travel, hike, eat. repeat.

my adventures are often on a budget… and always clumsy.

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

new blog! new design! new year!

drink champagne

Happy 2013!

Hiya!! Thank you (both) for being such loyal readers! I’ve loved beginning to build this space in 2012. Now that it’s 2013, it’s time to step it up a notch, because, go big or go home, right?! This year’s going to be big, and it’s all starting with a BIG blog redesign. Y’all, I even put on big kid shoes and got my own URL. So while this space will be no longer (RIP), things will be happening over at Travel, Hike, Eat. Repeat. I encourage you and yours to read me there! Thank you thank you thank you for being part of my 2012 and, hopefully, 2013!

Happy New Year!

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sweet somethings

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This month my office has been a never-ending parade of baked goods and chocolates. I scope out the kitchen every morning, wondering what goodies await. The other day, after stuffing myself on at least three of these dark chocolate babies, I went home thinking I couldn’t possibly feel more decadent and indulgent. Zander walked in right about then and placed a dozen roses in my arms. So I was wrong. I buried my nose in them, my whole nose – half my head, really, to take in their sweet smell. This is my color palette this season – chocolates and roses – reds and whites and browns of all shades. I’m loved and cocooned in the warmth of the season. Or maybe that’s the sugar high talking.

in the stacks | billy lynn’s long halftime walk

marines

A couple of years ago, I got pretty close to a group of Marines stationed in Iwakuni, Japan. My girlfriend was talking to one of them, you know, romantically, and he asked her to the annual Marine Corps Ball. She accepted, and he set me up on a blind date to the same ball with his best friend. The ball turned into an after party, and the after party turned into all night dancing in Hiroshima, and all night dancing turned into a 7am train ride back home. In this one night, Callie and I spent 12 hours with these guys. I learned more about the men behind the uniforms than I ever expected.

In between celebratory drinks and boys cutting in for another dance, these guys opened up to me about their fears, mindsets on America’s wars, duty to their country, and what I mean to them as an American citizen. Every one of these guys, alone, away from their friends, told me in their own words that their life is less than mine, that they exist so I can teach safely in Japan, so I can go home to America and feel safe in my house and neighborhood. They had their own opinions on the Marine Corps – it’s harsh, brutal, but a brotherhood stronger than blood. The ferocity in their eyes when they told me, over and over, they’d die for each other and would never leave a brother’s side, no matter what they faced – well, it scared me a little, but it also humbled me. These men and women, our troops, are soldiers. And that means something to them.

I was reminded of this experience while reading Ben Fountain’s bestselling novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a novel about the heroic Bravo Squad, back in the US from Iraq for a short media-intensive tour after a video of them in a ferocious firefight goes viral. The entire novel takes place in the Dallas Cowboys stadium, where the Bravos are invited to attend a game. Billy Lynn is 19-years-old, and has a massive hangover from partying the night before. As the novel opens, all he wants is some Advil that everyone is too busy to get for him.

As his headache wears on, exacerbated by the lights and sounds in the stadium, we’re taken back in short snippets to the firefight that brought him here. We experience Billy’s PTSD terror alongside him – the lights are being ambushed in Iraq, the sound of the players warming up kicking are shots that he can’t stop, the frenzy of the pre-game activity is him on a battlefield, moving through the chaos without thought, relying on his training.

In the time span of one Dallas Cowboys game, Billy hobnobs with the team’s wealthy owner and his colleagues, a Hollywood producer that’s determined to make the Bravos’s story into a mega-hit at the box office, and in the midst of it all, falls hopelessly in love.

Like the Marine friends I made, Billy’s thoughts are complicated and nuanced and intense. He questions the Army, America’s role in Iraq, his life and existence, what he could be when, or if, he returns. He’s thoughtful and bright. Above all else, he always comes back to what it means to be a soldier. To be a soldier, a brother, a member of the Bravo Squad means something to Billy. Being a soldier is an intrinsic part of his identity, and his search to understand what that means is why the novel and the Marines left such an impact on me.

