Two weeks to travel across the country! – A road trip planning Q&A

As much as I love to share the stories of my adventures, my best satisfaction comes from hearing about my reader’s own excursions into the outdoors. When reader Jordan Blair e-mailed me with a few questions to help him prepare for his upcoming road trip from Virginia to California, I thought answering his inquiries would make for a great post to help others plan their own trips.

Check out this road trip Q&A, and let me know if there’s anything I missed! Jordan is heading out in a few days, and is open to pretty much anything along the way – so leave him a few comments with your favorite destinations, eateries, and travel advice! He’s planning a stop in Salt Lake City, but other than that has a very open two-week agenda.

[Read more…]

A Guide to Car-Camping – in Walmart Parking Lots

As any experienced road tripper, climber, or long-term traveler can attest, one of the biggest issues with life on the road is finding a place to rest every night. Between tight budgets, uncertain routes, and evenings spent driving at ungodly hours, there is often a need to find a makeshift place to catch a few hours of sleep.

One of the tried and true traditions of my climbing trips and cross-country excursions is the practice of spending a night (or two) in a Walmart parking lot. I was extremely reluctant and nervous my first time, during which I hardly achieved a few moments of rest. However, after nothing but positive experiences, the sight of a glowing Walmart sign on the side of a highway has become a welcoming landmark.

While Walmart founder Sam Walton has allegedly been quoted in feeling strongly that all travelers should reverie his stores as a destination for safe rest and refuge, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the practice of overnight camping in the parking lots. While I have never been approached during my brief stays, I have heard plenty of stories of people being asked to leave, or told they couldn’t stay.

So, should you spend the night in a Walmart parking lot? I’d say sure, but first, educate yourself on the do’s and don’ts of overnighting at one of these fine American institutions (ha).

What You Should Do:

Depending on your attitude, calling ahead to inquire about a specific location’s overnight policies is the safest course of action. However, if you’ve pulled into a random store in the middle of the night, desperate for sleep – you will likely be fine. Always be discrete. While large campers and RVs are sitting ducks in the parking lot pond, sedans and smaller vehicles have the advantage of blending in fairly well.

A few crucial elements of discretion include parking away from store entrances where shoppers should have priority, keeping your ‘space’ clean, and leaving as early as possible in the morning. Additionally, you should make an effort to give patronage to the place that is giving you a safe place to sleep – buy something. If you just grab a protein shake and cheese stick in the morning, fine. Need to stock up on some camping supplies? Even better – you’ll make the entire car-camping community look good.

Just because Walmarts are generally a secure place to stop for the night doesn’t mean that every location stands equal when it comes to safety. Always be aware of the surrounding neighborhood – a sketchy area equates to a sketchy Walmart parking lot. Be smart. Always keep your keys within reach. I prefer to keep the driver’s seat open and easy accessible, in case there is a need to make a quick getaway.

What You Shouldn’t Do:

*Note: Niko wasn’t actually in a Walmart parking lot in this photo, no worries.

Basically, don’t be that guy. If you roll up to a Walmart at 11 PM, pop open the hatchback, and set up a few chairs around your parking spot while throwing back a few beers – don’t be surprised when you get the boot. Anyone traveling in a non-car rig is should never set-up camp in any conspicuous manner. If security or management approaches you, don’t be disrespectful. It is a privilege to have access to staying overnight, and travelers must remain understanding that some locations have had bad experiences with long-term or disruptive ‘campers.’

Don’t leave a mess. You should be practicing this in all aspects of your adventures, but littering free accommodations is especially offensive. Nothing leaves a bad taste in a manager’s mouth than rude overnighters.

Despite the usually relaxed overnight regulations at most locations, there are some stores that are actively against travelers shacking up in their parking lots. Check out this listing of Walmarts that do not allow overnight stays.

Niko says: “I’ve been crashing in Walmart parking lots ever since I was able to drive — it’s a “simple comfort” for dirtbags. On long nights, you know that just down the road there’s a parking lot where you can grab some munchies, clean up in the 24-hour bathrooms, and shut your eyes for a couple hours. I always crack a window in my car to get some fresh air, and like to stop in the store to grab breakfast before heading out – think of the cost of your milk and cereal as a camping fee.”

If you aren’t bothered by the unavoidable florescent lighting and likelihood of waking up in a sea of cars from Walmart’s morning floods of blue collar customers, pulling into one of their many parking lots provides a great venue for catching some rest before embarking on your next day of adventuring.

Have you ever spent the night in a Walmart parking lot?
Got good any experiences to share? Any bad experiences?
Sound off in the comments and contribute to the conversation!

 

The countdown begins – 29 days until road trippin’ around America for an entire month.

