Monday, December 21, 2015

Back To The Beginning

Here I am, less than 10 days from my thirtieth birthday. I am happy to say I am at the acceptance stage within the stages of grief and I have come to terms with this birthday. It isn’t even the birthday that I had the issue with. It was and is the fact that I had a vision of where I would be when I turned three decades old and I haven’t made it to that vision, and if anything, I have veered off the path. This was my first mistake, having expectations, because life is full of curve balls, some good and some bad. Try as I might I couldn't stop myself from making that error.  In the words of Kendrick Lamar, “Alls my life I has to fight, Alls my life I has, Hard times like.”

People kept telling me to get over it and stop dramatizing this but I take offense to that because it makes me feel as though my emotions and my own personal journey is not validated. Everyone's life is different with its own ups and downs and in betweens. Try not to be judgmental when someone shares what they are going through. 

I wanted to look super fabulous to ring in this birthday but external stressors (related to my expectations) have reeked havoc on my face in the form of severe breakouts. I am not as in shape as I need to be for the Kilimanjaro hike and just not into the holiday season this year. I am taking a break from training until Jan. 2016. All of which is perfectly okay. I love how rounded I am now in my chest and thighs and I even love everyone of my new acne scars on my face. This body, though fifteen pounds heavier, is solidly strong.

So the last day of training for two weeks also includes volunteering. My one goal is to make sure my holiday time is quality time with loved ones, as the hustle bustle of life often makes time together feel fleeting.  I am where I am and this is perfectly okay. What you see is what you get. That doesn't mean that I want to run in the streets and scream, “I’m 30!” or “Let’s Party.” Instead I am working on my resolutions: Be mindful and stop worrying about how my student debt is ruining my financial life.

I am loving myself, nearly thirty, flaws and all. And to putting my big girl panties on, standing tall with my shoulders back looking life straight in the eye. 


Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Dark Chocolate Pudding Cake Kind of Evening

A milestone happened this week. My partner and I celebrated our first year of marriage. It took me a while to get over the shock of how fast this date came and subsequently passed. The actual date was nice. My husband and I went for dinner. After an 8.5 hour work day, our lovely dinner at 500 feet was like stopping time. I was appreciative to look into the eyes of the person I deeply love and just recall how far we have come as a couple.

My partner reminisced our first outing, when we took the train to Wellesley college for a lecture. He laughed remembering how odd he thought it was that I wore my backpack in front. Not being a city person and having traveled and lived abroad extensively, this was a security measure in my mind but I laughed remembering it. What I also recall is that my partner was so confident, how he walked and carried himself and how the butterflies in my stomach didn't go away especially listening at how he spoke of his love for his family and experiences in Africa. We went for a hot drink, always welcome on a cold fall day. I had tea and I remember him asking me if I drank tea regularly. I answered no and that it was late and I wanted to make sure I could sleep later. Sleep is crucial for a graduate student, something I would learn very quickly. I will never forget his response. I also recall saying that I preferred coffee as my primary hot beverage. I will never forget what my soon to be partner and later husband said. “Good, because if you didn't like coffee I wouldn't be able to date you.” A deep belly laugh escaped me, and I immediately felt at ease. The rest is how we say, well history.
As our dinner ended, we made some wishes for our second year of marriage. My wish is that I work on being patient and having a more positive future outlook. My partner quickly said, “I wish that you make it to and from Kilimanjaro safely and…” I won’t include the rest of what he said until next year :) We had dessert, something we rarely partake in these days and I forgot all about training.

The next two days I didn’t train for Kilimanjaro. Lately, given the physical  issues I have been having, I have stopped using weights as I train, which helped significantly ease my pains. However, this means I am not getting the most of my training. I am willing to give that up for now. I only need to be strong enough to get up and down that mountain and my heart is very fit at this point. Eat on my friends, eat on. You only get a good dessert every once in awhile.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Siezing A Sunday Opportunity

