2018 Travel Ambitions

To be honest, I am tired and should be sleeping right now. But I am going to keep trying to ride this wave of enthusiasm for getting things done and practicing the crafts that I love. So here is a not-so-eloquent, to the point post about my travel plans thus far for this year.

1. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Crater Lake Visitor's Center


This trip actually already took place, but I want to mention it regardless. A couple weeks ago I met up with my friend Casey, who is equally obsessed with the national parks, to spend some time exploring. It was my fourth time to this park, but his first. I had never visited during winter for my previous visits so this time around I was able to experience it in a completely different way.

The amount of snow in the park is so excessive that most of it is inaccessible. We were unable to even see the lake until our third day there. Thankfully the weather cleared up and a small section of road was plowed so that we could admire the main attraction.

Despite not having the ability to explore much of the park we made the most of our time in Oregon. With significantly less snow at our charming wood lodge down the road we strolled along a river gorge with mint toned water, snapped photographs of the landscape, took Casey’s drone for a spin, had snowball throwing competitions, and enjoyed hours upon hours of conversation and laughter. It always feels like magic when you connect with someone, anyone, by embracing the ebb and flow of being both vulnerable and playful. I value these moments much more than the shallow interactions of day-to-day small talk, which I am most certainly guilty of participating in.

All in all the weekend in Crater Lake was brilliant. We may not have been able to hike, or camp, or drive around/in the lake, but I’d like to think we were both grateful for a taste of the road again.


2. Camping on the Sonoma County coast, California

Gualala Picture 1

Next weekend I will be heading the hour west to the Pacific Ocean so I can snag a campsite for a night or two with my friend Lou. I haven’t gone camping in a few months. The winter here has been quite weak, which can lead to more wildfires and such down the line, but it also means it’s a perfect 70 degrees in February. The idea of snuggling up in my hammock and spending time near one of my favorite places in the world is making it easy to look forward to the weekend, again.


3. Yosemite National Park, California

Casey will be joining me again for another nature venture. I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll have the chance to hike the Mist Trail so we can see Nevada and Vernal Falls. I could use a challenging hike and some intoxicating, moody views. My weekly Sunday hikes have been out of practice for awhile, so it’s time to restart the ritual.


4. Europe: England, Holland, Switzerland, Germany

My best friend, Cathy, is getting married (again, to the same man) and the small ceremony is in Holland. Her husband is Dutch so although they had a wedding a couple years ago, they are having another one so that his family and friends can attend. Plus, it will be such a treat for the families to spend time together.

We’ll be flying in to London, leaving for Holland after a couple days, take a day trip to Amsterdam among other places, and then ride a train to neighboring Switzerland and Germany. Traveling with Cathy is always easy because we are similar in many ways. I always look forward to spending time with her and her family, as they are an extension of my own.


5. Havasupai, Arizona

In early November I will be backpacking, for the first time, to an otherworldly piece of land near the Grand Canyon. Havasupai has garnered more attention over the last handful of years due to the “Instagram-worthy” appeal of the area. With a 90 foot waterfall and turquoise waters in the middle of a rust colored desert landscape, it’s no surprise why people are becoming obsessed with trying to visit it. Havasupai is also name of the Native American tribe that own the land. They have been living in the Grand Canyon area for more than 800 years.

Permits to hike and camp in Havasupai have become increasingly difficult to come by. I know some people who have tried to get one three or four years in a row with no success. This is why I am extremely grateful to have connected with a couple who graciously obtained a permit on my behalf. Having a few travel buddies for this trip is really exciting because I don’t have to annoy my friends (as much) with my anticipation. Instead I can plan and research and excitable chatter about it with people who are sharing the experience.


There are more plans for trips here and there this year, but nothing further is confirmed just yet. If there is a destination you have fallen in love with that you think I MUST see, please let me know! I love hearing about the magic of a place through word of mouth.

Also, please excuse any grammatical errors in this post and others. Often after I publish a post I re-read it a few more times and seem to always catch a few mistakes or auto-corrects that I somehow missed.






A Quiet Return to Writing

With much hesitation and self-inflicted guilt tripping, I’m back. Removing myself from writing for so long was one of those bad habits where every day I thought about doing it, didn’t do it, and then chastised myself for not making a better effort to get back into the practice. Repeating that cycle for too many days and months and beyond, I have had enough with the strange circumstance of avoidance I have created.

It is time to be of better service to myself.

You may know me in the real world, or just as an acquaintance, or solely through social media, so your understanding of the inner workings of my life may vary from others’. Regardless of how well you know me, let me update you on a bit of my life since I last published a blog post.

Triumphantly and with many undertones of emotions, I completed my forty-eight state road trip across the U.S. It took me about six and a half months, which was longer than anticipated, but the extension was from necessity and practicality. The first half of the trip was a noticeable contrast to the second half. Structure, speed, and timing where imperative in the warmer months because all of the camping reservations had to be made well in advance (most were arranged a year before). There was little wiggle room to make changes at a moment’s notice. In the summer and early fall, when most people are taking vacations, I needed to make sure I had guaranteed campsites. There was no way I wanted to chance missing out on seeing some of the parks and sights from lack of sleeping accommodations.

Once the weather began to mellow, and most people were back to work and school, it was incredibly easy to snag campsites and AirBnBs at the last minute. There is a sense of unburdening after mostly sticking to a strict schedule and then having the freedom to be leisurely with deciding where to lay my head the next night.

I will continue to make posts about each of the remaining states I have yet to share my experiences about, but it will take time. There’s a lot to catch up on, which no one’s fault but my own.

Post-road trip I have not slowed down my pursuit of immersing myself in the world, especially in nature. Since returning home last February I have taken trips abroad to Iceland, Spain, and Canada. In between these “bigger” excursions I have also traveled to Hawaii, and have taken advantage of a handful of weekends to go camping in varying national, state, and county parks. More details about all of these adventures will be coming up in future blog posts.

