Mt. Katahdin | Millinocket, ME | Bucket List Item #22

Mt. Katahdin is famous for many reasons. It’s the end of the Appalachian Trail (AT); it’s the tallest mountain in Maine, scaling a mile above sea level; and it’s home to countless misadventures and even many deaths.

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Hiking is quite possibly my favorite activity of all time, and — as someone who’s grown up in Maine — taking on the The Greatest Mountain has always been a top priority. However, even so it kicked my ass. Exercise is practically a foreign concept to me, but every summer I like to take on one, massive hike. As a young person, this is easily done without any physical preparation, but I’ll have to rethink my strategy next time because Katahdin, you truly are The Greatest Mountain.

Our plan was to begin our hike around 5:30. We were going to go up Chimney Pond, then Dudley, and then Knife’s Edge to summit. On the way down, we would take Saddle. When I was fourteen, I hiked up Chimney and part of Dudley to reach the Pamola caves. So, I thought this would be a fun, but rigorous hike that would take about ten hours.

The day did not go as planned for several reasons. When I awoke at 4:30 that morning, my stomach was in knots. I felt like I was going to vomit, but how could I come all this way and NOT hike Katahdin? It would’ve been too much of a disappointment. So, I set out and braved the trailhead. Usually, hiking up to Chimney Pond should take you about two hours. It took us two and a half due to my frequent stops and nausea, and then we had to rest for half an hour to see if I felt up to continuing on our journey.

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Chimney Pond

Now, if you’re not a big hiker or don’t feel like you can summit in a day, then hiking to Chimney Pond is a perfect way to ease into the hike. It is absolutely stunning. The water is crystal clear, and you can see straight up to the top of the mountain. You can also watch all the hikers, like little ants, climbing up any of the trails except Abol or Hunt. There are small campsites there that have a lean-to for sleeping. If you want to stay at this campsite, you better book your stay well ahead of time. Also at this campsite, you have to set up a bear bag. If you don’t know how to do that, you definitely need to learn before arriving.

However, after eating some cheese and an apple, I decided I could keep going. My stomach felt better, and my body had gotten accustomed to the mountain air. (Side note: There is nothing better than mountain air. It can feel warm on your skin, but it breathes in as cool and refreshing. It awakens the spirit.) So, we signed out at the Chimney Pond ranger station and headed out on Dudley at 8:30AM.

DSC_039Dudley has a reputation for being the hardest trail on the mountain. Honestly, I can’t tell you why; I think they’re all equally as difficult. On every trail on the front of the mountain, rock climbing is unavoidable. On Dudley, rock climbing is pretty much the whole trail. However, I prefer that for a couple reasons. One being that rock climbing is easier on your leg muscles because you depend so much on your arms. Two, when you’re consistently rock climbing, you’re body gets used to the work as opposed to when you do it in small spurts. I think I’m in the minority in this assessment, though.

DSC_33Now, I’m going to tell you something. I don’t trust a single sign in Baxter State Park in terms of mileage. I simply cannot believe that Dudley is 2.4 mi or that Knife’s Edge is 1.1 or that Saddle is 2.2. It makes absolutely no sense. I don’t think the signs are accurate, I never have, and I’ve never met anybody that does. So, moral of the story: Take the mileage signs with a grain of salt.

DSC_41.5Finally, though we reach the top of Dudley which is the summit of Pamola Mountain. It took us three hours, so we actually made pretty good time, especially considering the fact that I wanted to stop and take pictures every five feet.

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We took a break here and ate some lunch, but quickly headed out to brave the infamous Knife’s Edge. If there is any wind, clouds, or rain, Knife’s Edge is off-limits for hikers. The reason is obvious; at several points along the trail, you are literally taking your life into your own hands. The trail gets so incredibly skinny that your foot is the only thing that can fit on it. To either side of that foot are drop-offs and cliffs practically to the base of the mountain. Any slight imbalance could be the death of you.

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This hit me especially hard right as we left the summit of Pamola. The sections right next to Pamola are by far the hardest on the trail. Once you get closer to Katahdin, the trail widens up a bit and becomes less threatening. However, the very first thing we had to do on Knife’s Edge was slide-walk down a cliff face into a small landing that had cliffs on either side. Then, once you walk across this small landing, you had to climb up an almost flat wall to the top of another little hill. It was completely and utterly terrifying. I’ve never had a physical panic attack before, only mental, but about half way through Knife’s Edge my heart felt so tight that I really thought I was going to have a heart attack. After that, we had to stop pretty frequently because my panic attack was so bad. This trail is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you. I am a huge risk taker; I love doing things like this, but you need to be honest with yourself before you hike this trail. Most people face death in a way on Knife’s Edge that they have never had to do before in their lives. Of course, my boyfriend, the mountain man, was practically running across the rocks.

Eventually though, it all ended. We reached Katahdin’s summit, and I rewarded myself with a 3 Musketeers bar.

