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:

Month #3 on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update!

Today marks three months of life on the road…and finishing month #3 strong in this tiny camper home with the spouse and pup!

Unlike lots of other solo travelers and couples doing the full-time travel thing that I keep up with, my blog here is just a hobby and a personal outlet. Although a monthly update is about all I can manage with my work my schedule, it’s still something I’m holding myself accountable to on the 14th of each month. And BTW, work is going great…never a dull moment!

Places We’ve Been: Month #3

Month #3 marked a huge transition for this camper journey and a big move from the east to the west. After spending time just along the East Coast so far, we made a quick stop back where it all began (Atlanta) to swap out gear from the storage unit and put in some social visits. Now we’ve moved on to the West/Southwest and will be here for the foreseeable future!

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

  • Charlotte, North Carolina: Home on the Road #14
    • Highlights: Last kayaking & SUPing of the season at Lake Wylie, discovering Lucky Dog Bark & Brew (off-leash dog park + craft beer bar!), campfire storytelling
    • Lowlights: Police shooting riots downtown

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  • Atlanta, Georgia: Home on the Road #15
    • Highlights: Taco dinner & great conversation with my BFF, hiking up & camping at Stone Mountain, stocking up on Indian sweets for Navratri
    • Lowlights: Navigating all the excess stuff in our storage unit and wondering why we kept it

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  • Morrilton, Arkansas & Amarillo, Texas: “Passing Through” Homes on the Road #16 & 17
    • Highlights: Hotel stays to treat ourselves after 8+ hours of driving per day, nice trail behind the Amarillo hotel, soup on the side of the road, free Wi-Fi and breakfast!
    • Lowlights: Getting nauseous trying to work on a laptop in the passenger seat

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  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: Home on the Road #18
    • Highlights: Finally checked out the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, new alpaca sweater and hats, scenic dog park, started biking again – feels great to be back on a bike!
    • Lowlights: Weather prevented the balloons from launching on the one and only morning we had in ABQ, no dogs allowed at the festival

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  • Cortez, Colorado: Home on the Road #19
    • Highlights: 2 weeks in one place, Mesa Verde, Canyons of the Ancients, Southwest hikes & landscapes, very comfortable town with pretty much everything I want, went to yoga and belly dancing (first ever!) classes, got a good haircut, fall festival in Dolores, boarded Monkey at doggie day care for the first time and that went ok
    • Lowlights: Low of 27-degrees at night with no good camper insulation, annoying locals, not many dog-friendly businesses

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Realizations & Ramblings: Month #3

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #3 on the road.

  • The East Coast was nice but isn’t long-term for me. I felt ready to leave it and head west.
  • Weather really affects my mood, motivation, and how I spend my days while living outdoors – Cortez has been full of sunshine 🙂
  • Clotheslines are incredibly useful in a campsite – especially if you’re by a beach or doing water sports and trying to avoid a mildew infestation.

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  • I love camping next to trails and have been trying to get into trail running, slowly but surely.
  • Despite all the new environments, I haven’t really gotten sick on this trip so far. Yay! But my immune system gets run down every once in a while with symptoms of a headache and a sore throat. Fortunately, it’s been going away within a day.
  • Bag salads with toppings and dressings are my favorite semi-healthy lunch.

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  • This lifestyle reinforces my lack of attachment to places.
  • The social interactions that every other travel blogger talks about being the “best part of travel” still mean very little to me. Random encounters bring me anxiety, annoyance, and disinterest. Perhaps it’s a phase. Or maybe just me getting older and working/living remotely for so long. Either way, I’m cool with it. And I feel like someone needs to share the perspective of how introverted long-term travel can be just as fulfilling, if not more.
  • Hotel stays are a fun occasional treat – especially after long driving days.

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  • We played a fun storytelling game one night that was really fun. It goes like this: Tear up pieces of paper and on each one, write (a) characters, (b) characters’ goals, and (c) an obstacle to characters’ goals. Randomly draw one piece from each category pile. Grab a small notebook and Person #1 writes one page to start the story. Person #2 only gets to read the very last sentence of what Person #1 wrote and then keeps the story going with one more page. Go back and forth 3 times and then read your story aloud at the campfire. Our story involved a park ranger who dreamed of making the best grilled cheese sandwich ever but had debilitating social anxiety.

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  • For the first time on this trip, we stayed somewhere more than a week: Cortez. We really need more than a week to get beyond the tourist highlights and get into a good work groove to discover local stuff. It’s nice to get to a point of comfort in a new place where I can do normal things like get a haircut, go to a yoga class, and try belly dancing for the first time (hip scarves are hot).
  • Small decorations for fall make the camper feel more festive for the season.

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  • I enjoy the hassle-free lifestyle of small towns but the anonymity of larger cities.
  • Playing disc golf with a dog is impossible – never again!
  • I have no idea how to dress for fall. Living most of my life in Illinois, hot summer basically turned into cold winter before I had a chance to think about fall clothes. I went shopping for some layered outdoor wear, but I still struggle with what to put on myself when it’s in the 60’s. I’m open to advice on this one!

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  • Desert landscapes make me feel peaceful.
  • Chief Surfs with Manatees, my Jeep, hit 88,888 miles (now over 91K) and is still going strong!

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Looking Ahead to Month #4

Month #4 will continue our exploration of the West in Colorado and Utah. We’re skipping the familiar parts of Colorado that we already know and sticking to the southwestern part of the state between Cortez and Grand Junction.

