Five Reasons I’m Counting the Days to Overland Expo in Flagstaff, AZ

A few months ago, I began getting involved with a mysterious event called “Overland Expo.” A true novice in the art of overlanding, I was exposed to an event and industry that gave a proper title to the art of what I love to do – traveling the world by vehicle. Sometimes by car, occasionally on my bike, and often by foot. This event is a showcase and gathering of the overlanding community, a wild group of adventurers dedicated to getting out there and experiencing it all.

So why am does my agenda now include a little countdown to the May 18-20th event in Flagstaff? Here are a few reasons, in no particular order:

1. The Adventure of Getting to Flagstaff

While I’ll be in Flagstaff for about full three days, my journey to and from Overland Expo will span across about 9-10 days of road trip travel. I’ll be making the trek solo, and am really looking forward to embarking on another one-woman adventure. To break up the trip a bit, I plan on spending a night in Houston, Texas, to visit a great lady climber friend who recently moved out there from Tallahassee.

Aside from spending time with an old friend, I can’t wait to for a few days spent lonesome in my car. Speaking of cars, this road trip will be extra exciting because I am switching cars with my wonderful sister – which means I get to drive a hybrid Honda Civic across the country. All that gas money I’ll save will inevitably be spent in coffee shops, local breweries, and probably a few pieces of new gear I won’t be able to resist at the expo.

2. Classes, Expert Panels, and Workshops

Don’t even bother reading my hype about the schedule at Overland Expo – check it out for yourself. It delivers a nearly overwhelming amount of enticing events that will keep any adventurer engaged throughout the entire weekend.

My favorite picks? Out of nearly 100 classes, I’m most looking forward to classes like “One-Pan Cooking and Provisioning (no fridge)” with Ara Gureghian, a workshop for cooking healthy meals on the road, a collection of photography and writing sessions, “Keeping Healthy and Happy on the Road,” and the survival for couples course.

3. The Adventure Travel Film Festival

Presented by Austin Vince and Lois Pryce, this edition of the festival is the fourth annual event celebrating an international community of folks who live for the thrill of getting out there. I cannot wait to get educated on the history of adventure, the inspiring stories of those who trek out into the world, and the thrilling experiences they endure and enjoy on the road. Enticing titles like “Above and Beyond Dream,” “Paddle to Seattle,” and “Salt and Gold” are only adding to the hype.

4. Meeting My Fellow Adventurers

Lately, I’ve been internally comparing Overland Expo to an adventurer’s version of Bonnaroo – minus all the substance abuse, ruckus, and dirty bathrooms. In my mind, this gathering is the ultimate meet-up for people who are like me.

Adding to the excitement, I’m going to finally meet a few of the wonderful outdoor people I’ve connected with through Twitter. While co-hosting the #ATQA Adventure Travel Question & Answer chat, I’ve joyously watched as some of my favorite friends have won our weekly giveaway – a day pass to the event. Getting the opportunity to connect with people like Dave Creech (who runs an amazing blog you can check out here) is something I’m really looking forward to taking full advantage of – especially since there have been many promises of whiskey and cigars!

5. Daily Yoga Sessions in the Morning

Does this directly have anything to do with wild outdoor adventures? Arguably not – but I am absolutely smitten on the idea of waking up in the hot abyss of Flagstaff, and starting each day with a refreshing yoga session. I’m no yogi, but I have recently begun embracing yoga as the ultimate way to stretch, warm-up, cool-down, and generally improved my flexibility for my climbing. Even aside from my training efforts on the rock, yoga has been a reviving way to get my blood flowing every day.

And I might also be pretty excited to wrangle Dave and my boss J into joining me for some yoga – purely to giggle at them when they try the downward down. (Fellas, as much as I’d love to laugh at you, I will also be so impressed if you end up whooping my rear end in yoga!)

Bonus Hype – check out this 2012 event preview video!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hhml-cObSWU&feature=player_embedded]

If you haven’t snagged your pass to Overland Expo, the clock is ticking! Click here to check out event packages, and don’t forget to join us Wednesdays at 5:00 (PM, EST) for the #ATQA Adventure Travel chat for your chance to win a free pass.

I’ll see you all in Flagstaff!

