West is Far.

I’m pretty sure I’m 2,000 miles into this trip. I’m also sure I’m gonna need an oil change by the time I get to San Diego. The West is far, guys. And for those of you who have road tripped with me, you know I struggle real hard at staying awake and generally being aware. While the struggle to stay awake has been absent, I’ve really had to hone in on my driving skills this trip. So far I’ve only suffered one flat and a dead battery, but we will get into that later.

I left Indy on Thursday, June 2nd at 10am. After going back to my house twice to get things I had forgotten, I got on the road to Omaha.

 My buddy Nate was so kind to let me crash at his place on my way out to Denver. I’m gonna be real honest with you. There isn’t much to see on your way to Omaha. It’s basically flat. Real flat and farmy. I was not totally impressed.

  
On my way out there I did stop at President Herbert Hoover’s childhood home. I did not go into his presidential library, but I did take the opportunity to walk around the little town and go in his house. It was neat.

After that little adventure I drove onto Omaha. I got there about 7pm and kind of just expected to chill out. Nate had other plans. He wanted to go out. I agreed. Who was I to tell my host, “no”. So, we had dinner and some beers, reminiced about bear fights, took a few shots, and called it a night around midnight. I had a full day of driving to do the next day. I had no intention of feeling like I had drank my face off the night before. Also I had this weird intention of drying out a bit on this trip. I’ve been extremely social lately between beautiful weather, the Indy 500 and school ending. My liver and kidneys could use a vacation. Heads up, they haven’t had that vacation yet.

  
 Nate gave me some ideas of things to see on my way to Denver. One of them was Car Henge. Some guy wanted to replicate Stone Henge in Alliance, Nebraska. He didn’t have any large slabs of rocks so he used a bunch of Ford cars. I’m not gonna lie, it was a pretty good replica. That little road side attraction did take me out of the way and made me late to pick up Brenna at the airport….

  
I sent Brenna a text that said, “Don’t hate me, I will be late picking you up.” Little did I know that I would be super late. Once I got on I76 in Colorado and about an hour outside of Denver I got a flat. To my amazement I didn’t freak out. I had gotten a AAA membership the day before I left, so I felt oddly comfortable about his hiccup. While I was on the side of the highway trying to get through to AAA, a older man, Terry from Wisconsin who was on his way to hike the Continental Divide stopped to help me. As we went through all the tools that were in my trunk and his, and pulled out the donut and all that jazz, we realized that 1. I had no jack (thanks, previous owner) and 2. I had lug nuts that locked my rims on my car. (Is any of this making sense?). So, none of the thingys that pull the lug nuts off my wheels would fit. I needed a key that was missing (thanks again, previous owner. You suck!). Soon Terry, two state troopers, and myself were trying to problem solve as I waited for AAA. AAA Jimmy showed up and decided he couldn’t do anything and I had to be towed to his shop where he had a key and maybe even a tire (!). I was towed. I got a new $140 tire and the owner of the shop gifted me a key for my rims. Now all I needed was a jack and I’d be good to go in emergencies.

  
Finally, 4 hours late, I was on my way to pick up Brenna from the airport.

This concludes the first leg of the trip. The Denver Adventure is up next!

By Yourself?

It starts with someone asking, “what are you doing this summer?” and ends with them asking, “By yourself?!”. The conversation is filled with disbelief, surprise, and probably some envy on their end. I totally get it.

Tomorrow I take a roadtrip across the country, by myself. Don’t worry, I’ve got friends and family along the way. What started as a trip out to the Bay Area to get away from the midwest humidity and hang out with family for a few weeks turned into a 7 week road trip out west. I like simplicity, but this is far from it.

At first I was just trying to get my trusty road bike out to the west coast. I couldn’t think of anything better than riding my bike through Redwoods, Yosemite, and to the beach. Maybe taking weekend trips up to northern California and down to San Diego. I could have flown my bike. But that would have been too easy. So I have ultimately decided to drive it.  Driving through cities I’ve never been (Denver) and returning to cities with friends in them (Salk Lake). I couldn’t not stop. I also couldn’t ignore that I was near all these national parks I have wanted to see all my life. How could I ignore them?! I can’t. So trips were planned-ish. (this is a little fly by the seat of my pants…) And then it evolved into a big trip to lots of places, to see lots of things, and visit lots of people.  I’m excited and nervous all the same. And that’s good. Really good.

While the 6,000 miles I expect to cover seems large, they are welcomed. This spring hasn’t been extremely kind to me. I think that this adventure will allow me a much needed escape from reality, an opportunity to recenter myself, and most of all, do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place.

So, you’re wondering what’s on tap for this trip? Well, check it out.

Omaha (a stay over on my way to Denver)

Denver (Hi, Brenna!)

Salt Lake City (Hi, KC, Mike, Brenna (again!))

Grand Teton

Yellowstone

Bay Area (Hi, Anne, Abe, Ky, and Lila!)

