone-tired but we knew that we wouldn’t have much time the next day to spend at the beach, so Amanda and I dropped off our bags and my brother at the hotel and set off for a late night rendezvous with the Pacific. Our hotel was only a couple of blocks off the shore, so we didn’t have far to go. I had been to the beach before, but in Florida several years before. That did not prepare me for the sight of the ocean at night.

Ink and infinity is how I remember it. It was a cloudy night, so the only light came from the shore behind us. Everything was black: the sand, the water, the sky. There was really no way to tell where one thing ended and another began. We stayed a safe distance from the water, but when we stopped to sit, I couldn’t shake a nervous feeling. If that water came up just a little too far and swept me off my feet, I knew I’d never be found. I would give up and let the water take me where it willed.

We walked quite a distance on the shore that night, stopping at a couple of guard stands. We passed few others enjoying the quiet night – if deafening waves can be considered a “quiet.” Despite the terror playing on the edges of my consciousness, I could have stayed there all night. But sleep overcame us and we crawled back to our warm beds.

#TBT: Yosemite National Park

When I was going back through the video for this part of the trip, I didn’t come across many clips. I also couldn’t remember much about visiting the park. I remember Bridal Veil Falls and that was about it. So I looked up the first telling of this story.

Not much there either.

By this point of the trip we’d gone as far west as we were going to and had started the return trip home. With only a few days left on the trip, we were tired and tired of eating out of the trunk of the car. We were tired of sleeping in tents. And we were disappointed that we weren’t able to finish going up the West Coast to Washington.

After the excitement the night we arrived in San Francisco — the night we thought we had enough time to drive to Seattle — we just crashed. In the time it took to try to map out a route from northern California to Seattle, we realized there just wasn’t enough time. We went from being at the top of El Capitan to the bottom of Death Valley. The Gypsy Trip had switched from embarking on an exciting adventure to finishing out a list of places to see on our way home. That was how we treated Yosemite: Not as a place to explore and experience, but as a place to come in, check out the high points, and high-tail it out to the next destination.

in retrospect, I wish we’d taken the extra time to go up the coast. It would have been impossible to do it on the timeline we agreed to, and I would never have been able to get back to work on time. I was worried about getting in trouble for attendance, but I shouldn’t have been. I came back to work for about two weeks before leaving permanently for an internship. What’s the worst they could have done? Fire me for my last two weeks? So here’s the lesson to take away from my trip to Yosemite: Take the extra days NOW. You never know where life will take you, so enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

Featured image credit: From Flickr Creative Commons, By Edward Stojakovic. 

Ohio Day Trip: Covered Bridges

The first road trip of the season is always my favorite. It’s the first time you get to shake the dust off, work out the kinks and get lost trying to find something. The only thing I was waiting for this spring was a free Saturday with clear weather, and I finally got one in late March. It was a chilly day – the high was only around 40 degrees – but the sun was shining and the puffy clouds in the azure sky couldn’t have been more perfect if someone painted them. They were the ideal backdrop for covered bridge hunting in southwestern Ohio.

Ohio has one of the largest collections of covered bridges left in the nation, and seven of them fall in about a 70 square mile area. The path between the bridges will take you along the Ohio River, past Underground Railroad Stations, through the rugged terrain of southern Ohio and over the rolling hills of Amish Country. You’ll pass suburban sprawl and a host of what I affectionately call “dumpy little towns” – the kinds of places I wouldn’t mind living. My dad and brother are into covered bridges in that guy/building kind of way. They like to look at how things are put together and talk about it, you know, knocking on walls and things. Mom and me? We just think they’re pretty. So we loaded into the car Griswold-style and set off.

The route connecting the bridges covers about 75 miles and would take about two hours to complete. When you’re planning your trip, you’ll want to add time to get to and from the beginning and end of the route and time to explore around the bridges. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to have some time to climb around in the creeks (once the weather warms up) and check out all the local businesses you’ll be passing along the way.

