Tybee Island

Tybee Island is one of the few places in the world [London is another place, but it requires an airplane ticket as it is much further away] that I return to on a regular basis. In the last 20+ years, I’m certain that I’ve covered the entire island on foot. The boyfriend and I have been there a few times… once in winter, twice in spring, and once when it was a miserable 110 degrees and the sand was too hot to walk on. I’ve taken family trips there. I’ve been to Tybee on Spring Break solo.  It’s a perfect beach for me.  Not crowded. Not commercialized. And close to one of my top 5 favorite cities in the USA.

Tybee Island’s Landmarks

The fishing pier

Tybee Island Pier

Tybee has a fantastic fishing pier. Sometime people even fish from it. I , like many other couples I’ve seen, have made out with my boyfriend at least once on the pier. I’ve hung a hammock from the underside and watched waves roll in. And I definitely have used it as a guide when I’ve gone kayaking. Tybee is a great place to learn ocean kayaking. The waves are never to rollicking and the currents are usually gentle.

Tybee Island Lighthouse

tybee lighthouse sunset
There’s also a lighthouse on the north end of the island. You can tour the grounds and even climb up the 143 steps to the top. I’d recommend not doing that in August, when it’s over 100 degrees though. That’s what I did, and I almost passed out from heat exhaustion.

below-the-tybee-island-lighthouse
Looking up at the lighthouse gives an idea of just how tall it is

Cockspur Lighthouse

There’s another lighthouse on the island too…Cockspur Lighthouse. As far as lighthouses go, Cockspur is quite tiny, measuring only 46 feet from base to the top of its cupola. But this structure is no slouch; it has endured high tides, hurricanes, waves from ever-growing container ships, careless individuals, vandals and – for a deafening 30 hours – the bombardment of nearby Fort Pulaski during the Civil War.

Cockspur-Lighthouse1

Remarkably, the lighthouse suffered little or no damage during the April 10, 1862, Union bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Crews manning 36 guns on 11 batteries stretching along the western end of Tybee Island likely used the lighthouse for sighting as they pounded away at the fort located about 1 mile beyond.

The Cockspur Lighthouse is one of the five surviving historic lighthouses in Georgia. It was re-lit in March 2007.

Ft Pulaski

ft pulaski

Fort Pulaski National Monument is located on Cockspur Island near the mouth of the Savannah River. Fort Pulaski was constructed between 1829 and 1847 [Robert E Lee was one of the principle engineers] to defend the port city of Savannah from foreign attacks and invasion. However, early in the American crisis that became the Civil War [or as some say–The War of Northern Aggression], Georgia state troops seized this masonry fortification.

On April 11-12, 1862, [exactly one year after the events at Ft Sumter] events at Fort Pulaski forever changed defensive strategies worldwide. Union forces deployed bullet-shaped projectiles from rifled artillery batteries on Tybee Island. After only 30 hours of bombardment the 7.5 foot thick brick walls of the fort were breached and the Confederates surrendered.

Today, the fort is a remarkably well preserved example of 19th century military architecture.

Ft Pulaski wall

Tybee Turtles

tybee turtle hatchlings

The Tybee Sea Turtle Project is a conservation project on the island. Its goal is to ensure hatchlings on Tybee have the best chance for survival. The average length of incubation is 60 days and so observation of the nests becomes a part of the daily dawn patrol. As a nest’s hatching time approaches, cooperators are assigned to “nest sit” during the night until that nest has hatched and the hatchling turtles make their way to the ocean. Loggerheads are the most numerous turtles on the east coast, but their population is still in decline. Nothing makes me happier than to see hatchlings headed towards the sea.

turtle tracks

 

Poop, pills, and parasites…oh my

Disclaimer #1:  I am not a doctor, but I do work in a hospital in the USA; I have graduated nursing school [just last week!], have examined my fair share of poop and snot, and have volunteered/visited several health clinics in my travels.  I DO consider myself an expert on all things related to green snot.

Disclaimer #2:   I do not advocate unyielding doctor avoidance or rampant self-medication. Sometimes,  there can be something seriously wrong that you can’t fix on your own, but quite often, there are simple ways to treat what ails you without spending piles cash on tons of medicine either at home or abroad.

Without further ado:  an around-the-world traveler’s guide to poop, parasites, pulmonary related issues, pokes, motion sickness, headaches, birth control and women’s health, cuts, breaks, sprains, scrapes, burns, and all things snot related.

At home, I am a healthy, but clumsy individual.  I attribute it to all the time spent around snot-nosed kids who happen to be sick and in the hospital.  My immune system is in overdrive.  All the time.  Flu-schmu.  I almost never get sick beyond a simple sore throat and cough.  But when I travel, it’s a difficult story.

Evidence #1:  Every time I change environments, this guy sets up in my chest [or more accurately, my nose].  I don’t freak out, run to the nearest pharmacy, or anything out of the ordinary.  He just has to run his course.

Mr. Mucus likes to travel too

Evidence #2:  While living in a low-malarial risk area [and on prophylaxis]  I inexplicably caught malaria.  Even though mosquitoes rarely bother me at home.  I thought I might die.  It was really that bad.

