On the 27th June 2015, I decided to embark on one of the most ridiculous adventures of my life. I decided to travel 26 states in 43 days (it ended up being 28 states), visit 7 national parks, and camp in some ridiculous areas.
It’s pretty safe to say that I wasn’t quite prepared for what was about to be unleashed…
Night before: I was dropped off at Newark Crowne Plaza and checked into my room, and there I met Hannah. Hannah sleep talks, sleep walks, sleep laughs and sleep pokes… I was terrified haha!
Day 1: New Jersey-Officially met the tour leader and the rest of the gang. 10 other travellers from the UK, Japan, Sweden, Germany and South Korea and 2 who were late… Changi and Hyun *shakes head*. We then went off to Taughannock Falls, Finger Lakes Winery for lunch and then set up camp. Hannah and I decided to be tent buddies… even after a night of terror; I was prepared for her nonsense. This was also the first night that we experienced eating our dinner in the dark and washing our dishes in cold water from a pipe in the ground.
Please note that we set up our tent on a hill; a hill full of spiders… because we are morons. We spent the entire night trying not to slip to the bottom of our tents.
Day 2: Niagara Falls- It was pretty sweet, we also travelled on the ‘Maid in the Mist’ which is a cool boat where they give you ponchos and take you closer to the falls. We then set up our camp in Lake Erie which may as well have been a swamp camp ground. The mosquitos here definitely had a field day!
Ohhh and we saw our first racoon here!
Day 3: Sandusky, Ohio- We decided to go to Cedar Point Amusement Park and stayed in a cabin for a night. Now, Cedar Point was cool but the best part of this day was definitely meeting the staff. In Cedar Point it is very rare for you to be allowed to take your bag up to the ride to be stored, you must store it in a prepaid locker. However we decided to chance it on one ride and this is where we met Demetrie (Not his actual name… he just looked like one) Demetrie was probably about 14 and he thought that it was a good idea to tell us to leave our bags away from the ride and then pointed to some random folk on some benches opposite the ride near some bushes. We all looked at him like he was insane. This guy was a total liability to the parks security. To think that we would just leave our belongings randomly in a park unattended was just preposterous but if you had seen how serious he was, you would have howled with laughter too. Demetrie literally made our day. What a crazy guy!
Day 4 and 5: Chicago, Illinois- Hostel days!!! We ate our first Chicago Deep Dish Pizza… holy cow it was yummy, filling but yummy. We then went on an evening guided bike tour with “Bobby’s Bike Hike” which was superb. We got to ride on the streets, see the city at night and make a whole lot of noise. Elliot our guide was pretty fabulous too.
The next day we all decided to do our own thing. Hilly, Julia and I decided to walk a large amount of the city, find a roof top bar and then hit the Navy Pier to watch the fireworks as it was 4th July! (This evening will live with me for the rest of my life. Tune in to the next blog post to find out why)
Day 6: Minnesota- A few hilarious stops. Some Mouse cheese and a Green Giant.
Day 7: Badlands National Park, South Dakota- Had a cool hike up the Badlands and had a blast with the group whilst watching Changi and Mikey go off the beaten path.
That evening Hannah and I decided to set up our tent and it just happened to be right next to Andre and Mikey’s tent. Now, if you have ever slept in a tent, you'll know that you can literally hear everything around you. Listening to Mikey and Andre’s conversation in a tent would have anyone howling with laughter.
The next morning we woke up at 3am to hike and see the sunrise… we were all looking south east of the rising sun and it was only when someone asked where the sun was Hilly noticed and pointed it out. It was amusing.
Day 8: South Dakota- Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Deadwood. Mt Rushmore is pretty much a bunch of heads in stone and pretty underwhelming. You can’t climb anywhere near them and search for national treasure (Hollywood ruins everything). Now, Crazy Horse is pretty cool. The Native Americans have decided to build their own Mt Rushmore but without the help of the US Government… so it’s going to take another 100 years before it’s complete as it’s a self-funded project. Oh and Deadwood is pretty much an old western town where they still have staged shoot outs.
We got to fish for our own food and our tents also got flooded from torrential rain here.
Day 9: Cody, Wyoming- Rodeo and Old Trail town. Rodeos are definitely not my thing; watching a bunch of cowboys and girls catch cows with rope is definitely not my kind of entertainment. I was definitely rooting for the cows. But, Old Trail Town was pretty sweet; it’s basically an old western town that has been preserved with buildings and wagons etc. It’s definitely worth a look.
Day 10 and 11: Yellowstone National Park- Please note that from this point on we had to store all food in a bear proof bin.
We started with a walk and saw a BEARRRR! Holy mackerel! The bear was pretty calm and was definitely more interested in some beasties in the ground than us. We saw a lot of hot pools on a volcano, trekked Mt Washburn, watched a geyser called ‘Old Faithful’ erupt and swam in a hot spring lake which was fun/painful. You see, in order to get into the river, one must walk on stones through cold water that hurt until you get to the point where the boiling hot water and cold water mix to create a lovely warm experience. The highlight of this was definitely watching Akemi wash her white T-shirt in the river, only for it to come out grey with dirt. The shock on her face definitely humoured me for the next 5 weeks haha.