I’ve lived in the Greater Cincinnati area my entire life. Part of my childhood was spent in suburban Milford and part of it in more rural Brown County. The rolling corn fields of Brown County are by far my favorite. The only thing that stops me from moving that far off the beaten track is getting to work. I love road trips, but I hate, hate, HATE commuting. Of course, when I lived there 20 years ago the only places to shop were Pamida and IGA and now many of the towns have built up. There are Kroger stores and Wal-mart stores and subdivisions; it’s fallen victim to the ever-permeating suburban sprawl. Still, most of the area is full of stately old farmhouses, dilapidated barns and rolling farmland.

This time of year, the land hasn’t come back to life yet. Trees are still bare and fields are not plowed. The grass is just showing the first hints of green. But the sun is shining and the cows and horses we pass seem as excited for the spring as we are.

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Abandoned motel finds new life

The Warrior Motel is one of the abandoned motor courts around Bryson City and Cherokee, NC.  Now, a local shop owner has purchased the property and operates out of the front of the motel.

The Warrior Motel is one of the abandoned motor courts around Bryson City and Cherokee, NC. Now, a local shop owner has purchased the property and operates out of the former front office of the motel.

There is something about roadside motor courts that call to me. I’m not talking about motels, your Best Westerns or your Holiday Inn Expresses. I’m talking about a motor court. The kinds of places that had neon signs shouting at passing travelers to stay the night. The kind of place that advertised their water gardens and had a family-run diner on the lot. The kind of place you stopped when you were driving your spanking-new Mustang along Route 66 on your way to California.

If you want to see these today, you have to get off the interstates and hit the blue highways. Many of the remaining motor courts left standing are abandoned and in disrepair. But if you listen closely, you’ll hear them. They whisper, “I used to be a cool cat. People had a groovy time in my water garden.”

So I’m a little rusty on my 1960s slang. But you get the idea. Beyond the cracked pavement and busted gutters, you can see it: An old-school muscle car roars into the lot, chrome gleaming in the sun. A mother in her cat-eye sunglasses slathers on oil poolside while Junior and Joanie splash around. A road-weary salesman in a rumpled suit slurps coffee in the diner. The glory of the American Road trip at its height.

They just don't make signs like this anymore.

The sign for the Warrior Motel will get your attention. It features a brave holding a tomahawk that used to move back and forth. Behind that, you’ll see where the water garden used to be. There is still an umbrella shrouded in weeds marking its place. The pavement is cracked and growing a weed garden now.

For an abandoned motel, the entire property is really in remarkable condition. Although, to be fair, the motel is no longer abandoned. It is also no longer a motel. A local shop owner has set up in what used to be the front office. She carries antiques and random wares – including some nice pieces of furniture and a fantastic chandelier I would have bought if I had somewhere to hang it.

My picture isn't great, but if you look closely, can you can see that white spot on the right? That's the remaining umbrella where the pool used to be.

My picture isn’t great, but if you look closely, you can see that white spot on the right. That’s the remaining umbrella where the pool used to be.

According to one blogger who visited the Warrior Motel in 2010, it was abandoned in 2006. But even looking at another visitor’s photos from November 2014, the property still wasn’t in as bad condition as I would expect. You could tell that animals were coming in and out of the open doors, but overall damage really wasn’t that bad.

Comparing my photos with the November visitor’s, I can tell that there has been a hefty amount of cleanup. Some of the rooms are still full of beds, but some of them have been cleared. I’m curious to see how the current owner of the Warrior Motel continues its restoration. I didn’t ask what her plans were for the place, but I hope whatever she does, she leaves its character in tact.

#TBT: Yellowstone National Park Part 1

#ThrowbackThursday: Each Thursday, I revisit a past adventure and publish more of the story than made the first cut.. Beginning the series, I will be recounting parts of the Gypsy Trip – a cross-country endeavor in 2010. 

My first trip to Yellowstone National Park was too freaking short. My second visit to Yellowstone was too freaking short. I really think that no matter how much time I have to spend at Yellowstone, it will be too freaking short.

