Summer Road Trip Series Part I: Go West Young Man

By Marianna Boyce

arizona sign (p1)Have you ever heard of Sierra Vista, Arizona? It’s a great little city in Cochise County about twenty miles north of Mexico, but 1,921.5 miles west of South Carolina. You’ll discover the reason Sierra Vista holds a special place in my heart as we travel west for my summer road trip series.

rocky wall w flag (p2)In a day where everyone is in a hurry to do everything, flying the friendly skies makes more sense, but my preferred method of travel is the traditional American ‘let the top down’ road trip to see the beautiful sights our country has to offer. Gerry and I have done both—many times.

We embarked on this long journey with our daughter Tiffany and her family in 2015. Our son Cody was unable to go with us, but he expressed interest in our taking the same exact route to this special little dot on the map the following year. He knew it wouldn’t take much to convince me of another opportunity to drive west.

I had kept a journal of our original trip, so we easily charted the same course in 2016. It was awesome knowing exactly where we were going and how long it would take to get there; but for this adventure, we made no hotel reservations. We threw caution to the wind and prayed God would protect and have us in the right places at the right times. Talk about faith. Be sure to read my future posts to see how that worked out for us.

Of course, as a woman, I packed everything but the kitchen sink days in advance. It was neatly organized in the dining room waiting for our departure day of June 8. I even packed lime green spray paint…

Gerry was slated to drive the first leg of the trip, so he took the day off to rest while Cody and I worked. Once I arrived home, Gerry neatly arranged everything in the trunk of my light sage-colored Lincoln MKZ. Over the years, I’ve learned this process is much easier when I’m not involved. His goal was to leave the backseat open for whoever needed to rest or just enjoy the ride. The only thing he tossed inside the car was a comfy pillow and my purse.

We planned to leave that evening in order to travel as far as we could while traffic was light. Have you ever driven through Atlanta at lunchtime? Exactly!

After a quick burger, fries, and frosty at a local fast food restaurant for supper, we embarked on our wind-in-your-hair road trip. I chose the backseat to start our journey, but took a silent vow to leave my backseat driving instructor mentality at home. I can’t express how difficult that was for me.

blinding sun (p9)The sun was blinding as it set in the western sky, so I put on my sunglasses, placed that comfy pillow behind my back, and propped my bare feet up on the console in front of me. “Go West, young man,” I recall saying to my husband. “Life is good!”

We drove west on I-20 all night and left South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in our rear view. There’s not much to see at night, so Cody—being in line to drive—catnapped. My job was keeping whoever was driving awake, but I was still careful to leave my backseat driving wisdom at the house.

early morning sunrise (p11)After twelve hours, we decided to stop in Monroe. The sun was peeking over the eastern horizon, so we thought stopping for a hearty breakfast at Waffle House was a great way to greet the new day. Not to mention, we were also in desperate need of strong coffee.

For those who remember the television show, Duck Dynasty, the Duck Commander store was only a few miles down the road from Waffle House, so we stopped by to see if Phil, Willie, Jase, or Si were there. It was still very early, so their store was closed. We walked around in the parking lot for a few minutes before heading west again on I-20. It felt good to stretch our weary bodies after the long ride.

 

With the first leg of our trip in the books, Gerry took over the coveted backseat to get some much-needed sleep. Cody gladly took the wheel while I rode shotgun. I gave him a gerry sleeping (p13)tough choice between me or Siri as his trusty navigator. He chose wisely: Siri it was.

From Louisiana, we headed toward the great state of Texas. Of course,cody driving (p14) any amazing road trip wouldn’t be quite as good if you didn’t sing, “On the Road Again,” in your best Willie Nelson twang. In spite of mine and Cody’s bellowing, Gerry was asleep in mere moments…

*The photos used in this post are personal photos from my amazing road trip. They may not be the best quality, but they are all near and dear to my heart. Enjoy!*

Destination Unknown

By Marianna Boyce

For Memorial Day, a moment to acknowledge the men and women who died while serving in our military for the United States of America is definitely in order. Our fallen soldiers secured freedoms we enjoy today by making the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I’m forever grateful for their selfless acts of valor.american flag

For many people, Memorial Day also serves as the unofficial start of summer. I am not what you’d consider a world traveler, so when it comes to vacations, my preference is sticking close to home.

