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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Driving down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you’ll discover many things beyond tasting good whiskey. First, that it’s not really a trail, but a smattering of distilleries located in and around Louisville and Lexington, and second, that every distillery making “bourbon” follows the same basic recipe required by U.S. law. Unexpectantly, you’ll find a wide variety of flavors both in the drinks and the distilleries themselves.
When it comes to the whiskey, I’ll let you be the judge of what you like and don’t like. Try as many of the distilleries as you can, follow your guides’ tasting advice, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Judy was our Designated Driver – she generally doesn’t like Bourbon – but she was a trooper and tried some of them, even finding one or two she liked. I reveled in the new and different flavors, all derived from the grains used in the mash and the wood of the charred oak barrels. I became a bourbon drinker several years ago, when a former boss – a retired Air Force two-star general – pretty much insisted I join him at the bar when we were on business travel and introduced me to Maker’s Mark and a few others. I became hooked. Judy and I now keep a small collection of fine bourbons, scotches, and Irish whiskeys in our library’s globe bar. There’s something uniquely relaxing about reading a good book with a dram of amber, 90-proof liquid rolling around your tongue and palate.
I also reveled in the wide variety of architectural styles. From the classic “down in the holler” buildings of Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace (not on the tour but worth a stop) built in the 1800s with their worn and aging cypress fermenters, to the modern and spotless glass and stainless-steel Town Branch facility, to the gleaming polished copper, brick and wood Angel’s Envy distillery built inside a former manufacturing plant in downtown Louisville…architectural personalities young and old were featured. Even the retail “experiences” of Evan Williams and Jim Beam featured architectural styles that put their products and personalities in best light.
Each of our guides also brought their own unique personalities to the tours and tastings. Nicholas at Town Branch was, by far, the funniest and most entertaining, but the booming voice of classically trained actor Jimmy James Hamblin at Angel’s Envy earned him a nomination for Louisville’s Recognition of Service Excellence (ROSE) Awards this year…and our utmost respect and admiration. But unvarying among all our guides and the people we met along the way were the warm Kentucky welcomes we received and felt, making our Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience one of our favorite diversions so far.
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it!
August 19, 2017 is National Aviation Day. For me, it’s a reason to celebrate.
I grew up around airplanes. I remember as a very little girl, going to pick my dad up at work at Griffiss Air Force Base and him letting me sit in the Link Trainers he worked on.
From that base we moved to more Air Force bases … Nebraska, Nevada, Texas, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Germany … almost too many to count. The one thing that was an absolute constant in my life was the sound of airplanes. Propellers, jets … it didn’t matter what kind of plane to me. I was too young to really understand the difference between bombers, fighters and cargo planes. I knew that sound, though. It really is the sound of freedom.
Every base had an airshow in the summer. We always went to the airshow. The US Air Force Thunderbirds dazzled my sisters and me with their feats of acrobatics.
Bombers and fighters showed off in the sky. The idea of flying was magical. My fascination with the Thunderbirds led me to an airshow a couple of years ago where I got to touch one! I met a Thunderbird pilot and got her (yes, HER) autograph.
I didn’t actually fly in a plane until I was in 7th grade. My dad had orders for Germany and he and mom wanted to make sure we would be able to tolerate flying since we had all experienced inner ear problems as kids. On the way home from a vacation, Dad dropped Mom, me and my sisters at the airport in Montgomery, Alabama, where we caught a short flight to Mobile. He drove down and met us when we landed. It was AMAZING! I was hooked!
We flew to Germany and back a couple of times then returned to the states. I was in high school, so I joined the Civil Air Patrol in the hopes of getting into a cockpit. It didn’t happen.
When I was in college, I enrolled in ground school.
I passed with flying colors (no pun intended) the day before the nation’s air traffic controllers went on strike. Flying lessons were no longer an option.
I enlisted in the Air Force and kept an eye out for opportunities to fly, but I was never at the controls. I managed to swing an assignment for the base paper when I was at Dover Air Force Base that landed me in the crew section of a C-5 for an extended mission.
I had a family. Kids, money, time commitments all played a role in slamming the door on my dream of flying a plane. I wrote off the dream and did what I could to travel by air just to be up there among the clouds.
Then I met Greg. A private pilot, he had let his license lapse. When I asked why, he only offered the typical excuses … not enough time, not enough money, blah, blah, blah. We made it a priority to get him back in the air. He introduced me to friends he had flown with years earlier. One even let me take the controls of the experimental aircraft he had built! I FLEW IT! Sure … it was only for a couple of minutes … but I actually FLEW IT! The dream came back to life!
We visited the nation’s largest airshow, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, three years in a row.