I really wanted to get my video edited from the second trip, but I didn’t get that far this week, so you will have to sate your appetite with my old flip cam video until I can get the rest of it put together. It’ll probably be at least another week; the weather has been so nice that I’ve been spending more time outside having adventures than at a computer splicing them together. The constant rain this week is keeping in indoors and helping me get caught up on work.

But back to Yellowstone. It’s the Big Daddy of the American National Park System and does us proud. I find it so interesting because it has so many different geological formations – there’s geysers, hot springs, even the Grand Prismatic Spring – that in two visits to the park I STILL haven’t seen! Seriously, I don’t know why I keep missing it. And of course, there’s Old Faithful.

My favorite thing about the park is the wildlife. No other park I’ve been to has shown me so much diversity. There’s bison – not buffalo, those are only in Africa and South Asia – elk, and bears. Thankfully, I haven’t met a bear yet. If I did, whatever bear safety research I did before my last trip out west would go right out through my ears and I’d get eaten.

How to hike with busted lungs

My collection of necessities for hiking includes tanks of oxygen,  a pulse oximeter to monitor my oxygen levels and a hound dog.

My collection of necessities for hiking includes tanks of oxygen, a pulse oximeter to monitor my oxygen levels and a hound dog.

Its pretty well established on this blog that I love road trips and hiking. They are just about my two favorite activities. So you’d think – as I did – that busted lungs means no more hiking, right? WRONG. I just needed some “modifications.” You know, like the bionic woman.

So what does one need to hike with busted lungs?

  1. Oxygen: Enough to cover the distance
  2. Backpack: To carry oxygen and other supplies
  3. Pulse oximeter: To measure oxygen levels
  4. Timer: To keep track of how much time/oxygen is left
  5. Fitbit: To measure my distance/steps taken so I feel super accomplished
  6. GoPro: For documenting the inevitable trip and fall
  7. Hound Dog: Because what fun is a walk in the woods without being dragged after a squirrel?

So, if you’re like me six months ago, your oxygen therapy knowledge extends to wearing a tube on your face and kids looking at you funny. While those things are true, there is actually a lot more to it. There’s different kinds of tanks, regulators, and concentrators and they all do different things. I like the smaller tanks because they’re easier for me to slip in a bag and sling around. Obviously they give me less time per tank, but mobility is more important to me. I’m not into dragging a wheelie cart behind me with a giant, green tank laying on it.  I’m trying to keep what’s left of my dignity.

The side mesh pockets on my pack are perfect for holding my pulse oximeter and wrench for my oxygen tanks.

The side mesh pockets on my pack are perfect for holding my pulse oximeter and wrench for my oxygen tanks.r

Of course, there is a higher-tech option to using these canisters: a portable oxygen concentrator. These small machines that make oxygen sound like a great idea. Instead of having to deal with oxygen deliveries every week and having only about an hour before I need to replenish, I can have a battery operated machine that just needs juice and I can go on forever! Plus, several portables are approved by the FAA for use on planes, whereas the tanks definitely are not.

Added bonus: If the ads for portables are to be believed, getting one will give me my life back! I can bake cookies with my granddaughters, go fly fishing with my grandson, attend birthday parties in the neighborhood, play my guitar on my front porch and work on my motorcycle in the garage. Where do I sign?!

Can you tell these products are not marketed for an almost 30 year old?

Oh, yeah. Double-barrel action for those longer hikes.

Oh, yeah. Double-barrel action for those longer hikes.

The solution that’s working for me right now ended up being a little closer to home. I already had an organizing pack I bought from Thirty-One a couple of years ago that I modified to use as a camera pack. (I don’t think its still being offered, but I did find some listings on eBay, if you’re interested in the bag.) The dividers didn’t seem padded or sturdy enough to hold my camera and lenses, so my crafty Mom made some extra padding and dividers for the inside of the bag for me. For hiking, I just fold some of the dividers down and viola! Instant oxygen pack. I can slide one canister in and leave the other side for my cameras and gear or lay down all the dividers and get some double-barrel action. If I’m really feeling adventurous – and like carrying around all that weight – I can use some more of my homemade dividers and slide a third tank in the pack and get about three-and-a-half hours of continuous oxygen.

