Looking for Bigfoot

Do you believe in Bigfoot? Up until several years ago, I never even thought of the possibility of this creature’s existence.

At the time, I worked part-time at a now-defunct gift store called All About Oregon. On slow days, I tried to get to know the merchandise better, which included thumbing through all the unique guidebooks. In one book, I discovered that there was a Bigfoot trap somewhere in the mountains. I laughed at the concept. But soon after, All About Oregon started selling Bigfoot merchandise. We were even given a cast of what was believed to be a Bigfoot footprint, so we displayed that on a table surrounded by books about Bigfoot, a map of Bigfoot sightings, and various other Bigfoot souvenirs. My curiosity increased along with the rest of my coworkers. I even wanted to take a road trip to find the alleged Bigfoot trap deep in the woods, but instead I moved to the Midwest, where Bigfoot does not live.

Before I go on, I should give a big of background on Bigfoot. There are hundreds of legendary creatures around the world, and Bigfoot is the one that is native to the Pacific Northwest. Also known as Sasquatch, these large, ape-like animals are thought to be very intelligent, and also very smelly. Although most people think the people who are adamant about Bigfoot hunting are simply crazy people, but there are even research groups who have been intrigued by the possible skunk ape. In fact, the North American Wildlife Research Team wanted to study Sasquatch, so they built what is known as the world’s only official Bigfoot Trap inSouthern Oregon, just a few miles from the California border. This was a small shack with a steel drop-down door, and was baited with raw carcasses. After several years of attempted trapping and only being able to catch bears, the door was secured open and became an obscure tourist attraction.

Collings Mountain Forest Near Bigfoot Trap

I had completely forgotten about the Bigfoot trap, until a few days ago when I was perusing RoadsideAmerica.com. This is one of my favorite travel websites because you can search for unique, and often free, roadside attractions near your home or along your travel route. A little over a year ago, I planned a road trip where all my stops were inspired by attractions I found on Roadside America, and before I travel, I’ll often visit this site to see what quirky things are near my destination. I was searching for attractions in Southern Oregon last week when I rediscovered the Bigfoot trap. I immediately started making plans to go.

Collings Mountain Trailhead with Bigfoot Trap

Who else would be better to visit the Bigfoot trap with than my coworkers who got interested in it with me in the first place? Two of my former coworkers from All About Oregon, Megan and Steph, along with Megan’s daughter River, joined me on this day excursion. It was a long, peaceful trip through farmland and forest. After driving quite a few miles along the Applegate Highway, we arrived at the Collings Mountain Trailhead, just across the street from a beautiful view of Applegate Lake. There are actually no signs at all to inform visitors that there even is a Bigfoot trap in the area. The only clue the road signs give is that the Collings Mountain Trailhead sign includes a picture of a foot. Most people would assume that this symbolized a walking trail, but Bigfoot hunters know that this is the way to find Bigfoot.

IMG_20141005_162141_483

It was supposedly a half-mile hike to get to the part of the trail with the Bigfoot trap, but because this trailhead also had trails that went to the summit of Collings Mountain, as well as trails for biking and horseback riding, the several forks in the road confused us quite a bit. I was glad to have brought a GPS with me, with the coordinates for the trap already plugged in! However, with the mountains and thick forest interfering with the GPS signals, we did up going on the wrong path once, but soon realized that we had walked too far.

Bigfoot Trap Caretaker's Shack

The first man-made feature we found was a completely-destroyed cabin. This was the shack that the trap’s caretaker lived in. All that remains are a few boards on the ground, but through close observation you can somewhat gather what it must have looked like. After walking just a little bit further, we finally saw the Bigfoot trap off in the distance!

IMG_20141005_155206_485

Because it hasn’t been refurbished for years and doesn’t officially belong to anyone, the trap itself has turned to a sort of log book where visitors have vandalized. We enjoying crawling under the door and being “trapped”, and just being amazed at the notion to build a trap in the middle of nowhere to find a creature that may or may not exist!

"Vandalizing" the Bigfoot TrapI was prisoner of the Bigfoot Trap!

While the Bigfoot trap was the point of our trip, we had a few other things we came to do. I wanted to introduce the other three to one of my hobbies: geocaching. In the near future, I will be dedicating a post all about geocaching, but when I describe it to people who have never heard of it, I say “It’s like a worldwide treasure hunt for grown-ups!” Since finding Bigfoot proved to be too difficult, I figured that maybe we could at least find a few geocaches. I plugged in the GPS coordinates for the cache closest to the trap. Like I had mentioned before, my GPS was acting really jumpy in the area, so this one proved to be a challenge. Based on the cache’s description, we’re pretty sure we found the tree that the cache was hidden near, but we did not find the ammo can that contained the geocache. But not to fear; we had more geocaches to find!

On the Trail of Bigfoot Geocache

As we walked back towards the car, we were also on the lookout for another geocache. The GPS worked better in this area, and although this was still a tricky one to find, we went in the right direction. This was not only River’s first time to geocache, but she was also the first of us to find the geocache container!

On the Trail of Bigfoot Geocache

This was a really nice geocache, except for the fact that some of the items inside got a little damp. We all signed and dated the logbook, and then we each traded a small trinket we bought for an item inside the cache. We then closed up the container, hid it back where we found it, and continued back toward the road. As we were walking, I realized that almost all the hikers who go on trail must have Bigfoot on their mind, regardless of whether they’re Bigfoot believers or Sasquatch skeptics. I joked that if I had a large expendable income, I would get a few life-sized figures of Bigfoot and hide him just far enough away from the trail that people might catch a glimpse. Everyone else agreed that they would do the same thing. I’m surprised no one has done that yet!

There was one more small geocache across the street from the trailhead. Steph found it wedged behind the railing. Once again, we all signed the log and traded items. From here, we enjoyed the view of the lake, and then got back into the car.

IMG_20141005_165532_689

A few miles down the road is the McKee Bridge. It is the longest of the four covered bridges in that county. While it hasn’t been open to cars for a long time, it was unfortunately also closed off to pedestrians a couple years ago for being unsafe. They have since raised the money for repairs, but because the repair work hadn’t begun yet, we could only get up to the opening of the covered bridge.

