May: Where the wild things are

May. What a trip. Literally. May was my month for solo travel! After booking my flights a few months ago, and a panic-stricken phone call immediately after to my older brother, I haven’t looked back. Thank you, Nicky, for talking me into staying committed to what I was mostly sure I could handle. People travel by themselves all the time. Why not me? This was one of my goals for the year.

So, I got myself to California in the nick of time to see one of my best friends before she actually moved back to Buffalo and then took myself on out to Utah for a roadtrip I’ve been wanting to take for the last two years. I managed four flights, three ubers, two hotels, a rental car, and 90-degree desert hikes all on my own without getting eaten, attacked, killed, or kidnapped. Huzzah!

Honestly, for having only a rough outline of what I wanted to do, the trip was wildly successful. So, for anyone else who can’t be bothered with the details of planning things, take note; it’s still possible to have a fanfreakingtastic time and figure things out as you go. It’s an adventure after all. Would definitely travel by myself again, especially for a road trip. Traveling alone is like traveling with just a carry on and when you do both at the same time, it makes for a blissful, weightless kind of travel making it easier to move freely about the country. Hundred percent believe that flying alone is relaxing and having just a carry on bag is the absolute best way to travel. Airports are a breeze when all you have is a backpack!

Here’s what I did:

My flight was delayed. Twice. Not a big deal, but I was ready for the real adventure to begin. Ended up departing from Buffalo a bit after 9pm and had a direct flight to LAX on JetBlue. Every takeoff on this trip overwhelmed me with this sense of accomplishment and excitement that I chose to go, to make this adventure happen. It’s so exciting to know you’re going somewhere and anything can happen. Shoutout to JetBlue for having great snacks. I had mini moustache-shaped chocolate chip cookies and terra chips, the latter of which I liked so much I bought them as one of my road trip snacks! I had one other guy sitting in my row. Looked like he might be a professor as he was trying to grade some papers before takeoff. We didn’t chat, but both dozed on and off and I had the misfortune of seeing the majority of his butt crack hanging out at one point. So glam!

I time traveled and arrived at LAX around 11pm to AMANDAPANDA who was kind enough to pick me up from the airport. We had planned on going out that night, but because my flight was delayed it would have been too crazy to get into anywhere. Instead we stayed up late catching up which I think helped me avoid jetlag so it worked out well.

We woke up pretty early and were ready and out the door by 8:30. We went straight to Venice Beach where we walked the canal area and then the boardwalk. We were mesmerized by the skateboarders for awhile and then we laid out on the beach where, despite my best efforts, I proceeded to burn pretty spectacularly on parts of my body I managed to miss hitting with sunscreen like the top of my hands and feet, ears, neck, and inside creases of my arms. *facepalm* Let the record show, I really did try to be smart about the sun since I basically went from winter to summer over night, but c’est la vie.

We grabbed a delicious and fairly healthy lunch from a place called Lemonade and brought it back to the beach. I had a deconstructed avocado toast salad bowl and a blueberry mint lemonade. Yum! We stayed on the beach until 2:30 or so then went and got changed and hit up a cool outdoor bar in Santa Monica called the Bungalow for margaritas. We chatted with two interesting guys who moved to LA from Memphis, a clothing designer and an accountant. It seems like everyone in LA is from somewhere else which makes for a fun mix of people.

After that we walked down to the Santa Monica pier where we both fell in love with a drummer only to find out he’s married. Oh well ;) On our drive back to get dinner I ended up striking up a conversation with a trio of dudes in the car next to us at a stoplight who tried to make plans with us. We passed on that, obviously, and proceeded to hit up In-n-Out Burger because it seemed like a quintessential California thing to do. I couldn’t believe how good and how cheap it was!

We went back to the beach for sunset which is when I realized my feet were really freaking sunburned and then got ice cream from Salt+Straw. Oh. My. Word. Warm homemade waffle cone. Handcrafted salted malted chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. I’m drooling just thinking about it.

We went back and chilled out for a bit before hitting the hay. Probably the best single day one could have in California. It was righteous, even with the sunburn. I lucked out since Amanda knew all the places to go and was willing to take me around and hang out. I had the best time!

Monday was largely a travel day. I ubered from Amanda’s apartment to the airport. Had a really cool driver, an Armenian from Iran, and we talked about work, life goals, and people. The flight from LAX to Salt Lake City was just over an hour. I couldn’t stop looking out the window! It was stunning. I ubered from SLC to pick-up my rental car at Enterprise, a white hyundai accent (I think). From there I stopped at Smith’s supermarket for snacks and gas, then went to find Sweet Tooth Fairy bakery to try their cookies (kind of meh. The lemon sugar cookie was the best of the three I bought.) and happened upon a place called the Pizza Studio next door which seemed like a good place to get my first real meal of the day (and I was right!). I had a truffled mushroom pizza with bacon on a rosemary crust and it was big enough to also become breakfast the next day. Victory.