Yosemite

Redwoods

LA?

San Diego (Hi, Little Anne!)

Grand Canyon: North and South Rims

Flagstaff (Hey Sam and Chris!)

Albaqueque and Santa Fe

Dallas (Hi, Moretsky’s, Kelly and Kluempers!)

Memphis

Nashville (Hi, Anna and hopefully Beachy, Chris, and Justin!)

Home…in Indiana

So, you want to follow along on this crazy trip? I’ve got my bike, some minimal camping gear, and a bunch of maps and brochures from AAA.  I’m sure it will be literally and figuratively filled with bumps in the road, amazing adventures, lots of laughs, and a little soul searching. Come along for the ride. It should be interesting

 

Plitvice Lake National Park

In between Zadar and Zagreb we spent a night outside the National Park in a bed and breakfast. It was a nice change from sharing rooms with multiple strangers and no air conditioning.

We woke up early to get into the park as soon as it opened. We chose the F route which was the “best” route and started our hike.

The trails in the morning were relatively uncrowded but got crowded as the day went on. We were up hill and down hill, staring at waterfalls, daring one another to push one in, and staring straight into the bottom if the lakes. The lakes are special because of their mineral content. The water is super clear because algae and most plants can’t grow. It’s really beautiful. So, I could sit here and talk about walking, but I’m just going to start the pictures (that’s what you want to see anyway).

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If you eve go to Croatia, you have to go here. This is honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve been.

Split, Zadar, and Zagreb

Split, Zadar, and Zagreb were the last three cities we went to in Croatia. My friend from home flew into Split the same day that we ferried from Hvar. We met her at the hostel and did a bit of exploring that night. We didn’t wander too far, but we saw some traditional Croatian dancing on our walk. The city was pretty cool, but definitely touristy. The next day, Jessie and I woke up early with intentions to ride bikes in the park. We woke up early, took the 20 minute walk to the park and found NO BIKES! Zero. None. So we walked. And walked. And Jessie for her feet into the Adriatic for the first time.

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That afternoon we took a bus to the national park (more on that later).

Zadar. Oh Zadar and its beautiful sea organ. We didn’t spend much time there. As soon as we got in, we went to the store and bought two bottles of wine, bread, Pag cheese, and an assortment of meat. We found a wonderful spot at the sea organ and ate our dinner, drank wine and chatted.

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Jeremy had to get up early to catch a flight so we called it around midnight. Jessie and I woke up early in search of bikes to ride around. We found them!

20130726-085541.jpg we rode around for a while and then tried to find Kirsten at the “sandy beach”. Jessie finally got to go swimming in the Adriatic and I got some sun. It was a good day.

Zagreb. Jessie and I had planned to spend only the evening there. We were supposed to catch a train to Budapest at 10am the following morning. On our mission to explore Zagreb , which is a wonderful city by the way, we ended up staying out until sunrise…

20130726-090112.jpg To no surprise to anyone, we missed our train. Whoops. After a minor melt down/freak out, the hostel people offered me a beer at 11am to make me feel better. While it did make me feel better, I spent the better part of the day napping on their couch.

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We did finally wander the city.

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The next morning Jessie and I caught our hellacious train to Budapest.

Croatia is easily my favorite country on this trip. I had a blast.

Hvar…what a ride!

We skipped Korcula and stayed some extra days in Dubrovnik. So, when we finally made it to Hvar we were ready to party.

We spent the first night having dinner and checking out some of the bar scene. I think it may have been a little over our heads and we were downright exhausted, so we called it a night.

The next day we woke up and rented this monster of a boat. It had 5 horsepower and no ladder to get in it.

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We also got a cooler, rafts, beers and lunch to help us through our journey through the Adriatic on a dingy. Oh! Another thing… The whole transaction was sketchy. The guy made me pay secretly, we signed nothing and put down no deposits. We could have sunk the dingy and walked swam away from it and nothing could have been done about it.

We had a great time on the boat. We found a little cove to swim in for a while

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We left the cove because we were running out of beer and needed more. We trekked over to the island bar. Although kind of pricey, it was totally worth it.

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We had mojitos and bought some beers for the rest of our “sailing” adventure. We headed over to another cove and made our late lunch of torn bread, cheese and salami.

20130724-083941.jpg we floated for a while and Kirsten and I swam over to some boats with American flags. They were not impressed. We decided to head back after that. We had all drank our weight in sea water (you thought I was going to say alcohol), and were ready to be out of the sun.

That night we ordered pizza and drank wine on our hostel terrace.

20130724-084208.jpgwe had to catch a mid-day ferry to split the next day.

About that ferry… Turns out that you have to book them a day ahead of time! We didn’t do that. So, we had to steal a cab from people that almost got Kirsten punched and booked it to the ferry over on the other side of the island. We are lucky we made it.

Hvar is pretty great. If you ever want to go, bring your wallet, sunscreen and be ready to party.

