The Unicorn of Hiking Shoes

Let me preface this post by saying I am hypersensitive. Bright lights, the tiniest of noises, temperature fluctuations, smells, and the way things feel – they all affect me greatly. I think I’ve always been on the more extreme end of the sensitivity spectrum. Most of the time this sensitivity isn’t a big issue. I kindly ask my coworkers to not use products or eat things that smell strongly. Radios are used with headphones so I can’t hear the minor noises in the background. I wish I could do something about the fluorescent lights in my office, but I’m told my influence only reaches so far.

 

However, while I can usually keep my sensory issues under reasonable control, this sensitivity has become a huge issue when trying to find the “perfect hiking shoe.” And while there may not be such a thing as a “perfect shoe” I’ve been determined to find one that my feet won’t notice in any negative way. I should also point out that I have normal feet…. there’s nothing weird to work with here… just your run-of-the-mill standard sized 8.5 medium width foot going on.

I’m currently wearing the Merrell Grassbow Air trail shoe (weirdly, in a size 8). I had originally bought a pair over a year ago, and then had one shoe go defective. Merrell promptly sent me a replacement pair and they’ve been working great ever since. (and in the shoe’s defense, they probably weren’t meant to be used on rubber floor mats during kickboxing classes… oops!). The Grassbows are super comfortable and I’ve hiked many many miles in them… but on my longer training hikes with my pack loaded at over 40lbs, my feet have started to feel a little bit tired after 9-10 miles.

I first considered getting a newer, sturdier pair of hiking shoes last November when I was getting ready to go to Zion National Park for some good long day hiking. There are so many things to consider… besides the obvious of fit and feel, there’s low height, mid height, tread, stiffness, waterproof, leather, ventilated, etc. It’s overwhelming.

I went to my favorite store, REI, and tried on lots of pairs, finally settling on the Ahnu Sugarpine mid boot. I brought them home, excited to have them, and started the courting process of bonding with the new boots by wearing them around my dwelling. After just a couple of hours, my feet were tired and angry. Back went the Ahnu boots.

This was about the time of Black Friday sales after Thanksgiving and I saw a super sweet deal on Merrell’s website, so I ordered a pair of Capra Mid Sport Gore-Tex boots to “just try” even though I’d never tried them on. These fit horribly. Back they went. No harm, no foul…. free shipping both directions and a full refund.

Next on the list was the Merrell Moab 2 Mid WP boots. I had stopped into Bass Pro and tried them on, thought they felt okay, so ordered a pair from REI – because I’m a member, and that’s what members do. Plus then I’m not rushed to make a return when they inevitably don’t work out. The Moab 2s arrived and felt… well, okay. They may be a contender. But I still wasn’t sure.

 

I went online and researched shoes, and saw that the Keen Targhee II Mid Hiking Boots had outstanding reviews. Against my better judgment, I ordered a pair… from REI, of course. They arrived, and felt… well, awful. I should have known better. Neither Keen nor Salomon shoes have ever felt good to me. Back they went.

In this process I made a trip to REI to try on more shoes. The gal helping me convinced me to give the brand Oboz a try. I mean, they felt pretty good in the store. The toe box seemed abnormally large, but the gal told me that was okay. So I brought home a pair of the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry Hiking Shoes.

I also liked a pair of Oboz Bridger Mid Boots in the store, but at this point was interested in going back to a low boot, so went online to order the low version of the Bridger since the store only had the mid height in stock. The mid height boots felt entirely too stiff to me. I was hopeful for the low. The Bridger shoes arrived, and I sort of liked them. Until I started walking in them. The tongue was so stiff it kept pushing into the top of my foot and felt like a board. I hate the design of tongues like this. Back they went.

If you’ve lost track at this point, this is currently leaving me with the contenders of the Merrell Moab 2 Mid Boot and the Oboz Sawtooth Low boot. Neither of which I’m convinced is still “the one” for me.

 

In exasperation, I went to my local outdoor store and tried on some more shoes. I really liked the Vasque Inhaller II – but they didn’t have my size. It felt more cushy, and even though it was a mid height, it didn’t feel so stiff. This might be a good option. I went home and ordered a pair in my size online through Amazon. For the first time ever, Amazon failed me, taking entirely too long to ship. I cancelled that order, and ordered the same shoe from Backcountry whom I’ve used before and had free 2-day shipping. Does this count as two pairs or one pair of ordered shoes?