McKee Bridge

As we walked back to the car, Steph and Megan were discussing that they had a favorite restaurant in historic Jacksonville, which was the closest town. They then turned to me and asked “Jes, do you like sushi?” I don’t like sushi, but I agreed to go to Umi Sushi. I found out that there are actually fish-free options for sushi, so I decided to be adventurous with this new cuisine and order a bento box with avocado rolls. (River was even more adventurous and got eel sushi!)

IMG_20141005_183252_487

Overall, it was a crazy day of unique adventures. Although we didn’t find Bigfoot, we did discover new things not too far from our Southern Oregon home!

IMG_20141005_171322_679

Across America By Bus: The Last Stretch to Oregon

Note: This is the fifth and final post of the Across America By Bus Series.

When planning my route, I knew there were a few cities west of Denver that would be somewhat interesting. But adding any more stops on my trip would push it to a nearly two-week-long trip, and I didn’t think I would have the energy to do that, especially with the lack of sleep and stress from moving. So I decided to experience everything west of the Rockies through the panoramic bus windows.

GPS on Bus Window to Oregon

At this point, I had gone to six of the ten states on the route, and I had about two days to get through the other four. We headed straight north from Denver and spent most of the day going through Wyoming. The only other time I’ve been to Wyoming was to go to Yellowstone National Park. Let’s just say this definitely wasn’t Yellowstone! It was surprisingly cold, and I had to wear my coat whenever I went out to walk around.

We switched drivers in Salt Lake City around midnight. Most people continued on the bus and slept until we arrived at Boise, where we switched drivers once again. This bus driver missed his calling as a tour guide, but that was good for us passengers because he was sure to tell us a bit about the cities we stopped in, and he also showed us the highlights of what we drove by! He even pointed out several things in an area that I would have otherwise assumed was just a plain desert! When he announced that we crossed into Oregon, and shortly after into the Pacific Time Zone, I finally felt like I was almost home. I was excited when we stopped in Bakersfield for breakfast, where my feet hit Oregon ground for the first time in nine months!

Baker City

Even though Washington wasn’t on the itinerary, part of this ride took us along the Columbia River, which separates Oregon from Washington. I admired the Washington scenery from the Oregon side, and thought it was pretty neat that I actually saw 11 states on this one-week trip!

View of Washington from across the river in Oregon

I think the best highlight from the bus ride was seeing Multnomah Falls! I had never seen Multnomah Falls before, even though I had been in that area (and even on the exact same road!) before. I was so glad the bus driver pointed it out, and I hope to see it up closer someday.

Multnomah Falls Oregon

Soon after seeing Multnomah Falls, the bus arrived in Portland! I had to transfer buses to head south, but I had a couple hours before that bus departed. That meant I had some time to explore Portland! I had done some research on the bus, and found out that the nearest Voodoo Doughnuts was a third of a mile away from the station. Since I was introduced to these doughnuts the day before in Denver, I figured it might be a good idea to pay homage to the city where they actually came from! My plan was to rent a locker at the bus station so I could store my things as I went for a walk. Unfortunately, none of the lockers were large enough for my big suitcase, so I put all my other belongings into the locker and decided to just roll the big suitcase behind me as I went around town. It may seem strange, but because I was in “weird” Portland, no one I walked by acted like it was strange at all! (I actually haven’t visited Portland since the show Portlandia began airing. I blame the series for encouraging more weirdness, because I don’t remember it being this crazy before!)

Chinatown and Homeless Town in Portland

To get to Voodoo, I ended up walking through Chinatown. This is also an area that has lots of inner-city ministries and organizations. I thought it was cool to pass by each of them and see the services they provided. Each one had something unique. I finally found the sparkly pink building, and had to wait in line outside. The line in Denver was incredibly short compared to this one, but I suppose the doughnuts are a lot more well-known here!

Voodoo Doughnut Portland StoreVoodoo Doughnut

After finally getting the prized doughnut, I walked back toward the bus station, and then decided to head to the Union Station next door. It had a fancy exterior, but inside, the train station looked about the same as the bus station.

Portland Union Station

It was getting dark by the time my bus finally took off, so it was perfect to try to catch up on a little bit of sleep. I remember as a kid that it took five to six hours to get to Portland, but because this bus had so many stops, it took a lot longer. I finally arrived after 1am in Southern Oregon, which is where I am today!

I hope you enjoyed reading about my bus trip across America through Chicago, Nebraska, Colorado, and finally here in Oregon. What crazy journey do you think I should go on next?

This post is dedicated to my parents. They made a great choice when they decided to raise me in Southern Oregon! 

Across America By Bus: Denver and Boulder

Note: This is part four of my “Across America By Bus” series.

Throughout my life, I have lived in four states in various regions. But no matter where I was, Colorado was a popular vacation destination for my neighbors. And why shouldn’t it be? It has the best of everything: big mountains, big cities, and small carbon footprints. I knew I wanted to make Colorado part of my journey across America, but I wasn’t sure what city to stop in. When I was reminded that I had a cousin who moved to Denver last year, I made arrangements to visit with her!

Colorado Mountain View

The bus from Omaha to Denver runs overnight, which meant that I didn’t get quality sleep. On the other hand, it was nice to hit the ground running as I started my day off in Denver. Cousin Sara picked me up from the station, and after stopping for a natural, vegetarian breakfast, she showed me to her downtown apartment and we made plans for how we would spend the day.

Red Rock Theater

After driving around the city where she pointed out the important and notable buildings, we headed to the Red Rock Theater. I have never seen such a large, lovely outdoor theater. I’m sure it’s a great experience to see a performance there under the stars, but because we were there in the morning, it was filled with athletes who all the steps, seats, and railings as intense workout equipment. There were also lots of great walking paths where we enjoyed taking selfies.

Red Rock

After that, we headed toward Boulder to see Flat Irons. There were also lots of joggers and runners there. (I never realized how many athletes lived in Colorado!) Although I felt a little too tired to go up the mountains, we took a beautiful natural trail between the mountains and a ravine.

Flat Irons Ravine

When we returned to the parking lot, we considered taking a tour. I was surprised at everything that went on in this area. There’s the State Capitol Building and a U.S. Mint, both of which offers tours. But when Sara mentioned that Celestial Seasonings offered factory tours in Boulder, I immediately perked up. I absolutely LOVE their tea! So we drove over to Sleepytime Drive where the factory is located.

