What Travel Taught Me in 2019

I’d like to continue my tradition of re-capping my travels for the year and note all of the things I learned while I was traveling. As great as my travels were in 2018, I think they were topped in 2019. It was a truly wonderful year for travel for me, for which I am so grateful to have experienced. My family and I visited so many incredible places in just one year and it was a wild ride! Let’s begin! Grab a coffee or glass of wine first, because this one is going to take a while.

In February, we visited two islands in Hawaii, Kauai and Oahu. I had been to Kauai before but I still learned some things there. I learned how drastically different vacations to the same place can be given a person’s circumstances. When my family and I last went to Kauai, my daughter was not quite two years old. Our days were spent lazing around the pool and beaches with our daughter and my in-laws. My husband and I went hiking a couple of times while our daughter stayed back in the room with my in-laws.

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My family in Kauai the first time we went…

Fast-forward to this year, where it was my husband and I along with our 13-year-old daughter and it was quite a different experience for all of us. We went zip-lining, snorkeling, and the three of us went hiking several times together. This was a much more active vacation and I saw a different side of Kauai than the previous one I saw 11 years ago. I also discovered shave ice for the first time, thanks for my daughter asking for it. Holy crap is that stuff good! I thought it would just be regular snow cones before I bit into it, but it was nothing like that. We learned to ask for our shave ice with sweet cream over and macadamia nut ice cream under. So, so good! My post on Kauai is here.

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My daughter zip lining in Kauai this time we went.

I also learned a few things on the island of Oahu. Previously, I hadn’t wanted to go to Oahu because I had heard how crowded Waikiki and Honolulu are. When I pictured Oahu, all I could see was the big city of Honolulu and crowded beaches of Waikiki. A co-worker of mine has been to Oahu several times and has always raved about it, so I decided to give it a try. Yes, Oahu has some definite crowded places, like Diamond Head State Monument and of course Honolulu is crowded, but Oahu is so much more than those places. By the way, I recommend still going to Diamond Head State Monument despite the crowds because you get some tremendous views of the area from the top.

We stayed on the east side of Oahu on a bay and it was absolutely perfect. Not only was it not crowded like other parts of Oahu, it was close enough that we could drive to most places within a reasonable drive. This was a valuable thing to learn about Oahu:  you don’t have to stay in the crowded parts of the island. I also learned how to standup paddle board for the first time at the gorgeous Airbnb property where we stayed in Oahu. I learned I’m actually pretty good at SUP and since that vacation I have had so much fun paddle boarding at other places on our travels like Hilton Head Island and Wyoming but also back home on a lake near where I live. It’s become one of my favorite activities along with running, cycling, and hiking. You can find all of the details about my time in Oahu here.

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Paddleboarding in Oahu was so much fun!

In May, we took a short vacation to Delaware. This was my first time visiting Delaware and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been to states all around Delaware but honestly didn’t know much about Delaware. We were in the Rehoboth Beach area and I learned that it is so much cheaper to visit this area in May than during the summer months, plus it’s much less crowded. Although it wasn’t warm enough to get in the ocean, it was nice enough to walk along the beaches and also walk the trails at Cape Henlopen State Park. I learned there are several great restaurants and shopping in this area. Lewes, the first town in the first state in the United States, has some unique shops and restaurants as well.

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Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware

While I was in Delaware, I also discovered a float tank a.k.a. sensory deprivation tank, which I used for the first time ever, and you can read all about here. I learned that I absolutely loved how I felt afterwards and it wasn’t nearly as claustrophobic or strange as I thought it might be. While I was in Delaware, I told myself I would look for float tanks when I travel again because even though there’s a place with float tanks sort of close to where I live, it wouldn’t be convenient for me to go there, but I haven’t followed through with that. I really need to get better about that because I felt like my recovery time from my half marathon in Delaware was quicker and I just felt great all over afterwards.

Later in May, I went to Peru and had one of the best vacations of my life. Our vacation started in Lima, where we flew into and took a taxi from the airport to a hotel for the night and spent a few hours walking around until we had to head back to the hotel for our quick flight to Cusco. That all worked out well, but I learned that one’s experiences in Lima (and really any city) can vary vastly depending on one single person- your taxi driver. So we flew from Lima to Cusco then Cusco to Arequipa and back to Lima (over a couple of week’s time). On our return to Lima the second time, our plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the Miraflores section, which is where we spent the night upon arrival in Peru, and by the way I had read this was the “best” and “safest” part of Lima. Our plan was to spend a few hours in this area having dinner and walking around the shops and neighborhood before we took another taxi back to the airport and fly back home. However, our taxi driver was a dishonest man and told us several lies during that drive to Miraflores. Long story short (you can read the full story here), the taxi driver tried to mislead us into paying him more money than what we had agreed to before getting into his cab (yep, no meters here) and at one point I was starting to fear for my life and wonder if we were going to have to jump out of the car before he kidnapped us.