In this process I decided that I should also order a pair of the original Merrell Moab Ventilator Hiking shoes, but in the low version, because I think my hang up with the mid version is that they felt so heavy and clunky. Neither of which I want when I’m going to be doing any sort of hiking, but particularly not on a multi-day hike. Amazon had them on a super cheap clearance since the Moab 2 version just came out. Score.

And while I’m at it, why not just order the Oboz Sawtooth regular shoe (non waterproof) just to round out my obsession? Boom. Ordered. I wondered if the waterproof ones vs the ventilated ones would feel much different. I was hoping there’d be just enough difference that I’d fall in love with the regular ones.

This seems extreme, I know. It is. Even I admit it. It causes me a great deal of stress. It’s almost as bad when I search for a new running shoe. Almost.

But honestly, the hiking shoes are the most important component of the entire hike. I would be really really really happy if I am successful without having any blisters, or super tired feet. I need something cushy, so my shins don’t hurt and my weight plus my pack’s weight is being handled well.

So the final component of my craziness is that I love a bargain. Given that the Merrell Moab 2 Mid shoes felt really good, I couldn’t help but wonder if the original Moab would feel just as good, and thus save me over $50. So of course, I ordered a pair on Amazon.

 

Within a few days of the online shopping spree, all the newly ordered shoes arrived, which gave me six pairs to line up and decide between. It was a ShoePalooza!!

I’d also like to assure anyone who thinks I might need a mental health diagnosis that shoes seem to be the only area of my life where I have this huge of an internal debate and problem with making a decision. I am super thankful this doesn’t cross over into other areas and I can make decisions like a normal human being on things that ultimately matter. Things like… wine or margarita. Hiking pants, tights or jeans for an outing. Toms or flip flops. The important things.

So by this point, I know you’re asking yourself, “Did she ever make a decision?” And yes, my friends, I finally did. The verdict and the winner of the late great shoe race is…. drumroll….

  • Winner: The Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof
  • Runner Up: Oboz Sawtooth Low Non Waterproof

 

I think I should party like it’s 1999. I haven’t put in any serious miles with the Moab 2s yet, but I’ve worked out in them a few nights, and worn them for many hours at a time. So far, so good. I think they’re a clear winner, and I think I’m adjusting to the weight of them and the feel of a mid boot. Whew.

Besides, who doesn’t love a boot that’s named “MOAB” which stands for “the Mother of All Boots”?!

Sidenote: Total cost for this insanity? Less than $10 to return the Vasque pair of shoes to Backcountry. Everything else had free shipping, free return shipping, or I could return the items to my local REI.

Keep reading below if you’re in the hiking-boot market and want my quick assessments of some of the versions I tried.

Meanwhile, I think I’m gonna go grab a margarita and celebrate.


  • Oboz Bridger Low Waterproof – these felt pretty good upon initial fitting, but felt really stiff when on hard surfaces. The tongue on this shoe is also not very padded, and felt like it was cutting into the top of the bend of my foot. They’re out.
  • Oboz Sawtooth Low Waterproof – these were the highest contenders for a short period of time, but I decided the toe box was just entirely too wide, and was probably going to leave me with blisters. I like extra room in my toe box, but not thatmuch room.
  • Merrell Moab II Mid Waterproof – these felt comfortable, but a bit clunky and heavy. This could be because I’m not used to mid height boots. They were and still remained one of the highest contenders through this process.
  • Merrell Moab Mid Waterproof (original Moab) – I don’t know what the deal is between the two shoes, but the original version just didn’t feel that great. They hit one of my big toes oddly on the side, and just didn’t feel as comfortable. I read reviews comparing the two versions, and Merrell evidently made quite a few upgrades to the interior of the shoe and the shoe bed for the Moab II release. Back go the original version.
  • Vasque Inhaler II Mid Waterproof – upon initially trying these, I thought I was in love. They felt like a running shoe, they were so cushy, but also provided ankle support. They were also the most expensive pair of shoes I tried. My concerns with these shoes were the following: the side of the foot was a thinner mesh feeling, which would probably be good for ventilation, but might not be good if something sharp poked the side of my foot. I felt like my foot could easily be bruised or injured with the lack of side bracing. The mid sole on the bottom also isn’t protected well and left more open, which probably is how they saved weight on these shoes, but could lead to a faster breakdown of the shoe. And my final concern with the Vasque is that with the level of cushiness they came with, I wondered how well they’d hold up over rugged terrain and carrying 35-40 lbs in my pack over many miles. Given all these concerns, the Vasque went back. Plus, with being the most expensive, I just feel like I can’t enjoy them nearly as much as I would a less expensive pair.
  • Merrell Moab Low Ventilator – these arrived and felt fabulous. However, the toe box felt a little large. My Merrell Grassbow Air shoes are a size 8, but the mid boots and all other boots have been in size 8.5. I ordered another pair from Amazon in the size 8 to compare the toe box sizing. The size 8 arrived and was entirely too tight fitting, which leads me to believe that my size 8 Grassbow Air shoes are a fluke in size, even though they fit wonderfully. Back went both sizes of the Moab Lows.
  • Oboz Sawtooth Low Non Waterproof – I really liked these. And my initial assumption was correct – the waterproof version has a much larger toe box than the non waterproof, making the non waterproof ones a pretty good fit and the runner up in shoe choice.

