We traveled nearly 4,700 miles – we made 13 overnight stops, drove through 9 states and 2 Canadian provinces, explored 9 national parks, camped in 5 campgrounds, caught up with 3 old friends, visited 3 family members, met 1 friend of a friend and fixed 1 flat tire.
It's crazy what thousands of miles on the road will make you pause to reflect on. When you take out everything in your day-to-day life – i.e. your job, your friends, your routine, your cell phone, etc. – you really immerse yourself in the world and come face to face with the things that scare you, the unknown, the uncomfortable.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
We arrived at Bryce Canyon bright and early at 8:00 a.m. on a beautiful Saturday morning after driving 8 and a half hours through the night. About an hour and half through the drive, we realized we had made a pretty terrible mistake. We were all very tired, the roads were extremely dark, and the challenge to keep our eyes open while it was our turn driving just more intense as the night deepened. We were all happy to see the sunrise and have some light to keep us awake, but that must have distracted us because we almost ran out of gas at about 6:00 a.m. in the middle of nowhere. We dodged that bullet and found a gas station just in time. Needless to say, we were all very relieved to make it to Bryce Canyon and excited for what this 20 day adventure had in store for us. We did a moderate hike the first day. Well, it should have been moderate, but we got a little lost and ended up hiking up a hoodoo (refer to pictures for wtf is a hoodoo).
As always, Manda did her research on the hikes available in Bryce and we decided on Fairyland Loop for day two – an 8.5 mile strenuous loop that took you up and down hoodoos and through different terrains in the park. We started the hike off full of energy and amazed at the views at every corner we crossed. It felt as though each view we came to was even better than the last. A couple miles into the hike, we started to realize we didn't exactly know what we signed up for with the amount of changes in elevation on the hike. Our heads started to spin as we repeatedly went down steep switchbacks then right back up the very steep switchbacks. The scenery and terrain looked as though we were on a completely different planet. We kept referring to it as Mars... I'm actually still convinced it is exactly what Mars must look like. The feeling of accomplishment at the end of the hike was definitely worth the five hours spent on the trail.
Bryce Canyon was a brilliant reminder of why we wanted to do this road trip in the first place. There are so many incredible places to explore right under our noses in the US. As we were traveling through Europe three years ago, we kept getting asked about destinations in the U.S. and we realized we should take more time to travel our own country before going aboard to travel others. After all, the Wild West is an incredible place!
Las Vegas, Nevada
After struggling through the unforgiving heat at our Bryce Canyon campsite for two nights, we decided just a day trip in the Grand Canyon would be sufficient and to treat ourselves to an extra night in Vegas. We pulled up in Vegas, and immediately it reminded us of our beloved second swampy home, New Orleans. Las Vegas doesn't have quite the same smell as New Orleans, but it's pretty close!
We spent the first evening indulging in a delicious dinner and drinking maybe too much Jaegermeister (Leah's idea, oops). We have this reoccurring issue of getting overexcited and going a little overboard on the first night we are on vacation, but then we're able to apply our lessons learned to the next night.
So, we wake up on our first morning in Vegas in a blur, gather our things, and start the move to the next hotel for night two. We struggle to carry our overweight bags to the car and to much dismay, we found we wouldn't be getting very far. The car's back left tire was flat... like super flat. The only thing we could say is how thankful we were that it happened here in Vegas in the middle of the city, rather than where we just came from, the middle of nowhere near the Grand Canyon. Manda got down and dirty and got the tire changed, while I mostly just supervised and tried to not die of a heat stroke.
We were all pretty annoyed that we were spending the morning dealing with car issues, instead of sipping mimosas. It's a hard life, am I right? But, we put our adult faces on, took the car to a discount tire store nearby and took care of business. After dropping the car off, we hopped in an Uber and headed to the pool. I mean, when in doubt, go to the pool.
Night two in Vegas was one for the books. We finally made it to the nightclub, Drai's, that we had been wandering around looking for the night prior. When we arrived, the place was L I T. We ordered our usual g&t's and found a spot near the pool to post up and dance around. People kept asking us if we were here for Snoop Dogg, but we didn't believe that he was actually performing until he showed up on stage. Leave it to us to stumble into a Snoop Dogg concert in Vegas.
Big Sur, California
Big Sur completely surpassed our expectations. As we made the drive through the winding, coastal road, a moment of clarity and thankfulness set in. We were reminded how fortunate we are to be able to do a trip like this and see how many incredible places. There is truly nothing like traveling to give you a clearer perspective on life.
Another reoccurring pattern throughout the trip was we kept lucking out with the best campsites. We also kept lucking out with always arriving the places at the right time but, that is actually probably because Manda made us wake up at 6:00 a.m. every single day so that we would bet the crowds. Anyway, the campsite in the Redwoods at Big Sur pure magic. We were right on the Big Sur river, so we could hear the serene sound of the water running through the rocks in the river as we were sleeping the tent.
We spent our couple of days there exploring along the coast and climbing on as many rocks as we could find. Although the breathe taking views are totally amazing. Our favorite part of our time in Big Sur was the time spent around our campsite. As we watched the river, skipped rocks in the water, built camp fires, roasted marshmallows, hiked around the woods, and admired the incredible Redwoods, it brought us back to our youth when we would camp with our parents. It was a really amazing time to just soak in the great outdoors. Being so secluded, no cellphone service or WIFI, being covered in dirt and just not giving a f**k is pretty powerful.
