Kentucky: state of mountains, mines, and impeccable scenery. This region of Appalachia also happens to be one of the best places to rock climb on the east coast. Red River Gorge (RRG) features some fantastic routes in sandstone cliffs forged many moons ago by a tumbling river.
It was the perfect place to spend a long weekend.
Armed with bug repellent, climbing gear, lots of crag snacks, and two competent friends, I enjoyed hour upon hour in this wild space. Muir Valley, named after the “Father of the National Parks”, was a serene location with enough shade to make the Kentucky heat bearable.
I still sweated.
But it was so much fun to climb real rock – to be 100 feet above the ground hyper-aware of every movement and rock feature. The wildlife was present, but unobtrusive, although I did get to watch a snake eat a mouse.
The laid back, slower pace of life in this city has earned New Orleans the nomenclature The Big Easy. Streets cater to pedestrians, narrow alleys are ideal for intimate meals, and music seems to seep out from unexpected places. Compared to my recent stint in NYC, N’awlins was relaxingly mesmerizing.
The Garden District is a playground for celebrities. Who knew that the likes of John Goodman and Sandra Bullock regularly call this city their home? I took a walking tour of this neighborhood, marveling at the gorgeous architecture and delightful foliage of plantation-turned-mini-mansion neighborhoods.
City Park was another highlight of this fascinating city! The green space was well-kept and an intriguing place to meander whilst sipping a chickory coffee (bitter).
And now to end on a quote (of an author I’ve never heard of):
“Yes, a dark time passed over this land, but now there is something like light.” – Dave Eggers
When my pilot friend (who also happens to be a flight instructor) said, “Let’s go flying”, I was 100% onboard – literally.
It was a crisp, clear day with views for miles. I observed the lacy patterns on the semi-frozen Potomac River that lay surrounded by snow-dusted grounds. The deciduous trees stood as tiny skeletons while pockets of deep green marked the clusters of their evergreen friends. The Chesapeake Bay was a sight to behold with its glossy surface reflecting the sun, making the light dance as we flew lazy eights above.
I was experiencing my world from a completely new perspective, and thoroughly enjoying it. Things looked prettier from up high, away from the concrete and busyness on the ground. My birds-eye-perspective rendered everything as smaller, simpler, yet somehow even more beautiful.
And yes, getting a chance to take-off and actually fly a bit myself added to my sense of awe.
I was surrounded by air, far from the world as I know it, yet still experiencing the natural world in a phenomenal way.
I cherished every minute of it.
* The commercial flights I’ve taken wherein I share elbow space with other humans and have just a peek of blue sky out a too-small window don’t truly count as a “nature experience”
I first met J.C. in a tiny camp store during my visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was one of those serendipitous encounters that led to some great conversations and a follow-up visit to Denver. J.C. is a guru on all things regarding safe travels. His website contains a wealth of information including country profiles, packing tips, and how to stay safe online.
This is his story.
Somewhere, Utah. Not far from Escalante.
It was dark. Pitch dark. So dark that watching the road in front of me as I walked was so disorienting that I stopped watching where I was going and looked up at the stars to keep from sitting down and taking a nap.
The three of us were five miles into our starlight walk and had already hiked 17+ miles that afternoon. This was the final test of a week-long survival course with the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS), and no one had any clue as to what time it was, or how many more miles until we reached the campsite.
The coyotes in the distance reminded us that we were not alone.
So why would you subject yourself, much less PAY to put yourself through an experience like this?
Well – for one: I’m a MUCH lighter packer because I know what is necessary and eliminate that which I don’t need… Okay, well, I still pack a luxury item or two when I hit the road.
Secondly, you’ll know yourself on a much deeper level. You’ll find your limits and what you can actually
Maybe the biggest reason is the boost of confidence. After spending a week with minimal clothes, no tent, flashlights, electronics, backpack or lighter, I know that if I’m stranded overnight while hiking a 14er that not only will I survive, but I will know how to make the experience more tolerable.
Bonus reason: Having the added benefit of doing it in a supervised environment will keep you from doing the dumb things and put you on the path to success much quicker while minimizing the chance of injury.
Here in Colorado, we like to call this style of activity “Type 2 Fun”. It’s the sort of thing that you curse most of the way through, then start planning the next one as you drive home.
For me; however, there was a broader reason behind this “fun.” As a serial traveler and ever the curious type, I continually seek out ways to make myself a safer and better traveler. Not every option I look for is this extreme or results in losing ten pounds in a week. It can be as easy as keeping my CPR certification up to date, or sampling random martial arts like Krav Maga, Tae Kwon Do, and Systema and, of course, taking a language class here and there.
I’ve heard study abroad program directors remove self-defense classes from their pre-travel courses because “the goal of the course was not to train MMA fighters.” I found this incredibly short-sighted. If you plan on traveling solo, I highly recommend taking a CPR class and enrolling in self-defense at a local gym or martial arts facility. The result is the same: an increased sense of security and self-confidence. When traveling, whether abroad or here at home, the vast majority of crime is a crime of opportunity; meaning that criminals are going to go after the easiest target. Thus, if you look more confident, aware, and put together this may cause a potential attacker to look somewhere else.
I close out this post with a challenge to you: Get outside your comfort zone; take a CPR class, learn a new language, sign up for a self-defense course, or maybe even a survival course in the woods. You’ll be a safer, more self-confident traveler and person.