Graduation is creeping up on me faster than the new rock gym weirdo, and the conclusion of my time as a Florida State University student signifies the approach of what promises to be the most influential travels of my life thus far. Niko and I will be journeying across the country in my family’s sizable Pilot – climbing, camping, drinking local brews, getting messy and discovering all the untouched beauty of America.

Here’s a rough sketch of our agenda:

About a week after my graduation ceremony, we’ll be heading out of Tallahassee with Rich and a wine cooler to be delivered to Fort Collins. We’ll spend the next few days pushing up towards Colorado, where we’ll drop off Rich and the cooler, then freeload for a while on McGoo’s couch in Denver. Afterwards, we’ll make our way out to Moab to visit Jeff and Ryan while they spend the summer as rafting guides on the Colorado River.

From there, we’ll shoot up to the ultimate destination: Yosemite National Park. A good chunk of our trip will be spent within the park, hiking and climbing in the beautiful California air. Since I’m so close to my old stomping grounds, we’ll have to make the final push to the bay area so I can feast my eyes upon the Pacific ocean. After California, our plans get hazy, but I’m hoping for a stop at Carlsbad Caverns on the way back to Tallahassee.

29 days, baby. The planning, organizing, preparing and packing has already begun, presenting another distraction. Next weekend, I’ll be heading out on the Climbing Club at FSU’s spring trip to Rocktown near La Fayette, GA – so expect photos and stories as usual.

Finally, on the road again – HP40, and climbers for Jesus, here I come!

My trips to Horse Pens 40 on Chandler Mountain in Steele, AL always seem to come during the most unusual of weekends. During our last trip, we shared the camp grounds with a crew of religious bikers who were celebrating their annual Pumpkin Moon Motorcycle Rally.

What’s in store for us this time around? This weekend, HP40 is hosting The Chandler Mountain Challenge, sponsored by Rock Solid Climbers for Christ. Oh, yes.

Thankfully, we’ll still be able to climb without participating in the event, but there will inevitably be some good stories to share after a weekend spent with climbers who “love to climb and as we do, we want to honor the God we serve and be a witness of Him.” Oh, I love Alabama.

Here’s some shots from good ‘ole Horse Pens 40:

I’m heading out now for an oil change and then stopping by Best Buy to pick up a new case for the Nikon, then it’s off to Matt Wood’s humble abode just outside Atlanta for the evening, then Horse Pens in the morning!

What’s in your climbing pack? The readers have spoken!

I asked my loyal readers a simple question: “What are the top 10 items you’d pack for a climbing trip?” – And the most popular answer came from a non-climber.

“Whiskey, beer, other intoxicating substances, sleeping pills, cigarettes, lighter, fanny pack, sunglasses, and band aids for when you consume all the special treats from your fanny pack and fall flat on your face and break your sunglasses.” – Anonymous

Not exactly the most prolific packing list, but she clearly won the reader’s choice award for her witty answer. Other honorable mentions included mail order Russian brides, nail clippers, guts, a competitive spirit, etc.

What would I stick in my custom made Kendal Jackson pack? My camera, chapstick, fruit leathers, wet wipes and my trusty green water bottle. Check out my packing list from my November trip to Little Rock City.

My favorite answer came from Jeff Williams, who would pack “Nutella, Rigby, CLIMB ON, and Niko” – Rigby is his beautiful Jeep that I lived in for two weeks over the summer during our epic road trip.

Continue reading for more reader submitted packing lists! [Read more…]

Little Rock City – My Battle to Conquer ‘Super Mario’

In climbing, we always hit those routes that stump us by only a few simple moves. Days, weeks, sometimes even months are spent tirelessly battling against the rock to complete a send. During last weekend’s trip to Little Rock City, the V4 route named ‘Super Mario’ became my new, obsessive project.

After working it the entire weekend, I fell short of sending by one simple move: a cross with my left hand up to a set of perfect honeycomb holds. I mastered the route’s infamous knee-bar, shredded my fingers on crimpy ledges and still I couldn’t complete the route before our weekend was cut short by a dreary bout of rain. I still find myself miming the movement sequence of the route when I’m walking to class.

Here are the best sequential shots of Super Mario. The boulder itself is stunning, perhaps lending to my obsession with the route. Thankfully for you, lucky readers, my dear friend Libbi sent the route – so you have a fairly complete set of Super Mario move-by-move documentation. The only moves missing are the first moves up to the block ledge you’ll see in the first picture, and the third move which requires the climber to throw right onto a crimpy little nook, then cross left on the other side of the crimp. Enjoy:

As disappointed as I was when my final day of working Super Mario was abruptly cut short by Mother Nature’s merciless desire to sprinkle the mountain with rain, it gave me a great reason to plan a return trip to Little Rock City. Niko is hellbent on spending a weekend at Rocktown, so I’ve compromised and decided on a post-finals adventure to both crags. Super Mario, you will be mine!