Evidence #3:  This little guy must live on my passport.  He’s responsible for all things related to excessive poop.  He always follows me out of the country.  Even to Canada.  Even though I carry a supply of metronidazole with me at all times.

[a member of the Giradia family]

Evidence #4:  I have had stitches and broken bones in five separate countries [USA included, but also Mexico, Peru, England, and Russia.]

Evidence #5:  A particularly nasty little bout of excessive poop acquired in Mexico robbed me of my will to live.

All of these incidents occurred outside the friendly confines of my home state.  So I know a thing or two about travel related maladies.  For #5, I called my boss [who was a Mexican doctor] and he called a friend of his who lived in the city I was visiting who brought me some oral re-hydration solution.  That saved my ass — quite literally.  It’s no fun pooping mucus.  Take it from someone who knows.

So after you have traveled all over creation, battled a few bugs, completed two health care degrees, got accepted into a health graduate program, worked in a hospital for a few years, worked and volunteered in hospitals and clinics all over creation, you come to know a few things. Or at least you think you do.   Or at least your friends and family think you do.  And they ask questions.

So here goes–a list of common travel illness scenarios, where they are likely to occur based on my limited experience, how you might want to treat what is going on, and some secrets on how to acquire drugs inexpensively.

Problem #1:  My snot is lime-jello green.

green snot

 

  • What it is:  More than likely it is a sinus infection.
  • Where it often happens:    In public places, touching stuff and not washing hands afterward.  In large, heavily polluted cities.  Anywhere air quality is poor.
  • What to do: After 7-10 days with no improvement, go for a round of an antibiotic like Amoxicillin. Amoxicillin [for sinus infection] is currently out of fashion in the US, but it is cheap and easy to get in most of the world. [Do not take if you are allergic to any of the -cillin family of drugs]

My disclaimer about antibiotics: I try to avoid taking antibiotics if at all possible because they kill all the bacteria in your body [not just the bad bugs]. Additionally, over-prescription of antibiotics in recent years has helped lead to drug-resistant strains of bacteria such as MRSA and VRE.

Problem #2. I’m pooping all the time! (and it brings its friend–vomit)

  • What it is:  More than likely it is traveler’s diarrhea. [or vomiting]
  • Where it comes from:  Most cases come from an intestinal bacteria or viral infection.  It could come from food, water, dirty glasses, pretty much anything.
  • Where and when it happens: Countries throughout Latin America, South America, Asia, and Africa.
  • What to do: Avoid getting sick, but if you do get sick, try the following:  Treat the emergent: You are about to board a night bus for _____.  You have a queasy tummy.  You know bathroom breaks will be few and far between.  Take loperamide [Immodium] or diphenoxylate/atropine [Lomotil].  But not both.  Or your intestines will turn to cement.  Crisis averted for the next few hours.
  • Address the cause: If you have bad traveler’s diarrhea doesn’t go away in a day or two, it’s likely you’ve got a bacterial or viral infection.   I always carry a supply of Ciprofloxacin [Cipro] or Azithromycin [Z-pak] — an antibiotic easily found almost anywhere in the world cheaply — as my first line of treatment. Often, you’ll see your body recovering in 24-36 hours. However, once you begin taking an antibiotic, you MUST take the full course. Never stop after you feel good.  This also contributes the the multi-drug resistant bacteria  surge.
  • If you can’t keep anything down, including medications–hydrate, hydrate, hydrate:  Don’t drink plain [bottled or boiled] water, but find yourself some packets of hydration salts, make your own using this formula, or buy some Gatorade and cut it with water. This will help replenish your system with salts, sugar, and minerals that your body has violently kicked out.  It’s all too easy to end up in the hospital from dehydration.  [I would have–twice–if I didn’t know how to start my own IV and carry a saline bag with me.  I don’t always do this, just to remote places]
  • If you have a virus, antibiotics will not help you. Period. If it lasts more than a couple of days without improvement, suck it up and go see a doctor.  They are almost always cheaper than in the US.  Especially if you have travel insurance.

Problem # 3  My burps smell/taste like rotten eggs.

  • What it is: When you’ve got a case of burps that smell and taste like rotten eggs or sulfur, there’s a good chance you are dealing with a water-borne protozoa like giardia.
  • Where and when it happens: Latin America/South America, Asia, Africa–any where that can’t purify the water system.
  • What to do: Take a full dose of  Metronidazole or Tinidazole (4 tablets at the same time). If you have this particular parasite, the burps will go away and you’ll feel better pretty quickly. If they don’t, get yourself to a doctor.  As a bonus, Metronidazole can be used to treat bacterial infections in the genitals. [should you need treatment for that sort of thing]

Problem #4  I can’t poop! [or my poop is really hard]

  • What it is: Constipation
  • Where and when it happens: USA/Canada… Pasta belt in Europe… Dumpling Belt of Central/Eastern Europe… anywhere where there is heavy food
  • What to do: Back off the pasta, dumplings, bread, and cheese. Eat as much fruit, greens, and water as you possibly can. If that doesn’t work, bring out the big guns and eat a bag of prunes (with another few liters of water).