Five ways to plan and execute successful solo traveling in America

So, you want to travel. Your closest cronies are all locked into unavoidable obligations that prevent them from tagging along, but a lack of co-pilot candidates shouldn’t deter your adventurous ambitions. Solo travel is a great way to explore the country, and you’re guaranteed to experience life-changing places and people throughout the journey.

During September 2011, I embarked on my own solo road trip. My adventures in solitude took me to the peaceful mountains of western North Carolina, the unfamiliar streets of Kansas City, the sprawling flat lands of middle America, cities that I would eventually move to, and even back to my balmy hometown of Miami. Armed with the knowledge obtained during my travels, I want to share some insights to, hopefully, inspire others to pursue road tripping alone.

#1 BUY A MAP. The first step for any modern road warrior lets technology take a backseat for a moment – there is nothing more tangible or exciting than flipping through the pages of a map or road atlas. Although I have many reasonably sized atlases and region-specific foldout maps, my favorite road trip tool is the enormous, and horribly outdated, map I inherited from my father. While your GPS will inevitably take control as you navigate the country, keeping your map and a highlighter handy will prove to be an invaluable method of tracking your route. I like to use a different colored highlighter for each of my trips – it’s great to retrace paths you’ve already trodden, and thrilling to ink up a fresh section of map as you venture towards uncharted sights. Plus, it will become a handy visual for post-trip storytelling.

#2 PLAN (IN MODERATION). Now that you have your map and a noggin bursting with ideas, it’s time to start planning – but not too much. It is all too easy to spend weeks and months researching attractions, estimating distances, and anticipating all the wonderful things you want to see and do, but beware. Preparation is essential to any successful road trip, but over-planning confines your experiences. I learned that the best way to plan is to choose the destination, scope out a few options for places to rest your head, and keep up to date with local happenings. However, if there is a major attraction that you’ve been dying to visit, don’t hesitate to make a commitment. Leaving your campsite a few hours early in order to arrive at the next town in time for a once-a-decade festival is worth the planning. On the other hand, skipping town early for the sake of “sticking to the plan” isn’t worth missing out on an afternoon of hiking with those rowdy fellas you met at the bar last night.

#3 LET IT HAPPEN. The perks and downfalls of planning provide a perfect segue to this next issue: spontaneity. Your home life has probably accustomed you to certain habits, expectations, etc. Life on the road is an entirely different beast; things happen, whether you like it or not. Campsites and hotel rooms fill up, weather conditions change without warning, the only restaurant within a hundred miles might close for the night – and you must learn to roll with the punches. The successful solo traveler will view these obstacles as opportunities for alternative adventures, rather than road blocks. Arriving at a town with a grumbling belly and ‘closed’ signs on every cafe isn’t the end of the world; now is the perfect opportunity to head to a gas station, pick up some provisions, and cook a meal over a campfire – you were always curious about Spam and eggs anyways. Remember this: every misadventure makes for an excellent story.

#4 BE PREPARED. If you’re going to be rolling with the punches, you’ll need to prepare for what life on the road will throw at you. Traveling by car is my favorite way to explore, and if you take a peek in my glove box you’ll always find a stash of items I refuse to adventure without. I cannot express enough how important biodegradable wipies are. No, I’m not kidding. Travel is inherently dirty, and after four days without a shower, wiping yourself down will feel like a spa treatment. Other important items include a first aid kit, extra water, plastic bags, flashlights/headlamps, emergency snacks, a small towel, and my father’s favorite, pepper spray. Paranoia has no place in the solo traveler’s mind, but keeping defensive protection at hand will always provide peace of mind.

#5 GO. No amount of research, planning, not planning, budgeting, packing, pepper spray purchasing, or calendar countdowns can properly prepare you for what lies ahead – you simply must go. You will forget your wool socks, you’ll leave without running that important errand – it’s inevitable, and as #3 dictates, you must just let it happen. Now you’ll just have to buy a new pair of wool socks in the Rockies (a perfect and practical souvenir), and perhaps you’ll have to pick up a small trinket to mail back to whoever ends up running that errand for you. The hours leading up to your departure will surely leave you with a gray hair or two, but as soon as you leave city limits and begin your solo journey, you will feel an exhilaration unlike any other. When weather gets nasty, go. When the vagabonding girls you share a hostel room with invite you to ditch your plans and travel to the desert with them, go. When you become bored, go. When you are homesick, keep going. You’ll find that once you finally settle back home, you’ll be filled with a longing to go.