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We arrived at 1:30 and hung out at the top for about half an hour. We saw a mountain crow, which is about the same size as a hawk and also soars in the clouds like one too. It’s definitely an interesting bird.

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However, the day is not over. We still have to make it down the trail. Saddle, although it’s supposedly the easiest trail, was not all that easy. The beginning was very flat and leisurely, but eventually you come to an avalanche path and are rock climbing down the steep mountain once more. It’s incredibly hard on your knees, so be prepared for that. However, I won’t bore you too much with the details of the way down. To keep it simple, tears were shed, bruises were made, and cuts were etched into our skin. We practically ran down the mountain because all we wanted to do at that point was be done and go to bed.

When we got back to the Bunkhouse, though, we discovered something entirely unpleasant. When we booked the bunkhouse at Roaring Brook for this second night, we imagined it would be similar to the AMC White Mountain huts. We were wrong, very wrong. There were no lights in the cabin, which is not a big deal because everyone had flashlights. However, there were no mattresses on the bunks. I slept that night with the sore, bruised, cut body on a wooden plank. I basically didn’t sleep. I also considered multiple times throughout the night going to sleep outside on the ground because it would’ve been more comfortable. So, if you’re planning on staying in the bunkhouse bring yoga mats or single-person air mattresses for your bunk. Otherwise, you’re in for the worst night of your life.

Presently, I have three ingrown toenails due to this hike and my poor hiking shoes. I also have a sunburn from at spot I missed on my neck. So, prepare thoroughly for your hike up Mt. Katahdin. Don’t be an idiot like I was. This hike can be fun, but it can also be miserable. Prepare, prepare, prepare. I thought I had prepared. I had food, sunscreen, sunglasses, my hiking boots, flashlights, whistles, matches, the works. None of that is enough. Prepare until you think that your preparing for your preparations.

Ultimately, I am glad I did this. It was taxing and difficult in every way, but it’s an impressive feat. I’m proud of myself for pushing through it. In fact, it’s the only hike I’ve ever done that I’ve felt truly proud of afterwards. All other summits I’ve experienced have been more fun than burdensome, so the pride was vain. This was different. This is an accomplishment.

 

 

Skydiving | Bucket List Item #2

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August 5, 2014 was a day I contemplated my own death because I feel that if you want to skydive, you should be prepared for the possibility. However, being prepared for it did not make me any less terrified when my time came to stand on the edge of a rickety plane.

Skydiving is actually one of the safest adventures you can have in this day in age. First of all, you go tandem as a first timer. So, you don’t actually do anything. They throw you out of the plane, they pull the ripcord, and they control the parachute for the most part. So, your risk of dying is less than .001%. Still though, as you plummet from 14,000 feet in the sky towards what would be a certain death, your brain doesn’t know any better than to freak out.

I decided I wanted to skydive at the young age of six. My oldest sister had just celebrated her 18th birthday by jumping out of a plane, and I knew that one day I would do it as well. Finally, here the day was and I felt incredibly calm beforehand. But I knew this was just the calm before the storm. At about 10,000 feet in the air when my instructor strapped himself onto me, things changed. The nerves and anxiety started to creep in. I tried my best to stay calm, but my boyfriend knew better. He told me, “You look like you’re about to shit your pants.” He was probably right.

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Falling through the sky was not the rush everyone had always said it would be. At least, not for me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I was having a near panic attack throughout the whole free fall. Somehow, the pictures didn’t come out to agree with that story, though. My whole family thought I was lying about hating it.

Finally that madness ended and the parachuting was enjoyable, the views incredible. I’m glad I did it, but the first thing out of my mouth when I reached the ground again was, “I’m never doing that again!” I think I’ll keep that promise too. It was on my bucket list; it was a thrill; it was something most people don’t do in their lives; and it was unforgettable. However, it’s not something I am ever interested in doing again surprisingly. It just isn’t the kind of adrenaline rush that interests me, I suppose.

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Afterwards, I had a few reactions. One, I needed water right away. It’s shocking how much the whole thing dehydrates you. I drank a whole bottle of water as soon as I got down. Two, I got pretty nauseous. I don’t think this is a common reaction, and it surprised me since I can stomach almost anything. I guess my stomach just wasn’t made to be falling from the sky. Lastly, and most importantly, don’t plan on doing anything else with your day afterwards. Your whole body feels incredibly weak, as if your muscles have just decided to stop working. The first thing you’re going to want to do is take a nap to recover your strength. I suppose that since your brain has just told your body it’s going to die that your muscles sort of go into shock and then can’t bounce back as quickly as your brain.

 

All in all, it was a good experience. My instructor, David, was fabulous and the company does a good job. Thank you, Skydive New England for the adventure. I won’t be back, but I think my boyfriend might be when he saves up another $210 dollars to take the leap again.

To see my complete Bucket List, click here.