Problem #5  Jackhammers are being used inside my skull.  

jackhammer

 

  • What it is: Depending upon the intensity and location of said jackhammer, you could be experiencing a garden-variety headache or a migraine.
  • Where and when it happens: After a series of overnight buses with blaring music and jerky stops. Sleeping in cheap hotels with giant pillows. People yelling outside your room ALL. NIGHT. LONG.
  • What to do: For regular headaches, Tylenol or Advil will usually do the trick.  For tension headache/migraines, try Tylenol with caffeine.   And quiet.  And darkness.  And not moving.

Problem #6  I don’t want to get malaria.

  • What it is:   A parasitic disease transmitted by the bites of infected mosquitoes
  • Where it happens: Africa, parts of Asia, select parts of Latin America, the Caribbean
  • What to do: Once you have an itinerary, consult the CDC malaria map to determine malaria risk for the regions where you are traveling. Two things will matter most: where you are going and in what season.  Not all malaria is created equal, so you’ll need different medication for different parts of the world.  [I contracted P. vivax  malaria in the Amazon even with Chloroquine–so take this advice with a grain of salt]
  • Doxycycline: Insanely cheap when purchased locally and fairly cheap in the USA. Two things to note: doxycycline tends to make people more sun-sensitive. It can also conflict with some birth control pills. It’s also an antibiotic.
  • Malarone: It’s insanely expensive, but its chemistry supposedly messes with your mind and body less than larium or mefloquin.
  • Chloroquine:   Not really cheap. Chloroquine tablets have an unpleasant metallic taste.
  • On the cutting edge of malaria remedies is the Chinese artemisia plant (or qing hao, “sweet wormwood” or “sweet annie”).  It appears to be commercially available from Novartis as the drug Coartem (Artemether 20 mg, lumefantrine 120 mg). It’s now on the WHO essential medical list. [2018 update:  Coartem is in in Peace Corps med kit for treatment of malaria so it is now a pretty standard drug].

Problem #7 I don’t want to catch Dengue fever/Typhoid fever.

  • What it is:  A viral infection transmitted by A. aegypti mosquito [dengue] or a bacterial infection caused by Salmonella typhi [typhoid].
  • Where it often occurs:  sub-tropic regions such as  Indonesian archipelago into northeastern Australia, South and Central America, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of the Caribbean [dengue] Most of the world except USA/Canada/Australia/ Western Europe. [typhoid]
  • What to do:  There is no prophylactic medicine for dengue. The best thing you can do is avoid being bitten.  These are the ones that come out during the day.  There is a vaccine available for typhoid, and it can be treated with good old Ciprofloxician. And wash your hands. Frequently.  Like become OCD obsessed with it.

Problem #8  I’m going to vomit on this bus/boat/plane/donkey cart/ect.

  • What it is: Motion sickness
  • Where and when it happens: On windy buses in the mountains of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru.  In a donkey cart in Guatemala. On a research boat headed to the Galapagos Islands in a storm.
  • What to do:  Option #1– If you’re prone to motion sickness, keep a stash of Dramamine or my personal favorite Bonine  (aka Antivert, Meclizine) handy and take it 30 minutes before departure. If you take it once you’re on the road, it’s too late. As a side benefit, Dramamine will usually knock you out so you don’t have to watch the death defying acts of the bus driver.
  • Option #2:  Purchase a pair of pressure point wrist bands (usually go by the name of Sea Bands). Not sure if their effect is psychosomatic or real, but some people swear by them.

Problem #9 . I’ve gone too high. My head is going to explode.

  • What it is: Altitude sickness.
  • When and where it happens: Hiking or walking anywhere above 2500 meters, particularly if you’ve just arrived by air, train, or bus. The worst I have ever experienced was taking a bus from sea level in Ecuador up to Quito. I felt as if my head was going to blow right off.  La Paz, Bolivia and Bogota, Colombia were no picnic either.
  • What to do: If you can, take altitude slowly, acclimatize. Outside of that, try local remedies like coca leaves (recommended in the Andes, chewed or in served in coca tea) before resorting to traditional altitude sickness drugs like Diamox [which is a diuretic].

 Problem #10 .  I’ve got blood spurting from somewhere it shouldn’t.

  • What it is: Scrape, cut, gash, road rash.
  • Where it happens: Being smashed into rocks when trying to learn to surf in Peru.  Falling off the sand board in Chile.  Getting too close to the reef in the Caribbean.  Running into trees while skiing. Ect.
  • What to do: I always carry an assortment of band-aids, bio-occlusive dressings, gauze, steri-strips [for wound closing], ACE bandages, hydrogen peroxide, neosporin, saline, and iodine. And Cortisone cream–for rashes and bites.  I may be going overboard, but then again, I am pretty clumsy.