I wasn’t paying attention to the time and I managed to get on the road during rush hour traffic which was no joke for the first hour of my drive, but the further along I got the more the roads opened up and so did my eyes. It was one of the more scenic drives of my life and a sheer delight racing to make my 10pm check in time. The 80mph speed limit helped me make up some lost time. I pulled into Blue Mountain Horse Head Inn in Monticello a little after 9:30pm and went to bed shortly after.

Woke up early. Skipped the shower because #sunburn. Packed some snacks and hit the road for Arches National Park which was about an hour from where I was staying. It was stunning. Obviously. And hot. By 8am it was already creeping towards 80 degrees. I got a map upon entering the park, but mostly ignored it. The main road is pretty well marked with the sites, although I will say I was kind of bummed that I exerted the energy to hike the lower viewing trail of the Delicate Arch because it would have been cooler to see it up close and after hiking for a few hours and a dwindling water supply I just couldn’t get excited about navigating to the top, too. I stopped at Canyonlands National Park briefly on my way back to the hotel. Only stayed for about an hour and didn’t get too far past the entrance, but what I saw was gorgeous. If I ever make it back to Utah I’ll have to spend more time there. I had purchased a national park pass before my trip so I could come and go through the parks at will without worrying about wasting money which came in handy a couple days later.

I headed into Moab and stopped at Lion’s Park to take a few photos then walked through town. I got an excellent smoothie from Peace Tree Juice Cafe, purchased a hat and more sunscreen to prevent further burning during the week, and then happened upon a hoppin’ gourmet quesadilla food truck that was screaming my name. I got something called the New Mexico Identity Crisis which had green chili chicken, olives, cheese, and artichoke hearts. So freakin’ good. After, I drove back to my motel to shower and call it an early night.

Oh. My. Goodness. Wednesday was the peak of my trip. I had the most scenic drive of my life! I thought Iceland was spectacular, and it is, but Utah is simply…more. Absolutely staggering. I wish I could have made the drive with a GoPro strapped to my head because maybe it would have captured some of the wild beauty that is the southern half of Utah. I can’t tell you how many bends I turned around to have my jaw drop or how many times I had to pull over to try to capture some of the landscape, but the photos don’t do it justice. I’m lucky I didn’t crash my car into the side of a cliff. I would love to go back to camp at various spots along this road. There is something about land that has been largely untouched by man that speaks to my soul. Wild, untamed, indescribably beautiful and the only sign of civilization for miles and miles is the road that carves through the otherworldly rock. So thankful for the people that created the road. The parks are wonderful, but the best things I saw were along the scenic byways. My cell reception was spotty, as it should be in such majestic places, but sitting across from Factory Butte on Highway 24 I was so overcome by the dusty, mirage-like perfection in front of me that I had to call my momma to share the experience I was having. This drive may become a sort of pilgrimage for me.

I arrived in Panguitch a little after 3pm and checked into the Purple Sage Motel. After dropping off my gear, I headed straight for Bryce Canyon National Park about 25 minutes away. Good grief! I was almost going to skip this park and thank goodness I didn’t because it was the most staggering of the four I went to! It is UNREAL. The crimson-colored hoodoo rock formations are a sight to behold, especially during golden hour as the light starts to change. For not the first time during this trip, I wished that I could leap off the edge and become a part of the land…you know, in a non-suicidal way. Again, I was so stricken by the beauty in front of me that I had to phone a friend just to release some of the emotion I was feeling. After seeing as much as I could and taking a million pictures, I headed back into town to scavenge for food which ended up being pretty sketchy Chinese takeout. You can’t win em all.

The next day I headed to Zion National Park. I will admit to feeling defeated by Zion. I managed to drive through the entire park and accidentally leave the first time, so I stopped for a breakfast sandwich at Sol Foods in Springdale and then turned around to drive through Zion the opposite way, hoping for better success. Now, don’t get me wrong, driving through Zion is beautiful, but I had planned on doing more intensive hiking and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out where any of the trails started except for one near where I entered the first time, even with a map! The park brochure conveniently labeled the different hikes by difficulty. Naturally, the only path I could find was labeled as a 6-hour strenuous hike. Feeling unprepared, I set off on a sandy trail with the intention to hike 1.5 hours out before turning around because I knew I didn’t have enough provisions with me to make a 6-hour hike in 90 degree heat at a higher elevation a smart decision.

