10 Gifts for the Rad Adventurer

I’ll be REAL honest with you. These are all things I want or have, but mostly things I want 🙂
Chances are if you are looking for a gift for an adventurer, they want something practical or something to inspire them to continue their adventures. Here’s the list:

A Blanket. Who doesn’t love a good blanket? Especially if it’s ultra trendy and from an environmentally conscious company. The one shown runs you $99, but they have more affordable options as well at SackclothandAshes.com

2. Map of all the National Parks. DUH. I was lucky enough to win this map along with some rad shirts promoting and giving back to the National Parks. Starting at $25 at www.parksproject.us

3. Steel Mug. Now this is just a necessity. And once again from a company that promotes giving back and sustainability. Find this and many other amazing outdoor products at Wyldergoods.com


4. Books. New York Times 36 Hours series is really well done. I get inspired every time I pick up this book. It is designed to lay out itineraries of short trips (36 hours) near you! On Amazon for about $25.


5. Hiking Poles. I am the only one of my friends with poles, which is why I probably always leave them at home. You know who you are. Buy these. $29 with a variety of terrain attachments. Amazon as shown

6. Snowshoes. Winter is coming. I am unprepared. (Hey Mom and Dad, I could really use these). What would we do without Amazon? $73.77


7. Vinyl + Into the Wild. Yes. Please. Annnnnnd Amazon for the win. $24.

8. Subscription Box. Two of my favorites are Cairn at www.getcairn.com and Nomadik at www.thenomadik.com. They come filled with adventuring goodies and different subscription plans. Both start at $30 a box.

9. Beanies and hats. Gosh, I love beanies. I own too many hats, but this company gives towards empowering a child currently in the fight against cancer with each purchase. Enough said. $38 at www.stalyon.us

Found this gem on Airbnb. Located on a rescue farm in a cute town in Oregon 🙂

10. Book a Cabin or Glamping Adventure. There are some amazing opportunities to go off the grid. I think the best gifts are experiences. You can use my code to get $40 off your first trip www.airbnb.com/c/melissam1221 

Hope this helps! Also feel free to leave other suggestions so that I can add more to my own wish list 🙂

Wanderlust Ramblings

It was a tough choice of choosing between my favorite nighttime activities of reading or writing. I opened up a blank document on my computer and let the rambling and thoughts of wanderlust consume me.

I have recently been having the same conversation with people. How is it that we can be so inspired by the world around us, and everything that we want to accomplish, that we become uninspired in a way? Now, more than ever, we live in a world of exposure. The internet and social media opens up the world in such an enticing way. Of course I want to see everything, go everywhere, experience all the things, and feel all the feels.

Our generation gets a lot of crap about “wanting too much”. Travel becomes this forbidden fruit. You need to go to school to make money to travel, but then you have no time to travel and a devastating amount of student debt. It starts to feel out of reach, and as you see so many other people experiencing the world, you become uninspired due to the fact that it seems intangible. Should that stop you?

I should not complain. I’ve been to 19 states in the last 5 years. It is just hard for me to accept the concept of working to make enough money to eventually be able to enjoy free time. Maybe it’s because in my line of work I see people in a vulnerable state. People trying to regain their independence in their daily activities. One of my clients went from planning the itinerary on her cruise to having a goal of putting on her socks independently. And if only I had a dime for every client that looked me in the eyes with such intensity and stated, “do NOT wait until you retire to travel, because you may not have the chance.”  

So, I feel like we have things backwards. I am not exempt. It has been almost a year of the 9-5 grind in Washington. I preach about travel and the importance of cultural experience, but I’m stuck too. It is tiring always looking for the loophole. Maybe I am crazy for wanting more, for dreaming about what-ifs, but I can’t stop fantasizing about a life of adventure. I’ll admit, I go through my “gemini” phases. I get restless and I dabble in everything, but one thing that has remained consistent through all my phases is my passion for travel. Not only is my lust remaining consistent, but growing stronger.

No one should know exactly what their future holds. I feel some exhilarating changes coming in the next year. I’m thrilled to be going to the Grand Canyon next month to relieve some of this pent up wanderlust. Thanks for listening (I’m talking to you Dad – the only one that reads my rants).