Plus, the backpack strap has a loop on it that is tailor-made for clipping on a GoPro. Make an ad about THAT, oxygen marketers.

#TBT: The elusive Golden Gate Bridge

#ThrowbackThursday: Each Thursday, I revisit a past adventure and publish more of the story than made the first cut.. Beginning the series, I will be recounting parts of the Gypsy Trip – a cross-country endeavor in 2010. 

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Who knew finding this bridge would take the better part of an afternoon?

The first telling of this story didn’t even include any part of this week’s #TBT, probably because all I was thinking about that night when we turned in was the prospect of continuing our drive up the West Coast. At this point we were nearing the end of a 13-day roadtrip and the only things we really planned to do in San Francisco was to find the Golden Gate Bridge and drive Lombard Street. For those of you who may not know, Lombard Street is called the “crookedest street in the world” because it contains eight switchback turns to get travelers down its steep precipice.

You would think that with all the research that occurred before the trip and the GPS that came loaded in the rental car we wouldn’t have any trouble finding these two well-known San Francisco icons.

Think again.

Our search for Lombard Street was fruitless so we turned our attention to the bridge, finding it only as the sun was setting.

Consider Lombard Street on my #BucketList for my next trip to San Francisco.

A New Look, A New ME!

photo

Meet me on oxygen. I still do all the things I did before, just slower and with a tube halfway up my nose.

Whew. I don’t know about you, but that last blog entry got a bit to real for me. I’m not all into talking about my feelings or even really talking about myself – especially not on this blog. But I’m going to keep with this personal vein here and there on the blog, even though adventuring is waaaay more interesting than stupid autoimmune diseases.

Notice anything different about this site? I’ve gone through I-don’t-know-how-many redesigns over the years, each time getting further away from my original purpose: To showcase my fine body of work when I was in college and “networking.” (I use the term “fine” loosely here. I look back on all that and cringe now, a lot like how I will reread this in another five years and do the same.) I have tried to move my blog from being about me – because, lets face it, I’m boring – and focus on adventures! Formerly called “Curious Adventurer,” I’ve now dubbed myself the “Breathless Adventurer” complete with a new banner photo and URL. I figure if I’m going to huff and puff my way through adventures, I might as well embrace the hilarity of it all – and you get to follow along at my new home online: breathlessadventurer.com.

That being said, I am feeling SO MUCH better than I was when that last post was written. I admit, I was wallowing in a bit of self pity and fear. Maybe you’ll say that’s understandable, but I find it unacceptable. It serves no purpose, especially not to help me get to any level of better. My excuse was that January was a bit of a rough month. It started with my primary pulmonologist telling me that my lungs are screwed and he referred me to a more specialized pulmonologist for a second opinion. Then my rheumatologist had a near meltdown at my follow up in the middle of the month when he saw I was still on oxygen and not expected to get any better. He went on a rant about how he refuses to accept that. (I kind of love him for that. He was saying what I should have been all along.) Finally, at the end of the month, the second pulmonologist says that he doesn’t think that I’ll be on oxygen forever, but it may be for a while yet, until my lungs can finish clearing and healing.

So the second pulmonologist made some recommendations to the first pulmonologist and the rheumatologist increased some medications and added others and everyone agrees we are working on getting me off oxygen. However, I think one of the things that has made the biggest difference is my awesome boss letting me work from home.

I know, I sound like a complete suck up right now. But I’ve worked for companies that have fired people while they were on approved medical leave and done all sorts of unethical, terrible things to people while they are battling illnesses for no reason other than they weren’t meeting “business needs.” I have never worked for a company that bent a rule a little bit so someone could work from home a couple of months before they were technically eligible just so they could stay away from germs and try to feel better. Compared to where I was this time two months ago, I feel like a new woman.

