Rachel and I were a phone call away from moving to the southwestern United States in late 2019. The desert vibe really called to us and I love the heat. I enjoy when my face is melting off from the toasty warmth of the sun. When things fell through, we still kept talking about exploring more of the western half of the country. It was an area largely untapped by us except for a handful of trips in the past.
Sedona was chosen for a few reasons. The two biggest were that we’ve read so much about how beautiful of an area it was and it was a good spot for outdoor activities, which was a plus for COVID times. Here’s how our trip went:
Reagan National Airport (DCA) is not an airport we fly out of often in the DMV area. We usually find ourselves at BWI or IAD. The first thing we noticed was how ridiculously expensive parking was at DCA. The economy lot was $17/day and there were essentially no nearby lots available with better rates. Lesson learned from this: book parking well in advance or get a ride to the airport.
We flew with American Airlines for the relatively quick flight cross-country. There were two minor inconveniences that we ran into, however – first, I was unable to use the trip credit I received from switching our flights back in May. Since I couldn’t do that, I booked the tickets through the Hopper app which saved us a good chunk of change. When boarding passes became available, I was notified that my seat selections didn’t go through so we were randomly distributed into the cabin. No biggie, I was able to nod out for a good portion of the early morning flight.
We were picking up a car from Hertz which according to their website, “is prohibited from providing Pick Up and return Service if you arrive at an airport- either from the Hertz airport location or from any Hertz off airport location.” A quick Uber ride over, we were able to pick up our car for the next few days. I went with dealer’s choice netting us an early 2010s VW Jetta. A few dings and smoke stains, but an otherwise reliable vessel to get us from point-A to point-B.
We set off on our venture, an easy two and a half hour drive up I-17. The first thing we noticed was how green it was. We had expected it to be a barren desert all around with a few cacti poking up. It was really green however, with some rolling meadows and small tree forests blanketing the landscape. We passed the first two exits that our GPS had suggested, opting instead for the famous State Route 179, also known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway.
Sedona, Arizona is a hotbed of outdoor excitement with fun excursions for every tier of adventurer. From fast mountain biking to a leisurely round of golf. Off road jeep tours to mind-blowing hot air balloons. In this post, I’m going to talk on hiking, specifically two trails that we did on our recent trip to the beautiful city.
Rachel had just broken one of the toes on her right foot one week before our flight left from Reagan National Airport (DCA) to Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX), so despite her ability to manage the pain and keep it properly bandaged (remember, she had to nurse up an injury in Koh Tao, too), we wanted to keep the trails to beginner-to-intermediate in intensity. That turned out to be just fine, because the two that we did ended with rewarding treks and incredible vistas.
Devil’s Bridge Trail
One of the most popular hikes in Sedona is Devil’s Bridge Trail. We found three places to start from – if you have a 4×4 vehicle with high clearance, you can drive up to the parking lot for the trail and it’s a quick 1 mile hike to the viewpoint. If not, most people park in the Dry Creek Road parking lot and spend most of their hike walking along a dusty, dirt road until they reach the “official” lot. What I recommend is starting on Mescal Trail, which is just a few meters to the right from the end of Boynton Pass Rd. This will give you a more scenic walk.
We woke up at 4:00am for this hike, which is my usual wakeup time for work, but Rachel was surprisingly spry and ready. I made some energy giving breakfast in the form of eggs, tomatoes, and toast (I would later add onions and call it T.O.E. Toast.) I took 5 units of basal insulin and we set off for a twenty minute drive from our resort.
You start into the Mescal trail, which is an easy walk through some low trees, cacti, and yucca. As you pass by a shallow run and through the remainder of the trek, there are dozens and dozens of tiny little frogs hopping out of your way. I think I’ve figured them out to be Western Chorus Frogs because of their size, but I don’t recall them being particularly loud, nor does it fit the behavior section of their Wikipedia page. I will be sure to get a picture of the small amphibians the next time I’m there.