We check out aviation museums, local airshows and just about any aviation event we can find.
When we got married, he gave me my own pilot log book and I took my first lesson. I’m headed towards making my first solo flight, but in the meantime, Greg got re-certified. We’ve climbed into a Cessna and taken a few short trips.
We even created an aviation-themed bar in our home – complete with a replica wing for a bar and aviation nose art on the wall.
Recently, he got back into the cockpit of a Piper Arrow and the flying bug came back to life in him. We were off the ground. It’s a priority for both of us. From here – the sky’s the limit!
For many people I know, missing the sunset on Santa Monica pier would have been a sad start to a vacation. I know people who are so attached to their plans, that a missed event throws their moods into a tail spin. I am NOT one of those people.
I find it easy to spot the silver lining in almost every situation. Yep, I’m an optimist.
Before we headed out on our Route 66 Adventure, I had spent months researching the route, choosing the perfect book with the best directions, deciding what sites were essential and which we could bypass if we ran out of time, and many more details.
I had lists sorted by states and further sorted by our schedule. The EZ 66 Guide was safely packed in my suitcase before I even loaded my clothes. A folder I had created with day-by-day guides was also packed in a safe place.
We arrived in California, got everything done we needed to do to set off on our adventure and, horror of horrors – NO lists of sites to see. NO day-by-day tips! OH NO! I had taken out some of the information to add some last-minute updates and forgot to repack them.
I discovered this on the morning we were due to set out on our cross-country odyssey. The night before I had missed the sunset and now I was missing a whole slew of pages of stuff I had spent months researching. It’s enough to throw everything off kilter – or not. We still had the EZ 66 Guide. We still had additional maps.
We decided to make the most of it and make the whole trip more spontaneous. In fact, we could turn it around. We created a new plan as we drove east. We would try to catch some sunsets along the way to make up for missing the one off the California coast. We would ask people we encountered along the way for their favorite spots. We would be even more adventurous!
In the end, we spent two weeks having a blast. We stopped when we saw anything that caught our eye. We managed to take in sunsets in the rear view in Arizona, from our hotel room in New Mexico, across fields in Texas and Kansas. We met loads of new “friends” from the road.
Adventure demands flexibility and adaptation. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … join us as we share this little piece of it.
We travel to California several times a year to see family. The trips are usually too short and packed with visits, family meals and essential stops at food places for treats we can’t get on the East Coast.
I have been asking to see a California sunset for about three years, but there always seems to be something on the schedule that stops us from driving to a spot for a great view of the sun dipping below the horizon. Besides, we both reason, we’ll be back. There is always next time. It has actually become something of a joke each time we miss it.
As we finalized our plans for our Route 66 trip, we added a sunset stop at the Santa Monica pier to grab some shots of that end of the road. It’s the traditional “end” of the road since Route 66 was created to help people get from Chicago to the California coast. We wanted to take the time to sit and enjoy the sunset, so we made our way to the Saturday-evening-crowd-packed pier. We intended to hit the road early Sunday morning so we could take advantage of quiet time on the roads to get out of the busy Los Angeles area.
We actually had three things on the agenda for our visit to the pier:
- Catch the sunset
- Snap pics of the pier, the “end of the road” sign, and the neon arch over the pier’s entrance
- Pay a visit to the kiosk that sells Route 66 merchandise and visit with its owner
It was a good half hour before twilight when we walked onto the pier amid families, tourists and hand-holding couples. The mood was pleasant. The weather was Southern California perfect. Very near the entrance to the pier is the kiosk. It was easy to spot, located just steps from the “End of the Road” sign. Customers browsed the merchandise and made purchases as we stood back, waiting for a slow moment so we could introduce ourselves and chat.
While we waited, we kept our eyes on the sun, trying to time the sunset. We snapped a few pics.
A break in the action at the kiosk gave us an opening and we met Ian, the on-duty salesperson and friend of the kiosk’s owner. For a moment, I was saddened to learn the owner was not there, then, as we chatted with Ian, we learned he is a fixture on the Mother Road. In fact, there is a bit of a community of those who travel it regularly. They know each other, stay in contact, and are friends.
Ian was fascinating! He shared his personal photo album and gave us names of people to “say hi from me.” He pointed out some “must-see” locations and directed us around some construction spots. We told him our plans and he confirmed our choices. The conversation was exciting, information-packed and easy. Suddenly we looked up to notice it was dark. We had missed the sunset! We had been so wrapped up in the conversation, we had let the sky turn dark without even noticing. We laughed out loud and repeated our phrase, “there’s always next time.”
It was an upbeat, fun way to kick off our trip. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. We were about to set off on another great exploration.