101 in 1001

Start: July 20th, 2017

End: April 16th, 2020

I’m sure that I will deviate from this plan, but 1001 days from now will be right after my 24th birthday. I have no idea where life will lead me, so I have no definitive plan for what I will be doing then, but it’s exciting to think about. It seems like a lot of time now, but it will go by so quickly. If anything, making a list like this is helpful because I can spell out what my personal goals are.

  1. Visit all of the lower 48
  2. Visit all of the Great Lakes
  3. Visit five new National Parks
  4. Hike to the top of Mount Washington
  5. Visit a new continent
  6. Go on a multi-night backpacking trip
  7. Summit either Mount Kenya or Mount Kilimanjaro
  8. See the Indian Ocean up close
  9. Go skydiving
  10. Go zip-lining
  11. Go bungee jumping
  12. Go paddle boarding
  13. Go kayaking again
  14. Sell your kayak
  15. Go on a multi-day bike trip
  16. Go skiing
  17. Go snowboarding
  18. Learn how to skateboard
  19. Go sailing
  20. Learn how to surf
  21. Go horseback riding
  22. Leave a 100% tip
  23. Read twenty not-for-class books
  24. Learn how to actually use your DSLR
  25. Go to five new countries
  26. Eat vegan for a week
  27. Make your own bubble tea
  28. Attend a fad fitness class
  29. Attend a hot yoga class
  30. Go roller skating
  31. Go ice skating
  32. Go bowling with the whole friend unit
  33. Attend another multi-day music fest
  34. Take the LSAT
  35. Get rid of ten pairs of shoes
  36. Go to a Rhode Island shore point
  37. Visit Cape Cod
  38. Visit Martha’s Vineyard
  39. Visit Nantucket
  40. Camp in Acadia National Park
  41. Visit the San Francisco Bay area
  42. Run a full marathon
  43. Run three more half-marathons
  44. Do a triathlon
  45. Donate blood
  46. Complete a 5.10 climb without hanging
  47. Visit Pandora – the World of Avatar
  48. Make dinner for your group of friends
  49. Host a dinner party
  50. Host a Christmas party
  51. Visit Sally in Kansas
  52. Have friends come home with you during a break
  53. Start saving money for a new car
  54. Visit two more wonders of the world
  55. Buying a backpacking backpack after proving need for it
  56. Find perfect hiking boots
  57. Go on a spontaneous overnight road trip
  58. Return to Iceland
  59. Meet up with a friend you made abroad
  60. Successfully propagate five succulents
  61. Finish an 18 hole round of golf
  62. Learn how to swim for speed
  63. Learn how to do a swim flip
  64. Learn how to play tennis
  65. Attend a national/international sporting event
  66. Deadlift 250 lbs
  67. Run a 7 minute mile
  68. WWOOF somewhere you’ve never been
  69. Volunteer with a new organization
  70. Digitize DVD collection
  71. Regularly back-up files for six months
  72. Donate money in friends’ names for holidays
  73. Get a drastically different haircut
  74. Don’t shave your armpits for a month
  75. Floss your teeth daily for a month
  76. Give away all unnecessary Smith Crew shirts and spandex
  77. Treat a friend to a birthday meal
  78. Go on a day-trip bike-ride picnic
  79. Score an internship for your Master’s program that makes you really happy
  80. Visit 3 clear-water beaches you’ve never seen
  81. Make watercolor paintings for your friends
  82. Make watercolor thank you notes for college graduation
  83. Go for a spontaneous autumn walk
  84. Get rid of jewelry you don’t wear
  85. Completely declutter your clothing
  86. Only reuse old notebooks for the rest of your college career
  87. Listen to an album you’ve never heard everyday for a week
  88. Only check email once a day for a week
  89. Turn your iPhone off for 24 hours
  90. Go a weekend with no TV/computer
  91. Journal everyday for a month
  92. Don’t eat out for a month
  93. Make your bed everyday for a week
  94. Read every night for a month
  95. Get rid of coats you never wear
  96. Continue volunteering after graduation
  97. Have a weekly family dinner for a semester
  98. Watch five documentaries you initially have no interest in
  99. Message a different old friend everyday for a week
  100. Go on a Facebook fast for a week
  101. Do a no-spend-except necessities month

No Woman’s Land

I’ve had to experiment with many different variations of workout spaces. As a rower, it is imperative that I not only workout, but also train hard. I’ve been forced to get very creative with how I train when I have been unable to use an actual gym or when it hasn’t been necessarily safe for me to go for a run on my own. However, some of the most challenging moments of my training have come when I’ve had access to a full gym at home.

