Don’t forget to check out part 1 and part 2 of our westward road trip!
Adrenaline kept me upright for the first few hours the morning after listening to the bear (or whatever it was) battering away at a fellow camper’s food locker. I’ll still never know if it actually was a grizzly bear, but I couldn’t help but think about Paul’s warning that they had a grizzly that visited the campground.
As we inhaled our half-cooked hash browns and overcooked scrambled eggs at breakfast—they were warm and the air was a brisk 35 or 40 degrees—-we pondered our plan for the day. It was only a matter of time before my high-strung bear anxiety dissipated and I entered extreme sleep deprivation auto-pilot. If there’s one thing that I need, for my own sanity and the sanity of those around me, it’s at least six hours of sleep every night. I would be operating far under threshold today, and we were expecting a grueling day of hiking, exploring, and further altitude adjustment.
The thought lingering in the back of my mind was that I would need to do it all over again for at least two more nights. We were debating staying at our campsite two more nights for the eclipse, making it a total of 5 nights in Grand Teton instead of our planned three nights. There was a solid chance this could shape up to be one of the most miserable trips of my life if I had to stick out five nights sleeping in a tent with a grizzly visiting the campsite every night.
We packed up and headed towards the park. Our plan was to hike String Lake around to Jenny Lake and up towards Cascade Canyon. When we parked the car, applied our sunscreen, loaded our packs with food and water bottles, and were just about to hit the trail at 8:45 am, we noticed a vital element missing. The bear spray. Sam remembered seeing it in the tent since we kept it there last night as a precaution, and it must’ve still been there. After the events last night and all the warnings we’d heard, there was no way we were hiking without a can of bear spray.
After taking in the view and monarch tree at Sun Yat-Sen Park, Sam and I continued our drive along the Pilani Highway towards Hana. The seascapes were immaculate as we ascended the south rim of Maui. We were one of the few cars driving the highway (and the only car going east, towards Hana, instead of away from Hana), but there were plenty of horses walking alongside the road. We let the ocean breeze blow through the windows as we tried taking in the scope of this place. This isolation and tropical paradise felt like a dream.
We started coming back down from the rolling foothills of the volcano, easing closer to the shoreline. There was a scenic overlook on the edge of the road with an overlook, and we were shocked that no one else was stopped there. A fierce, gusting wind kept us back from the edge, reminding me that the spirit of this place is a living, powerful force still present today. I could have bathed in the colors of this scene for hours and never get sick of it.
We continued eastward. Our goal was to reach the Haleakalā National Park on the south shoreline. It would be the fifth National Park we’d visit in 2016, and we wanted to add it to our list. The Park occupies a massive 33,000 acres on Maui, stretching from the summit of the dormant volcano on the inner part of the island all the way to the south coast.
From our hotel in Kihei, the drive to Halaeakalā’s Visitor Center near Kaupo was estimated to take two hours. There was one rule that kept appearing over and over again as we researched the Road to Hana: make sure you’re off the route before the sun sets. We left Kihei shortly after noon and the sunset was scheduled for 6 pm. Based on the open road and expansive vistas we’d seen from higher up the mountain, we were confident we’d have an hour or two to explore the park once we arrived.
We left Jackson with all our camping maps, making our way up to Moran Junction, far northeast of the popular Jenny Lake area of Grand Teton National Park. Per the US National Forest rangers, we drove east away from the park. A curvy road free from cars and filled greeted us with stunning views of the Blackrock Creek valley. Just when we were certain we took a wrong turn, we saw a sign indicating the Turpin Meadow campground was a mile ahead of us.
Instant relief overtook us when we saw a few open spots at this 18-site campground. We claimed a spot with plenty of shade, a fire pit (a huge relief: any fires outside pits were banned due to severe drought in the region), a sturdy picnic table, and a large bear locker for food. All smiles and joy, we unpacked everything and set up our beloved 2-person tent. The campsite was quiet enough to feel secluded from the masses in the National Park but there were enough people near us that we didn’t feel alone in the wilderness. This was a particularly important balance to me, as the presence of grizzlies made me feel queasy every time I thought about those big furry bears stalking around the woods. I tried to shake off my lingering bear anxiety and focus on how happy I was to have a campsite with other campers nearby.