It’s a relatively easy walk without much elevation change as the glow from the sun has finally started to peak above the mountains, giving you just enough light to illuminate the path. By this time, you may start to see some of the nearby hot air balloons being inflated for a sunrise takeoff.
You’ll soon cross over a wide, dusty road into the actual parking lot and onto a wide, smooth path. It’s only about a mile to the finish from here, with a brief section of steep rock scrambling. Here is where your work pays off, as the view is more incredible than any picture can give it justice for. We got to the bridge at 6:35am and there were three parties of people in front of us, waiting to get pictures. Everyone was super nice, however, and swapped photography jobs while the others got to pose. A couple of girls were doing some intense acroyoga poses when we arrived!
My glucose levels had fallen to the mid-60s during this hike, but we had picked up some vegan oatmeal bites from Whole Foods on the way that provided a high-fiber source of carbs for me. In hindsight, I should have stopped to have one every half hour, instead of waiting to get to the top.
The way back is just the same trail reversed and when you get back to the trailhead, you’ll now have the entire day ahead of you and an incredible hike already notched in your belt.
Doe Mountain Trail
While Devil’s Bridge is one of the most popular trails in Sedona, Doe Mountain Trail is arguably one of the most underrated hikes in the area. We took the same approach to this hike, waking up at 4:00, but we really wanted to get to the peak before sunrise, so we got ready and scarfed down some breakfast much quicker, reaching the parking lot at 5:00am. This lot has a public restroom and requires a $5 parking pass, which is payable with card via a kiosk at the trailhead. I scaled back to 4 units of basal to avoid a low, which kept me at a much steadier blood glucose level.
We started into the path, which was essentially just a series of switchbacks and moderate rock scrambles until you reached the final climb. We were here to beat the sun, so we didn’t stop to take much in. On the way down, however, we were slower and able to appreciate the trail a bit more, including a view of Bear Mountain to the north.
The final ascent is a climb through a narrow cut in the rock. It’s easy, but you’ll need to use your hands.
Once at the top, a series of markers will lead you to the other side of the mesa and reward you with an amazing view of the valley. We beat the sun to the mountain top and were able to set up on a perch while we watched it climb over the mountains in the east.
I call this trail severely underrated, because it offers 360° views of the area and we shared the top with only one other guy who raced up the trail with the same, sunrise-beating intention.
There is a loop around the top which is fairly easy to stray off of, which we managed to do. The cell reception is actually pretty good, so we used the AllTrails app and followed the perimeter of the mesa until we found the trail again. Going as early in the morning as we did, granted us plenty of time to explore around the top; however, in the later parts of the morning, you’ll want to be aware of the sun and how much its beating down on you in the limited cover.
Hugging the edge of the mesa, we followed a group of hot air balloons as they ascended around the mountain, getting so close that we could hear the whoosh of the flame and the chatter of the ballooneers.
The trek back down is fine and when you turn around and see the scale of the mountain you just climbed, you feel really proud. We even got to see one of the hot air balloons land which is much more impressive feat than I had thought – they worked in tandem with a van on the road to land on a trailer it was pulling!
These were two of my favorite hikes I’ve done, and I cannot wait to get back to Sedona to see more of its beautiful scenes.
Have you been to Sedona? What are your favorite trails?
If you remember back to early May, 2021, I had to make the hard decision of cancelling our trip to Costa Rica and reroute to Tulum. I was fairly happy at the time, as we were getting a few hundred dollars back in trip credits because American Airlines (AA) was offering no-change fees at the time due to COVID-19.
Here we are, nearly four months later, and I can’t seem to find out exactly how much I have or how to redeem them. In an effort to save you some time, I’m currently typing this as I sit on hold. Before I share with you the end result, let me take you through the process that may end up saving you time in the future.
The first time that I tried calling was around 10:15pm. The department is open 24 hours and I felt like that would be a time when they weren’t busy. I sat on hold for 30 minutes before hanging up to try again the next day (I have to be up at 4am for work, so I wanted to salvage a little bit of sleep.)
