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Hang Gliding in San Francisco

Hang Gliding in San Francisco

(This is actually terrible advice for a post about running off cliffs.
Make sure you’re attached to something that can fly when you do so.)

For Donovan’s 28th birthday, we happened to be in San Francisco and I wanted to do an experience instead of a physical present. I’m not a super brave or adventurous person. There are plenty of adventure sports that I wouldn’t consider doing. When I was researching adventure sports to do in the San Francisco area, I found out that hang gliding is popular

After researching it, I was nervous, but decided I could handle it. I booked tandem flights through Big Air Hang Gliding. It was definitely a splurge.

The instructor met us at Fort Funston. The location made a huge impact. I can’t describe the feeling of soaring over the cliffs with the ocean below us. From their website, I don’t think they do tandem flights here anymore.

If you don’t know much about hang gliding, it’s a triangle shaped sail and you get strapped into by a harness. You are hanging face down with your feet up behind you. Hang gliding works when there is a strong upward wind that catches the sail. It can happen in a couple of situations; in this case the wind coming off the ocean hit the cliffs and creates the upward force. You start on the top of the cliff and run off the edge with the wind catching and lifting the sail.

Mike, our instructor, gave us directions and a safety talk. I went first, so I couldn’t talk myself out of it. Mike said that some of the people stop running before they leave the cliff. He told me to keep running until he said to stop. After running, you tuck your feet into a harness that helps keep your body straight. Donovan took a video of us taking off. In it I’m running on the ground, then we leave, but my feet keep running for a long time. It’s pretty funny.

    

I will say that I felt completely safe while hang gliding. The wind is so strong coming up from below you that you feel held. It was a great experience and I’m so glad we did it!

   

Fort Funston itself is gorgeous too. It’s a very dog friendly park. We were almost the only people we saw there without a dog. There are succulents growing all over and paths to wander along the top of the cliffs. You can also get down to the sand below, but we didn’t go down there.

  

 

  

View of San Francisco from Fort Funston

“The Wild Side” of Aruba

“The Wild Side” of Aruba

The West side of Aruba is populated with roads, towns, hotels, etc. The East side of Aruba is the opposite. There are no towns or hotels, for a section of the area there aren’t even roads. Those sections can only be accessed by four wheel drive jeeps that can power over the rocks.

Before traveling to Aruba, we talked to different people who had vacationed here before. Some had taken jeep tours, some had done horse back rides through the area, and some knew people who rented their own jeeps and did it on their own. We were in favor of the go on our own route while planning the trip. But there are several problems with this. Many of the car rental companies that rent jeeps actually say in the contract that you can’t drive them to locations on the wild side. Plus, several of the going on their own stories included blowing out tires and having to have the company come out and exchange them cars.

Once actually in Aruba, we decided to do a tour. I’m really glad we did. Our tour guides were excellent, filling in a lot of the background information on what we were seeing. Truthfully, I’m not sure we could have driven the East coast on our own. It’s not rocky like a gravel road in the United States; you are driving around and on top of boulders. Granted, our driver took the hardest route everywhere… we were actually sideways at one point! It was like tossing a salad, except we were the lettuce and the jeep was the bowl. Almost impossible to shoot photos while we were driving.

It was our second to last full day in Aruba and we chose the Island Safari by ABC Tours, because it went to everywhere that was left on my “to-see” list and more. We snorkeled twice on the all-day trip and drove the ENTIRE East coast. Our drives were excellent, the noon meal was OK (nothing fancy, but not bad), and it was nice that they provided cool water the whole day. They grouped the jeeps well after observing us. We were in a jeep with a younger family and two couples on their honeymoon; clearly the “young adult” group who got the wildest ride.

The day started out at the California Lighthouse and we admired the views from La Trattoria El Faro Blanco restaurant. From there, the jeeps drove over the sand duned area of the island and along the coast, giving us our first looks at the rocky coast line and the stacks of rocks that appear everywhere.

   

Our second stop was the Alto Vista Chapel. A chapel was originally built on the location by a Venezuelan missionary in 1750. It is said that was the first church on the island. After falling into ruins, a school teacher headed up the rebuild and the church as we see it now was completed in 1952. Weekly services are held here and a yearly pilgrimage is made by many of the island’s residents. In fact, while we were there a small service was taking place. The roads out to the chapel are not paved, but they are only dusty not rocky, so you could visit this stop on your own.

   

Gold was first reported on the island in 1824. Aruba has a long history with gold mining, many companies and countries have come through attempting to harvest the metal. The Bushiribana Gold Mill was built in 1874, but they still used old-fashioned methods to collect the gold. The Mill eventually shut down in 1915, due to the lack of materials available during World War 1 and the high cost of operation with low efficiency.