On a more personal note, there has been a big change in my life since last year. Soon after being home my mom’s health issues were becoming more alarming and needed to be addressed. It is now entirely apparent, to not just me but most people she interacts with, that she has dementia and possibly Alzheimer’s. We are still in the process of having her officially diagnosed. Apparently it’s more of a process of elimination, not a one-off test.

I have been her caregiver for just about a year now. To be honest, it’s often the biggest challenge I face each day. Even on the “easier” days or when I don’t see her there is still a floating realization in my subconscious of the insurmountable difficulties of this disease. Her personality has changed, she can have dramatic and sudden mood swings, she is often confused, she repeats herself dozens of times a day, our conversations rarely vary and are never all that in depth, and her short term memory is close to non-existent. Her problems are now my problems, for better or for worse. I drive her where she needs to go, take her to and from work with me, grocery shop and prepare meals for her, manage her finances, and accompany her to her medical appointments. More often than not I feel like I’m not doing my best. There are undertones of anger and frustration, resentment and helplessness, confusion and lack of patience. All of those feelings are not just what I feel, but what she experiences too. We’re both learning through out this process and with every hurdle we overcome there will, unfortunately, always be more.

And then there is the guilt. She feels guilty for needing me so much. I feel guilty for not doing better or for feeling like I need space.

It is truly a slow, painful event to be in the trenches with a loved one who is no longer independent. To watch her lose a little more of herself every few weeks or months is a process neither of us want to be part of, but we are, and have no say in it.

I wanted to share this, not for sympathy, but to let you in on another component of my life. Yes, I travel fairly often. I post dreamy pictures of places I’ve been and share stories of what it was like to be there, but I am more than carefully chosen words and photographs. My flaws and struggles are an important of what makes me, me. So for anyone who reads this please know that there is a real person behind the adventure content I post. I like to think of myself as optimistic, but I also want to be realistic. If exposing some of my inner workings alongside the surface aspects of my life does nothing more than make me a more honest writer and artist, than I will be able to take more pride in my work. And if by chance I am able to have more human connections with the people I share my experiences with, stranger or otherwise, than the reward is even greater.

Thank you for participating as a witness of this life of mine, even if it’s for a fleeting moment. There is no way to fully convey how humbled I am by every person that has taken the time to read what I write, listen to me babble about something I’m passionate about, or take note of a photograph that I’ve shared. It gives me comfort to be reminded that every other person on the planet struggles in their own ways, and their beautiful moments are just as precious as the gritty ones. We are all in this together.

With love,

💚 Lauren

Ohio: Rockin’ and Rollin’



Being the only stop in Ohio, Cleveland was sure to lend itself to my only impression of Ohio. Unfair? Yes. If I live to be 109 maybe I’ll do a second 48 state road trip and see more of what I missed.

Or just let it be.

This city was to be the host of my second AirBnb reservation ever. The woman who rented me a room was very sweet. I had little trouble finding her house and was grateful and surprised that she let me park in her driveway. For some reason that feels a tad more “secure” to me. Ridiculous, I know, but hear me out. I feel like by having my Forester in a driveway it may be perceived that I am a relative visiting from out of town as opposed to an AirBnB tourist. Okay, no. Now that I have typed that out it sounds a little stupid. My California plates and the storage bag on top of the car make me stick out. No matter, I am going to continue believing this obtuse logic and go on accepting invitations to park in driveways.

My host was very sweet. After walking into the house I was welcomed by both her and a white board mounted on the front room wall with a “Welcome Lauren!” To this day it still makes my heart swell with love and a twinge of sadness. This woman was a single mother to her adorable, elementary-aged son, making a little extra cash by renting out an extra room from time to time, and the act of writing my name on a board feels profound to me. It is one of the most unexpected, bittersweet gestures I have ever been on the receiving end of.

After settling in I set off for a sushi restaurant downtown. It was just what I needed: inexpensive, filled with college kids, and had plenty of window seats for abundant people watching. Before leaving the house I had the urge to grab a drink at a bar after dinner, but overindulging on sushi rolls made me retreat back to home base.




The next morning I slipped out and drove to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Holy mackerel, what an astounding museum. I have never seen so much, and such diverse musical memorabilia and archives in one place. There are literally walls of hundreds of iconic stage outfits, concert posters, and musical instruments of nearly every musical artist or act relevant in American culture.




One such wall was in a dark hallway and had hundreds of illuminated autographs on glass. They were sorted in alphabetical order so you could search for your favorite artists, but I poured over all of them. My favorite was Stevie Wonder’s. He’s one of my favorite musical entertainers of all time. When I came upon his autograph I stopped and admired his it. I know this is an ignorant assumption, but I was surprised at how well his signature was written. I mean, if I was blind since childhood I’m sure my signature would be atrocious. Stevie’s was unique, just like everyone else’s, but more legible than a lot of the full-sighted musicians. I never imagined being struck by such a simple thing, but it was a good lesson about assumptions.




There was a room dedicated to Elvis memorabilia and had a continuous, documentary playing on a large screen. I have always casually liked Elvis, but never took a serious interest in him. After standing and watching the mini-documentary on him for about twenty minutes I was fascinated. Watching video footage of him perform it is hard to deny his genuine “it factor.” That man was born to perform. He captivated me while I stood in a museum in 2016, so I can finally fathom the pandemonium he caused when we was alive during his career.








Another exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has stage costumes from such mega stars as Beyonce, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, and Cher. To see such iconic, over the top, creative wardrobe pieces up close is surreal.

I zipped through the museum in just a few hours but would have loved to spend an entire day (or two) there. Afterward I drove over to the highly recommended West Side Market. A handful of people and some internet sources had insisted that the market was a must-see. It is located in an incredibly busy area of the city and I struggled to find parking. After driving around for nearly half an hour I gave up. I needed to get on the road for my next destination anyway. I looped back around to a main street so I could make my way to the freeway. The lane I was in was ending so I put on my blinker and started to try and merge into the lane to my left. A man in a small white car behind and to the left of me scooted up to purposefully block me from completing my merge. I muttered “thanks asshole,” forgetting my window was rolled down. I’m not sure if he heard me or not but he screamed “What the FUCK!” Clearly he was either unhinged or woke up on the wrong side of the bed. All I know is that it’s best to give someone like that as much space as possible. No sense in ruining my day as well.