Problem #11. I do not want to get pregnant and/or a souvenir I can’t get rid of…

  • What it is and where it happens: Me hopes you should be able to figure this one out on your own.  But beaches, booze, and bathing suits are a heady combination.
  • What to do: Contraception options are many, but if you choose to take birth control pills, here’s some advice:  Before you leave home, ask your doctor to put you on a pill with a hormone formula that is more universally known.  Drugs are known by different names around the world, so write down the commercial name of the drug as well as its chemical and hormone structure.  Condoms are available [can be expensive], but especially if you need the non-latex variety, bring some from home.

In my experience, many countries outside of North America and Europe (and I assume Australia) will sell birth control pills without a prescription. Along your journey drop into pharmacies and ask if they carry your particular pill. Birth control pills are rather expensive (especially by local standards) and choices are limited in many Central and South American countries. However, they were relatively inexpensive and easy to find in Argentina. So, when you find yourself in a country that carries what you need for a good price, stock up.

How do you get all these drugs on the road?
Most pharmacies outside Europe, North America and Australia will sell you whatever you need without a prescription and at a much lower cost than you’ll find at home. My advice: if you’re going on a long journey, travel first to a country where prescriptions are not required for basic medications.

  • Prescriptions: not necessary.
  • Prices: much cheaper than back home
  • Medicines (at least based on my experience): the real deal

I have only had to buy medicine in countries where I speak the language, but knowing the generic name for a drug will help immensely.  Write down the chemicals (and percentages if you can find it) that go into the medication you need instead of just the commercial or generic name of it. The chemical names translate roughly the same in all languages even if the medication is called by another name in that country.

There it is.  My best advice for staying healthy on the road.  Take it or leave it knowing that I have had my fair share of sickness on the road, but it has kept me alive and mostly healthy.

Running around Charleston

Charleston, SC–annually voted as America’s Friendliest City–is also home to the 3rd largest 10K in the USA…which is how I found myself back in this city along with 40,000 or so others. Charleston and I have a long, complicated history. I enjoy doing a lot of things; running is not one of them, but in a flash of what I can only describe as temporary insanity, I signed up for the 10K.  The thinking was that if I knew I was going to run a race, I’d train for it. Ummmm… not so much.  I don’t enjoy running, and I enjoy cold weather less so October-ish was the last time I did any real training.

Part of my issue with running is that I get distracted by the scenery… and this is why I make a much better traveler than runner.

We were up much earlier than the sun to catch the shuttle boat from Charleston to Mount Pleasant.

night bridge
the bridge in the frosty moonlight… it was right around freezing when we headed over to the starting line

shem creek
we got to see the sun rise over Shem Creek before the race started

I am not a fast runner; my speed is on par with a pack of turtle running through molassas so by the time I started, the winner had already finished.  Even my friend DJ was finished or close to it by the time I was off. Since the main draw of the race in running over the Cooper River bridge, the bridge is the focal point.

bridge

it is a beautiful and architecturally interesting bridge.

Eventually I put the camera away, and concentrated on running. I finished at 1:20:59 which may seem slow, but considering I hadn’t run in over a YEAR, and had never ran more than 3.5 miles at once, I am beyond thrilled at my time. Any excuse to travel is a good one.

Charleston is where I fell in love with travel. I vividly remember an elementary school field trip to visit Ft Sumter, Drayton Hall, and the historic battery. It’s a short boat ride out to the fort, but my imagination stirred–what if we keep going? Where will we end up? What was daily life life in the 1700’s? 1800’s? 1900’s? As a self-professed history nerd, Charleston has everything. Pre-Revolutionary history all the way to today.  Charleston is also where I fucked-up the best relationship I’ve ever been in.  So now my relationship status with the city can only be described as “it’s complicated.”

While reminiscing through my history with the city, I ran, jogged, or walked my way through the 6.2 mile course, and when it was over, decided that this was one of the more stupid things I’ve ever done, and decided right then and there that this would be the first, and last 10K I completed.

 

Wearing red lipstick

Is there anything more classically feminine than wearing red lipstick?

I think not.  There are even articles written about why you should date women who wear red lipstick.

I do not own said product considering I look more like Bozo the Clown than Marilyn Monroe when I wear red lipstick.  However, I am not completely immune to its purposes…sexiness, feminine-ness, boldness…the list goes on.

I was taking care of a patient recently who while admitted for pneumonia, also had stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized to the spinal cord.  The patient in question had had a previous bilateral mastectomy some few years ago so while that was not a current issue, it was a contributing factor to her condition and mental state…which is to say was not good.  And I know I can’t fix everybody.  Hell, I don’t think I can fix anybody, but I try–even if in most cases it’s to motivate you to move your ass (a nurturing, placating nurse I am not).

I do have a point, I promise.

