summer #adventureswithcj

I am acutely aware that summer has come to an end. But, but, but! We did some cool stuff and I want to share it with you all. And by you all, I mean that one person that might still know how to find me here.

Last December, Connor and I talked about his desire to study marine biology. In college. In nine years. So, naturally, we started checking out schools. One can never be too prepared. I had to break the news that he might have to look outside of the mitten to find a good program given … you need water. Especially if you like sharks. The top school on the list we found? University of Oregon.

Fast forward to this summer and I knew I wanted to get a few days away with CJ. Somewhere new and somewhere where exploration is encouraged. He was (and is) still talking about marine biology so I thought it only appropriate that we find our way to Oregon. I got a decent deal on tickets and started planning out our journey. I knew that UofO was definitely a stop, but what else? There is so much to see, obvs. And guess how I know that?! Instagram. I mean, #awesome, right? There were several locations I’d seen tagged before from some of my fave PNW photogs and I hoped that we could find a way to squeeze them in while we were there.

I surprised Connor a few weeks in advance by showing him a map of the state with a crazy, wild route drawn around it. He was like, ‘ummm, mom? i can’t drive.’ So I says to him, ‘don’t you worry, little one. mama’s got this.’

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this was our actual route; my original was just a bit different

When I booked flights, I found a trip that would route us from Detroit to Denver to our final destination in Portland. Our first trip would start super early out of Detroit and the good news is I have the greatest parents on the planet who offered to drive us over so 1) we could sleep in the car and 2) save the expense of parking in Detroit. #forthewin

We left out of Detroit at 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 2. We arrived in Denver with enough time to get some snacks and coffee. Duh. It’s strange to leave somewhere at 6 a.m. and fly across the country arriving before 10:00 a.m. local time. Thankfully, the car rental company was in the airport and when they shared that my vehicle was looking like a Toyota Corolla but they were running a special on a Subaru Outback, I quickly forked over the additional cash. It’s a Subaru. We’ll be in the mountains. Lord only knew what He would be putting in my path. And we all know that Subarus save lives. Just look at me.

she's our captainWhen we left the airport, because I’m nothing if but weird, I told CJ it was time for a haircut. He needed one. Badly. And I just desperately needed to wash my hair. We found a super slick barber shop in downtown Portland and although I think they understood just how weird I was, they still obliged by washing my hair and blowing it dry. I’ll tell you that I’ve NEVER had such a lovely hair wash. EVER. They were very sweet boys.

You know what’s neat about Portland? Gluten free eats. Everywhere. We found this awesome bakery just a few blocks away from our barber dudes and walked over. The bakery was completely gluten free so we had full lunches but also? A s’mores cupcake. CJ was one.happy.camper. He’s so patient with his inability to eat most awesome desserts, but when the opportunity presented itself, you betcha he snagged it.

After our freshly did hair and lunch, we headed out for a day’s worth of driving. I booked our stays on airbnb.com. I can’t even tell you how nervous I was that this would be a complete bust. I knew CJ wasn’t entirely in agreement that staying anywhere but a hotel made sense. But, I’d heard good things and I found some neat places that lined up nicely with our route. Our first stay would be in Hood River just north of Mt. Hood. I’d hoped that day to get out to Multnomah Falls and check out the Columbia Gorge. We headed out along the highway that splits Oregon and Washington and rain threatened. I found the scenic route because … I would, and couldn’t get over how green and lush it all was. The trees! They were humongous.