Dubrovnik – The Pearl of the Adriatic

Our first stop in Croatia was Dubrovnik. It’s old town is a walled city. We got in mid-day from the earliest flight anyone has ever taken with a hangover from Rome. Our hostel was up the “Spanish Steps”. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it with the green monster in my neck and the 90 degree heat.

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We had planned on kayaking the city walls that afternoon, but my travel buddy desperately needed sleep and I can always do with a good walk. So, we parted ways and I explored the city. When I got back, we booked our day trip to Mostar, Bosnia and our kayaking tour.

Bosnia, well at least Mostar is beautiful.

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We walked around the shops, almost went in the historical stuff and then headed back to Dubrovnik. Our driver was pretty determined to get back by 7. I don’t think I have ever pulled my seatbelt so tight. I thought we were going to go flying off the cliff and that would be the end of our trip. We didn’t and it wasn’t. When we got back, my friend Jeremy had arrived from Chicago. We cleaned up a bit and headed out for dinner.

20130720-080256.jpg black risotto might be my new favorite thing. Then we went for drinks at the Irish pub.

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Although we had a great time getting drinks, it may have been smarted to take it easy considering we had a day long kayaking your the next day. (I can’t pull up the pics. Sorry!)
Kayaking was a blast! Although it was a solid 7 hours, we got to go in some caves and arches. We also learned about Croatian history.

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The next day we got a late start to walking the city walls. It was so got and so crowded, but the views were amazing.

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We added a night to our reservation because we needed more time to actually see the city. Jeremy and I did a beach day. We got some fierce sun while Kirsten was in Montenegro. That was our last day in Dubrovnik. I went on the cable car tour up to the top of the mountain. It was so cool to see the while city and the war museum.

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Dubrovnik is a wonderful city despite all the steps. I’d love to go back!

We did as the Romans did.

Rome. What a city! I’ve been there before about 9 years ago and swore I’d only go back for one reason. Although this city is filled with charm, history, all kinds of people and great wine, I couldn’t get past how dirty it was and the constant smell of urine. Sorry Rome, you’re on my not favorite list. Get comfy with Paris on the “don’t go back” list.

So, as I said I’d only go back for one reason and that was to see the Vatican museums, specifically the Sistine Chapel. You see, 9 years ago we opted to go to Pompei one day and the Vatican the next. Well, unbeknownst to us 3 catholic girls, that the day we were planning to go to the Vatican was the Epiphany and the Vatican is closed on holidays. So, Kirsten and I made a pact to come back.. Only for that (and maybe that pizza in the corner at that one place).

The day we got there we went to the Vatican. Kirsten’s good friend from college, Tif, is some amazing guide in Rome (seriously. She was voted guide of the year) and got us cheap tickets and a tour if the museum. This may sound awful, but aside from the history, I hate looking at art (I sound so uncultured). When I traveled years ago, all we did was go to museums and look at art and I think I became a little desensitized. I mean yeah, Da Vinchi, Michelangelo, and Goudi are great, but nope. Just tell me the history. Anyway, it was neat to hear the history about the Vatican and its art.

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I didn’t sneak any pics of the Sistine chapel, but I did get some dirty looks. In the chapel you’re supposed to be silent. Well, it starts with people whispering and then it gets a little louder as people continue to file in. So the guard gets on the speaker and says in a deep, slow voice “silencio”. I immediately responded my quietly saying “that was God”. Kirsten could barely contain her giggles and the couple around us gave me a disapproving face. Whatever.

After the Vatican we went to back to our favorite place and got dinner.

20130711-153718.jpg Kirsten walked away with a waiter completely in love.

Then we went back and got ready to go out at our hostel. That hostel is another story, but it’s completely different from what it was years ago. We couldn’t have alcohol in the rooms and there was no common room or kitchen (there used to be both and it was encouraged to hang and drink). So, your only choice was the bar downstairs or leave and still pay to drink elsewhere. Well, I got a bottle of wine and with the help of Facebook I got it open by shoving the cork though. That chianti was gooooood. Then we went downstairs for drinks with every 18 year old ever. Also they put our bottle of wine in two cups. Whaaaa?

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We were kind over that scene and went to bed. The next day we saw the colosseum, and the Fountain of Trevi before meeting up with our friend Tif for dinner.

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Dinner with Tif was great. We had amazing food, awesome cocktails and some really nice wine.

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She took is to The Drunken Ship where all the Americans go because there is beer pong. I lost. Kirsten also spent her 21st there when we were last on Rome. We also went to Cheap Bar where’ll the Saint Mary’s study abroad girls go.

Then she took us for a walk and toured us around. We saw Piazza Navona.

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And the Pantheon

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After that it was about 1am and Kirsten and I needed to get our slightly drink selves back to pack and get up at 5am to head to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Thanks, Rome. Start cleaning yourself up and getting public toilets and I might come back.