It's Sunday, and I have been in pain most of the weekend. Herniated disc spasms and pain, sciatica, toothache, insomnia, and fatigue. A thirty-year-old body is not as quick to rebound as a twenty-year-old one. Somehow I mustered the strength to keep to my training schedule. I ran 2.3 miles on incline and completed 2 miles on StairMaster Elliptical at 17 incline and resistance.  Doing exercises on an incline slows me down. Let's face it, with a body built like mine, with all it's injuries, I am much slower than a decade ago, when I had some excellent cross country races and played walk-on defense for Castleton University's women's lacrosse team. My husband had to helplessly watch a back spasm that happened on Friday night while I was on the couch. It left me with my back 'locking up' and in tears. He helped me stand an forced me to relax. Truth is, I am super terca, or stubborn, a trait my husband and I both share (love you!).
A sweaty hot mess
While I know that I need to take care of myself, and trust me the last 6 months I have been, I can't afford to not train (literally). Every opportunity to do high altitude training has to be seized. I don't want to fail the suggested medical check to go up the mountain (each climber should have a resting heart beat of under 100 beat per minute), and I don't want to be carried back down. Plus who really wants to use their medical excavation insurance? This climb is no joke, and it is not encouraged to "forge on" as poor altitude acclimatization can result in death. All the high end gear in the world won't save someone from succumbing to the mountain.

My two biggest concerns, lack of training and acclimatization. Every year over 1,000 people are evacuated from Kilimanjaro. Click the link to learn more about the perils. For today, I will relish the fact that my resting heart rate is 72 and I did my workout with 0 mgs of ibuprofen in my system. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Looking Back Towards Ahead

I just relished a Halloween movie date with my life partner and husband. Thing is we just saw Everest, based on the true story of the 1996 disaster. The film referenced Japanese climber, Yasuko Namba, second Japanese woman to complete all the seven summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. I just realized that
Kilimanjaro is one of these summits. Holy s^%$! I am going to climb one of these! After the film, in which Namba perishes on descent, I decided to have a glass of wine and reflect. Namba was not a mountaineer, in fact, she was a Fedex employee. In her spare time she climbed. She fought till the very end. I wonder what her inspiration was to climb. Was it the accomplishment, the feat of it? The pain and struggle on the body and mind? Whatever her reasons, now I am taking a look back at my 29 years and 10 months.

In this time, I am proud to say that I have moved a lot, studied, traveled, worked, loved, cried and laughed. Just in my last passport, it has an extension filled with student, tourist, and work visas. Nine (9) countries in 10 years, not including Morocco (different passport). Now starting a brand new one.

Eighteen years of my life have been dedicated to education, with two bachelor's degrees, a master’s degree, and a crap ton of debt in my name. I’ve read many good books. Two years spent in the Peace Corps living and learning in rural Morocco. I am proud to say my body is in okay shape, after the many miles I have run to maintain physical and mental health. I am a marathoner. I have been poor, and while I am not rich by American standards, my needs and some wants are met. I have hiked the Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu. I have watched the stars in a Masai village in Kenya with my best friend. I have some pretty amazing friends. I fell in love and married, when I didn’t think that was in the cards. I have lived and worked in East Africa. I’ve been on a cross-country trip. I can drive in a snowstorm. I have lost all of my grandparents, and many more people close to my heart, sadly a few living. So many people have inspired, housed and fed me.    

In looking back I realize that the accomplishments are not as important as the process that achieving them was. I have been through so much; the good, bad and the ugly. You know what, I have no regrets, and while I have no idea what lies ahead, love will be there. I will have to continue to fight through the hardships that life throws my way. Character-building as my late grandmother used to say. I am feeling scared of Kilimanjaro today. This 19,341 foot mountain intimidates me, and I am crazy for doing this. I truly am.  For some reason my fear isn’t stopping me. Difficult paths ahead aren’t stopping me. Of all my accomplishments and failures, this is what I am most proud of, my fight.

Monday, October 12, 2015

These Boots Were Made for Walkin’

Nothing has really changed since last post. I am still on the fence about turning the big 3-0! I am not a huge watcher of The Real, mostly because I do not have TV, but this clip has me thinking about the subject of what happens when you actually turn 30. Start at 3:41.

Are the 20s just a chaotic mess? Will I just have this magical moment of zen and care less about others opinions? I am not sure but this clip keeps going in my head. More on this as we move along in the next 5 months.