Flat Irons Colorado

We arrived fairly early, so we used that time to sample several different flavors of tea, some of which I have never seen in stores! I was impressed by the high standard of health considerations at the Visitor’s Center. Tea was served in washable ceramic cups, all their teas were natural (and several were even organic, including their new kombucha!), and you could flavor tea with organic honey. I learned that Celestial Seasonings actually cares a lot about health and the environment, supported most notably by the fact that they save tons of metric waste each year by not using staples on their tea bags! The Visitor’s Center also had interesting art to look at, such as decorative teapots and even a tea dress made out of tea packaging!

Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory

Photos weren’t allowed on the tour, which was probably a good thing since everyone had to wear funny hair nets! After a quick video on tea history, we walked through a big warehouse-type building past all the pallets of ingredients, but there were two ingredients that had their own rooms. The tea room had its own room because tea easily absorbs other scents and flavors. I learned that most tea from Celestial Seasonings doesn’t actually contain tea! They’re technically called “herbal infusions”, and that explains why they’re caffeine-free. The other room was the Mint Room. As soon as we stepped in, my eyes watered up! Obviously, such a powerful scent has to be kept separate from the rest of the ingredients. The tour ended by walking around the assembly lines.

We went back to Denver for lunch, and Sara showed me some more sights downtown. The Packers played that evening, and being Sara’s absolute favorite team, we had to watch it. Unfortunately, it was not a good night for Green Bay.

Denver Voodoo Doughnuts

I was supposed to leave the next morning, but we had one more place to go: Voodoo Doughnuts. It’s a shop from Oregon, but for some reason I had never been there before. The only out-of-Oregon Voodoo is located in Downtown Denver, so of course we had to stop by there. After that, I cleaned up, packed up, and took a taxi back to the Greyhound Station. Denver was my last planned overnight stop, but I still had a few days of this trip left to go!

Across America By Bus: Nebraska

This is part three of the “Across America By Bus” series.

Some of the most valuable lessons about community were taught to me in Nebraska. I spent two years living near Fremont, and there were many times I had to rely on those around me. Everyone I met there proved to be a true blessing. This time also opened up more travel to me, especially since it was my first time living away from home. Work provided many opportunities for paid travel that I never would have expected, and I was encouraged to travel solo for the first time too. I wanted to make sure to visit this area on my cross-country trip. Everyone turned out to be a blessing once again, even though most of them didn’t even know I was coming!

Camp Rivercrest

It took all afternoon to get from Chicago to Omaha. I got picked up by someone I had never even met before, but she was a roommate of a friend. After hearing a little about her life and that she also had experience at the camp I had worked at, I quickly befriended her. I spent the night in Omaha, and woke up super-early the next morning so a friend could drive me to Camp Rivercrest in Fremont.

Camp Rivercrest Cornfields

The ride at sunrise provided a great opportunity to catch up and share experiences with a fellow traveler. We eventually arrived at the house I would be staying in to unload my gear. I then went to the camp director’s house. He and his wife have two kids, so I knew that they would be up around this time to get ready for school. But the thing was, they had no idea that I was coming to Nebraska, let alone their house! I guess I came a little too early, because no one was up quite yet. I decided to walk along the camp-owned cornfields. When I went back to their house, I could tell they were having breakfast in the kitchen. One of the kids was at the sink by the window, so I tapped on the glass. I don’t know what startled her more: the fact that someone was tapping on the window early in the morning, or that I was there! After everyone’s initial shock, they let me inside, and we caught up before the kids had to catch the bus. Us remaining adults chatted a bit more, and then they proceeded to show me all the changes that had happened in the year I had been gone. So much had happened: five acres were added with new-to-them buildings, an old house was remodeled into offices and meeting rooms, the old offices turned into storage and prayer rooms, and my bedroom suite had been adapted for visiting workers. I knew some of this had happened, but I didn’t realize to what magnitude! (Perhaps the reason I didn’t know was because when I left, they lost their fabulous media manager that would have kept the public updated on these kinds of things. Ha.)

Fremont LakesFremont Lakes

Nebraska was my most restful stop, but I did enjoy visiting Fremont Lakes. I spent the afternoon there with some friends, and we just caught up on life, shared experiences from Ohio (they grew up there), ate food, and splashed around in the lake. It was actually their house that I was spending the night in, so they eventually brought me back home where I rested through the next day.

Platte River at Camp Rivercrest

I walked around camp, reliving the memories. It was refreshing to see all the old lodges, cabins, and outdoor adventure elements. When living here, I enjoyed going to the back of the property overlooking the Platte River. The river was still breathtaking as usual. I eventually found a few former coworkers that I hadn’t seen yet, and one offered me a ride back to the Omaha bus station.

Midwest sky

I did take Nebraska at a much slower pace than anywhere else I went, but I was able to catch up with more people here than anywhere else too. Besides, it was good that I got to take this break midway through the trip, because I would be getting very little sleep the rest of the time!

I’d like to use this post to shout out to Camp Rivercrest, where I lived and worked for two years. If you agree that they should redesign their website (like they’ve been wanting to do for years now), encourage them to call me!

Across America By Bus: Chicago

This is part two of the “Across America By Bus” series. Click here to read part one, “Greyhound Perks and Pitfalls”.

I have wanted to visit Chicago since I was eight years old. Granted, I wanted to go to Chicago back then because that’s where the Veggie Tales headquarters were. Veggie Tales moved out-of-state several years ago, and most of the attractions I went to didn’t even exist when I was eight, but finally getting the chance to visit Chicago felt like a childhood dream come true. I made sure to make it the first stop of my trip across America.

The first place I visited in Chicago was, of course, the Chicago Greyhound Station. It was probably the nicest bus station I went through on my entire trip, but it still wasn’t anything too special. The next place I visited was the inside of a taxi cab. I was only staying a mile away, and normally I would walk that distance, but because I had several pieces of luggage, it was worth paying the seven dollars for a cab. Besides, riding a taxi through a big city is part of the experience! I wasn’t allowed to call a cab or ride the subway when I went to NYC in high school, and it always felt like I was missing an aspect of the city because of it. The third place in Chicago I visited was the hostel.