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here’s why | blyde river canyon, south africa

blyde 3There are places I’ve traveled that I wish I could do over. Have a do-over. Can’t we all be granted a few of those? Mostly, that’s everywhere and everything I’ve seen, with few exceptions – like the time everything I had was stolen in Ko Phi Phi or when I threw up for two straight hours on a small fishing boat headed to snorkel with whale sharks in Mozambique (both are wildly embarrassing. Moving on…). But there are some places that with age, developed interests and whatnot, I desperately wish I could transport myself back in an instant and experience it through my eyes now, as the person I am now.

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(What am I blathering about? Does anyone ever know?)

Anyway. Today, at least, the blabbering is about the Blyde River Canyon in South Africa. It’s one of those places that I’d use one of my three genie in a bottle wishes to get a do-over. It’s pretty special.

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Blyde River is one of the largest canyons in the world. As I remember my history lesson when I visited back in the ancient year of 2008, it’s smaller only than the Grand Canyon here in the US of A and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. It’s vibrant – green with lush growth and made of red sandstone. The river runs through the cracks and crevices, spiraling around towering boulders, and the cliff edges jut out precariously – natural benches on which to take it all in. I mean, no amount of photoshopping could enhance this place or beautify it. It’s naturally awe-inspiring, breathtaking and spectacular.

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Blyde sits along the so-named Panorama Route, a stretch of land in the southeastern part of the country – near to the city of  Durban and Kruger National Park, dotted with natural landmarks. I made my way to Blyde on an overlanding trip the semester I studied abroad in South Africa. We hit the road running in Cape Town and criss-crossed the country – through Swaziland, down along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal, up through Kruger National Park and back through the Panorama Route. While we pitched tents every night in the abundant campgrounds that dot the countryside, there are hostels, inns and hotels in all of the towns and major cities. To access the destinations along the Route, you need to rent a car or join an organized overlanding tour.

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The Canyon and other destinations along the Panorama Route are certainly set up for tourists. They’re well-maintained and marked. So few people go, though. You have to want to go there, plan that to be a destination. It has to be purposeful, and not many people make Blyde a purposeful visit. In my humble, modest opinion, that’s a HUGE mistake. But, I mean, less crowds and more beauty for us, right?

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In the past few years, I’ve settled into myself, into my hobbies and passions and found this endless, abounding love and deep appreciation for being in and exploring nature. If I could go back to Blyde, I’d spend the most time there I possibly could. Maybe I’d never come back! I’d hike, camp and devour it whole.

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This final picture is courtesy of GraniteNet. The other images are my own.

Here’s why you should visit Blyde River Canyon:

  1. Natural playground (hiker’s daydream)
  2. On of the three largest canyons in the world
  3. Proximity to Kruger National Park, Durban and the rest of the Panorama Route
  4. Off the beaten path
  5. Spectacular views (photographer’s daydream)

If a genie granted you three travel wishes, what would they be?

hike | hemlock overlook

In my former life job as a TV news producer, my boss once told me, “It’ll be a lot worse than this,” as I hesitantly made repeated calls to the same retired government engineer, from whom we needed a quote. “When there’s a tragedy, we’ll be knocking on victims’ doors, ambushing them with a camera. It’s the reality of the job.” I think I would’ve quit before doing that, on the spot, on location. Fortunately, I quit before I was ever faced with the decision.

I was reminded of all of this while taking in the abundant coverage on the Newtown shooting this weekend. I, honestly, avoided as much of it as I could. I didn’t shy away from the truth of what happened, the horrific nature of it. I welled up with emotion and pain and hurt every time I thought about it and saw images from Connecticut. I felt unsafe. That bubble mindset, that shell of self-preserving protective thought, “It won’t happen here, to me,” disappeared for me this weekend, it disappeared for all of us. Those gunshots tore through our protective layers and left me raw and exposed. I felt like there is no cover, there is no bubble, there is no protective shield anymore – that’s what it means to take the lives of children, of babies, of little ones. It means we lose our footing, our sense of safety, our source of pride in living in a good neighborhood, a protected house, a well-meaning community. It shatters that mindset that we so desperately need to stay sane.

So I went hiking.