Whenever I’m feeling out of sorts, I head to my local bookstore, and just start randomly reading any book that catches my eye. With that patient fresh in my mind, I recently read an excerpt from a book called something like “Why I wore lipstick to my mastectomy surgery.” If that one chapter was so incredibly profound, I can only imagine what the the rest of the book is like. I probably should have bought it, but truthfully, I was looking for something a little more ‘uplifting’ to take on my upcoming vacation.  I get it.  A woman was about to lose a part of herself that biologically makes here a ‘woman’… that society says ‘this is what a woman looks like.’ So she wears red lipstick to her surgery…Red lipstick–another of society’s ways of defining what is sexy…what is womanly. How she used that color to make herself more than another cancer patient having surgery. How she used it to leave her mark– more than just an exacted pound of flesh– on the operating table. And there is something empowering about red lipstick, isn’t there? A bold, fearless statement.

I am not a lipstick person.  Or if truth be told, not really a make-up person.  And though at times, usually when I’m having an ‘off’ few days, an image adjustment has been cathartic for my Self…if only in receiving comments from people ‘you look nice today’ or getting looks from attractive men that usually don’t noticed my dressed down self; recently it has been more than my Self that needed a lift…my spirit is probably more accurate.

 

Usually, I lift my sagging spirit by traveling or doing something different.  Or being creative.  But right now I am in a box.  School is limiting my free time and free funds.  My living space is tiny and doesn’t afford the opportunity to be overly creative. I am still learning how to be good a my job.  I am still learning how to adjust to the demands of my new life.  Sometimes I don’t think I’m doing any of it well.  Sometimes I feel like I am constantly being watched. Like a person in a box. Forced to walk a straight line… a path that holds no mystery. No character.  No soul.

And then I look back. On what I have accomplished. On where I’ve been.  On where I’ve come from. On the goals I still have for my life.  And then I say “Oh, yea there she is…that merry wanderluster…that nature girl…that person who has saved lives…that person who loves animals…that person who creates things.  There she is…

“And then I say–This is who I am.” And I felt the smug satisfaction of, so there.”

So… there.

Fitz Roy and lake
Fitz Roy and lake

Some people

I remember the first patient that I liked that died.  Really liked.  James was a 16 year old boy with Cystic Fibrosis.  He was surly, uncooperative, and mouthy.  He never wanted to take any medicines or do any therapy.  A lot of my co-workers would rather not have him as a patient, but whenever he was on the unit, I volunteered to take care of him.

One day, James said “you think I am sexy.  that’s why you always want to have me.’  I replied ‘1. You’re jailbait, little boy. 2.  You’re scrawny, and you can’t even cough without getting short of breath.  Let’s do your breathing treatments and CPT.’  And he would let me.  Every.Single. Time.  For whatever reason, he responded to me not treating him like he was sick.  I always give him a choice–“do this…you know what your other options are–get intubated, put on a ventilator, and we can suck the goo out of your lungs all day long or do the CPT, take the treatments, and cough.”  He always chose to take the treatments.  He knew that if he ever went on the ventilator chances of coming off were not good.

One day, he asked me if it hurt…does being on the ventilator hurt?…does being intubated hurt?  My answer was truthful–whether it does or doesn’t, I can’t say because I’ve never been in that situation, but I do know you would be on pain meds and meds that will make you not remember.  He said OK then asked if I wanted to play chair basketball with him.  And we did.  Because that’s what you do in peds.

The next day was the Duke-UNC basketball game [James was a big Duke fan].  He asked me if I would watch it with him, and I said I would with the understanding that if I got paged, I’d have to go.  He said OK.

I got through first rounds, saving him for last, and we did his therapies while watching the game.  Duke won and after the game he told me he was ready to be intubated because it was just too much of a struggle to breathe.  I asked him if he was sure and he said he was.  I found the resident and told him what James had said.  He went to talk to him and James called his parents.  They came and it was decided that they he would be transferred to PICU and started on the ventilator later that night.

I stopped by to see him later that night.  He was still awake, had his blue, fuzzy Blue Devils blanket on his bed.  James said, “I know I can be a pain in the ass.  I know I’m probably not going to survive this, but thank you for not treating me like a kid.”  What do you say to that?  ‘You’re welcome’.  My pager went off and I was saved by the bell.  ‘I gotta run but you know you’re awesome, right?’  In typical teenage fashion he said ‘Yeah, I  know.  See you in my dreams.’  My last words to him was ‘Hush your mouth, jail-bait.’

James was right; he didn’t come off the ventilator, and died a few days later.  It sucked, but it’s life.  He knew he had a terminal disease.  He knew that most people with CF as severe as his didn’t survive much past 20.  He accepted life and a death with grace and dignity.  He may have been just a teenager, but James had a wise soul.

Nursing Lesson #1:  Some people.  The memory of some people stick with you forever.

Best Thanksgiving Ever

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the USA.  It is not, and has never been one of my favorite holidays mainly because my Thanksgivings have never been anything special.  I am an unmarried only child with next to no extended family.  So there isn’t a huge gathering with lots of people and there never has been.  Yes, we have turkey and mashed potatoes, but that’s about it for ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving food.  No pies.  Nothing cranberry related.  It’s a minimally themed Thanksgiving dinner for  about 3 people.  This year, like most years since I went in to health care, I spent the actual holiday at the hospital, but four years ago during my year off, I had the best Thanksgiving ever in Peru, of all places. My roommate, Emily, and I, along with a couple other Americans including my friend Corinna hosted an international Thanksgiving for about 25-30 in our little 2 bedroom apartment in Huanchaco, Peru.  We had Americans, Canadians, English,  and Australians, Peruvians, Brazilians, and Argentinians, French, German, and Dutch, and a smattering of other nationalities.  Basically we opened up the door and invited everyone, and for travelers, the tiniest bits of home can sustain a month or more of travel.

