My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Day One

Although I had been to Yosemite National Park in California about 20ish years ago, I never really felt like I saw much of it. I was in San Francisco and Napa Valley for a week of sightseeing and wine tasting and noticed that I could squeeze in a daytrip to Yosemite National Park. I drove through the park and saw the major highlights including El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, Mariposa Grove, and Tuolumne Meadows but I didn’t do a lot of hiking because of my limited time. I always wanted to return to really get a feel for the park. I finally got to do that this year with my first backpacking trip in Yosemite.

A couple of years ago my daughter’s Girl Scout troop had saved up their money from cookie sales, a car wash, and other fundraising activities and we were all brainstorming how to spend the money when I came across the outdoor programs that Lasting Adventures offers https://lastingadventures.com/. I noticed they had a link under their Youth Trips for Boy and Girl Scout Trips. When I asked the girls in our troop if they might be interested in backpacking in Yosemite with Lasting Adventures, they all enthusiastically agreed so I began to make the arrangements.

Since I’m the troop leader and love to hike and camp it was a given that I would be one of the adults going. My co-leader isn’t exactly the backpacking type (not that that’s a bad thing) so I asked another parent of a girl from our troop who I knew loved to hike and camp if she could go with us. She agreed and we chose a date in August of 2020 to go. Unfortunately that trip was cancelled because of COVID but we were able to keep all of our deposits and move everything back to August of 2021 when we got the green light from our local Girl Scouts council that we could go.

We live in North Carolina so our troop had to fly to California and somehow get to Yosemite National Park, which really isn’t that close to any major airports. I chose Fresno to fly into and someone from Lasting Adventures suggested I get tickets with YARTS public transit to Yosemite https://yarts.com/, which was one heck of a deal. Private shuttles from Fresno to Yosemite charged around $100 or more per person, while YARTS was a mere $36 for adults and reduced fare for our girls since they’re all under 17. The shuttle took around 4 hours from the Fresno Airport since there were other stops along the way and one stop included a 10 minute break. We were in a large bus with a bathroom in the back and chargers at the seats so it was a comfortable ride.

After a long day of flying across the country, spending the night at a hotel by the airport, and a 4-hour shuttle the next day, we finally arrived at Yosemite Valley tired but excited to begin our adventure. Our two guides, Bella and Savannah met us in one of the parking lots and gave us each our backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and some other gear we would need for the next five days. We all emptied our suitcases and put a couple of shirts, a pair of shorts, socks, underwear, and basically nothing but essentials into our backpacks.

There were five girls from the troop, myself, the other adult from our troop plus our two guides and between the 9 of us we would be carrying everything we would need for the next five days on our backs. As I quickly found out when I lifted my backpack, every single ounce adds up. Although I had planned on bringing a clean shirt for each day and having a couple of pairs of shorts, I changed my mind when we were transferring things from our suitcases and only packed two shirts and one pair of shorts into my backpack. Other things I had planned on bringing like body wipes, deodorant, and others got left behind as well.

Yosemite at last!

We stored all of our luggage containing things we weren’t bringing on our multi-day hike in one of the guide’s cars and were instructed how to maneuver ourselves into a fully-stuffed backpack. You put the pack on one knee, put one arm in then the other in a bent-over position, buckle the hip and chest straps, and tighten or loosen as necessary. Holy crap was this thing heavy. I would be carrying this for the next five days, hiking over loose rocks, up and down hills? Whoa, I thought. This wasn’t going to be easy, but then again, I didn’t expect it to be when I signed up for the trip. Would the girls, most of whom were 16, be able to handle their packs plus all of the hiking, I wondered?

Being the smart and experienced guides that they were, Bella and Savannah told us we would be hiking only about a mile and a half to our first campground. It was a way to get us used to carrying our backpacks and figure out what straps needed tightened or loosened. I didn’t mention before that our packs also contained bear cans full of our food for the next five days and some people carried other gear like pots and pans, and dishes or other necessities for the group.

My hips were aching by the end of that short hike and I was wondering how I would carry that heavy pack for the longer distances that were planned. The girls seemed to also struggle with the weight of their packs but we all made it to the campsite and the first thing we did was take off our backpacks, with a collective sigh of relief.

No tents for us! Who needs tents? We’re Girl Scouts!

I had been told by someone at Lasting Adventures prior to our arrival that although they did their youth trips without tents that adult chaperones had the option of sleeping in a tent but that also meant I would have to carry that tent. After debating it for a while, I thought if the girls could sleep outdoors without a tent, I could too and the other adult going with us agreed with me.

