Two Months on the Road! A Full-Time Camper Life Update

Two months down…??? to go!

Two months ago, we drove out of Atlanta with the Jeep and pop-up camper filled to capacity and have been touring the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states ever since. On or around the 14th of each month, I’m aiming to write a quick update about where we’ve been, where we’re headed, and things I’m learning along the way.

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Related: 

Places We’ve Been: Month #2

We slowed down our pace a bit and have been spending a week in each place to better accommodate our work schedules and see more in each place.

  • New River Gorge, West Virginia: Home on the road #8
    • Favorite Parts: Hiking around the gorge and bridge with beautiful views, coal mine & ghost town hikes

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  • Red River Gorge, Kentucky: Home on the road #9
    • Favorite Parts: Turning 33, meeting up with my parents, rock climbing and lazy floating on my birthday

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  • Claytor Lake State Park, Dublin, Virginia: Home on the road #10
    • Favorite Parts: Easy access to kayaking & SUPing, playing horseshoes, decorating for fall

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  • Roanoke, Virginia: Home on the road #11
    • Favorite Parts: Staying in a hotel (Labor Day camping is for amateurs), solo museum outings, Black Dog Salvage

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  • Virginia Beach, Virginia: Home on the road #12
    • Favorite Parts: Camping right next to the beach, beach yoga/running/swimming, meeting up with my buddy Dwight

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  • Surf City, North Carolina: Home on the road #13:
    • Favorite Parts: Still here, but so far it’s been surviving a crazy storm with flooding (bit of a rough start)

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Biggest Challenges: Month #2

A lot of the challenges that were really getting to me in month #1 have mellowed out as I’ve settled into a better routine. Overall, the weather has been more pleasant in month #2 and our campgrounds have been pretty accommodating.

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The single biggest challenge I’ve felt this month is finding good internet for working. We’ve had to upgrade our data plans to make up for crappy service at campsites and have even had to move sites within campgrounds for better reception. These distractions cut into my productivity and make it more difficult to enjoy the other aspects of camping life.

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The other big challenge that comes to mind is mold/mildew. After some rainy days in West Virginia, it started growing on our camper canvas above the two beds. We didn’t discover it until we were in the Middle of Nowhere, Kentucky where cleaning supplies were very sparse. Vinegar ended up working pretty well until we got to a bigger store and picked up some mildew spray. Fortunately, no one got sick.

Realizations & Ramblings: Month #2

Over the course of the month, I jotted down random thoughts as they came to me. Here’s what my month #2 list looks like:

  • I’m getting better at doing yoga in weird places and feeling better physically and mentally because of it.
  • I’m getting more tolerant of bugs and getting better at ending their lives when necessary.
  • Monkey needs social time even when I don’t. We met her perfect playmate at Arrowhead Bike Farm in Fayetteville, WV – a hound named Hank.

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  • Keeping the inside of a camper clean is hard, especially when you’re camping in mud or sand. We are constantly sweeping the floor with a tiny broom and dust pan.
  • I really crave my end-of-the-day beer or mug of wine
  • I don’t necessary identify with West Virginia culture, but the uncrowded/outdoorsy vibe really resonated with me.

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  • Having our own downloaded TV shows to watch separately makes for easy and refreshing solo time. I’m currently watching Girls, Scandal, and Wentworth solo.
  • We did an “art in the park” day that involved drawing in sketchbooks and painting on watercolor postcards. I want more of these days.

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  • It’s possible to keep up many favorite hobbies even without an apartment.
  • When one person in your travel party isn’t coping well, the other needs to pick up the slack. Take turns with negativity.

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  • Inspired by scary campfire stories, I wrote a short fiction ghost story. Once I fix it up a bit, I’ll plan to share it here and perhaps write a few more too!
  • Once a month, it’s nice to treat ourselves to a hotel to switch up the routine. The Sleep in in Roanoke over Labor Day weekend to avoid crowds and the hurricane was really fun.
  • I love living by a beach.
  • Inspired by the beach I’m trying to start meditating again. I’m trying out guided meditations on this app, Meditation Studio by Gaiam.
  • I’m getting tired of wearing these same clothes and can’t wait to toss/donate them at the end of the season.
  • I have made more income so far this year than ever before in life!

Looking Ahead to Month #3

If you take a quick look at a map, you’ll see that we’ve made a big loop and seem to be circling back. But don’t be fooled because this trip is nowhere close to done!

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After stops in North Carolina and South Carolina, we are heading back to Atlanta for a few days. Here we’ll revisit that packed 10′ x 12′ storage unit and swap out water sports gear for biking gear, and summer clothes for fall and winter clothes. This will wrap up our tour of the Eastern U.S., and from here, we drive west!

For many years, we’ve wanted to go to the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, and this is the year we’re finally going to do it! So we’ll be putting in long hours in the car to breeze through Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas to get to the festival in time. Month #3 will be incredibly different from months #1 and #2 because it begins our journey of the west. I can’t wait, and as always thanks for reading and staying in touch!

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One Month on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update

As you can hear from the crickets chirping in my blog (*chirp chirp, chirp chirp*), I haven’t had much time for personal writing lately. But today marks one month of living the nomad life, so I thought it was high time for an update. This certainly isn’t the longest we’ve been on the road – the trips to Mondakoming (Montana-South Dakota-Wyoming), the Northeast, and New Mexico have all been longer.

Yet this one feels a bit different because it has no end date, there’s nowhere to go home to, and the journey is just getting started.

From July 14th: Final Days in Atlanta…Next Up: Full-Time Camper Life!

We’ve been a lot of places and done a lot of things so far, but I’ve often struggled to keep my head above water with the constant planning, excess of work projects, and little hassles along the way. Clearly, I haven’t been blogging, but I have been updating my friends and family weekly home-on-the-road posts via Facebook and using an app called Track My Tour to waypoint the places we’ve been with photos and quick captions.

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It’s hard to lump a month’s worth of happenings into one little page, but here’s an attempt of sorts. I’m not feeling particularly witty or insightful right now, but I just need to take a moment to reflect and get a few things out on the page.

So to simplify matters, in text and in my own head, I’ll kick this blog post off with a few lists.