Day 12: Grand Teton National Park- Visited a beautiful lake called ‘Jenny’ and hiked around it.
Day 13: Jackson- Went white water rafting on Snake River where I’m pretty sure that I almost died. I decided to sit on the front of the raft called “riding the bull” and a rapid literally took me out. (Funny now… awful at the time haha) The highlight was definitely floating along the current where there were zero rapids. We also ate an authentic cowboy dinner at the ‘Chuckwagon’ (if you like meat, it’s definitely for you… if you want some greens… stay away)
Day 14: Nevada- Desert. It’s a desert.
Day 15: Lake Tahoe, California- Beach day… except that I don’t like to tan. Tanning sucks. I hired a massive umbrella to shield me. $10 well spent... :/
Day 16 and 17: Yosemite National Park, California- Lake Tanaya, Hiking around and looking at Giant Sequoias (Mahoooosive trees) and then hiking ‘Upper Yosemite Falls’. Now this hike was a killer, it was a straight incline for 2700 feet. We were told to take 2 litres of water and I had 500 ml. It is safe to say that I was in pain and definitely severely dehydrated. The views at the top were amazing, but boy, were we glad to see the ground at the end.
Day 18 and 19: San Francisco, California- Hostel days!! Walking Golden Gate Bridge, China Town walking tour where we visited a tea shop for some tea tasting, Mexican mural between China Town and Little Italy, A bookstore that sells crazy forbidden books, Lombard Street which is like a crazy hill of a street, lunch at Brandy Ho’s for some beautiful dumplings, Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39, Cable cars, and a wonderful night in the hostel where we met some awesome people.
Day 20: Big Sur, California coast- Pretty views of the coastline if you don't sleep the entire way.
Day 21: Los Angeles, California- Hotel days!! We say goodbye to Lisa, Hilly, Julia, Marc and Gavin and say hello to Gerraint, Tom, Matthew (aka Charlie), Hannah B and Diane.
Hollywood Blvd and the walk of fame is ‘meh’, it’s no wonder the stars live in Beverly Hills. Venice Beach is pretty cool and has a fun vibe to it. You can also walk the entire beach and end up at the Santa Monica Pier (Which is what I did)
Day 22 and 23: Las Vegas, Nevada- Hotel Days!! Fremont Street where there are some casinos (shocker), Limo ride with the gang, drinks on the strip and in Ghost Bar which overlooks Vegas (and mores casinos), Bellagio fountains (tourist favourite AND more casinos). Vegas was pretty awesome but if you try it in the daytime you will hate it as the heat is a killer, it’s no wonder that it only comes alive at night.
Highlight was finding out that you can get an $8 bus ticket valid for 24 hours instead of paying $30 taxi fare each way to the strip!
Day 24: Zion National Park, Utah- Weeping Rock was really pretty, it was quite literally water dripping off a rock but it was so welcoming in the heat. Hiking Angels Landing was probably the most exciting and terrifying experience as you were scrambling up rocks and hanging off a cliff with only chains for support.
Day 25: Lake Powell- Colorado River, Lake Powell and the Dam; A whole load of free flowing water and contained water. Let’s not get too excited.
Day 26 and 27: Grand Canyon, Arizona- Watched the sunset over the Grand Canyon, took a helicopter over the Grand Canyon which was surreal and then hiked into the Canyon via the Bright Angel Trail. Now, I know that I’ve said that I almost died before… but I genuinely feared it during this hike. We started the hike about 10am and went straight into the Canyon. The temperature at the rim of the Canyon was about 36°C and it got hotter and hotter the further we ventured in. It was easy walking down regardless of the heat and it was lovely to stop and fill up 2 litres of water along the way (lesson learnt). It was hiking back up which was the killer as it was almost midday and the sun was unforgiving. At one point I sat down on the floor and considered staying there, I was exhausted, covered in sand and the water was not quenching my thirst. But I knew that I had to continue. 3040 feet of pure agony later I got back to the top and I have never been happier. Mission accomplished.
Day 28: Monument Valley: Took a Jeep around Monument Valley, sang a Navajo song whilst the man played his flute, ran down a sand dune after watching a girl break her collarbone from doing it, setting up sleeping bags outside of our Hogan… to see the stars hahahaha (there were no visible stars) eating Navajo tacos, Were told stories around the campfire whilst being terrified of some distant dragging sound, going to a random toilet cubicle in the dark and watched a crazy scorpion spider mutant crawl up the toilet that I was sitting on and then heading to bed… where we find out that a dog has dragged Charlie’s bag away, ripped it open and has stolen his sandwich and phone.
The night of sheer hilarity begins:
We are now terrified, so we put our sleeping bags closer together and our own bags in the middle.
We know that there are animals and insects everywhere around us (some deadly).