Chicago Hostel

Hostelling International Chicago is conveniently located downtown, within walking distance of everything I wanted to visit. It was the only HI-brand hostel I’ve ever stayed at, and by far the largest! This hostel was quite a bit more expensive than any other hostel I’ve visited, plus I had to pay a few more dollars because I wasn’t a Hostelling International member, but it was still a great deal when you consider that any other accommodation within several miles would be at least three times the price. I checked in and went up to my dorm for a tiny bit of shut-eye before I woke up with the excitement of wanting to seize the day. Since I usually travel slowly, cramming Chicago into just one full day was a challenge, but I think I made the best of it.

As I was heading down to the first floor of the hostel, I noticed a sign that said the hostel sold discount tickets for the Willis Tower Skydeck. That was on my agenda, and I’m always up for saving money, so I picked up a ticket from the front desk before heading out.

Chicago Willis Tower

Just a few blocks away was the Willis Tower, although many people still know it as the Sears Tower. It was the tallest building in America up until this year when the new World Trade Center was built. Unfortunately, when I got to the Skydeck entrance, employees were announcing to the crowd that there was a broken elevator and to come back later. I mentally rearranged my itinerary and headed towards what I thought was Lake Michigan.

Chicago Feet Statue

After walking for many, many blocks, I thought I should have been at the lake, but I wasn’t. I finally pulled out my GPS and discovered that I had been walking parallel to the lake the entire time! I turned and began heading the right way. It actually turned out for the better, because I hadn’t planned to go to the Magic Mile, but because I took this route I ended up at the very end of it. A race was going on that day, so I walked by the finish line and visited several of the vendors before continuing on by Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan Chicago Harbor

I had flown over Lake Michigan before, but this was my first time seeing it up-close. For awhile, I enjoyed walking on the path by the harbor, with a few stops at interesting points like the Buckingham Fountain. Eventually, I made it to my intended destination: the Navy Pier.

Chicago Buckingham Fountain

Before leaving on this trip, I had asked for travel tips from people who had been to Chicago. The Navy Pier was a common recommendation. I enjoyed walking out above the lake, and going through the shops and art features, but I’m still not really sure why so many people told me to go here. I found a pizza shop on the pier where I ate lunch, and on the way out, I saw a Crave Bar truck where I grabbed my dessert. I then headed on to Millennium Park.

Chicago Navy Pier

Millennium Park is interesting in that is was created to celebrate y2k, but it wasn’t opened until several years later. I first found myself in a beautiful outdoor theater, but I was looking for the famous Cloudgate “Bean”. Something reflective across the theater caught the corner of my eye, and sure enough, it was The Bean! It was fun walking around and underneath The Bean for a fun house effect. My favorite part was trying to find myself in the reflection among the hundreds of other visitors!

Chicago Bean

After getting dizzy from the optical illusions of The Bean, I continued through the park’s art, including the Crown Fountain. I then turned back to downtown towards the tallest building I could find. I was going to see if the Willis Tower Skydeck had opened yet.

Chicago 2014 090

When I got there, the staff was still saying that it was closed. I went up to one employee and asked her if it would be open at any point in time that day.

“Nope, come back tomorrow.”

Knowing I wouldn’t have time since my bus left the next morning, I asked if there was any way I could get a refund. She scrunched her face up. “Refund?” I nodded. “Oh, you have a ticket? If you have a ticket, you can go inside!” I pulled out my ticket and went through the doors.

Because the staff hadn’t communicated very well that only ONE elevator wasn’t working, and that people could still come if they had bought a ticket elsewhere, there wasn’t much of a line at all. The trip started by going down to a basement floor, getting a security check, and then watching a video about the history of the tower. I then crammed with several other people on an elevator that went to the 99th floor. It felt really different on this floor. I don’t know if it was just in my head, but I’m convinced that I could feel the building sway! I then got onto another elevator to the 103rd floor, also known as the Skydeck.  It’s the highest the public can get in any building in the United States.

Chicago View from Skydeck

I enjoyed going around the building and looking through the panoramic windows. I was able to locate almost everywhere I went earlier that day. But the highlight of Chicago was definitely “The Ledge”. These are four glass rooms that stick out of the Skydeck, so you can see everything straight below you! Waiting in line allowed me to get the guts to walk out, but as soon as I stepped out, I felt like I was going to fall! I posed for a few pictures, and then stepped back onto solid, opaque ground! It was such a rush, I decided to go out on all four ledges. It never got any easier!

Chicago Skydeck Ledge

After coming back down to Earth, I walked around the Willis Tower and was amazed at how far up I’d gone. Because I was operating all day on only a few hours of sleep, I went back to the hostel to relax for a bit. I realized that I needed to find a Chicago pizza restaurant to eat dinner at, because the pizza I got at the pier wasn’t very good at all. After I had recovered enough, I asked the front desk for pizza recommendations, and I was sent to Lou Malnati’s. I didn’t realize until I got there, but this the most popular place for Chicago pizza! I had to wait outside for 45 minutes with a buzzer, but trust me, it was worth the wait! I ordered a personal pizza of their best deep dish, “The Lou”. I had always heard that traditional Chicago pizza had sausage, but this was vegetarian and featured a divine combination of spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and three cheeses.

Chicago Lou Malnati

After finishing off with a cookie pizza dessert, I spent the rest of the evening exploring all that the hostel had to offer. After a somewhat restful night’s sleep, I woke up, enjoyed a full breakfast, got ready, and took a taxi back to the Greyhound Station, where I boarded the bus to my next destination!

004

A big thank-you goes out to Hostelz.com! I found out about the HI-Chicago Hostel through this site, and there you can find thousands more!

Across America By Bus (Greyhound Perks and Pitfalls)

This is Part One of the Across America By Bus series.

This past July, I backpacked around Niagara Falls. My primary goal of this trip was to have a ton of awesome new experiences. My secondary goal was to keep it minimalist. Both of these goals came into play when I decided how to get to Niagara Falls. Because I was living in Central Ohio, it seemed almost pointless to fly. Besides, the Niagara Falls airport is nowhere near the actual Niagara Falls. Driving was out of the question. I already find driving to be somewhat stressful, and it would be even worse figuring out directions, navigating traffic, and driving my car that was already on the fritz. And although I did enjoy taking a train trip a few years ago, there are no Amtrak stations in Central Ohio. That only left one option:

The Greyhound bus.