I found a noticeable amount of Cleveland drivers were equally aggressive in their driving style so I was anxious to get out of the city limits. Being from California I am used to drivers speeding and not always being curteous, but damn Cleveland, y’all need to calm down before you get an aneurysm. (If you’re reading this and from Cleveland, please be sure to correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe it’s just downtown that’s especially crazy with aggressive driving.)


💚 Lauren



“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It’s very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.” – Elvis Presley

Illinois and Indiana: Retracing and Skipping Steps



***Sidenote: This blog is not currently in “real-time.” I am close to being done with my road trip. I have found that although I am not currently working 60+ hours a week it was been somewhat challenging to write. Setting aside time, which can be hours and hours, means taking time away from experiencing the places I am visiting. I have decided to focus more on the experience itself and have made writing a secondary task (for now). I have never been one of those people who can write a dozen pages in a few hours. It just doesn’t work that way with me. I get distracted. I don’t feel inspired to put “pen to paper.” I procrastinate. I dread the physical process (I have to go back and forth between using my smart phone and tablet in order to write, edit, upload, and add pictures…it can be easily frustrating). Don’t worry though, I will be completing my posts about all of the forty-eight states I am traveling to on this road trip. Thank you for reading. Even if just one person reads this blog it’s more than enough motivation to keep sharing all that this adventure has been for me.*** 


I was hesitant to leave Krissy in Madison, Wisconsin. My original intention was to drive to Chicago with enough time to check into my hostel and then attend a Cubs baseball game at Wrigley Field. I had been to Chicago twice before. The first time was by myself as I had meant for my younger brother to go with me, but he ended up not going so I went anyway. The second time was with my (now ex) boyfriend. He is from a town near Chicago so I had gone home with him for the holidays for the first time. He broke up with me three months later. Both trips to the Windy City were memorable and enjoyable, but not without some abstract stress surrounding their respective circumstances.




My third trip to Chicago was to be brief but my lollygagging in Madison made it that much shorter. Instead of spending the evening enjoying America’s favorite pastime, I arrived in the city close to midnight. And instead of using my time there to experience new things, I ended up been drawn toward fond favorites. I stayed at the beloved Urban Holiday Loft hostel as I had during my first visit. I also went to the Adler Planetarium and ate lunch at the famous deep dish pizza chain, Lou Malnati’s just as I had before. No Wrigley Field. No visit to some of the architectural remnants of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. And you know what, I am okay with that. There’s always next time.




Speaking of planetariums, I have come to realize that they are one of the places I love most. As with the ocean and bookstores, planetariums transport me to an ethereal world of comfort and peace. And I don’t know about you, but I think planetariums can be an excellent place to nap. It’s not that I want to miss out on the astronomical experience, it’s just that sometimes I am so relaxed and happy that I fall asleep. The concoction of darkness, cushioned seats, the silky voice of a narrator, and the surreal sensation of feeling as if I am really in space can lead to one of the best (unexpected) sleeping environments I have ever come to know. It is right up there with hammocks, the beach, and lazy Sundays at home.

After less than twenty-hours in Illinois I left for Indiana. On the itinerary for this state was the Wolf Creek Habitat and Rescue, and the University of Notre Dame. I decided to just stick to the wolf sanctuary as Notre Dame would add a lot of driving time for the day and I was not up for being in the car a bunch, nor did I want to feel rushed with the sight seeing. It turns out that the sanctuary is only open on the weekends, which I was unaware of, so I ended up missing out on both places. On I drove to Cleveland, Ohio.




I promise that I did not make a habit of “skipping” states. You’ll find that such a predicament was not to be had again for the rest of the trip. I made sure to do at least one thing in each of the remaining states.



💚 Lauren


“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”

― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

Michigan and Wisconsin: Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes



I did it again. I spent mere hours in a state without any noteworthy experience. This time it was an effect of a change in plans. After the wild loneliness of camping on Moxie Island, I was not looking forward to the destination that was to follow, Isle Royale National Park. As with all of the national parks I had decided to visit, I had done some reading about Isle Royale and so there was some long-standing excitement about seeing the island in person. After Voyageurs National Park I was much less enthusiastic to go straight to another island. So I let myself change the plan. Bam! I’m the boss of this trip so I can do what I want. I just have to remind myself from time to time.

And so I skipped past the wolves and glory of Isle Royale and headed to Peninsula State Park in Wisconsin. I am grateful to have stumbled upon it by way of the internet. It is an absolutely darling park and campground, especially for families and those that are new to camping. The sites are spacious and clean, everyone seems to be in good spirits, there are dozens of hiking and biking trails, a beach on the shore of Lake Michigan, and an outdoor amphitheater called the Northern Lights Theater which hosts original plays through out the summer months. I had made sure to plan the trip so that I could see a play. It was the last weekend of the theater season so I had fingers crossed in hopes of avoiding the chance of closing crowds.




Arriving as I usually do, in the last tide of sunlight, I set up camp and cozied up in the cocoon of my sleeping bag. Falling asleep with a soft smile and the sound of crackling fires, I was at peace with the decision to skip Isle Royale.

The next morning I drove over to the visitor center to check in and get campsite reservation tags. The girl that helped me is a few years younger than me. Grace was all smiles and questions when she saw my California driver’s license and I explained the extent of my road trip to her. After several minutes of the warmest conversation I had experienced in several weeks, she said, “Some of my coworkers and I are going to a local bar to watch the NFL game tonight so you can join us if you’d like. Here, I’ll give you my phone number. That’s not weird right? We’re girls so we can do that.”