I started my day in the ocean…my third attempt at surfing.  For the first time, I caught a wave instead of the waves catching me. It was awesome. I made mashed potatoes for a group.  They were awesome. We had a turkey. And lots of pie. And wine and pisco sours. Food. Friends. Futbol. No [american] football though. We had our Thanksgiving on Tuesday not Thursday, but that wasn’t important.  And then the group broke up.  Some left that night.  I left two days later.  Emily stayed a little longer, but for me, Thanksgiving with relative strangers, all of whom were away from home, was the best Thanksgiving ever.

The turkey…just as tasty as at home

The spread–turkey, potatoes, gravy, vegetable quiche, wine [much more than I had this year]

Another table with just desserts–cake, rum-marinated fruit, pear things [not sure what they were, but oh so tasty…

Sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows on top

Brought to you by your lovely hostesses Emily, Michelle, and Corinna.

Looking for bears

Let’s go looking for bears

It’s fall… and in my opinion one of the best things about fall is leaf color. We don’t always get a lot of color in these parts mostly because of our schizophrenic weather patterns [yesterday it was 80 and sunny… this weekend 50’s and cloudy] BUT the mountains of North Carolina aren’t too far away and the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway is an easy drive away.

A couple of years ago,I heard about a natural phenomenon called Shadow of the Bear.  It’s in an area of NC more famous for its spectacular waterfalls and day hikes, but in the fall, it’s famous for the leaves.

Let’s go hunting for bears…

no, not those bears [all though those bears are very cute if you come in contact with them in a zoo, not so cute if you come across them while on your afternoon run]…

these bears…

One of the wonderful things about living in Arden, North Carolina is its relative proximity to both the southern Appalachian mountains, the South Carolina coast, and the major cities of Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia.

Less than an hour away, nestled in the southern corner of the Nantahala Forest, in southwestern North Carolina, is one of the coolest natural experiences around…the shadow of the bear.  It happens twice a year–once from late February to mid March and the other from mid-October to mid-November.  The fall event is by far the most popular since it combines fall color with the bear’s appearance.  I like to imagine that the bear is slowing making its way across the mountain on its way to its winter hibernation…or waking up

It’s starts off with just a small peak of the bear’s head.

The bear makes its appearance for about 30 minutes each day [when it’s sunny, of course] each day revealing a little bit more.

If you happen to be into hiking, exploring Whiteside Mountain can make this a worthwhile day trip.  The mountain’s cliffs look like sheets of ice draped across the mountain. The rock is somewhere between 390 to 460 million years old [what’s 70 million years between friends]. The 2-mile ‘moderate’ trail starts as a old logging road and takes you on top of sheer 750-foot high cliffs [plenty of railings for safety].  Follow the road for about a mile until you reach the top. The trail continues about 1/2 long the ridge of the mountain, plenty of places to enjoy the views from the rock face. There are quite a few “educational” signs along the way to add interest. Toward to end of the walk along the mountaintop, look for the highest point with the rock carved “Alt. 4,930 ft.” The last 1/2 mile part of the trail is a steep downhill section that leads you back to the logging road near the parking area.

The best viewing spot for the shadow of the bear is right off Highway 64 at Rhodes Big View Overlook.

Follow your travel dreams– even if only one weekend at a time.

So you want to start a blog, do you?

I’ve had a few blogs over the years.  All were the free kind with a very specific focus.  Like when I went to south america–my blog was more like a travelogue.  When I went to nursing school, my blog was all about that….travels to Europe– more travelogues.  So I’ve learned a thing or two about blogging.  I am still no expert, but…

THINGS I’VE LEARNED:

Blogging is hard.  It’s time-consuming.  The learning curve is steep.  There’s a lot to learn even if you are technology guru. Which I’m not.  Finding ‘your voice’ takes time [I’m still finding it.  How ‘authentic’ should one be?  What constitutes over-sharing? Ect, ect.]. Writing for an audience is a lot different than writing in a journal.  Editing photos [and videos too I’d imagine, although I haven’t gone down that road yet] isn’t as easy as applying an Instagram filter and hitting ‘publish’.  Design is hard.  Getting ideas from your head into html code isn’t easy.  Reading other blogs, seeing cool features you’d like to adapt but have no idea how to do so is frustrating.  Thoughts like ‘is it stealing if I  use the same plug-in as someone else?’  ‘Will they mind?’  ‘How do I adapt it to make it different, but still what I want? ect, ect’ are ever present.

So what have I learned in since starting this blog?  I am glad you asked.

