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?
If you’ve got a link to your own blog post, I’d love for you to share it below in the comments section! You can also tweet pics and links to @themorningfresh, or share your experiences on The Morning Fresh Facebook page.

My Travels A to Z – Cross country car-dwelling, French wine, Grand Canyon sunrises, and everything in between

A playful trend is circulating the travel blogosphere, and I couldn’t resist partaking in the fun. First discovered on Adventurous Kate’s blog, then found again on No Onions Extra Pickles, I was easily enamored by this great little survey of travel experiences. Covering every letter from A to Z, this ABCs of adventuring offers a glimpse into my lifestyle as a diehard explorer. I invite all my readers to participate as well, I’d love to read your responses.

Enjoy this little slice of insight into the travels and adventures of Katie Boué.

A: Age you went on your first international trip:

I was three years old, and I flew from my birthplace of New York City to down to Mexico City for my cousin’s wedding. – My mom tells me I was the life of the party, dancing with the groom, my ‘Uncle’ Danny, until the band stopped playing around 3:00 AM. Apparently, upon seeing the musicians packing up their gear, I loudly protested, “¡mas musica!”

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:

Easily, my favorite foreign beer is Bulmers/Magners from Europe – specifically the ones drank at the Chez Net Café in Villefranche sur Mer in France. It’s honestly more of a cider, but the apple and pear varieties were my beverage of choice during my summers spent exploring the Mediterranean coast.

C: Cuisine (favorite):

Cuban food – but that’s a given. When I’m traveling away from Miami, Cuban food is always one of the things I miss the most about home. Nothing beats abuela’s black beans and authentic Havana cooking, but I do have a few favorite joints to pick up Cuban fare when Mama can’t feed me. When I’m in Miami, I always have to make a stop at Ruben’s Cuban for beef empanadas, café con leche, and chicken noodle soup. One of my favorite dishes in the world can be found at Cuba Cuba in Denver, CO – if you’ll believe it. The puerco frito, piña coladas, and freshly made mojitos are not to be missed. It’s one of the few places I’ll willingly spend a ridiculous amount of money at.

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why:

That is an impossible question to answer. Some of my recent favorites include Moab, UT, and Yosemite National Park, especially the experience of staying at the legendary Camp 4 for a night – but I also adore the southern coast of France, Alaska, any climbing destination in the southeast United States, and the Pacific coasts near Monterrey. Perhaps my least favorite is Merced, California. I don’t think I’ve ever truly disliked a place I’ve traveled to, but Merced wasn’t anything to write home about. Plus, the highway entrances and exits didn’t have traffic lights, only stop signs.
E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:

I am by no means a person of faith, but my first experience practicing yoga was the closest thing ever I’ve had to a religious experience. I went during my solo trip in September 2011, while I was enjoying a week of relaxation in the mountains of Hendersonville, North Carolina. My host’s neighbor owns a yoga studio in the little downtown area, and invited me to partake in a complimentary session. The spiritual meditation, breathing, deep poses, and general overwhelming sense of peace were fantastic. I have never felt such strong emotions. During a time of my life that was filled with a lot of doubt, over-thinking, and mental exhaustion, the yoga experience I had at Brightwater Yoga Studio inspired an inner metamorphosis that I carried with me throughout the remainder of my seven week solo trip.

F: Favorite mode of transportation:

I am smitten with the idea of train travel, and adore railroads, train tracks, stations, and anything locomotive – but really, my preferred method of travel is by personal car. I am a road tripper through and through, and I love the convenience of living out of my familiar and comfortable vehicle.
G: Greatest feeling while traveling:

Spontaneously veering off a rural highway exit just to take a random picture of some unique relic of farm life, or the feeling of hiking until the point of exhaustion, then finally reaching a beautiful overlook or body of water that makes the panting, sweat, and side cramps worth all the effort.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where:

During my first climbing road trip in 2010, we stopped for breakfast at The Egg & I outside of Denver, Colorado. Niko protested the idea of spending more money eating out, but the rest of us insisted on gorging ourselves with breakfast grub. Upon hearing that Niko was refraining from ordering, our waiter conspired with the manager to present Niko with a beautiful little plate with a hot, buttered muffin and some freshly cut fruit – on the house. I was so impressed by their kindness.

J: Journey that took the longest:

It always seems to take a painful amount of time to return to Florida from the west. I think the return leg of any road trip feels the longest; the thrill of adventure that made the first part of the trip is now quelled, and by the end of trips you’re always eager to get home to a hot shower and a familiar bed. During our May 2011 cross-country trip, Niko and I were miserable from the Grand Canyon to Florida. Texas seems to be the longest state in the country when you have to drive straight across it with no exciting destination ahead.