Places We’ve Been So Far: Month #1

  • Asheville, NC: Home on the road #1
    • Favorite parts = hiking, scenery, breweries, catching up with old friends, kayaking
  • Richmond, VA: Home on the road #2
    • Favorite parts = Best campground fitness center and free breakfast EVER, historic stuff
  • Alexandria, VA: Home on the road #3
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront walks, switching it up with a hotel stay during a work conference
  • Washington, DC: Day trips
    • Favorite parts = Monuments at night tour, Natural History Museum, catching up with old friends
  • Annapolis, MD: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront area, ice cream, dressing Monkey up in cooling gear
  • Milton, Delaware: Home on the road #4
    • Favorite parts = Secluded beach 10 minutes away, learning that Monkey can swim, every brewery except Dogfish Head, SUP in the ocean
  • Lancaster, PA: Home on the road #5
    • Favorite parts = Gnome-themed campground, Gnome Countryside tour with Rich Humphreys, Amish déjà vu
  • Hershey, PA: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Free chocolate tour, milkshakes
  • Coopers Rock, WV: Home on the road #6
    • Favorite parts = Hiking every day, playing guitar outside at the campsite, Rattlesnake trail at Coopers Rock, Lakeside crab restaurant
  • Seneca Rocks, WV: Home on the road #7
    • Favorite parts = Totally unplugging due to no phone or internet, bouldering the peaks

Biggest Challenges So Far: Month #1

However, it’s not all been fun and games. If you’re my Facebook friends, those are the photos you’ve been seeing. But there’s a darker side to live on the road that doesn’t get shared.

  • Ant infestation in the camper
  • Nowhere close by/secluded to pee in the middle of the night after too many beers
  • Constantly bothered by annoying strangers wanting to meet Monkey (more on this to follow)
  • 100+ degree temperatures
  • Campgrounds next to landfills
  • Flying insects of all kinds
  • Dirty, public laundry facilities
  • Finding dog-friendly restaurants and attractions
  • Feeling overloaded with work
  • Listening to Christian music in campground bathrooms
  • Infection that landed me in urgent care
  • Too rainy, hot, rocky, etc. to start my days with yoga
  • General crankiness due to all of the above

Realizations Thus Far: Month #1

Admittedly, I haven’t taken much time until now to reflect on my situation and how it’s been impacting me personally. Now it’s all coming at once and hard to take in. Yet taking myself out of my comfort zone and adopting a nomadic life has definitely made me realize a few things about myself.

  • I can tolerate and enjoy high heat much more than most people
  • I can totally maintain a full-time freelance writing job on the road. Business is great!
  • Having people around makes me feel exhausted, annoyed, and drained.
  • The strangers obsessed with Monkey are really wearing me down
  • My feet smell awful, especially after wearing hiking sandals
  • Having my favorite jewelry and toiletries in campgrounds makes me feel normal
  • I will never have a good hair day with all this humidity
  • Figuring out how to play new guitar songs is really hard

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Ramblings: Month #1

One thing that is really getting to me one month in is my annoyance with strangers on the road so far. I was introverted as a kid, went through an extroverted phase in college and my 20s, and have more or less returned to my introverted roots. I’m okay with that. I can “turn it on” and be social pretty darn well when I need to. But I rarely want to, and after it’s over, I feel like I’ve figuratively checked a box for the day and am happy it’s all over.

Dog owners, serious question here: how do you walk down the street in peace?

We literally can’t walk down a street/trail for five minutes without someone exclaiming “PUPPPPYYYYYY!” (she’s about 2 ½, by the way) and rushing over to maul her. Sure, she’s cute, but there’s tons of cute dogs out and about.

I want to get her a t-shirt that says, “I’m social 24/7, but my parents aren’t. Please admire me from afar.” But a t-shirt would only attract more attention, and Monkey LOVES attention and petting from anyone and everyone.

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However, I can’t be social all the time, and these constant conversations are draining. So seriously, guys. Does anyone else have this problem? Do you enjoy and embrace the random interactions? If not, how do you cope with them? It’s basically impossible to avoid them while living in public places. I’m working on a separate blog post all about this rant, so stay tuned.

So many travelers go on and on about how meeting people on the road is the best part about traveling, but I disagree. Extroverted travel is just one way to travel, and not necessarily the best way for everyone. I loved catching up with my old friend and his wife and baby in Asheville and my old coworker and her husband in DC. Not to mention meeting Rich “The Gnomeman” Humphreys at Gnome Countryside was definitely a highlight of my trip so far. But beyond these low-key, pre-planned social get-togethers, I crave time to myself more than anything else.

For the past month, my days have been jam-packed with work projects, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. Sure, this is always a “good problem” to have as a freelancer, but sometimes it’s exhausting and just becomes too much.

Besides the workload, we are in a constant state of planning, which also becomes exhausting after a while – always looking for the next campground, the next dog-friendly brewery, and the next museum to take turns going into while the other one hikes around with Monkey. To solve this, we set aside some time to book our next several campgrounds so that piece of the puzzle is taken care of for a while.

Looking Ahead to Month #2

We’re spending a bit more time in West Virginia and then heading into Kentucky next. My birthday, the big 33, is coming right around the corner and we’re meeting up with my parents for a little on-the-road celebration. My birthday’s on a Wednesday, so I’m hoping to take the day off work and do some climbing at the Red River Gorge.

From there, the plan is to head to the coast of Virginia and start traveling south. I’m not entirely sure where we’ll land at the close of month #2, but despite my rare divulgence of frustrations and rants, I’m still definitely excited to see what the next 30 days bring.

Active & Outdoorsy Adventures in Puerto Rico

For the first three decades of my life, Thanksgiving consisted of turkey, pumpkin pie, and sitting around staring at people I’m related to. This Thanksgiving, however, was a little bit different.

Flights to Puerto Rico were super affordable over the holiday, so we decided to switch things up and spend five or so days on the island. The week was packed with active and outdoorsy adventures, and these were some of my favorites!

DISCLAIMER: This is just a quick overview because my attention span and patience are running low today, but for more details on how to replicate these adventures, I’d recommend checking out the site, Puerto Rico Day Trips, which proved to be very useful when planning my trip.

Hike the El Yunque Trail to the Summit

El Yunque is a rain forest in the northeastern corner of Puerto Rico and home to hundreds of species of trees and flowers. Take the steep, winding back-roads to drive here from Fajardo for a unique glimpse at village life.