I am now freaking out about my physical ability to actually climb this mountain. I have been doing altitude acclimatization workouts, which basically consist of using weights during long cardio sessions to simulate being out of breath. Poor woman’s version of this type of training. How can I guarantee that this soon to be 30-year-old’s body won’t crap out on me? After traveling all that way, and all those savings that could have gone to our ‘family’ fund. I realized that I needed good footwear and fast. I will be doing the Machame Route (more on this in a later post) which is 7 days and over 30 miles of hiking. 
My last pair of hiking boots I bought with a student discount at EMS [Eastern Mountain Sports](east coast version of REI- Recreational Equipment Inc.) prior to Peace Corps, which I am sad to say was over 5 years ago. Where has time gone?

The above map terrorizes me, and my feet too. Where to get good quality low cost high top hiking boots one may ask? Husband to the rescue. I am not the type of consumer who would be willing to do one of those Black Friday stunts and sleep outside but the REI seasonal garage sale was sure to please, according to my partner. This sale offers returned REI purchased gear at extreme rate reductions for whatever reason, from fit to poor ventilation. You get the idea.

We didn't sleep overnight but arrived by 6:20am on a Saturday morning and wow we were 5th in line, a line that wrapped around the entire store as the morning progressed. The doors opened and I felt stampeded. What an awful feeling to have people pushing and grabbing for stuff. The only way I could rationalize this experience was that maybe others were doing something major like me and needed gear, or just wanted extreme discounts. Either way it still felt weird. I went straight for the hiking boots and thought I found a good size 8 pushing my way through the crowd, a half size bigger than my normal size, but they didn't fit well. I grabbed these as a back up. Retail value: $200. Tag value: $95. The tag said worn once but the fit was too snug. With my thick hiking socks on these babies fit like a dream. Check off the list! We managed to get some other needed items- cheap hiking clothes. At checkout we were both surprised to find all hiking books were actually $49. Score! 
If the shoes can make it, then I must be able to right?


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Trekking Through Life

Everyone experiences angst in life at one point or the other. I am no different, no matter how ‘strong’ I am perceived to be. My 30th birthday is fast approaching and I am going through the seven stages of grief, sometimes all at once. My first thought about my upcoming birthday was, “Am I really 30?” This captures disbelief and denial. Then I move to rationalization, “Well, I’m 30 now so I can skip that workout today, my rest is more important.” The anger and depression surfaces sporadically these days taking me by surprise as I am usually on top of life. Sometimes I tell myself, “You’re 30 and you haven’t accomplished all you have wanted to do or become who you have wanted to become, you really suck at life.” While this is clearly not true, turning a birthday with a 0 at the end has a way of making you feel insignificant while taking stock of life. Society and culture is very hard on human beings.

Life in America often feels like a Facebook timeline and if you are not where the majority are at the moment, then you are the outlier, which I have been most of my life. When I look back ten years, ‘when I was an undergrad’, I truly don’t think I  thought at the time that I would be where I am at currently. After all, who does possess the gift of foresight? Truth is, I have accomplished more than I ever thought possible in my 30 years, especially given some difficult circumstances. These accomplishments never seem to diminish my need to experience or accomplish more. Perhaps this is my naivety at life or youthful exuberance attempting to sow its oats. Why am I always hungry for more? Why does life have those moments when you question everything? In my early to mid 20’s it was one phase after the next and my doey eyed self innocently ooed and awed at the experiences of life. It was way beyond my imagination and I miss that feeling. Now all I feel is too cautious and wise and smothered in adult decision fatigue.

What does one do when starving for inspiration in this life? Run a marathon? Been there, done that. Well, this gal and her best friend of 10 years have thought of something outlandish to do to ‘ring in our thirties.’ We probably shouldn’t do this either. I’m likely not healthy enough to do it. Ok, for now I am going to start checking that at the door. So yeah, we are climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in February 2016. We said we would do this for a long time now and we finally just dedicated ourselves to it. No this is not a Cheryl Strayed or Eat, Pray, Love moment. Leave that stuff for the movies, plus let's be real, only one of these was a good book.  

This is just the beginning, and we have six months to go. So why do this if all I am seeking is inspiration? Because sometimes in life you just have to do things for yourself and your friendships. You have to dig deep and find out what you’re made of, be brave enough to start something, and tough enough to finish it. Also, for bragging rights and to fulfill that need to experience and accomplish. And who knows, maybe this is just what I need to get back on the inspiration track.
So here we go. And first things first. I need hiking boots. More on that later. I must finish this.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Trek Across a Country: Day 6

Originally it was planned that we would stop in Spokane, Washington for our final night on the road. I started the drive from Bozeman, Montana on I-90. My husband drove most of the trip but it was time for him to get a rest. This was hard for me with the speed limit higher that I have ever driven a car (75-80) but I managed to get through this. The car was quite weighed down but I managed to get up three steep mountain passes with it.

