Same Road, Different Season

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A recent drive across a short stretch of desert in Arizona has me wondering about a classic desert plant, the Saguaro cactus. These tall, prickly plants with their outstretched arms and stand-up-straight trunks, almost human-like, dot the landscape like guardians of the sand. This particular stretch of road west of Phoenix, will soon be a regular drive for us, but for now it’s still rare enough to notice seasonal changes in the landscape.

We drove it in February when the winter was full of cool breezes and the desert landscape was in a seasonal resting mode. Everything looked a little sleepy somehow. The Saguaro were green and healthy then but didn’t seem to reach for the sky.

We drove it again in May. It was unseasonably hot for spring and had been very dry for a long time. Those same Saguaro were looking almost gaunt. The trunks showed signs of drought – a little shriveled. The branches were short, thin and often falling off.

We were back last week in the heat of the summer. The monsoon season is a little more robust than normal. It’s clear the Saguaro love the bright summer sun and the recent thirst-quenching rains. The trunks are fat and green. The branches reach proudly for the blue sky.

I’m excited to see what fall brings to the Saguaro. Will they retain their fat, water-filled bellies? Will the stubby, new branches grow into thick upstretched arms like concert-goers cheering on the band?

Sometimes, going back to the same place can really change your outlook. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go see it in different seasons.

Yes You Can!

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Greg and I have spent the last few weeks obsessing about a decision we’ve made. We’re a few years from retirement, but we found where we want to retire and we’ve decided to build our retirement home there. It’s a big step that means we will either carry two mortgages, sell our current home or come up with another solution. Since we live and work near Washington, D.C. and want to retire out west, moving into the new house isn’t really an option. So, we’ve spent this time asking ourselves, “Can we do this?” “Should we do this now?” “Are we really making a wise decision?”

Home or Travel

Before you ask why this is in a travel blog, you can probably guess that owning two homes would take a serious bite out of our travel budget … and we LIVE to travel! That part of the decision has us asking, “How do we make this work without giving up what we love?”

I’ve mentioned it before … finding the money to travel is a priority choice. If you need to drive an expensive car, you won’t have as much money to travel. If you need to buy loads of expensive shoes, you won’t have as much money to travel. If you need to go out to eat three times a week or buy an expensive latte every morning … well, you get the point.

Our solution is to sell our current home and move into a smaller, less expensive apartment until we can move west. It’s a big step! But perhaps by providence, I’ve seen several reminders this week that pointed out if you don’t take the leap off the cliff, you cannot soar. This is our leap. Sure, it’s scary, but we want to soar. I’m 17 letters into my plan to See the World A to Z … only nine letters to go. I can’t give up now. Greg is also fully vested in the plan. He’s excited to see it through to the end.

We’re giving up a little for a potentially HUGE gain – our dream home in retirement and the continued freedom to see the world. You can do the same! Anyone can. Take a deep breath and take the leap. Soar! After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored.

You’ll never get there if you don’t start somewhere.

From Exes to Ohs

Greg and I make no secret of the fact that we are each other’s third wife/husband. One of the things we say is that it took three tries to get it right. It’s only half in jest. We both recognize that with age comes a self-awareness and comfort that makes it easier to know what you want … but more importantly, what you won’t put up with anymore.

Our exes didn’t travel, not like we do. Neither of them craved it. When we realized the intensity of our love of travel and experiences, it deepened our attraction for each other and our wanderlust. We went from camping and destination-based driving slogs to exploring downtowns and wandering on backroads. — from Friday and Saturday nights spent swatting bugs by a campfire to toasting friends at our local bar and snacking on brick-oven pizzas.

Pin Map

We mark the places we’ve been together, where we want to go, and where our friends hope to travel.

In my quest to see the world alphabetically, I went from being primarily focused on Europe because it’s the only place my ex would consider, to eyeing locations I’d never even imagined. As we look ahead to this year’s trip (we’re up to “O” in the ABC The World plan), we are excited to be taking our first cruise.

It’s a river cruise on the Danube. Yes, it’s back to Europe, but to the Eastern side. I have a map with pins of the places we’ve been; Eastern Europe is sadly almost entirely pin-less. (Colored pins on the map show where friends want to travel).

Europe map close up

Yellow pins are where we’ve been together. Colored pins represent our friends’ bucket list trips. The letters mark our “See the World A to Z” trips.

But we are not sitting around waiting for the cruise date in the fall. We continue to plan and explore and be amazed by our world. We have trips planned to Pittsburgh and its foodie scene, Arizona where our winter visit left us wanting more, and Minneapolis to check out the biggest mall in the US.