1.  Defining your purpose is crucial

everglades kayaking 1

If you can answer the question “why do I want to start a blog?’  [this goes for any type of blog], it will make your life a whole lot easier. People start blogs for many different reasons. Some to showcase a house remodel; some to showcase fashion ideas.  Some blogs are set up to keep friends and family up to date on trips around the world. Other people want a blog to show their photography to the world, and some people have a blog as their career.  They network with other travelers, bloggers, products and companies and actually make a living blogging. Whatever your goal may be having a clear purpose at the beginning will help you create a blog to address those goals.

I really wanted my first blog be like a travel journal.  It’s took a few weeks of design trial and error to decide that.  Some blogs are really cool, but they have features I’d never use, and by not using them, the blog loses something.  So for now, my blog is a ‘personal’ blog. I’ve started a new career.  I’m still in school, and I still travel as much as possible.  I’ve got a lot going on.  My blog reflects that.

Of course blogging purposes may change over time. If you think you might want to blog long term, try to develop your site with flexibility in mind.  Know that a re-design is always possible, but changing things like the title, web address, and type of blog may be committing [blog] suicide.

2.  Consider your audience or who you’d like your audience to be can help you ‘find your voice’

For most people, the first few blog posts will be aimed at friends and/or family…especially if the blog is set up prior to a long trip or housing remodel.  However, if you’d like to reach a broader audience, consider who you’d like that audience to be.  Backpackers?  Luxury travelers?  People with kids?  First timers?  Retirees?  20-somethings?  Somewhere in the middle?  A unique niche?  If you are looking to get traffic on your website, write with your audience in mind and let them know what you can do for them.

For example, my short-term goal is to finish nursing school, get experience, eventually sign on with a travel company, work as a travel nurse while earning my nurse practitioner degree. That goal is so far away right now it wouldn’t make sense for me to target people who want to do travel nursing.  None of that has anything to do with travel blogging.  But right now I CAN target students–especially older students, people who have limited time and/or money for holidays, and people who want to travel– just not travel long term.  All of that has to do with travel blogging and going to school.

3.  Thinking about your blog name now will pay dividends in the future.

Choosing a blog name is hard.  Real name vs fake name?  Full name vs Partial name?  Something with the type of blog in it or not?  Something completely different?

I went through at least 10 names before I decided on Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats, and I’ll get to why I decided on it in a minute.

First, I didn’t want use my full name as my web address, and besides, I have a fairly common name with a teeny tiny twist on the spelling of my last name.  If I type my name is a google search, the first few pages are other people with the same name as me.  However, if you want to blog under your real name and that name isn’t all that common, you shouldn’t have problem.

 If you decide to choose a pseudonym [aka something other than your real name], there are two main  things to consider:

  • Is that name available [as a domain plus any other platforms you might want to use such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Reddit, ect]?  I didn’t have Twitter before I set up my blog so once I decided on a name, I set up a Twitter account with the same name…[@Adventureadikt in case you are wondering…I’m still not very Twitter savvy yet, but I’m working on it.]  I created a Facebook page as an adjunct to my personal page [called Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats…]  My Instagram account was already set up.  I just changed the name and have to refrain from posting pictures of my cat everyday, but I’m finding Instagram the easiest to use.  I’m still debating the usefulness of having Google+, Pinterest, ect account devoted to my blog, but I have already staked claim to Pinterest and Google+ as Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats.
  • Is someone else using the name you want?  If so, in most cases, it’s prudent to choose another name to avoid creating audience confusion and blog confusion.  I’m sure there are cases where it exist, but imagine the confusion for someone coming to your site but perhaps going to a porn site instead…

I first thought of creating a blog using the name Peripatetic Michelle.  I thought it was snappy.  Most people didn’t know how to spell ‘Peripatetic’, or what it meant.  I spent a lot of time spelling that word then explaining it meant essentially the same as nomad…which is a lot more common word and a lot easier to spell.

I then thought something like Out and About with Michelle would be cool.  That’s entirely too long of a name for a web address.  Out and About was taken, and I didn’t want to change the spelling too much in order to claim it. I them thought of names like Michelle’s Big Adventure [oh wait…I don’t have a big adventure]  On the road…[taken].  I went in a different direction thinking of my favorite travel quotes, poems, ect…

  • Two roads diverged[taken]  The road less traveled [from Robert Frost’s poem…taken]
  • All who wander [taken…from a Tolkien quote]
  • I’m not lost [also taken…also derived from the same quote]

Ultimately, I decided on Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats for a couple of reasons.  Life can become very stagnant without having dreams [or goals].  I think everyone should have a dream–whether it’s something lofty like visiting every country in the world or trying to find the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. The second one being it’s a nod [albeit a slight one] to the fact that I am NOT a full-time traveler.  Traveling is by far my favorite activity, but I currently have a job at a hospital, go to school full time, and have two kitties at home that keeping me on my toes.

kaos-loves-the-computer-too

4.  Platforms and hosting has nothing to do with shoes and parties

I am so glad I researched this before my first blog.  Everyone said use WordPress.  It will make your life easier.  I like easy so I used WordPress from the start.  I have never used anything else and I have not had any issues…

If I have any problem with WordPress, and really I don’t, it’s that there are SO.MANY.OPTIONS …widgets [not just -something discussed in Economics class] and plug-ins, themes and menu…it’s a bit overwhelming in the beginning.  There’s also the free [with wordpress.com] or the paid [just the name of your site].

