My last post was about a short trip I took in California. This post is about the trip that immediately followed. I drove to Phoenix to visit my college roommate and best friend, who is living in Tempe with her sister.
Since graduation two months ago, I’d been excited for the visit. We both knew we had to pack as much into the weekend (well, 5 day weekend) as possible. We were once nicknamed the Turn Up Twins, which should say something about our personalities.
Here are some highlights from the trip:
-A spur of the moment Jason Aldean concert, opened by Thomas Rhett (would have paid more to see him as the headliner!)
-Driving through the Tonto National Forest, which seemed like more of a vegetated desert. Parking at the lake and river without a recreation pass and not getting ticketed.
-Bar hopping with the ASU kids. When they said “Let’s go to Whiskey Row,” I thought I must have died and gone to heaven. Little did I know that was the name of a bar, and not a whole string of whiskey-serving bars. Still my favorite, though.
-Going to a rooftop pool party and messing around with beach balls
– Delicious Mexican food and margaritas the size of your face
-Meeting a stranger’s beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback.
-Going on an inner tube float down the Salt River in Mesa. Drinking an actual pail full of margaritas. Seeing wild horses at the edge of the river.
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling. I went to San Diego for a weekend, then took a trip up the coast to Santa Barbara for half a day before driving to Ojai for a short stay. And I just returned from a long (5 day) weekend in the Tempe area of Phoenix. But for this post, I thought I’d focus on my trip to SB and Ojai.
For the first time ever, I had the chance to travel alone. I love driving by myself, but traveling and staying overnight in a different city was new to me. It wasn’t very far, but the sense of freedom I felt while driving past the ocean was empowering.
My first stop was Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara. I met an alumnus from my school for brunch at the Boathouse there, then set off to explore the city. The Santa Barbara courthouse interior architecture and design was stunning, as was the view from the top.
Next, I walked down State Street, which is the main road through downtown. It was a comfortably cool, overcast day around lunchtime, so people were bustling through the streets. I saw group after group of people eating lunch outside, sipping wine. My kind of place!
After wandering around, I decided to head to Ojai a bit earlier than planned to beat the traffic. The highway from Santa Barbara wound and twisted through the mountains like a lazy snake, and soon I was in the Ojai Valley.
If you’ve never heard of Ojai, here’s a little back story: My high school swim team attend ed local high school Villanova Prep’s annual swim invitational every year. It became tradition to eat at the same restaurant then walk around the main street downtown after dinner. My mom and I fell in love with the town, so we’ve visited a few times since. Fun fact: Jason Segal said hi to me at the top of Meditation Mount in Ojai!
I digress. I arrived in Ojai about two hours before my hotel check in so I decided to take advantage of the time with a hike. I went to the Pratt Trailhead just a few minutes from the main street downtown. I hiked past orchards of oranges and tangerines, and next to some beautiful mansions nestled in the hills.
After that, I checked into my hotel, The Hummingbird Inn. I relaxed by the pool for a bit before showering and heading to dinner.
When traveling solo, eating alone can be the most daunting part. I used the time to read the news on my phone (and maybe Snapchat pictures of my food and margaritas to friends).
I walked around the downtown area a bit, then drove back to my hotel. I spent the rest of the night watching the Olympics. To most people, this might sound like a waste of vacation time. But for me, watching TV is a luxury I almost never indulge in. I then fell into a blissful coma in my fluffy queen-sized bed.
When I woke up, it was still cool enough to go for a run/walk around town. When I got back, breakfast at the inn still wasn’t open (even on vacation, I’m still an early bird). So I decided to try another hike.
This time, I went to the Shelf Road Trail. It’s a level path, until I reached a fork about a mile in. I chose the left trail and began ascending a narrow, zig-zag path up a hill covered in waving grass. When the wind rustled through the grass, I swore it sounded like a rattlesnake. But the view took my mind away from that fear. Watching the sun part the clouds felt special because I was that much closer to heaven.
When I descended, I returned to the hotel, had some breakfast, and relaxed for a bit before I headed home.
I planned to stop at the Santa Monica Pier or in Venice Beach, but as I drove by Santa Monica, the crowds and lack of parking deterred me. I drove on to Venice, hoping to find a spot to park near the beach. After searching the streets for 20 minutes, I’d nearly given up when I found a spot in a nondescript-looking residential area. As soon as I got out of my car, I realized I was at one of the entrances to the Venice Canals. I’d never seen them before, but I’d heard of them.
It’s obvious that California is in a drought; all of the boats in the canal are beached. But the layout is a sight to behold, the series of waterways are connected by arched bridges, and houses back to the water on both sides.
Stumbling upon the canals felt like finding a hidden treasure. After I walked to the end of the street, I made my way to the ocean where I happened to find the Venice Beach Pier.
As I drove home, I thought about what made this trip special to me. Before leaving, I spent a good deal of time planning and researching what I wanted to do. When some of those plans fell through or I changed my mind, I rolled with the punches and the results ended up being better than I’d planned. Traveling alone means you get to put your needs and desires first. While it’s not always possible, sometimes it’s healthy to take a little time to yourself. I found out I CAN relax when things don’t go my way; who knows what you’ll find out?
Ah, those summertime beach sunsets. I’m more of a sunrise girl myself. Even though I like getting up early, I’m not so much of a morning person that I’d drag myself out of bed at 5 a.m. to get to the beach and watch the sun rise. Not often, anyway.