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The guy working the front desk at the park warned us that the trek to the summit would take four hours, but we did it in three. We weren’t really hustling that much either. The hike to the summit is a moderately-strenuous 5-mile hike that ends at an observation tower riddled with graffiti.

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It was super foggy at the summit on the day we hiked here, but it honestly just added to the mystery and intrigue of the whole place. The better views were down a bit further on the mountain.

Hike La Mina Trail to the Famous Waterfall

Also while in El Yunque, make sure not to miss the famous waterfall that you see on all the postcards. Otherwise, who will ever believe you went to Puerto Rico?! Even the cruise ships take excursions over here to see it.

Take a Dip in the Waterfall along La Mina Trail

The ultimate reward for a strenuous day of hiking is taking a dip in the waterfall along the La Mina trail. Sunbathing is popular here, so bring your swimsuit and a towel if you feel like getting in. We opted to continue hiking in the rain instead.

Bike around San Juan

The city has been making efforts to become more bike-friendly, and there is a great bike lane between Condado and Old San Juan. The hostel I stayed at, Mango Mansion, rents bikes for $20 per day. Local rental shops charge around $30-$45 per day.

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Honestly, he bikes were pretty crappy and hard to ride, but we made do and arrived back in one piece.

Bike around San Juan

Just keep in mind that bike lanes here aren’t continuous, so you’ll need to be comfortable riding on streets, bridges, and the occasional sidewalk to get around too.

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Bike to the forts…there are two of them and you’re admission fee at one gets you into the other one too. The streets in Old San Juan are pretty steep and cobblestone-style, so you might want to lock up the bike and set out on foot for a while. The whole area is pretty walkable, although my feet were definitely killing me at the end of this day.

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Explore Caves at Parque de las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy

This is a beautiful park that offers guided cave tours following a trolley ride to see a huge sinkhole, stalactites, and ancient rock formations.

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The trolley seemed a little bit silly; we could have totally hiked down to the cave. However, such hiking is not allowed so we reluctantly hopped aboard and squeezed in next to a bunch of other tourists.

See the Caves at Parque de las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy

Regardless, the Parque de las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy tour was pretty worthwhile just to learn some stuff about what you’re looking at. It lasts about 1.5 hours and is bilingual in both English and Spanish.

At the very end of the tour, our guide mentioned that we might be allowed to hike around the area if we found the director and got special approval. By that time, it was a little too late to work into our schedule. But something to keep in mind to ask if you visit and want to ditch the tour crowds for a while.

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Hike at Bosque Estatal de Guanica

This is a dry forest in southwest Puerto Rico, and the Fort Trail extends about 6 miles round-trip to give you a taste of the island’s diverse terrain. The Guanica State Forest wasn’t a big tourist destination when we visited, but it’s pretty quick and easy to get here from Ponce.

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The trail is honestly pretty boring, with not much to see along the way and really no other hikers either. But it provides a contrast from the El Yunque rainforest, and it was just nice to be outdoors in the 80-degree weather.

Fort Capron is a small watch tower that offers lovely views of the rolling hills, sea, and village down below.

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This is also a nice area to sit and enjoy a little peace and solitude.

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This was the ideal picnic spot that we found to relax for a while between two separate hikes in the dry forest area. I could literally just stare at crashing waves for hours.

Have a Picnic along the CoastDon’t be intimidated by little local shops in villages along the way. Something that surprised me while visiting Puerto Rico is that food and drinks are far from cheap.

It’s basically American prices paid for with American money. At this little local shop, I picked up a sandwich for $5 and a bottle of rum for about $7, and juice mixer for a couple bucks…perfect for picnicking!

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Watch for Wildlife in Unexpected Places

Iguanas are commonly seen around the fort areas and are a favorite photography subject for tourists.

Keep and eye out for iguanas

But apparently, Puerto Ricans have viewed the infestation of iguanas as a nuisance species that chews native plants and burrows under roads. I still think they’re kind of cute, photogenic, and slightly terrifying.

Kayak to Monkey Island

This was one of the main reasons we chose Puerto Rico for our Thanksgiving destination, and unfortunately, it’s the one and only outdoorsy activity that didn’t work out. Rain, high winds, and treacherous water conditions prompted our guides to cancel the trip on us. But I’m including it here to encourage you to give it a try when you visit Puerto Rico.

*INSERT NON-EXISTENT AWESOME MONKEY KAYAKING PHOTO HERE*

Read some of the TripAdvisor reviews from lucky bastards who actually got to do this since I can’t provide a first-hand report. The monkeys here have been used for research, which is totally sad and wrong, but they seem to be here to stay so you may as well stop by to say hello. Depending on the weather conditions, there are also snorkeling opportunities on this tour, but I’m pretty sure monkeys aren’t into snorkeling with you.

To book your tour, visit the Barefoot Travelers Rooms site and contact Keishya Salko at [email protected] or 787-850-0508 to schedule. She’ll send you directions, a list of what to bring, and tips of other fun things to do like the Guavate Pig Roast.

And by staying active in all these ways, you can have all the mojitos your heart desires! Right? Right? At least that’s that I keep telling myself.

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To learn about some more awesome things to see and do in Puerto Rico, check out my post, Incredible Ways to Spend Your Vacation in Puerto Rico (List-Style Highlights Published on Trips to Discover!).

The Antithesis of Spring Break: October at Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach is known as one of the classic spring break destinations in America. But I’m 32, married, and college is all just sort of a blur. So I planned a PCB trip for October. And it was wonderful.

Now I’m pretty low-key when it comes to accommodations and tend to pick the cheapest option that doesn’t have the words “bed bugs” highlighted in it’s online reviews. A location right next to the ocean was key to the goal of this trip: spending as much time at the beach as humanly possible.

For a mere $39 per night, I booked a room at the Catalina Court Motel in nearby Laguna Beach through one of those vacation rental sites. It’s got a total 1950s vibe and looks slightly suspicious from the outside, but there were renovation efforts going on. It certainly wasn’t anything fancy, but it was literally right across the street from the beach, which was perfect. The room (#9) also had a kitchen with a fridge, dishes, microwave, and stove. Bonus!

P1050169I’ve been writing for a living and working from “wherever” for nearly three years now, and I’ve developed a knack for snapping into “work mode” at a moment’s notice. Sure, I have my unfocused days just like anyone else. But most of the time, I can get into the zone and essentially nothing can distract me.