Losing myself in the woods, somewhere picturesque with leaves un-raked, fallen how they fell and runners and fellow hikers stopping to chat and pet Theo, “hello,” – I needed that this weekend, to reconstruct my sanity, heck – to find some sanity. The sun was shining, and the water was glimmering in that shine, and crisp air kept us rejuvenated but our jackets zipped. In the woods, with Theo running and fetching and sniffing like nothing in the world could be wrong and Zander and me incorrectly reading trail marks and wandering knowing we’d come out on the right side no matter which route we took – it felt like a piece of sanity and clarity and relief from the insanity on the other side of the trail.

We woke up tired and Zander sore, but something kept pushing us along, and I’m so glad we went, and I’m so grateful for the peace and tranquility and community of a set of woods and a well-worn trail.

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Hemlock Overlook is an easy 4 mile loop with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain…… if you figure out the trail markings! There’s a complicated set of blues, reds, yellows markings. The good news is that if you just start hiking, you can’t get too lost, and if you do, you can make the loop and out-and-back and head back the way you came. It’s beautiful – marshy on the river shore and rocky near the water. It’s a very dog friendly hike, even off leash. I recommend LocalHikes for more information, including directions. Bonus! The hike entrance is mere steps from Paradise Springs winery – the makings of a perfect day.

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It has been a while since I’ve shamelessly shared photos of my little man, Sir Theodore Prince of Bagle Hounds (Bassett+Beagle). It’s becoming increasingly apparent with age, temperament and head shape that this pup is more a Prince of Pitt Hounds than Bagle ones, but nonetheless, he’s one cute little guy.

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In looks.

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On the inside, Theo is nothin’ but a mama’s boy. But have no doubt, this kid is as much a teenager as I was sneaking around Stone Mountain Park to meet up with some boys, age 14. He’s sweet and vulnerable and cuddly… at home. When he’s around his friends, he’s rebellious, defiant and a sweet lovin’ terror, Terminator Style.

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I think my little rescue was weaned a little too early – he has a serious oral fixation problem. This man will destroy a foolproof indestructible neverevergonnadie toy in the time it take me to get out of the way. And balls? Fetch toys? Give it up. Go home. He never lets go. At the dog park, when there are 15 dogs jumping on me for the meaty treat in my hand, Theo plays keep-away by himself. When Theo has to poop, he runs in circles, toy in his mouth, disconcerted, because, hot damn, he’s not letting go of that toy, even if it means never pooping again, and Theo really likes to poop. Our dog park trips end with my hand inside of his mouth, prying apart his jaws, covered in slobber and spit. Theo happily licks his own slobber back off my hand. He’s a lover, after all.

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He likes to play in mom’s purse, find what goodies are hiding in there. This is an especially fun game when Zan, or worse, friends, walk in the house behind me, and there are pads and tampons (unused, come on!) strewn about my bed and shredded to pieces in his own bed. He likes to sleep on my underwear, stockpile them, like they’re blankets to keep warm for winter. And his shoe fetish! He brings my shoes, one by one, to his lair and lies in the midst of them, like a king on his weird shoe throne.

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And then he sleeps. And it’s like, how can I ever be mad again? Until tomorrow, at least? Matt likes to count the number of times I “oohhh” and “ahhh” at Theodore. I think he has finally lost count, because, my heart! It bursts! At least until he wakes.

yamato, hikari, yamaguchi, japan 山口

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Morning all (5 of you)! Jeez, I crack myself up, and it only has a little to do with the cold meds I’m hopped up on!

So today’s blog post is going to be (kinda) short and sweet (I know, thank god, right? This blabbering fool never shuts up!). I have a presentation to give at a high school in Alexandria today on life and culture and school in Japan, so I have a fast and furious half-work-day before I head out there. Two thoughts, and then some pictures:

1) I don’t have to take PTO to give this presentation, and I feel downright blessed (helps that I work in education). My boss was not only open-minded but encouraged me to get more involved with the program. Not to be lame, but, BOSS.

2) I totally forgot what my other thought was. Probably something about pizza.