I’ve been using Planet Fitness on and off for nearly five years. I never really had an issue when I was only using the cardio equipment. On my first break from Smith, I returned to Planet Fitness and had to use their weight lifting equipment in order to keep up with the off-season training plan our coaches had designed for us. While it was easy to translate the workouts into something I could do with the weights available to me, I discovered a factor I had never before considered: the audience.

Smith College is one of the Seven Sisters, one of the original American women’s colleges and one of the largest that exists today. This means that even our public fitness center has limited males in attendance. Also, nearly everyone who uses our fitness center has at least a bit more respect than the average gym-goer. I’ve gotten used to not worrying about who’s watching me or how I present myself. This is a privilege that I have taken for granted.

I quickly discovered the middle-aged men at Planet Fitness who were somehow astonished that a young female was lifting more than a ten-pound weight. Apart from the stares, I’ve had multiple men come up to me and “compliment” my abilities. I don’t know which part is more offensive: that they interrupt my workout or that they assume that the base level of ability of a female athlete is so low.

This past December, I had two interactions in a row that sent me over the edge. A frequent PF-goer who spends literal hours standing near the weights was at the bench next to me. I could tell by his body language that he was trying to get my attention, so I kept both earphones in and only looked forward. I guess he felt so compelled to talk to me that he touched my arm to get my attention. I want to scream just typing those words. How can a man believe that he has the right to enter my physical space only to deliver words that he deems so important?

His brilliant musings to me: “You did a really good job on those. Not many girls could do that.”

I clenched my fists, getting ready to spew words of social justice at this little man. I quickly realized that anything that I said in a fit of rage would be dismissed.

“I think it’s society that’s telling women that they can’t.”

It was concise and seemed to get my message across. Societal norms and the presence of men particularly limit what we as a culture believe women are capable of. It is assumed that a woman goes to the gym to run on the treadmill and only uses the weights to do some little tricep move so that she could show off. When someone like me actually deadlifts and squats, it blows the closed minds of these men. How could a girl be doing the same thing I’m doing?

Almost immediately after that initial interaction, a middle-aged man walks up to me and says, “You’re a strong little girl; that’s a lot of weight.” He then puts out his fist for me to bump. Not knowing how to respond, I fist bumped him and there are few things I regret more than that.

He called me a little girl. And he completely underestimated the physical capabilities of someone my age, size, and gender. If I didn’t already know about the eyes that were glued to me while I infiltrated a “man’s space,” I was extremely aware of them now.

Just a few nights ago, I felt the male gaze of a middle-aged man who was seated at the weight machines, just far enough away so it wasn’t obvious, but close enough to have a clear shot of me doing my Bulgarian squats. My mother was with me that night and confirmed that it was not in my head: I was being watched.

Planet Fitness is a judgement-free zone, but what if those judgements are so ingrained in our minds that we can’t help but judge? Some women might mistake this attention for flirtation, but so much of it is a discomfort with the presence of women in a space that for so long was reserved for men. I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with this issue. There is the mental component of ignoring their watchful glances, but there is also the safety concern. What if someone tries to talk to me or follows me out to my car, and I don’t give him the female compliance words he anticipates? It’s a scary world, unfortunately, even on Planet Fitness.

Have you had similar issues? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the male gaze?

A House is a Home

I remember reading nearly twenty books the summer after fifth grade. I spent my school breaks at home by myself. I had school-day friends, but rarely did I find someone with enough mutual interest to go out of our way to see each other after the bell rang. Having that much time to myself at home gave me a great appreciation for the solace of home. I spent every day of every break at home up to and including the January break of my sophomore year of college.

Once I made traveling a priority, it became obvious that home was no longer a given. Rather than knowing that I had weeks to spend my time as I pleased, I would rush home so that I had a whole week at home rather than a couple days. I exchanged my security blanket for adventures abroad.

Having spent so much time at home, I expected it to be a difficult transition into spending only a handful of weeks a year there. Within my home reside my mother and my seven beautiful cats. They are the beings who I love most in this world, yet I persuade myself to leave more often than not.