Windjammer Festival | Boothbay Harbor, ME

Everyone has their own coastal town of Maine. Mine happens to be Thomaston and Rockland, but my boyfriend’s is Boothbay. They’re all basically the same thing. Some have more things to do than others, but — when it comes down to it — shopping, food, salt water, and boats are what each community revolves around.

The last full of week of June is the Windjammer Festival in Boothbay, and I’m happy to adopt Boothbay as my coastal Maine community for just that week each year. The Festival is the start of tourist season for the town. All the shops are open and stocked full of knick-knacks, handcrafted goods, and expensive jewelry. Although the festival was supposed to be a week this year, it’s really a two-day ordeal. On the Tuesday of the week is when everything starts — the raffle, the Antique Boat Parade, and the hoards of bourgeois vacationists.

Here’s the best kept secret from spying tourists, though. The Used Book Store on top of the hill is the crowning jewel of my trip every year. Most books are 50¢, but they go up to as high as $3. All the books are delivered from the library, and this is the one time each year where they do the sale. Between my boyfriend and I, the classics section of the store is wiped out within 10 minutes of the store opening. At this point, we really need to create our own library. However, when we build our house in a few years, our only definite plan is to have a whole level become a custom library filled with our books. It will look similar to the Beauty and the Beast library.

Also be sure to thoroughly browse through Enchantments. It’s a hippie-esque store where each shelf is stuffed with odd finds. I was able to purchase a beautiful surrealist photograph this year that I’m absolutely in love with. It’s called O Duomo Mio by Thomas Barbey. You’ll find vintage posters, boho garb, glass, books of zen, wicca, and others, wind chimes, jewelry, and anything else you could imagine.

On Wednesday, is the Windjammer Day. In the afternoon, all the Windjammers and Schooners sail into the harbor where they anchor for the night. Usually four or five boats sail in, taking up the majority of the harbor. This year, only two came. It was rather disappointing, and I can only presume that it’s due to the change in festival management this year. Hopefully, it will be back to normal next year.

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Other than that, though, very little happens. So be prepared to eat, drink, sunbathe, drink, shop, and, oh, did I mention drink? It’s a vacation in the true sense of the word. Nothing but sea breeze, sun, alcohol, and good food.

Speaking of good food. The absolute best restaurant in the whole of the harbor is The Thistle Inn. If you don’t eat there, you’re crazy. Both their pub menu and their fine dining menu are fantastic! Specifically this season, the pan seared scallops on a spinach and couscous risotto were fantastic. A choice like that on a menu is a gamble because risotto — even at the best restaurants in the world — are incredibly hard to make well and are even more hit or miss. However, The Thistle Inn hit it out of the park. It was by far the best choice on the fine dining menu. However, everything was great — the Lazy Lobster, the Lobster Paella, the chicken, the steak, the oysters, the crab cakes, everything.

So, if you find yourself in the Boothbay region for Windjammer, look up at the corner balconies of the hotels and you’ll find myself, my boyfriend, and the in-laws each and every year. Remember, though, this is not a trip to take if you’re looking for a travel adventure. This is the epitome of a vacation.

Ripton, Vermont

Eventually — if you head west from Portland, Maine — you will snake your way through the mountains and find yourself in the forgotten state of Vermont. Although Vermont is consistently in the news for their progressive, liberal laws, Vermont has remained tucked away in a corner of history that many often forget still exists. Each town is tiny, each person at peace, and everyone knows everyone’s name. In fact, few exceptions can be found for this observation.

No town better exemplifies this phenomenon than Ripton, VT. You can find this charming town just twenty minutes outside of Middlebury, where VT 125 rips right through the center of town. When I visited this quaint village over the past weekend, I stayed at the Chipman Inn.

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The Chipman Inn is a typical, New England bed and breakfast. Wallpaper decks every room, lace doilies are practically the foundation of the building, and a single, elderly woman — who has lived in Ripton most of her life — takes care of everything. The woman at the Chipman Inn, though, is particularly talkative. She’ll talk your ear off if you let her, and she’ll reference all the people in the town as if you know them too. One story was worth it all, though; she told us of a band of hooligans who called themselves “The Hoot-n-Holler Gang.” They all lived on top of the mountain in tar-paper shacks and liked to cause a ruckus in town “at least once a week.” Often times it was from drunk driving or other inappropriate drunken behavior. One night — back in the early ’80s — she woke at three in the morning to a loud pounding on the door of the Inn. Now, not wanting to know exactly who was at her door, she decided not to turn on the lights. She did, however, open the door to talk to them. (Read this next bit in a drunken slur): “Missus, the cops are after us. Can you hide us in here?” they asked. She responded, “I’ve got all sorts of guests in here, there’s no way I’m hiding you. But come here.” And — at least the way she told the story — she then proceeded to grab him by the scruff of his neck and drag him to the back door. She throws the out through the back door and says, “Now you climb up that mountain. You live up there, you know how to do it. Don’t go up the road because that’s where the cops will be. You climb up that mountain and get home!” That was the last she heard from them. The cops never found them, and she always expected the cops to come to her door and ask her if she had seen anything, but they never did. And, she emphasizes, she didn’t actually ever see anything.