I had never ridden in a Greyhound before, but I had heard and read plenty of horror stories. But it would be a new experience for me, and I would save a lot of money. Besides, it wasn’t that long of a trip, so surely I could handle it.

I took three different buses there and back. One from Mansfield, Ohio to Cleveland, one from Cleveland to Buffalo, and from there I took a New York Trailways bus to Niagara Falls. It turned out to be a great experience! Right away I started telling my friends, family, and fellow travelers the perks of riding the Greyhound:

-You save lots of money!

-It’s the most environmentally-friendly way to travel

-You can take a carry-on plus one checked bag for free

-Footrests

-Reclining Seats

-Large panoramic windows are perfect for drive-by photography

-Centrally-located drop-offs and pick-ups

-Personal adjustable air vents

-Free WiFi (woo-hoo!)

-Power Outlets (double woo-hoo!)

-Enough rest stops so you never have to use the mysterious bathroom in the back of the bus

-A sense of community you can’t typically find on an airplane

(Note that these features are based on the new bus models; some older models are still in commission, but they are getting rare.)

As mentioned in previous posts, I moved from Ohio to Oregon a few weeks ago. It was the biggest move I ever made. I had to travel through ten states and four time zones all the way across the country. And guess how I got there?

Yep, the Greyhound bus!

Because I didn’t want to spend days on end inside a bus, I bought four separate bus tickets so that I could stop at a few different cities, see the sights, and visit some friends. I bought a ticket from Columbus to Chicago, from there to Omaha, from there to Denver, and finally, to my home in Oregon. The bus ride combined with several days of mini vacations ended up taking me nearly eight days to make this trip. During this time, I did see the darker side of Greyhound. While I think overall Greyhound is a worthwhile experience, these are some of the pitfalls:

-Regardless of the time of day, stops are made every 2-3 hours, so it’s really hard to sleep

-The seats don’t have enough legroom

-The overhead compartments are usually too small to hold typical carry-ons, which translates to even less legroom

-Small children can have meltdowns on long rides

-Some (not all) bus drivers can be in very bad moods

-The buses run late more often than they’re on time

-You have to transfer your own luggage every time you change buses

-Fellow passengers can be cranky, annoying, or have body odor

-YOU could be cranky, annoying, or have body odor

No, traveling cross-country by bus is not for the faint of heart. However, I think everyone can benefit from taking a bus ride that’s only a few hours long. I was really glad to have the experience of my Ohio-to-Niagara bus ride before embarking across America. Because of it, I was able to come up with some handy tips that probably saved my sanity. If you’re heading on a Greyhound trip anytime soon, here’s some tried-and-true advice you may want to consider:

-Buy your tickets online and several weeks in advance. You’ll save a ton of money that way.

-If you plan to sleep, come prepared. I brought melatonin tablets, lavender lotion, a Snuggie, and a pillow. You may want to bring a neck pillow instead of a full-size one, and earplugs may also be beneficial. I’ve heard some people suggest bringing an eye mask, but I would advise against it. I think you’re much more likely to get robbed if you’re already blindfolded!

-Unless you enjoy eating nothing but fast food and convenience store snacks, bring a few healthy foods along with you. Yes, food and drink are allowed on the bus!

-Bring hand sanitizer and keep it convenient. The 3.1 ounce liquid rule doesn’t apply to buses, so feel free to bring an industrial-sized bottle!

-Don’t expect to look your best. I always kept my hair tied back and covered with a buff, hat, scarf, or some combination of all three. I changed my clothes once per day and brushed my teeth during layovers. Other than that, just make sure you apply deodorant, and don’t even bother with hair styling, make-up, or fashion.

-Pack as light as possible. Because I was moving, I had a lot to carry. It was a hassle.

-You may find some sketchy people on the bus. Sit near the front of the bus where you can easily call for help from the bus driver. I even wore a rescue whistle under my shirt. I never had to blow it, but it could have saved me if I got into a dangerous situation.

-Try to keep track of where you’re going and how much longer you’ll be on the bus. For some legs of the ride, I pulled out my GPS so I could follow the route and know exactly where we were at. When I didn’t use it, I sometimes wouldn’t even know what state we were in!

-Using the WiFi is a great way to pass time, but don’t expect it to always work. (And even when it does work, you cannot use it to stream videos.) Other things I did to pass the time included watching DVDs, writing in my travel journal, napping, and conversing with my fellow passengers.

-Try to talk at least a little bit with your fellow English-speaking passengers. It will make everyone more comfortable.

-If it’s light outside and you have a several-hour layover in any given city, do yourself a favor and get out of the bus station! Because stations are centrally-located, you’ll probably see quite a bit on a short walk.

Even after spending too-many-hours-to-count on the bus, I can’t wait for my next opportunity to ride the Greyhound. I signed up for Greyhound’s Road Rewards, and between my Niagara Falls trip and my Ohio to Oregon trip, I earned enough points to get a free companion pass on my next trip! I’m excited to introduce someone else to the joys of riding the Greyhound. But first, I need to figure out where to go!

Stay tuned for “Across America By Bus, Part Two”, in which I actually tell you what I did at my stops across the country.

Central Ohio: Amish Country and More

I just moved to Oregon a few weeks ago, but before that I spent a year (plus one week) living in Central Ohio. My sister Jen had been working at a orphanage mission in Mexico for part of that year as well. Upon returning to America, she wanted to visit me. Of course I was excited to see her again, and I was excited to be her tour guide for her first-ever visit to Ohio. But then I remembered…

I live in Central Ohio! What will we do?

Outside of Columbus, Central Ohio is a pretty middle-of-nowhere area. I lived in Marengo, which has a population of 342! But despite the lack of people, there are actually plenty of things to do! Some things may involve driving over an hour, but here are a few things Jen and I ended up doing:

President Warren G. Harding’s Home and Tomb, Marion

DSCF0819DSCF0833

Did you know Ohio has given our nation seven presidents? Warren G. Harding is one of two presidents that lived in Central Ohio, and even campaigned on the front porch of his home! We both enjoyed the first half of the guided tour of this historic house. You may be wondering why I only said we enjoyed the first half. You see, Jen passed out in the upstairs hallway! We missed the middle part as I was helping her to recover. After the color returned to her face, she rested in the gift shop and I returned for the last part of the tour.