Portland was definitely a stop we were looking forward to, not only because we were staying with our fabulous cousin, Mary B, but also because all of the great things we've heard about the city as well as the Pacific Northwest. It was such a treat to stay with our cousin in Portland. Of course, we love seeing them and reconnecting, but also to take a break from the hustle and bustle of staying in hostels and camping was very refreshing.
Most of the cities we stopped in along our way, we would think about the differences between them and Denver and how much more those cities made me love and appreciate my city. Portland was different because it was the first and only city we visited that we could actually imagine ourselves living in. we found the vibe in Portland to be very similar to Denver's vibe, which was a huge reason we first fell in love with Denver. The people are friendly and not in a constant competition to be cooler than one another. The city moves at a chill pace and everyone is just trying to eat good food and drink a whole lot of beer.
We did an incredible hike outside of Portland that led to a breathtaking waterfall, Oneonta Falls. The catch was that the trail was the river and the water was freezing cold. Leah was reluctant at first to this idea, but once we arrived she realized it was a once in a lifetime experience and totally embraced it. Yes, that water was frigid and we had to climb over fallen tree logs to reach the brilliant waterfall, but it all just added to the experience. We couldn't get enough of how green and lush Oregon is.
We were thrilled to see our friends from home (Pensacola, FL) Courtney and Melanie in Seattle. They've both successfully made really amazing lives for themselves in Seattle, and it made us so proud and so genuinely happy to see that.
Our first night there, we started in our traditional fashion of sipping fancy cocktails at a bougie spot where Courtney's boyfriend bartends. We ate dinner, walked to a couple more spots in Cap Hill – one that serves Harry Potter and GOT themed drinks and one that has a mean Moscow mule on tap – and a couple of hours later, we found ourselves at a gay bar for "Turnt Up Tuesday." There were only two out of the maybe five people there dancing. We sat in the corner and sipped our drinks while quietly observing the messy crowd. The DJ wasn't terrible and the stage was wide open, so naturally, we made the most out of it.
The next day, Melanie, like a true homie, called out of work sick and took us on a fun hike up Rattlesnake Ledge with a fantastic panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and blue lake below.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Our next stop on the road was Glacier National Park, Montana. After driving several hours, we arrived at the park to find all of the campsites full (no surprise there). With no cell service to call around to other campgrounds, we debated whether we should do some hiking and then drive overnight to Yellowstone, but none of us were up for that. Instead, we ended up driving down the road to a campground at the entrance of the park and lucked out with a cheap campsite in the shade.
After setting up camp, we headed back into the park and drove down the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is this crazy winding road that is literally carved into the side of a mountain. We stopped at the Sun Point trailhead and hiked to St. Mary Falls. The trail overlooked the stunning St. Mary Lake and weaved through what looked like a magical forest of barren trees blackened by recent fires, enveloped in stark contract by brilliant wildflowers.
When we arrived to the falls, we got there just in time to see a young guy jump off the small bridge into the glacier water below. We all looked at each other, and within seven minutes, Leah was perched on the edge of the bridge with a crowd chanting "Do it, Meleah!" I didn't doubt for a second that she wouldn't do it. This is the kind of thing Leah does regularly now (jumping from high places, like planes). I loved seeing my sister in her element, beaming with courage and confidence.
When she climbed out of the water, she was smiling ear to ear, but she looked at me seriously and said, "You shouldn't do it, Manda." Apparently, glacier water is so cold this crazy thing happens where you body goes into shock and you basically can't breathe for a solid, terrifying 10-15 seconds. "You already have breathing problems," she said, referencing my asthma condition. "Fine," I said, disappointed. Typically, we're the first to push each other to our limits – but when she says no, I listen. I'll jump off the next bridge that isn't over freezing glacier water.
Grand Tetons/ Jackson Hole/ Victor, Idaho
The last stop on our course took us to the Jackson Hole area to a tiny town called Victor, Idaho, just outside of Jackson, Wyoming. One of our best friends, Chryssie, has an old friend that lives there and runs an adorable bed & breakfast. Rachel was kind enough to welcome us with open arms and put us up in her best suite.
All six of us, four humans plus her two dogs, piled into her truck and she took us to her favorite brewpub. As soon as we hopped out, we were greeted by her friends sitting on the tailgate of their truck, playing fetch with their dog. We walked up to the lawn outside the bar where a couple groups of people had gathered some plastic lounge chairs. We pulled up our own chairs and joined one of the groups, who were some friends of hers as well. While we were chatting, a girl in scrubs, the town vet, walked up and Rachel's dogs greeted her with sloppy kisses.
It was the kind of mountain town where everyone knows everyone, where the town vet and local bed and breakfast owner are best friends and regulars at the brewpub. The kind of place where everyone owns a mountain bike and whose dogs trail along behind them everywhere they go. The kind of place where people who feel claustrophobic in metro areas retreat to. It was the perfect ending to a long journey on the road.