The concept of home is a complicated one. I refer to “home” here as my actual house, and I do not include the surrounding areas. I’m from Luzerne County, PA (you could read some scary political articles about it, if you wish). Even the radio station which I loved has changed its name, lessening the number of positive associations I have here. While my house here is my home, I understand that a house is not always a home. A home could be mobile, it could be many different places. It could also be a feeling that you get from yourself or another individual. I’ve even referred to my car as my “home-base” on long-term trips. (Seeing my Corolla after 12 hours at Disney California Adventure was extremely comforting.)

Now that I’ve adopted the persona of “gal who’s never home,” it gives me an even stranger feeling to be here. My time spent here always has a fast-approaching expiration date. After the semester ended, I was home for literally a day before moving onto my next destination. I enjoy this version of myself: the person who no one can keep up with, always on the go, does so many things in so little time. As I’ve mentioned before, I find it hard to reconcile my urge to stay in one place and make connections and my longing for exploration of the unfamiliar.

My home represents the years that molded me and led me to believe that everyone buys a house and stays there until they die. I live for nostalgia, but I’m also addicted to the challenges presented by traveling. Being home bombards me with the reality that I can’t have it both ways.

Crown Jewels of the USA

Independence Day took place in the midst of my return road trip and it happened to be the day I planned to spend time in two of our nation’s beautiful, preserved parks. I dragged my mother first to Grand Canyon National Park, a place I’ve only seen in movies and television shows.

I had booked us a night at a campsite in Kaibab National Forest, but through the blurry and dusty dusk, searching for a campground on rocky roads, we gave up. Though we spent money on a site, we made friends with another lost couple of people and set up our tents together in the fee-free zone. It would have been nice to know about the free camping before I wasted money on a reservation. After a night of barely sleeping, we packed up and hit the road toward the canyon which is supposed to beat all others.

My borrowed tent in Kaibab National Forest

We first viewed the Grand Canyon from Mather Point, near the closest VC of the South Rim park entrance. Though the canyon was quite grand, I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed. I expected something more like Bryce Canyon with hoodoos and windows, but the terrain was pretty plain and the colors were shockingly brown. Now, I didn’t expect blues or pinks, but I thought there would be something non-brown. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful and I greatly appreciate the work that is done to preserve and protect it. However, I feel that maybe some of the Grand Canyon attention should go to the other smaller, prettier canyons.

Me on the edge of the Grand Canyon

We spent some time driving to the various viewpoints in the park before heading out to our next destination. I awoke from my car-nap just in time to arrive at Petrified Forest National Park. I was delighted to discover that in my minimal research, I failed to learn that the Painted Desert runs into the park. Though the VC was not large or very helpful, we made our way from one end to the other with our maps and little knowledge of what we were looking at. I was loving the dry, desert heat with the backdrop of badlands, but my mother refused to get out of the air-conditioned car more than once.

Petrified Forest National Park

We kind of rushed through, but I enjoyed the colorful hills and wide expanses more than the brown depths of the Grand Canyon. Maybe it’s only me, but color excites me on a deep level.

We had left early the morning of the 4th to beat the crowds to the canyon, but I was shocked to discover that not many people were taking advantage of this historically significant day to visit their local paradise. File this away for future reference: the 4th of July is a good day to visit typically-packed parks with relatively small crowds.

These two were my mother’s first National Parks and I can see that without prior knowledge about the NPS or the significance of the lands we are seeing, it is less exciting for her. I hope that more Americans can experience the beauty of their National Parks and can learn a few things about their long history and continuous conservation efforts. The mission of the NPS has two parts: 1) preserve natural and cultural resources; 2) make areas accessible for visitor use. The lands are here for us to enjoy, so take advantage!

A greener Grand Canyon

On the road again

My earliest vacation memories are of my mother and I basking in the Myrtle Beach sun. For as long as I can remember, we drove annually to the coast of South Carolina to spend a week on the beach. I loved being in water as a child, so it made sense for us to choose a family-friendly location with lots of pools and beach access. The location, however, is a 10+ hour drive from our Northeastern Pennsylvania home. Each summer, my mother braved the journey basically on her own. If I wasn’t asleep, I was oblivious to the road and the stresses of driving.