Two days later, I was off so I got through my morning routine, called at 11:51am and was fully prepared to lounge around for a while waiting for my call to get answered. A short while into the menu, I was offered a callback option that promises that you won’t lose your spot in line. “Okay,” I thought, “I have off the next day too, just incase this call back doesn’t happen.”
The recording did say that the call would likely happen after 4 hours. Around 5:30, I had started to suspect that the call-back thing was a hoax, so Rachel and I went to the movies. We saw Stillwater at a recently renovated cinema that has a really cool, warehouse aesthetic to it. Matt Damon did a great job in the flick and its setting of Marseille seemed very authentic, rather than an overly romanticized Euro destination.
The film came and went, we got home and I got settled in for the evening. 9:23pm hits and my phone rings. It’s the American Airlines Reservations number.
I got to speak with a great associate on the other end who was able to get me the solution I needed, the ticket number from my original return and the amount they could be redeemed for. I have also created my AAdvantage account so that any future credits can be automatically added to my wallet.
Now, I’m running into my next question – what is the difference between a flight credit and a trip credit? I purchased some cross-country tickets but wasn’t allowed to
I had assumed that it was domestic vs international flights, but I’m not positive after looking through their site. As I have titled this post a Quick Read, I’ll save the results of my search for my next post.
Finally. As COVID-19 vaccinations roll out and infection rates plateau or drop (we’re not here to talk about the Delta variant today), borders are opening and countries are starting to allow U.S. tourists in again. We spent over a year off of planes and trains, waiting… waiting… waiting for travel to become a thing again. Now we’re ready to dust off our favorite backpack, purchase some round-trip tickets, and uh oh – your passport expires this year.
My passport expires after my trip, that doesn’t matter, right?
Actually, it does. Depending on where you’re going, the destination country may require your passport to be valid for a specific amount of time after your departure date. Take for instance, the Schengen Area which requires a U.S. passport to be valid for 3-months after your ticket home. For a country like Mexico, it’s recommended that your passport be valid for at least 6-months to avoid the potential for not being allowed in, although their immigration officers may let you through with proof of a short stay and a return ticket (ie. vacation).
Okay, fine. How long does it take to renew?
According to the U.S. State Department website, the current timeframe for a routine renewal is 18-weeks from day of submission. This doesn’t include the time for the original passport to be delivered through the notoriously backed up U.S. Postal Service.
For an additional $60 (don’t forget to write “Expedite” on your envelope), you can get that quickened to a 12-week timeframe. This accounts for 6-weeks of processing and 6-weeks of mailing. One to two day shipping is also available for about $18. If you forget to do this or want to add it later, you can call a dedicated phone number and they’ll email you a form to send back with what services you want and your credit card information. Unfortunately, this could take 4-weeks to process.
Wow, that’s a long time, but it shouldn’t take that long (or worse).
There are currently (as of late-July 2021) over 2 million passport applications – both new and renewal – that are sitting in limbo waiting for processing. To make matters worse, due to COVID, the State Department has had severe staff shortages across the country, which are thankfully being addressed.
With the considerable backlog and slow staffing response, it could take every minute of those 12 and 18-week timeframes to get your passport back (if not longer).
Is Somebody Doing Something About This?
People around the country have been voicing their concerns and criticisms to their legislators about the delay that is keeping people from going on vacation, arranging business trips, or seeing loved ones. Bipartisan legislation was introduced to solve this problem. The hiccup? It gives the current administration 30-days to present a plan and another 30-days to implement it. Not much help for the people currently in the long queue asking themselves “will it, or won’t it.”
What Can I Do?
The simplest thing you can do is be patient and hopeful. The State Department website offers a tracking service that will tell you if your passport is still being processed or if it’s been approved.
If you still haven’t received your passport and you’re supposed to be traveling internationally within 72-business hours, you can try to schedule an in-person appointment, though these are severely limited and you have to play the dreaded “hold” game since appointments are offered only over the phone. To clarify, you can start calling for an appointment with 2-weeks to go until your trip, but the appointment has to be within 3-business days.
