Camper Life Month #8 in Dragoon-A-Saurus Rex de la Mantequilla

Well month #8 kicked off with a bang because this is when we traded in our old pop-up for a 33-foot RV. As I wrote in my “upgrade post,” this one decision turned our February upside down, for the better and worse.

Related: We Upgraded! How Our New RV is Making Life More Awesome…and Complicated

Before I get started with my monthly recap, I suppose I should explain the title a bit. We’ve been trying to come up with a name for our new RV, which is no easy task. You see, it has to be incredibly random, relevant, and packed with inside jokes…all at the same time. For instance, my Jeep’s name is Chief Surfs with Manatees.

Well, at least for now, we’ve settled on a name: Dragoon-A-Saurus Rex de la Mantequilla. It roughly translates to “a large mounted infantry that has been threatened and coerced into the mountains to be named the king of butter.” He/she will go by “Dragoon” for short.

Anyway…

Places We’ve Been: Month #8

Month #8 can largely be summed up by one phrase: “Stuck in Yuma.” It’s funny, because we never actually intended to go to Yuma, Arizona at all. We actually had a campground booked in the Palm Springs area of California back in mid-January but were scared away by excessive rain and flooding. Yuma was a backup plan, and we stayed there in one way or another for over a month and a half.

We stayed at two different campgrounds in Yuma, and then decided to take a trip to Mexico for a week of pure vacation. While in Mexico, we settled on the idea of upgrading our camper and bought a new one in Yuma. This decision sent us on a side trip all the way back to Atlanta, Georgia to take care of a slew of logistical nightmares. I couldn’t stand to go back to our old Yuma campground with the new RV, so we switched to another one. Then after a long-cross country drive back to Yuma, we finally got unstuck and made our way to San Diego.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Yuma, Arizona: Home on the Road #31

  • Highlights: Switched campgrounds for one with more space and fewer annoying people, first few days in our new RV!

For less than 24 hours, all of our worldly possessions were in one place at the same time: RV, Jeep, 5×8 U-Haul

  • Lowlights: We are STILL in Yuma?!, new campground is out in the middle of lemon fields – kinda nice but so far to get to anything

Yuma to Atlanta Side Trip

  • Highlights: Seeing my best friend and meeting her one-month-old baby girl, drinking bubble tea, an awesome AirBnB in Chamblee, GA, donating lots of lots of stuff to Goodwill, squeezing in a hike at Rockhound State Park in Deming, New Mexico on our last day of driving

Best AirBnB (studio apartment) I’ve ever stayed at

10+ donation loads later…

Nice to see mountains and cacti again after a trip back east…missed New Mexico.

  • Lowlights: Driving 30 or so hours each way, having to leave our new camper behind because it’s a gas-guzzler and doesn’t make financial sense for a quick cross-country trip, dozens of logistical nightmares, DMV license and registration issues for the RV and Jeep, cleaning out and totally eliminating a 10’x12′ storage unit, being exhausted all the time and never sleeping, getting bug bites from cheap motels

San Diego, California: Home on the Road #34

  • Highlights: Amazing campground (Sweetwater Summit Regional Park), successfully towing our Jeep here with no issues, incredible weather, trails for running, greenery and wildflowers everywhere you look outside, pedaling the Bayshore Bikeway, kayaking in the fog from the Chula Vista Marina, cute “island” town of Coronado, Gaslamp Quarter outing in downtown SD, surprisingly no traffic anywhere, sitting outside in the sunshine to work

Yep, Monkey’s in the trailer!

  • Lowlights: No Wi-Fi but not a big deal, lots of bunnies outside that drive Monkey (and therefore, us) crazy

Yep, Monkey’s in that kayak with me too. Nice to have the boats back with us again. She’s an old pro at boating.

Realizations & Ramblings: Month #8

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #8 on the road.

  • During month #8, I started to understand why people DON’T full-time travel and just plop down in a house instead with occasional trips here and there. The logistics of making this work really get to you and can make the whole thing feel totally not worth it at times. Society is not designed for people like us and seems to just wait for us to fail and fall in line. I felt like this a lot in month #8. However, I know that if I just gave up and plopped down somewhere, I’d have nothing but regrets.
  • We upgraded to the new RV at the absolute perfect time. We were both getting a bit burnt out on the lifestyle for various reasons, and this new home on wheels has totally recharged us and reminded us why we’re doing this.