I taught English in Japan through the Japan Exchange and Teaching program, or, you’ve you guessed it, JET. As an alumni, I’ve wanted to give back for years, but I haven’t had the flexibility in my work schedule to do so… until now. I’m presenting today through a program called JET ambassadors, an initiative of the Japanese Ambassador to the US (Fujisaki). As an ambassador, we go to high schools in the DC/MD/VA area and tell them all the dirt on Japanese school life.

Today is my first presentation, and I am PRETTY stoked about it. I’m going to wear my karate gi (haha! no, really, I am!) and I brought a yearbook from one of my schools to show them. AND, I’m going to show them a vide of me dancing with some of my students at “sports day.” In summary, I’m about to make a FOOL OF MYSELF.

And I can’t freaking wait.

In between all that silliness, I’ll show them my home in Japan – Yamato, Hikari, Yamaguchi, Japan. (translation: rural town, nowhere, southern, Japan)

Some scenes from one of my very favorite places on the face of this earth, my home sweet home in Japan!

1919 train

hikari beach

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kentaikyo bridge

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In the kanji (chinese characters) for “Yamaguchi”

gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

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Can I brag for a second? How about a whole post?

My office’s holiday party last week featured a “Cupcake Wars” contest. Most people were sold on “cupcake;” they had me at “war.”

I’m a little competitive.

A little competitive like smack-talk-gauntlet-thrown-BRINGITITSBEENBROUGHTEN.

So a little.

I once created a coalition to ensure victory in a game of “Sorry” at a friend’s wine and board games night.

So maybe more than a little.

The cupcakes were to be judged separately on presentation and taste. Two categories. Two winners. Two opportunities to win. Game. On.

I created a strategic plan of action:

  • find the single best cupcake recipe in the world that there ever has been
  • make it better
  • top it with the best frosting anyone ever alive in the history of the universe has ever tasted
  • make all the little cupcakes sing and dance, or, worst case, look like endearing, heart-strings pulling snowmen with top hats that no one can resist
  • give victory speech; pop champagne

With that kind of foolproof plan, it was impossible to lose!

I chose to make gingerbread cupcakes, kind of a weird choice given that I’ve never been particularly fond of gingerbread, but in times like these, you have to listen to your growling gut. And for some odd reason, it told me gingerbread. I found a lot of options for the frosting – brown sugar cream cheese (YUM.), maple… but I went with a basic, but delicious, cream cheese frosting. (I forewent the brown sugar version because it doesn’t harden as well so it’s more difficult to decorate – protip!)

Y’all. This time I’m really not trying to brag, these cupcakes are so good! They made me a believer in gingerbread. They’re moist and rich in flavor, spiced but not too heavily, and the all-spice is kept to a minimum (a must for my palette). Alone, they’re good. They’re solid. But the cream cheese frosting pairing is remarkable. It transforms the spiced cupcake into a real treat that feels decadent but not too heavy. I will keep this recipe as a go-to!

My roommate Matt and I toyed with several options for how to present the cupcakes. We settled on what we could do fairly easily and cheaply – simple, beautiful candy canes in the center of half and the other half made to be snowmen, using marshmallows, icing & oreo halves for top hats. For the main contest, I paired the cupcakes with hot apple cider that complimented and brought out the spice in the cupcakes and arranged the cupcakes on a red throw cloth with sanding sugar sprinkled around to look like snow.

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that is to say, “You Can Call Me Al.” Our cupcake entry had to be named, and last minute, under pressure, I shouted that and ran away. Turns out – Al is a pretty endearing name for that snow dude with a top hat!

Aaaaannnddddd the America’s Next Top Chef holiday office party “cupcake wars” award goes to….. this girl with two thumbs and some cream cheese icing stuck to her shirt!

I won presentation and taste. Bow

Thanks for bearing with me through that obnoxious brag moonlighting as a blog post. ……Is anyone bearing with me? Is anyone still reading?

For those of you who made it this far (hi, Mel!) I’ll stop babbling on and get to the point… the recipe!