Your last option is to purchase travel insurance that will cover some of the money you may need to recoup. Unfortunately, most insurances won’t cover a missing passport as part of its base plan, so you’ll have to find a company that offers (and opt in) for a Cancel For Any Reason policy. This usually adds on about 40% to the cost of the base insurance plan and pays back anywhere between 50-75% of the trip cost (you have to purchase 2-3 weeks after your first trip purchase) but that’s better than losing everything!
In the past, I’ve used World Nomads for my travel insurance company; however, they don’t offer a Cancel For Any Reason policy, so I have since switched over to Trawick International – the same company that I had gone with for our failed Costa Rica trip due to their great COVID coverage. You must purchase the travel insurance no more than 21 days after your first trip deposit; anything older than that will not be covered. Other companies that offer the policy include AIG and Travel Safe, but feel free to check with your normal travel insurance provider.
I was going to post this either on my birthday (end of June) or as my 50th post, but sometimes things don’t work out as planned. Case in point…
I was diagnosed as diabetic at the end of April, 2021 and confirmed as Type-1 at the beginning of June. This, obviously, puts a new obstacle in between me and my ever-developing passion for travel and learning what the world can offer.
You will see my posts shift in the future to focus more on how I plan to overcome this setback and continue to see new places and people. I realized that not a lot of information exists for those traveling carb-consciously and I am determined to learn to live with this disease in a positive manner and provide help to others who may be in a similar situation.
Just wanted to keep you in the loop and I look forward to more safe travels in the near future. *hint, hint, it’s on a peninsula known for great food and dance*
After dropping Anna off at the airport, we made our way back towards Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland and home to about 2/3 of the country’s population. We were going to be here for just one night before heading off to Akureyri for a few days and returning for another night before our flight home.
Our Airbnb was about 20 minutes outside of the city center, nestled in a quiet neighborhood with a lane divider meaning you had to come down the street going the correct direction or make a dramatic loop around the needlessly large block to be able to access the driveway.
In order to lengthen our funds, we decided to head to the local Bónus supermarket and get some ingredients to make spaghetti, since the place we were staying had a full kitchen. While I made dinner, Rachel had started on doing some laundry. We had picked this particular Airbnb because it had a washer and dryer, which meant we could cut our packed clothes in half.
Clearly, we don’t understand how European washers work…
After starting to run our clothes through the wash, we noticed that the wash cycle never ended. Eventually, we had to force the washer to stop, never figuring out how to put it through a drain cycle, so when we opened the door, the clothes were sitting in a puddle of water. I tried for a little while to Google the model of the washer and tried to figure it out but in the end, we had to improvise. Rachel and I created an assembly line, where I fished the clothes out of the washer, ringing them out before passing them to her to ring them out further in the shower and putting them into the dryer. We continued this for the entire load, minus the few items that we had to hang dry around the room (like merino wool base layers.)
After the adventure that was laundry, we wanted to explore downtown with the remaining daylight that was available. We hopped back in our Kia and made the quick drive to a parking lot outside of the Hallgrimskirkja Church.
The Hallgrimskirkja Church dominates the iconic skyline that we associate with Reykjavik. Its design was inspired by the basalt columns that decorate the country’s volcanic landscape and sits atop a hill that overlooks the whole city and harbor. The church took a relatively long time to build. The local parish started looking for designs in the 1920s before an architect was selected and construction began in 1945; however, the church’s construction didn’t finish until 1986, thirty-six years after the death of the original designer.
While the majestic spire steals your attention at first, the building does offer much more. The front door is large and beautiful, decorated with imagery and text. In front of the church is a statue of Leif Erikson, the Nordic explorer thought to have been the first European to have set foot in North America. The statue was gifted to Iceland by the United States in 1930 as a commemmoration of the 1,000th anniversary of Iceland’s first parliament meeting at Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir in English) which also happens to be the oldest parliament in the world.