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Our first stop outside of the city was at Wahkeena Falls. It looked as though it could still rain but we were stupid brave and trekked out. Walking up to a waterfall is nothing short of amazing. I felt this wave of anticipation because, well, I kind of have a thing for waterfalls. It’s like this little gift from the Lord because He felt like providing reminders of what sheer strength looks like. The path was pretty short to get up in front of the main part of the falls and you know how I love steps anyway. The good ol’ Fitbit was lovin’ me now. Connor found some wicked huge leaves as well because. Trees.
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We decided to keep trekking because a sign said the trail led to Multnomah Falls. Yay for more steps! We were definitely going up. And not in a linear-type fashion. It started to rain for real as it had been sprinkling. And then it started to become even more real. We saw a man dressed and ready for hiking and asked how far the trail went and he said, ‘oh, about 8 miles thataway.’ So we turned around and headed back to our car. soaking.wet. It was hilarious. Connor changed quick and I just sucked it up because that’s how I do.

We drove the very short distance by car (.25 miles) to Multnomah Falls and holy man. I’ve never seen anything that took my breath away (outside of meeting Connor for the first time a’course). It was like looking at a painting. You really couldn’t even sense the movement. It was just so still and absolutely majestic. We took a few pics and ‘hiked’ up to the walking bridge foregoing the mile trek up to the top. But what we saw? Worth it.

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We continued East passing by Ainsworth State Park (cute) and for some crazy reason, I had envisioned a very specific turn-out to see the Columbia River Gorge. I mean, I was driving right next to it but surely there was a place to stop. Right? So, I did what any person in this century would do and Google mapped it. We drove in what seemed like a relatively strange direction because we were sort of angling away from the gorge, but I followed the map because, well, Google. Ultimately, we found ourselves in someone’s driveway up on a side road with very little signal … making the trek back down the hill a little challenging. #drivingblindly

You know what’s fun about scenic routes? Finding the little things you hadn’t planned to find. Like this bridge, for instance. For $1, you can drive into Washington. So, we did. I stopped and took a photo and then we drove back (for another $1).

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And then we happened upon the most beautiful view of windsurfers. Ever. In the history of the world. Apparently, it’s hugely popular there because of the wind you can catch in the gorge. Makes sense.

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We continued East once we got back down the hillside (which was actually quite amazing) and stopped in a little town called Dalles. Turns out, it’s the county seat and a beautiful little historic community. We stopped at a gas station and I asked the clerk (good riddance, Google map) where the best spot was to see the gorge. And of course she knew, because she’s a local! Before we got back in the car, we had to get coffee. Yes. Again.

It wasn’t too long and we’d reached Rowena where I’m happy to say we found the very best view of the gorge. And of this amazing horseshoe part of the road we’d just traveled.

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Once we’d finally gotten to the gorge (you know, the place we drove along all day but I didn’t realize was without an address in Google maps?), we continued along the scenic route to our first airbnb experience in Hood River. We stayed with THE nicest couple. They lived right next to an organic pear farm (Asian pears) and welcomed us (along with their three dogs) for the evening. Jess had more than enough recommendations for great local fare and gave us some ideas about the best route to take for day 2 of our trip. She reminded me so much of my friend, Robin. So warm and friendly.

We ate dinner out that evening and it felt like a little date. Except that Connor wanted to play on the playground equipment just along the river by the restaurant. It was getting pretty chilly by the end of the evening and it felt like we’d been up for 75 hours so we were in bed by 11. The second room hadn’t been rented so we had the bathroom to ourselves and the option to sleep separately but noooooohohoho. Connor’s acceptance of the airbnb arrangement sort of hinged on us having to share a bed. We’re just snuggly like that. #dontjudgeme

The adventure continues soon. I just had time to get through day 1 photos … almost two months post-vaca. Oh well.

Here’s a teaser, though. When I woke up on day 2, this is what I saw.

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better late than never

Just about a year and four months ago (give or take), we celebrated my niece’s sweet sixteen. Thankfully, she’s incredibly patient and understanding because it took us this long to actually make due on her gift. Thanks to Groupon and schedules that finally lined up, our shopping trip to Chicago became a reality, ahem, this very first weekend of 2014. Which, coincidentally, will also go down in infamy as “Snowmageddon, 2014″; which, as we all well know, still doesn’t nearly rival snow storms of 30-60 years ago.” Thankyaverymuch.