Gingerbread cupcakes: Taste of Home (skip the maple frosting)

Cream cheese frosting

6oz cream cheese
1 stick butter (1/2 cup), softened1-2 cups powdered sugar, depending on your taste preference (I used 1)
1 teaspoon vanilla + a little drop or two (MORE VANILLA, PLEASE

Beat the butter & cream cheese until smooth and light
Beat in the powdered sugar
Beat in the vanilla
Consistency should be thick & smooth
Cool for at least 1 hour prior to icing if you want it to be firm enough to decorate

here’s why | kudaka island, okinawa

Everyone’s favorite travel phrase is “off the beaten path.” It seems everyone wants to get there, wherever that elusive place is. I’m here to help you find it! I’m starting a new series on why you should visit lesser known and talked about destinations. Check back every Tuesday for “Travel Tuesday.”

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Like most beautiful things in life, a woman created the Island of the Gods.

Kudaka Island, known in Ryukyan folklore as the “Birthplace of the Gods,” or the “Island of the Gods,” is a sacred island temple in modern-day Okinawa. Not everyone is invited to pray here, though: Kudaka is the sacred temple grounds of Okinawa’s Holy Women.

Amamikiyo, goddess of the Ryukyus – or modern-day Okinawa – descended from the heavens with the divine purpose of founding heaven on earth. For her first creation, she dreamed an island replete with the riches of nature and the delicacies of majesty. Through the essence of her being, Kudaka was born.

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Long after Amamikiyo placed her finishing touches and before her islands became the Japanese territory of Okinawa, Kudaka and the others stood as independent, autonomous lands. These lands unified under a Ryukyu King in 1429 and thrived as the Ryukyan Kingdom until 1829.

Among the most sacred of Ryukyan religious customs is the “Noro,” or high priestesses. Begun by the King’s sisters, this tradition celebrates the intellect, power and divinity of women. Noro counseled Kings during times of war and peace, acted as government liaisons and reined supreme over religious matters. Today, they oversee religious ceremonies and act as counselors on community matters.

Because of its divine creation by a “Noro” of another time, Kudaka became the royal, sacred pilgrimage of Ryukyan Kings and high priestesses. Still today, only the highest of trained holy women are allowed to enter certain areas of the island.

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I would like to say that I arrived on Kudaka aware of its historical importance. In reality, I found myself on Kudaka by accident, or karmic insistence. After four days of hiking the hills and diving the depths of Okinawa, my friend Callie and I were ready to experience Okinawa’s famed tropical paradises.

We set out indiscriminately for one of the famed Kerama islands, but our dreams were dashed as we heard, “Sold out” at every ferry counter line. Fortunately, a fellow backpacker turned comrade left us instructions before she left to a “Plan B” island in case this happened.

A haggled taxi fare and 50 minutes later, we stood at Azama Port, a pier on the edge of the Chinen Peninsula. It’s located at the southernmost part of Okinawa, the principal island of the Ryukyus. Kudaka lies 5 kilometers away, a dot on the horizon.

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After a 30-minute ferry ride, we arrived on the island expecting to see travel brochures personified. Instead, everything looked a little… gray, and the overcast day was only partially to blame. We followed the rest of the excited tourists on the ferry, leading us to a bicycle rental shop. The bikes were all rented.

We meandered down a small side street – half-dirt, half-paved, lined with quaint, and often dilapidated, houses. There were overflowing trashcans and laundry on lines. Wherever we were, we weren’t traveling down the well-beaten tourist path. The road dead-ended. Puzzled, we headed back to our starting point, again.

This time, we regrouped changed our perspective: we’d find the adventure in this place and let go of our dreams of a perfect beach day. We walked to our left, down a well-worn but unmarked trail through a sun-speckled forest, our path a mixture of sand and dirt. After a short, 10 minute walk we came out into sunshine, sand, salt-water breezes and… a large breaker. The beach could be pretty, but the breaker cuts through the middle, leaving it small and unsightly.

A few sunbathers gave us directions to the best beach on the island; “Walk straight down that path over there.” Without wondering why they weren’t on this better beach, we set down ‘that path.’

We walked… and walked… and walked more. The paved road turns into a dirt trail that cuts straight through the center of the island. After passing the primary residential area, located on the western tip and housing the island’s mere 500 residents – the island turns from old, weary and worn into seemingly untouched land. We walked through silence. It’s not the kind of uncomfortable silence that makes you run towards civilization, scared, but the kind into which you want to walk. It’s completely filled by the island air – a sweet mix of sea breezes and green growth. It’s a silence you don’t know you crave until you’re in it.

