An adventurous road-tripper’s top 10 travel moments of 2011

What travel blog would be complete without a year-end review of the best travel experiences from 2011? As I begin to daydream of all the amazing adventures that 2012 has waiting around the corner, I can’t help but reflect on the outrageous and memorable times I had on the road this year. Every moment spent road tripping across America is held dearly, but these ten moments stick out above the rest.

10. Escaping for a week of relaxation in the mountains around Hendersonville, North Carolina

My seven-week September solo trip deserves a big mention, but the leg of my adventure that deserves the biggest accolades is the week I spent lounging around Hendersonville, North Carolina. My ex-girlfriend’s mother invited me to stay at her charming country home, and I spent the week sampling the area’s best cuisine, picking apples at an orchard, dancing the night away at a climbing buddy’s wedding in Flat Rock, and exploring the mountainous region of Brevard.

My solo trip commenced with a rough patch of personal heartache, so this miniature escape truly assisted in establishing up the positive vibes that I carried throughout the remainder of my travels.

9. Celebrating my 23rd birthday boating on Lake Dillon in Frisco, Colorado

My solo trip ended just days before my 23rd birthday, and in true girly fashion, I was determined to make my celebration one to remember. Having freshly transplanted myself and my belongings to Denver, Colorado, I wanted to capitalize on my new surroundings. After browsing potential ideas like a pedal-yourself beer wagon, we settled on renting a pontoon boat on Lake Dillon. The drive out to Frisco was absolutely gorgeous, as was the entire day of mountainside boating. I discovered my new favorite whiskey, vanilla-infused Phillips Union, and our crew downed countless cans of beer while we cruised around the frigid lake.

Having been raised boating on the warm waters in Miami, this Colorado lake experience introduced me to a whole new style of waterfront fun – no sandy beaches around, this day was all about mountain peaks and snow forest landscapes.

8. A wild hike up a muddy cliffside during a rainy day at Boulder Canyon in Colorado

This was one of those totally unplanned, totally unpredicted experiences that taught me the value of relinquishing control and embracing the idea of getting very, very dirty. On our way to what we thought was a sport climbing area, a group of cohorts and I scrambled up a steep, chossy cliff that led to frequent falling rock calls, one very bloody knee, and more dirt caked underneath my fingernails that I could ever imagine – but it was too much fun.

I was skeptical about the messy scramble at first, since I was carrying my beloved Nikon camera and equipment in my pack, but after a sprinkle of rain turned our dirty hike into slushy chaos, all bets were off. I returned to the car slathered in mud, and spent the evening picking sticky burrs out of my hair – but again, too much fun.

7. Watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon in Arizona

As the final ‘big’ stop on my post-graduation road trip with Niko in May, we made a pit stop at Grand Canyon National Park – but our original intentions didn’t involve a sunrise. Niko had been dying to see the sunset, so we raced our way along barren roads to catch the sun before it dipped beyond the rim of the canyon. Literally missing the sunset by three minutes, we decided to spend the night in the nearby tourist town so we could watch the sunrise.

After spending a very uncomfortable night sleeping in a hotel parking lot, Niko roused me from my catatonic state and we returned to the park. This time we made sure to arrive well before the sun, and were pleasantly surprised to find the area was nearly deserted – I guess the 5 AM wakeup call for the sunrise is reserved for only the most diehard adventurers. I was cranky and cold, but I ended up with one of my favorite Niko photos of all time.

6. Pitching my tent at Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park

This campground, located inside Yosemite Valley, is one of the most legendary watering holes for famous climbers. It was inspiring to camp at the same spot that housed icons like Lynne Hill and Ron Kauk – Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia even used to sell homemade gear from the camp’s parking lot.

Everything from waking up at 6:00 in the morning to queue in line for camp registration to the rusty bear-proof food lockers and name tags we had to tie on our tents for the ranger check-ins combined to create this inspiring air of climbing confidence and community vibes that spread throughout the grounds. I woke up in the morning pumped to climb some Yosemite granite.

5. My first sport climb at Sandrock in Alabama

An avid climber from the moment my fingertips first grazed the plastic holds at Tallahassee Rock Gym, it was a damn shame that I had never sport climbed until August 2011. Two years into my climbing obsession, I finally embarked on a sport climbing trip to a beautiful crag called Sandrock near Steele, Alabama.

The exhilaration of clipping into the anchors at the top of my first lead was only rivaled by the experience of sleeping out beneath the stars atop the rock formations at the mountain summit, and waking up to explosive hues of sunrise. It was one of the moments that cemented my adoration for the outdoors and living in nature – although the chiggers that infested my bellybutton on this trip weren’t the best reminder of why I love living in nature.

4. Getting a taste of desert life in Moab, Utah

Anyone who has asked me about my travels in 2011 has heard an earful about my infatuation with Moab. Niko and I spent a week living in the desert in May, when we came to visit our two buddies who spent the summer working as river guides in Moab. I became enthralled with the lifestyle of these dirty, leather-skinned desert people.

Over the course of a very short week, I photographed beautiful roadside climbs at Potash, hiked through Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park, ate sandy campfire food alongside my fellow tent-dwellers at the Lazy Lizard Hostel, and met some of the most amazing people I have ever encountered while traveling – Josephine, Paul, Chelsey, and Mike, I’m talkin’ to you.

Seriously, you must visit Moab. It is my most highly recommended destination.