Though I’ve hated driving since the day I was first taught, I’ve grown to tolerate it. It terrified me for the first few months, but soon became only a nuisance. Until two months ago, I would never pass up the opportunity to hitch a ride with a friend because it meant less stress for me. Once I accepted the internship in Death Valley, it dawned on me that 40+ hours of driving was imminent. My boyfriend accompanied me on the westward journey, so we shared the burden.

We dealt with tight cities, wild highways, and a snowstorm, but I arrived safely and saw so much of this country along the way. Every part of this country has such a distinctive look and feel. It often amazes me when I consider just how large the US actually is. We have mountains and deserts, beaches and cities, grasslands and tundras, etc. I feel so fortunate for having been able to see as little/much as I’ve seen so far.

Now, my mother and I have embarked on the journey eastward, taking an entirely different route than the one I took before. As we drive adjacent to historic route 66 and through the surprising sites of the South, I realize how I’ve come to appreciate driving. It has allowed me to see this country, the middle of this country, that is so often overlooked. Through meal, gas, and bathroom breaks, along with the planned excursions, the country is broken up into scenic segments. This kind of touring cannot be achieved on a plane, a train, or a bus which makes only the most necessary stops. By forcing one’s eyes on the road, we see what makes this country ours.

Though the highways and byways surrounding Las Vegas and Dallas might be strewn with careless drivers speeding to their ever-important destinations, I press on and keep my eyes peeled for the magic the road brings. The road offers us time to be introspective, to talk to one another, and to appreciate our shared love of music.

Perhaps when I’m back at school and driving seldomly, I will lose this deep gratitude for my worn-out wheels gliding along the open road. Though I hope this doesn’t happen, I know that this feeling will return once I hit the road again.

Death Valley Diaries

In February, I was looking for a six-week internship. I had started looking in January and I was ready to solidify my summer plans, but I was receiving no bites on the many lines I was casting. Sure, I still had time, not needing approval for funding until the beginning of May, but I had a very specific time-block to work with and I want to have a choice rather than be forced to settle for the only offer that came to me.

After seeing the Robert Redford-narrated National Parks Adventure, I decided that I should try my luck with the National Park Service. One boring afternoon in my too-hot dorm, I sent out twenty-ish short messages explaining who I was and what I wanted on the NPS website to various parks whose names sounded familiar. Because I still had time, I waited a couple days before I was going to send my next flurry of email requests for six weeks of unpaid work.

It was the day before she was going to be recognized at Rally Day, an annual Smith tradition honoring remarkable graduates, and Gloria Steinem hosted a Q&A session in the middle of the day. With my strange, two-days-of-class-a-week schedule, I was very available to attend the talk at such a weird hour. She spoke and I listened and I teared up and she’s not perfect, but I love her. As the session came to a close, my phone vibrated with an email notification from someone at Death Valley National Park.

I had received a decent number of responses from my NPS attempts, but they were overwhelmingly ridden with phrases like “we don’t take interns for only six weeks” and “I can’t think of a single opportunity we’d have for you.” This email was different; it was hopeful. Without anything set in sand, let alone stone, I imagined the only way I could manage for six weeks in the middle of the desert: with a car. It dawned on me that it would take a lot of explaining and convincing to have my mother give her blessing for me to take a car that’s still in her name to the other side of the country when it hadn’t been that long ago that she didn’t trust me to drive it to Smith.

It took nearly two months for details to be finalized, my background check to go through, my housing to be arranged, my mother to stop going back-and-forth between being excited and terrified (actually, did that ever end?), and me to set up my travel plans. It was happening. I drove the 40+ hours, stopping in every place that ever vaguely interested me, my boyfriend along for the adventure in my tiny sedan. We camped, we citied, we countried, we Airbnb-ed, and we saw 15 states along the way. Then, I was here. In Death Valley. The hottest, driest, lowest place in the world/North America.

I acclimatized faster than I expected, considering I am among the sweatiest people I’ve encountered. I tricked many peers into becoming my friend. I had a routine and I performed household duties. I participated in weekly volleyball games and utilized the fire-reservoir/pool often. It was 120 degrees for a week straight and my name filled the sign-in pages of the CCC-era gym. I have loved every minute of the time I have spent in this magical place.