Only in Texas.

  • My anxiety levels were at an all-time high in month #8 due to all the hassles of trying to beat the system for the sake of keeping the lifestyle going.
  • But in the last week, things have slowed down and we have more time to relax because of simple time-sucks that aren’t an issue anymore (walking across a campground to use the bathroom, do dishes, etc.). With the extra time, I’ve found myself starting to play guitar again, organizing drawers, and catching up on shows (recently added Big Love to my mix).
  • Exercise-wise, I’ve finally worked up to doing 100 push-ups, squats, and various ab crunches per day. We retrieved some resistance bands from storage, so I’m looking to add these to the mix in Month #9.
  • Dealing with the sewage system in the RV isn’t as bad as I expected it to be.

My go-to road trip fare: egg, avocado & veggies on flatbread.

  • Camping with a pit bull mix has been getting increasingly difficult. We have run into blanket dog breed bans the most in Grand Junction, CO and Palm Springs, CA. Some campground owners are idiots and flat-out tell you that your dog is unsafe and unwelcome there just because of who it was born to. Other owners are apologetic and make excuses about their insurance policies and safety clauses, but it doesn’t make it much easier to accept. And it’s not just pit bulls either…doberman pinschers, rottweilers, and others are being discriminated against as well. Everyone who meets Monkey loves her. She is obsessed with people, getting petted, and rolling over to get better petting angles. If these assholes would simply meet her and give her a chance, they could have had our business. Pit bulls and pit bull mixes have enough trouble getting adopted from shelters as it is. If people knew about these types of hassles caused by faulty perceptions, it might be even harder. It all just makes me really sad and angry.
  • Totally unrelated to all that, we’ve also been trying to train Monkey to not pull on the leash. It really makes walking and hiking miserable, and it’s gone on for too long. The current strategy is using cheese as a non-pulling bribe, AKA “cheese therapy.” We’ve tried other things in the past, but we’ll see how this goes.

On a positive note, Monkey is starting to take to our new RV and loves staring out her very own window 🙂

  • We are literally spending hours looking for campgrounds that meet our needs lately. And honestly, our needs aren’t that unreasonable: internet and phone service in one way or another, campers under 55 allowed, pit bull mixes allowed. So much time wasted by the inefficiency of this industry’s searching and booking systems. I’ve heard about some tech-savvy people trying to improve this process and bring it up to 2017, but an industry disruption needs to happen sooner than later.
  • We downsized our storage unit in Atlanta (10’x12′ for $200/month) to a much smaller unit in Yuma (5’x5′ for $41/month). Not only is this helping us become more minimalist and cut the waste, but it’ll also make RV loan payments easier, keep the adventure going for longer, and save our extra things on the side of the country we’ll likely plop down on someday!
  • The San Diego area seems pretty ideal as a potential plopping spot, but damn it’s pricey.

  • We are now “those people” you love to hate on the highway…RVers with a really long towing set-up cruising at 66 max. On our last full day in Yuma, we got a tow bar installed on the Jeep. Five hours and $1,300 later, we are totally “those people.”
  • We have a checklist of probably 50+ items that are part of our new RV take-down process. This includes everything from draining the sewage to locking the outside storage cabinets and raising the jacks. I’m learning a lot, and it’s actually not as intimidating as I thought it might be. It involves less manual labor than the old pop-up did, but perhaps more brain power. Of course, it’ll all get quicker and easier each time we do it.

Looking Ahead to Month #9

We finally made it to California, nearly two months late, so we’re planning to stay here for a while. We’ve only been here a bit so far, but we’re already VERY familiar with all the issues of camping in California:

  • Private campgrounds are freaking expensive
  • Limited internet and phone reception in state/regional parks – an issue for full-time work
  • Discriminatory bans against pit bulls and other dog breeds
  • Silly 55+ age restrictions

However, we’ve gotten our next couple places lined up in the Banning, Burbank, and Santa Barbara areas of California. In fact, I’ve arranged for my parents to come out to Burbank to meet us for a long weekend! They’ve never been to SoCal before, so we’re planning to do some Hollywood/L.A. touristy stuff, and I think they’ll get a kick out of seeing our new RV.