I joke that the only reason I have a job is to pay for my next trip, but it’s more truth than jest. I love that moment you see, taste, hear or feel something new. It’s an “Oh” moment for me. “Oh, wow, that’s beautiful!” “Oh, wow, that is delicious!” We’ve both gone from exes to ohs and we aren’t interested in slowing down. After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go find your “Oh” moment.

Excitement and Travel Go Hand-In-Hand

It doesn’t matter where I’m going, I get excited about travel, I mean REALLY excited. I let excitement take over like a kid on Christmas Eve. I giggle. I jump up and down. I can’t sleep. For some trips, the excitement is worse than others.

I barely get any sleep at all before bucket list trips, for instance. Most recently, that happened before the Grand Canyon trip. I bring up that one because I know, as an adult who’s had a share of disappointments in her life, not all trips are going to end the way I want them to, even dream about. The potential for disappointment doesn’t get in the way of my unbridled enthusiasm, though.

So what? You may be wondering. Well, I bring it up because once again I had a sleepless night. Today, we are off to Hershey Park to spend the weekend celebrating my oldest granddaughter’s seventh birthday. While I am excited to spend the day with her (and her brother, sister and mom), that’s only a small part of what kept me awake.

Last night Greg gave up trying to keep my birthday trip a secret and told me where we are going. Before you ask, yes, we go somewhere for our birthdays every year. We love to travel so trips are our gifts to each other and we try (and usually fail) to keep them a secret.

This year, he’s taking me to the Mall of America. I know there are people who prefer high adventure, art museums, spas and so many other things. I like those things, too. But shopping has always been fun for me. I love the adventure of finding new things. I love the visual stimulation and creativity of window and store displays. I love the buzz of other shoppers seeking their own treasures. In other countries, I find stores to be a true and honest snapshot of the culture and sense of style. I don’t BUY a lot, but I love looking … and I’ve never been to the Mall of America.

Excitement meterIn addition, he said we should check another bucket list item off on the same trip – go to the airport with nothing but a toothbrush and an ID. It is, he pointed out, a trip to a mall. If we can’t get what we need there, then we probably don’t really need it. With that little added extra, my excitement level meter hit overdrive – and I spent the night tossing and turning.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I often say happiness is a choice. Excitement and happiness go together for me. Anticipation of something you’ve been looking forward to is a powerful mood booster. Whether it’s a stay-cation, a weekend jaunt to see family or a bucket list trip, let yourself feel youthful excitement. Call a friend with giddiness in your voice and share your joy. Put a huge smile on your face and ride the crest of happiness.

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … see it enthusiastically.

Flying is His Happy Place

Looking out at the worldI wake from a quick nap at 37,000 feet and look over at Greg. He’s in his happy place — the window seat this time. We take turns because we both love looking out the window as we fly.  He doesn’t see me looking at him. He is turned away; his face is pressed against the window pane like a small child looking into the window of a candy shop.
After a moment, he turns slightly and looks down at his iPad. He’s got flying charts for the entire US open and he’s following our flight … making a note of airports, private runways, landmarks and anything he can match between his view and the chart in his lap.Sky is the Limit
He notices I am awake and looking at him and breaks out into a grin. It’s a smile that says a thousand things: Good “morning;” Thanks for flying with me; Thanks for giving me the window seat; I love this whole experience. We say these things to each other all the time. On this particular occasion, I just smile back and ask, “where are we?”
He knows right away and points out a river and a small runway. Off in the distance is Oklahoma City. The skies are clear and the view spreads out for miles in every direction.
 J&G Flying
This flight is no different from others. We both love to fly. The majesty of the world spreads out below. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a commercial jet at 37,000 feet or in a Piper Arrow at 6,000 feet. There are always marvelous things to see.
He turns back to the window with a childlike sense of curiosity as I reach for my novel. Flying is his happy place. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … find your happy place.

When Fear Kills a Dream

Fulfilling a lifelong dream can be exhilarating. Realizing it is within reach, planning the details, booking the flights, and making the reservations add to the anticipation of checking that item off your bucket list … an item that has been there since you were eight years old.

Grand Canyon view

This was my first view from the rim.

In my case, the dream was to ride a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and spend a night next to the Colorado River in a cabin. In October, I was talking about the dream with my husband when he said, “Why wait? Let’s do it!” I was shocked and thrilled all at the same time. No one had ever embraced the idea before. I went online, checked out the process and made a call. I was able to find two available openings in mid-February. Sure … it can be cold, even snowy, that time of year, but why let a little harsh weather ruin a dream?  I booked the trip and started ironing out the details.