As you’re reading this post, I’m heading back from Folly Beach in Charleston, South Carolina. I love the more mature vibe Folly has to offer, and it’s only 125 miles away. Gerry loves playing his guitar on the beach or poolside while I relax in the chair next to him. The bright sound of that Martin guitar is incredibly soothing while listening to the ocean waves rolling onto shore. It’s absolutely divine!guitar

Some of my travels have also lured me further from home, but always for good reasons. The first flight I ever boarded was in 2002 for an all expense paid trip to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. This tropical paradise at the exotic Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove is situated 1,475 miles from home. It is filled with indescribable splendor and beauty, but be wary of the island’s “voodoo juice” and shenanigans on the beach after dark. I’m thankful Gerry always had the presence of mind to remove us from questionable situations. With that being said, the white sand, crystal clear blue water, CoCo Joe’s, and steel drums playing nearby, are four things everyone should experience personally. Did I mention the crystal clear blue ocean water? Wowza!

The following year, we traveled by air to New Orleans, and boarded a cruise ship to Cozumel, Mexico. This was another all expense paid trip by my employer 2,765 miles from home. Gerry said I was the luckiest woman he knew. I thought he meant because I was married to him, but maybe it was for the great trips I won instead. Being whisked away from my comfort zone made me mindful of how small we really are on this terrestrial ball. My feelings on venturing further from home slowly began to change. With that being said, I truly pushed the envelope with my next adventure.

The best vacation I’ve ever taken was a 4,614 mile round trip, nine day, adventure filled trek across the United States of America. This trip to Arizona wasn’t won by any contest; however, it was indeed a gift. I’m sure you’re bewildered, so I invite you to “ride along” with me this summer as I write about reasons this adventure is my favorite one of all time.

What better way to kick off the unofficial start of summer than with a purely unadulterated, top down, wind in your hair road trip series? With our course charted, and several interesting stops planned along the way, we headed west on I-20.route 66

This vacation perfectly divides my normal life with what I often refer to as my alternate universe. It was the day we returned home that my new voyage began. Unfortunately, I had to navigate uncharted territory with my destination completely unknown. Within fourteen days, intense chronic pain had overtaken my entire body. I was neither physically or mentally prepared, but God saw fit that my incredible journey beforehand was completely unhindered.

Be on the lookout for my Summer Road Trip Series. This will be fun y’all. Where are your travels taking you this summer? Until next time…

Well Done…

By Stacy Thompson

I apologize profusely to the administrators of this blog for my late submission, but those that read my last post will understand…a few days ago I realized a dream and made it to the Rooftop of Africa – and I will forever be changed for the better because of it.

After an exploratory day in Moshi, followed by a tour of a coffee and tea plantation, our group was hesitantly getting to know one another while already beginning the process of mentally preparing ourselves for the challenge ahead…which wasn’t too far from our minds or our sight (the view from our lodge made the challenge inescapable…)

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The following day we took to the trail and began the greatest adventure with three days of hiking, covering nearly six thousand feet and thirteen miles among a background that transitioned from bamboo rainforest to moorland.  An acclimatization hike to Zebra Rock took us from Horombo Hut and 12,340 feet to over 14, 000 feet and a taste of the heights we would soon soar to…

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Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards – Kierkegaard

Our hike continued forward and onward to Kibo Hut – 15, 520 feet – and a ride through “the Saddle” a wide, flat plateau with our destination peaks looming ahead and a light meal awaiting us in the final hours before the final ascent.  Our pace deliberately slow, we could see up ahead the challenge of the mountain ahead while our minds repeated the Swahili phrase “Pole, Pole” (“Slowly, Slowly”) to ensure we met our goal.

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We dined on soup and some bread around 5 pm before retiring (all 12 of us men and women together in the ultimate bonding experience!) to a room of bunkbeds and our sleeping bags to catch a few hours of rest – knowing that we were to be awakened at 11:00 pm to start the arduous climb.  Yes, we were told that the purpose of the late-night start was to reach our goal at daybreak, but in truth the journey through the scree slope is best taken without seeing the angle of the climb (pretty much straight up!) and the distance to be traveled (over 3,000 feet) – exhaustion and freezing temperatures tell the body to sleep, but the overwhelming drive to reach the top combined with the constant vigilance of the Tanzanian guides keep one foot in front of the other until the most glorious sight of an African sunrise is seen on the horizon – as said sun begins to rise, our goal becomes a reality; as the scree ends and the boulders are overcome, Gilman’s Point is reached…

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In the end it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years. –Abraham Lincoln

So Gilman’s Point (18,652 feet) is a legitimate summit, as is Stella’s Point (18,885 feet), however, just a few short feet (OK, about 500 feet, and with severely decreased oxygen levels) away is Uhuru Peak – the real, true Rooftop of Africa and the ultimate goal – I’m not going to lie, the last hour wasn’t easy, but was made infinitely better by the glacier view.  Looking out over the clouds is surreal and being surrounded by volcanic cones nearly overwhelming, but the focus to attain our goal remained (despite the oxygen-deprivation, sleep-deprivation and overall exhaustion!!).  After over eight hours of hiking, straight up, in mostly dark, we reached the highest peak…

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Yes, that’s me, celebrating the only way I know how – by displaying the garnet & black!!