As the Ashes Fall

Photo Credit: Mike Velez

I used to only write about my memorable adventures in my journal. Relationships, hurts, successes, and dreams. I’ve had a journal for as long as I can remember. It is incredibly humiliating to read entries from middle school, but it makes you appreciate how you’ve grown. Now that I’m on the opposite side of the country of my family and friends, I have been motivated to share my adventures more publicly. So, I’ll take you back to last weekend.

I turn onto a dirt road, jostling my cousin (Elise – visiting from LA) awake in the passenger’s seat. I swerve around pot-holes, getting maybe closer than my cousin wanted to the edge of the mountain we were driving up. The mountain ranges are shrouded in a haze from the wildfires we assumed were miles away. The sun yellow-orange like a farm fresh egg yolk still visible through the smoke.

We get to the trail head, where already the parking lot has overflowed to the road. I sigh, not wanting to fight through crowds of people on the trail. We hit the trail. The weather is perfect. Cool, damp, with the scent of a perfect ‘Alpine fresh’ candle. We cross over streams and climb up rocks.

Then the elevation begins in the second half. We break for a minute along one of the never ending uphill stretches of trail. I squint at what looks like snow falling randomly from the sky, subtle, only visible against the dark tree trunks. I begin to see it covering the foliage along the trail, making the greens speckled. A speck of the foreign white snow lands on my shirt. I state out loud as I come to the realization, “Oh my gosh. There is ash falling from the sky.” We debated and concluded that ash can travel from far away fires. It shocked me to see even this impact of the wildfires that have been happening in Washington.

We make it to the lake treasured by many, instagrammed by many. It looks nothing like the pictures I am used to seeing. My eyes burn as I look at the mountain edges barely visible in the background. The normally bright turquoise waters appear dark and clouded. We eat our sandwiches as my friend (Mike -visiting from SF) dives into the blue waters. I am wearing my Detroit hat, per usual, and come across a group of 6 hikers that are also transplants from Michigan. We debate over University of Michigan vs Michigan State University.

We pack up and head out to make it back to Seattle in time for our dinner reservations. Ten minutes into our descent, we stop. Shocked. The semi hazy sky has turned into a solid, burning cloud of smoke eating up the blue sky in the direction we are heading. Mildly alarmed, we continue our descent. Thirty minutes later, I stop. I stare at the ground and the orange-red streams of light hitting the rocks and the trees. I look towards the sky and see the sun behind the smoke, glowing red as you would imagine it would look like during the apocalypse. The light dims and the earth has an eerie, quiet mood as the red light increases.

We continue chasing the blue sky and finally make it back to the car. The dark cloud still growing closer and larger. We pass a ranger closing off the trail, “It all happened so quickly, the fires. We are trying to get everyone out as fast as possible.” We drive back to our Seattle bubble in disbelief that we were in the shadow of wildfires scorching the earth nearby.

Thank you to all the fire crews that are working so hard to manage the destruction in the PNW.


Reflections from a Life-Changing Road Trip

It has been a year and 2 days since I left the state I had lived in my whole life. I can’t help but reflect on my travels and how that journey shaped me.   When I started my journey with my hometown in the rearview mirror (so cliché), I was so focused on the outcome of being somewhere else. A fresh start, with new possibilities and raw dreams. That was the mantra I used to distract myself from the pervasive, terrifying thoughts of “What am I doing??” as I crossed state border after border.  I had not given much thought to the adventures I was about to experience that would forever change me.

Phase 1: Anxiety. The first leg of my road trip was a 14-hour drive to Lincoln, Nebraska. My poor mom received many delirious phone calls when I burned through all my podcasts and couldn’t listen to my music playlist yet again. The thought of getting back in my car made me want to scream. My car was packed to the brim and I felt claustrophobic; trapped with everything I owned and my disconcerting thoughts. Packing all your belongings into a vehicle really makes you appreciate what material things you can live without. I will say thank-you to my mother who somehow coerced me to drag my food processor across 12 states (life really is simpler with it).