We enjoyed our stay at the Inn, but there were some faux-pas. She forgot that my boyfriend was gluten-free, so she served a breakfast of french toast and he had to skip the meal. Also, if you have even the slightest allergies during the springtime, the old building is not conducive to them. My boyfriend, who usually doesn’t get allergies, was coughing throughout the whole night. However, regardless of these small missteps, the Inn was comfortable, clean, and everything you would expect of a New England B+B. The unique feature, though, was their bar. Locals will come all the way from Middlebury to drink in the small, dark room lit by a red-light in the hall. And, moreover, this bar has a church pew as seating. It was quite adorable. She even keeps a Christmas tree up year-round.

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The town of Ripton has a lively night life, though. In their community center, which is right next door to the Chipman Inn, they often have “rockin’ concerts.” They’ve had some bigger bands, but it’s often local talent who play in the Hall. Cars will pack the small parking lot and fill up the entire section of VT 125 that runs through town. It’s a sight to see in such a small town. Even with these modern bands playing, Ripton could never forget where it came from. Right next to the community center is a sign from the days of carriages in 1800s.

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Across the street from the Inn is another old-time feature of the town: The Country Store. It’s charming and you can get a few things in there. The largest section is for wines — Vermont made, of course. Apparently, though, the rows of mailboxes in the store are a fairly recent addition (like in the ’90s).

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Yet, even with these small-town gems, the most attractive part of Ripton were the vast trail networks. The first day we were there, we hiked the Spirit in Nature trails. These trails have been designated with carious religions, such as Christian, Bahai, Native American, Pagan, Buddhist, Quaker, and many more. On each path, signs with quotations or sayings from the religion are posted for you to read. These trails are beautiful, and the longest one is only 1.5 miles. You could do all of them in an afternoon. They also have a Sacred Circle in which campfires and interfaith gatherings take place. There are also plenty of places to go off the trails and explore, perhaps even see some wildlife.

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On the second day, we explored the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail. Robert Frost summered in Ripton for thirty years. Much of his poetry was influenced by the trails and wildlife of the woods there. On this trail, various poems of his are posted along the walk to inspire you. Now, I don’t find Frost a particularly interesting writer. His work is very obvious, there’s not much to divine from it, which is why he’s so popular I suppose. However, Frost and I have very similar relationships with nature. We’re both radical environmentalists and firmly believe in the spiritual enlightenment which can only be found in the natural world. This trail was, in my opinion, much better than the Spirit trails. The ecosystems were more diverse, and the poetry was placed along the path in a strategic way. Plus, there was an amazing climbing tree by the meadow.

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Overall, Ripton was a lovely weekend spent. I would suggest it to fellow travelers, although it’s not good for much more than a weekend. It was a wonderful way to rejuvenate and step away from the stresses of technology and everyday life. The thing I will take away from Ripton, and specifically Robert Frost, is to always remain actively aware that humanity are the coniferous trees and those are the end of the cycle.

 

 

 

 

The American Road Trip – Why Every High School Graduate Needs to Do It.

You’ve done it — you’re just over a month away from completing the 13 years of school that make you eligible for entry level jobs, college admission, and mean that you’re now generally accepted as an adult (even though most of you aren’t even close). So what do you do with this last summer of freedom? Well, you better use it wisely because it really is your last summer of freedom. After this it will be jobs, internships, and very little time to do something crazy. You’re in a state of transition now; big changes are approaching quickly. The American Road Trip is the best way to celebrate your accomplishments, cherish your high school friendships, and prepare you for the unlimited independence you will soon have. Plus, it’s one of the most fun things you’ll do in your lifetime.

These are the key elements to having the perfect road trip:

1.) Live cheaply. This is important because otherwise you won’t actually get to experience what America is really like. If you spend all your time in hotels, resorts, and at tourist destinations, then what are you getting out of the trip? Not that much. So, pack a tent and stay at national parks which are incredibly cheap or even free. The bonus sides of staying at campgrounds and national parks are that you get to see the beautiful landscape that America is known for. America is one of the most diverse countries in the world in terms of landscapes; we’ve got everything from glaciers to deserts, so seeing all of these things is important to a great American road trip. Other bonuses of living cheaply are getting to meet locals, seeing sights that are off the beaten path, and not getting frustrated by Interstate and city traffic. (Oh and, of course, saving money.)

Tip: Try to save YOUR OWN money for this trip. Using money given to you by your parents just won’t make it the same experience, and you won’t learn as much from it. I saved $1200 of my own over the course of my senior year by babysitting to make my road trip happen — and I didn’t even use all of it.

