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

An ode to Mr. & Mrs. Kirby Crider, and the most charming wedding in Flat Rock, NC

Readers, on this romantic occasion, the documented evidence of one of the most beautiful evenings of my life cannot begin to be supplemented by my feeble words. Instead, I’ll offer a meek exposition to introduce you to the night, and then I’ll let photos and video handle the rest.

In a slick twist of fate, I was invited to attend the wedding of an old Tally Rock Gym climber, Kirby Crider, as my dear friend Matt Wood’s ‘plus-one.’ The nuptials coincided with the dates during which I planned to be in North Carolina, and the venue turned out to be a short 15-minute drive from Hendersonville – so I hopped onboard, and packed a single satin dress along with all my dirty vagabonding gear.

The wedding was held at the Highland Lake Inn, and the ceremony took place beside a large lake on a sprawling, green hillside. The non-traditional proceedings included violin playing, recitations from both Hemingway and Neruda, and a splash of Judaism with the smashing of clothed wine glasses at the conclusion of the vows. I wasn’t quite planning on taking too many pictures, but, you know me.


The reception was a wild celebration of love, friendship, and a shared happiness that radiated amongst the guests and bridal party. The collective of people was described best by the lovely man who wed Julia and Kirby, who brought to attention the fact that never before had this particular group of individuals congregated in one spot, and that it would likely never happen again. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.

I was schooled on the art of true love throughout the entire evening. I learned the definition of everlasting as I listened to friends and family toast the newly weds and recount the tales of their relationship. I was reminded of chivalry by my date – and my quasi date, Jason – who pulled out my chair, linked arms with me as we walked, and ensured I was treated like a lady. Perhaps most importantly, I was taught to love and live for each moment as I stole away to the lakeside and dipped my bare toes in the lily-pad laden waters with a new friend.

Here my words fail, and I must leave you with a stunning video taken by a charming new friend, Ian. I do believe he also shoots with a Nikon D7000, and he gets extra points for picking up my lens cap for me when I dropped it on the floor in a drunken haste. Anyways, this kind gentleman put together a video of the wedding – and I simply had to share it.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QCiZx7CpUg]

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda

Kirby and Julia, thank you for inviting me into your beautiful evening. I was delighted to be a part of the beginning of the rest of your lives, and wish you everything wonderful in the world – although you two hardly need anything more than what you already have together. Thank you for sharing your love, it was inspiring to encounter.

Picking my own apples at Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard in North Carolina

After a wild evening spent celebrating the marriage of Kirby and Julia Crider, I awoke to my last day in North Carolina with a mean hangover that could only be cured by one thing: apple picking. I was invited to embark on a pick-your-own adventure during a lovely meal of homemade chicken pot pie with two 80-something-year-old women who regaled me all evening with tales of their own cross country adventures in the 1940s – bad ass.

As a Florida gal, I have picked many a things, like strawberries, tomatoes, avocados in my backyard, the works. However, I had never before had the experience of strolling through a sprawling orchard, plucking the prettiest apples I could get my hands on. My host for this adventure was Marie, a charming woman who makes some amazing apple butter from scratch. She drove Dena and I to the Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard on the outskirts of Hendersonville, and I was immediately in heaven.


The property boasts plump bodies of apple trees that sweep across the land for as far as the eye can see. The friendly women who worked at the orchard armed us with a map of the different apple varieties, and pointed us in the direction of the best pickings before setting us lose amongst the trees.

It was hard to control myself from snatching up every apple in sight, but Marie taught me the delicate process behind picking prime produce. Apparently, you should look for a flattened bottom to indicate a good apple – but honestly, I just went for the fruit that called out to me for whatever reason. Some were shiny, some had robust colors that couldn’t be ignored, and some were just too cute not to take home.

I was enchanted by the rows of apple trees, and the slightly rotten scent of fermenting apple flesh that wafted from the hoards of discarded fruit left abandoned beneath each tree. All was not lost though, as further investigation underneath one of the trees revealed that the lumps of fallen apples were being voraciously devoured by swarms of bees.

My woven basket was soon filled with all sorts of apples. My favorites are the little Galas, which can easily be eaten within a few bites if you’re not willing to commit to the idea of a big apple. Then there were the Jonagolds, a few Empires, and then the ultimate apple, my lone Honey Crisp. I had never tasted a Honey Crisp before coming to Hendersonville, but after just one bite into one I was hooked. It is hands down the best apple variety I have ever tasted – but alas, it was too late in the season to pick any, according to the orchard worker. I scoured the barren row of Honey Crisp trees in desperate search of overlooked treasure, and with my luck I was able to snag the final apple from one of the trees.

After satisfactorily loading myself up with a hoard of apples, we returned to the main orchard store to cash in our winnings. What I thought would surely be a fortune’s worth of apples miraculously only cost $5.00 – at a price like that, I could happily pick all my produce. I also stocked up on dehydrated apple rings made on the farm, and a few bottles of homemade cider.

The apples withstood crossing six state lines, a few nights of camping, funky changes in the weather, and a few other mishaps before making their way home to Denver. I offered my basket as a ‘thanks for letting me crash on your couch forever’ gift for the lovely men here in Colorado – and naturally I gave my beloved Honey Crisp to McGoo to try. He was skeptical about my musings at first, but after a few bites he admitted that it was in fact the best apple he has ever tasted.

As my travels in North Carolina come to a close, I have to once again thank everyone in this beautiful state who hosted me, fed me, took me on adventures, and made my trip amazing. I am overwhelmed with gratitude, and can hardly express my love for all of you. What a blessed little vagabond I am.