For this blog, I use the self-hosted one at wordpress.org.  I do have to use a hosting site and I use SiteGround…I’ve never had issues, but I really don’t know enough about them.  I just googled ‘self-hosted servers’ read the reviews, and picked one.  I’ve used BlueHost in the past and while they were OK, contacting customer support usually turned into an all day affair.

Do yourself a favor though, use wordpress from the beginning.  Seriously.

5.  Choosing the right technology will make your life easy

Potion making at old operating museum

Technology is advancing every day, but choosing the right tools makes life a lot easier.

On my first big trip to the UK, I had a 2 SLR cameras and a point and shoot camera [OK…my first, first adventure was still on film!  I sound so old!] and a CD Walkman.  I used PIN telephone cards to make phone calls and sent my negatives back home.  It was frustrating.  It was slow.  Then I upgraded to a DSLR…It was still mind-nummingly frustrating to get my photos off the camera onto my Facebook page. My next adventure was a month long trip through the north eastern US and parts of Canada.  I traveled with a netbook and the same cameras.  I used my regular cell phone, but it didn’t work for the nearly two weeks I was in Canada.

For my next adventure [6 weeks in Europe in winter], I took my Kindle and the cameras.  I could upload photos taken with the kindle directly to Facebook and while writing on a Kindle isn’t the easiest thing in the world, it’s better than depending on others for technology.

I’m still working out the right amount of technology for a trip, but I’ve got a head start on what’s too much.

6.  Blogging is hard

kayaking off tybee island

It’s even harder if you are doing it on the road.  It takes time to come up with ideas, write them out, take pictures, edit them, and post it all to a blog consistently.  A blog is not a blog without content.  And yet content–or I should say GOOD content– is the hardest part of any blog.  There are millions of blogs on the web these days, and content is what makes one blog succeed while another one fails. Content and consistency.  My goal is to blog content twice a week and add a photo post in once a week.  I have found, from reading other blogs, that it is important to let the reader know how often new content will appear.  Whether its twice a day or once a week, it’s a lot easier as a reader to say ‘oh, it’s Wednesday…let me pop over to Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats and see what’s new’ than to randomly check in and get frustrated when there’s nothing new.

I have read that it helps to have a months’ worth of posts ready before you publish the first one.  I don’t have that many, but I do have a couple weeks’ worth of posts ready.

Good, regular content is the key to successful blogging.

Foot hills trail hiking

Paddle harder

Love many, trust few, and paddle your own canoe.

“You have to sign this release and watch the safety video, and then will be on our way, and make sure you check the box that says ‘no guide’.”  I looked at my friend Greg, and said ‘No guide?’ and he said ‘Yep, no guide.’  I wasn’t so sure.  I probably needed a guide, and extra time with that safety video, if I’m being honest.

nantahala-river-4

I always feel apprehension and anxiety before any new adventure because let’s be honest, I’m not the most graceful person in the world.  There’s always the chance that the boat I’m in will capsize, the equipment I’m using will malfunction, or I’ll trip, fall, and break something.  Usually once I get started, I’m fine, but those moments before, I’m a giant scared-y cat.

nantahala-river-2
Although floating down the river is nothing to be afraid of.

I took some solace in the fact that the Nantahala is one of the easier whitewater rivers  to raft in the eastern US.  It’s great for beginners [like me!].   The run is 8 miles of Class II rapids with one tiny little bit of Class III rapids right at the end.nantahala-river-3

The water was fast and mostly flat. I am not a good front boat paddler. I’d probably be a worse rear paddler. I got yelled at several times… “paddle harder”. I paddled harder. I don’t think it mattered. We made it 8 miles down the river without anyone falling out.

I suck at paddling a raft. I’m decent in a kayak, but rafting, I completely suck. But every adventure isn’t always about experiencing the biggest adrenaline rush or taking it to the edge. I don’t have to be the best at everything or have the greatest story to tell. Sometimes doing something I’ve never done before allows me to challenge myself. It allows me to let go a fear… Fear that plagues everyone at some point in life. Sometimes it allow me a chance to be humble and reconnect with my inner self.

Life isn’t always a contest.

nantahala-river-1

Sometimes I just like to take my camera around a new destination and snap whatever interests me… Enter Postcards from…    Today’s destination is Seattle, Washington. My first visit to the city was in May 2012. I’ve since returned in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.  It is my favorite city in the USA outside of South Carolina.


Although no rooms are available for 75 cents these days
The Space Needle on a beautiful spring day
The famous Pike Place Market

and a self-portrait at the Space Needle

2012.8.24 Seattle Michellee

 

 

 

space needle

 

wwii-planes-museum-of-flight-seattle-washington
And finally, a bi-plane at the museum of flight

Postcards from Seattle