I was over the moon to have a real connection with someone for the first time during the road trip. Dad called me just as I climbed back into the Forester. If he couldn’t interpret the giddiness in my hurried, fluttering speech, then he could certainly decipher my excitement by my exclamation of “Dad, I just made a friend!” The beauty of unguarded, youthful joy seems to burst out more readily in the company of those trusted most.




The day was spent jogging around some of the trails, visiting the nearby lighthouse, and listening to podcasts on the beach. I eventually moseyed back to the campsite so I could change into “real” clothes. For me, camping attire usually consists of yoga pants, smelly shoes, t-shirts, and accompanied by hair that hasn’t been washed for more than three days at a time. It was time to put some actual thought into my appearance so that I could have a social night out. Putting on a skirt was a pleasant contrast to the comfy camping outfit I so often wore.

I met Grace and her friends at a parking and we carpooled to one of the few local, non-touristy, bars just a bit outside the park. We enjoyed all of the staples of a dive bar: cheap drinks, fried appetizers, billiards, and football on varying televisions. At the point where Grace and I were sufficiently buzzed we commented on the racy coin operated machine in the ladies bathroom.

After a fit of giggles and building curiosity Grace and I marched into the restroom and tried unsuccessfully to obtain a “mystery” sensual gift with our collective quarters. Several attempts later we made it back out to our table. Grace convinced one of the boys to try their own bathroom’s machine to get something interesting for us to laugh at. We ended up with a knock-off of Viagra, a parody of itself.

Shortly after the coin-operated fiasco we piled into the car and headed back toward the state park. I felt high upon returning to my campsite. Nights like that are part of the immense beauty of travel. If you let it, a “yes” can lead you just beyond the barrier of self-doubt.

The last stop in Wisconsin was the city of Madison, where my dear friend Krissy lives. I had met Krissy when she had first moved out to California and was working at the winery where my (now ex) boyfriend was employed. Right away I had liked Krissy. A lot. She is kind, yet subtly sassy, has the soul of a writer, loyal, a fantastically fun drinking buddy, is smart and witty, and wears her heart on her sleeve even when she doesn’t mean to. She had moved back to the Midwest after living in California for about a year, and I was ecstatic to see her again.




Krissy was out of town when I arrived, as she had a wedding to attend a few hours away, so she left the apartment key with her friend Joe. He met me at a park and invited me to join him kayaking on the lake. A few hours of stories, “getting to know you” sort of conversations, and some laughs, we returned the rented water vessels. I was glad to have spent the afternoon in good company. Easy-going friendliness was becoming a theme for this leg of the trip.

The next few days, once Krissy returned, were lived comfortably and joyfully. I was able to catch up on my blog a bit and complete my very first article for Misadventures Magazine. At one point we even joined a team for a beach volleyball tournament. We held our own pretty well, but eventually lost to the first team we were paired against and were eliminated from the tournament. There weren’t too many broken hearts though because we rapidly switched to drinking beer and watching the other teams. Apparently outdoor volleyball courts at bars in the Midwest are not uncommon. How this isn’t a trend in California has completely baffled me.

One of my favorite “Krissy traditions” is eating comfort food and watching “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette.” Neither of these shows ever make their way onto my own television screen at home, but Krissy has a knack for creating fun most anywhere she goes. In California I would sometimes head to Krissy’s place with a couple of our other friends so we could drink wine and eat pizza while getting sucked into the dramatic plots of the romantic hopefuls before us. Our reenactment of nights spent together back in California was a perfect way to toast the sanctity of friendship, especially as it was complimented by plates of homemade pad thai. If an extended moment could be the equivalent of a sincere hug, that evening was it.




A day or so after leaving Krissy I nearly forgot that I was about to leave the Midwest and had yet to step foot in Michigan. I made a quick trip to the southernmost part of the state to grab lunch before continuing on my way. I have been to Michigan before, as a child long ago because it’s my mom’s home state, so I guess it’s not the end of the world that it didn’t get my undivided attention this time around. Raincheck!


💚 Lauren



“I still don’t know what I was waiting for

And my time was running wild

A million dead-end streets

Every time thought I’d got it made

It seemed the taste was not so sweet

So I turned myself to face me

But I’ve never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I’m much too fast to take that test

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (turn and face the strange)”


-David Bowie


Iowa and Minnesota: Self-marooned



Looking through notes and pictures on my phone there is no indication of having done anything in Iowa. On the itinerary I have listed Grotto of the Redemption, Lost Island Water Park, Field of Dreams, the American Gothic house, and Arlington Cemetery as points of interest, but I know that none of those destinations were reached. I must have at least stopped for a meal somewhere while driving through the state, but without any record of my passage there is no memory that comes to mind. Sorry Iowa. I wish I could say my recollections could reflect my experience while within your borders, but I am just as flawed as every other human being.

Minneapolis was another one-night city stop, a means of pausing between one previous destination and an upcoming one. Before checking into my AirBnB I zipped over to the American Swedish Institute just before closing. It is both a mansion turned museum and a cultural center celebrating Swedish history. As my ethnic heritage is dominantly Swedish I felt drawn toward the Institute. The long drive did not allow for a proper run-through, but I tried to take in as much as I could during the forty-five minute visit.




I dedicated my time to touring the Swan Turnblad Mansion, the 19th century estate of Swedish immigrants Swan and Christina Turnblad. The family donated the home in the first half of the 20th century so as to share and educate about the art, culture, and architecture of Sweden. The ceramic tiles and stained glass work, although not parallel to my taste in interior design, were impressive in their craftsmanship.






Dinner afterward was at a quaint and chic sushi restaurant. For me perhaps the only two downsides of travel both abroad and in the United States are long, uncomfortable airplane rides and the scarcity of sushi and Mexican restaurants. Back at home it is not uncommon for me to eat Mexican dishes and sushi several times in a week. You can imagine the small joy I felt when I arrived minutes before the restaurant’s happy hour ended. The ever-present appetite for raw fish was quenched after weeks of camp meals.




The AirBnB hosts, Kara and Shante, are mother and daughter. I gave a quick hello to Shante upon arriving, but her mom was the one I primarily interacted with during the brief stay at their home. The evening was spent reading in bed and catching up with my dad on the phone.