Solo travel is a beautiful and complicated task. It involves an appreciation for solitude, an openness to befriend and trust strangers, and an unwavering determination to experience. Throughout my own solo trip, I collected a lifetime’s worth of memories. I’ve chased trains down the barren highways in New Mexico, picked apples in North Carolina orchards, built my own fire in the woods of Kentucky, shared wine with eighty-year-old women who journeyed along the same routes, and became an entirely different person than who I was when I first packed up my car and hit the road.

But I am not special, nor am I extraordinary in any way. Anyone can do this. You simply must go.

Completing my solo journey after 33 days, 17 states, and 6,657 miles on the road

That short succession of numbers will forever be engraved in my mind: I spent 33 days visiting 17 states along a 6,657 mile course. You may remember my projected route, which formed a fat, misshaped path through the southeast and mid-west. My car traveled along as planned, until I arrived in Denver, Colorado – and decided to stay.

So the path was shortened, you assume? A fair conclusion to draw, but in fact, my permanent move to Colorado generously added an extra leg to the trip. Here is the final version of my solo trip route:

The center stretch and loop down to Miami from Tallahassee were the result of Denver’s slick ability to make a girl fall in love with a city and decide to jump Florida ship in favor of mountains and snow. After my buddy Douso altered his 1,300 mile cycling tour from Vancouver to San Francisco to hop a train in Reno and join me in the Mile High city, we both abandoned any half-assed plans we had been toying with and decided to stay in Denver. We enjoyed a few weeks in Denver, then loaded up in my car for one final visit down to Florida.

After 33 days spent traveling across the country, I am settling into this suddenly unfamiliar lifestyle of stability. Of course, sleeping on a couch in a household with seven climber men may not be most people’s idea of calm and stable – but this sudden lack of constant change has made this cramped living room I share with my three future housemates the most familiar thing in the world.

What have I learned on this journey? I’ve collected a wealth of perspective and insight to share and remember throughout these upcoming chapters of my life, but the most outstanding idea I now carry is the concept of change and time. Everything is changing, all the time. Change is sometimes difficult to cope with, but will ultimately lead you to better things, with time. And time is always on your side – this trip has taught me that a destroyed perception of hours and minutes opens up your life to a whole lot of living.

In truth, I’m already planning the next trip.

Twenty hours of exploration and gelato in Kansas City, Missouri

After at evening spent in a tent in Kentucky, I eagerly accepted an offer for some hospitality in Kansas City, MO. To be frank, I wasn’t expecting much from this town, namely because my previous experiences with anything Kansas-related could best be described as mundane, prolonged, and torturous. Instead, I was met with a metropolis haven with a New England suburban flare.

I arrived in town just before my gracious host left work for the day, so I idled my time by exploring the area by car and by foot. I leisured along a large lakefront area that sat along the road I was traveling on, and enjoyed the brisk air until a fleet of whistling old men summoned my retreat back to my car. Afterwards, I took a short drive down to an area called the plazas, which was an enormous waterway that sat beneath two main streets with a walking path and gondolas perched along the water’s edge – not to mention the wonderful bloated rat carcass I found floating merrily along the current. I later discovered that Kansas City has the fifth most abundant amount of fountains in the world – who knew?

After wandering through the area and harassing a flock of geese whom I was determined to make friends with, I finally met up with my lovely Kansas City host, Sheila. An old family friend my father met during his MBA program with Vanderbilt, Sheila is like an aunt – and her beautiful daughter is like my little cousin. They graciously offered to feed my vagabond belly with anything I wanted, so I suggested that we get something local.

My quest for local Kansas City eats brought us to two excellent grub stops. The first was Governor Stumpy’s, a delicious pub-style restaurant that served up heaps of American food that stuffed me silly before I could even clear half my plate. In some insane attempt to stretch my stomach a few sizes, Sheila treated me to a frozen dessert from Glacé Artisian Ice Cream. This tiny gelato joint offered tasty and unusual flavors like wildflower goat cheese and Venezuelan dark chocolate – you can guess which option I went with. The selection of handmade varieties reminded me of Sweet Action Ice Cream in Denver.