Phase 2: Doubt and Excitement. And then it happened. The disheartening, nauseatingly flat landscape gave way to mountains. The slopes and ridges insidiously creeping up on the horizon as I neared Denver. It hit me in Denver, where I stayed with a friend from Graduate school, that I didn’t have a legitimate reason for leaving my home state when questioned. Not that I needed an excuse or reason, but it proved to be a little awkward, and instilled self-doubt. I found myself “Donald-Trump-Style” circling around words that never actually answered anyone’s questions: “Why did you leave?”, “Where are you going”, “For how long?” Um. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

Art day at Sand Flats

Phase 3: Reflection and Validation. Often when you just up and leave your hometown, friends, and family, people assume “Ah, running from your problems?” I had no “problems” in Michigan. I had a great life there, with a really good job, and with amazing friends. It was almost a subconscious yearning for something different, as if my soul felt it didn’t belong in the Midwestern-cookie-cutter lifestyle. Go to school, get a job, buy a house, get married and have kids! Oh, and do this all before you are 30 years old. HAH. I began putting my life on hold for “when I move west”. I self-sabotaged every promising relationship with a guy and changed my phone number WAY too often. I made sure nothing could tie me down.

Sunset at Sand Flats in Moab, Utah

Phase 4: Nostalgia and Hunger. Now here I am, sitting in my apartment in Seattle, feeling the beginning stages of the travel bug once again. The anxious-like-tickle that kind of starts in your feet and warms your chest. I think back to the days blurring together. Setting up my tent and tearing it down day after day, national park after national park, as I ventured towards this new life in the west. It changes you. You realize how big the world is and how small you are. How incredible the earth is, and the importance of protecting it. Simple things are the nicest things. Genuine humans are not as rare as you think.

Phase 5: Action and Repeat. Maybe I am not made for routines and habits of the 9-5 world. I truly don’t believe anyone is. I would be perfectly content waking up somewhere new every morning. It is more than that though. When you travel, you learn; about yourself, about the world, about values, and about perspective. This influences your actions and pervades your thoughts. It makes you a better person.  It makes me sad when I hear people say, “I wish I could travel like you did, but my life is just too complicated”. Uncomplicate it. After experiencing this shift in attitude, priorities, and values, I find myself telling people: If you really want it, you will do what it takes to make it happen. I bet I could negate any excuse you come up with, but you don’t have to believe me, go find out for yourself.

Comment where you would road trip to if you could go anywhere. Tell me what would hold you back.

Mount Pilchuck and Next Level Hiking Status

Mount Pilchuck is talked about by many. When I first moved to Washington and asked for hiking recommendations, Pilchuck was mentioned again, and again. I would continue to see pictures on social media of picnics or overnights in the fire lookout shelter, built in 1921. The hype continued to grow for me as I had to wait for warmer weather to complete this hike rated “difficult” with over 2000 feet of elevation gain. Today was more than crossing another hike off the list. Today was a milestone.

I remember when I first moved to Washington and had no hiking gal pals to learn from. I decided to venture out and complete Mount Si (Rated difficult) by myself. I had been hiking consistently in Colorado, Utah, and California prior to this hike, but something about Si had me struggling so hard. I avoided stairs for a solid 3 days after that hike.

Recently, I have made it a mission to get outside every weekend, and amazingly, I have stuck to that. It is now coming up on a year of living in Washington and I truly feel that I’m making the most of every day in this beautiful state.

I reached the trailhead of Mount Pilchuck a little later than anticipated and a little more dehydrated than I should have been, due to last night’s activities. My hiking gal pal and I joked about being out of breath in the first 10 feet, but continued to hold a conversation for 30 minutes as we completed countless switchbacks. I had every intention of keeping track of the switchbacks during this hike, but immediately lost count after two. We became immersed in sunlight and sweat (strangely mostly neck sweat) at the halfway point as Mount Baker showed off her snowy peak.  We paused briefly to take it all in and continued. We found a shady spot and drank some water as we waited for returning hikers to climb down, envious of their ambition.