Before departing for Voyageurs National Park in the morning Kara invited me to sit with her and her mother (Shante’s grandmother) for a cup of coffee and some company. The pair of them were two of the kindest, most genuine people I had come across in weeks. They asked questions about my travels and why I had decided to take on such an extensive road trip, and Kara shared about the connections she had made through both her experiences as an AirBnB host and an Uber driver.

A self-described introvert, she is similar to myself. As an introvert I am often comfortable in the familiar, such as at home, and also when out in the world, but I also crave meaningful connections with others. Whether it be a conversation while in line at a café or with a stranger I come across while camping, I find genuine human connections gratifying and rejuvenating. I can be easily animated and engaging during one-on-one conversations or in small groups, and become a smiling, muted accessory when part of a large group of new faces. Kara, I feel, is somewhat of a kindred spirit in this regard. She is an exceptional host and woman. Thank you for being present, taking time to get to know me, and sharing your home, Kara.

Voyageurs National Park lies snuggly to the Canadian border and is made up of bountiful forests, lakes, and islands. I had made reservations for three nights at a lone campsite on Moxie Island, a moderate piece of land relatively close to shore. A ranger I had spoken to on the phone months before explained that my arrival would be during the tail end of the busy season and I need not worry about finding an available kayak or canoe to rent for transportation to my campsite. This advice turned out to only be abstractly true.

I often stop by the visitor centers at national parks before getting situated or exploring as it is a helpful starting point and reminder of what the park has to offer. As I had never camped on an island before, let alone been to Minnesota for more than 24 hours, I had plenty of questions for the lone ranger on duty at the tiny Kabetogama Visitor Center. At first hesitant to give me an opinion as to where to rent a kayak, she eventually gave me a suggestion for a rental place just a few miles away. I soon found out that it was to be a bit of a wild goose chase.

The lakeside vacation resort I had been directed to did not have kayaks for public rental, just a couple on site for their cabin guests. The man in the office, whom I believe was one of the owners, generously called around to a few other vacation “resorts” for me without being prompted. The cabins he sent me to were run by an elderly man who was just as friendly, but he was unwilling to help. He had a small handful of sea kayaks on hand, but again, they were typically meant to be used by cabin guests. He had no problem renting one out to me, but wasn’t keen on me transporting the kayak to the boat launch at the Kabetogama Visitor Center five miles away. Everyone who rented his kayaks launched from his property. He sent me to another location.

Thankfully the people at the third place were extremely accommodating. They were just as surprised as the other business owners at my explanation for needing a kayak. “Wait, so you’re going to kayak out to Moxie Island? And you’re going to camp there by yourself?” Apparently most people don’t camp on the islands unless they have a boat. Kayaks were used primarily for recreational, not practical, purposes.

After having help loading the obscenely long sea kayak onto the top of the Forester, a young man on staff offered to follow me to the boat launch so he could help put the kayak into the water. Upon arriving at the shore I asked about the life jacket and paddles that were to accompany the water vessel. He quickly apologized for having forgotten to grab them and insisted on making a quick trip to retrieve them for me. Midwesterners were really living up to their reputation of being some of the most openly kind and hospitable people in the U.S.

After failing with the first attempt of launching the packed sea kayak into the water, barely avoiding an embarrassing full body topple into the green lake, I carefully pushed off from shore with a second attempt. During the nearly hour long journey to the island I felt empowered by my adventurism. I was a woman free to bend the rules and expectations of the norm. Showered by the glow of dusk, I made my way to Moxie.

Setting up camp was anything but difficult as I was used to the routine and had limited supplies due to the restricted capacity of the thin kayak. Dinner was an unheated packet of some unremarkable dish. The absence of a propane stove or fire was not entirely terrible. The simplicity and remoteness of the island camping experience was soon to be revealed as less ideal than the early evening preview led me to believe it was to be.

I miraculously had great cell reception so during the first few hours on Moxie I called my dad for a chat and then quickly searched online to see what sort of animals I should hope to see in Voyageurs. I knew that a presence of bears was to be expected in the surrounding forests on shore, but to my surprise I read that bears, along with being expert climbers, are superb swimmers and island hop in search of food. My comfort level dropped immediately. I have little unease during the day while in bear country, but getting a peaceful night of rest was something I had yet to accomplish. There I was on an island with no easy or quick way of getting back to shore if needed, and the only notable neighbors I could expect to see on the island were black bears.

At some dark hour that first night I was awoken by a sound of something slapping the water only yards away from me. After the brief state of drunk-like drowsiness that only takes place between sleep and wakefulness, I bolted upright with eyes wide and heart threatening to suffocate me. The nearby slapping of the water brought to mind a nature documentary scene of Alaskan grizzlies pawing at a stream for salmon. The sound seemed too pronounced to come from the paws of a raccoon. Without so much as a moment of hesitation I grabbed the flashlight, canister of bear spray, and large knife I keep next to my sleeping bag and leapt out of my tent. “Hey bear!” I bellowed while shining the flashlight toward the area that was my cause of alarm. The sound stopped. I spent the next half hour talking at the darkness and anxiously looking for a glow of eyes to be reflected at the end of my lights beam. Whatever animal had been the cause for my fright was seemingly gone. I finally retreated to the tent and cautiously fell back to sleep. Dawn couldn’t come soon enough. The night continued with many more awakenings caused by the slightest of sounds.