If anyone reading this that I know is in these areas and interested in possibly meeting up or sharing some must-see tips, comment here or email me please! We’ll make the best out of you yet, California. It took 8 months to get here, and there’s no turning back now.

Catch up with the journey:

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.

Final Days in Atlanta…Next Up: Full-Time Camper Life!

In a recent post, I mentioned how notoriously bad I am writing about things I do in my own hometown, favoring more distant adventures because they seem more exciting at the time. Well today’s post is all about Atlanta because well, I’m leaving.

Better late than never though, right?

I’ve been living in Atlanta for the past year and a half and have seriously enjoyed the change from many years in Chicago. I’m not leaving because I’m tired of it here; I’m leaving because it’s time for the adventure of a lifetime.

OFFICIAL ALYSSA ANNOUNCEMENT: Starting today, I will become a true nomad and set out on a journey of full-time camper life, living & working from the road for an undetermined amount of time. 

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Both my husband and I have sustainable jobs that don’t tie us down, we aren’t bound by family responsibilities yet, our pup is healthy and adaptable, and heck, we’re not getting any younger!

So over the past couple weeks of my final days in Atlanta, I’ve been snapping photos of some of my favorite things around the neighborhood so that I can remember the things I enjoyed about living here or that I finally squeezed in at the last minute.

1. Food Trucks

Blackburn Park is just down the road and had an awesome food truck night with live music and yoga on Wednesday nights. This is the type of event I’d seek out no matter where I’m at.
IMG_3471 (1)2. Cosmic Bowling 

This certainly isn’t exclusive to Atlanta but one of our favorite ways to beat the unrelenting 95-degree heat. IMG_3493 (1)3. Local Breweries 

We checked out the new Abbey of the Holy Goats brewery in Roswell just before hitting the road. I’ve always been a huge fan of Belgian beers, and although some of these could use refinement, these guys have a sweet space and lots of potential.
IMG_3508 (1)Georgia brewery laws are pretty whack, so while I’ll miss some of the local brews here, I certainly won’t miss the annoying purchase and taproom restrictions. And added bonus at the Abbey were the fun new games set out to play while sipping your six samples.
IMG_3510 (1)Exploding Kittens and a colorful puzzle game that I can’t remember the name of provided a super fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. IMG_3511 (1)4. Sleeping in Weird Places 

I’m not shy about admitting that I’ve got some mad sales skills when push comes to shove. I sold a crap-ton of crap from my Chicago apartment and my husband’s Chicago condo before we moved down here. And I started it all back up again as our lease-end date approached.

Since the mattress and box springs were among the first to get sold, we were forced to get creative with our sleeping arrangements. A twin-size air mattress and surprisingly comfortable couch did the trick. Also on the sold list was a desk, washer/dryer combo, coffee table, end table, speakers, 2 old iPhones, induction cooktop, mini fridge, unused Fitbit, and starter acoustic guitar.
IMG_3542 (1)But don’t worry, Monkey’s sleeping situation remained unchanged throughout this transition. Pictured here cuddling with her favorite alien stuffed animal from the UFO museum in Roswell, New Mexico.IMG_3544 (1)5. Coffee Shop/Bar Work Spaces

A place called the Copper Coin opened up near me just a few months ago and I’d always wanted to walk over to check it out. Finally the other day, I schlepped my laptop over there and was amazed by what a great work space it was.

Literally everyone in there had a laptop and was doing just what I was. Where else can you start working with a cup of exotic herbal tea and finish working with a local brew. Oh, and they also had cake.
IMG_3552 (1)6. Cheap Local Art Museums

Our apartment was located right by Oglethorpe University, which is a super old school that dates back to 1835. There’s always a bunch of film shoots going on around campus because it really is a beautiful (and slightly creepy, perhaps haunted?) place.