I’ve learned so much about environmental policy, and I’ve gained new perspectives on life, relationships, and career paths. I fell in love with the National Park Service. As my six weeks are grinding to a halt (I don’t stop until it’s over), I could not be more thankful and grateful for the opportunities that are presented to me. I will never forget the nights I spent looking up at the sky full of stars, the laughs I shared with pretty much everyone from the superintendent of the park to the women I lived with, or advice I’ve been given both directly and indirectly from hours of observation.

Death Valley is a special place. Though it seemed unlikely when I first arrived that I would ever double-dip and spend an extended time at a unique place like this more than once, the spirit of the rocky hills and sandy dunes has made me rethink my travel policies. I could not thank every single person here enough for the time we spent together. It’s truly been life-changing.

Single Riders Only

This is not the first time I have found myself alone in a place packed with people, wishing I had someone to talk to. My first solo, like completely solo, trip was to Iceland last year, followed immediately with a three-day jaunt in both London and Paris. As I walked the streets of London (at top speed), I wished I had someone with whom I could share all of the fantastic thoughts and observations I had. When I was an attempted pick-pocketing victim along la rive droite, I had no one to whom I could tell my story.

Now, I’m in Disneyland. Land, not World; there is a huge difference. I’ve spent the last several weeks interning in Death Valley National Park and I planned this excursion before I knew how much I’d miss the dry heat and friendly environment of the park. That’s not to say I’m not having fun because I’m enjoying myself quite a bit. I’ve always loves thrill rides and junk food, so this is the mecca of both of those things.

It’s mid-June and humid, but the temperature is about 30-40 degrees cooler than what I’ve been living in. I spent one day in Disney California Adventure and I’m on my second day in Disneyland proper. I have spent a cumulative 40+ hours roaming about these parks and am exhausted. I have done every typical Disney-goer thing there is to do: I have had a dole whip in the tiki room, I’ve ridden every major ride in both parks at least twice, and I attended the Main Street Electrical Parade. Between all of these happenings, I’ve also done a tremendous amount of thinking.

As I look around at families from all over the world, just-married couples wearing matching Mickey ears, and just-graduated teens wearing their grad night wristbands, it seems as if they all have very valid reasons to be here. Then there’s me. I’m not old by any means, but I’m also not a child. And I’m alone. It is incredible how many times the cast members assume that I’m with the people standing (too closely) behind me. Their brains automatically assume that I cannot be in “the happiest place on Earth” by myself. I had to make a reservation for one at a sit-down restaurant where all of the other chairs were eventually stolen from my table to make room for the parties of twenty.

I am not who the wait staff wants to serve as they’ll get a bigger tip from a bigger party. I am not who anyone expects to spend time alone in the crowded pathways of Disney parks. I’m a pretty, young woman who should surely have a friend, if not a significant other, to go places with. It doesn’t make sense to anyone, even me sometimes, why I would want to travel alone. Without the pressure of acting or thinking a certain way with another person, I can be myself entirely. I can be my most judgmental self when looking at other people and how they handle situations. I can be my most child-like and easy-going self when taking in the sights of the castle and characters walking by. There is no one there to internalize my actions other than a few thousand strangers and me.

I love spending time with people, anyone really. I thrive on the presence of people; I am my best when I have to constantly be aware of what comes out of my brain and mouth. However, people also hinder my ability to do what I want when I want. I have some amount of consideration for other people’s wants and needs, so it’s difficult to do everything I want when I have the influence of someone else in the car with me/walking next to me. There is a dichotomy in my mind between wanting the freedom of being alone and the security of being in a group and I can’t seem to reconcile my preferences.

Welcome home.

I decided I had spent enough of my life not having a blog, so I made a blog. I wanted to name it SingleRidersOnly, but unfortunately that’s already the name of a dating site for people who love amusement parks! Damn! I intend to document the more exciting adventures I have in my travels and final days in the soft bubble of Smith College.

I had a blog and a vlog when I was about 12 years old and I don’t know if I could ever top that, but I can try. My interests then were limited to musicals, but now I like other things like Netflix! I’ve grown up so much!

My posts will consist of the major happenings in my life which can be as mundane as a song I can’t get out of my head or as exciting as a month spent in another country! You’ll have to read to find out!

I am trying to make the most out of the short time that I get to spend alive here on Earth. All thoughts and pictures are my own (after I figure out how to get rid of the stock photos they forced upon me).

Enjoy if you so choose!