At the end of the tour, we were both feeling great again, so we drove a few miles through downtown Marion to reach the tomb of President Harding and his wife. This tomb is something you’d expect to find in Washington, D.C.! Except here, there’s a lot less people, and security, so we felt free to walk around the memorial at our leisure.

The Columbus Zoo, Powell

DSCF0895DSCF0897

Despite being told multiple times that this zoo was really awesome and I needed to visit, this was actually my first time here. The last zoo I had been to was the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo over a year ago, and Jen had visited the San Francisco Zoo a few months prior. Even though these are considered the top two zoos in America, we both found the Columbus Zoo to be just as good! A new Africa exhibit had recently opened, and we ate there at a restaurant that overlooked the “savannah” filled with giraffes, lions, and other creatures. Collectively, our favorite animals were apes, red pandas, penguins, polar bears, and flamingos. However, the thing we liked best about the zoo were the statues of animals that we found throughout the park. We had to pose with every single one of them for pictures!

After spending most of the day at the zoo, we went to the nearby city of Powell for something sweet. Rita’s and Jeni’s both have excellent frozen treats!

President Rutherford B. Hayes’ Birthplace, Delaware

DSCF0986

This is more of a joke than an actual trip. While driving near Delaware (the Ohio city, not the state!), I asked Jen if she would be interested in swinging by President Hayes’ birthplace. I then proceeded to drive to a BP gas station. Once at the station, I announced “here we are!” She was confused. She thought I had stopped here to fill up the gas tank, but then I pointed to a memorial plaque. This gas station was indeed the birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes!

Of course, back in his day, it wasn’t a gas station; it was his family’s home. Long after he grew up and moved out, his house was demolished, paved over, and transformed into the (British-owned!) gas station we see today.

Amish Country, Holmes County

025

Now THIS is why people visit Central Ohio! Holmes County has the largest population of Amish, and many of them are welcoming to us “English” as we visit their shops, tours, and eateries. Because we arrived on a Sunday and the Amish take this day of rest very seriously, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. So we visited Guggisberg Cheese Factory (where Baby Swiss was invented), and then checked into Blessings Lodge.

031 040

Blessings Lodge is located within walking distance of downtown Berlin, Ohio, and is a wonderful centralized location for everything going on in the heart of Amish Country. Although it has the conveniences of indoor plumbing, electricity, and cable television, it still reflects the Christian values that are shared with the Amish.
Each room at the Blessings Lodge is unique, and my sister and I enjoyed our stay at the “Faith” Simple Blessings Cabin. It was her first visit to Holmes County and my third, but it was the first time for both of us to stay at this cabin, which we agreed was our favorite part of this getaway! The porch offered amazing countryside views (and there were binoculars to gain a better perspective). The kitchen allowed us to save money by making our own meals, and we were surprised to be greeted with Amish cookies waiting for us on the kitchen table! The bathroom featured a Jacuzzi tub, and there were enough beds to sleep up to seven people. These were just a few of the amenities. The owners did an excellent job providing special touches to make the Blessings Cabin feel like home, such as games, books, and décor that can only be found in Amish Country.

028 032 046

After a restful night’s sleep, we headed into the tourist area to make the most of our day. Lacking a plan, we decided to do anything that sounded interesting at the time. We began by walking around and visiting shops in Walnut Creek. This town has a street filled with all kinds of gift shops, a woodworking shop, and best of all, Coblentz Chocolate Factory! Just down the street was Der Dutchman, where we enjoyed an authentic Amish lunch.

056

We then decided to tour Yoder’s Amish Home. It has a gift shop filled with Amish-made goods, a barn full of farm animals, and two houses that represent Amish living. Our tour guide was formerly Amish, and many of the employees here were practicing Amish themselves! It was very fun and educational.

086

Our last stop was the cheese factory of all cheese factories: Heini’s Cheese Chalet! With samples of nearly every cheese they make, plus a variety of fudge samples, we didn’t even need dinner!

098

Bridge of Dreams, Brinkhaven

104

On the way to Holmes County, we saw a sign for Ohio’s Second Longest Covered Bridge. We decided that we would definitely stop by on the way back. I’m glad we remembered to! It was fun to drive across, even though it ended up not going anywhere and we eventually had to turn around and go back. Later, through researching online, I found out that this is called the Bridge of Dreams. It’s 370 feet long and was originally built in the 1920s. I also learned that Ohio is the state with the second-largest amount of covered bridges, coming in just behind Pennsylvania.

At the end of this week, I realized that Central Ohio actually has quite a bit to do! We didn’t even do it all! Here are a few other things I could not do when Jen was in town, but did on my own:

-Malabar Farm State Park, Lucas

-Mansfield Reformatory, Mansfield

-A slew of things in Columbus, such as COSI, Topiary Garden, German Village, Ohio State Campus, Art Museum, the site of the first Wendy’s, and the World’s Largest Gavel

Note: This post was made possible in part by Blessings Lodge.

Adventures in Moving

When I was little, I remember how fun I thought it was to move. After all, my family first moved out-of-state before I even turned one, so with all the subsequent moves, I thought it was just a natural thing to do. (Plus, being so young, I didn’t have to do any of the work!) But after I started school, we only moved once more to ensure that my sister and I could grow up in the same school district. But once I finished community college, I of course had to enjoy the adventures of moving once again!

I first moved at the age of twenty from Oregon to Nebraska. This was by far the easiest move. I didn’t have any commitments in Oregon, and I had an internship lined up in Nebraska that included housing. It turned out to be the basement of a camp chapel that didn’t even have kitchen appliances, but at least there were couches, bathrooms, and a squeaky bed to sleep in. At the time, the most obvious choice was for me to take the airplane. I hadn’t explored very many modes of transportation at this point in time. I looked into taking the train, but it only cost a little less and would take three days. (I did end up taking the train back for Christmas, though.) Because most people reading this probably have flown multiple times, I won’t bore you with details. It was a pretty typical flying day to get halfway across the country. I took two suitcases plus carryon items. It was enough to live on for a few months, but every time I went back to my parents’ house for Christmas, I would fill up another large suitcase with left-behind belongings. I ended up living in Nebraska for two years and one week.