So far the western parts of South Dakota, Montana and Idaho are my favorite parts of the road trip.  The mountains and passes reminded me of my precious Vermont. Once we got to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, which looks like Washington State to me and is very near the border, I began to get melancholy, as I knew the trip was ending. Funny thing when you want to stay in a car after driving/sitting almost a week in one. Lake Coeur d' Alene is so beautiful and large. Who says Idaho is just about potatoes? This part of the state is know for its mining.

When we arrived at Spokane before 1:30pm and decided to just keep on towards Seattle area and end this trip in 6 days. Eastern Washington was sometimes flat, sometimes hilly but mostly farmland until you get over a mountain pass in the cascades. Western Washington usually gets all the industry credit but this area is so vast with a tempered (more seasoned climate) that the produce continues to make its way all over America. We finally made it over the Snoqualmie mountain pass.

Also prominent in this area is the wind energy this state is creating. Hundreds of them line the farms and I-90. The picture below is just before the Columbia River which we crossed with ease.

I'd like to say that there is much more to report on but after this we headed straight towards our final destination and ahead of schedule by 1.5 days. I definitely want to do this again. I learned more from this trip about my country of citizenship than in my US history class. I want to do more readings in the weeks to come on the places I have seen and also plan a different route back across this vast country.     

Oddly enough this version of the song America the Beautiful really stuck a cord with me after I heard it on the internet a few years ago. The emotion sums up for me the depth this trip provided and I wanted to end this blog series with it. Thanks for being apart of this experience with me and my husband. Until the next adventure!

Trek Across a Country: Day 5

Up at 6am to head deeper into the Black Hills of South Dakota (3 miles) until we hit Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore is quite majestic, it’s a feat all on it's glory and is a national marvel. We entered at 8am on a Sunday morning and realized our Vermont tags gave away that we had travelled the farthest and people let us know when they screamed Vermont? After seeing our plates. 

From here we went back through Rapid City and headed north on I-90 we got off on route 212.  This route lead us through the north east corner of Wyoming (state number 10) for about 20 minutes, there were rolling hills and open sky. Then we were lead into Montana (state number 11), or Montaña in Spanish, meaning mountainous, and this is the best description of this state. Those rolling hills are larger and beauty unparallelled. Running horses, deer, its all very breathless and amazing. 

We stopped just shy of billings to see the battleground of Little Bighorn, aka Custers last stand. Again we got in free to this national park. The museum is again quite sad given the gravity of the situation at the time. If you like history you will like this place. "This area memorializes the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in one of the Indian's last armed efforts to preserve their way of life. Here on June 25 and 26 of 1876, 263 soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the U.S. Army, died fighting several thousand Lakota, and Cheyenne warriors." 

After reading A People's History Of The United States by Howard Zinn, one can no longer look at the country and its history with rose colored glasses. Passing through the indigenous areas one also cannot help but think about what was left behind, from all the wars, conflicts, and land grabs of the past. How does one come to terms with what was left behind?

All this while we listened to The Island Beneath the Sea by Isabelle Allende. I had read this in Spanish but wanted to get the audiobook as it was 18 hours long (a road trip is a great time for an audiobook) and share it with my husband who got into the story immediately. We already listened to Earth, by John Stewart and found it unrefreshing. My husband was surprised at how we haven’t fought this trip I am not. We really just enjoyed sharing this experience together. 

We continued towards Bozeman, Montana our pit stop for the evening and stopped at a trendy food spot, Montana Ale Works, all around goodness for weary travelers. Sadly, we are just 10 hours away from this trip ending and are still deciding if we want to do it in one day or two.  We shall keep you all posted on the next leg. 

Trek Across a Country: Day 4

Last night at the Granite City Food and Brewery and had my first bison burger. It was very beefy and had a good non-gamey taste. I’d have it again.

In the morning, we were up by 6am to make it to Sioux Falls Park. It was a quick jaunt to downtown and we were one of the first people there. The Falls are small but they were very tranquil. After a few more minutes we hit the road towards Badlands National Park in Interior, South Dakota.