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One of the main squares in Cusco, Peru

Fortunately, the rest of Peru was amazing. I learned some things when we were in Cusco, the first of which is that when everyone says to allow a few days for your body to acclimatize to the higher altitude, you really need to listen and do that. I had planned on just taking it easy for our first 2 or 3 days in Cusco and didn’t plan anything for us to do those days. This turned out to be perfect for us and by the third day we were feeling so good we decided to go for a hike to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman and the nearby Statue of Christ. Cusco is a city where you can easily just hang out and take in the sights and not overly exert yourself. That being said, I learned Cusco is crazy hilly and if you stay up at the top of the hill like we did, you’ll get out of breath just walking up the hill and going up all of those what feel like a million steps! It’s definitely easier to stay at the bottom of the hill, where the main square is, but it’s also more crowded and noisier down there. Pick which you’d rather have, peace and quiet or easier physically.

Another thing I learned in Cusco is taking a day trip to Rainbow Mountain is worth it and although it’s not quite a picture-perfect as some of the photos online, it’s still a colorful, unique area. This is a place where it pays to have acclimatized to the altitude first before coming here since the peak is at 17,060 feet. I also learned it’s a good idea to pay the extra admission to the adjacent Red Valley, which is every bit as beautiful as Rainbow Mountain but not as crowded.

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Rainbow Mountain in Peru

More things I learned about Cusco:  the heating systems aren’t like what we’re used to in the United States. The hotels and hostels may claim to have heated rooms, but I read online hotel reviews over and over about how the rooms were cold, especially at night, and we experienced this ourselves as well. We did at least have hot water, so that was extra nice. Also, there are a crazy amount of not just good but GREAT restaurants in Cusco. Before going there, I didn’t know Peru is such a foodie country, but at least in Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa, we came upon so many restaurants with not only some of the best-tasting food but also such beautiful presentations of the food! A final thing I discovered on our last day in Cusco was Avenida el Sol, a part of Cusco that I absolutely loved and wished I had known about sooner. It was full of cute shops, restaurants, and hotels and seemed like a place I would have liked to have stayed in. My post on Cusco is here.

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One of so many beautiful views from our trek to Machu Picchu

From Cusco, we took a trek with Alpaca Expeditions and some of their incredible staff along with a family of four from Connecticut, where we camped in tents and ultimately ended up at Machu Picchu on the fourth day. Along the way, we met with and talked to some local families and school children, went to a local market, got to walk around the Salinas salt ponds, soaked in the Lares Hot Springs, saw alpacas and llamas up-close, and saw some of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever seen in my life. This trek really emphasized to me that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. OK, maybe not “more important,” but certainly as important in this case. You can read about my Lares Trek to Machu Picchu here: Day One, Day Two and Day Three.

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One of my favorite photos from our trek to Machu Picchu

That’s not to imply that Machu Picchu wasn’t every bit as wonderful and awe-inspiring as you might think it is if you’ve never been, because it was every bit that and more. I learned that Machu Picchu is pretty much exactly what I had in my head as to what it would look like. What I was surprised by is Huayna Picchu, the mountain that towers behind the ruins of Machu Picchu. We had decided to pay a little extra to climb up Huayna Picchu, and I was terrified going into it, to be perfectly honest. I had read that some of the stairs are crumbling and parts of it aren’t safe to climb, which is perhaps true. What I learned first hand, however, is there are cables to hold onto for some parts of the climb, which makes it a bit easier, BUT these cables stop just where you really need them in my opinion, at the very last part of the climb. I had to channel my inner strength for this part of the climb in particular to help overcome my intense fear of heights, and I learned that some of the stuff I had learned about overcoming fears really does work, like focusing on the task at hand. Let me tell you, I focused on climbing those steps up Huayna Picchu like nothing I’ve ever focused on before and I was able to get to the top without breaking down or just giving up (which has happened before to me when hiking in the mountains). I was so proud of myself and going back down seemed like a piece of cake after going through what I did to reach the top. My post on Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu is here.

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On top of the world after climbing Huayna Picchu

When we went to Arequipa after we left Cusco, I learned an important lesson. If you have a limited amount of time in a place and have your heart set on doing a specific trek or visiting a specific place, make reservations in advance. I thought it would be best to wait to make reservations for Colca Canyon, the big reason why many people visit Arequipa in the first place, until we got there, but due to multiple reasons, we were unable to visit Colca Canyon. Of course I was disappointed, but we found plenty of other things to do in Arequipa and it ended up being even better than I thought it could have been. Still, I wish I had pre-booked the overnight trek to Colca Canyon. You can read all about Arequipa here.