After making Rachel take a lot a couple pictures of me posing in front of Leif Erikson, we wandered into the city, choosing one of the many streets that lead away from the church into the shopping and restaurant district of the city. We wandered the streets, popping into souvenir shops and bookstores and a cool Viking-inspired shop that sold carved axes and jewelry.
Wanting a break from the mild climb of the hilly roads, we stopped in the famous Kaffi Loki. I got a local beer and we split a rye bread ice cream complete with cream and a tasty rhubarb syrup. It was delicious! This took us towards the end of the night and we were back near our car so we headed back to our Airbnb for the night to rest before heading up to Akureyri.
On our way back through, at the end of our trip, we stopped for another night in Reykjavik. The morning of our flight home, we had a few extra hours to go back to the city where we were able to see the Sun Voyager sculpture, a symbol of freedom and hope.
Reykjavik is a wonderful city and I cannot wait to go back. Do you have any can’t miss spots in Iceland or is it on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below.
From here, we headed east along the Ring Road. We took a few short stops during our drive, but one was extra epic. There was a gravel road that ran off of the highway and we decided to follow it. Thankfully, we had a 4×4 vehicle because this drive was bumpy. We inched along bump by bump until we flattened out into a parking lot. We had made it to Sveitarfélagið Hornafjörður, a beautiful fjord that offers glacier hikes and an incredible view. We did a quick change of outfits and were so excited about our find that we had to bust out some dance moves.
Fun fact: This glacier was one of the landing spots for the first aerial circumnavigation of the world in 1924.
Along the highway, on either side of a bridge, you arrive at Diamond Beach. Jökulsárlón lagoon carries mini iceburgs out to the sea from the Breidamerkurjokull glacier giving incredible photo opportunities who want to capture the beautiful, blue-clear ice shining against the black sand. It definitely earned its namesake, in terms of looks. While we were enjoying the view, one seemingly brave individual unzipped his jacket to reveal a wetsuit and grabbed a surfboard from his vehicle. He ended up just snapping some photos of himself with a remote-controlled camera.
That night, we stayed in Höfn, a small harbor village. We got some subs with local fish and ice cream before calling it a night. My cold was really acting up and I sat outside in the Airbnb’s common area doing my best not to keep everyone awake with my coughing. Extra strength menthol cough drops were my lifeline during this trip. Those and bags of sweet chili pepper Doritos. As the night went on and I tried to make myself tired enough to sleep through my cough, I was looking at the My Aurora Forecast app to see if we had any chance of seeing the northern lights. It was too cloudy the entire time we were there, but there was some magnetic activity in the area that night.
The next morning, we drove up to the Viking Cafe, near the Vestrahorn mountain. For 800 Icelandic Króna (ISK), you can visit an abandoned viking village movie set, an easy walk from the cafe. You’re free to roam the grounds and explore, but by the time we reached the settlement, the rain and snow had picked up and we were getting pelted and drenched, cutting our exploration to just a brief run through.
After we made it back to the car, we took a short drive to the Stokksnes area – a gorgeous beach with dramatic views. Between windstorms throwing sand at us, a frigid breeze, and more snow, we managed to have an outfit change and take my favorite photos of the trip. I’m cutting this paragraph short because I cannot find words to describe Anna’s work here.
For our trip back, we stopped at the same Airbnb in Vík as our first night (where I once again tried to stay up until the middle of the night to have a chance at seeing the northern lights) and revisited Reynisfjara. Along the road to the beach is the Loftsalahellir Cave, which you can get to after a steep, muddy climb. We snapped a few more photos and continued on. We had to drop Anna off at the airport before Rachel and I continued to Reykjavik and then the north.
The Ring Road is essentially the only way to traverse most of Iceland. There aren’t secondary or tertiary routes to follow, so if something happens on route 1, it happens to everyone trying to drive on that section. We ended up in a long standstill that resulted from a car crash a few kilometers ahead. Rumor was (I spoke with a lady that had a badge so I believe her) that the family had to be evacuated by helicopter, though I never thoroughly followed up on the story to see how valid that was. Nothing pops up on Google, so I have to assume the incident was minor. We eventually got through and dropped Anna off at the airport, saying our goodbyes and heading off for the second half of our trip.