So sans tents at our first campground, Bella and Savannah chose a good site for us and showed us how to set up our sleeping areas. The first to go down was a piece of Tyvek ground cloth, then the sleeping pad went on top of that, and finally our sleeping bag went on top of that. Pretty simple really.

After everyone had set up their sleeping areas and we had changed out of our hiking shoes, we walked over to the Merced River for a refreshing dip. The water was crystal clear and only about waist-deep at least where we were. We were told in the spring after the snow melts, the river often floods and is high enough to go kayaking and tubing. There were still some people with inflatables mostly just relaxing in one spot rather than floating down the river but the water would definitely have been too low for a kayak.

Just enjoying the view and taking it all in!

Although the water was quite cold at first, I quickly adjusted and it felt soothing and relaxing to wade in the water looking at the views surrounding us. On one end were the majestic mountains looming over us and on the other end was a cool stone bridge along with more mountains. The girls happily chatted and we all enjoyed our time in the serene setting, content to finally be at Yosemite National Park.

We made our way back to camp after an hour or so of wading in or sitting by the water and dined on a delicious meal of curry chicken that Bella and Savannah had prepared for us. After playing some games we brushed our teeth using toothpaste tablets (to save on weight because as I said, every ounce counts) and slid into our sleeping bags, tired but very much looking forward to what was to come.

To be continued…

Inspirational and Funny Quotes Changed to Running Quotes

Once again I had an idea for a blog post when I was out running. Does this ever happen to you? Anyway, for whatever crazy reason, this quote came into my head:   “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.”- Confucius

I thought to myself, “What if I turned that into a running quote?” and I came up with this: “Give a man a pair of running shoes and he’ll run for a day. Offer to be a man’s running partner and you’ve got a friend for life.” Then when I got home I looked up some other famous quotes and started turning them into running quotes. Here’s what I came up with.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney

Running quote:  “The way to get started running is to quit talking about it and start running.”

photo of people in a marathon
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

“People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”- Rob Siltanen

Running quote:  “The people who are crazy enough to think they can run a marathon are the ones who do.”

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”- Henry Ford

Running quote:  “Whether you think you can or think you can’t run that extra mile, you’re right.” Or you could leave it exactly like it is and it still applies to running. I love that quote.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”- C.S. Lewis

Running quote:  “You are never too old to start running or to set a new running goal.”

female and male runners on a marathon
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

“I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.” – Michael Phelps

Running quote:  “Running goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.”

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles Swindoll

Running quote:  “Marathons are 10% physical and 90% mental.”

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain

Running quote:  “The secret of being a runner is getting started.”

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!” – Billy Connolly

Running quote:  “Before you judge a man, run a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? You’re a mile away and you’ve got new running shoes!”

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“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.”– Ellen DeGeneres

Running quote:  “My grandmother started running five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and she just crossed into Canada.” On second thought, maybe Ellen DeGeneres’ version is better. What do you think?

It seemed pretty easy to turn these quotes into running-specific quotes and for whatever reason it was fun to me. I had a harder time with the funny quotes than the inspirational quotes. Anyway, I hope I at least made some of you smile. With all of the negative information currently circulating, I thought we could all use something lighthearted for a change.

Do you like inspirational or funny quotes? Do you ever turn them around into running quotes or something else just for fun?

Happy running!

Donna

Rediscovering Abundance in Atlanta: Some of My Favorite Places in Atlanta, Georgia

Over the years Atlanta has been one of those cities that has a certain draw for me and I can’t stay away forever. Unlike most other cities I go to, once just wasn’t enough when it came to Atlanta. I first went to Atlanta when I was in college in the late 90’s and I’ve been back a few times since then. I almost moved there straight after graduate school and most likely would have if I would have gotten a job offer there.

Still, when I go back (as I recently did) I’m always amazed at how much the area has grown since my previous visit. I read a projection that they expect the population of Atlanta to grow to 8.6 million people by 2050 (it’s currently just over half a million). Traffic is insane and you’d be well-advised to take the MARTA public transportation system https://www.itsmarta.com/, primarily the train system although there are buses and streetcars as well. Besides, even if you don’t mind sitting in endless traffic, parking is expensive and hard to find especially in the popular Midtown and Downtown areas.