It didn’t feel like very much time went by before we turned the corner and saw the lookout looming ahead. Per usual, I had to overcome the fear-of-heights-paralysis as I climbed the ladder to the lookout.  We hung out, ate a sandwich, and took a few photos before beginning our descent. It was during the descent where my epiphany occurred.

I fell into a rhythm, where my body takes over and knows which rocks to step on, the angle, and what part of my foot. It is liberating when I feel that my brain and body are in sync with my surroundings. This is not to say that I do not almost face plant at least 10% of the time when I hike. Fifteen to twenty minutes into our descent, we stepped aside for a man climbing up that we talked to at the trailhead. “Wait. You girls already went to the top?!” We then passed two others that we started at the trailhead with. My hiking partner and I began trying to figure out how long the summit took us, and came to the realization that we crushed this hike without realizing.

I couldn’t help but smile at the realization that I may have finally achieved the status of a seasoned hiker in Washington. Each hike gives me an opportunity to learn and connect with my environment. I am excited to see how Washington continues to challenge me and what skills I will learn in the future.

A Travel ‘Would you Rather’ Dilemma

Today is one of those days where the little things that have been building up all come crashing down. Like a bad Jenga move. Then you are forced to look at all the pieces and how they do or do not fit together. Excuse all my midlife-crisis-angst.  I just woke up two days ago with fresh fear of getting my priorities right and making the most of my life. It is so easy to get sucked into our daily routines. Unfortunately, it seems to take a death or something drastic connected to you to really jar your mind and shake things up to the point of reassessing your values and motivation.

My dilemma is honestly like a “Would you Rather” question. Here it is. So, I pack up all my belongings in Michigan a year ago, right? Because…well I don’t really know, but my soul knew I needed to. I end up in Seattle, which is the coolest city in the USA – hand on the Bible. However, the cost to live in a cool place is much higher than the average cost. This leaves you without extra money to spend on travel. On the flip side, there are so many mind-blowing places to visit within hours away that you don’t need extra money to travel.

Touristy day when I first arrived in Seattle

Maybe this is pent up resentment of not using my passport yet. My only out-of-the-country experiences have been in Canada. Doesn’t really count. I want to travel to learn and grow. Although, I would truly be happy just jumping around the USA. So, maybe my crisis is coming to terms with the fact that I have a hard time settling in one area. I’ve already ripped that Band-Aid off when I left Michigan, and it keeps getting less sticky wherever I land.

Would you rather: Live somewhere rad with a lot to experience, but have very little extra money?


Live somewhere lukewarm on the excitement scale, but have more money to travel to other places? 

Post your opinion, please!!

My Thank-You Note to the Pacific Northwest

My Thank-You Note to the Pacific Northwest
Hoh River Trail – Olympic National Park                          Photo credit: Brenna Buckwalter

I moved to Washington in October and had zero expectations. I joined onto a travel therapy team thinking I was going to be placed in sunny California. I imagined my hair suddenly transforming into beachy waves and my pale, freckly skin becoming tan. The universe had other plans.

Now that I’ve been in Washington 10 months, I already feel that I’m becoming accustomed to the beauty here; that I am maybe not appreciating the Pacific Northwest (PNW) as much as I did when I first arrived with fresh Midwestern eyes. So, I thought (my glass of wine thought) I should recount my first impressions and second impressions while I still can.

Mailbox Peak       Photo Credit: My own

What I’ve noticed about Washingtonians…erhm, Washingtoners? Anyway, I’ve noticed they all have this intense pride for their state. I mean don’t get me wrong, growing up in Michigan I would wear my Detroit hats and my ‘Great Lakes Proud’ shirts, but it is a whole different level out here, maybe 10 notches more intense. I find myself jumping on the bandwagon often. Ask my mom; I flew her out here for less than a week and you could see the captivation in her eyes. My friends are also transplants and on our hikes and backpacking trips we always joke that we understand where fairytales and fables came from after hiking in the fog shrouded, moss-laden mountains.

