It is the ten year anniversary of my first time living somewhere other than Oklahoma. Holy shit. I was 15. My sister, Krystal, was 27. She was living and working at the Evergreen Lodge in California, near Yosemite National Park. My sensational big sister worked it out with her boss and our parents so that I could come stay with her and work at the lodge bussing tables for about five weeks of my summer vacation. Whoa.

I was still in the prime of my jaded teenage years. Shy. Awkward. Confused about the meaning of life. Etc. Classic. Not much for showing my emotions in general, I internally contained my excitement as the departure date drew closer and I felt something drive me that was new and, in a way, hopeful.

I worked my ass off, trying to make up for my lack of experience every chance I got as I was the youngest employee there by at least five years. Everyone wanted to lend some sort of advice or words of inspiration to Krystal’s kid sister who was at least adventurous enough to come live in a trailer in the woods of California all the way from the Oklahoma plains.

And I played the role of a wide eyed sponge stoked to be molded into something similar to what these people were.

I was inspired repeatedly.

By the strong, confident woman who waited tables and taught salsa classes. She was always full of energy and could make me feel comfortable while also challenging my shy personality with her own. The number of independent woman I encountered, including my own sister, was sort of detrimental for my development.

There was the crew of young Russians who barely spoke any English but had ventured to the U.S. for something new and exciting. They were also the ones who shared with me my first pot brownie…however between the broken English and my inexperience with edibles, the translation was lost and I had no idea what I was in for. So for a minute, I felt like I understand what they were dealing with every day.

The people who were managing professionalism with their adventurous spirit was something I found particularly desirable. I love the life of living week to week and doing what it takes to get to the next festival or adventure. But to see someone living a youthful life in their forties and fifties while still keeping their ducks in a row helped in confirming my disbelief that the 9 to 5 job with a retirement fund wasn’t the only way to carry out adulthood responsibly.

My sister has served as a prime example for this lifestyle balance. Look at her resume and try to not be impressed while listening to her adventure and travel stories.

One day, a bunch of us went out bouldering. Everyone was talking to me about what I wanted to do when I was done with school. I said college. And one guy looked me in the eye and said, “Ahh, don’t go to college!” My sister hit him and probably scolded him more later but I was smart enough to take his words with a grain of salt as he explained himself. To this day, I still appreciate him saying that and standing by it.

In an unfiltered way, lacking any finesse at all, he was just trying to tell me to pave my own path. Don’t feel obligated to go to college. Or to do anything that anyone tells you for that matter.

But to clarify, I also appreciate my entire family, too, for their encouragement for me to go to college. And I did. I went. I did it. Four years. College degree is, uh…somewhere at my parents house I think. I’m still pissed about the hidden ‘Walking on the grass fees’ in the itemized lists of what our tuition paid for during those four years. But still, I did it.

I got lucky though. I had a good amount of scholarship, government money, and a family to help me pay rent and do whatever else it took to make working and going to school doable during those four years. So I was able to walk across that stage and hop on a plane a week later to live on the Big Island with my big sister once again, debt free and expensive piece of paper in hand (metaphorically, as I mentioned I don’t have a clue where it actually is.)

Graduation

My only graduation photo as far as I’m concerned.

College worked for me. We’ll see if I ever use the degree. But I was able to meet some of my forever friends at the University of Oklahoma, study abroad in Chile for 6 months, be on the novice rowing team, fall in love a couple times, and even study under Sandra Steingraber for my capstone class. No complaints here.

But I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone.
Education does not solely come in the form of an institution.
An expensive piece of paper is not the only route to success.
Every individual’s journey is situational.
Every single one.

So do college if it suits you.
Or don’t.
But most importantly, just do you.
You never know where that alone could take you.

Being that I typically run from winter like it is the plague, I haven’t had the sweet pleasure of experiencing the magic of spring time in a few years. And after a winter in my home state, although it was a mild one, I was more than ready for the spring scene that greeted us when we hit Central California. Specifically Auberry, CA.

Spring in California

The river nearby Auberry, CA.

I could hardly contain my excitement with the rolling hills and wildflowers in view. I kept seeing hills and thinking that’s where I want to live for the rest of my life. If someone were to just give me that land, I might would stay put. Like build a home and then live there with an address that was my very own and everything. Maybe. Maybe not. But you get the picture.

Such a wild contrast to leave flat, chilly Oklahoma, through canyons and desert, to arrive in the rolling hills of Central California. It just about made my heart explode with hearts and bubbles.

Spring

Me. Heart exploding and stuff.