While we’re on the topic of climbing: have you voted today for the SCC Purchase & Maintain Land for Recreation & Greenspace Preservation effort through the Pepsi Refresh Project? Voting ends in a few weeks, and we are so close to the finish line. VOTE EVERY DAY! You can log in with your Facebook account, and it takes only a few seconds of your day to potentially help our climbing community.

Off to Tennessee – So, What’s in my Pack?

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s off towards the mountains I go! Packing for a climbing trip has become a true art form, especially in times like these when I’ll be traveling five people deep in a Ford Focus – that’s 5 sleeping bags, 5 sets of climbing gear, 5 bags of food/utensils, 5 bags of clothes, 5 people’s crap in one car. The trick is, lay out what you think you need, then reduce that amount by half. Here’s my final packing spread:

  1. The Stone Fort bouldering guide. Pick up a copy at Tally Rock Gym!
  2. Marisa’s beautiful Nikon d60 D-SLR.
  3. A set of thermal under clothes, compliments of Walmart’s little boys section.
  4. My trusty refillable water bottle.
  5. Bio-wipies, because boys get stinky after climbing with no showers.
  6. Pink gloves to keep ‘em fingers warm.
  7. Hand warmers for when the gloves aren’t enough.
  8. My beloved Ray Bans.
  9. A newly purchased beanie.
  10. My gorgeous Katanas, barely broken in but ready to crush rock.
  11. Fruit leathers, lots and lots of fruit leathers.
  12. A Kendal Jackson chalk bag.
  13. Crappy old boots, compliments of Walmart.
  14. My favorite tube scarf, colored to match my Katanas.
  15. A bar of Climb On to repair cracked fingertips.

And that’s pretty much it. Also packed I have socks, undies, my chargers, an extra long sleeve t-shirt, sweatpants and a purple bandana gifted to me by my human rights professor. To eat, we’ve got a few packets of instant mashed potatoes, canned soup, granola bars and oatmeal mix. Of course, can’t forget the sleeping bag. There really isn’t much else a gal needs!

Little Rock City TOMORROW – Meet the Climber Line-Up!

Our climbing trip departure is lurking closer, and the anticipation is mounting. To prepare you for the phenomenal photography that shall accompany my return, I wanted to introduce you to ‘the climbers.’ There are over 20 adventurers joining us on this journey into the Tennessee mountains, but I’ve singled out the top athletes for your viewing pleasure. These boys are the cream of the crop, with bulging muscles and sexy calloused fingertips. Ladies, enjoy. Fellas, try to keep up. (Feel free to skip to the bottom of the post to dig directly into the photos!)

First, we have my all-time favorite climber boy: Steve Strickland. Not only did he place 7th in the nation this year, he’s a veritable legend at the Tallahassee Rock Gym. Honestly, he’s the reason I was dying to get my hands on a quality camera for the trip. His movement is graceful, his body is streamlined, and he makes for an ideal photo subject. He’ll be abandoning me in favor of the Colorado mountains in January, but I’ll forgive him one day.

Next, meet the charming Nicholas Douso. This climbing powerhouse currently resides in Orlando, but he lived up in Tallahassee during the summer months to work as a restaurant manager-in-training. He’ll be joining our crew for the trip, along with his girlfriend – who allegedly crushes as well.

I have yet to meet some of the other advanced climbers we’ll be spending the weekend with, but their talented reputation has already preceded them. I can’t wait to meet the infamous Mark, who is supposedly going to inspire Steve to climb harder than he ever has before.

As for the rest of the crew – these guys epitomize the climber lifestyle. We have Jeff, the reckless, ridiculous kid who always knows how to make me laugh. The photo I captured of him climbing at Rocktown with a cigarette dangling from his lips sums up his entire personality. He’s absolutely wild. Then there is Matt Wood, proud owner of the most glorious beard in existence. He moved out near Atlanta last year, but has been meeting us for climbing trips throughout the southeast.

My fellow lady climbers are Carden, Cealey, Raychel and the other Katie. I may be the most experienced of the females, but don’t be surprised if these girls put me to shame this weekend – they’re new to the sport, but their passion is blazing. Another individual with a newfound drive for climbing is the clever Chris Lane, who realized his yearning for outdoor climbing during our trip to Horse Pens 40. Additionally, we have Erick Delgado, another kid who came into the rock gym with mild curiosity, but has transformed into a die-hard climber.

I’ll be riding up with Niko, Steve, John and Libby. I don’t think I need to explain how talented Niko is, but I’ll include some photos to humor you. In short, he’s a beast. I can’t forget John and Libby, the unstoppable couple that appeared at the Tally Rock Gym a few months ago, and have been revolutionizing our climbing styles ever since.

Get ready kids, it’s going to be one hell of a weekend.