Most of my friends and family back home have yet to experience the PNW (except for my meager iPhone photography that I force upon them). My hope with this delirious Tuesday night writing is that I will inspire some of you to come visit (I have a large couch) and to also assist my family members in understanding why I’ll never come back to the Midwest.

Hoh River Trail – Olympic National Park       Photo credit: Brenna Buckwalter

Imagine you wake up to the sound of a river; green-tinted light streaming through your half-shut eyes. You climb out of your tent to see the sun glistening off of the turquoise glacier water rushing past you as a deer stares at you from the other side. You set off for the day in a meadow of wildflowers and grass, a glimpse of the mountain range in front of you. Your muscles scream, your lungs seize as you climb higher and higher. You question your sanity.

Suddenly a vast range of snow-covered mountain peaks come into view and you know you must be hallucinating, because how could something so beautiful be hidden away just 17 miles into a seemingly-normal trail? Sunday hits and you trudge down the mountains back into a dense rainforest where you spot a mother bear and her cubs in the trees. The sound of rushing rivers and waterfalls rings in again as looming trees covered in cloaks of moss emerge on both sides of the trail, elk grazing in the distance

Hoh River Trail – Olympic National Park           Photo Credit: My ownI remember my first few hikes in Washington. I would get to the summit or viewpoint and remain in a fervent trance for a solid five minutes before speaking to anyone (until I heard the crisp pop of the victory beers opening). I see it when there are visitors on the trail. They are the ones at the summit standing in the way of everyone else’s Instagram picture, just standing, speechless. I miss that feeling.

Incredible views on large mountains looking at even larger mountains lamentably becomes the norm, and thus losing some of the magic.  Instead of flinching when Mount Rainier comes into view, I just twitch a little. Yet, the appreciation of the beauty that surrounds me never dissipates. The mountains are my church, and I can’t wait to don my Sunday best again, and again, and again.


“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” John Muir

Hoh River Trail – Olympic National Park      Photo Credit: Brenna Buckwalter

Check out my other post on North Cascades National Park in Washington > HERE <

San Francisco – The Semi-Tourist Guide

San Francisco

Barely visible view of Golden Gate Bridge from Lands End trail

I have been putting off this post for a long time. San Francisco has been so many things to me and I have been there in so many different stages of my life. SF was the first city I ever flew to and explored without my parents; the first city transit system I conquered having grown up in a one stoplight town. I am blessed with an incredible Uncle that has an equally incredible partner. They are two of my favorite people on this earth and they have given me amazing experiences in SF every time I visit. When I left Michigan, my plan was to live in San Francisco, but Seattle stole me. SO anyway, here is my collective experience from the 4 times I have visited from a semi tourist perspective.

Coit Tower

What I like most about SF is that every place has unique characteristics that make it stand out in my mind. Often when I go to a new city, the places I go tend to blend together, but not in San Francisco.


SF is overwhelming and condensed. These are my top places as a tourist.

  • Land’s End/Sutro Bath Ruins – A park in Golden Gate National Recreation area that goes along the cliffs to the Sutro Bath ruins. I love hiking/running in this area and then going to the Cliff House for a beverage or snack with an epic view.


  • Golden Gate Bridge – Driving over the bridge is great, but biking over it makes it even more dramatic. We biked over and then spent a few hours in the cute shoreline city of Sausalito at shops and eating seafood.

Alcatraz – Yes, yes. Very touristy, BUT very edgy and loaded with history. I usually don’t have the patience for audio tours, but this one kept my attention. I was also lucky enough to catch AI Weiwei’s art exhibition that was set up on my second visit to Alcatraz.


  • Mission District. The Mission District is a neat area that is full of murals, good food and shops. One of my favorite memories is walking down to BiRite Ice Cream and then sitting in Delores Park listening to musicians. I even scored an interesting palm reading by a stranger there. Taquerias – I’ve never been able to get a clear answer from locals as to what the BEST taqueria is, but the few I have tried did not disappoint. The Mission is also a great place to go out for drinks. Most of my nightlife experience in SF is in the Mission.


  • Fisherman’s Warf – The obligatory tourist spot you have to check off your list. Truly not one of my favorite spots because of how crowded it is in combination with hundreds of tourist traps; BUT, the sea lions are cool.