When my boyfriend and I drove from Portland, Maine to Paradise, Montana we religiously stayed at campgrounds and national parks. Sometimes we stayed with friends we knew across the country as well, which has it’s own perks. We spent many nights around campfires talking to hitchhikers, RV-travelers, and park rangers alike. On our trip, we stayed at campgrounds in Red Wing, Minnesota, Mitchell, South Dakota, and Brodhead, Wisconsin. We also stayed at Wind Cave National Park and Glacier National Park. Then we stayed with friends in Chicago, Cleveland, and Harrisburg.

This could also mean using online programs like WWOOF, CrewSeekers, and CouchSurfers to find a place to stay and eat for free in exchange for work.

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Red Wing, Minnesota

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Local bar

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Glacier National Park – Gunsight Pass Trail

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Glacier National Park

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Glacier National Park – Gunsight Lake

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Bighorn Rams on a back road in South Dakota

2.) Your traveling companion needs to be your best friend. If you don’t do this with your best friend, it could turn out disastrously. Then again, it could turn out great. But by doing it with your best friend, you’ll form memories and a bond that will last a lifetime. High school friendships inevitably fade, but this experience together will make your friendship transcend the boundaries of high school. It will truly become a lifelong friendship.

Asa and our car at a scenic outlook in South Dakota

Asa and our car at a scenic outlook in South Dakota

3.) Don’t be afraid to fly by the seat of your pants. Making plans on the fly can be nerve wracking, but that’s what road tripping is all about. When you see billboards for “Wall Drug” or “The World’s Largest Corn Palace,” don’t be afraid to pull off at the next exit — those are the things that make the road trip both fun and full of great stories to tell. Also, be prepared for your plans to fall through. Once, my boyfriend and I were planning on spending four nights in Bighorn Canyon National Park. This happens to be in the middle of a desert in Wyoming. Once arriving, we spent a long time trying to drive our tents stakes into the gravel — even having to borrow a hammer from a neighboring RV. However, once finally getting our stakes in the ground — the tent just blew right over, laying flat to the ground. So, we had to say ‘Fuck the desert’ and move on. Thank god for smartphones, with which we could Google hotels in the area and book one for the night. Consequently, we had to drive two more hours to Sheridan, Wyoming over a massive mountain range. Our little 2002 Toyota Corolla barely made the journey; we had to stop the car at every scenic overlook just to make sure it didn’t overheat. However, this was one of the best memories of our entire trip. We also had to re-work our plans for the next five days, and consequently discovered Wind Cave National Park, which is one of the coolest places we’ve ever been. We fondly refer to that whole experience as the “Desert Fiasco.” These are the moments you live for on a road trip — the ones you didn’t ever mean to happen. These experiences prepare you for the realities of living on your own. You learn how to make your own decisions quickly and confidently and not be terrified of the outcome.

 

 

"The Desert Fiasco"

“The Desert Fiasco”

The Desert

The Desert

One of the scenic overlooks at which we rested our car

One of the scenic overlooks at which we rested our car

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Wind Cave National Park

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Wind Cave National Park

4.) Don’t be afraid to splurge. Splurging is important; it can rejuvenate you and it’s just as much a part of a place’s culture as the low-budget joints. It depends on who you are and what you like, but you could splurge on anything from a nice bed and breakfast to a fancy dinner. Asa and I stayed in the Africa Room at the Coyote Blues Village Bed and Breakfast for one night on our way to Montana — private bathroom, private patio and hot tub, private entrance, and a great breakfast in the morning. It was wonderful, we both highly recommend it. We also splurged several times on meals, as we’re both quite the ‘foodies.’ Our favorite meal, however, was at The Silk Road in Missoula, Montana. It was a tapas restaurant with foods from all around the world. It was one of the best meals we’ve ever had (which is saying a lot considering we live in Portland, Maine which is evidently the fine dining capital of the US.) We got seven tapas and drinks for $50 flat — absolutely fantastic food and price.

The Bed and Breakfast

The Bed and Breakfast

The Africa Room

The Africa Room

Rejuvenation after 4 days straight in a car

Rejuvenation after 4 days straight in a car

5.) Budget, Budget, Budget. Although you’re making plans on the fly and occasionally splurging, you must always be aware of your finances. At least every other day I would suggest checking your bank account to make sure everything’s all set. Some days you’ll spend more than you thought you would and you’ll have to know that. Otherwise, you’ll run out of cash and find yourself stranded in a strange place that probably has very spotty cell service. So, while you need not be scared of spending all your money on this trip, make sure all that money gets you back home. Asa and I spent a total of $2000 during our 4-week long road trip. We did lots of hiking, ate lots of great food, and went to two amusement parks. It will depend on where you stay and how you live, but it is entirely possible to drive cross country and back on $1000 per person.

So, what will high school graduates gain out of an American road trip? Lifelong memories and lifelong friendships for starters; those are truly the most important things that will make the summer the best ever. However, practically speaking graduates will learn how to manage their money, balancing fun with necessity. They will learn to live in the moment, not worrying too much about either the past or the future. They will learn  what their personal priorities are. Is having a shower everyday a must? What about a real bed? These are important things to know about yourself. Graduates will learn more about themselves on this trip than they ever have before in their life.