The hike was a bit underwhelming in the sense that I think I could have gotten more bang for my buck on another trail. It was still beautiful, but not near any of the stunning red rocks that are further into the park, and let me tell you, hiking up a cliff on a sandy trail is a freakin’ work out. Thankfully I remembered to throw tissues in my bag because I got a nose bleed towards the top. There was about a 45 minute period where I didn’t cross paths with anyone traversing the summit. With the thinned out tree line and no one in site this was the only time during the trip that I started to get a little freaked out about being by myself. There are mountain lions and who know’s what else in the area and I couldn’t help but think I would make for fairly easy prey if someone or something was interested. With my imagination starting to get the best of me and with my eye on the time and my water supply, I turned around and headed back down. I escaped extraordinarily sweaty, but largely unharmed with the exception of some freaky water blisters that popped up on my neck and chest. I will spare you the picture.

Craving a slurpee from 7-Eleven, but without one nearby, I stopped at the first gas station I passed and settled for some Code Red Mountain Dew over ice. Revived, I headed back to town. I ordered a solid burger and great fries from Big Fish Family Restaurant, a local place in Panguitch (Panguitch is Native American for “big fish”), and had good conversation with the waitress while I waited. Everyone I interacted with on this trip, from locals to foreigners, was exceptionally kind. Cashiers particularly were almost surprisingly cheerful and chatty. I’m a fan.

I had booked a slot to go sky diving on the last day of my trip. Nephi Municipal Airport/Skydive the Wasatch was on my way back north to Salt Lake City and it’s been something I’ve wanted to do for years. Utah seemed like an exciting place to do it, plus I wanted to be the person that traveled solo AND did something extreme. Waiting for the nerves to set in, I hit the road around 9am to make it to my noon appointment, but the further I drove the more stoked I got. I was so freaking excited to go fall out of a plane I almost couldn’t take it. But the closer I got to my destination, the more I saw the sky darken with storm clouds. With a sense of foreboding, I pulled up to the office only to find that they had canceled my appointment due to inclement weather. They had left me a voicemail Thursday, but I didn’t get the notification because my cell reception was in and out. Yes, I’m glad they don’t dive in unsafe conditions, but I had stunning weather all week and was SO looking forward to the experience so it was a bit of a let down.

Supremely bummed and without any other plans for the day, I set off for Salt Lake City only to find myself in a monsoon shortly into the drive. The rain petered off by the time I parked somewhere under Creek City Center, an indoor-outdoor mall near Temple Square downtown. With a 40-degree drop in temperature from Zion the day before, I set off to explore. I didn’t feel like I was dressed appropriately to meander through the grounds of the grand Mormon Tabernacle, but I appreciated the surrounding gardens and snapped some photos from afar. I got lunch in the food court at the mall and walked in and out of a few shops before having to return my rental car. I had them drop me off at a Starbucks so I could regroup and make use of the WiFi. With a flight that wasn’t leaving until 11pm, I had time to kill. After a hot beverage and a couple hours of pouting and wasting time, I took myself off on a walk heading back towards Creek City Center. Grateful for only having a backpack to lug around, especially since I managed to get myself a bit lost, I did quite a bit of wandering around the city before finding a place to chill for a bit and charge my phone. Not in the mood for a full dinner, I opted for a huge soft pretzel. Seeking some kind of consolation I thought to Google if there were any bakeries in the area selling macarons. Given the late hour, I was surprised to find a bakery about a mile away that was still open and carried the precious cookies. After debating with myself for 20 minutes if it was worth the walk, I said YOLO and went for it. Naturally when I got there they had sold out which I was expecting and not terribly disappointed by as it gave me something to do before heading to the airport. Battling the insanity that inevitably settles in wherever I travel, I briefly wondered if I could simply walk to the airport, but I wasn’t all that close so I ubered. I spent a pleasant 15-minute ride chatting about my travels and Disney with my driver. I can’t remember, but I think I tried to nap on the plane. After a brief layover in Boston, I made it back to Buffalo where my parents graciously picked me up from the airport.

If you actually made it this far, wow. You must like me or something, so thanks. You can see my trip wasn’t perfect. It was largely unplanned and I had some setbacks, but I would wholeheartedly qualify the trip as a resounding success. I wanted the adventure, you see? And I got it. I didn’t need or want everything to go perfectly. I was looking for discomfort and growth and new experiences. I wanted to find out more of what I’m capable of and now I know I can travel, quite happily, on my own. There are so many places I’d like to go, but I think I’ll go back to Utah some day and hopefully dive deeper into some of the parks. The greatest FOMO I’ve ever experienced is that of the trail I haven’t yet trekked and there’s a great wide world out there to explore. Thank goodness for it. For more pics, check out the Utah and LA pages under my Explore tab.

And with that, it’s just about June! Can ya believe it? It’s going to be difficult to top May in terms of life experience, but I am loving the structure that the year of the unicorn is giving me to intentionally keep learning. This month I think I’m going to try to make my own perfume.

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