We spent a few days in Auberry visiting some friends and just soaking up the spring time sunshine. People always wonder how I can manage to sleep in a van for weeks at a time when cruising across the country. Well, luckily, I’ve met a lot of beautiful humans during my travels that are always excited to open their door to my travel partner and I when we come through. Although I love the van life, a stop here and there with a shower, a kitchen, and even a couch to cozy up on is rejuvenating to say the least.

This time we were visiting a good friend we met at Reggae on the River last year and his very lively mother. Family dinner and breakfasts at an actual dinner table, hot toddy’s by the fireplace and yoga on the deck with the smell of the garden present did the trick, wiping us clean of our sins from Las Vegas and boosting us into a solid rest of our road trip.

Family dinner at the Leeper's!

Family dinner at the Leeper’s!

No pets while on the road, but I'm happy to cuddle up with the furry friends of my loved ones.

No pets while on the road, but I’m happy to cuddle up with the furry friends of my loved ones.

Auberry is a pretty tiny town, too. With only a little over 2,000 people rsiding there, there’s not much room for competition between businesses. I absolutely love visiting small towns like this one. Without so many distractions, I actually felt myself recharging during our time there.

As anyone who has been on a road trip or lived the van life knows, sometimes it’s really hard to take the appropriate time that one needs for their self because of the ever present feeling of missing out on the adventure as well as the fact that you are literally constantly moving.

I was stoked to have a day that I could dedicate to reading, writing and flowing while staying at our friends house. Absolute bliss.

Poi

Las Vegas

Some of the crew at The Linq Hotel before getting on the High Roller Ferris Wheel.

So, I’ve never been to Las Vegas…I don’t really like gambling. Casinos sort of freak me out. Essentially, the only things that could get me to Las Vegas (for 4 whole days) are a bunch of great buds and a three day run of The String Cheese Incident.

Who’s been to the Brooklyn Bowl in Vegas?

It’s a super dope venue conveniently located right by the ginormous High Roller Ferris wheel on the strip. I know there’s a ton of awesome shows in Vegas too, it’s not all about gambling, and hopefully I’ll check those out some other time. But for this go around, it was all about Cheese. 

We arrived on St. Patricks Day to get green and celebrate our buddy William’s birthday. (My birthday was four days earlier and my van mate’s was four days before mine so it was a very fishy celebration in Vegas).

step 1. Find friends on the strip.

step 2. Don’t talk to strangers.

step 3. Spend $18.00 on a piña colada…

step 4. Gather the troops and head to the High Roller Ferris wheel! High roller Ferris wheel las vegas

The ride cost us thirty bucks each, and oh shit there’s like twelve of us, will we have to split up? NOPE. Each cabin fits up to 40 people, so there was room for all of us and room to dance. What! The ride took about 30-35 minutes, and we went around once. And the peak was incredible.

Las vegas

The view of Las Vegas from the top of the High Roller.

Sorry, I have to nerd out, let’s do math real quick. There’s 28 cabins total. Let’s say it’s a busy weekend and they are getting a new batch of humans steadily every half hour in each cabin. To keep a realistic number, let’s just say our group was the average size and 12 people were in each cabin at all times. Hours of operation are 11:30am-2am. So, there are 29 opportunities for each cabin to be filled with 12 people throughout the day, each paying an average of $30 per person (the price varies from $24.00 – 36.00 throughout the day, plus promos, even High Roller wedding packages…) So, with that average, each cabin is making $10,440 a day! The entire Ferris wheel is making approximately $292,320 per day! Oh my jeez. So, what’s it making the entire year….hmm. Let’s just take out December and July as the slow season and just average for ten months for a realistic yearly average. That math comes out to $88,572,960 a year!

Alright. I’m done with that. The amount of money exchange happening in Las Vegas just blows my mind! Ferris wheel was still worth it, just wish we would have gone at sunset to get that killer view, but the night time view was pretty magical as well.

But anyway, back to business, some very cheesy business. The String Cheese Incident was on a pretty good little run themselves hitting up Reno, Oakland, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles, and then a strong finish in Las Vegas all from March 10 to March 20. It’s safe to say, things got weird.

Brooklyn Bowl

Dim quality, but you get the picture pretty well.

So, the Brooklyn Bowl. It’s a three level venue with outdoor patios on both the second and third level with a view of the hustling and bustling below and of course the Ferris wheel. The venue fits 3,000 people. There’s specialty beers on tap, some of the most dank fried chicken around, oh and 32 bowling lanes! You can reserve your own lane or just bop around the rest of the venue space but whatever you choose the venue is a great place for a show.