This kind of trip requires some planning. I knew we would need riding clothes and warm weather gear, but what else? Back online for research. There are “must-have” items and “optional” gear. There are videos to give you an idea what to expect. I created a packing list and watched a couple of the videos. I have a little fear of heights, so I was trying to get a visual idea of what to expect. Several websites made it clear that this ride is not for those with a fear of heights. I looked at a couple more videos and decided this was a case of mind over matter. I would defeat this fear and make my dream come true.

I bought cold weather rain gear. I ordered hand and toe warmers for the ride. I bought a strap to secure my glasses. I watched the videos over and over. I can do this!

Arriving at the Grand Canyon the afternoon before the ride, we checked into the Bright Angel Lodge, confirmed we would make the weigh-in restrictions (it is a FIRM 200-pound limit and my buff husband was close) and headed out to walk along the rim. I bravely walked to the edge and looked down – STRAIGHT DOWN!  “Um, OK, I got this,” I said to myself as I took a couple steps back, “No problem.” I worked on that mind over matter thing. I smiled at Greg and we wandered along the rim taking in the views. I’m not sure if he realized I had positioned him between me and the edge.

Grand Canyon luggage

All packed … two nights provisions.

We snagged a table with a canyon view for dinner, then headed to our room to pack our “Grand Canyon luggage” – two small plastic bags that were our limit for the ride. We were spending two nights at the bottom, so we got one bag per night. Packed and ready, we hit the hay with the alarm set for an early morning call at the stone corral.

Bright and early, we layered on the clothes, grabbed a quick breakfast and, with our breath visible in the sub-freezing morning breeze, we walked to the corral to meet our guides and riding mates. There would be six of us, plus two guides, for the descent. Stable master, Don, gave us a 30-minute safety talk, filled us in on what to expect and introduced us to our rides. I would be on Burt. Don laughed as he explained that Burt was a bit noisy and would snort and grunt all the way down. I gave Burt’s nose a little nuzzle, climbed up into the saddle and settled in for the five-hour ride along the edge of the paths on the Bright Angel Trail.

Mules at Stone Corral

The mules were saddled and ready for the ride down.

We walked out of the corral and immediately stepped out onto the trail. I did all the things I had talked to myself about. Look out across the canyon and the magnificent view. Trust your mule to stay sure-footed (no one has EVER died on this ride). Look at the rider ahead of you. DON’T LOOK DOWN.  Then I did it – I looked down. We were maybe 50 paces into the ride. I gasped! Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I have hyperventilated ONCE in my life and all of a sudden I was gasping for air and wheezing. Ten more steps and we approached the first turn on the path. My lungs were screaming. My brain was screaming. I wheezed out a whisper, “I can’t do this.”  Gasp, gasp … louder this time, “I can’t do this.” I felt tears start falling. The guide must’ve heard me and turned in her saddle, “Are you OK?”

“No,” I gasped. She looked concerned. She got on her radio and called back up to the corral. She stopped the group as we had discussed in the safety talk. We would all stop, turn our mules out to face the canyon, enjoy the view and take a drink of water. I barely remember stopping. Someone was standing next to me helping me dismount. The guide at the back of the group was repeating, “Breathe, just breathe, you’re OK.” I hugged the wall as far from the edge as I could get. I started walking back up, both my clear plastic bags in my arms. I don’t remember how they got from the saddle bags into my arms, but there they were.

Boda bags -- our "canteens" for the ride.

Our souvenirs from the trip … we got to keep our “canteens” even though we never finished the ride.

I stepped over to the corral wall, dropped down onto it and started to cry. Greg showed up a couple of minutes later and Don walked us over to the Lodge to check us out of the ride group. I was feeling a sense of loss. I would be fine one second, then crying again. Greg got me some water. We walked over to the restaurant and got a table – one without a view! I was scared, shaking, finally breathing again and crushed.

I was experiencing the end of a dream. We made other plans for our vacation and Greg distracted me as I started to get over it. It’s been a week and I’m OK today, although a little weepy as I relive it. I have other dreams. I know I tried. Life goes on and I will move on stronger for the attempt.

The Grand Canyon is no longer on my bucket list, but there are hundreds of other things still left to see and do. After all, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored – don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.

P is for Pu’uhonua

My plan to see the world from A to Z continued in 2017. When I started the plan in 2001, I had two rules: Don’t go back to places you’ve been before (at least as part of the A to Z plan), and wherever you go, it must be outside the 48 contiguous United States.