The MARTA trains are abundant, clean, and safe for the most part. Just learn which line your stop is on and if you need to transfer stations and know which direction you need to go. It’s easy to figure out but I’ve always found friendly and helpful people to ask if I was confused about something or forgot something.

Where to Stay

There is an abundance of hotels, Airbnbs, Bed and Breakfasts, and even an Alpaca Treehouse with llamas, alpacas, bunnies, and chickens (https://www.alpacatreehouse.com/alpaca-treehouse). The most convenient and safest place to stay is in the Midtown or Downtown area although I’ve also stayed just north of Atlanta and that was fine albeit not quite as convenient. Prices range from the super-expensive Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Marquis, and St. Regis to the moderately-priced Doubletree by Hilton, Sonesta, Hotel Indigo, Radisson to the budget-friendly options like Econo Lodge, Days Inn, Motel 6 and so many more. Often the more expensive places to stay are located close to an array of shops and restaurants so the downside if you stay at a budget-friendly hotel you may have to drive or take public transportation for a bit longer than otherwise. Even more important than saving a few dollars, first and foremost make sure your hotel is in a safe area.

Favorite Places

Likewise, there is an abundance of things to do in Atlanta. Here are some of my favorites with a couple of others thrown in that are popular with other people but just aren’t my thing.

Atlanta Botanical Garden- I’ve been here a couple of times and on my most recent visit I discovered places that I hadn’t seen the first time. It’s funny because they even state on their website: “As the Garden evolves, it’s never the same place twice.” I can attest to that so even if you’ve been before, it’s worth going again. I love the “Garden Guide” feature that you can click, choosing specific things like Family Adventure, Flying Solo, Fresh Art and Music, and more, then click which garden (there’s another in Gainesville), how much time you have, and so forth. https://atlantabg.org/garden-guide/

This is definitely one of the best botanical gardens I’ve been to anywhere in the world and also one of the largest and most comprehensive. Tickets are on the pricey side, starting at $22.95 and up for adults but if you enjoy flowers and nature, I feel like it’s worth it. Most people spend a couple of hours here, especially if you don’t stop to have lunch or dinner at the cafe (which is good but also on the pricey side if you get table service).

Fernbank Museum– the tagline is “Where Science, Nature, and Fun Make History” and this is a perfect description of the museum. There are indoor exhibits such as Fantastic Forces, A Walk Through Time in Georgia, Curator’s Corner; outdoor exhibits such as WildWoods, Fernbank Forest, Rain Garden; and temporary as well as permanent special exhibits such as Sky High focusing on birds, Habitat where you can see sculptures and explore four different biomes. Plus you can watch a movie on a giant screen for a bit extra. As a scientist and nature- and history-lover, this place is just heaven to me and worth every penny for the $20 admission. https://fernbankmuseum.org/

The Fernbank Museum

Georgia Aquarium– this is the largest aquarium in the world, whether you’re measuring by number of fish or volume of water. I really like how their exhibits are laid out, for example take the Aquanaut Adventure: A Discovery Zone. This has 49 kid adventures, more than 15 species, and one rope bridge. Here you can learn about aquatic life in extreme environments. In other words, you don’t just walk by tanks filled with fish and other animals, you learn about the animals and gain an appreciation for aquatic animals and the research marine scientists do.

The Georgia Aquarium is heavily invested in research and conservation, a fact that I love. There are also several behind-the-scenes encounters you can pay extra for, which is great if you especially love, say, penguins, seals, or sea lions. Plus, there are many educational programs, both online and in-person, in addition to volunteer programs, programs for military and veterans, and even virtual yoga. Tickets for adults are $36.95 and includes access to all the Aquarium galleries, 4D Theater shows, general-seating Dolphin Presentation, Sea Lion Presentation and supports ocean conservation. https://www.georgiaaquarium.org/

Atlanta History Center– not only is there historical information on events that specifically took place in Atlanta, like the 1996 Olympics, but there are also displays on national events like the 19th Amendment, the American Civil War, and so much more. In my opinion, this is one of the best history centers in the United States and ranks up there with the Smithsonian museums as far as quality and quantity. The outside grounds are also worth checking out, with 33 acres of gardens, woodlands, and trails. You can also have lunch at the Swan Coach House on the grounds of the Swan Mansion and try some quintessential Southern fare like pimento cheese grit fritters, chicken salad tea sandwiches, mint juleps, and homemade pecan pie. https://www.atlantahistorycenter.com/visit

Stone Mountain Park- located in Stone Mountain, Georgia, about 30 minutes from Atlanta is Georgia’s most-visited attraction. Located on 3200 acres of land, you can find trails that range from short and easy to longer and more difficult. One of the toughest trails is also one of the most popular, the Walk Up Trail; even though it’s only a mile, it goes straight up the mountain, much of it on stone, with the steepest parts near the pinnacle. If you’re not able or just don’t want to hike that steep of a trail, you can take a cable car to the top (Summit Skyride) for a fee.