There’s an art museum here with rotating exhibits and $5 admission. Admittedly, it’s quite small, but the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art is a nice place to walk over to if you live in the area and check out some random art. The exhibit we saw was all about watercolors and plant paintings.IMG_3574 (1)7. Our Favorite Dog Park

I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this dog park, but one of my favorite dog-sitting clients and her wonderful pup, Roxy, introduced us to Brook Run Dog Park. Now I’ve been to other dog parks before, but this one is really something special. It spans roughly two acres, is completely fenced in, and completely shaded in the woods. That definitely helps on hot days down here.

That black blur you see in the foreground here is Monkey, and she loves it here. She’s always one of the fastest dogs in the park and is a total instigator. All is calm and peaceful in the park until she enters. Then all hell breaks loose and she’s the center of attention. That swift speed also helps her get away from random humping that happens from time to time.

IMG_3587 (1)8. The Amazingly Beautiful Flowers

One thing that I’ll always remember about the Atlanta area are the amazing flowers and flowering trees. I remember first moving here from a neighborhood of concrete and sirens and feeling so peaceful waking up to birds chirping in the morning. This was the view from my bedroom window.

IMG_3481 (1)9. My Best Friend 

But by far, my favorite thing about living in Atlanta was being close to my best friend, Michelle. Although her place was about an hour away from mine and traffic is notoriously awful, this is the closest that we’ve lived to each other since college. A couple weeks ago, we took an awesome road trip to Asheville, North Carolina, which is worth a whole article itself (which I’ll get to at some point!).

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After selling and donating much of our stuff, we opted to stick the rest in a storage unit nearby. We rented a little U-haul trailer to tote the remaining items over there, and my biceps are bulging with soreness from carrying it all still today.
IMG_3606 (1)As you can see, the storage unit it pretty much packed to capacity with just a couple last minute things that we’re tossing in on our way out of town. Yes, for all of you wondering, a significant number of the boxes you see here are full of gnomes! Being a nomad gnome collector is tough.

Everything we own fits in a 10-foot by 12-foot space now, but I have a feeling after living without even this much stuff for a while that more of it is sure to go when we get back in town. It’s been a long couple months of packing, planning, strategizing, and organizing, but finally everything has come together. I’m exhausted, sweaty, cranky, and hope this is all worth it!IMG_3615 (1)So that brings us to today, the first day of the next big adventure. We’re starting with a grand tour of the East Coast, and a campground in Asheville is the first stop on the list.

Too much of life is planned out and predictable, and this is our opportunity to live a life of freedom, exploration, and surprises. I don’t expect to live out my remaining days in a tiny pop-up camper, but for now, the idea suits me just fine. I don’t necessarily want to know what happens next or where we’ll end up after the road trip ends. That’s the beauty of it all, and a sentiment that I plan to embrace day by day. This is a time to live in the moment.

So thank you, Atlanta, you’ve treated me well, but it’s now time for me to move on.

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Four Legs That Can’t Pedal: Adventures in Biking with a Dog

There are a two types of dog owners: ones that take their dogs with them on adventures and ones that leave their dogs behind. Now I’m not hating on those that hire dog sitters when they go out of town, because these are the folks that helped me build my side gig and make a few extra thousand dollars here and there.

But when we adopted Monkey, I knew that I wanted her to be as much a part of our travel adventures as humanly and canine-ly possible. That’s why when we recently took a trip to New Mexico and planned to put some serious miles on the bikes, I knew it was time to invest in some new equipment.

Just a few days before leaving Atlanta, we Amazon Primed a red-colored, medium sized Solvit HoundAbout Pet Bicycle Trailer to our apartment. We tried to coax Monkey inside it in the living room with toys and treats, but she was just not having it. After a while, we gave her a little push to see if she’d get used to it. But it was immediately clear that either she was too big or the trailer was too small, because it was so cramped in there that she could barely sit down. It was great quality, but just too small for a 43-pound dog.

We promptly returned the trailer with no remaining days to spare before hitting the road on an epic five-week camping trip. Fortunately these days, you don’t have to stay in one place to receive packages, and we arranged to have a larger bike trailer shipped to a UPS store in Albuquerque.