Painted Ladies
  • The Painted Ladies – Another touristy spot to check off the list, but not as crowded as the Warf. These Victorian houses are pretty cool to look at. *Enter Full House opening credit music*


Other Attractions:

  • California Academy of Sciences
  • De Young Museum
  • Aquarium
  • Coit Tower
  • Chinatown

Hike in Marin Headlands and Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Visit the beautiful beaches of Bolinas

Food & Stuff:

  • Chow – a go to with my Uncles.
  • Tartine – Famous bakery
  • Dandelion Chocolate – Vegan options
  • Four Barrel Coffee
  • BiRite Ice Cream
  • PLAJ


  • Casanova
  • Dalva
  • The Sycamore
  • Elixir
  • Make-out Room
  • El Techo
  • Urban Putt (Brewery, putt putt course)
  • Elbo Room
  • Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem
  • Beauty Bar
  • Cease and Desist
  • The Tipsy Pig
  • Lucky13
  • The View – Hotel bar

Bloody Marys

My friend and I completed a self-guided bloody mary tour of SF. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Zeitgeist
  • Nopa
  • Maven
  • Zuni Café

Music Venues:

  • Hotel Utah
  • Café Du Nord
  • Rickshaw Stop

Let me know your favorite San Francisco spots for my next visit!


North Cascades National Park – Washington

Turquoise waters of Diablo Lake

It’s interesting that I’ve lived in the state of Washington now for 9 months and haven’t wrote about any of my experiences until now. So I guess I’ll start with my most recent Washington adventure and backtrack (eventually).

Thunderknob trail

Video overview of our trip thanks to Zach Sweeting :

The North Cascades National Park has intrigued me for a while. A lot of Washington natives don’t even realize it’s a National Park when I bring it up in conversation. It is on a list of the 10 LEAST visited National Parks of the 59 in the United States. WHAT?

The Crew

So, five of us piled into my boyfriend’s jeep and we drove out of Seattle with relief, and made the less than 3 hour drive to our Newhalem Campground site. I reserved Newhalem instead of Colonial Creek Campground because they still had walk in sites available on the river. Colonial Creek definitely seems to fill up faster because it is closer to Diablo Lake and the most popular hikes. I would camp in the Newhalem campground again in a heartbeat. It was private and had a bathhouse nearby where you park your car. It felt like we had backpacked in.

Set up camp. Build fire on soggy ground (because Washington). Roast hot dogs. Drink Rainier. Roast marshmallows. Pass out.

Morning 1:

After a relaxed breakfast, we drove to the Visitor’s Center to inquire about trails that still had snow cover and any and all advice.

On our way to Thunder Knob trailhead, we stopped off at Ladder Creek Falls, which was a great start to the day and our first look at the turquoise glacier water.

Ladder Falls Suspension Bridge
  • Ladder Creek Falls: 0.4 miles over a suspension bridge with some stairs to see the falls. View of a power house and some of the history of hydroelectric power in the area. This took us about 30 minutes.

We then drove to Colonial Creek Campground to access our next hike

Diablo Lake
  • Thunder Knob Trail: 3.6 miles of relatively easy hiking with some elevation gain. This hike gave us the best views of Diablo Lake and the stunning turquoise waters. We chose to hang out at the viewpoint and eat lunch here.

Then we drove over the breathtaking Diablo Dam to get to our last hike of the day.

  • Diablo Lake Trail: 7.6 miles of moderate hiking. This trail offered a variety of terrain changes and stunning views of the rivers and mountain ridges, ending at a suspension bridge and view of the Ross Dam. You are able to take a ferry back instead of hiking back if you plan this hike well. We somehow nailed the timing for one of the two departure times, however, they do NOT accept anything but cash. The kicker – there are no ATMs or Cash back within a 30 minute drive. Us, being the young, tech-forward Seattlites, had not one coin or bill. The 7.6 miles round trip was pretty brutal after already putting in some miles, but still worth it in my opinion. We finished the hike exhausted and sweaty and broke open some refreshments on the beach next to the trailhead parking lot.