But sunsets? I can’t get enough. No matter how bored I am, driving to the beach to see the sun drifting toward the horizon is enough to snap me out of it. It can be the main event of the day. I don’t need my phone (except to take pictures, obviously). I don’t need a book. I can just walk in silence and peace and observe the world around me. It’s the golden hour!
It’s also the hour where people start packing up blankets, coolers, umbrellas and kids to lug them all back to the car. The hour you stumble awkwardly into the path of an aspiring model and her photographer friend trying to get in some good shots. It’s when you see parents trying to take one last video of the day; something that will last even when their kids are off to school in the fall and then out in the world. You can pick out the locals, too. They’re the ones with nothing more than a blanket, a chair and a spouse for company. Everyone enjoys it in his or her own way.
The truly great thing about the sunset, though, is that there’s always going to be another one. The sky may look different, congested with fog or streaked with orange and purple, but the sun will always go down. It’s constant, a sign of God’s unchanging presence in a world full of chaos.
As a fan of food, I’ve come to appreciate anything fresh and high-quality. This rules out most fast food, though I have a few favorites like Qdoba and Panera. But, folks, my all time favorite fast food chain is another level of delicious: Chick-Fil-A. I don’t eat there very often, because a) it’s kind of pricey and b) it’s not very healthy. But when I do, man do I savor it.
That’s why I continue a personal tradition I began with a few friends in 2011. Every year in July, Chick-Fil-A hosts their annual Cow Appreciation Day. This year, if dressed like a cow, you received a free entree. In years past, you received a free meal if you were fully in costume, and a free entree with just a cow accessory. I suspect they changed the rules this year to avoid arbitrating the difference between an outfit and an accessory. But don’t get me started on that…
Last year, I was working in Evanston and completely forgot about Cow Appreciation Day. That is, until my mom texted to inform me she’d already hit two locations (did I mention obsession runs in the family?) Ask my coworkers, but I shrieked out loud. Even if I’d had time to plan it out, there were only 2 locations nearby, and both were a good hour away in the city.
This year, the one highlight to moving home was the idea that I could regain this old tradition. In 2014, I hit 9 locations. Since then, another location opened and I was determined to beat my old record. There are 11 locations within a reasonable distance of me, and the plan was to go to all of them.
This morning, armed with a full tank of gas, an empty cooler and a cowbell, I set off. Eighty-six miles later, I’m proud to say I did indeed make it to all 11 locations. Here are a few highlights from my day, along with some photos.
An old man asked to take a photo of me to send to his friends. I was in full cow attire; how could I say no?
I took a photo of three moms with their kids, who were all mooing. You better believe when I have kids, we’re going all out.
An elderly couple at another location said, “You must either be a daycare worker or a pediatric nurse!” I said, “No, I’m unemployed…”
I lost my car key leaving one location. I turned my purse inside out looking for it, asked the store manager if anyone had found a key, and even looked in the trash before my friend found it in the trash on the second go-around…. Go figure.
I had to explain to people at several different locations why I was dressed as a cow and wearing a cowbell. Better step up the advertising next year, Chick-Fil-A!
But employees at every location told me “Great costume!” I think it was the cowbell that did it.
Hope you enjoyed my strange adventure and the chronicling thereof.
Until next time,
I thought I would gradually begin posting some of the things I’ve written over the years. Although I aspire to be an investigative writer and reporter, I once thought of majoring in creative writing or English. I turn to writing when I have too many thoughts floating too fast through my head. Here’s something I wrote during my finals week last fall quarter. It was a tumultuous time, full of work and anxiety about achieving my goal GPA. While it was an admirable goal, I learned a bit about the difference between meaningful and meaningless standards. And I’ve since learned that many of the emotions I was feeling at that time came from separation from God.
I can only type in Times New Roman.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the goings-on of the everyday. The problem is you forget what matters most, the drumbeat within your soul. You get caught up in the doing so much that you lose the feeling. It’s a scary realization. Terrifying, actually.
Damn I’m lonely. There’s no reprieve for the weight of the world’s emotions: loneliness; love lost; love gained, but not by you. Deep, deep darkness filters out all the light. You are lost in it. And sometimes you don’t want to find your way out.
I switch tenses, pretending it’s YOU that’s lost, not ME, not I. If I am lost, it is because I wasn’t following directions. Maybe sometimes I want to get lost. Explore in the wilderness, instead of following the route to my destination. A side trip, if you will. What always comes of these side trips is a mediocre revelation, or a vision of interest. It’s never the beautiful vista I’d expected, though. It comes with a tinge of sadness, having an expectation of something more that is never fulfilled.
I like to start paragraphs and sentences with I. These are my words, my thoughts, so I am allowed this liberty. It feels good to write, to get my emotions, daily suppressed, down onto the screen. I don’t do it enough because I know there are other more important things I should be doing, productive, means to an end. But what is more productive than pouring your tears and sorrows out, letting them flow like blood from a wound so that you may be healed?
When I do this, I feel a tingling that seems to originate from my heart, but maybe it’s deeper than that. It’s the feeling pouring back into my veins after a long hibernation. My heart is raw, my soul sliced open, no longer numb to emotions. In this moment, I feel the weight and depth of them, which cannot be measured by any traditional method, and take in the sensation: I am alive.