At first light I wearily crawled outside. I much preferred the advantage of sight during daylight, so I forced an early start to the day. I entertained myself by attempting to fish, paddling around with the kayak, reading, and sunbathing. By the end of the day the romantic feelings of adventure that had commenced the island excursion were long gone. I suffered through a second night of uncomfortable, interrupted sleep. By the morning of the third day I decided that I was going to head back to shore. Staying for a third and final night secluded on an island was wholly unappealing. The moment I landed back on shore there was an unmistakable, full-bodied sensation of relief. I had made myself stay on the island for longer than was comfortable or enjoyable, and I had done it in spite of myself. For some reason I felt that I needed to stick it out, prove to myself that I could handle anything. But once I was back on shore I instantly realized that there shouldn’t have been anything to prove. I already know that I am capable of taking care of myself in any number of situations. This journey across the U.S. is not about being miserable for the sake of being brave, it is about being brave enough to listen to my inner voice and following it toward every opportunity of freedom, joy, awe, and growth inducing challenge. It was a lesson in the bad habit of self-suffering and punishment, something we all do to ourselves from time to time.



💚 Lauren


“You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt with. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.” -Cheryl Strayed

Missouri: Museums and A Lonely Arcade



Camping for several states in a row was the rugged adventure that I had been longing for. Though, the farther east I travelled, the more cities I would find myself in. I am the sort of person who appreciates both extremes. The peace of a desert or forest is just as pleasing to me as the vibrancy and movement of a metropolis.

Having never stayed with an AirBnB host before I was unsure of what to expect. Most of the reviews I had heard from friends were positive, but every host and home is different. Arriving in Kansas City, Missouri late at night was easy enough when my host, Don, met me outside and helped me bring luggage into his home. Straight away he showed me where everything of necessity was (bathroom, kitchen, bedroom) and then retreated to bed so I could get settled. There are multiple “flying beds” through out the bedrooms in his house. The mattresses are suspended a few feet off the ground by eight steel chains. It was comfortable and a fun novelty, but I could imagine myself eventually rolling or tipping off the bed at some point if I were to toss and turn at night.

The next morning Don suggested that I check out the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art after my visit to the National World War One Museum. Once I finished breakfast at a hole in the wall diner, having shared a table with an elderly regular, I decided to see the art museum. I was so impressed by it. From the architecture and interior design of the massive building to the art exhibits there was beauty and refined grace everywhere. And the kicker is that it’s FREE. You can just walk in and enjoy the rooms and rooms of fine art and historical artifacts for as long as you want.




The WWI Museum was just as spectacular. The amount of information, photography, and hundreds of relics were astounding. There were three highlights that stand out for me. The first is a room where you stand or sit at the edge of a balcony and look across at a huge, elongated screen that plays a video. Under the screen, on the floor below the balcony, there is a harrowing scene of war trenches that were made to replicate those of the war. The second was a room made to look like the center of a bomb crater that had landed on a house. You look into the room of dirt and grit and notice the debris of children’s shoes, a chair, and kitchen ware mangled and peeking from the crater’s walls. It is an astounding scene that brings a powerful sense of terror that seems more personal than perhaps you previously experienced. You are a close witness to the death and destruction of a family’s home, what could easily have been your own home. The third highlight for me was the Liberty Memorial which was created to honor the service women and men that served in World War One. There is an elevator that takes you to the top of the tower so you can look upon the cityscape. It was worth the fifteen minute wait in line.

I asked Don if it was possible for me to stay a second night. He graciously accommodated my request by giving me use of a pullout bed as he had another AirBnB guest staying that night. Once the second night of sleeping arrangements were secured I ventured to my first arcade bar, Up-Down. If you’ve never been to this kind of throwback bar I recommend you find one straight away. This particular one was filled with a mix of retro and current games like Addams Family pinball, Ms Pacific Man, Mario Brothers, and Skeeball. There are drink and token specials nearly every night of the week, plenty of craft beers to choose from, and a full bar. Upstairs there is an outdoor patio with a smaller bar where you can enjoy some fresh air in between rounds of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I wandered around with a beer in one hand and a cup of tokens in the other. It was crowded so I waited for a turn on some of the games, but after awhile I felt incredibly awkward and self conscious. I was the only solo person there among groups of excitable friends and couples. I smiled a lot but didn’t approach anyone. There didn’t seem to be any natural opportunity to strike up a conversation with anyone and no one paid me any attention. I gave up after an hour and a half. Having not socialized or played one game, I was deflated. I so wanted to be part of the fun, but the longer I stayed the more I felt like the new kid in school. I would really like to go back sometime with a friend or on a weekday when it is less crowded because there is great potential for a good time.

I suppose I can’t win ’em all.



💚 Lauren


“You may think I’m small, but I have a universe inside my head.” – Yoko Ono


Nebraska: Short and Sweet



Despite the months of planning I had done, Nebraska was a “drive through” state. It was a way of passage from Badlands National Park to Kansas City, Missouri. When I was first researching destinations for this journey I told myself that visiting each state would only really count if I had done something in that state besides drive, fill up the gas tank, and go to the bathroom. I chose at least one thing to experience or see in all 48 states. Some, like Nebraska, only had a couple destinations that were bookmarks in the itinerary. Other states, like Maryland, had close to a dozen.

The day I drove through Nebraska was overcast and periodically wet. Adding extra time to my drive to visit Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge made from vintage cars instead of rock, did not sound appealing in the moment so I decided to skip it. The only other two sights I had opted for were a town called Valentine and the Ashfall Fossil Beds. Luckily the route to the only place I really cared to visit, Ashfall, included a drive straight through Valentine.

At a gas station in Valentine I succumbed to the intoxicating smell of McDonald’s french fries and then finished the short drive through town. With a population of less than 3,000 you can imagine that the namesake is of the upmost importance for tourism. The heart, ideograph not the muscle, is my favorite symbol. I have a small heart tattoo, and also make use of the shape to help my signature be more distinct. I enjoyed seeing the use of hearts on street signs and shops, a theme for most of downtown, but did not feel inclined to stop and explore.

After more time driving and listening to an audiobook I arrived at the remote Ashfall Fossil Beds. I was one of four visitors as it was a weekday and overcast, which made for a particularly quiet self tour.