Our Roadtrip Around The Southern Half Of The Island Nation
Rachel responded to a post she saw on Instagram from a couples photographer who was looking to go to Iceland and invited a couple along to split the cost in exchange for a photo shoot. This was how we met Anna.
I knew of Iceland and it had been recommended to me by several friends, but as someone who despises the cold, it never climbed high on my to-go list. Oh boy, how that has changed. I would go back anytime now.
We flew into Keflavík Airport in mid-March, nearing the end of winter. You basically have two seasons in Iceland – winter offers the best chance to see the aurora and summer gives you the midnight sun and the longest days to explore the country with.
I was feeling a bit under the weather. A cold had been spreading around my workplace and had finally gotten to me right before we left for the trip. It would end up sticking with me for nearly two months before we left for a trip to Cancun.
Anna had been to Iceland a number of times before so she was all prepared to load us into our rented Kia Sportage, hook up a transportable WiFi device (I definitely recommend renting one for ~$10/day) and start driving us away from the airport. It’s a lot of barren land between Kevlavik and Reykjavik, the nation’s capital and largest city. Barren land and roundabouts. I still hear “take the second exit towards Hafnarfjörður“ in my head from our drive back to the airport.
Driving on route 1, the highway known as the ring road because it makes a circle around the island, we were essentially making a U around the bottom half of the country. Our first stop was Seljalandsfoss, where we found a number of beautiful waterfalls and fell on our butts traversing the slippery ice. The drive around here was awe-inspiring; your jaw drops as you pass mountain after mountain, waterfall after waterfall, each location more beautiful and impressive than the last.
For the first night, we stayed near the town of Vík, the southern most village in the county with a population of about 300. We stayed in a cute little room that was nestled on a farm off the main highway. We were met by a nice woman and her black labrador, let into our room, and from there we planned our excursion. We headed into town to grab a veggie burger platter from the gas station (this would become a recurring theme) and stopped by Reynisfjara for a quick visit to the famous black sand beaches and basalt columns to shoot a few photos. As we strolled along the beach, everyone was heading up the beach, towards the parking lot. Before I could realize why I was the only person close to the water, a sneaker wave engulfed my legs, soaking my bottom half. I was lucky enough to maintain balance, but my boots and pants were drenched and I had to leave them to dry for the next two days. There are a myriad of signs warning of the dangers of sneaker waves and I just happened to be the person not to heed them.
The next morning, we woke up early and took a (very) quick hop down the road to visit Skógafoss. This wonderful waterfall (“wonderfall,” if you will) is visible from the road and a big tourist attraction, which makes waking up early a must. As we approached, we really felt the power that the fall had. It was loud and grew exponentially the closer you stepped. We ditched our jackets and Anna snapped some great pictures that captured our modest selves juxtaposed against the height of the falls. There was a steep staircase that took you to an observation platform for another vantage point. [Continued in the next post…]
In previous posts, I mentioned how our resort was on a never-ending, dusty road and we were forced to walk for what seemed like an eternity to get anywhere. That’s what we thought until one day we noticed a few cars were turning right off of the road onto a bumpy, sandy side street. A quick GPS search back at the resort and we found out there are a few shops down that road so we set off one morning to do some exploring and eating.
The neighborhood we ended up finding down this side street was called Aldea Zama and it was dramatically closer to our resort than either of the other destinations we had been going to – the Tulum beachfront and La Veleta.
The first thing we noticed was how quiet it was. The neighborhood had a very posh look to it and it seemed to be recovering from the pandemic, as every other window had a promotional sign trying to get you to buy an available condo and there was plenty of construction projects going on.
We reached our first stop, Matcha Mama, a cute little smoothie cafe that made incredible use of the tiniest space. Seriously, they crammed an entire shop into a booth the size of a standard closet. We had a broad choice of seating options to enjoy our Mango Tango smoothie bowl, but we hunkered under the balcony for a little shade. This thing was delicious and one bowl easily satiated both of our bellies.