I felt increasingly more alive and alert as we walked through the rich nature surrounding us. Something more then the hope of beautiful beaches compelled us forward now.

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We walked through areas of forest, into vegetable fields and straight out to open-air, grassy plains. In one of these open areas, out of nowhere, we heard a faint “moo.”. We turned to our left and looked straight into the eyes of the inhabitants of a small cattle ranch.

Our laughter ricocheted off their moos. There was something very special about this scene. Set off from the trail by 300 meters, the few cattle housed here seem not only healthy and happy but also wholly untouched by technology. Stringed ornaments of some sort hung above them.

After our trip, I researched what we’d seen. In Rykuyan religion, it’s believed that hanging Akufugeshi, religious ornaments made from conch shells, above cattle wards away evil influences and epidemics. The cattle on Kudaka aren’t only economical, they’re part of the cultural and religious heritage.

We continued until we came to a fork in the road. We chose right and came to another fork. Right again. 20 feet later, I spotted a narrow, shallow trail. We heard waves crashing. We stepped gingerly, crunching sticks and ducking under tree branches that snagged our bags and clothes.

We came out of the trees into our paradise.

It wasn’t white-sand and sun-drenched; it was a rare, dry, dead coral beach. We stood speechless, mouths agape, unbelieving. Waves crash onto boulders on one end of the beach; the rest is lined with coral. We were the only ones there.

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The coral stretches 50 feet into the ocean, until it appears to drop off to deeper seabed. I stood as lightly on the sand as possible, tiptoeing to the nearest boulder. I climbed it, and right as I leaned my head back, fixing my gaze on the ever-darkening skies, rain began to fall.

It’s not often on a vacation that you hope for dark skies and rain, but when you are standing on a secluded, coral-lined beach on top of a boulder on a sacred island, rain takes the holy and makes it majestic.

I closed my eyes, my arms outstretched as wide as they could go. The rain fell and the skies thundered. I swear I was lost in Wuthering Heights, waiting on rocky shores for Heathcliff to gallantly take me in his arms. Or something.

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We spent the remainder of the day meandering trails that offer stunning views and down paths lined with vegetation. We climbed down a makeshift rope ladder between massive boulders and sprinted our way into crashing waves. We took pictures on the highest points, watched fisherman cast their rods below us and were awed by islands dotting the sea in front of us.

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This small island has a modest, humble exterior, but as you step foot onto its rocky shores and traverse its forest-lined interior, you’ll spot remnants of an ancient kingdom’s history and a present-day peoples’ incorporation of it. It’ll stay with you. It did me.

Here’s why you should visit Kudaka Island:

  1. A naturalist’s paradise
  2. Off the beaten path
  3. History & religious folklore
  4. Coral beaches
  5. Photographer’s playground

sneak peak: old rag

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I did two crazy things while hiking Old Rag this weekend:

  1. I threw a temper tantrum near the peak.
  2. I ran the last mile.

Forget the first one, forever. (Let’s never talk about it again, mmmk?) But did you read #2? I ran the last mile of the 9 mile hike that is Old Rag. As Liz Lemon would say, “I want to go to there!”

Wait. Wrong catchphrase.

“WHAT THE WHAT?!” There it is.

I can only claim temporary insanity (Zan would beg to differ on the “temporary.” See: crazy thing #1 that I did).

So here’s what happened…

Zan and I had reached the assumed summit and were starving and half-dead, ready to set up camp for lunch. We’d managed the 5 mile ascent without breaking off our limbs. We’d traversed the uneven terrain and navigated the extensive class 3 rock scrambling section leading to the top. We’d done all that without collapsing even once (there was that one rock that I hallucinated to be a bed, but that’s neither here nor there). We scrambled to the tip-top of a super duper high rock and took in the 360 degree view. For 20 seconds.

Snap.

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Snap.