I moved from there to Ohio next. I had bought a car around my first anniversary of living in Nebraska, and since I would need a car in Ohio, it was obvious that I would drive the 800 miles to my new home. Problem was, I did not yet have a home. I did have a job, though, and a couple of my coworkers-to-be let me crash at their place for a week. So I packed up my car and began my first-ever road trip. Since it was costing me vacation money to make this move, I wanted to make it as fun as possible. In Iowa, I stopped at an art park in downtown Des Moines and the future birthplace of Captain Kirk in Riverside. I stayed the night in Morris, Illinois, and the next day went to Michael Jackson’s childhood home in Gary, Indiana and to a park in Fort Wayne where Johnny Appleseed was buried. I also made sure to find at least one geocache in every state I drove through until I arrive in Ohio. After spending some time with the coworkers and having problems securing an apartment, I moved into an RV with a roommate for about a month before finally moving into an apartment. Well, it was actually a barn, but it was remodeled into apartments! If you total the time I lived in these three places in Central Ohio, I lived there for for one year and one week.

Most recently, I moved from Ohio back to Oregon. My adventurist self could have taken this negatively. After all, I wasn’t moving to a new place I had never been before like the two previous moves. But I set out to make the best of it. I first considered driving back, since I had accumulated quite a few belongings. But I knew that my car needed a lot of work, and even then it still might not make it all the way across the states, so I sold it. (And although I’m still car-less, I’m glad I can buy another car in Oregon- they don’t have rust here!) I considered having my things shipped, but after gettting estimates from shipping countries, I realized that getting everything shipped would cost more than replacing everything upon arrival. So I set to sell and donate most of my possessions. I ended up with two boxes of books that I would ship Media Mail, a 100-pound suitcase that I would ship Greyhound Package Express, and a suitcase, carry-on, messenger bag, and pillow that I would take with me on my trip. After considering flying and taking the train, I decided to go with the cheapest option that would allow me to see the most of this country: Greyhound bus. 

After having a friend drop me off at the Columbus Greyhound station, I went through Indiana to Chicago for the first time and spent two nights there. Then I went from Illinois, through Iowa, to Nebraska to spend two nights and visit coworkers. An overnight bus trip brought me to Denver, where I met up with my cousin for 24 hours of fun. From there, I took a two-night journey through Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho to bring me back to Oregon, which included a several-hour layover in Portland where I went on a whirlwind self-guided tour. One thing about Greyhound is that there are rest stops and meal breaks along the way, so I really got to see a lot more of the country than I bargained for. This was a big plus, except when it was the middle of the night and I would have to wake up! Since I usually only travel with a backpack and maybe a small rolling carry-on, I did find it a huge hassle to schlep my own luggage at every transfer, but overall I think I had a much better experience moving like this than I would have any other way. If you’re still unsure that Greyhound is a good option, be on the lookout for a future post where I go over all the perks (and pitfalls) of riding the bus!

I’m not sure how long I’ll be in Oregon. I wouldn’t be surprised if I spend less than a year here. I know full well that moving can be stressful, but it can also be an adventure. The next time you move, see if you can find any interesting stops on the way there!

U.S. vs Canada: Who Has the Better Niagara Falls?

As much as I’ve traveled across the United States, I never seemed to make it to Canada. I had been to New York, but never set foot out of the Big Apple while there. This summer, I took an eight-day trip to Niagara Falls. This means I had the opportunity to see the other side of New York State, as well as finally enter Canada. And since I visited both sides of this international city, people often ask me “Which side is better?”

Now, when it comes to travel, I don’t play favorites. I sometimes say that because I’m not a mother, my trips are like my children, therefore it would be wrong to choose a favorite. And really, I enjoyed both countries very much, but for different reasons. Here are a few highlights from each side:

Transportation:

US: You can take a trolley around Niagara Falls State Park, which is a lot of fun and very inexpensive. Unfortunately, public transportation around the rest of the city isn’t so great.

CA: While there’s nothing fun like a trolley, you can buy a WeGo pass and ride any bus with the WeGo logo. It goes anywhere in town that a tourist would want to visit.

Sights:

US: You can get up-close and personal with the falls. There are spots where you can be about five feet away from the top of the falls. (Naturally there’s railing to keep you a safe distance.)

CA: There’s only one waterfall that spans from the US to Canada, but because you’re not so close, Canada is the best place for viewing the falls and taking scenic pictures.

Attractions:

US: My favorite attraction was Cave of the Winds, where you can walk a deck at the base of Bridal Veil falls and get drenched. Other attractions include the Gorge Discovery Center, Aquarium of Niagara, and the Observation Tower, all of which are packaged in the Discovery Pass. The most famous attraction is the Maid of the Mist boat tour.

CA: My favorite attraction was Journey Behind the Falls, where you literally walk in an underground tunnel where you can see the underside of Horseshoe Falls. Another attraction included on the Adventure Pass is an amazing theater experience called Niagara’s Fury. Canada has an identical tour to Maid of the Mist, but it is called the Hornblower Niagara Cruise.

Down the River:

US: The Gorge Trail system offers miles of paths along the Niagara all the way to Lewiston. I experienced it as a combination of hiking and biking, using a bike I rented from Gorge View. This takes you through three state parks, Niagara Falls (of course), Whirlpool (which is the best place to view the large Niagara whirlpool), and Devil’s Hole (aptly named because of the hundreds of torturous steps, but has a great view of the power plant). If you drive, you can go to Fort Niagara, which is a historic base where the Niagara drains into Lake Ontario.

CA: While you could walk downriver by foot on the sidewalks, the WeGo buses can take you all the way to Queenston Heights, with hop-on-hop-off stops at interesting places such as gift shops, aviaries, and a large floral clock by the power plant. The White Water Walk takes you on a long deck as close to the Whirlpool Rapids as is legal (there is also an Aerocar that takes passengers above the Whirlpool for an outrageous extra fee). This side also has a beautiful site where the Niagara connects with the Great Lake, and you can get there by paying an extra fee for a special WeGo bus.

City Life: 

US: This is the side where you’ll experience the most nature. Wooded forests, walkable islands, and dirt paths are hard to find on the other side of the Niagara. It also seems to be the quieter town, if you go a few blocks away from the park, there are only houses, restaurants, hotels, and one casino. If you’ve never had Indian food before, this is the place to try it. Authentic Indian restaurants are practically on every corner.