 

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Meandering in Montreal

Some of my most favorite urban traveling memories are from when I have been able to explore cities on my own. Like the day I spent discovering the beautiful streets, churches, and sidewalk artists in Paris. Or the twisting and turning that came with each new wall mural in Lucerne. Navigating my way through the bustling sidewalks and streets of Hanoi. And more recently, wandering in Montreal.

 

I usually set out with no agenda and fall into step with whatever tempo presents itself. These days are carefree and leave me feeling exhilarated from my willingness to go whereever the moment takes me, trusting my path to lead to interesting places. On these days I’m guided by curiosity instead of expectations.

Meandering… no demands, no deadlines. Street by fascinating street.

 

Montreal is a city filled with stylish, fashionable, multicultural, multilingual people. It’s friendly, it’s chic. It feels young with all the trendy people clipping down the streets in their flashy shoes and skinny jeans. That is, until you cross a street and round a corner and suddenly an old church from the 1600s pops into view, offering an observable reminder that this city has a wealth of history, too.

 

My first couple of days in Montreal were spent exploring with a friend. We did the typical “first time in a new city” things and we thoroughly enjoyed them. My friend left after a few days of catching up, and I stayed on for a few more.

 

On my last afternoon in Montreal I went back to parts of Vieux-Montreal that I hadn’t yet seen. It was a walk that took me through China town and down to the old port area. I was reminded of how much I enjoy wandering on my own. Turning this way or that simply because the architecture or window whispers “come this way...” and winding my way through cobblestone streets lined with beautiful foliage and flowers in window boxes hanging onto the end of summer.

 

Montreal is seemingly under restoration and repair, with barricades, construction, torn up streets, bright orange cones and detour signs in nearly every place you’d want to take a picture. I think I’ll just caption most of my photos from this walkabout as “Pardonnez la construction.”

Nevertheless, despite the construction, Vieux-Montreal still manages to be eye-candy for the soul, and a day of spontaneous wandering reminded me how much I enjoy letting go of the agendas and schedules, if only for a few hours or a day.

 

 

 

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Hiking in Bryce, Zion and Valley of Fire Parks

 

Zion National Park Reflections

At the end of 2015 I set some rough intentions of places I wanted to travel to in 2016.  I had anticipated going hiking in Zion National Park over Thanksgiving, but didn’t book a flight in time, and the costs were outrageous. That worked out to my advantage, though, as I had one of the best Thanksgiving holidays I can ever remember. And then on a whim, I checked flight costs for mid December, and found them to be super cheap. Impromptu trip right before Christmas? Yes, please!

A quick five day hiking and exploring trip with my nephew turned out to be one of my more favorite trips in recent years. I created quick notes on my phone for each day of the trip called “Observations” and am so glad I did, because recording the best parts of each day together was a great way to have conversation with my nephew about what we each liked best or what was most memorable from each day.

Bryce Canyon Bryce Canyon 2

We flew into Vegas, rented a car, and then drove toward Utah, staying in St. George for the night. Observations from Day 1:

  1. When your almost-19-year-old nephew, who loves to sleep late, tells you he woke up at 7am because he was so excited for the trip, you know it’s gonna be a good day.
  2. No wifi or technology on the Southwest Airlines plane leaves a teenager befuddled, but leads to quality time actually talking and enjoying the changing landscape outside the window.
  3. Getting to watch someone experience the Vegas airport and strip and all its stimulation in childlike wonder is highly amusing and fun.
  4. Flying into Vegas never gets old, particularly if you’re sitting on the side of the plane that allows you to see the Grand Canyon, Lake Mead, and Hoover Dam.