But although I make up my own schedule, I am still a creature of habit and routine. My beach week routine went something like this:

  • Wake up at 7-something
  • Walk to the beach to do yoga
  • Eat breakfast
  • Work in the hotel room all morning
  • Lunch
  • Take my laptop out to the beach and work there for the early-mid afternoon
  • Pack up and do something active, like SUP, biking, or running
  • Shower off my nastiness
  • Have dinner on the beach and play some guitar as the sun sets OR depending on the mood of the day, go out for dinner, adult beverages, and beach town exploration

P1050164It was a schedule that suited me just fine and really solidified my belief that a beach town would be an awesome place to live for awhile. Pier 77 was my gateway to beauty, relaxation, and peace and quiet because it was October – and no one visits here this time of year!
P1050170Stand-up paddleboarding was my favorite new outdoor activity for 2015 because we invested in an inflatable SUP that’s totally portable and considerably more affordable than the traditional type. I’d totally recommend the one that I’m carrying here, which is available on Amazon and called the “Blue Wave Sports Stingray Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard with Paddle and Hand Pump, 10-Feet.”

P1050175The beach was literally this empty in the mornings and evenings. However, afternoons saw a few more crowds of sunbathers and families on vacation. Temperatures were in the 70s and 80s, and somehow we avoided rain almost every day.
P1050195For the very first time in life, I practiced my guitar in the wide open outdoors. I just started taking lessons for the first time in the summer, so I’m clearly not stage-ready. But there was just something incredibly peaceful and exhilarating about strumming along to the ocean waves. Still a little crowd shy, I prefer audiences of stuffed monkey.
IMG_2883I’ve been pretty good about doing daily yoga in the morning at home, but yoga on the beach in the morning is 100% superior to any type of indoor class for me. A few paddleboarders in the distance, perhaps, but no rowdy college kids or screaming babies in sight to throw off my balance.
IMG_0359But of course, my restless spirit can only sit on a beach for so long before I start going nuts. One worthwhile little evening trip was to the Grayton Beer Company, one of the few breweries in the area.

P1050157The warehouse-style brewery is only open for a few hours in the early evening on Thursdays, the day we drove over to South Walton. But the most interesting aspect of this experience was the oyster shucking operation in the parking lot. We ordered some cheese-topped oysters and gumbo from the little husband-wife team working the tent outside and played a game of bags to entertain ourselves over samplers. Appropriately, the memorable brew that stands out to me was their Franklin County Oyster Stout.

To take advantage of a perfect-weather Saturday, we biked to Destin to check out the boardwalk area. I find it amusing that all these tiny Florida towns along the way are named after California towns: Laguna Beach, Santa Monica, Seaside, Miramar Beach. The ride to Destin involved some bike lanes, trails, sidewalks, and shared traffic lanes, but it really wasn’t too bad.
IMG_0347The Destin Boardwalk is a festive and nostalgic little area full of shops, restaurants, bars, and some miniature carnival rides. There’s a marina here with lots of boats and some kayakers paddling away too.
IMG_0341On our very last day in the Florida Panhandle, we planned a final active adventure: hiking the Panama City Beach Conservation Park.
IMG_0376We initially set out on the yellow trail, which is marked as either “4 or 6 miles.” We must have missed the turn-off for the 4-mile loop, and that’s right about when the mosquitoes started attacking in full force.
IMG_2886It’s pretty rare that I don’t recommend a trail/park for hiking, but this would be one of them. The scenery was kind of nice at first, but became tedious and monotonous after awhile. The trail was straight, flat, never-ending, and packed with blood-thirsty bugs. Finally seeing the parking lot at the end of this trek was a sight for sore eyes.
IMG_2890October was an awesome time to visit the Panama City Beach area because it wasn’t packed with spring breakers, families, or snowbirds. I’m a big fan of traveling to places in the off-season to have destinations a little more to myself and not have to share. I’m an only child, so of course I’ve never been very good at sharing.

Crowds have less of an appeal to me the more I travel and the older I get. Some travel bloggers go on and on about the meaningful and inspirational interactions they have with other people when they travel. I very rarely have this experience, yet I don’t feel that I’m missing out. A little idle chit chat doesn’t make or break a trip for me, and I’ve come to enjoy the silence and reflection of finding my own way. Working for myself, without the clamor of a boss and coworkers, has made me even more introspective and self-entertained on work/travel trips, and I honestly wouldn’t want it any other way.11218894_10156323520200495_5317829905237282151_n

Oh, and this is still my favorite office set-up of all time! Hopefully, many more beach work days lie ahead in my not-so-distant future.

How to Include Your Dog on Awesome Outdoor Adventures

Outdoorsy, adventurous dogs have been getting a ton of attention lately…not just from me, but from all of those crazy “Camping with Dogs” Instagramers too.

Roxy, the most chill dog EVER

Roxy, the most chill dog EVER

It makes a lot of sense though, given that approximately 70-80 million dogs are owned in the United States and about 37-47 percent of all households in the United States have a dog. And seriously, why even bother getting a dog if you’re going to leave him home alone or with a stranger every time you do something cool?

Sasha is super excited for Jeep rides...and at just a year old...everything else too.

Sasha is super excited for Jeep rides…and at just a year old…everything else too.

Check out my published blog written for a new startup called OutsideMyWay for tips on how to get your pup as ready and excited for the great outdoors as you are.

http://www.stories.outsidemyway.com/how-to-include-your-dog-on-awesome-outdoor-adventures

At 160-ish pounds, Zeiger couldn't more gentle.

At 160-ish pounds, Zeiger couldn’t more gentle.

Seclusion on Sapelo: A Poem

One of my favorite things about staying in a bed & breakfast is the guest book. Although most of the comments people write are pretty lame and boring (our hosts were so nice….blah blah blah), there’s sometimes a good one in there. As a writer, I feel a moral obligation to supply that occasional “good one.”

I recently decided that whenever I see a guest book, I’m going to write a poem in it. I don’t write enough poems these days, and this seems like as appropriate of a poetry venue as anywhere else.

So when I recently spent a weekend on Sapelo Island, I snatched the attic apartment’s guest book on my last day and scribbled down the lines that had been floating through my mind.