I’m still keeping Gus the little oxygen tank close by when I’m walking, shopping, or whatever, but when I’m home working or hanging out or even just crossing the room, I’m not using oxygen. Its WONDERFUL not dragging around 50 feet of tubing just to walk to the bathroom. Big Bertha the concentrator is feeling a little unloved right now, but she’s a big girl. She can take it.

Now, I just need the weather to clear so I can continue my self-designed rehabilitative therapy program in the fresh air. The woods are calling and I must go — oxygen tank and all.

The anatomy of a friendship

I like to commemorate moments in life. Maybe it’s because I am the oldest in my family and every second of the first three years of my life is committed to film by doting parents, grandparents and aunts.  There are albums full of pictures from the big moments – like my first birthday or my first day of school – and the everyday moments – just sitting in the floor playing. And that was before Papaw bought a camcorder – you remember those 40-pound behemoths that threatened to dislocate your shoulder and recorded to VHS tapes?

Maybe that’s why I have a weird habit of recording the most mundane of activities. When I’m with friends and family – whether it be one of countless family BBQs, a standard girls’ nights on Karli’s couch, or an epic adventure in a faraway land with Lacey, I like to take a second to sit back and savor the moments just spent with my people. But even with all my vigilant watching and moment absorbing, things still slip by unnoticed. That is, until years later when I look back and finally realize how a series of seemingly small – and extremely annoying – events quietly helped build a friendship.

The year was 2007 and I was a college sophomore travelling to Washington, D.C., for the first time. I was there for a student media convention. I think I was supposed to attend more of the conference and see less of the city, but I still learned much and more. I had never been in any city except Cincinnati. There is no comparison. I was in awe of the Metro – how awesome is it to take the seemingly endless escalator underground at Dupont Circle, board a train and re-emerge across town just minutes later?! I paid for cabs (like a rookie) and frustrated the drivers by always forgetting to specify “Northwest” after “Connecticut Avenue.” And I absolutely got into a cab with no cash and had to ask to stop at an ATM.

I walked the Mall for the first time – comically mistaking the “National Mall” for a shopping mall when invited to join a group. Imagine my surprise when we exited the Metro station in the middle of a field with the Washington Monument looming over us. I saw the monuments for the first time late on a rainy night with mist rising from the earth. That is still my favorite way to see them. Of course, that rain persisted throughout the entire weekend we were there. But did I let that stop me when my quiet, photographer roommate asked me if I wanted to leave at 6 a.m. to go with her to work on a photo contest assignment? Absolutely not!

Back in those days I had been on staff at the student newspaper for only a few months. I only really knew two people and the photo editor wasn’t one of them. She was the girl in the other room – the fun, less stressful room farther away from the editor-in-chief. I knew the photo editor’s name was Lacey and she almost always wore Chucks and a Canon. I was the Newb and she was the only member of the creative staff there – and college newspaper workers can be incredibly cliquish – so we got roomed together. This meant that we were largely overlooked by the rest of the group, which was pretty all right by us. We’re both totally fine left to our own devices.

Knowing her now – and knowing myself – it shocks me that either of us was up and anywhere before noon, let alone at 6 a.m.  I still remember her saying I remind her of her mom because I got up super early to make sure I had time to blow dry my hair and put on makeup. Yes, just to go out in the rain. I used to care more about what I look like.

So with Lacey in a red hoodie and me in my favorite grey “Baseball Hall of Fame” hoodie, my kangaroo pocket stuffed full in lieu of carrying a bag, we hopped a cab and set off to enjoy the day. Not even when I stepped out of the cab into an ankle-deep puddle and not even when my head and shoulders were soaked and my feet ached from walking and were shriveled up from the water in my shoes, did my spirits dampen. We spent a great day walking around the city, unbothered by anyone and quietly getting to know each other.