This new blue Solvit HoundAbout Pet Bicycle Trailer was a size large with a lightweight aluminum frame. The product description said it would be suitable for a pet up to 110 pounds, but I’m not sure how the heck that would work. For 43-pound Monkey, this was much better though.

ABQ Ride 1The trailer folds down for storage and the wheels come off and stow inside. It’s actually pretty easy put together after you’ve done it a couple times, and there are mesh screens to boost air flow. It came with a black cushion pad, but I whipped out my sewing machine and made her a cushier one to entice her to ride a bit more. She loves soft things.

Admittedly, the first ride or two had their challenges. I had to pick her up to get her inside the trailer the first couple times, but these days she just walks right in on her own and plops down. Whew! ABQ Ride 2Our very first ride was on the Paseo del Bosque Trail in Albuquerque, which is a multi-use 16-mile paved trail goes from the north to the south edges of the metro area through the Rio Grande’s cottonwood forest. There are lots of access points with free parking listed on the City of ABQ’s website.

ABQ Ride 5

This was an amazing trail for a first dog trailer ride because it was flat, smooth, wide, and not too crowded. With the equipment we have, the trailer only connects well to my bike, so we switch bikes halfway through the ride to break up the labor. This also gives Monkey a break to get out and stretch her legs.
ABQ Ride 3On this particular day, it was lovely weather in the low-70s, and we cranked out a total of about 26 miles round-trip. Afterwards, we let Monkey hike around a bit on a nature trail and then got drive-in milkshakes at Sonic. It was just too-conveniently located right off the trail and too tempting to just gain back the calories we’d just burned. Ice cream and fro yo are my ultimate junk food weakness.ABQ Ride 4 She was a real trooper on this ride, and I felt better about bringing her along than leaving her along in a strange campsite to fend for herself. I don’t believe in keeping dogs in cages at home, especially if they’ve already put in plenty of cage time in a shelter. But I hope the pretty scenery whipping by and the fresh air flowing in are fun for her inside that trailer…especially when we pass by other dogs huffing and puffing by with jealous looks on their faces.
ABQ Ride 6

The next time we broke out the bike trailer on the New Mexico adventure was in Santa Fe, on the Santa Fe Rail Trail. This trail posed a different kind of challenge because it was not paved and quite hilly.

Santa Fe ride 1This 17-mile trail follows the old Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway line from the Railyard park in Santa Fe to the tracks, Highway 285, El Dorado, Lamy. There’s a little bit of everything along this ride in urban, suburban and rural surroundings. Santa Fe ride 2Where we started near our (highly recommended) campground, Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground, we encountered hilly, red-dirt terrain in the countryside with yucca and green junipers growing nearby. A 43-pound dog in a trailer feels incredibly heavy after lugging it up and down hills and over rocks with a pretty standard hybrid bike.Santa Fe ride 3But after a grueling while of this, the dirt suddenly transformed into pavement, and we were smooth-sailing again down the trail. Those first few pedals after the dirt felt like flying!
Santa Fe ride 4We took our mid-bike pit stop at Second Street Brewery, which unfortunately wasn’t really all that dog-friendly and had some questionable happy hour rules. But a cold brew after that challenging ride tasted delicious nonetheless. A local commuter train called the Rail Runner ran alongside the bike trail and the brewery, which we checked out while giving Monkey a bike break.Santa Fe ride 5The sun was starting to set by the time we made it back to the Jeep, which was perfect timing to collapse the trailer and hit up a local grocery store to cook dinner. The sunsets here really are pretty amazing.Santa Fe ride 6

Another bike trip we did in Santa Fe was to the Santa Fe Railyard. This was a shorter and more paved ride we did, with the intent of sightseeing and walking around a bit more with Monkey. From what I’d read about this neighborhood, I was surprised to see it not crowded and quite a few of the shops actually out of business and moved out. But it’s still a really walkable area, and I think Monkey enjoyed a little more time out and about.