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Sapelo defied my expectations of an island getaway and presented challenges and rewards that no all-inclusive retreat ever could. That was the gist of it, and here’s how it went.

Seclusion on Sapelo – Written August 23, 2015

A secluded island escape,

A romantic ideal in mind,

A departure from routine,

A place to lose track of time.

 

Some islands have a tiki bar,

With cocktails crafted to taste,

And a full resort staff,

To show you around the place.

 

But what happens when

The roads aren’t paved,

And the extent of amenities

Is a half-hearted wave?

 

Suddenly your paradise

Requires planning and work,

And finding pristine nature

Is the one and only perk.

 

Have your last six meals

Been cold beans in a can?

Have you given up scrubbing

Off that wet, sticky sand?

 

Another thunderstorm rolls in,

Lightning spreads across the sky,

Wind erases sandy footsteps,

In my hazy line of sight.

 

Seclusion isn’t for everyone

But it’s exactly what I crave

Out here on Sapelo Island

The waves, the sand, and me.

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Turning 32 on Sapelo Island

As the days of August ticked by, 32 seemed like a pretty insignificant number, so I was half-expecting a pretty insignificant 32nd birthday. My creative husband who knows me all-too-well had something entirely different in mind.

Three days before my birthday, I was handed a packing list and told to be ready to leave at 10 am the next morning. Leave for where?

I had no clue….it was a surprise adventure and I was more than okay with that. There really aren’t enough fun surprises in life, so I wasn’t going to ruin this one by asking too many questions.

We took turns driving and five hours later, we arrived at this.

20150821_152232A ferry boat in the middle of nowhere. Okay…

I knew we were along the Atlantic coast in southeastern Georgia, and I remembered that there were some islands off the coast. I’d heard of these surprisingly situated islands, but had never been to any of them. That was all about to change.

P1040582With my trusty chimp sidekick, Ginger “Dunkey” Bromeliad by my side, I boarded the ferry and settled in for a short ride to Sapelo Island. Sapelo is one of the most remote and uninhabited islands along the Georgia coast, and actually it’s a national estuarine research reserve owned by the Department of Natural Resources.

Sapelo’s history dates back 4,500 years, when Native Americans settled here, but it’s best known for Civil War and slavery times. When the Union army started attacking the Georgia coastline, slave owners bailed, leaving many of their slaves behind to fend for themselves.

Some slaves who left the island came back later in search of family members and ended up settling here. Almost all residents of Sapelo Island today are their descendants.

We stayed at a VRBO property called “Sapelo Island-Leave the World Behind,” and our host, Lucy, picked us up at the ferry. The drive from the ferry was a small taste of what was to come, with dirt road, potholes, forests, and an utter lack of civilization. The only real town here is Hog Hammock, which has an estimated population of about 40-50 people.

P1040751There are no hotels on the island, and no restaurants either. We rented an attic apartment above Lucy and Mike’s home, which was actually spacious enough to sleep six if you really squeezed in. 
P1040590It was a totally comfortable place to stay, surprisingly with functional WiFi and TV. There was even a little outdoor patio with a table and chairs upstairs that we could use.

P1040761To get around the island, our hosts loaned us “The Beast,” a clunky, nasty SUV that could somehow still manage to maneuver the Sapelo wilderness.

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After settling in and getting acquainted with the island on a map, our first order of business was….THE BEACH! After all, what’s an island trip without the beach?

There are two beaches on Sapelo Island….the north beach and the south beach. But technically, they’re both on the south part of the island since the whole northern part is DNR territory and off-limits to cars.

Never before in all my days have I witnessed a more secluded and surreal beach. This shot was taken on Sapelo’s south (main) beach, Nanny Goat Beach, right before a ridiculous storm hit. And for the record, there were only three other people on the entire beach before the skies turned all dark and crazy.

Sapelo

Every morning I spent on the island started with yoga…
P1040606…and then a beach walk to discover strange creatures that called this place home.
P1040617Plenty of time was spent in a rare state of relaxation on the beach…reading, writing, playing Frisbee, sketching, and drinking wine. Sapelo is the best place I’ve found that really takes me away from it all.

But there are some local “tourist attractions” that we checked out during our time here too. One of them is the Reynolds Mansion, which actually offers tours if you show up at the right day and time. We did not, but we did check out the grounds and eat a can of beans on the sidewalk.

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It’s named after big tobacco heir Richard Reynolds who purchased the property in the 1930s and started letting the University of Georgia use the facilities for marine research. In its heyday, the 1920s, the mansion was used to entertain rich and fancy guests in the automotive industry.

Lucy and Mike also let us use some rusty old pink beach cruisers that they had in the garage to explore the island on two wheels.

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We pedaled to the nearby African Baptist Church, which has a service once a month.

P1040645Although cars aren’t allowed on the north part of the island, bikes are. So we set off to see what the more remote areas of the island were like. Sapelo Island is about 10 miles long and 4 miles wide, which makes it larger than Bermuda!
P1040644All seemed to be going so well on this little self-guided bike tour….until we hit the massive puddles.
P1040648The night before, very shortly after that picture of me on the beach with the crazy sky was taken, a torrential downpour hit and made a big mess of Sapelo’s dirt roads.

After walking our bikes around entirely too many flooded sections of road, we had to give up on the northbound route and head south instead. Fortunately, there was plenty to see down there too.
P1040655Sapelo’s lighthouse was built in 1820 by Winslow Lewis and repaired extensively after the Civil War and also an 1898 hurricane.

But a trip to the island wouldn’t be complete without spending time at BOTH beaches, so after a much-needed shower, we headed to the north beach, Cabretta Island, to scope out the scene. 
P1040694Just when I thought Nanny Goat Beach was remote, I discovered Cabretta Island and my mind was blown. The “roads” to get here were questionable at best, and we passed through was an abandoned campground on the way. Camping here would have been amazing, but apparently it only takes reservations for large groups for staffing purposes, not parties of two.
P1040707Ahhh…another secluded beach afternoon before a storm. A gal could really get used to this.

But alas, I had two more islands to briefly check out before heading home and accepting the fact that I’m a 32-year-old human being. The next stop was St. Simons island, which is far more inhabited and touristy. Don’t get me wrong…it’s still really nice though, and I’d move there in an instant.

I kicked off my actual birthday day by stand-up paddleboarding in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of St. Simon’s Island.