 

Life is either a daring adventure…or nothing at all – Helen Keller

So six years ago my mother decided (after getting her Medicare card in the mail) that life was too short to just sit back and make a bucket list – it was time each and every day to live that bucket list.  So she climbed a mountain, with no experience, with no expectations, but simply because she needed to try and do it.  After she climbed Kilimanjaro, I admit that although I was unbelievably impressed, I didn’t really understand what drove her to do it.  Later that year I joined her in climbing a mountain (Machu Picchu)…and have done so every year since then.  Climbing the physical mountain is an accomplishment and our ultimate goal, but overcoming the physical challenge is so much more than that – even though I love our trips together and the days we spend on the trail, I enjoy even more the hours spent in the stairwells and trails (modest inclines that they may be) preparing for each trip.  The challenge my mother undertook to conquer the World’s Highest Free Standing Mountain was not just a jump-start to a bucket list, but a new progression of a mother/daughter bond that will only continue to grow in the years to come.

Well Done…

As I was descending and had reached the forest once again, I passed a Tanzanian guide with two very well-groomed (recently showered) hikers – as he passed, we greeted each other with the traditional Swahili “Jambo” (hello) – he then asked “So you climbed the mountain?” to which I replied “Yes, yes I did.”  He then asked “did you make it to the top?” and I replied “yes, yes I did” – there was a pause, and I heard him quietly say “Well done” – those two words filled me with so much pride and a sense of accomplishment I will never forget.  Well done – yes, yes indeed.

Greatest adventures

By Stacy Thompson

In about a week I’m going to embark upon one of my greatest physical and mental challenges to date (but more about that later). As I sat down to write this post, I intended to reflect on the coolest adventures I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, but then very quickly realized that the list very clearly centered around one person – my mom.

There are many forms a mom may take, but mine has generally gone a little beyond the norm – I have, since I was very young, always noted that mine was “not a real Mom” but in the best possible way – as some examples, and as my list of greatest experiences/adventures ever, following are some of my mom’s best ringleader moments:

  • “What are you doing this weekend?” – these were the words I heard one Tuesday evening from my mom. The Saturday that followed included jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 11,000 feet with a couple of experienced jumpers at the ready to assist if our chutes didn’t open. Fortunately, the chutes opened quite nicely and we were left with an empowering, exhilarating experience of a lifetime!
  • Flipper was flippin’ awesome! We’ve had a few amazing animal-related experiences together – cuddling a Koala, hugging a monkey, getting up-close-and-personal with a giant clam and enjoying snack time with a joey in a kangaroo’s pouch – but sharing the waters with a dolphin ranks pretty high on the list!
  • “If I tell you…you cry…then you no go” – these were the words of our Peruvian guide on our treacherous way to Machu Picchu – the days were long, but worth the ultimate prize in our visit to one of the world’s wonders! It was the first of many hikes we have taken in the past several years, and started a trend that I hope will continue for many years to come!
  • Ultimate Hike – 30-mile hike in one day? Sure, why not, particularly when it means raising funds for children’s cancer research. The mother-of-all-bonding-experiences was a blast…even despite the snake – please enjoy our video journal…

https://www.facebook.com/stacyt11/videos/10209175407371613/

https://www.facebook.com/stacyt11/videos/10209175618896901/

  • “Go ahead…I dare you” – a/k/a “When in Rome…” So, our actual experiences in the Eternal City were pretty tame, but our adventures in the home of the bungee-jump, Queenstown, New Zealand, were anything but. Mom decided that we needed to engage in the home-town past-time and plunge 180 feet down a rocky cliff attached to an oversized rubber band. I stood on the platform over said cliff until our guides deigned to dare me to jump…so yeah, that one I blame on Mom and the overly exuberant Kiwis!
  • Mother Goddess of the Earth – base camp of Everest – we made it to 18,500 feet, trekked through a snowstorm and managed to survive without a shower for 6 days. The trip to Nepal and all its glory was unforgettable, unimaginable and indescribable – we truly loved the people, our Sherpas, our Yaks and our memories of The Peak of Heaven.

 

And finally, a trip we will not be taking together, but one that I am taking entirely because of her.  A few years back, after attaining her Medicare card, my mother took on the ultimate challenge to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – 19, 341 feet, the Rooftop of Africa and Mountain of Greatness.  At the time, I thought she had really lost it and did not understand why she would put herself through something like that.  Then she returned and spoke of the beauty of the hike, the serenity of the climb and the overwhelming sense of accomplishment at the summit of that great peak.  So I’m once again following my Mom’s direction and in her footsteps – she will be with me every step of the way and hers is the hug I look forward to most upon my return!  I only hope to make her proud and to share one more great adventure!!