Paul, the full-time campsite host at Turpin Meadow along with his wife Judy, greeted us and gave us the lowdown. He was frank about the presence of a grizzly in the areabut said the bear never bothered anyone. Sam and I nodded, and I pretended to be ok with this information. We thanked Paul for the info and took off for our first hike in Grand Teton National Park.
For Christmas this past year, my brother gave us a scratch-off map of the United States. The idea is to scratch off all the places we’ve visited together until we clear the entire US map. When we were planning our trip to Massachusetts for Ragnar, Sam pointed out the close proximity of Rhode Island—a state we haven’t visited as individuals or a couple, and also a state we probably wouldn’t plan to visit. I found some decently priced Amtrak tickets during our planning and we planned a day trip to Providence because we didn’t know what else to do.
Some of our Ragnar teammates were from Rhode Island. When they heard we were going to Providence, they shook their heads and told us to cancel those plans and head to Newport, RI instead. They gave us a lot of great pointers for things to do in Newport and really talked it up, so Sam and I shifted our plans. We couldn’t cancel the Amtrak tickets to Providence, but we could rent a car in Providence for the day and drive to Newport instead. Now that we actually had a plan for some things to do, we were excited!
Psst: want the quick synopsis? Check out this 3-minute video of our trip:
We woke up early on Tuesday morning and made our way to South Station to catch our train. In no time at all, we were walking out into a blue-skied day in Providence. The Rhode Island State House, located right outside the train station, drew us in and welcomed us to the smallest state in the USA. There wasn’t a soul around, so we walked right up the State House steps and took in the view. While it helped that it was a gorgeous day outside, we were already pretty psyched about being in Rhode Island (and I’ll be the first to admit that I never thought I’d say that).
We arrived in Boston mid-morning on Thursday, the day before our Ragnar Cape Cod race. Lucky for us, we scheduled our visit so that we could maximize our time in the city, meaning we had almost a full day to check out Boston before our Ragnar race started.
The T subway system put us in an instant state of confusion, but one of the station workers at the airport helped us get where we needed to be. Our friend from Chicago, John, was running Ragnar with us over the weekend and used to live in Boston. He told us where to meet him downtown and gave us a brief walking tour around the city.
Even though I wasn’t one of the three winners selected from 8,000+ entries, I’m still happy I entered the contest. Of course, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to take a free trip to the Balkans (because DUH), but more importantly, I’ve never entered a writing contest like this before. It was a great challenge for me, as it required me to hone my travel story into 2,500 carefully selected words. Plus, I researched the Balkans region a lot before submitting my entry and this part of the world is now high on my list of places to visit someday.
Since I’ve not had the chance to blog in a while, I wanted to share my entry here. You can also find it on the World Nomads site (and read some other submissions, too). I hope you enjoy it! (Note: the photos were not part of the submission, but I like them.)
We’re standing on (what feels like) the hundredth hairpin curve, halfway to the Pena National Palace in Sintra, and my husband is ignoring me. Gasping for air, sweat soaking through our shirts, the tension between us is as palpable as the sweltering humidity. The shade from the tall trees does little to cool our overheated bodies and tempers. As we silently fume, another air-conditioned bus filled with happy tourists drones past us towards the apex.
Sam’s folks were in town this last weekend, which allowed us to take advantage of doing some of the more tourist-y type things here in Chicago. One of our favorite places we’ve visited since living here is the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio located in Oak Park. There are so many perks to living here in Chicago, but access to historic buildings by so many renowned architects is something we’ve really grown to appreciate. We’ve done two river boat tours and visited FLW’s home twice since moving here. It’s fascinating learning more about the people who shaped and built our city into the space it is today.
Even though this is a short post, I wanted to share some photos from Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio. I tend to take more detail-oriented photographs, but I feel that FLW’s penchant for intimate details lends itself to this kind of visual documentation. I hope you enjoy the pictures and visit this beautiful estate-turned-museum yourself!
I thought we’d never get here: Day 31. The other side. It’s intimidating, a relief, and a tease all at the same time.