I only spent a quick evening in Kansas City, hurrying off the next morning towards Colorado, but I was charmed and curious about this city. I never thought I’d carry  these sentiments, but I’d like to return to the area one day with proper time to explore everything there is to discover about this truly American town. I owe a gracious ‘thank you’ to Sheila for welcoming me into her beautiful home, and for changing the blankets so my nose didn’t itch from the cat – and of course an enormous amount of gratitude for the carrot banana walnut mini muffins she baked for me. Those muffins saved my belly while I was starving in the middle of Kansas prairie land.

Another city, another day.

The best, and only, snapshot of dirt road Americana in rural Illinois

When you’re spending upwards of 13 hours a day out on the roads that stretch between American metropolises, you find yourself with heaps of time to admire all the unusual relics that are tucked haphazardly along the countryside – and I use ‘countryside’ as a euphemism for the skeletal remains of what used to be our country’s glory days. There were the rusted old farming equipment sits beside dorky sculptures crafted out of busted tires, fanatical billboards, and more junkyards filled with dusty treasures than I could count.

In the second week of the trip, I was surprised by my route with a quick detour into Illinois. A member of the handful of states that I have never visited, skipping in through Illinois saw many hours of nothing but farmland and fields, hence its nickname as the Prairie State. During a particularly predictable stretch of interstate, I passed by a peculiar marquee sitting next to a dumpy old house on a dirt road.

With nothing better to do, I veered off the next exit and backtracked a few miles to the driveway where the sign stood. I felt a little scandalous on my first covert mission to take a picture on someone’s property, but I snapped away with my Nikon and my Canon to snag one of my favorite images from my adventure.
Antiques and what? I still want to know.

How I survived my first night camping alone in Kentucky’s Lake Barkley State Park

Embarking on a solo trip implies a certain degree of, well, solitude. While my well-wishers gushed endlessly of their anticipation for all my adventures, one reoccurring issue continually arose from friends and family: “You’re going to be camping alone, Katie? I don’t like that, I’ll help you pay for a hotel instead.”

For me, the idea of camping alone for the first time wasn’t a necessity to save money – it became a right of passage in my mind. The idea of successfully building camp, starting a fire, and not getting eaten by a bear became the ultimate idea of accomplishment. During the first week of my trip, my host in North Carolina made damn sure I didn’t even think about trying to camp while she was around. Eventually, time pressed on and I had to continue westward. I chose Kentucky as my first overnight stop during the haul to Colorado, purely because I had never visited the state before.

I drove northwest through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the rolling hills of Tennessee, then eagerly crossed into Kentucky. My path took me past Fort Campbell North, and I had a great moment of patriotism watching military trucks and planes amid an enormous American flag. Finally, I reached my destination for the evening: Lake Barkley State Park, near Cadiz, KY.


I checked out the lakefront area and campsites while the day was still bright, then drove a few miles up the road to a gas station. As I watched an adorable old man filling his green tractor at one of the pump station, I stocked up on all the necessities: firewood (which turned out to be entirely moldy), a ‘KENTUCKY’ lighter, two cans of Coors Light, and lighter fluid that hillbillies convinced me to purchase upon hearing that I was planning on building my own fire.

When I returned to camp, I scoped out a site that faced the lake and was moderately close to the small handful of other campers. I found a soft spot in the grass, and pitched my tent – which was the only tent at camp, a little minnow in a pond of RVs and impressive trailers. The only evidence remaining of my site’s fire pit was a charred circle in the grass, so I combed the surrounding wooded area for rocks and rebuilt the pit. A large log sitting next to a fallen tree became the perfect fireside bench. Then I became a woman, and built a fire – without using any lighter fluid, mind you.

The rest of my evening was spent cooking up some pasta, reading a bit of my book, and feverishly tending to the fire. After the nightfall halted my reading, I focused all my attention on the needy flames. I must have spent a total of at least three hours scouring the spooky wooded area behind me for thick branches and bits of dry logs. This was the night I conquered my fear of the dark, and regained a slice of confidence. Aside from my little raccoon buddy who kept creeping up on me while I was absentmindedly poking at embers, there was nothing but hooting owls and a gentle lake breeze to alarm me. All that fuss and worrying, for absolutely nothing.