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Lovely Arequipa

Some final thoughts on Peru in general:  traffic in Peru is some of the most insane I’ve ever seen anywhere. Don’t even think about renting a car here. I wouldn’t recommend renting a motorbike or scooter either because the traffic is so crazy. Dress in layers as the temperatures can and do vary throughout the day. Learn some Spanish before you go and I mean learn as much as you possibly can because many people don’t speak English at all and you may not have cellular coverage or Wi-fi to use Google translate.

In July, we went to Wyoming, starting in Thayne where I ran a half marathon and moved on to Jackson for a few days and eventually to Yellowstone National Park, where we spent several days. One thing I learned is that the Jackson Hole area is worth spending more than just a couple of days or especially just a day trip from Yellowstone like some people do. Grand Teton National Park is NOT part of Yellowstone National Park but in fact a separate entity and should be treated as such. I learned you really should take at least 3-4 days to enjoy Grand Teton National Park, and 4-5 would be even better if you like to hike. I also learned that it’s worth renting a paddle board to do stand up paddle boarding on String Lake and Jenny Lake in the park for the day if you’re into SUP like me. My post on Grand Teton National Park is here and water activities (including rafting down the river, which I highly recommend) here.

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One of my favorite photos from Grand Teton National Park

I learned there’s no possible way to see all of Yellowstone National Park if you’re only going to be there a week or less, so you might as well not even try. It’s an enormous park so the best way to see it is to choose a part of the park for a day and focus your time there, then choose another part of the park and spend a day there, and so on, otherwise you’ll spend half of your day driving from one part to the next. I learned Yellowstone gets crowded during the summer months so it’s best to get an early start in the morning to see the geysers, hot springs, pools, and canyon. It’s also best to make reservations for a hotel within the park as early in advance as you possibly can, because the rooms fill up months out. I also learned it’s possible to get away from the crowds, just by going on some of the trails that are a bit farther from the most popular areas like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic. I have two posts on Yellowstone, one on general info and learning your way around and another with more specific tips.

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There are so many colorful pools like this one at Yellowstone National Park

In August, I visited Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, which was a return visit for me but I still learned some things. As I mentioned with Hawaii how it was a return visit but we had very different experiences because our daughter was so young the first time, Hilton Head Island was the same for us. The first time we went, our daughter was young, so we mostly hung out at the beaches, did some shopping, and went to the lighthouse. However, this time when we went, we rented bikes and rode them all over the island, my daughter and I ran, my husband and I rented stand up paddle boards, and we still visited the white sand beaches of course. I learned that Hilton Head Island is another place where you can have anything from a relaxing, laid-back vacation to a more active vacation, depending on your current lifestyle and choices. You can read about my family’s adventures in Hilton Head Island here.

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The beaches on Hilton Head Island are so gorgeous

Our final vacation of the year was in a place I had heard good things about from a couple of people I know but it’s far from what I’d call a popular vacation spot, Omaha, Nebraska. I chose to run the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha for my half marathon in Nebraska, which was in October. This turned out to be a fantastic time of year to visit the area because of the autumn leaves and it was still warm enough (most of the time anyway) to comfortably walk around and visit the cute shopping/restaurant area called Old Market. I learned Omaha, Nebraska has a surprisingly large number of good restaurants and unique shops, along with some fun museums and a great botanical garden. We especially liked the Durham Museum, the Joselyn Art Museum, and Lauritzen Gardens, which you can read all about plus much more here. I learned that Nebraska may be listed as a “flyover” state, and while I can only speak from my experience in Omaha, it’s a place I would definitely return to, given the opportunity.

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Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha, Nebraska was full of so many pretty flowers and trees

So, this has been my longest blog post yet, but it was undoubtedly one of the most action-packed travel years for me to date. Honestly, 2020 will pale in comparison, but I know every year can’t be like this one. Besides, it’s not like a contest where we have to go to “bigger” and “better” destinations to top the previous ones. We just happened to have a year crammed full of some amazing destinations. As I stated earlier, I’m so grateful to have been able to go to these places with my husband and daughter. I feel like I learned so much from our travels in 2019 and that is truly priceless.

Where did you travel to this year? What were some of your favorite places? Tell me about them!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

Star Valley Half Marathon, Thayne, Wyoming- 46th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Wyoming was my 46th state.

Many of you may be wondering, where the heck is Thayne, Wyoming? Well, it’s a little town about halfway down the state, close to the Idaho border, due east of Pocatello, Idaho, if you know where that is. Still nothing? It’s about an hour south of Jackson, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park.

Now you may be wondering how I happened upon a half marathon in little Thayne, Wyoming. Well, actually, I had my eye on this race for many years. When I was choosing which race to run for my half marathon in Wyoming, this one popped up as a contender. You may not be aware that many cities in Wyoming are at a high altitude, and as a person who lives at low altitude, this was a concern for me. Thayne, Wyoming and the surrounding area sits around 6,000 feet in elevation. High elevation is considered anything between 5,000 and 11,500 feet (with very high and extreme altitude more than that).