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Tip: A sample itinerary (as provided by my own road trip in Summer 2013):

Day 1: Drive Portland to Harrisburg (8 hrs). Stay with relatives.

Day 2: Drive Harrisburg to Chicago (12 hrs). Go to friends’ gig for a few hours. Stay with friends.

Day 3: Drive Chicago to Red Wing, Minnesota (6 hrs). Set up our tent for the first time. Stay at campground.

Day 4: Drive Red Wing to Rapid City (10 hrs). Stay at Bed and Breakfast. (We got up to watch the sunrise over Mt. Rushmore)

Day 5: Drive Rapid City to Paradise, Montana (13 hours). Stay at farm on which we WWOOFed. See here for details about WWOOF program.

Day 6-19: WWOOFing on a lavender farm. Our work arrangement allowed us to have afternoons and weekends off to explore Montana. Work arrangements will vary from farm to farm. We got to see Glacier National Park, Missoula, and the National Bison Range during these afternoons. We also spent a lot of time swimming and hanging out on the farm or in the little town which the farm was located. This is a great way to travel cheaply in any country; plus you get to see both sides of the place you’re in, the local and the tourist.

Our farm - Paula Jean's Lavender Farm

Our farm – Paula Jean’s Lavender Farm

Our tent at the farm

Our tent at the farm

The river at the farm to swim in

The river at the farm to swim in

Asa hard at work harvesting lavender

Asa hard at work harvesting lavender

Day 20: Drive Paradise to Lovell, Wymoing (9 hrs) to Sheridan, Wyoming (2 more hrs). This day involved what we fondly refer to as the “Desert Fiasco.” Stay at Mill Inn.

Day 21: Drive Sheridan to Wind Cave National Park (5 hrs). Go on a cave tour. Stay at the campground in the park.

Day 22: Go on more cave tours and go for a hike. We also ate at a very interesting local restaurant in Pringle, South Dakota for dinner. Stay at campground again.

Day 23: Drive Wind Cave to Mitchell, SD (4.5 hrs). Go bowling. Stay at campground.

Day 24: Drive Mitchell to Brodhead, Wisconsin (8 hrs). Stay at Sweet Minihaha Campground (we do NOT recommend). We had a very memorable night however. It was the first night all summer that it rained — and it poured. The rain blew into the tent and the whole tent flooded. Lightning was going off non-stop. We had to evacuate to the car and play cards until the storm passed. The tent was ruined — luckily it was our last night in the tent. We woke up to discover that every other fellow tenter had left in the middle of the night.

Day 25: Drive Brodhead to Columbus. Stay with friend.

Day 26: Go to Cedar Point Amusement Park. Stay again with friend.

Day 27: Drive Columbus to Harrisburg. Stay with relative.

Day 28: Go to Hershey Park. (This was free for us because Asa’s uncle is high up on the Hershey corporate ladder.) Stay again with relative.

Day 29: Drive Harrisburg to Portland. AND WE’RE HOME.

This itinerary is what I did. What you do will depend on lots and lots of things; What do you want to see? Where are you from? What can you afford? Etc, etc. Planning the trip initially is one of the best parts of the road trip, but always remember that those plans WILL change because things happen when you’re out alone on the open road. So don’t be too attached to those tentative plans. Also, try and keep in contact with your parents as your plans change. They will greatly appreciate it because, as much as this summer is about you learning to manage your independence, it’s also about your parents learning to let you have that freedom.

Tip: Take pictures and pictures and pictures because you’ll want to remember every second. However, don’t live in the lens because then you’ll never truly experience anything. Strike the balance.

 

Barcelona, Spain

We landed in the Barcelona Airport on March 15 at 8:30PM, barely knowing what our next move was. All we knew is we were supposed to be sailing a 50′ Catamaran from Palma de Mallorca, Spain to Faro, Portugal and it was going to take five weeks. We knew that the boat was not seaworthy and so, three days after our arrival in Port d’Andratx, we flew from Palma to Barcelona with no money and no way to contact our families back in the states. Most importantly though, we knew we didn’t care that we had no plan, and we knew everything was going to work out just fine.

Our faces as we left Club de Vela and drove to the Palma airport.

Our faces as we left Club de Vela and drove to the Palma airport.

Arriving in Barcelona we knew two things: the address of the Youth Hostel where we were spending the night and that I had to see La Sagrada Familia or I would not be satisfied. Beyond those two things, anything and everything was fair game. I was remarkably calm considering this was my first time traveling in Europe. Perhaps this was because Barcelona had been my dream destination since I was twelve years old and the Cheetah Girls 2 had taken place there. Perhaps this is because in the face of true uncertainty, I can step up to the plate. Either way, I felt that the stars were aligning for the first time since we had flown out of Boston.