3. A weekend at Still Mountain Retreat in Willits, California

After weeks of vagabonding throughout Moab and Yosemite, Niko and I readily accepted an invitation to join some friends for a relaxing weekend retreat at family cabins tucked high in the mountains near Willits, California. The entire weekend was a fantastic blur of great homemade food, excursions into the woods and nearby waterfall, and peaceful time spent in great company.

Niko and I stayed in a small cabin with an attic-like entrance to the second-story sleeping area – which inspired notions of simple living and small spaces.  It was so refreshing to experience this place tucked away from civilization, where all that mattered was when the next shuffleboard tournament would take place.

2. Driving into the mountains on I-25 on my way to Denver, Colorado

My September solo trip concluded with a final haul down to Miami to load up my hatchback with my belongings before returning to Denver to move-in. The push back to Colorado from Florida was grueling with a jam-packed car, but as I finally hit the Rockies after driving through hours of flatlands, I was overwhelmed by the most intense feeling of pure joy I have ever felt. My music was blasted at full volume, all windows were rolled down, and I literally burst out with ecstatic squeals as I wound my way through the beautiful mountains that would soon become home.

1. Camping solo for the first time at Lake Barkley State Park in Cadiz, Kentucky

Of all my travels throughout 2011, there is one experience that shines above the rest. My first night spent camping solo was a huge milestone for me as an independent traveler. While I spent seven weeks on a solo road trip, the first night of successfully pitching my tent, building a fire, and surviving the wilderness through daybreak was easily my biggest accomplishment.

My evening was spent at Lake Barkley State Park, a tranquil slice of outdoors paradise sitting near the town of Cadiz in rural Kentucky. Family and fans of my adventures had been dreading this day since the beginning of my trip, but I approached the evening with a calm attitude and wound up having a great night tending to my fire and basking in the peace of solitude. My first experience camping solo left me with overwhelming sentiments that I can handle anything my travels throw my way – and I don’t need anyone’s help to do it.

What are your top travel moments from 2011?
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My first sport climbing trip, fake mustaches, and chiggers in my belly button at Sand Rock in Alabama

To celebrate the end of summer, I did something I should have accomplished a long, long time ago: I led my first sport routes out on a climbing trip to Sandrock. One of my new favorite crags in Alabama, this area is an outdoor playground for both novice and experienced climbers armed with ropes and draws.

My first trip to Sand Rock was shared with a top notch crew of Tally Rock Gym rats. Our mission was driven (literally) by Ryan, who generously donated his car for our transportation needs. Fellow roommates Niko and Max completed the male portion of our team. My female counterpart was the fearless, freckled Allie – who crushed serious sandstone all weekend long. We left Tallahassee on an early Sunday evening, filled our bellies with some grubby Taco Bell, and trudged through the six hour drive to Sandrock.

I didn’t sleep a wink the first night on top of the mountain, which isn’t saying much since the rest of the crew only rested a handful of hours before the sunrise roused everyone from their slumber. I don’t know if we were too amped up about the awaiting climbs, or if we were simply delirious after such a long, dark drive, but sleeplessness was hardly an obstacle as we prepared for our first day out in the boulder field.


This trip saw the momentous occasion where I finally took life by the horns and decided to overcome my crippling fear of outdoor rope climbing – leading routes to be specific. A boulderer by nature, I avoided clips and bolts like my life depended on it. During an after-hours attempt at leading my way up the rock gym’s tallest wall, I made it a mere three bolts up before waving a white flag of defeat and lowering back down to the ground – weak, I know.

During our first day at Sandrock, I decided to start my foray into rope climbing with an easy top-roped route. I cruised up a simple 5.7, and immediately felt my confidence boost. Allie and I then summoned the courage to go for a true lead climb, our first of which was “My Dog Has Fleas,” a 5.8+ that asks you to burl your way up an ugly rock formation. It wasn’t our favorite route, but we both lead it like champions. Next up, we tackled “First Black Man in Office,” a much more enjoyable 5.9 shown to us by the local we met out in the fields.

Aside from the climbs, my time spent at Sandrock is best defined by a collection of beautiful moments. We spent each night sleeping out on top of a large rock outcrop that overlooked the many lakes and trees below, and in the early mornings, the sun rose in a fury of pinks and orange hues that spread out over the mountains and pleasantly woke us up.


Naturally, many of my favorite moments involved the discovery of little creature buddies. There were the dozens of blue-tailed skinks who slinked their way up rocks and through little tree branches, and the enormous green grasshopper who patiently sat with us while we climbed on our last day – I think he was succumbing to old age, but he seemed perfectly at peace with the world. Finally, there were the tiny little red insects, chiggers. I spotted one crawling on my arm during a nap on top of a boulder, and quickly squashed the parasite – but to no avail. By the time I got back to Tallahassee, I had a small family of chiggers who had buried themselves into my bellybutton, of all places. Very unpleasant.



Speaking of creatures, during a trip down the mountain to scour for grub, Allie and I spotted a small turtle attempting to cross the road. We forced the boys to bring the Jeep to a rapid halt, and launched ourselves out of the vehicle to go save our little friend – all while doning the ridiculous felt mustaches we had just won from a vending machine at a gas station barbecue joint. Enjoy.


I’ll leave you with a few more of my favorite shots from the weekend. Sandrock was a really beautiful slice of mountain, and I was fortunate to have spent my four days there with a truly wonderful set of climbers. Those lucky dogs are all back at Sandrock this weekend for a repeat visit, and I have full faith that they are all crushing routes and having a great adventure.