Bryce Trail Bryce img_5676

Because a winter storm was in the fairly immediate forecast, we decided to visit Bryce Canyon at the higher elevation on our first day exploring. The drive into Utah is spectacular, and Bryce Canyon seemed to appear out of nowhere. We opted to hike the Queens Garden Trail Loop, which starts at sunrise or sunset point and descends to the canyon floor, providing an ever changing landscape of stunning rock formations and scenery. There was ice on the trail, so we bought yaktrax for our shoes, which was possibly one of the best purchases I’ve made for slick hiking. Observations from Day 2:

  1. Fresh, crisp mountain air is a spectacular way to start the day, and any day spent hiking is fantastic.
  2. Bryce Canyon is indescribably amazing.
  3. Hoodoo. It’s just fun to say. (we never did learn why the rock formations are called this)

Bryce Trail 2 Bryce Switchback

After a day exploring Bryce Canyon, we drove to Zion National Park where our lodge was already booked for the next three nights. The drive through Zion at dusk is simply beautiful and we encountered our first wildlife with over 200+ mule deer that were lining the roads.

Bryce Bryce Canyon

Our first day in Zion was a very rainy day, but that didn’t stop us. We knew we wouldn’t be able to do the Narrows because of the rain and flash flood warnings, but we hiked the paved path toward the river to see what it would be like. The one thing we didn’t bring on this trip was good rain gear, so by the time we were done with the 2 mile out and back path we were drenched and headed back to the lodge for a nice rainy day nap. In the afternoon we walked the 1.2 round trip mile path to the Lower Emerald Pool but decided not to go any further because the water was raging and there was no way to go behind the falls and continue on the trail without becoming soaked again. Zion, when it rains, becomes an enchanting place where the cliff walls weep and waterfalls rage. Observations from Day 3:

  1. Even if it’s raining it’s still a good day to get outside and explore.
  2. Waterproof hiking boots and rain gear would have been really helpful today.
  3. Thunderstorms echoing in the canyons sound awesome and double rainbows are amazing.
  4. Naps are good.

Zion Rainy Zion

Our last full day in Zion went on record in my memory as one of the top five hiking days I’ve ever had. After checking with the Zion Adventure Company to see if the Narrows were open, and learning that it was but the water was up to waist level and raging pretty quickly still, we decided to skip the Narrows and go for the 8 mile round-trip strenuous hike to Observation Point. The trail is 4 miles up with an elevation gain of 2,150 feet. We hiked too many switchbacks to count, over boulders, ice, snow, mud, sand, and dirt, along the east rim, through the water-carved walls of Echo Canyon, and up to the top. We had to cross a river jumping over rocks and balance-hug a very tight canyon wall to avoid the water. The diversity of scenery on this one hike alone ranks it as one of the best I’ve done, simply because every single turn revealed something new and unique and stunning. At a final elevation of 6,500, with a view of Angel’s Landing far below and the rocky vista stretching out beyond the park, taking some time to savor and appreciate the glorious site is an amazing reward for the effort it took getting there.

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Zion Vista Observation Point

Hiking back down from Observation Point is equally beautiful, but we were really happy to finally see the switchbacks from the first mile and the tiny specs of cars in the parking lot far below. We made a quick drive to a restaurant for some much needed carb-loading, and after gaining a bit of energy again, decided to go and hike all of the Emerald Pools Trail that we weren’t able to do the day before. This 3 mile round trip moderate hike features multiple waterfalls, and because the temperatures were colder, many parts of the falls were frozen, which was spectacular to see. Observations from Day 4:

  1. Eleven miles. That’s what we hiked today.
  2. Observation Point Trail is simply amazing.
  3. Secretly beautiful. That’s how my nephew described this trail, and enthusiastically stated, “I love this park! I’m definitely coming back here!”
  4. Zion National Park should be on everyone’s list as a place to visit.