It doesn’t help that Week 4 still held a lot of challenges for us, including a near-quitting day for me and a work conference filled with the most beautiful vegetarian and vegan options I’ve ever seen in my life. Week 4 also had major breakthroughs for us both and we feel like we really did need a full 30 days to “see the light.”(Tiger Blood still feels like a myth, but that’s ok). My awareness about how food interacts with my body is at an all-time high, and I won’t be able to forget the things I learned on this journey.
I feel too touchy-feely saying Whole30 was “life changing,” but the truth is that I will never be the same. My life is different now, and I can’t view food the same way: even the foods I really, really love and truly cherished before I started this. Do I still want to eat muffins and pizza and cheap Mexican food? Well….I do, but I also kind of don’t. I know too much now, and I know what it feels like to fuel my body with real food sources. It feels good. It feels so good that it may counteract the temptation of foods I know taste delicious for a few minutes but make me feel crappy later. Time will tell.
We’re doing a slow-roll reintroduction plan. This means we’ll reintroduce certain food groups for one day, then two days of W30 so we can evaluate how the reintroduced foods made us feel. After investing this much time into cleansing our bodies, it seems like a waste to skip this step. We’re excited but a little nervous about this part, since it’s going to teach us what foods work well with our bodies and which don’t. What if I discover some of my favorite foods (hummus, quinoa, oats) actually make me feel like crap? There could be hard decisions to make. Anyway, for the next 10 days, our food schedule looks like this:
Day 1: Non-gluten grains (rice, quinoa, corn, etc.) followed by two W30-compliant days
Day 4: Legumes (soy, chickpeas, peanuts, etc.) followed by two W30-compliant days
Day 7: Gluten-containing grains (bread, pizza crust, waffles, oats, cereal, etc.) followed by two W30-compliant days
Day 10: Dairy (yogurt, milk, cheese, etc.). I’m already pretty sure that dairy screws up my system, so I asked Sam if we could do this one last.
WOWOWOWOWOW. Somehow we’ve made it to Day 25! I can’t believe it! This month is definitely one of those “the days go by slowly but the weeks go quickly” scenarios. We’re a mere 5 days away from completing our Whole30 challenge. Spoiler alert: it’s still really challenging. Read on for more about our third week, and make sure to check out the short video!
OBSERVATIONS – WEEK 3
SO. MUCH. FLOSSING. Normally I floss before bedtime, averaging 5-6 times a week, but now I’m flossing after practically every meal. Chai seeds, salmon, spinach, apple…it’s like I’m storing my next meal in between my teeth.
My sense of smell is driving me crazy. Even though I’m 75% done with this challenge, it is still agonizing when someone eats warm, delicious, gluten-chewy pizza right next to you. Or even across the room. My nose is picking up all kinds of smells, and smells from foods I really crave are sensory explosions in my mind.
Well, we made it through two weeks on the Whole30! Halfway there! There were a lot of things on our minds this past week, so I’ll do my best to recap my observations. If you’re interested in learning more about Whole30 and my experience so far, check out my week 1 recap.
OBSERVATIONS – WEEK 2
Getting the Whole30 book is definitely worth it. Even in college, I used any excuse to not buy a book. Unless it was a textbook I would need every day, I put off buying (or renting) a book as long as possible, and sometimes I wouldn’t buy a required book the entire semester. I found a lot of great Whole30 resources online—enough survival tips to get me through the program—and I assumed it was enough. But you know the gym guy that Sam says I spend way too much time talking to? Well, he gave us the Whole 30 book, and it’s made this whole past week a lot easier. There are two great resources in here: 1. a fundamental breakdown of why the program is designed this way and why it will change our lives; 2. a calendar of what feelings to expect on each day of the program (and it is really on-point). To be totally honest, I wish I had this book before we started the program.
It turns out our first week was pretty normal for active, healthy eaters (but we didn’t know it until we had the book). We were hungry, irritable, and eating a billion nuts…well, at least I was eating a billion nuts. We wanted to quit on the exact days (days 10 and 11) that they estimated we would quit. We didn’t experience any of the major withdrawals of unhealthy eaters, but we still had the peaks-and-valleys kinds of energy levels they outlined in the book. If nothing else, I wish I’d known to expect these feelings during my first week —ESPECIALLY on day 10 for me—instead of feeling isolated and alone in my angst.