This state park is famous for the highly concentrated amount of fossils found in varying sites. One such site is so large and contains so many well preserved mammal fossils that a warehouse of sorts was built over it to shield it from the elements and make excavation easier. Ancestors of rhinos, birds, hippos, horses, and camels have been discovered and are on display. There is even an active laboratory in one of the buildings where fossils are examined and prepared. Forensics has determined that these magnificently preserved groups of animals died of lung failure resulting from the heavily concentrated amounts of volcanic ash in the air. The animals had come to a watering hole just before dying, thus creating a large grave of varying mammal species. This morbid event was the result of a volcanic explosion nearly 1,000 miles away in what is now Yellowstone. Scientists estimate it occurred approximately twelve million years ago.

It was surreal to see a prehistoric event literally frozen in time, preserved by nature and offering insight into a world vastly different than what is experienced in present day. A message of mortality was not lost upon me. A volcanic eruption, even one in the same area of Yellowstone, is not beyond the realm of possibilities in my lifetime. Again, I am reminded on this road trip of the infinite, indiscrimatory power of nature, and the minute space I make up in the universe. What a concept to wrap one’s mind around.




💚 Lauren


“Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” -John Lennon


North and South Dakota: Blisters, Bison, and Badlands



I have to be honest, I did not anticipate liking the Dakotas all that much. Yes, I had looked forward to visiting both Theodore Roosevelt and Badlands national parks, but I had no expectations to be dazzled by driving through this part of the country. I humbly have to admit that the preconceived notions I had about these two states was not entirely accurate.



I had one stop in North Dakota. Theodore Roosevelt is a relatively small national park, but there is purpose to it being protected. It sits where the Badlands and the Great Plains merge, a magical western corner of the state. The park is actually three separate pieces of land which are close in proximity to one another and connected by the Little Missouri River. The most popular animals that live in the park are prairie dogs, bison, and elk. I was unable to find elk while there, but I was delighted to constantly stumble upon the other two.




Upon arriving I pulled up to the kiosk at the entrance of the park and immediately noticed the sign stating that the campground was full. I was shocked. I had read that this was one of the parks with the least amount of overnight visitors. Neighboring the entrance of the park was a private campground so I headed over there to snag one of the last tent spots for the night. The next morning I took a look at my trip itinerary and noticed that I had actually reserved a campsite in the park ahead of time. Whoops. I packed up and drove back over to the park. Once I set up camp again I took off to the visitor center.




Driving around the park grave a pleasant overall feel for what the park has to offer, but hiking felt like a more intimate way to experience it. Nearly seven and a half miles round trip around grassy trails and through dried creek beds was ethereal. An hour into the hike I passed by a band of horses grazing less than forty yards away. The feral horses in the park are apparently one of the most popular animal attractions, but I had forgotten about reading of them. They were majestic, a perfect glimpse of what the Plains had looked like in the 1800’s. Some, with their spotted coats, looked as if they had trotted off the canvas of one of Remington’s vivid oil masterpieces that famously depict scenes of the old American West.

Because my time was limited to just a few days, I stuck to exploring the South Unit of the park. I was completely charmed and wouldn’t mind coming back to visit the North Unit.




On the drive down to Badlands National Park in South Dakota I stopped at the Mount Rushmore National Monument. A handful of people had told me that it was much smaller than most imagine it to be, so I had lowered any expectations of grandeur. This was to be a quick pit stop. I would take a few pictures and then move along. Wrong again.

I spent more than three hours at the monument. Between the gift shop, wooden trail around the site, the museum, and the informational videos and plaques, I was blown away. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there, a nod to the historical icons notoriety. No wonder it was a part of nearly every family’s road trip plans. It was a fascinating, technical piece of art. I ended my visit with a large chocolate and vanilla swirled soft serve ice cream cone. I don’t think I possibly could have looked any more American.




The drive to Badlands was peppered with lightening and rain clouds always a mile beyond the comfort of the highway and my Forester. Reaching the park after sunset, I set up camp under the bright glow of the moon. I could see some of the rock formations in the near distance, their alien forms lit slightly by the night sky. A moment of unfiltered joy and weightlessness washed over me. I was giddy and free. Dad called and we talked for over an hour. I was hyper with happiness, and our conversation was one that leaves you feeling electric and loved. It was the kind of moment I had experienced several months before on a solo trip to the Big Island (Hawaii), the all-encompassing freedom and bliss that I had been chasing ever since.

The three nights and days I spent at Badlands was the kind of desert escape I longed for. A desert hare returned repeatedly to my campsite. I saw fields of prairie dogs, rams munching grass on the side of the road, and the most spectacular and surreal landscapes of spires, colorful layered rock, and abundant canyons.




I chose to do a moderately difficult hike in the park but was looking forward to challenge. I hadn’t been doing nearly as much hiking as I imagined I would, so I was itching to spend several hours of a day on foot. Being the slow-to-wake morning person I am, the hike didn’t begin until 11am. I packed my two 40oz Hydro Flask water bottles with water along with a couple snacks and a sandwich. The trail I chose was a down and back path across a flat stretch of desert with some interesting geological features but no shade. The first half of the hike was reasonable. I had to side step off the trail to give some bighorn sheep some space at one point, but otherwise I had no issues along the way.

Turning back to hike the second half was another story. By that time it was mid afternoon, the hottest part of the day. It was easily 100 degrees. I had enough water and food, but holy heck was it hot. I started getting exhausted and lost most of my enthusiasm for the hike. I finally took off my shirt so I could hike in my leggings and sports bra, which is something I never do. I had gotten to the point where any self-consciousness was ripped aside for the sake of practicality and comfort. The last few miles of this eleven mile hike were miserable. My backpack felt much heavier than usual and was making my shoulders and joints hurt incredibly. At a couple points I had to stop to sit down for a brief moment to gather myself, though one of these such moments I took off my pack and violently threw it to the ground as I cursed at it. I wanted the hike to be done with. I wanted shade and ice water. I wanted my hammock. In time I finished the grueling trail and dramatically plopped into the car.

I had blisters from that hike that lasted two weeks. My feet were trashed and hiking was out of the question for several days. Despite having such a rough finish I’m glad that I did it. What an excellent reminder that not planning accordingly can really alter an experience. Next time don’t start a nearly dozen mile hike in the desert during the hottest part of the day, Lauren.