As we drove in the backseat of the taxi to Center Rambles Youth Hostel, the city was alive. It was a Saturday night, and — for the Spanish — it was still very early in the evening. People were everywhere, lights lit up the skinny streets of the Gothic Center in every direction you looked, and the energy of the city just felt free. In Spain, everything is manana. The people don’t seem to let small things bother them as much as we do in America — and you could feel that right away.

Arriving at the hostel, the guy at the desk was evidently stoned. His dirty-blond hair was flying in every direction, his shirt was unbuttoned half way down his chest, and his eyes were bloodshot and glazed. He spoke English fairly well it seemed, but every reaction was delayed; you could see the effort he had to put into paying attention to our words and his work.

 

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The front of our hostel.

Dragging our luggage up three flights of stairs, our room wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated. It was at the end of the hall, so remarkably quiet. It was meant to house 8 travelers, but only two other people were staying with us, a brother and a sister from Brazil. They spoke almost no English, and we almost never saw them except when we left the room in the mornings. We still wouldn’t dare use the bathrooms, though.

Luckily, the hostel which had claimed to be “very central,” really was right smack in the center of Barcelona. It was one block off from Las Ramblas, a 10-minute walk from Barceloneta Beach, a 30-minute walk to La Sagrada Familia, and a 30-minute walk from the National Palace. Everything was within walking distance, which was perfect because there’s no better way to see a city than to wander through it. Also luckily, the hostel had free Wi-Fi, which was immensely helpful as it was the only way to contact our families. After Facebook messaging them all night, we worked out that we would move our flight up to the following Friday, March 21. It cost way too much money, but there was no way we could survive for 5 weeks in Europe with the money we had.

So, Sunday morning we got up with the sun and headed out into the city streets. We knew we wanted to get to La Sagrada Familia, but none of the tourist maps were of any use as they didn’t show nearly all of the city streets. So, we went wandering in the direction of the sun in search of the masterpiece. Along the way we discovered a majestic fountain.

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That’s one of the best parts of Europe; everywhere you turn there are monuments, statues, churches, and fountains that aren’t even of any remarkable value to tourists — they’re complete throw aways, but in any American city they would be the most prominent tourist attraction. This was by far the most beautiful fountain I’ve ever seen, and moreover it was by far the most impressive “throw-away” that Asa and I had the privilege of encountering while we were lost in Barcelona.

Another benefit of letting yourself get lost in a city is seeing all of the tiny pieces that give a city it’s own culture. From street art, to crossing the streets through marathon runners, and the city’s wildlife — it all creates the story of the city.

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“If I weren’t a tree, I would kiss you right now”

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Neon green parrots that terrorized pigeons and small children alike.

Wild orange trees could be found throughout the Park. They were not very tasty, however.

Wild orange trees could be found throughout the Park. They were not very tasty, however.

This section of the city evoked a sense of Paris. All of these buildings and streets were new — meaning the 18th century. The streets were wide, the sidewalks clean, and the architecture was grand, godly, and detailed. After much wandering, we finally found the highlight of our trip — La Sagrada Familia.

La Sagrada Familia is a building truly unlike any other. I would go as far to say that is the most beautiful building in the world. Designed by Gaudi, who I’m certain part of my soul once belonged to, the entire premise of the design was to evoke nature because the forest was the first church. Inside the Basilica are beams, high as a skyscraper, that instantly conjure images of trees. The ceiling is covered in shapes that are meant to be the leaves in the forest’s canopy, although I thought they were meant to be stars. Either way, the effect is the same.

The first thing you see when entering the Basilica.

The first thing you see when entering the Basilica.

 

A good example of the canopy effect.

A good example of the canopy effect.

In this picture, you can get a sense of the enormous scale of these tree-like pillars.

In this picture, you can get a sense of the enormous scale of these tree-like pillars.

As you can see, Gaudi left no detail out; he even added what are supposed to be knots on a tree about halfway up each pillar. However, the most incredible part of the entire design are undeniably the stained glass windows.

 

The sole purpose of the glass is to create the perfect color, emulating the ambiance of light trickling through a forest.

The sole purpose of the glass is to create the perfect color, emulating the ambiance of light trickling through a forest.

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My personal favorite photo of the glass.

My personal favorite photo of the glass.

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The stained glass had no images in it like at a traditional Cathedral, only blocks of color to create the perfect lighting. In fact, the entire Basilica contained almost no images. The only images were of Christ on the cross and the four symbols of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

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The outside of the church holds all the imagery. The backside displays the Nativity Facade, which is a very intricate design, more like what we have to come to expect of Cathedrals.

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The Tree of Life, which is an element incorporated into all Gaudi designs.

The Tree of Life, which is an element incorporated into all Gaudi designs.