Let me say first that this took four hours by car and largely through massive prairie land, very sparsely populated flat land. Just wide open. We stopped at the corn palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. This landmark was a erected to show the fertile nature of the land in this region of the country. The building is adorned in maize art. Unfortunately the museum area was not opened and we were quite disappointed to see that there was an sports arena inside. With our disappointment palpable we kept on the road. Every two miles on highway 90 (for many many miles through the flat part of the state) there is sign for Wall Drug in Wall South Dakota. I'll get to that part soon. "The small town drugstore made its first step towards fame when it was purchased by Ted Hustead in 1931. Hustead was a Nebraska native and pharmacist who was looking for a small town with a Catholic church in which to establish his business. He bought Wall Drug, located in a 231-person town in what he referred to as "the middle of nowhere," and strove to make a living. Business was very slow until his wife, Dorothy, got the idea to advertise free ice water to parched travelers heading to the newly opened Mount Rushmore monument 60 miles (97 km) to the west."

Once we entered into the  Badlands National Park one fact hit me- this was my first time ever to a National Park. It was National Park Week, so we entered for free. This was perfect timing for our visit as it was during the off season. Walking towards the sedimentary rocks and eroding hills, I was awe struck by the serene nature of this park. After walking around for a while we went to the visitor center. Now, I'll admit that US history wasn’t my favorite part of high school, mostly because it was poorly taught, but it truly felt like history was coming alive. Seeing the landscape that the plains indigenous live on is eye-opening. Unfortunately, the indigenous do not run this park, the national park service does. For me, this was upsetting. Of course I was just a transient passerby but it is quite undeniable the connection between this land and its indigenous people that are trying to regain their identity. As my husband says, history is told by the victors. 

After the Badlands we decided to follow the local signs to Wall, Drug South Dakota, advertised every mile on the highway towards Rapid City. Their key offering is 5 cent coffee and free ice water. Sadly, we felt trapped in a tourist nightmare with trinkets all around. We got out unscathed and unimpressed.  We flew right through Rapid City while listening to pop hits of the 90s playing, “name that band” and headed to keystone to stay closer to mount Rushmore, which turned out to be a good idea. Again we avoided tourist season and this meant we were only a handful of people in the town that night.  As we were in the black hills of South Dakota it was colder and I missed my winter coat on top of the car in the box.

After a long day there is nothing like kicking back in good company with good food. Cheers.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Trek Across a Country: Day 3

Sometimes when you are on the road its the little things that matter. No breakfast at our hotel this am meant we were hungry and on the road by 7am. Once we got out of Chicago area we experienced the northern area of Illinois, Rockford which contrasts economically significantly from Chicago. State number seven was very welcoming for us. Sadly, the state sign was too obscure for us to get a decent picture of it.
So far on this trip, my favorite state has been Wisconsin. Beautiful trees, rolling hills, nature areas, and friendly drivers/people. As we edged towards state number eight, the scenery dramatically changes. Right before entering Minnesota we crossed, and much to my shock, the massive Mississippi river.  

Construction on the bridge that crosses the two states was ongoing so good pictures were hard to come by. 
 Minnesota had no sign upon entry but we figured due to the landscape we were there. The hills went flat and the trees went away. Farms for as far as the eye can see. We got lost at some point, not marked on a map, and had to get gas at a station that was self-service (literally no attendant) and was gravel, as in not paved. Surprisingly we kept passing massive windmills. There were probably at least 200 of these as we were driving through. To our south, approximately 15 miles, was Iowa, which we paralleled all the way through the state. 
We sort of got lost again and couldn't find a rest stop. When we did in Blue Earth, MN we were very close to the border of South Dakota. My husband saw his second Washington State license plate on a trailer and we both felt calmed that the end was still near. We have a bet going on which state we would first see a Washington State license plate on a passenger car. I said South Dakota and he says Montana, so technically we both lose if you count a trailer. 