CA: This side has a lot more tourist flair. Clifton Hills is a Disney-Vegas mashup filled with quirky museums, flashy tourist traps, and casinos. There are elegant (AKA expensive!) restaurants that beautifully frame views of the falls, most notably the Seattle Space Needle’s twin, Skylon Tower. While the nature aspect is lacking, more tourists mean more shops and services are offered here.

Hostels:

US: I stayed at Gorge View Hostel, which is the closest hostel to Niagara Falls. My favorite aspects were that is was across the street from the aquarium, the bedrooms were spacious and comfortable, and the owner let guests go on the roof to watch fireworks.

CA: I stayed at Niagara Backpackers Hostel in the bed-and-breakfast community, so everything was pretty upscale and historic-looking. I enjoyed this family-run accommodation, and the free breakfast was delicious!

Names and Number of Falls:

US: There are three waterfalls: American, Bridal Veil, and Horseshoe. The American Falls span between mainland New York and Luna Island. From Luna Island to Goat Island is Bridal Veil Falls. Then from Goat Island (still part of New York) to Canada is the Horseshoe Falls.

CA: There are two waterfalls. The American Falls is the collective name for the waterfalls on the US side. Of course the largest waterfall is still a horseshoe, but it is referred to here as the CANADIAN Horseshoe Falls! I just found it funny that each side has different interpretations of what the falls are!

As long as you have a passport, I encourage you to visit both sides of Niagara Falls to get the full experience. After all, perhaps the best part of Niagara Falls is walking across the Rainbow Bridge, where you have one foot in each country! 

Note: This post was made possible in part by two hostels on opposite sides of the Niagara! Gorge View in the States, and Backpacker’s Hostel in Canada.

United States of Hostels

When I mention to people that I enjoy staying in hostels, I expect one of the following responses:

“What’s a hostel?”

“Aren’t those only in Europe?”

“Those are creepy; you shouldn’t stay there!”

For the last two, I’d like to shout a resounding NO! Hostels are found throughout the world, and only horror movies make them creepy. (In fact, I feel a lot safer staying at a hostel than I do anywhere else!) As for the first question, a hostel is an accommodation where, instead of renting a room, you can rent a bed inside a dorm. That means a big savings in money, and also a greater sense of community with others who are also staying in the hostel.

Even though hostels are most popular in Europe, and I hope to visit dozens of hostels there next year, so far I have only stayed in hostels within the United States. (Okay, so I stayed in one in Niagara Falls, Ontario, but it was only a mile away from the U.S.!) Here are a few I have stayed in and recommend:

Music City Hostel, Tennessee: This was the first hostel I had ever stayed in. Music City Hostel is a culmination of everything that the city of Nashville represents. A variety of travelers from all around the world creates this makeshift community that results in spontaneous jam sessions, late-night talks, and memorable experiences.Music City Hostel is located on the West End of Nashville. This is the district where the hospitals are located, so you will often hear ambulance sirens, but other than that it is a very quiet community. It is a few blocks away from the nearest bus stop or main street, yet it is still extremely easy to find. It is less than a mile away from several attractions, including Centennial Park and Vanderbilt University. It is also within walking distance of Downtown Nashville. Overall, Music City Hostel provides an excellent opportunity to meet new friends and experience the Nashville sights and sounds. This unique hostel is recommended to anyone with a love of travel!

Wayfaring Buckeye, Ohio: The staff was amazing, the amenities were more than I expected, and I saved a whole bunch of money compared to if I had stayed anywhere else! I had only had one previous hostel experience, but the staff at The Wayfaring Buckeye made sure I understood everything and made me feel at home.  It did seem to have a fairly quiet atmosphere, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your personality and amount of energy, but if you wanted to talk, there were plenty of people willing to talk! I was especially impressed by the cleanliness. The hostel was conveniently located near the OSU campus. It was just a few miles by bike to get to the heart of Columbus. I was surprised that bikes and locks were provided for free! The Wayfaring Buckeye appears to have once been a duplex, but a wall dividing the two homes was removed. That means twice the kitchen space, living rooms, and everything else!

Gorge View Hostel, New York: Gorge View Hostel is the closest hostel to the Niagara Falls. This building is at least 85 years old and offers an interesting history in addition to its ease of access to Niagara Falls. This fairly new hostel offers a comfortable combination of old-fashioned charm and modern amenities. Gorge View is certainly worth staying at for several days! Perhaps the best part about the Gorge View location is that it’s the perfect place to view fireworks! On nights when Niagara Falls hosts a fireworks show, the rooftop is open for all guests to view the show and the lit-up city skyline. Overall, Gorge View Hostel is an excellent choice for travelers who want to see the wonder of Niagara Falls. This is one of the few hostels where you can interact directly with the owner, and he can definitely provide lots of insider information and fun stories. The hostel is continually improving, so every visit will get better and better!

Niagara Falls Backpackers Hostel, Ontario: Niagara Falls Backpackers Hostel is a charming, family-owned-and-operated accommodation. On the outside, the old Victorian home seems perhaps to fancy to be a hostel, but on the inside, you’ll enjoy many of the amenities that are unique to hostels. Niagara Falls Backpacker’s Hostel lives up to its “international” name by housing travelers from all over the world, many of whom are friendly and great to share experiences with in Niagara Falls. The hosts speak both of Canada’s national languages, English and French.There is so much to do in the Niagara Falls area, and Niagara Falls Backpackers Hostel is in a central location where you can access it all. The young will love to hear about adventures from their global peers, and older folks will appreciate the BnB-style atmosphere and community. All ages will enjoy their stay at Niagara Falls Backpackers Hostel.

Hostelling International Chicago, Illinois: HI-Chicago is one of the largest hostels in one of the largest cities in America. This safe and friendly hostel welcomes travelers around the world from all walks of life. It includes all the standards of Hostelling International, but for just a few dollars more will also provide a great place to stay for non-members. If there is anything you need to know about Chicago, ask the staff on the first or second floor. Need a cab? They’ll call one for you. Need a recommendation for a pizza joint? They’ll give you a map and point out their favorites. Need to explore Chicago on the cheap? They sell discount tickets to many of the popular attractions, including the famous Willis Tower Skydeck.

Note: Links and hostel research provided by Hostelz.com. At this site, you can find out more about hostelling and book and nearly any of the thousands of hostels around the world!