Santa Fe Railyard

Since returning back home to Atlanta, we’ve taken out the bike trailer a few more times, and these days Monkey’s a pro at riding in style. We took her on a ride on the Big Creek Greenway between Roswell and Alpharetta, Georgia a couple weeks ago, which was super chill. This is mostly a 12-foot wide paved path that runs through the deciduous woods along Big Creek. But there are also dirt mountain biking trails nearby on the east side of the creek. Monkey and I haven’t been adventurous enough to try those out with the trailer just yet.

Another local spot we biked on the 4th of July to “celebrate our independence from motor vehicles” was the Silver Comet Trail. This trail picks up about 13 miles northwest of Atlanta and extends for a whopping 61.5 miles and ends at the Georgia/Alabama state line. And it doesn’t stop there! Once you cross over into Alabama, you can keep going to Anniston, Alabama for a total of 94.5 miles if you start in Smyrna.

But we took it easy clocked in at just over a leisurely 20 miles to get some fresh air and exercise. This is another wonderfully paved and shaded trail that you can squeeze into a morning ride, even when the day’s high temperatures are going to be 100 degrees.

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I have this bad habit of never taking photos or writing about the places I’m living in, which is unfortunate and something I want to work on. I lived in Chicago for over 6 years and now Atlanta for 1.5 years and haven’t written or photographed much of anything in either city. When I’m traveling, everything seems more blog-worthy and photo-worthy, but these places have treated me well too, and I apologize deeply to them for leaving them out of the mix. Perhaps someday I’ll visit them in the future when I’m living somewhere else and then they’ll make the cut.

Unfortunately, there’s not room in the Jeep or camper to bring the bikes and Monkey’s trailer on our next big adventure, which kicks off in just eight days. This is mostly because it’s summer and we’ll be focusing on water sports instead, like kayaking and SUP. Sadly, a tiny pop-up camper only has a limited amount of room for sporting goods storage, so choices must be made. But come fall, I’m hoping to retrieve the bike gear and introduce Monkey to some new trails that we can explore together on wheels.

IMG_3529 (1)Final Closing Tips for Dog Biking

  • Try before you buy (companies often claim trailers are rated for way more poundage of dog than actually comfortable)
  • Pick a trailer with good pockets for her water bowl, treats, and poop bags
  • Make the trailer as cozy as possible with a soft pillow and favorite toys
  • Be patient, but not afraid to shove her in after a fair number of tries
  • Start with short rides and build up to longer ones
  • Stick to paved trails, at least at first
  • Don’t put a dog in a trailer when it’s crazy hot outside
  • If biking in a pair, let the bike with the dog go first to set the pace and so she can see the other person behind her and feel more comfortable
  • Allow time for stretching and walking breaks
  • Adjust your biking expectations and be prepared to ride slower and not as far with a trailer
  • Scope out dog-friendly breweries to celebrate the end of your ride together!

Hiking to the Tallest Waterfall in the Southeast (with a Dog): Amicalola Falls, Georgia

One of the best things that I’ve discovered about living in Georgia is that there are lots of decent hiking trails within an hour’s drive.

Before my living situation brought me to the southeast instead of the northwest, I put a high priority on living in a hiking-friendly area. Although the mountains aren’t quite as tall or the parks as vast down here, Georgia continues to surprise me in pleasant ways.

Did you know that there’s a 729-foot waterfall just 90 minutes outside downtown Atlanta?

Well there is! And I recently had the pleasure of checking it out with my fiancée and a random English Setter named Lily.

Amicalola Falls State Park is located in north central Georgia, smack dab in the middle of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Newcomers be forewarned: this is one of the most popular state parks so arrive early in the morning to beat the annoying line of cars waiting to get in the parking lot by noon. Parking costs $5 unless you have a state park pass.

The drive to get here is quite nice – it’s hilly, windy, and redneck-y. As soon as you see the gentle rolling mountains in the distance, you’ll soon forget about the perils of Atlanta traffic. Wear layers and bring a jacket because the temperature drops at least 10 degrees by the time you arrive from the city.

IMG_7889There are several different trails to choose from when you arrive at the park. Hardcore hikers (with hardcore dogs?) can venture out on the 8.5-mile route to Springer Mountain, which leads from the park to the end of the iconic Appalachian Trail.