Obs Pt Trail Trail Time

Icy Path Zion

On our last day of vacation we drove back to Nevada, stopping at Valley of Fire State Park. This park is teeming with red sandstone formations, and after much convincing, my nephew joined me on the 1.5 mile White Domes scenic trail which had a fantastic slot canyon. The boulders on the first part of the trail didn’t feel so great on our knees, which were sore from the previous day’s 11 miles, but it was still a park worth doing some minor exploring in. We then drove through Lake Mead National Recreation Area to Hoover Dam for a very quick stop, and then still had enough time on the Vegas Strip for a couple of hours of walking around before going to the airport for our late evening flight home. Observations from Day 5:

  1. Final day of vacation is a great day to reflect on how truly awesome the trip has been.
  2. Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada was incredibly surprising and beautiful. It’s the desert, and I laughed out loud at my nephew stating, “I’m a little concerned about seeing a 10 foot rattlesnake. And if I see one, I am gonna scream like a girl.”
  3. My nearly 19-year-old nephew can’t keep up with me. That does wonders for my ego since I’m closing in on the road to 40. Sometimes you just gotta run around on the cliff walls and revel in the feelings of freedom and health.
  4. Lake Mead National Recreation Area is desolate. It’s unique with all the plateaus and mountains, but isolating and has a ridiculously low speed limit the entire way (which we didn’t abide by).
  5. Hoover Dam is insanely busy with visitors and the Vegas Strip is always entertaining.

Valley of Fire Valley of Fire Canyon

I think Utah might be one of the most underrated states and can’t believe I’ve never been prior to this year. There are so many other state and national parks that we didn’t have time for, and I look forward to one day returning and discovering the many other treasures that belong to this amazing area.

Nevada Driving

Tip: Go in the off season. One of the outdoor store workers told us that during the summer months as many as 1,000 people can be going back into the Narrows. No, thanks.

Tip: If you go in the off season, plan your food options accordingly. Many restaurants were closed during the off season, and the ones that were operating still closed incredibly early, making it difficult to find good options. Two nights we ended up just eating from the grocery store, which is also really expensive because they seem to charge double the normal grocery store prices, simply because they can. This was probably our most frustrating part of the entire trip.

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Setting Intentions for 2017

Heart Rock Flowers

It’s a whole new year. Another point in time to set some intentions for the next twelve months. I don’t make new year’s resolutions or goals. In fact, I don’t really like goals at all. They make me feel pressured, and imply the use of the word “should” which I strive to avoid using in my vocabulary. I don’t want the phrases of “I should be working on this” or “I should have done that” running through my mind because of a future goal I set forth at the beginning of a year. That only leads to self-disappointment and unnecessary pressure, both of which I try to keep out of my world. And quite frankly, I think setting goals can lead to a rigid way of structuring your path, which may result in missing countless opportunities that arise along the way.

Instead, I like to think about setting intentions and focus areas. Another blogger (ytravelblog.com) whom I follow said it best: “Goals are about striving for a future result. It’s about pressure to perform and get it right. Intentions are about being and creating in this moment.

Clouds in Sky Exploring Tide Pools

Not setting goals doesn’t mean that I don’t take action or have plans to help me stay focused on what I want to do in the next year. But my plan isn’t so limiting that I can’t adapt and go with a new direction if it seems to fit what is best for me in that moment. This living presently is new for me, and I’m loving it but I’m also learning to let go of some of the structure and rigidity that has likely prevented me from enjoying things fully because I wasn’t sure how they fit into the “master plan” for my life. These days, it’s about broad intentions, continuing to say yes to new experiences, connecting with people who bring positivity to my life, and growing as a person. With that said, here’s what I’m focusing on for 2017.

Freedom and Travel. I live my life so that I have the freedom and flexibility to leap at opportunities as they arise. This freedom is vital for my life, and travel is an integral part and absolutely essential for me to maintain my balance and happy. At the beginning of each year I print out a one page calendar of the upcoming year and start to block out dates and draft an overview of where I think I’ll go or where I’d like to go. It doesn’t all happen, of course, but it provides me with a loose enough structure that fuels my enthusiasm and temporarily satisfies my wanderlust.

Love to Travel Observation Point Zion

So what’s on the “loose plan” for this year? Colorado, Banff National Park and Lake Louise in Canada, hiking a few days on the Appalachian Trail, another fall trip to Oregon, Cuba for trip #4, and a slight possibility of Norway mixed in there. I’m sure these things will change as the year progresses, and other things will present themselves as amazing opportunities which I’ll flow with. But having this flexible travel plan makes me incredibly jazzed for what’s to come in the future.

Vitality and Health. I’m currently on the “Road to 40.” Turning this milestone number bothers me not one iota. I firmly believe that age is just a number, and that it’s not the years in your life but rather the life in your years. However, I did set the intention of hitting my birthday feeling the best that I’ve ever felt in my life. I already feel so much better than I did at age 30, but there’s always room for improvement. I’m continuing to eat healthy, changing up my workouts, adding muscle definition, challenging my body in ways that push the limit, and loving that I’m able to do things at “almost-40” that I never could have done 10 years ago.