      

   

Every where on Aruba was SO windy.

While you’re at the Gold Mill, make sure to stop on the other side of the road too. This is one of the best places to observe the rock towers. Tradition is you stack at least 3 rocks up, making a wish on each one. If you can get the tower to stay, they’ll come true. This is not local belief, instead being started by tourists, who I’m sure also found the broad flat stones everywhere as crazy as I did.

      

Aruba has several natural bridges on the island. The largest one, however, collapsed back in 2005. The area where it stood is still considered a tourist site. On our trip we visited an actual natural bridge and the area where the old one stood.

The actual natural bridge was a fairly small one. The shore line next to the bridge was covered in crazy flat stones. We climbed up on top of the bridge and had a nice view of the shoreline from there. The area under the bridge was only a few feet taller than I am.

      

      

The area where the largest bridge once stood is now just a small area of sand along the rocky coast. Our drivers took us up on the mountain behind the bridge, instead of down along it. From here we were able to get spectacular views. I could not get enough of this coast line.

 

   

   

   

  

After the bridge, they took us back to their office for lunch. It was nice, but nothing spectacular. The frightening part was when they said the first half was the gentle part!

The Natural Pool is the center of a ring of rocks just off the coast. The ocean waves slamming into the rocks spray the water over and into the pool. With the water, fish and other sea creatures get thrown into the pool. It has created a small eco diverse world that is great for snorkeling! This is the main go-to feature of the Wild Side and it was worth it. Not as many fish when we went as some of my friends reported. Make sure to look up while walking to the pool too, the views were wonderful!

   

      

Coming off of the Wild Side was drove through the Arikok National Park. We made a quick stop at Fontein Cave. It was just an in and out stop, probably not a must see. Exiting the park you drive through a ton of wind mills.

Finally the tour ended on Baby Beach. They handed out snorkeling gear and gave us time to explore. This beach was right by our Air bnb, but we didn’t go snorkeling on our own, so it was still nice to experience it in a different way. They also brought bread for us to feed the fish. Not exactly sure on the fish health ramifications, but they sure did gobble it up.

Tennessee and Georgia Road Trip

Tennessee and Georgia Road Trip

I’ll take about any excuse I have to travel. When my childhood friend invited me to her wedding by Atlanta, Georgia, we decided to road trip down through Tennessee and Georgia. If I had it my way, we would have spent four days in the Smokey Mountains hiking and maybe doing some white water rafting. Donovan, however, was coming too and he loves exploring new cities. So we compromised, two days hiking, two days in the city.

Click on the links to read more about each adventure!

Day 1: Waterfall Chasing in Central Tennessee

We drove from Southern Illinois to an area just East of Nashville that features several waterfalls. You could easily spend a few days here. Not only are there several state parks featuring waterfalls, there are also several featuring caves and caverns! We spent our time at Cummins Falls State Park and Fall Creek Falls State Park.

The extra perk about hiking vacation days: all you have to pay for is a place to sleep, gas, and food. The entertainment is free!

Day 2: Smokey Mountains

This was our day actually in the Smokey Mountains. Although I had planned on going to Grotto Falls and Chimney Tops, the travel time took longer than we thought and we only did Chimney Tops. This trail, however, killed us, so it was really for the best. Chimney Trails is only 4 miles round trip, but it’s 2 miles straight up and 2 miles straight down. One of the more difficult trails I’ve done and our legs were burning the next day!

The views when you’re literally on top of a mountain are SO worth it. The last part of the trail, you are actually climbing the rocky summit and no longer on a trail. If heights scare you, don’t do this trail! I don’t think it would have been worth it without that final climb.

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg were pretty much exactly as I imagined them, over priced and extremely touristy. Maybe if I had a week in the area, I’d come down from the mountains for a dinner show, but nature is definitely my priority. There was also an Apple Barn winery that looked delicious. Just gives us something to go back for!

Day 3: Helen, Georgia and Little Five Points, Atlanta

On our way to Atlanta, we stopped by Helen, Georgia. This city is a replica of a Bavarian alpine town. It was a little touristy and most of the other visitors were older couples, but a fun stop that wasn’t too far out of the way. We ate some German food, walked around, went into a fudge shop and a jerky shop (something for me… something for Donovan!). Donovan lived in Germany several years back, so he was a great tour guide. 🙂

We stayed in Roswell, Georgia where the wedding was going to be. It was a half hour drive to Downtown Atlanta, when you aren’t battling rush hour traffic.

Our first evening in Atlanta we explored the off-beat neighborhood Little Five Points and ate pierogies at Joystick Gamebar.