We decided to drive in case we came back with a gazillion bags. Lord knows there was no way we were making the trek to Union Station with a two-person suitcase and six or seven bags. Oh, I meant … there was no way I was doing that. Turns out, it was a wise choice we drove. More on that later.

We found a hotel super close to Michigan Ave so we could easily walk to the Mag Mile and shop our little hearts out but, as it turns out, shopping wasn’t really on the agenda. As soon as we saw a sign for Navy Pier we opted to head out there and check out the ice situation and if, in fact, it was windier near the water. (No, I actually had no question about that). It was fairly quiet but absolutely beautiful (and yep, windy as suspected) off the end of the Pier.

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We may or may not have accessed a couple of areas on the Pier that are under construction and not meant to be traversed at this time … but that’s part of what makes an adventure an adventure. Right?

I’ve always enjoyed visiting cities in the winter, because as it turns out, people just don’t know well enough to stay in. My hunch is that many of them were travelers like ourselves trying to get some last-minute enjoyment out of the holiday lights and shops, but either way, it actually makes you feel warmer to be surrounded by all of that other downtown energy. And buildings. And the sights. Oh, the sights. There was this guy, who was clearly lost and clearly trying to duck and cover after he knew I’d spotted him. Silly goose.

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And this … guy? who … well … wasn’t in any hurry to get anywhere when my sister pointed him out. Poor thing.

IMG_0627_FBOur short walk on Michigan Ave. took us into one store before Alyssa decided her heart’s desire was to see Blue Man Group. We’d talked about it briefly on the way and we knew there was one late Saturday evening show. None of us had been and it sounded like fun so we figured we should shift our focus to getting some food. Have I mentioned I can’t go more than four hours anymore without thinking about food? Sheesh.

We found ourselves at The Cheesecake Factory (hello, best-portion-sizes-for-weight-gain-on-the-planet, I think I love you) and I thought it would be wise to check on tickets for the show. There were four left. In the premium section. I ended the call and we were all a bit dejected (but in my heart, I was all, yay shopping!). But, Alyssa was bummed and there was no way we were going to have a bummed birthday celebrant so we called back and got the last.four.tickets.

Alyssa took her first cab ride over to the Briar Street Theatre with my new favorite cabbie who I swear said that business was slow because people aren’t getting out as much and he’s just (murmuring) “learning to drive in the snow.” Awesome.

Oh, did I mention at this point that there was probably a good four inches of slush and junk on the sidewalks so we were all a bit … disheveled when we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for the show? And, at this point, we’d already walked about 7 miles.

Turns out, the show was absolutely phenomenal making the few extra dollars completely worth spending. We all hurt a bit from smiling and trying not to get completely creeped out from the blue creepy guys leading the show. Did I mention they are creepy? Have you ever been up close to one? They don’t smile or talk … they just, just look at you. Eek.

Alyssa and I acting normal with that one blue creepy guy. 

We took the El back to the city (after a colorful detour to Caribou Coffee) and girl-talked until just after midnight. Mom and I bunked and Nikki and Alyssa did the same. I refuse to bunk with Nikki because she and I have a bad bunking history. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

We woke up this morning to news reports of ridiculously treacherous conditions, which yes, we knew were likely but who can really trust meteorologists anyway? Am I right?

This is where I’m thankful we drove. We didn’t need to load the rig with bags, but I was thankful we were together in our car making our way slowly back to Michigan. It took us just about five hours to get back, and even though it wasn’t a good idea to test the weather in the first place, the trip and the time with these ladies was totally worth it.

I’m sorry, miss Alyssa, that it took us one year and four months to gift you with your trip to Chicago but I hope you loved it just as much as I did. You’re always worth the upgrade, chick. And just think, soon, you’ll be 18 and we’ll have to do something even super-awesomer (but this time, before you turn 20, ok?). Ok.