Cherokeee Trail is one of the longer trails, at 5 miles and it meanders along past water views and through the woods. You can also see a 100-year-old Grist Mill (although you can’t go inside) and the Quarry Exhibit to see how the park was made with photos and outdoor displays plus there are extra activities for children that require a ticket. If you plan to just hike around the park for the day, entry is free except for the parking fee. There are a few options for staying inside the park, ranging from a campground with over 400 sites, Stone Mountain Inn, and a Marriott hotel. The MARTA public transportation stops about 1/2 mile from the park’s West Gate or you can take an Uber from Atlanta if you don’t have a car. https://www.stonemountainpark.com/

The bottom right photo is the very last section of the Walk Up Trail, straight up a rock face!

World of Coca-Cola– as you might imagine this museum showcases all things about the Coca-Cola Company. I’ll admit, I’ve never been here, as I’ve never been a big fan of Coca-Cola or any soda for that matter, but I know it’s popular. There are artifacts, a bottling display, a tasting experience (that’s been altered for COVID safety), and more. Most people spend a couple of hours here. Tickets for adults are $18. https://www.worldofcoca-cola.com/plan-your-visit/

Zoo Atlanta- with over 1000 animal species and the only twin giant pandas in the United States, this is a nice way to spend a morning, especially if you have young children but even if you don’t. You can find the usual zoo offerings like behind-the-scenes encounters, giraffe feedings, train rides, and wildlife presentations. The zoo is also actively involved in research and conservation programs around the world. Tickets start at $26.99 for adults and $20.99 for children. https://zooatlanta.org/visit/

Money-saving Tip: If you plan on doing a few of these activities, you should consider buying an Atlanta CityPass. For $77 for adults and $63 for children you will get entry to 5 attractions including Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, and Zoo Atlanta plus 2 more attractions that you can choose from Fernbank of Natural History, College Football Hall of Fame, and National Center for Civil and Human Rights. It could potentially save you 45% off ticket prices if you purchased them separately. You have nine consecutive days to use the pass beginning on the first day of use. https://www.citypass.com/atlanta

Favorite Foods and Restaurants

I would be remiss to not include some of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta. Again, there is an abundance of truly over-the-top restaurants scattered all around the Atlanta area. The ones I’m going to list here also rank high on lists like Yelp (because I know food choices can be subjective).

Let’s play “Find the item that doesn’t belong here”

South City Kitchen– Southern food at its best: shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, collard greens, Carolina trout are some of my favorites.

Local Expedition Wood Fired Grill– technically not in Atlanta but two locations on the outskirts, Sandy Springs and Alpharetta. Fresh, made-to-order at the counter with choice of protein, sides, rice or salad, or you can get wraps or salads. Great if you’re in a hurry but want something healthy.

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken– besides Atlanta, locations in Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham, and Las Vegas. I ate at one of the Nashville locations first and have since tried the Atlanta location. The chicken is tender and juicy and hot but not too much spice to be enjoyable.

Aviva by Kameel– Mediterranean food. Excellent shawarma, hummus, and falafel.

Atlanta Breakfast Club– need I say more?

Ice Cream Places- we seemed to get on an ice cream kick when we were in Minnesota prior to going to Atlanta recently. Some places we enjoyed include: Amorino Gelato (in Lenox Square), Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream (so creamy), and Frosty Caboose in a converted train caboose in nearby Chamblee (the green tea ice cream sundae with crystallized ginger and a fortune cookie on top is genius).

Atlanta is definitely a city where you can pop in for a long weekend or you could stay a week and there would still be plenty to do. Another thing of note is it does get hot and humid during the summer, as does the rest of the Southeast in the US. If you’re not used to sticky hot summer weather, the fall or spring would be more comfortable, or even the winter. The lows in the winter hovers around the mid-30’s and the highs are around the mid-50’s so it’s still not too cold to walk around outside.

Have you been to Atlanta, Georgia? If so, tell me about it- what did you do and what were some of your favorite things?

Happy travels!

Donna