From the visitor center, we started on the 0.6-mile Creek Trail (yellow), past the reflection pool at the base of the falls. From there, you’ll find the Appalachian Approach Trail (blue), which leads to the top of the falls. This trail is marked in blue on the map and follows the creek on a series of steep stairs.

I was dog sitting Miss Lily, a 5-year-old English Setter, through my part-time gig as a DogVacay host. She seemed like a pretty agile pup, so I figured a nice long hike would do us both some good.

IMG_7903“Amicalola” takes a few attempts to pronounce correctly and means “tumbling waters” in Cherokee. The whole park spans about 1,000 acres and is considered one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders. A quick Google search informed me that these are the seven wonders…two down, five to go!

  • Amicalola Falls State Park
  • Okefenokee Swamp
  • Providence Canyon
  • Radium Springs
  • Stone Mountain
  • Tallulah Gorge
  • Warm Springs

IMG_7927This stunning waterfall reminded me of the best ones I saw while hiking through the Smokys…which I guess makes sense because they’re really not all that far from each other.

In addition to the waterfall, there’s a 56-room guest lodge, a 24-campsite campground, 14 cottages, and even a dining room with banquet facilities. This is one fancy-pants state park!

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It’s about a mile from the base of the stairs to the top of the falls, with few open areas to stop and take a break. I don’t think Lily had ever seen stairs quite like these, and considering that she has anxiety issues that warrant doggie meds, they were a bit nerve-racking for her.

But we went slow, stuck with it, and eventually reached the top! It was about 10 or 11 in the morning on a Saturday in late March, so although we were greeted by some fellow stair-climbers, the route wasn’t over-crowded.
IMG_7940Brave Lily was the only dog on those stairs that day and she did a great job sticking with it. If it would have just been my fiancée and me, we would have likely continued hiking after reaching the top to check out some of the other trails. But this was enough for our day with Lily, and I’d packed a picnic lunch to relax and enjoy the scenery and the beautiful sunny day.

Much to Lily’s relief, we didn’t have to backtrack down those steep stairs to complete our journey back to the Jeep. We took the East Ridge Trail down, which was wooded, rocky, and had a moderate down-slope. Lunch at the top had re-energized us and the air was feeling warmer with each step.

IMG_7991Just before making this little trip up north, we picked up and installed a new (to us) soft top on my Jeep, “Chief Surfs with Manatees”. What better way to enjoy the fresh (pollen-filled) southern air than with the top down and my crazy hair blowing in all directions?!

This was the first day we put the new soft top to use, and lil’ Lily seemed to love the open air as much as I did.
IMG_8005If you’re looking to grab a beer on an outdoor patio after a day of hiking (my favorite kind of reward!), head to Dahlonega (another hard-to-pronounce name) and check out the Bourbon Street Grille for a well-deserved brew and a bananas foster dessert to share.

Dahlonega is a super-cutesy and historic town that’s the site of the first major gold rush in America. Step down, California!

There’s some tourist shops to check out in the downtown square, a growler fill shop, and apparently some wineries in the area that unfortunately, I only learned about later on.

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Hiking with a dog is a relatively new thing for me; however, I’m getting better at it every time. I’ve provided dog sitting and dog boarding services for about 20 dogs now, which I’m hoping will make things go smoother one day when I have a pup of my own.

These are a few dog hike considerations that I’ve learned so far, and the list continues to grow with each trail…

  • Understand your dog’s physical limitations
  • Scope out specific trails, trail distances, and terrain beforehand
  • Call the park to make sure it’s dog friendly
  • Leave early in the morning for a slimmer chance of crowded trails and hot temperatures
  • Have a reliable leash/harness setup
  • Bring water, a water bowl, food, and poop bags
  • Bring plastic bags, paper towels, and hand sanitizer for poop messes
  • Take breaks if your dog looks like she’s struggling or turn back early if you’re reasonably worried
  • Check the pup for ticks and fleas after the hike

My First Hike as a Georgian: Sweetwater Creek Trail

Over the past month, I’ve totally fallen off the blogging bandwagon. But don’t worry; I have plenty of excuses lined up to justify the absence of personal musings!