When I ran the Boulder Rez Half Marathon, Colorado- 37th state the elevation was 5,430 feet and I definitely felt the effects of the altitude during the race. The rest of my time there, I was perfectly fine, but during the race, it felt like my legs were made of lead. However, when I ran the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state, the race begins around 5,000 feet and it was my fastest half marathons ever; granted, it’s a downhill course.

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I took this when I drove the course the day before the race.

Regardless, there were many other places in Wyoming with races at higher elevation, and I felt like this race in Thayne was a good choice for me. So, with all of this in my head concerning elevation of the area before the race, I was anxiously looking forward to seeing Wyoming for the first time. I was also looking forward to running in cooler temperatures because I was getting tired of the heat and humidity where I live.

Packet pickup was offered both Friday evening from 6 to 8 pm and race day morning on Saturday in July 2019. I picked up my packet at Thyne Elementary School on Friday and it was quick and easy. All runners received a drawstring bag with our race number on it so we could put clothes in it for after the race and a bright yellow short sleeve technical shirt. Inside the bag was an ad for an upcoming local race, a sticker, some Hammer nutrition samples, a water bottle, and hand wipes. There was also a spaghetti dinner that evening but I didn’t go.

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Packet pickup goodies and race shirt

Race morning was 49 degrees and partly sunny. Most runners were bused to the start at Grover Park, a tiny little area with not much other than a grassy field. My husband dropped off my daughter and me, which was nice since we could sleep in a little later and not have to be at the bus pickup at 5:30 or 6:00. The race started promptly at 7:00.

The start of the race was downhill and although it was on gravel, which at first I worried would be slippery, it was fast. I was actually one of the last people to go across the start since I was in line for a port-o-john right before the start, but since we had chips on our bibs, it was fine. My first mile was 8:56 and that was with me fumbling with my phone; it wasn’t syncing with my ear buds for some reason. I finally just put them both away and ran like I usually run races without listening to anything.

The next few miles were my fastest of the race:  8:14, 8:31, 8:31, 8:23, and 8:18. After mile 6 when we had been on flat roads for a while and the sun started to heat things up, I started to slow down a bit but not too much. Mile 7 was 8:44, then 9:04, 9:07, 8:51, and 8:44. All along the course I wasn’t really paying much attention to my split times other glancing down at my watch every now and then and being surprised at my times.

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Farms and mountains were my views for much of the race

By mile 11, I was pretty sure I could be close to a PR if I could just hold on to around 8:45 for the last couple of miles. I told myself that I felt really good, nothing really hurt, and I could continue to push. Mile 12 was at 8:37 and my last mile was 8:46. I crossed the finish line at 1:53:00, a PR for me by two and a half minutes.

The course was almost entirely along quiet country roads but there were more spectators than I thought there would be. I was impressed with how many people had come out to the middle of nowhere for the sole purpose to cheer runners on. There was a spot along the course where three girls were dancing and playing music, which made me smile. I also loved all of the people with signs for runners and the little boy and girl hosing off runners that wanted to cool off a bit from their garden hose.

This race was in memory of Jeremy Bart Kunz, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2009. There was a photo of Jeremy at every mile marker. The community obviously thought highly of Jeremy and it’s nice that they remember him in this special way. I definitely got a sense of what a close-knit community this was.

There were aid stations at miles 3, 6, 8.5, and 11 with water and a sports drink. Aid stations 6 and 11 also had cut up oranges and bananas and aid station 8.5 had Otter Pops. There were also port-o-johns near each aid station.

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Posing with my medal after the race by the largest collection of elk horns in the world

We were handed a medal and cold bottle of water when we crossed the finish line. The medal was a bit small and kind of plain. Nearby the finish line there were volunteers with bananas, orange slices, cut-up watermelon, mini muffins, rolls, sports drink, and cold chocolate milk. The watermelon was particularly refreshing.

My husband checked my finish time and even though it was a PR for me, I was still only 7th in my age group so we didn’t wait around for the awards. They were also giving out prizes like a treadmill but I was just too tired to wait and see if I won a prize. I’m guessing since I never heard anything either I didn’t win or they gave my prize to someone who was there.

This race was one of my favorites so far and not just because I PR’d. My three fastest half marathons have all been at races with a downhill start, even though two of them were at high elevation. Beyond my fast time at this race, though, it was scenic with views of mountains and farm land all along the course. Friendly volunteers and pacers were the icing on the cake. I highly recommend this race if you’re looking for a very fast course in Wyoming with awesome people.

Date of my race was July 13, 2019.

Star Valley Half Marathon

Have you run a race in Wyoming? If so, which one and what did you think of it and the area?

Happy running!

Donna