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I took two photos, circling and cheerily announced, “Ready for my sammie!” and began the slow, painful descent to a sitting position, before I realized no one was listening. I think a few kind tree branches leaned in, lending a leafy ear. Zan was 20 feet ahead, hiking onward.

I called out. “Zan! (Zan! Zan!)” I yelled three times to create my own cool mountain peak echo.

“Where ya goin’?” I was casual, cool, laser eyes locked into the back of his pack, that held my sammie.

Grunt. Gruntgrunt.

Yes, I nodded. Sure, I see. He saw a higher peak that way (point). This isn’t the summit.

I grunted back.

“I don’t WANNA go. THIS is the summit. UGHHH SAMMIE GIVE ME SAMMIE.” Grunt. Grunt.

(Our communication talents are unique and should not be tried at home.)

He had the sammies, and so what could I do? I gave a reverential salute to my perfect peak and the breeze hugged me in return. We scrambled, climbed, scraped hands, skipped rocks, held on to branches, scooted through crevices…

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…and finally arrived where Zan had grunted and pointed – to the “summit over there.” It was an astounding… clump of barren, brown trees obscuring the view on all sides.****

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I HRMPHD, loudly, in his direction.

Zan HRMPHD back.

We HRMPHD and HRMPHD.

Two hikers passed us, probably thinking, “By golly, those two need a sammie.” That’s what I was thinking.

You know that point when you’re too tired to see the solution that’s right in front of you? We were so ungodly far beyond that point.

He grunted.

I grunted.

I broke off a branch and threw it.

He tore off the tree trunk and chucked it over the edge.

We beat our chests.

I cried.

He cried.

We slept standing.

We woke still furious.

We sighed.

I finally regained enough energy to properly stomp my foot.

I whined. “I just need a hug.” (And a damn sammie on a beautiful overlook, but I kept that to myself, in the name of compromise and conflict resolution. I truly handled the argument like a totally sane adult.)

We hugged.

I checked the time.

4.5 minutes had passed.

We walked back 50 yards, and alas, a perfect picnic peak shone bright and glimmering in the afternoon sun and we had a wonderful, quiet picnic… and then I played like a 4-year-old on the rocks and made Zander take 100 photos of me doing so.

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Ahem, where was I?

Oh right, the time I ran a mile on a 9 mile hike (I thought we promised to never talk about that other thing?!).

We reached the fire road, finally, oh god, after Zan had destroyed his tendonitis plagued knees, and my body could not take one more single step downwards (seriously, I’d rather climb up than down any day any time any where – YOU NAME THE PLACE). The fire road is 2.5 miles. It’s the longest 2.5 miles of anyone’s life, or at least the lives of people who are not in spectacular shape and are very tired after summiting Old Rag.

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This is the road that never ends… yes, it goes on and on my friends!

I made it through the first 1.5 miles without too much of a problem (except for a desperate need to pee that ended in a trail crouch – high five to all women!). We reached the trail head, were in the home stretch, had only a mile to go, and the damn fire road, it had the nerve to veer downhill. I don’t know what came over me. It was too much to place one foot in front of the other, baby step like, so I slowly picked up my pace until I was jogging.

It felt so much better to jog downhill than to walk. So I kept jogging.

And when the land flattened out, I kept jogging.

And when the trail turned into the paved road leading the way to the parking lot, I didn’t stop running.

A man walking his dog, white beard and all (does Santa have a mountain home in Lurray, Virginia?), laughed as I ran past. “Didn’t get enough of a workout on Old Rag?!”

I kept running, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”

Then I was at the parking lot, and then I was at the car, and then, I fell down beneath a tree and fell asleep for 100 hours.

Okay, that happened 3 hours later at 7pm at my house.

But I did take weird photos of myself, in my deathlike state, post 8 mile hike, post 1 mile run.

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Zan caught up after walking like a sane person, looked at me lying pathetically immobile on the ground, shook his head and said, “You’re crazy, and I love you.”

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 ****I’d like to note that no matter what Zan says, we did not find the true peak 10 minutes after our lunch, and there was certainly not a sign leading that way, and it was definitely not an even higher, better view-affording outlook with picnic spots. NO MATTER WHAT ZAN SAYS.

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