After six years of calling Chicago my home, I have relocated to Atlanta. I also got engaged (yes, the to-be-married kind), the holidays were squeezed in there somewhere, and I vaguely remember having a fever. Boo hoo and such.

But excuses aside, I’ve found the transition to southern living remarkably easy and have been out and about exploring what Atlanta and the surrounding nature areas have to offer. Which brings me to my first hike as a newly licensed Georgian – Sweetwater Creek State Park.

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This is one of the closest state parks to metro Atlanta, so it was a logical pick for a first point of outdoor exploration. The park spans 2,549 acres, including a 215-acre lake, visitor center with gift shop, picnic shelters, fishing docks, and a bait shop. There are nine miles of trails here: the red, trail, yellow trail, and white trail.

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There are three parking lots, but we settled on the third one for better access to the white trail. There’s a nice little visitor center and gift shop up front with a little museum about the wildlife inside and the old mill. We sprung for a Georgia State Parks annual pass, figuring that we’d be making quite a few visits to these parks to get our money’s worth and would make use of the campground discounts too. Gosh I can’t wait to go camping…I’ve sleeping in a warm, comfy bed for far too long. 
IMG_7858The white trail is the longest – a 5.2 mile loop that takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to hike. It’s rated “moderate to difficult,” but it was definitely tamer than that rating would suggest. Winding through stream coves on a wide dirt path, the white trail is the most remote and least crowded of the three.
IMG_7862Armed with a slightly-less-than hardcore manatee backpack (manatees!) and a picnic lunch, we hiked through the wooded area with lots of tall, skinny trees. My parents gave us a tree guide book for Christmas, but I haven’t really figured out how to transition it from being a coffee table book to a useful field companion. There has to be an app for that…
IMG_7864 The creek flowing across the rocks slabs was really beautiful, and I had to keep reminding myself that this really was January. There is definitely nothing about Chicago weather that I’ll miss!IMG_7870 After scarfing down the sandwiches and fruit I’d packed for lunch, we continued hiking to where the white trail met up with the red one. The red trail leads to the intriguing ruins of the five-story New Manchester mill, which was the most interesting feature of this hike. Discovering this mid-hike mill reminded me of the ruins of the Ney Springs Resort in Mt. Shasta, California.

Related: Resort Ruins and an Auto Graveyard: Rediscovering My Love for Hiking in Mt. Shasta

IMG_7874.CR2Another fun and notable feature of this state park were all the dogs! I’m slowly coming to realize how dog-friendly Georgia is. Although I don’t have a dog of my own yet, I run a dog-sitting side business through Dog Vacay. It’s a fun way to get to know different types of dogs and dog personalities while life if still a little too uncertain to commit to a full-time pooch of my own. Finding parks, patio bars, and even driving ranges to take the dogs-on-loan to makes the side gig even more fun. And in this particular park, I almost felt out of place NOT having a four-legged friend tagging along beside me.

IMG_7876 The red trail is the most congested trail in this park because it provides the easiest access to the historic old mill. As the stroller crowds trudged along en mass, I came to realize that we weren’t the only ones to have the brilliant idea of a mid-day hike in the mild sunshine. IMG_7878Now fenced off and lined with “no trespassing” signs, this mill was part of a mid-nineteenth century town called New Manchester. The Civil War destroyed this town, but remnants of this mill are still standing today. Apparently, park rangers lead guided hikes on certain days and times inside the fences and tell the history of this crumbling textile mill.
IMG_7882But even if you don’t catch one of those tour times, there are some signs posted around to catch you up with the Cliff’s Notes. With water rushing in all directions in the background, it really does make for some photo-worthy views.

1Actually just yesterday, I went on my second Georgia hike – to Panola Mountain State Park, also in close distance to Atlanta. And this time with a boxer that I’m dog-sitting for the weekend!

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It feels great to get out and active in the middle of winter, and it feels even better to explore a new place that I call home. It’s a new phase of my life and I’m glad to be in an area where there are lots of trees and non-stressful spaces to reconnect with the environment around me. I expect these to be the first of many more hikes as a newly southern gal as I slow down my pace and start taking notice of the new, exciting, and beautiful things around me.