With two beers and a pot full of pasta resting in my belly, I finally decided it was time to retreat to my tent for some rest. I threw the last remaining leg of firewood into the flames, and zipped myself snugly into my sleeping bag. I had been anticipating a long night spent awake listening to the random sounds of the forest in fear, but instead drifted swiftly to sleep while my camp neighbor’s little dog howled at the raccoons.

The next morning, I awoke at the crack of dawn, and swiftly packed up camp. I was eager to make good time during my leg from Lake Barkley to Kansas City, so I quickly hit the road. On the winding road out of the park, I hit a huge blanket of fog that covered the fields sitting below the guardrails. The sun was just beginning to shine on the day, and everything was sprinkled with cold dew.

I experienced the best mood of my entire trip after I left Kentucky. I drove over the state lines of Illinois and Missouri reflecting on my sense of self-satisfaction. Shamelessly, I felt like a bad ass. At first, I felt accomplished for being one of the only ladies I know who have camped alone, and then my thoughts expanded to realize that the majority of my male friends hadn’t either. I had doubted my ability to enjoy camping solo because I had always gone with a boyfriend or climbing buddies, but really, all I needed was myself.

Check out my campground review, area information, and more at the
Lake Barkley State Resort Park page on MyCampingRoadTrip.com

Oh, you didn’t already know? I’m on the road again – on a solo adventure.

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. I set off on a new journey, and hardly gave you warning before I crossed four state lines. In any event, greetings from Hendersonville, North Carolina. This morning you find me sipping on piping hot tea, and writing out on a breezy porch while hummingbirds fight over a sugary feeder – but back to the bigger picture. Where am I headed? Check it out:

The starting point was good ole Tallahassee, Florida. After botched Alabama climbing plans, one final bout of fleeting romance, and an amazing evening dancing with a local band, Catfish Alliance, I headed out on Sunday evening and forged a rainy path to Hendersonville, North Carolina. I have been blessed with amazing hospitality from Dena, who is tolerantly letting me crash in her guestroom for the week.

So what have I been up to since my arrival? A bevy of posts will dive into deeper details, but here’s the condensed plot: Tropical Storm Lee left me with a few days of rain, but my time was filled with hours of playing board games with the sweet little girls who live next door, dinners and drinks in downtown Hendersonville, touring Eagle’s Nest outdoor academy in Pisgah Forest, stuffing my face in Brevard with an old friend Marlin, banjo music and slam poetry, visiting a brewery in Asheville, meeting so many unexpected friends and storytellers, my first foray into yoga, a fifth grade talent show, and snagging Dena’s famous chicken pot pie recipe. Phew, talk about a run-on sentence.

I have absolutely fallen in love with western North Carolina, and could easily see myself spending a few years living here. It has all the outdoorsy vibes of Colorado, but it’s comfortably nestled in my beloved “South.” It unsettles me sometimes to admit it, but I love being a southern girl.

So what’s next? As smitten as I am with this area, I am itching to hit the road again. I will be arriving in Denver by the 15th, so I’ve given myself about four days of 6-8 hours worth of driving each day. From here, I’ll be making my first overnight stop in Kentucky – and then it all becomes a mystery. If you’re interested in my daily musings, check out my Twitter @themorningfresh – which you can also enjoy on the right hand side of the blog.

Trust me, you’re going to want to keep in touch as I experience my first evenings camping solo. There is simply no way that my first night pitching my tent, building a fire, and cooking a meal in the woods will go over without some ridiculous mishap – and you might as well get some entertainment from my inevitable disasters.

Until then, readers!

An evening and morning in Oakland, in photos.

Oakland has always been a distant myth of land in my perspective. Residing in San Jose and touring through San Francisco on the weekends, my year spent living in California offered little to no insight on the city dominated by Raiders fans. It wasn’t until my recent cross-country trip that I was able to truly experience this place.

I had envisioned Oakland as the Pacific coast version of Detroit – rough and tumble with very little room for skinny little ladies such as myself. Instead, what I encountered during my brief 12-hour excursion to the other side of the bay was a mix of fantastic home decor, sketchy neighborhood stoops, and classic architectural styles. I lack the proper words to describe Oakland, but these five photos best describe the adventure.