Running in Valley of Fire SP Boxing

Those pictures above are two of my favorite ones from this past year – I feel like they capture my vitality and health. In the one on the left I am laughing and running like a wild person after several days of hiking in Utah – I am completely happy and blissed out after conquering 11 challenging miles the day before and waking up with the energy and stamina to hike even more. Everyone should be able to race along cliff walls in a state of physical health and wellness. The boxing picture captures my strength and determination. It makes me think of the caption “My Strong Life.” This is my strong life – and my road to 40 is proving that life can get better with age.

Joy and Growth. I believe in living life fully. For the second year in a row I lost a friend to cancer. A year ago I was flying for a weekend visit with my friend, and almost a year to the date, a celebration of life service is taking place for him. Don’t ever put things off until “someday” – find a way to do the things you want to do and share the moments with the people you love. Live your life now, because you never know how much time you have. Find joy in both the small, mundane things, as well as the big, exciting things. Figure out areas of growth that challenge you as a person and expands your evolution as a well-rounded human being.

Til We Meet Again, My Friend Sunset

What does the intention of “joy and growth” mean for me? It means picking up my camera more than I did in 2016, and taking snapshots of things that make me feel thankful for my life. It means spending time with the people I love and appreciating the simple, intimate moments that are shared with others. It means laughing until my sides hurt and my eyes water. It means spending time in nature, listening as the wind blows in the trees and the birds flit about. It means intentionally boosting my second language, which I’ve rapidly lost after not focusing on it for a year. It means going beyond my comfort zone, because that’s where the magic happens. It means following my peace, and being conscious of what is sparking my joy. It means finding ways I can give back and positively contribute to others. And it means that I’ll continue my journey of self-discovery and awareness of what both reflecting on the past and living in the present moment is showing me.

It’s going to be a good year, I can feel it. So I’d like to say, “Hello, 2017. I’m ready for you and I’m excited by you. Listo? ¡Vamonos!!”

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Finding Myself Happy in 2016

Leaf in Water Twilight Forest

As I started to craft this tribute to 2016 and think about moving into the new year, I revisited my thoughts from nearly a year ago. As I was reading them, I found myself in awe. Mostly of the fact that I wrote those phrases at all, because I don’t really remember composing those words. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, because it’s only been in recent months that my memory has finally returned. You see, my biggest health indicator of how the toxic stress of 2015 was impacting me was the loss of my memory. I am ever so thankful to find it has returned to near normal levels.

Kansas Sunset Kansas Sunset 2

Somewhere in November I woke up and realized I was happy. Really happy. Happy with so many different things, but ultimately happy with who I am, where I’m at, how my life looks, what I’m doing. Happy with the realization that I have some of the most incredibly amazing friends. Happy that I can choose to see my family with very little notice because I live within an easy distance of them after living states away for over a decade. Happy to be discovering who I am, as an individual, and to find that I really like this person.

March Blooms Winter Tree

But most of all, it hit me that I’ve let go. The past no longer dominates my mind or plays a key role in my decisions. Somehow I’ve reached the point where I can look back with acceptance and analysis without the emotion impacting my free-thinking.

El Salvador Door Suchitoto Kayaking

And surprisingly, I’ve somehow slid into living in the present. Somewhere in the course of the last half of the year I moved into a present state of no longer looking to the next thing. I seem to have stopped trying to figure out the next move, the next state, the next trip, the next thing. I’m living aware of each day, and following the nudges that arise to allow for spontaneous decisions and adventures. Oh, sure, I’m still forward planning, and living intentionally, but the unsettled beast seems to be tamed for now. It’s a new feeling, and one I’m trying to hold on to.

Kansas Kayaking Devil's Lake Oregon

Present. Mindful. Aware. Such a very different place than where I started the year. Growth happens with reflection and self-exploration, and as cliché as it sounds, time really does provide excellent perspective and healing.

Kansas Sunset Oregon Coast

So, 2016… as we turn the last few pages, I’d say it’s been a good chapter. One that started out with angst and resolve and determination, and is ending with an inner peace and happiness…. laced with wanderlust, of course.