  • Gorge Overlook: On our way back to the campsite, we briefly stopped off here to grab some gorgeous views.

Build fire on soggy ground (because Washington). Roast hot dogs. Roast marshmallows. Drink Rainier. Pass out.

Morning 2: After breakfast and packing everything back into the car, we drove out for one more nearby hike

Pyramid Lake
  • Pyramid Lake Trail: 4.5 miles of moderate elevation gain. All reviews of this trail say that this trail is about the journey and not the destination, but I beg to differ. Once you enter the lake, turn left and hike up a rock scramble to some large rocks and look over the dark teal lake to a beautiful mountain ridge.
Pyramid Lake

On our way home we stopped at Marblemount Diner. Maybe it was because we lived off of hot dogs for a few days, but darn, that was a good meal.

Can’t wait to go back and check out Sourdough Mountain Tail once the snow has cleared.


Enchantments of the Island of Hawaii

I had these visions of Hawaii before I actually saw it with my own eyes. White sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, floral leis. My first Hawaii experience was quite different, and that’s what is so great about Hawaii; you can make it as adventurous as you want or as relaxing as you want.

So let me tell you about my unglamorous, but dazzling experience.

My boyfriend, Zach, and I begin to depart Punalu’u black sand beach just south of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Fragments of the lava rock crushed down into sand litters our rental car. I begin to dig for a Band-Aid in my bag to re-patch the blister I created earlier in the day hiking down to the Papakolea green sand beach. When I finally look up, we are winding above the coast, leaving the sunshine behind and entering a hazy, dark cloud. The coast disappears as we begin to enter thick rainforest type terrain and the entrance to the national park appears.

We grab our campsite papers from the Lava House and are offered Guava juice mimosas. I walk to the lounge area carefully balancing my mimosa as the large windows catch my eye. Lava fields go on for miles as a plume of smoke consistently, meditatively billows out of the Crater of Kilauea.

We drive to our campsite, our tent set up and ready to go with the rain fly bouncing in the rain as the wind begins to pick up. We don our raincoats, preparing for our first look at active lava. As the sky grows darker, the woods behind our tent begin to glow with reddish hues as the lava begins to present itself. We drive to a trail-head leading up to the museum where everyone clusters each night to see the lava. As we walk to a ridge we can begin to see the variety of reds and oranges in the plume lighting up the area. We walk up to Jaggar museum and patiently wait our turn to trade spots with the hundreds of people with cameras waiting for the perfect shot when the lava splashes into the sky.

We fall asleep in the brisk 50 degree weather having no idea what the next day holds.

We wake up to the sun and sounds of unfamiliar screeching birds. We get into our increasingly dirty rental car with granola bars and extra water and head for Chain of Craters road.

We excitedly begin stopping off at any and every pull off looking at craters, lava fields, lava tubes, volcanoes, until we decide to venture past a pull off and onto the Pu’u Huluhulu   trail. One mile in, the iridescent lava rock pieces turns to layers upon layers of lava. We begin joking that maybe we missed the apocalypse and we are the only ones left on the planet, as it seemed there was no life for miles on end. Two more miles later and we are looking out over volcanoes.

Holei Sea Arch

We climb back in the car, a little more tired, but a little more electrified by this enchanting island as we head toward the end of the Chain of Craters road that has been obstructed by lava. We walk toward the cliff edge and a delicate black rock sea arch comes into view. We chat up the park ranger about the best way to see the ocean lava flow and head out.

We park at the other end of the lava obstructed Chain of Craters road after an hour drive and walk up to the nearest bike rental vender. A couple miles into the four mile bike ride to the ocean flow, we begin to see the red glow of the lava streaming down the mountain side and the billow of smoke coming from the lava making contact with the ocean.

We sit on lava rock as the lava grows brighter with each inch the sun sets.

Photo Credit: Zach Sweeting

Biking back in the dark, we marvel at the intensity of the stars overhead and look forward to waterfalls in Hilo before ending our adventures on the Big Island and starting a new adventure on Maui.