This was my first time seeing The String Cheese Incident since Hulaween Music Festival in Florida last year over Halloween weekend.  And oh my, was I due for some boogieing with buds.

Never in a million years would I have thought I’d stand out while walking around Vegas, but oh my did we stick out. The scene before and after the show ever night was absolutely hilarious. You have your non-cheesy Vegas humans, lots of button ups, high heels, and people with dollar signs in their eyes. Then there’s the cheesy Vegas humans which was much more diverse. Think top hats, hula hoops, taco capes, wigs, glitter, heady hats and pins, canes, LED everything, dreadlocks, leather, tie dye, burner gear, and giant hearts in our eyes.

My buds gambled while I strutted around with a cane looking like a character from Lord of the Rings, people watching and cheering on the home team.

We went the AirBnb route which, although it was basic and had no pool, probably saved each of us hundreds of dollars in food throughout the four days that we were in Vegas. I did manage to meet up with buddies to get some pool time in at the Excalibur Hotel a couple days of the trip though and so my perspective is a little blurred as to which route is the very best. So, come with a very big crew, half of you get a hotel room and the other half grab an AirBnb, share the perks. Teamwork makes a dream work.

Las Vegas, Excalibur

Poolside at the Excalibur Hotel.

The last morning left us feeling drained and ready to get on the road and out of Sin City. We went probably two hours through the desert and found a truck stop to crash at before continuing on to catch this beautiful sunset.

Desert sunset

Sunset in the desert west of Las Vegas.

 

“A little bit of this town goes a very long way.” – Hunter S. Thompson

 Heading west to the Grand Canyon!

van life

Well, we are on the road again and man does that feel oh so terribly terribly wonderful! After swooping Ciarra up in Dallas we began the first leg of our trip to Alaska. Main focus for this leg was Cadillac Ranch and the Grand Canyon!And there is just something about heading west that just really tickles my fancy, ya feel me?

First stop, Cadillac Ranch.

Cadillac ranch

The line of spray painted cadillac’s right at sunrise.

Right outside of Amarillo, TX is a unique art installation that just makes me giggle. It’s literally a bunch of Cadillac’s half buried in the ground covered in spray paint. The art installation was a project of Ant Farm, an architecture group based out of San Francisco with a heavy influence from the free speech movement in the 1960s and 70s.

The stop off is worth it if you’re ever cruising I40. We even found some left over spray paint cans to add a little of our own love to the installation.

Cadillac ranch

Climbing on Cadillacs!

*if you do decide to bring your own spray paint (or anything else) be sure to pack it our when you leave. It seems like the trend is to bring paint and leave them for others to use as well but then no one takes the empties. As it’s an installation with no needed maintenance, there no clean up crew other then you and I. 

Second stop, Grand Canyon.

We fell in love with Flagstaff last year when we stopped by on our drive from Southern California to Moab. The town itself is adorable and uber trendy. Full of that love for local mentality and it’s the perfect stop off when a venture to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is due.

Grand canyon

A dinner at Flagstaff Brewing Company sent us into a very good place as we got our things ready to head towards the entrance to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We didn’t plan this part out so well, but we can sleep in our van so we thought maybe we could just enter the park reallllllllly early and sleep for a couple hours to wake up at sunrise and walk out to the nearest viewpoint.

Wrong. We cruised in. A park range pulled us over real quick in regards to our broken taillight. Ugh. We had red tape covering it but I guess some of it had blown off exposing a bit of the light bulb. Whoops. The park ranger proceed to scope out our van (a bit aggressively) through the windows as he walked up to talk to us. We weren’t carrying anything illegal, but when someone sees a van with a bed laid out in the back, flow toys, costumes galore, and two ladies in their twenties, sometimes people like to assume things.

The only time we’ve ever been pulled over in Betsy the Van was that situation in the Grand Canyon. What even. All went well after some stern talking to and we slept outside the park to return a few hours later to hit sunrise dressed as a ram and a ninja turtle. Not an awful turnout, but a slightly obnoxious one.

grand canyon

I am a ram.

rafael at the grand canyon

My best friend is a ninja turtle.

Anyway, sunrise was gorgeous. The sky was incredibly clear and I can barely even remember the last time I visited the Grand Canyon with my parents about 15 years ago. So, it kind of felt like the very first time all over again. We wandered all cozy in our onesies during the very brisk morning, trying out the GoPro Hero 4 that I had just bought on a bit of a whim (no regrets so far). Lots of compliments on our outfits as well. And damn, what a way to start a day!

Grand canyon

A blissful way to start the day, covered in golden rays of sunshine.