Sampling spicy Pad Thai in the North Carolina country side

When Marlin offered to take me out for lunch in Brevard, North Carolina, I was expecting to encounter a home-style meal that involved heaps of barbecue sauce, but instead I was surprised with an Asian meal from the local joint, Pad Thai. Situated in a glorified shack on the side of the road, this eatery promised deliciousness from the minute we walked through the doors.

The menu was short and sweet. At the top of the laminated offerings, it listed options for pork, chicken, or tofu to accompany each entree. Next came two sections with different plate suggestions in either rice or noodle varieties. There were less than two dozen items to choose from, and honestly, everything seemed pretty similar save for an ingredient or two.

After much deliberation about whether I wanted broccoli or bamboo, noodles or nice, I ended up going with the most standard item one could order at Pad Thai: the pad thai. I opted for the mild heat level, while my dear, daring Marlin took a chance on the spiciest ‘Thai hot’ option. Our meals were quickly concoted in giant woks, and served with a wedge of lime and a small heap of crumbled nuts.



I couldn’t resist trying a bite of Marlin’s ‘Thai hot’ platter, and initially was disappointed by the lack of heat in my bite – and then it hit me. The sly chefs who prepared this meal tricked me into thinking I was the queen of spice until the slippery oil loaded with the heat from hell spread across my tongue, lips, and coated the entire inside of my mouth. I downed my water in a few seconds flat – and quickly gained a new respect for ‘Thai hot.’

Should I ever pass through Brevard, which I hope I shall, I would definitely stop by Pad Thai for another lunchtime visit. The meal was $6.50, and judging by the way I was clutching my full belly as we walked back to the car, it was well worth the price.

Click here to check out my Yelp review on Pad Thai.

Snapshots of mountain life with Marlin in Brevard, North Carolina

During my week spent in the mountains of eastern North Carolina, I was blessed with the opportunity to reconnect with a dear friend from Tally Rock Gym, who moved out to the Pisgah Forest to work at Eagle’s Nest Camp/Outdoor Academy. In a serendipitous twist, Marlin was living only a handful of miles up the road from the Hendersonville home in which I was staying.

The first day, I met him up at Eagle’s Nest for a tour of the grounds. It is a beautiful facility, painstakingly built in a rugged fashion that embraces the nature that surrounds each building. As we browsed the camp, I couldn’t help but notice a constant presence of little orange newts that sluggishly clamored along the pebble driveways. Naturally, I had to stop every few yards to scoop up a little buddy for a minute or two of playtime before returning him to his daily musings – whatever a newt muses. We also checked out the camp’s sprawling organic garden, which was certainly messy, but the tomatoes we picked from the vine were zesty and perfect.



On the second day I spent with Marlin, I was entertained with a wild evening at the staff house, called Riverside. Located across the street from the camp, this is where the workers get to escape from their ‘students’ for some adult time. I met some amazing people, especially Josh and Paige, who kept me captivated all night with beautiful banjo music, and a slam poetry piece by Paige that totally blew me away. Josh was kind enough to allow me to record a few of his songs on banjo and guitar, so once I get to a reliable internet connection, you’ll be able to indulge in his bluesy soul music.

Nestled up in the mountains, Marlin is truly living the life. This handful of photos from Riverside offers a meek glimpse into how great his situation is. He lives up in an off-the-beaten-track mountain neighborhood, gets paid to go on climbing excursions, and has a freshly updated rack of trad gear that would get any climber’s palms sweaty. Hats off to you, Marlin – and thank you a thousand times for your warm hospitality.




I’ll share the lunch experience I had in Brevard with Marlin, Paige, and Josh tomorrow morning – but first, it’s time to hit the sack here in Kansas City.

Mean Mr. Mustard in Hendersonville, NC – So nice, I ate there twice.

When I set off at the beginning of this adventure, I was prepared for a month of vagabonding and living out of my car. Upon hearing this, my gracious host in North Carolina set off on a mission to fatten me up with gourmet treats before releasing me back into the wild – and boy, did she succeed.

One of my favorite eats in downtown Hendersonville was a charming cafe perched just off Main Street. Its name is Mean Mr. Mustard, and you might be able to discern from the title that this dainty restaurant is entirely made in tribute to The Beatles. The restaurant owners spared no detail, covering the walls with Beatles art, albums, and other memorabilia. Even the salt and pepper shakers were miniature drums adorned with the band name.


I ordered The Eggman’s Basic, which is your standard breakfast spread with two eggs, hash browns, and bacon – plus a slice of their delicious homemade focaccia bread. I was in absolute heaven with my meal. Any time I go to a breakfast joint, I always order the traditional breakfast platter so I can compare notes with the other eateries I have sampled. To compliment my plate, I ordered a tall glass of “Lennonade,”  which was fabulous.


What really set this breakfast experience apart from any other was the atmosphere of Mean Mr. Mustard. The small building sat only a few handfuls of tables, and the intimate setting was amplified by the wonderful man who sat in the back corner playing acoustic versions of classic Beatles songs. Live music is no shocker for evening meals, but it was a really great way to start the day.

Our meal at Mean Mr. Mustard was so great that Dena and I returned the next morning after our yoga class with a group of hilarious women who kept me laughing for hours. On the second visit, I opted for lunchtime fare, and ordered a half Greek salad with half of a custom-made grilled cheese sandwich. Once again, the culinary creations at this restaurant had my taste buds begging for more. My next trip to Hendersonville will undoubtedly include a visit to Mean Mr. Mustard — and next time, I’m treating Dena whether she likes it or not.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the orchards for an afternoon of apple picking.

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!