Day 4: Atlanta, Georgia

I really wanted to visit a farmers market, one of my favorite things to do in cities, but many of them were only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We did find the Atlanta State Farmers Market, which may have Farmers Market in the name, but was really more of a distribution center for farms across the state and nation! The Mexican restaurant, Don Burrito Grill, was very fresh and delicious.

We also explored Westside Provisions District, Oakland Cemetery, some local game/comic shops, ate dinner at the Fickle Pickle, Donovan played Magic the Gathering at a card shop in Atlanta. A great perk about exploring neighborhoods is you get a feel for the city, not just the touristy parts and window shopping is free!

Finally, we picked up my best friend Kathleen and her boyfriend Matt from the airport, and stuffed ourselves with cheese fries at The Varsity. It was a full day.

Day 5: Aquarium and High Museum, Atlanta

This was wedding day! But the ceremony didn’t start until 6 PM and it was Kathleen & Matt’s only day in Atlanta, so we made the most of it! The morning was spent at High Museum of Arts, lunch was served up at the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market, and the afternoon was spent under the sea at the Georgia Aquarium!

Our evening was spent watching my wonderful friends, Olivia, marry her dream guy. It was a beautiful ceremony at the Founders Hall in Roswell, Georgia.

Day 6:

All too soon, we dropped Kathleen and Matt off at the airport, and made the 6.5 hour drive home. It was a great trip, but as always too short for me! I’m already planning our next adventures.

Chimney Tops Tennessee

Chimney Tops Tennessee

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The Smokey Mountains have been on my to-see list for quite a while now. They’re just far enough away that I haven’t made it there. Our road trip through Tennessee and Georgia only included one day in the Gatlinburg area, but the Smokeys definitely left an impression!

There are so many different trails in the Smokey Mountains that choosing was difficult. When it came down to it, I decided I wanted a hike with a view, since we had seen several waterfalls the day before. Chimney Tops did not disappoint!

 

Even the drive up to the trail was beautiful. There are many areas to pull off and take in the view. We stopped at quite a few! Build in a little extra time to your day for this.

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The round trip length for Chimney Tops is only 3.8 miles, but the difference in elevation is 1487 feet! That means hiking straight up on the way there & straight down on the way back. My legs were shaking by the end!

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The first part of the trail meanders through woods, following Road Prong Creek and crossing it on several occasions via bridges. The creek is really beautiful and I loved constantly hearing the roar of the water.

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Then the “fun” begins. There are stairs cut into the trail with wooden beams and stones to help, but it’s difficult either way as you climb up, up, up.

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Once you’ve been hiking for 1.5 hours (we stopped a lot for rests and pictures), you start to see beautiful views of the other mountain tops.

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Finally, you reach the end of the trail. This is NOT a hike I would recommend for anyone with a fear of heights. Beyond the trail head 50 feet is the mountain summit. To reach the summit, you actually climb hands and feet up the rock face. The website warns that there have been injuries and you are climbing at your own risk. While it wasn’t quite narrow enough or steep enough for me to feel like I was going to fall to my death at any second, it definitely got my heart pounding. I stopped maybe 40 feet up, because the final 10 feet were a little to steep for me.

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The website says the rock climbing summit part is optional and that you still get decent views with out it. I suppose it’s true, but you can bet that since I climbed 1437 feet, I was going to try for the final 50. If you aren’t going to attempt the final bit, I would say pick another hike. The views are OK without it, but not worth that amount of vertical hiking to me.

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The trip down was quicker at about 45 minutes. Round trip we spent about 3 hours on the trail. My legs were sore for two days after this hike. With these views though, I never once had to ask myself if it was worth it.

Lost in Calla Lily Valley

Lost in Calla Lily Valley

Calla Lily Valley is an area on top of bluffs along Highway 1 in Big Sur.

Big Sur doesn’t have the best cell phone reception and therefore following our phone’s GPS was somewhat difficult. I had printed information and maps on “Calla Lily Valley” that included the highway marker, but we still drove up and down this area of the coast not finding it. It didn’t help that we were visiting in 2016, in the height of the California drought. There were no calla lily’s to be seen. We eventually gave up and decided to get out at a place that looked pretty and had flowers.

We started out hiking a trail that was cut in the brush/flowers/grasses. It soon narrowed, but we still blindly followed it. Even though Donovan said “uh Lindsay, this isn’t a trail. This is just from water run-off.”

   

     

 I’m SO glad we did. We ended up on the edge of the cliff and could see the coast stretching out in both directions. The water crashed below us and there were greenery, succulents and flowers everywhere. The cliffside was covered in these tiny white and purple flowers, perhaps a type of wild morning glory?

      

    

  

If you’re looking for the actual Calla Lily Valley, here’s some articles by people who made it there.

Back Country Cow

Adventurer of the West