I could write an entire novel on what it was like to be inside the glorious Cathedral, and I could write another book on Gaudi’s creative process in designing it. What I will say here, however, is that being inside this building was like no experience that I’ve ever had. Asa and I sat silently inside the Basilica for 2 full hours. I found myself in a trance, mesmerized by the colorful light and columns that soared upwards. This Cathedral, although designated as Roman Catholic, is a sanctuary for a pantheist like myself. Christians everywhere have always struggled to balance the fine line between monotheism and pantheism that the religion promotes. God is one, but God is everywhere and is everything. Gaudi’s design underscores this dilemma. As someone who goes to church, was raised Lutheran, but considers herself pantheist in her actual ideology — I found La Sagrada Familia to be the perfect sanctuary. It was beautiful, it made me cry, you could hear the heavens silently ringing in it’s forest of stone. I still firmly believe that I could have sat in the Basilica for all eternity without experiencing boredom, hunger, thirst, or any want whatsoever. Although the unintelligent and insensitive alike will never be able to truly appreciate and understand the beauty and experience which is this building, it is a sight worth seeing for everyone. Just try and remember that you’re in a sacred place and that you shouldn’t be bickering with your family as you walk through it.

Another highlight of our Barcelonian adventure was our night at Bar Pastis. A hole-in-the-wall bar in Barcelona is a place that my soul feels completely at home. Absinth is on tap, the walls are covered head to toe in comics, paintings, newspapers, sculptures, and any old thing you could imagine. The whole bar is about the size of my dining room, which is about 200 square feet. When we arrived, the place was dead. We thought that at 9:30PM the Spanish would be at the bars already, but we were wrong. We sat drinking with the owner and bartender, who spoke no English, and watched futbol on the small television hanging high up on the wall — practically the ceiling. About an hour later, all at once a hoard of probably 20 people flooded into the tiny room. All of a sudden the place breathed. At first, I was uncomfortable with this. It felt sacrilege to the place — a place that I felt was only for the burdened souls of artists. It only took me about 15 minutes to get over this feeling. The energy of the place was refreshing, it was the only real cultural experience we had while in Barcelona. No one spoke English and everyone was there to see a concert of accordion and guitar, which was indeed magical.

Bar Pastis – Barcelona – Click for video of Musicians playing

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After this truly mesmerizing performance, lots of lively conversation with the musicians and audience alike, and a few too many Cuba Libres, we headed back to the hotel. (Yes, we only stayed 3 nights in the hostel and then moved to Hotel Ramblas down the street for the last 3 nights. It was well worth it.)

The last major highlight of our time in Barcelona, at least for me personally, was going to see Park Guell. We had quite the adventure just getting there; we were confused about the stop we had to take on the metro, thinking we had to get off at the end of the line. We found ourselves in Trinitat Nova, wandering aimlessly up the hills trying to find the park. This neighborhood did not seem tourist-friendly and most people seemed to live in poverty. It was slightly nerve-wracking because we didn’t know where we were, we had no way to figure out where we were going, and no one spoke English. However, it was a refreshing experience to get to see a truer side to Barcelona. Eventually a nice woman pulled up a translator app on her phone to help us find our way.

Finally we came to the right metro stop. Still though, we could not find the Park for our lives. We knew we were only 1.3km from the Park, but we wandered for an hour unable to find it. So, we stopped in a hotel to get lunch and then took a taxi the 1.3km to the Park. I have to say it was worth it. As I mentioned earlier, Barcelona had been the city of my dreams since The Cheetah Girls 2 aired in 2006. This park is where one of the most iconic scenes in the film was shot, so it was the fulfillment of my Cheetah Girl dreams to see it. Beyond my childhood fantasies, though, the park was also designed by Gaudi, who has become one of my favorite people in history since this trip. The buildings in the park looked like gingerbread houses and it was practically a maze through it all. Every pathway you walked under could also be walked over, if you could find your way there. The park expanded far into the mountains beyond what Gaudi had designed, and every turn you took looked almost identical to the last. It was an adventure just walking around. Street vendors line every pathway, as do bubble-blowers, magicians, and musicians. Every moment was full of the joy of a new surprise.

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Ultimately, getting to know the city of Barcelona was not hard. We spent 5 days wandering the city streets, which is the best way to get to know any place. In fact, the best way to get to know a place is not to plan your trip before you get there; you have to go with the flow, get lost in the streets, mingle with locals from all walks of life. In short, you have to see every side of the city, and you must be open to having adventures.

Some more of my personal highlights:

The parks on the Eastern side of the city.

The parks on the Eastern side of the city.

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A must-see: The indoor markets. I spent hours wandering through this market, purely delighted by all the sights, sounds, tastes, and scents.

A must-see: The indoor markets. I spent hours wandering through this market, purely delighted by all the sights, sounds, tastes, and scents.

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The best butter I’ve ever had.

From Castell Montjuic and from the hills of Nova Trinitat are the most spectacular views of the city.

From Castell Montjuic and from the hills of Trinitat Nova are the most spectacular views of the city.