We are now aware that some dogs are thieves.
We assume the dog is making long distance phone calls and is running up Charlies bill.
We can no longer sleep.
Tom (who is terrified of spiders) then suddenly stands up because he has felt something crawl on him INSIDE his sleeping bag. He stands up and demands a light to be shone onto him. Gerraint shines the red light. Tom is petrified and asks for the white light. Alas there is no spider. But now there is a distinct smell of urine. Tom assures us that it’s not him. We are not convinced.
We are now in hysterics and are most likely irritating everyone around us.
Day 29: Santa Fe, New Mexico- Pointless.
Day 30: Amarillo, Texas- Cool sunset hike where I discovered that I can communicate with coyotes and also terrify them with my roar (I’m a machine), saw a whole bunch of tarantulas and a snake. The day was going well until I had to hit the showers at night. Inside the cubicle was me, 2 massive grasshoppers and a huge beetle. Let the battle commence: I squealed like a baby the whole time and ran about the shower room (No longer a machine)
Day 31 and 32: Austin, Texas- Hostel day!! We went to Bat Bridge and saw some tiny bats fly out from under the bridge… severely underwhelming, walked along Colorado River (which was cool because it’s so ridiculously long), Threadgills Restaurant where we ordered 5 different deserts so that we didn’t miss out, Texas State Capitol for the history and… wifi, and then we swam in Barton springs as Texas is boiling hot and we needed to cool off.
We also had dinner at the Salt Lick. If you like BBQ’s, head there. If not, you’ll be severely disappointed.
Day 33: Lafayette, Louisiana- A man stole my underwear from the laundrette. I felt violated. True story.
Day 34 and 35: New Orleans, Louisiana- Visited an Alligator swamp, ate at Oceana and the food was amazing! (Make sure you have the Gumbo, Ettouffe and Jambalaya), Night out on Bourbon Street with amazing live music, Magazine Street if you want to go to the war museum (otherwise pointless), Decuter Street is where it’s at (amazing shops, awesome bars and wonderful street music), Frenchman street for the best jazz music (We went to Snug Harbour, but there are quite a few venues)
Oh and try the pecan pie… I discovered that I’m allergic to it midway through the jazz performance, but you might be fine.
Day 36: Memphis, Tennessee- Torrential downpour and thunder storm and some beautiful blues music.
Day 37: Nashville, Tennessee- Went to Broadway where there is a stretch of bars with lots of live country music, visited the walk of fame and then went to ‘Wild Horses’ where we learnt how to Line dance.
In the morning we visited the Jack Daniels Distillery.
Day 38: Ocoee, Tennessee- White water rafting! So much better than the first time.
Day 39: Appalachian Mountains- Less mountainous and more like walking in Britain. Bizarre.
Day 40 and 41: Washington DC- Evening illumination tour where we got to see the monuments at night time, Day time bike tour to see the monuments in daylight and then the Smithsonian Museums (Natural History and Air & Space)
Monuments: Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Dr Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, The Whitehouse.
42: Philadelphia: Ran up Rocky steps, watched Changi get interviewed by NBC hahaha and then accidentally handed a digital camera to a homeless man who told us that he was homeless after he took photos of us, Visited the liberty bell and then ate Philly cheese steaks and cannoli’s. (I just ate the Cannoli... I'm that guy)
Then travelled to Newark and had to say goodbye to folk 🙁 But, not before spending about 3 hours shopping in the outlet mall.
43: New York: Walked the entire length of Central Park and saw the Alice in Wonderland statue, Visited Tiffany’s on 5th avenue, Took the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty as it’s free, Visited the 9/11 memorial for a humbling experience, Visited Wall street to feel like a rockstar, Walked on the Brooklyn Bridge, Visited Grand Central Station, Regretfully went up the Empire State Building and hated every moment of it (It’s crowded, you feel like a herd of convicts and I’d never do it again or recommend it to anyone… but the view at night was cool), went to Times Square and ate a cake from Carlo’s Bakery and then visited ‘The top of the Rock’ at The Rockefeller Centre which had the most unbelievable view of Manhattan.
If you think this was a holiday then you would be wrong, I have left out the parts where we were constantly lifting heavy boxes, loading and unloading the trailer, setting up tents and taking them back down, constantly needing a hammer, being covered in mud quite a lot, cooking in the dark, washing up dishes in the dark, cleaning the van, being cold at night, being very hot at night, being eaten alive by various creatures, hating wraps, bread and bagels as we had to eat them every day, and ruining rice for everyone.
But if you want an experience then this is exactly why you should do it; you will meet some amazing people, you will learn a lot about your own strengths, you will build some awesome fires, you will have some seriously hilarious memories, you will be less bothered by spiders and other beasties at night, the cleanliness of public bathrooms will bother you less, you won’t complain about mattresses again, you will learn to live without conditioner, Clinique and other luxury products, you will realise that when you’re camping nobody cares if you don’t look perfect… you all smell and look homeless.
Honestly… It was amazing.