Our next stop was the number one reason I wanted to stop by this neighborhood; we were headed for Mamazul, a 4-star hotel with an incredible mezcaleria on the ground floor. I checked the screenshot I had of Google Maps and we set off down one street, made a turn here, walked down another until I said “hmm…”
Now I am one of those people that will walk forever around a place, half-getting to our destination, half-just checking out the new environment. Rachel, whom I was with, is not like that. She took my brief pause of uncertainty to mean that we were lost in the jungle with no way out, a feeling only further exacerbated by the burning heat of the mid-day sun.
The place was just one block over…
The first thing you notice is the huge, open-concept layout of the bar with a super high ceiling, a front entrance that was open-air, and a stretching shelf of mezcals behind the bar that needed a rolling ladder (like what you associate with libraries) to reach the top shelves.
We downed some fresh juices that sounded better than they ended up being, but where they disappointed, the mezcal tastings did not.
We sipped down the smoky, smooth elixir, letting the feeling linger at the back of our throats and debated over which of the endless bottles had the coolest label design. Between the drinks, the decor, and the overall atmosphere, I will 100% be returning to Mamazul when I get back to Tulum. I really wanted to purchase a bottle of mezcal right after to bring home, but I never check a bag on my flights so I had to wait for the duty-free shop which had a much larger selection that I remembered. Luckily, I had started packing “empty space” before trips to allow myself to grab a bottle of alcohol souvenir before heading home.
As we headed back, I wanted to stop by an art installation that I had read about, The Pyramid of Positive Thinking. First and foremost, I need to voice out an apology for this piece, because I did not understand the project at all when I had viewed it in person. My thoughts have since changed.
We made our trek back, still shocked by how close this cool, little neighborhood was to us this whole time.
For a quick weekend trip, we went down to visit some friends in Charlotte – it’s about a 6.5 hour drive from west-central Maryland where we live. The drive is mostly along one of my least favorite highways, I-81, but it wasn’t too bad for the way down.
Starting from Frederick, MD, I can either drive all the way back up towards the MD/PA border to get onto 81 or I can take some backroads through the boonies to merge onto it in West Virginia. I chose the latter.
The first half of the trip offers plenty of stops and sights. Some of my favorite being:
Harper’s Ferry – a historical beauty of a town where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet at the crossroads of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. I really enjoy stopping here for the Maryland Heights hiking trail then grabbing some well-deserved ice cream or a beer on the way out.
Hollywood Casino at Charles Town – I went a few times over the stretch of two years in my younger 20’s. I made the mistake of winning a little bit on my first couple trips which boosted my confidence enough to lose all of those winnings in subsequent trips. Nevertheless, it’s a fun place to give away your money until 3am.
The next couple hours are home to some pretty vies of farms and tons of farm animals. Seriously, I have never seen that many cows in one span of time.
Natural Bridge and Virginia Safari Park – I have been to the second one and it’s a great time that I highly recommend. I’ll write about it here in the near future. The first stop, however, I have not been to, but would love to see the 215-ft tall limestone gorge.
Luray and the surrounding caverns – I can’t say I have a big interest in cave systems or the underground (read my post about the Parisian Catacombs for my thoughts on naked mole rats), but it would be neat to see the largest and most popular cave systems on the U.S. east coast.
Asheville, NC. – Okay, so this isn’t exactly on the way. It’s at least 1.5 to 2 hours out of the way, but it’s a badass town that I only got to explore once and have plenty more to see.
There’s a beautiful vista along the highway just before you get to the VA/NC border that makes you say “wow” when you pass, and if you’re lucky enough to get on the road without a bunch of tractor trailers, the drive isn’t too bad.
Pop on a playlist or podcast of your choosing and enjoy the drive.
Have you been down 81 in Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, or North Carolina? What stops do you like to make or do you just drive straight through/