And then I realized my phone was missing. Remember the Cherry Chocolate from LG?  A cute, little, red, brick-like phone that slid up to reveal a keypad and was designed to be a great music player? I loved that phone. It had these touch-sensitive “buttons” on the front that were just ultra-cool to me. When I realized it was gone, I just figured it was wrapped up in the blankets on the bed back at the hotel. Nothing to worry about.

Lacey completed her assignment; we stopped at McDonald’s – McDonald’s! in a great foodie city we got McDonald’s? – and got back to the hotel. As we were peeling of layers of rain-soaked clothes, the phone rings.

It’s my mom.

Now, I didn’t tell my mom what hotel we were staying in. So obviously she didn’t have my room number. So imagine my surprise when I hear a strong voice, tight with worry, “Cassie? Where have you been?”

“Uhhh…the Monuments? I left my phone at the hotel this morning.”

Tension still there: “No, you dropped it on the road and the police found it. They called me.”

“Huh?”

So while I was traipsing about DC, my parents were hoping and praying I hadn’t been abducted and sold into human trafficking. Mom, in the way that only mothers do, turned into some kind of crazy investigative reporter and found information on my desk that I didn’t even know was there, located the hotel and notified the police officer who found my phone in the same water puddle that I stepped into while exiting the cab outside the Washington Monument.

So the one connection Lacey and I had to the rest of our group was cut. We were on our own. Did we care? Nope. We went to a few more sessions at the conference and spent the rest of the time exploring the city and watching “Law and Order” reruns while trying to finish class assignments. She showed me how to navigate the Metro, helped me buy my first train pass and introduced me to Thai food.

Without realizing it, we had forged a friendship. When I think about it, that first trip to DC was a foreshadowing of things to come. We live to travel.  We’ve taken several trips together since then, and every time something crazy happens. In DC, I lost the only cell phone we had between us and we were left to our own devices for a weekend. In Montana, we got stranded on the side of the highway, hopeless but for the kindness of strangers.  We’ve set up camp on a flood plain, with the campground’s owner recounting how the spot we were pitching our tent was submerged just weeks before – but we left before the thunderstorms rolled in so we didn’t wake up floating in our tent down the Red River in Kentucky. Then we decided to trek downhill for an unknown number of miles at the Natural Bridge in Kentucky, thinking that we could get back down to our car that way. Then we ended up having to climb back up in a 110-degree heat index without any water and almost keeled over from heat exhaustion. And our friendship today has the same easy grace that it had when it began – even during my awful year when I didn’t know who my real friends were.

So after seven years of little adventures, the next logical step is to take one gigantic, huge, ginormous adventure, right? We’re both wrapping up our 20s and we’ve done our time in college, racked up the obligatory, financially-devastating student loan debt and been productive, cubicle-inhabiting members of society. I think I’m safe in admitting that neither of us is very satisfied with this arrangement. So, what are we going to do about it?

I’m glad you asked.

My number one bucket list goal has always been to visit all 50 states. Number two is to circle the world, starting with Europe for my thirtieth birthday, if I hadn’t made it before. Today, I’m 365 days away from that deadline and I’m itching to go.  And guess who has the same milestone birthday next year? That’s right: Lacey! Next year, we are planning a three-week trip to Europe, but we’re buying open-ended tickets. I think I’m safe in speaking for both of us when I say that we’re tired of living our lives at the mercy of someone or something else and we want to enjoy this life before we’re too old and decrepit to leave our wheelchairs. So my birthday present to myself is going to be freedom. My student loans will still be there waiting for me when I come back down.

Lacey and I have had separate blogs with differing purposes for the last several years. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be launching a joint travel blog. I haven’t been this excited about a project since I started my own little newsletter when I was a kid. (Yes, I’ve been an unabashed nerd my entire life.) We plan to start working together to chronicle our journeys, building up to the Grand European Adventure. Once we get on that plane next year, I’m going wherever the wind takes me, student loans be damned! I hope you will follow along with us on our adventures.