Other than an epic canyoneering trip in Zion a few years ago, Utah will be totally new to me. So I’m definitely looking forward to checking out Salt Lake City, Moab, Arches, and all the amazing landscapes here. I recently upgraded my iPhone to the 7+ so I’m also planning to snap some awesome photos to share!

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Halloween is also coming up, which is my favorite holiday of all time. So we’re planning to celebrate with a pumpkin patch visit, perhaps some cheap & easy costumes, and plenty of pumpkin-flavored desserts and beer!

Thanks for following our adventures and definitely looking forward to what month #4 brings!

 

Related:

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.

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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.
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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!

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.

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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.

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

A Cabbage Patch Dream-Come-True: Babyland General Hospital – Cleveland, Georgia

This is a story about how five-year-old Alyssa’s dream finally came true…26 years late.

Every kid has a favorite toy, whether it’s a teddy bear, Lego blocks, or a plastic truck. As an only child, I was somewhat spoiled with toys, but hands down, my favorites were Cabbage Patch dolls.

Babyland General Hospital is a Cabbage Patch museum/factory/showroom of sorts, and I finally got to see it for myself…with my parents in tow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My grandma bought my first (of six) Cabbage Dolls back in 1983, when they were the hot ticket item on everyone’s shopping list. Her name was Isabelle, and oddly enough, I’ve taken Isabelle to live with me every time I’ve moved. She’s quite the well-traveled lil’ thing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo when my parents planned a road trip from Illinois to Georgia to visit me in my current home, a trip to Babyland General Hospital was a MUST.

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It’s located in the tiny town of Cleveland, Georgia…northeast of Atlanta at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so you’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the huge, white plantation-style home surrounded by 650 acres of green space.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike any decent kitschy attraction, a fair number of famous people have walked through these doors and/or collected Cabbage Patches themselves. You’ll be greeted by their signed photos as you make your way inside to the admission desk past the bathrooms.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore there were Cabbage Patches, there were Little People, plush dolls that date back to 1977 and that were Xavier Roberts’ first creations. This is the oldest one of them all…valued at a whopping $37,000!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There were plenty of good photo ops for Isabelle and me as we toured Babyland General Hospital. To me growing up, Cabbage Patches were more than just silly dolls. They were my siblings. Weird, huh?

Being an only child can get lonely, so Isabelle, Netta, Jerry, Martha, Henrietta, and Lara kept me company by playing school, pretend cooking, going on road trips, and hosting birthday parties. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow it’s important to note that my parents were just as much into this whole experience as I was. They’ve finally accepted me for who I am, and they don’t (outwardly) judge me for playing with creatures and dolls instead of my own unborn offspring. Thanks, Mom & Dad 🙂
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne thing that caught me slightly off-guard was that everyone working at Babyland General Hospital was dressed like a nurse and totally in character. I really think some of these old women believed they were delivering actual babies in a real hospital. But I can support that.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I expected a bit more of a “museum” aspect to this place, but it ended up being more of a sales room than anything else. Practically everything inside was for sale! I would have loved a few more informational plaques, factory photos, and maybe a little video presentation to add to the experience though. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADolls were carefully positioned in “nurseries” and play areas, and even separated by girls’ rooms and boy’s rooms. I’m sure this was to avoid the dreaded case of the cooties.
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Apparently even Andy Warhol got in on the Cabbage Patch craze at one point because a few of his paintings lined the “hospital” walls. 
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut by far, the most interesting thing that happened at Babyland General Hospital was the BIRTHING.

I’m not even kidding…a head of cabbage gave birth to a doll while a “nurse” delivered it….and I saw it all. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThanks to a little audience participation, this head of cabbage turned out a baby girl and all the gross parts about birthing were edited out of the show. WHEW!

When the nurse asked the audience to name the new baby girl, my dad called out, “Alyssa!” And thus, a new baby me was born this day.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout the course of the morning, I learned that there are many different types of Cabbage Patches and they don’t all look like Isabelle. However, she still had to wear a visitor pass so that she wouldn’t be mistaken for one of the residents.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor a Cabbage Patch fan, this was total sensory overload.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could have probably spent all day hanging out with these little buggas, but alas it was a work day, and there’s only SO much time that “free admission” will buy you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was an onsite birthday party room that I would have absolutely died for when I was a kid. Aw what the hell…maybe I’ll see if it’s available in late August for the big 3-2.
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My parents made it known that they were bound and determined to buy me a brand new Cabbage Patch doll to celebrate this magical day. But with hundreds upon hundreds of glistening, adoptable painted eyes staring at me, how was I to choose just one?!
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After a requisite bout of indecision, I settled on a little brown baby boy wearing monkey pajamas and smelled of talcum powder. But this was no ordinary store purchase…this was a full-fledged adoption!

And you questioned my motherly instincts….heh!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith one look into those abnormally large brown eyes, I signed my life away…with Isabelle as my witness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the adoption process didn’t end there! I was required to raise my right hand and repeat after the nurse that I would be a kind adoptive mother to the little guy for as long as I shall live.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd with that it was done! I was too ecstatic at the moment to focus hard enough on choosing a name for my new little guy. So he’s still nameless…any suggestions? I need to write it on his birth certificate (yes, there IS actually a birth certificate) before he realizes that his adoptive mom is a flake.
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And just so Isabelle didn’t feel left out with all this new baby madness, I got her a little “candy striper” dress as a souvenir. They seem to be getting along pretty well so far.

And both 5-year-old Alyssa and 31-year-old Alyssa deem this latest Georgia adventure an overwhelming success! If you could belatedly fulfill one childhood dream trip right now, where would you go?

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.