20150824_090526We met up with a local guy to accompany us since it was only our second time SUP-ing and the last time was two years ago. Compared to the last time in Lake Michigan (Chicago), this time was a breeze! I didn’t fall…not even once…and I even pulled off a couple easy yoga moves on the board.

After an essential ice cream stop post-SUP, we only had a little bit of time to spend on Jekyll Island. This is a built-up island with lots of new hotels, restaurants, and shops….and also a sea turtle center. My favorite part about this particular place though was the driftwood beach.

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This beach is located on the north end of the island and is pretty much a tree graveyard. It’s a bit sad actually, because the north end of the island is slowly eroding away and leaving the trees like this. But for now, it’s a surreal, haunting, and beautiful place that’s unlike any other beach I’ve ever seen.

It was really hard leaving the islands and coming home, as you might expect. A true getaway, far away from technology, obligations, and responsibilities, was really what I needed and spending a four-day weekend here really cleared out a lot of mental clutter.

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For the longest time, I haven’t had a huge “draw” to a particular place where I could see myself plopping down for a while. Now all I can think about is living in a chill beach town…where my days start with yoga in the sand and end with sketching in the sunset.

I guess turning 32 wasn’t really so insignificant after all.

A German Village Oddly Misplaced in the Hills of North Georgia

These days, pretty much all travel planning is done via the interwebs. I work for travel companies, write for travel blogs, and Google my way from one destination to the next.

However, this travel story begins differently than all the others. That’s because I planned this trip WITH A BOOK.

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I picked up this book at a local state park after a hike and flipped through it up occasionally while it sat on the coffee table. I picked out six or seven “quick escapes” from Atlanta that I wanted to check out, and one of them was the Helen/Clarkesville/Sautee area. Here are a few key points from the book that stuck out to me about this particular escape:

  • German alpine village
  • Waterfalls
  • International restaurants
  • Local wine
  • German beer
  • Boiled peanuts

Following the book’s recommendations, we started our two-day northern Georgia journey in Cornelia, a tiny town “famous” for having the world’s largest apple monument. It was pretty big, as far apples go anyway.

20150718_113810There isn’t a whole heck of a lot else going on in Cornelia (population 3,834), so we quickly moved on down US 23 to Clarkesville, another little town (population 1,250) known for mountain craft and antique stores. The book recommended a placed called Stephen’s for lunch, but Stephen must have lost in an epic battle to someone named Tucker.

I haven’t the slightest idea who Stephen or Tucker are, but this is when I realized my prized book was published in 1996. Whoops.20150718_130820

Lunch at Tucker’s was pretty alright – a fried green tomato sandwich and side salad, which hit the spot and seemed appropriately southern. Well, the fried part at least.
20150718_131021Then we mozied on over to a few of the little craft shops and watched cows paint other cows. Craft shops and festival booths always make me wish that (1) I didn’t have to have a full time job, (2) that I had unwavering motivation to keep up with crafts, and (3) that I was much, much better at crafts. Le sigh.
20150718_132107Old timey libraries with lots of books and grandma-style couches welcomed us in town…
20150718_135102…and so did little pathways around historic (abandoned?) cabins surrounding by strategically-placed statues. I’m always willing to lend a helping hand to a friendly statue.20150718_135159But statues can only provide entertainment for so long, and our next stop was Sautee, a town best known for its old general store.20150718_143502Inside the store were lots of old-timey relics…
20150718_143554…and even circus-style games that tested the strength of your love and let you watch a little peep show. I think I saw an ankle. I’m not entirely sure, but it still felt scandalous.20150718_144133By this point in the day, I’d worked up a hearty thirst. Fortunately, the Habersham Vineyards and Winery was on the way to Helen. The Southern Harvest label utilizes the distinctly Southern Muscadine grape to make sweet, fruity wines. I picked up a bottle of Peach Treat, which seemed only appropriate for a Georgia winery.

Tastings were $5 per person, but the most memorable part of this winery visit was the slushy drinks. Habersham had two slushy options: a peach flavor with white wine and a blackberry pomegranate flavor with red wine. Wine slushies…what a brilliant idea for a hot summer day!
20150718_151421Nothing really goes better with wine than chocolate, and fortunately, there are lots of sweet shops in Helen. Unfortunately, it rarely dips below the mid-90s here in the summer. So if you’re going to buy chocolate, you’re going to have to stuff your face with it right away or be prepared for a nasty mess in your pocket.

20150718_185851Unlike my typical travels that usually involve stays at campgrounds and hostels, I sprung for a full-fledged B&B this time. In Helen, we stayed at the Alpine Hilltop Haus, whose owners were kind enough to accommodate us for just one night. Most B&Bs in the area require a two-night minimum…even for last-minute bookings, which is annoying.
20150718_182624Our room had the most amazingly realistic mural painted on it. Seriously, nothing in this photo is real except the chairs, table and lamp. Mind = blown.
20150718_182336It was totally relaxing to hang out in the B&B’s living room, which was much more spacious than mine back at home. This is where I watched some ridiculous reality show about dating naked while flipping through old copies of National Geographic Traveler, while my husband started putting together a puzzle of an bland lighthouse.

This is also where breakfast was served the next morning, which was a tasty egg quiche, breads, coffee, and tea. There were four or five other couples staying here as well, but it didn’t feel crowded. The back yard overlooked the Chattahoochee River down below, which would have been quite peaceful if not for all those silly tubers.
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The big thing to do in Helen, which I quickly discovered, is tubing. Tourists stand in long lines waiting to board re-purposed school buses and be dropped off at the top of the river. They leisurely float down the gentle currents, bumping into each other and awkwardly getting out to swim from time to time.

The crowds, lines, and congestion made this an unattractive option for our relaxing, low-key weekend. But perhaps another time.
20150718_191657There were quite a few German restaurants around town in Helen, and although the food is hit or miss, this particular restaurant got my “thumbs up” for having cool steins. And the beer was pretty alright. 20150718_194200

But putting all the trip details aside, I find it absolutely bizarre that a German-themed village is tucked away in the hills of north Georgia.

Apparently, Helen was a logging town that was going downhill fast. To resurrect itself, some local business folks decided to recreate a Bavarian alpine village in its place and try to bring in some tourists. Even franchise businesses like Dollar General and Huddle House have that German architecture look.