Basically, Oakland was much brighter and more colorful than I expected it to be. I certainly spotted the burly hoodlums and sketchy looking dudes in overcoats that I had envisioned, but the cheerful side of Oakland greatly and easily outweighed the creepy parts. Stay tuned for a more wordy recount of my afternoon trip to the climbing crag Mickey’s Beach off the northern end of San Fransisco, and photos from my most recent trip to Sand Rock, Alabama.

Road Trip 2011 – Wild Times the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Moab, Utah

Growing up in the wealthy suburbs of South Florida, the idea of a hostel was a mere fantasy for me. The idea of communal accommodations remained intangible until we visited Jeff and Ryan in Moab and stayed at the Lazy Lizard Hostel. It was truly one of those I’m-never-going-to-forget-this life experiences.

The hostel offers a variety of lodging options. You can rent a private cabin, stay in a dorm-style room above the main building, or camp out in the back. Pitching a tent is the cheapest option, so naturally we took that path – but make no mistake, camping in the quieter zone of the hostel hardly spared us from the insanity that ensues on a nightly basis at the Lazy Lizard.

The people we met were outrageous. There were Chelsey and Josephine, the beautiful hitchhiking ladies from Seattle, and Mike, my fellow Palmetto High School alumnus – what are the odds of running into a classmate in a funky Moab hostel? Not to play favorites, but one of the most significant people we met was Paul, the British climber who ended up accompanying us to Yosemite and spending a week with our crew.

I can’t forget about Lynne, the Lazy Lizard housekeeper who drank like a camel, swore like a sailor and even tried her hand at hitting on Niko. After a few hours of pounding boxed wine and gin, I excitedly followed her into her room to watch her feed her rat family. My drunken stupor ignored her warnings about the overprotective mama rat, who eagerly took a chunk out of my index finger when I shoved it into the cage to pet the rats – another Lazy Lizard mishap to add to the collection.


Our ultimate night of debauchery, the evening where I earned my rat bite, included the best thing that’s happened to Niko’s head in years: a very drunk Chelsey agreed to give Niko a male version of her fabulous lesbian haircut. It honestly could have ended in disaster, but Niko’s mane was shockingly tamed – minus his new little rat tail that we keep meaning to fix.


I would be a liar to claim that the Lazy Lizard was an outstanding facility for quality accommodations – if you’re looking for a quiet night’s stay or lavish lodging, this is not the place for you. However, if you’re keen on waking up with caterpillars on your tent, walking through the rain to find a liquor store, meeting outlandish characters from around the world and collecting experiences that you’ll never forget, do yourself a favor and spend a few nights at this ridiculous establishment.

Have I mentioned that this is the place where Jeff and Ryan are spending their entire summer while they work as rafting guides on the Colorado River? Imagine the novel’s worth of stories they’ll have to share once they’re done residing at the Lazy Lizard, if they make it out alive.

   

Road Trip America Day 3 – Snaggin’ gear at the Boulder Sports Recycler in Colorado

During the few rainy days we’ve spent exploring the ‘indoor’ offerings of Colorado, we’ve visited a collection of gear stores throughout a few different cities. We bought a tent and pack at Wilderness Exchange Unlimited in Denver, and admired the books and old relics at Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder.

My favorite stop was at the Boulder Sports Recycler, just outside of the downtown Boulder area. Maybe I liked it so much because of warehouse location that reminded me of Tally Rock Gym; maybe it was the unbeatable combination of plentiful, quality recreational gear and climber budget-friendly prices. Whatever the case, I certainly appreciated the sweet maroon Patagonia jacked that I snagged in my size for just $26.

This place sells everything from climbing gear and trail maps to kayaks and cycling equipment – all gently used, and reasonably priced. Juan picked up a Petzl helmet that looked like it had hardly, if ever, been worn. The staff was friendly and down to earth, and browsing the racks at the recycler was an excellent experience overall.

The Boulder Sports Recycler is easily the top gear consignment shop in the area. If you’re ever in the area, I highly suggest paying a visit to the warehouse.

Check out my review of Boulder Sports Recycler on Yelp.com.