Some other interesting highlights of my stay in the park included a short visit to the highly touristy Wall Drug just a half hour outside the park, an unbelievable drive around Badlands to scope out some of its iconic geological landscapes, and a visit from two kids in a neighboring campsite.

Wall Drug was a bizarre mix of old and new tourist trap features and chochkes, including a mechanical T-Rex and a “gold and mineral” mining station for kids, but I was glad to have crossed it off of my road trip list. I don’t imagine myself going back for a second visit.

The drive around Badlands in the late afternoon until dusk was a resplendent series of scenes that inspired involuntary gasps of awe and delight. The colors and strange formations of layered rock are impossible to describe in a way that conveys their power and beauty. While staring at these scenes of grandeur I kept thinking “This looks like one of those sets from the Cars ride at Disneyland, or some other man made landscape at a theme park.” It was beautiful but I found it hard to fathom that such a bizarre and vibrant scene was made from the movement of time and earth. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.




The last, and most delicate of moments, worth mentioning is the visit I had from two kids in my campground. They approached me shyly yet confidently, as only kids do, while I was eating breakfast one day. The sister, around ten and just a few years older than her brother, asked if I wanted some food, kindling, and propane. She explained that her family was leaving Badlands and couldn’t take the extra supplies with them. They had flown in from out of state and rented an RV. There was no way they could bring much home with them, even if they wanted to. A few minutes later, after I happily accepted their generous offer, I was gifted with two bags. One was filled with kindling and the other had two brand new propane tanks and food (sugar, coffee, pasta sauce, milk, and a handful of other perishable goodies). I was over the moon and thanked them profusely. It was like a Christmas of sorts. I was nearly out of propane and was about to buy some within a few days. These kids and their parents were my camping angels bestowing me with just what I needed. I take signs like this as a serious indicator that I am making right choices. They are brightly lit gems, omens that pave my life and encourage me forward.


💚 Lauren


“Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones. And I will try to fix you. And high up above or down below, when you’re too in love to let it go, but if you never try you’ll never know, just what your worth.” – Coldplay


Montana: Nirvana and a Deflated Tire


A few miles from Glacier National Park I heard a thunderous “BAM!” on the side of my car. I nearly jumped out of the seat, shocked by the violent interruption of the previously uneventful drive. Quickly my eyes shifted to the rear view mirror as I was sure I had hit something. There was nothing but dusty pavement. No other worrisome sounds were emitting from the red Forester so I focused on getting to camp before dusk settled to night.

A couple minutes later, succumbing to the internal voice of caution and anxiety, I pulled over to inspect my car. Immediately after plopping on to the pullout I heard a steady hiss. I was hearing and seeing a flat tire in its brief infancy. Dad had equipped me with a can of “Fix-a-Flat” so I scrambled around the car desperate to recall where I had tucked it away. I telepathically thanked him once I finally had the black and yellow can in my hands. I headed down the road to my campground after using the can on the tantruming tire and was able to set up camp just before dark.

Most of the following day was spent dealing with the car. Close to three hours after AAA had told me it “would take less than an hour for the tow truck driver to get there because he is ahead of schedule,” I finally saw the large yellow vehicle pull up behind the Forester. The young driver chatted with me about my road trip and football. He was originally from Seattle so we talked about Washington for a bit. Once the then severely deflated tire was replaced with a spare I followed him back to “town,” which was forty miles away. Another hour and a half and twenty dollars later the tire was repaired. Before leaving the shop I had asked one of the young mechanics where I could grab lunch nearby. When I mentioned that I eat seafood but no other meat he looked at me, slightly panicked, as though I had confessed I like to snack on worms. He graciously suggested a couple places, mostly chain restaurants, and I made sure to thank him for the suggestions.

The rest of the day was spent at Polebridge, a teeny tiny town on the western border of Glacier. My Uncle Rick and Cousin Dan happened to be there with their best friends. The four of them have been visiting the area for more than thirty summers. Dan and his buddy Jesse performed at the Northern Lights Saloon for the first half of the evening, accompanied by the occasional break dancing of Jesse’s young son, Miles. It was a special kind of evening filled with lazy, waning sunlight, cool beer, and the prominent presence of smiles on every face there. Summer dreams are made of this.

The guys had been returning to the same hostel in Polebridge for nearly as long as they’d been coming to the area. I opted to sleep in a spot inside a teepee with Dan, Jesse, and Miles instead of driving the three hours back to the eastern side of Glacier where my campsite was. It was humble and darling. The large teepee sat on the lawn in front of the hostel, adjacent to a few other visitors who had set up tents. Before we stepped inside to sleep we stood, heads tilted back, to search the Montana sky for shooting stars. There was a meteor shower taking place for a couple days, but our luck only ranted us a few glimpses of the blazing wonders.

I surprised myself by waking just after noon, something I couldn’t remember having done anytime in the last year. The six of us decided to spend the day at Bowman Lake. We piled into two cars and drove the slow, dusty and rutted roads to the water.




The lake was nothing except dreamy, a cerulean and emerald wonderland tucked in the forest. Being so remote, there were very few people there. The lot of us spent hours taking turns napping, eating, kayaking, reading, and sipping on cheap beer. It was the most content and relaxed I had been since the start of the road trip. I wanted to stay for days and days, and was internally mourning when it was finally time to head back to the hostel. Spending an afternoon with family and new friends in a pristine, peaceful woodland cove was the best gift.

Fueling up on vegetarian enchiladas and many hugs at the hostel, I prepared to journey to the other side of the park. There was no avoiding a departure so I trudged to my car, but not before stealing one last hug from my uncle. The drive was both lonely and fulfilling. I had been loved and then released back into the world. These were the moments I was seeking. Sometimes the up turning of rock and road produces nothing. Sometimes the ecstasy of life taps you on the shoulder as if it has been waiting behind you the whole time.



💚 Lauren


“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” – Buddha