20150718_202446And not surprisingly, this is also THE place in the area to party for Oktoberfest. On weekend evenings, this little town square area is filled with DJs spinning bad 90s dance-along tunes and vacation-minded southerners dancing-it-up with plastic cups of beer in hand. Then again, it’s also a total family-friendly area and kids are everywhere.
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After waking up in the B&B the next morning, we took the kayak out on Lake Unicoi, a 53-acre lake in Unicoi State Park. There isn’t a whole lot of water to paddle here, but it is pretty peaceful.

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Then we drove over to Anna Ruby Falls for a short waterfall hike. You only have to hike in a half mile from the parking lot to see the falls, which is created by the convergence of Curtis and York Creeks. Curtis drops 153 feet and York drops about 50.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo this was my experience planning a weekend trip “by the book.” It started with a book, and then branched out into randomness from there. Helen is just an hour and a half from Atlanta, but it couldn’t feel farther away.

Sure, it’s more touristy than authentic, but what more would you really expect from a European replica in the American south? Regardless, it’s one of the most unique places I’ve discovered down here and totally worth a stop to gawk if you’re passing through.

Alyssa in Amsterdam: A Brief Rundown of Awesome Things

I just spent three weeks in Europe and I haven’t written a damn thing about it. And it’s killing me.

Well, okay fine. That’s not entirely true. On my third day in Amsterdam, my husband (yup, I have a husband now) bought me a little paperback journal from the Van Gogh Museum.

Van Gogh Journal

At least every couple days, I jotted down travel notes about things that stuck out to me and random stuff I wanted to remember. However, none of it was anything fancy, and none it ever found its way to the interweb.

Documenting the trip has felt like a pretty overwhelming endeavor, to be honest. And my freelance writing day job is drowning me, which is by all means a wonderful thing when you’re self-employed, but doesn’t exactly make me motivated to saddle up for personal writing at the end of the day.

I’ve talked myself into and out writing Euro-posts a dozen times now, but for some reason, I stuck with it today. Perhaps it’s the surprisingly tasty Diesel Punk Stout that is helping the words flow from my fingertips, or the familiar return to normalcy that makes me crave another excursion.

Who knows; who cares. It’s happening today and I’m letting it.

But first a disclaimer: Travel writing for money has made me a bit jaded about the whole industry. I write things about places I’ve never been and will probably never go just to get paid. And the Internet is little more than a regurgitated mess of paraphrasing and repetition.

But I have to write something about my travels…SOMETHING! 

So today, I adhere to the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid. I’m just going to share a few of my favorite things from Amsterdam and leave it at that. Amsterdam is my new favorite European city, and I want to remember the things that made me fall in love with it.

This won’t be any literary masterpiece, but it will get me back into the groove of journaling for love of the game – not the love of the bling.

So without further ado, and in no particular order…

ALYSSA IN AMSTERDAM: A BRIEF RUNDOWN OF AWESOME THINGS

An 8-Person Hostel Room

One bathroom for eight people is kind of ridiculous, but somehow we made it work. Our most interesting roommate was a guy who woke up with two face piercings he didn’t remember getting.

We later found out that he wasn’t a registered guest and had actually just convinced another roommate to let him shack up so he didn’t have to sleep in a park. Ahhh…hostel life.

Hostel

Creepy Bunny Statues

I’ve always enjoyed these types of city-relevant/creature-themed public art displays. I remember the pandas when I lived in DC and the cows in Chicago.

I had no idea at the time, but these creepy bunnies are part of Nijntje Art Parade ~ Celebrating 60 Years of Miffy. It’s a kids’ book from the 1950s that was popular in the Netherlands. The more you know…

bunny

Cheese Sample Heaven

And just when I thought Vermont was THE place to be for cheese samples…I was wrong. The Dutch make some damn good cheese, and they aren’t stingy about handing it out.

My favorites were the non-standard varieties, like pesto and cumin, and Gouda…lots of Gouda.

cheese

More Bikes than Cars

I’ve always heard about how big “bike culture” is in Amsterdam, but it didn’t sink in until I was there.

Trying to cross the street as a pedestrian surrounded by hundreds of cyclists coming from all directions was utterly terrifying. But a place that has more bikes than cars is definitely my style.

bikes

Flowers Freaking Everywhere

The Dutch like their tulips, and although we arrived a bit late for prime tulip season, there were still plenty of pretty flowers to ogle at.

I wanted to buy some tulip bulbs from a city market and ship them back home, but I guess that’s illegal. The shopkeeper I inquired with told me they’d get stuck at customs, so I had to abandon my dream of growing Amsterdam flowers in Atlanta.

Oh well, the heat down here would have probably killed ’em anyway.

flowers

Europe is cold. You’ll see this same dumb blue jacket in pretty much every photo I’m in.

A Weird Cat Museum

A museum about cats…nothing but cats. I’m not even that much of a cat person, but this was too random to pass up. Kattenkabinet: a small, very specific, and slightly overpriced museum that will have you scratching your head for hours.

cat museum

Stupidly Cute Canals

The canals here are just stupidly cute. End of story.

canal

Space Cakes

Space cakes are nothing short of magical. Again, end of story.

My recommendation is Easy Times on Prinsengracht.

space cake

Coffee Shops with Pinball

These exist. Yep.

Pinball

Hemp Education

The Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum is actually really historical, educational, offers a handy audio guide, and is worth the € 9.

Pro: One of the exhibits featured gnomes
Con: No free samples

hemp museum

The Lovely World of Delft

Even though this blue and white Dutch stuff is totally a Chinese knockoff, it’s beautiful.

I bought a Delft pendant and flower vase. Now if only I had those Dutch tulips to stick in the vase!

Delft

Museum Overload

Like many European cities, Amsterdam has tons of museums. We hit up some of the big ones, like the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.

I’m certainly not one to argue with getting a little exhibition education during my travels. However, I came to realize that I have about a two-hour attention span per museum, and that I will get pretty museumed-out if I try to visit more than two in one day.

museum

Biking to the Almost-Countryside

One thing that this Eurotrip taught me is that I can only handle so much city life before I get cranky and crave some fresh air and solitude. One of my favorite days was the day we took a bike trip outside the city limits to the “almost countryside.”