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Checking in at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau

As I considered where to go for “P,” I realized my desire to go to Hawaii (I had never been) could easily meet those rules … and there are LOADS of “P” places in Hawaii. I settled on Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, a National Park on “the big island” known as place of refuge to ancient Hawaiians. We chose our dates, booked our airfare and found a hotel.

We arrived in Kona late afternoon, grabbed the rental car and headed to the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha Beach Resort, settling into our room with a gorgeous view of the lagoon and Kailua Bay. Ali’i Drive beckoned as the sun started slipping lower in the sky.

Tropical Drink

A tropical drink our first night in Hawaii

We wandered the coastal roadway and looked for a dinner destination, settling on Foster’s Kitchen with a view of the ocean and the taste of Ono, the fresh catch of the day. It was late by our body clocks, so we headed back to our comfy bed to settle in for a good night’s sleep ahead of plans for an early showtime for our Dolphin/Snorkel Cruise.

Somewhere around 2 am, the sound of howling wind woke us up and we marveled at an overnight storm stirring up huge waves in the bay and tossing-about the palm fronds in the trees that line the lagoon. About 6:30, the phone range with the news that the storm meant the Dolphin/Snorkel Cruise was cancelled. The girl on the line was friendly, apologetic and happy to reschedule our cruise for the next morning. That was no problem for us … we could swap our plans and spend the day exploring the island, visiting Pu’uhonua and making our way to the volcano in the hopes of seeing flowing lava.

Flooded roads

Flash floods had us remembering, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” … so we did.

Less than five miles up the road, we turned around. Flash flooding left us seeking an alternate route in the now torrential rain. We laughed about the diversion and drove the 45 minutes to the National Park.

Rainy day

Don’t let the rain ruin your vacation! It’s just water.

We learned the rain was not typical when we found Pu’uhonua closed (we learned the next day that employees couldn’t get to work because of dangerous driving conditions). Not to worry, we snapped a few pics in the rain and headed back to KaiKona.

The rain eased. We wandered through the town, upgraded to front table seating for our Luau in the evening and sipped a few tropical cocktails.

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The Island Breeze Luau receives rave reviews online and it was, indeed, a fun, entertaining event. We were taken on a virtual tour of the South Pacific through dance and food. I even tried poi the way the Hawaiians eat it and was pleasantly surprised at how tasty it can be.

Morning two dawned with calm winds on the lagoon and the early sun peaking over the horizon. When the phone rang just after 6:30, I guessed it was Alia calling to confirm our rescheduled cruise. Unfortunately, she warned of high surf and let us know the cruise was once again cancelled. We’d looked at the calm lagoon without checking the far side of the bay where HUGE waves were pounding the sea wall. No problem! We got an early start and headed for the far side of the island and Volcanoes National Park.

On the way, we stopped at Pu’uhonua, chatted with the rangers and marveled at a 95-year-old, third-generation Hawaiian man weaving palm leaves into bowls, crowns and fun little fish. He gave me a crown and a bowl suggesting he would be offended if I refused his gift. We left a substantial tip in his jar, thanked him profusely and hopped back in the Jeep.

Na'alehu

Snack stop at the Southernmost town in the USA.

We’d mapped out the back-roads route to Volcanoes and were delighted to find ourselves cruising through little villages pushed right up against the sea wall. Lava flows now hardened into rock, lush green foliage, brightly colored tropical flowers and expansive views filled our drive. We stopped in Na’alehu where a farmer’s market was in full swing. A few minutes of wandering had us marveling at the delicious flavors of a cinnamon roll made with dehydrated banana strips instead of dough and crunching on teriyaki smoked almonds. We popped into the Punalu’u Bake Shop, which bills itself as the southernmost bake shop in the USA, for malasadas. From there it was a quick drive to Volcanoes.

Volcano steam vents

Steam flowing out of vents on the volcano

What a site to behold! Lava fields, smoking steam vents, everything we had hoped for! With plenty of time, we drove the 38-mile round trip Chain of Craters Road to see the Hōlei Sea Arch. The high surf that canceled our snorkeling trip pounded the sea wall with thunderous explosions of water and sea spray. We stared in amazement at the power of Mother Nature. The foggy mist lifted as we made our way back to the highway, revealing brilliant colors as the sun set.

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The sea arch was taking a beating from the waves

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Waves crashing against the rocks

We enjoyed a classic Hawaiian pizza for dinner and packed before falling asleep to the sounds of waves gently kissing the shoreline of the lagoon outside our window. Our exceptionally brief Hawaiian vacation did exactly as we had hoped – left us both wanting more. If you haven’t experienced Hawaii, what are you waiting for? After all, it’s one of the magnificent places in a whole world out there, just waiting to be explored.