 We made it to state number nine around 4:30pm, both exhausted and me feeling a little under the weather.  Along the rolling hills we saw bison, aka buffalo. I immediately decided I needed to try it and at dinner I had a bison burger. To me, bison is beefier than cow meat. I liked it and will definitely have it again. We dragged ourselves back to our room for the night to plot a cool day 4, full of activities, and to get much needed rest. Today, we learned a lot about the bread bowl of America. These hardworking farmers fuel many Americans daily. I wonder how many people know this?
Until tomorrow, sweet dreams middle America.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Trek Across a Country: Day 2

I want to say that we got up and on the road by 7am, but it didn't happen. Day 1 was draining. Let me say though, I love my husband. We share a mutual love of good coffee. Yes, we are those people that travel with our own coffee beans and a grinder and prep it the night before to ensure an amazing cup upon waking up. We made our way to breakfast by 7am and had what passes for eggs in North East, PA. After another round of checking to make sure we had everything we packed up blue. I snapped this shot of a frozen Lake Erie in the distance.

After almost an hour we hit state number four and five: Ohio and Indiana.

 Honestly there isn't much to say about these states. They are flat and mostly rural, basically full of family farms. I couldn't tell what was grown given the season but I would suspect corn, wheat and possibly soybeans. We passed the RV/MH Museum couldn't justify getting off to visit it.  Going through the top of Indiana we were 23 miles south of Michigan. We arrived near Gary, Indiana, birthplace of the late Micheal Jackson (I put thriller on to pay homage) and proceeded to be sandwiched between semi's and bad drivers. It was scary and it was getting worse once we hit state number six.

There is no excuse for poor driving, especially close to Chicago. I changed our clocks back an hour to adjust to the time. We nearly halved our quarter stash going through four tolls in a 10 mile radius. After the tolls we had to squeeze into the lanes since very few drivers allowed us in. After one of the last ones a driver motioned next to us to roll the window down and yelled, "I've never seen a Vermont license plate before. I didn't think you guys left the state." This was not what we were expecting. We didn't see downtown Chicago as we had to bypass it. After today we were spent. Treated ourselves to slurpee's and are currently super exhausted. Tomorrow will be the longest mileage day of the trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We will be catching some attractions along the way. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Trek Across a Country: Day 1

Up At 6:15am. We hit the snooze button after a crazy pre-trip day full of day packing, cleaning, spa daying, driving, car washing, eating, and tough goodbyes. Rough night of sleep as well. The anxiety of getting on the road bothered us both. After running through the apartment for what felt like hours we finished packing up with my life inside of our Toyota Camry sedan, aptly named blueberry for her hue. Blue is so heavy the tire well in back went lower than normal, all I could think of was gas budget going out the window and fear of what can happen with just the wrong bump. Nonetheless we hit the road at 7am.

We made it to Fair Haven around by 8:30 we made it to Fair Haven, Vermont right next to Whitehall, NY. My last picture below in Vermont for at least the foreseeable future. Bittersweet indeed.
I made a starling discovery after we used the restroom at the Vermont Welcome Center (see below).
 Turns out I drove nearly 50 miles with the masking tape (used for packing) on our car. How this happened, I think our pre-caffinated brains just didn't register this. So after a good laugh, we kept on into our journey.

State number two:
So after we entered we noticed the two license plates (yellow and white), does anyone know why there are different colors? Is one for upstate NY and the other for NYC? Any who billboards are everywhere, the small lazy towns are big and they are older albeit forgotten looking. Interesting was how the roads went from bad to good and vice versa with the varied income levels. You can tell this by the conditions of the houses. And then highway, pure highway.  I began to tire but we were making such good time. We hit a rest stop in Senaca, NY and sat in the new green grass to eat our sandwiches made the night before. I love the spell of fresh grass, no more winter!

AAA had us rested for the night in Buffalo, NY but we decided to continue onward to cut an hour off of tomorrows 8 hour drive to Chicago.  After another 2 hours we hit gold. State number 3:
We got here by weaving through tracker trailers in afternoon traffic surrounded by miles and miles of barren land. Within the last half hour we spotted a frozen Lake Erie in the distance. I tired and failed to contain my excitement. My husband was afraid something else  had happened given the pitch of my voice. We neared the end of leg one in North East, PA, home of Lake Erie Wine Country, known as the largest grape-growing region east of the Rockies. Too bad we are in the off season. 
 So we have arrived, checked in and looked around this older town. It didn't seem that friendly after we took a stroll in the local grocery store for stocking up on road provision. The local dive bar/restaurant offered bland American fare but was a welcome plate after the long journey. After food time to get our energy up for a big day two ahead. All smiles from here.