K: Keepsake from your travels:

Having embraced the beginnings of a vagabond lifestyle, I’ve begun to resist the temptations to buy keepsakes. Instead, I collect snippets from our experiences. My favorite box full of memories is from my five-week climbing trip with Niko. I have all the brochures from the national parks we visited, our tent tag from Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park, a little snail shell found on the shore of Stinson Beach, etc. These hold much greater value and meaning for me than a mug or magnet.
L: Let-down sight, why and where:

This one is easy. After Niko and I spent a week climbing in Yosemite, we headed to the bay area to check out San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and my favorite destination along the Pacific Coast Highway, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Visiting the fishy facility when I was younger living in California was the catalyst to my infatuation with jellyfish, and this aquarium has the most impressive jelly exhibit I’ve ever been to. Niko and I took the long drive down the coast to the aquarium, and gladly paid the hefty admission fees – only to discover that the jellyfish section was closed off for renovations. I was incredibly disappointed, and even begged one of the staff members to let me in anyways.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:

During my first outdoor climbing trip to Little Rock City (also known as Stone Fort) near Dixon, Tennessee. Having only just become acquainted with the sport indoors, this excursion into the mountains thrust me head first into the world of camping, cooking in the woods, sleeping on crash pads, and immersing yourself into the natural surroundings that envelop climbing crags. After just one trip, I was hooked.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:

Hotels? Ha! If I stay in hotels, they’re usually the cheapest thing I can get my hands on. I will give credit to the Excalibur in Las Vegas. After spending weeks vagabonding in Yosemite and car camping in California, a night in a proper hotel room felt like staying in a palace – even if it was the cheapest lodging on the strip.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?:

I am obsessed with photography in general – but there are definitely a few subjects that never cease to catch my attention. Bugs, creatures, and unique plant life are amongst my favorites, but food photos are always fun. And of course, I love photographing climbers and everything involving the climbing lifestyle.
P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?

Hm, I travel domestically for the most part – my passport stamps are limited to Mexico, the United Kingdom, Canada, and France. Hopefully in 2013 I’ll be able to add Portugal to that list – but honestly, my heart lies in America.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:

This one is stumping me. Quirky isn’t my cup of tea. Perhaps Fantasy Fest in Key West qualifies. The throngs of fairy-winged queers, nude elderly folks, intoxicated young people, and every unconventional individual that could make their way to the southernmost point converge upon Duval Street for a weekend of wild ruckus and outlandish tomfoolery. As I recall, I began the night dressed as a school girl, then ended my evening shirtless, covered in fake blood, and rebranded as a zombie victim.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience:

There are so many. Watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, queuing up in line at 6:00 AM to reserve a spot for a night at the climber’s haven of Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park, getting a taste of desert life in Moab, sunning topless on the shores of southern France.
S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling:

Food, I will always spend my money on food. A hearty meal is one of the best things in the world after returning from a stint in the wilderness. I love campfire cooking, but sometimes a platter of succulent sushi just can’t be beat. Plus, there’s no clean up when you eat out.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done:

I’ve always wanted to follow the signs for “The World’s Largest Prairie Dog” that line I-70 in Kansas, but I’ve never given into my inklings. The most touristy thing I’ve actually done is probably making the winding drive down Lombard Street in San Francisco. The line leading up to this street of urban switchbacks is worse than Denver rush hour traffic, and it’s so hokey to drive down the flower-lined ‘street.’ Gorgeous scene to take pictures of, but totally pointless to actually make the effort of driving down.

U: Unforgettable travel memory:

The first night I camped solo. I stayed at the Lake Barkley State Park campground in Kentucky, with only three other campers in the entire area – none of whom were in tents. I felt so accomplished cracking open a beer after rebuilding my fire pit, starting my own fire – sans lighter fluid, pitching my tent, cooking dinner, and kicking back to survey my hard work. Later, I set a branch on fire and danced around the pit a la Tom Hanks in Castaway. I am woman.

V: Visas, how many and for where?

Just one, a little family visa when I traveled to England when I was younger.

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?

Again, the winner is Villefranche sur Mer, in France – particularly the Chez Net Internet Café. My countless nights spent boozing with Brits at this cheeky café introduced me to the world of rosé wine, but really, any wine will do in France. I believe my bottle of choice was Cote du Rhones, which cost a budget-friendly two Euros per bottle.

X: eXcellent view and from where?:

The view from the anchors atop Misty (5.10d) in Sandrock near LaFayette, Alabama. Climbing this beautiful lead route was unnerving, although easily within my abilities. I fought my way through anxiety and self-doubt towards the top of the intimidating rock face, and when I finally reached the top I looked behind me and was dazzled to discover this gorgeous forest landscape illuminated by the setting sun. I had been so preoccupied with the challenging rock in front of me that I hardly noticed the natural scenery behind my back. The view really added to the experience of completing the climb.
Y: Years spent traveling?:

I’ve been traveling the entire 23 years of my life, sometimes in heavier spurts than others – all thanks to my adventurous parents who dragged me all over the world while I was young. My independent travel pursuits really picked up when I found my passion for rock-climbing in 2009. Climbing trips opened the doors to my adoration of camping, road trips, and the vagabond lifestyle.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?:

Crazy climbers in Moab, Utah. Lounging around the Lazy Lizard Hostel led to overhearing nothing but conversations about new crags, tricky beta, the next day’s climbing adventures, and of course, the beautiful Steph Davis. Every male in the hostel was smitten with the huge poster of this female climbing icon that hung on the hostel refrigerator. It was nearly overwhelming to be thrust into such an engaged and passionate community of diehard climbers.

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.

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