The leisurely ride was complete quirky Dutch guide, international strangers, a windmill, and a farm with cows, a cheese production facility, a wooden shoe shop, and an touristy gift shop.

bike

Staying Up Late for Window Hos

A trip to Amsterdam really wouldn’t be complete without scoping out the legal prostitution scene. One thing that I learned though is that the ladies don’t make an appearance until well after 10 pm.

Despite the fact that it stayed daylight until about 10 pm in Amsterdam, staying awake that late was rough. Blame the 10+ miles of walking per day, or just blame being 31.

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Brewery in a Windmill

Although our next stop, Brussels, proved to be the best beer destination in Europe by far, Amsterdam had some decent beer bars too.

The most iconic and memorable one was Brouwerij’t IJ, which was neatly positioned inside some sort of windmill. This was one of our last stops before catching a train to Brussels, where much more amazing beer was to be had.

breweryAnd that’s the best of the best…or at least the best of what’s coming to mind right now. Amsterdam was an amazing place that I could actually see myself living in for a year or so.

Who knows whether or not that’ll happen or not, but at least the city inspired me to start writing again. Cheers!

Sweet Beach Towns along the Oregon Coast

When many people travel to Oregon, they fly into Portland and only venture out a short distance to Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. However, Oregon’s western coastline is one of the best kept road trip secrets in America.

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Drive along the idyllic Highway 101 to experience nearly 400 miles of jagged cliffs, pine forests, historic lighthouses, and sandy beaches.  This stretch of seaside towns barely resembles the bikini-clad beaches of sunny California, but that’s part of the beauty of this mystical and romantic terrain.

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I recently got to experience the Oregon Coast for myself and visit several of these towns. I’m saving the rest for a longer future road trip when I have a little more time to spend in the area!

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So if you’re traveling north from California on a road trip of your own, don’t miss these charmingly beautiful beach towns along the Oregon coast. From bottom to top, these are a few of my favorites. Just don’t forget to bring a sweater because the average summer high temperature along the Oregon coast rarely reaches 60-degrees!

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Brookings/Harbor

Brookings and Harbor are two neighboring towns that have a combined population of about 10,000 people. The Chetco River is very scenic and this area known as the Easter Lily Capital of the World, since most of the world’s potted lily bulbs are produced in this region. You can set up camp at either Harris Beach State Park or Alfred A. Loeb State Park in this area at any time of the year.

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North Bend/Coos Bay

The cities of North Bend and Coos Bay constitute the largest population center on the Oregon coast, so there are plenty of dining, shopping, and lodging options available here for road trippers. North Bend even has an airport with regular commercial jet service. Before you reach Florence, stop at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which spans over 40 miles and has easy access for day use areas and hiking.

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The Sunset Bay State Park and the Cape Arago Lighthouse are worth a stop as well. This lighthouse sands 100 feet above the ocean, and although it’s not open to the public, you can view it from an overlook just south of the Sunset Bay campground.

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Florence

The town of Florence is tucked away behind some sand dunes along the river, and dune buggy tours are a popular activity in this area. There’s a casino nearby if you’re looking to test your luck, and there are some restaurants and shops in town to explore as well.  This is a great place to sample locally-made saltwater taffy and search for rare antiques. To get more in touch with nature, the Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park offers year-around camping opportunities.

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Seal Rock

Although Seal Rock is a very small and incorporated community, it’s worth a stop because of the picturesque Seal Rock State Park. Here you’ll find huge rocks extending out into the ocean and excellent wildlife observation areas to scope out seals, birds, and sea lions.

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Newport

Newport is the most well-known and popular Oregon coast town to visit, so it becomes fairly congested during the summer months. There are two lighthouses in this area, the Yaquina Bay and the Yaquina Head lighthouses, and both are open for public tours.

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Take some time to hike along the shore and out onto a jetty to watch locals fish for clams and crabs and to feel the cool ocean breeze on your skin. The recreation areas in this area are the Beverly Beach State Park and the Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site.

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Lincoln City

Lincoln City is another popular beach town, with a population of about 7,000 people and extending for about eight miles. Snap a photo by the world’s shortest river, the D River, and stop by the casino here if you need a short driving break.

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Stop by one of the local kite shops to pick up a uniquely designed kite to fly at the beach and take advantage of the steady winds. Devil’s Lake State Park is the nearest recreation site to explore at your leisure.

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Pacific City

If you’re craving a little refreshment at this point in the drive, make a stop in Pacific City to visit the Pelican Brewing Company, which enjoys an ideal location right along the beach.

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Pacific City’s beach resembles a postcard and is a common place to find surfers, stand-up paddle-boarders, horseback riders, and fishermen all doing what they do best.

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Tillamook

For something a little different along your drive of the Oregon coast, take a slight detour to Tillamook to see the region’s lush green pastures and samples some products from the local agricultural industry.

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One of the best places to stop is the Tillamook Cheese Factory, which offers free samples of cheese, sells ice cream, features a self-guided tour, and has a large gift shop.

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To sample even more local products, head down the road to Blue Heron French Cheese Company, which also has a petting zoo with fun creatures behind fences.

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Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach is an upscale community that’s most famous for “Haystack Rock,” the most photographed landmark along the coast. You can hop on the town’s free shuttle bus to check out the town, which has very few permanent residents but sees big crowds on summer weekends. Make sure to stop at nearby Ecola State Park, which is located just a couple miles north of town.

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Seaside

One of the most family-friendly beach towns along the coast is Seaside, which has an arcade, bumper cars, and a carousel for kids to enjoy. Take a walk down Seaside’s Broadway to check out shops, restaurants, and mini-golf courses along the way.

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When you’re in this area, look for Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, just 1.2 miles seaward of Tillamook Head south of Seaside. Although there is no public access to this lighthouse, you can catch good views from the Oregon Coast Trail near Seaside.

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Astoria

Located along the Columbia River at the Washington state border, Astoria is a busy port town with a history of logging, fishing, and shipping.

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You can visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum to learn more about the region’s history and Lewis and Clark’s Fort Clatsop, a re-creation of the explorers’ fort just south of town. If you’re looking for a bite to eat at the end of your journey, consider stopping at the Astoria Brewing Company, the Wet Dog Café, or Bowpicker Fish & Chips. If you’re looking to camp in the area, Fort Stevens State Park takes reservations through the year.

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*A version of this article is published on one of the online travel magazines I write for, Trips to Discover.