BrCo Kansas Explore

 

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Six Reasons to Love Cambodia

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The magnificent temple ruins of Angkor are located near Siem Reap, and are one of the great ancient wonders of the world. Angkor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Cambodia is an easy add-on excursion to any trip you’re already taking to SE Asia. Below are some of my favorite reasons I loved Cambodia, and why I hope to go back again someday.

  1. Temples. Everywhere. Angkor was a city. A very large city. Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world, and is one of the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen. I was in Cambodia for three full days, and managed to see Ta Prohm, the Bayon Temple, Elephant Terrace, Terrace of the Leper King, Srah Srang, Preah Khan, the Angkor Complex, Rolous Group, and Beng Mealea. I also managed a nap every day to be in the air condition during the high heat afternoons. Temples are literally everywhere, and it does take some forward planning to know what you want to see. There are also ruins that are further out from the main complex, and taking a guide is recommended for these both for transportation purposes but also because Cambodia still has many active land mines in the jungle, so knowing where to venture, and where not to, is of high importance. I hope to get back to Cambodia one day to visit these outlying ruins that are more off the beaten path.

img_1604 img_1593 img_2501

  1. Smiling Faces. Whether it’s the faces carved into the temple structures, or the smiling faces of the Cambodian people, there are smiles greeting you every where you turn. The Cambodian people are some of the happiest people I’ve ever encountered on travels, and the Bayon Temple, located in Angkor Thom, boasts 54 towers carved with mysterious, captivating faces. It was one of the most incredible structures I’ve ever wandered around and I even visited it twice during my short stay.

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  1. Architectural Detail and Carvings. The bas-relief carvings on the gallery walls and the details in the structures are almost overwhelming. They are so intricately designed, beautifully preserved, and amazing to see. The stone carvings cover almost all of the inner walls of Angkor Wat as well as many other structures, and are graphically illustrated, providing a window into another time and place.

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  1. The Food. Amok or Curry, anyone? Simply delicious!

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  1. Sunrises and Sunsets at the Ruins. Sunrise views require super early wake-up times, but it’s entirely worth it. The morning I visited Ta Prohm, I was up at 4:45a and had the temple complex nearly all to myself to explore the intricacies of the temple being swallowed by the trees and roots. Sunrise over Srah Srang required a 4:20a wake up. Just plan to be tired and catch up on sleep once you’re home. Getting up early for the sunrise over or near a temple is an incredible experience, as is going out for sunset views of Angkor Wat.

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  1. Nature and Man Co-Existing Together. Even though the temples were built out of stone, over time, nature still manages to take back what once was its space. Ta Prohm is a perfect example of this, where the tree roots are slowly creeping into the stones, dominating the man-made structures and making it impossible for one to exist without the other. In the end, the jungle will win. Buddhist monks are also seen throughout Cambodia, in their bright orange attire and peaceful demeanor, happily existing in their environment, reminding us to breathe, slow down, and be in the present moment.

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Bonus reason to love Siem Reap: Theam’s House. Read more about it here.

What about you? What are your reasons for loving Cambodia?

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Six Reasons to Love Vietnam

 Halong Bay

This time of year brings up fond memories of so many places… and not because it’s the holidays, but because for several years I traveled over the holiday season. A few years ago I skipped Thanksgiving… literally skipped it, by flying forward in time zones from the US east coast to Narita, Japan, and then finally arriving in Hanoi, Vietnam. I started the journey the day before Thanksgiving, and by the time I cleared customs and immigration in Vietnam, there was 1 hour remaining in the American beloved holiday, which I was too jet lagged to even consider.

I love the holidays. But I love traveling even more. So on that note, in true reminiscing style, here are six reasons to love Vietnam.

  1. The spectacular karst mountains in Halong Bay. This is the entire reason I went to Vietnam. Everything else was icing on the cake, but the karst mountains were the draw and sole reason I started planning this trip. I wanted to kayak surrounded by these amazing structures. The mountains, bay, and atmosphere are simply mesmerizing.

Kayaking in Halong Bay Halong Bay

  1. The culturally diverse and hiking region of Sapa. Coming in as a close second of favorite things in Vietnam is the entire region of Sapa. If you like mountains, cooler temperatures, cultural diversity as far as the eye can see… then this is a region for you. Sure, there are drawbacks to this region. It requires a horrific train ride that leaves you questioning if you’ll ever arrive; the area is swarming with hikers; you’ll be stalked by the locals trying to sell you their handicrafts from morning to night. But it’s absolutely worth going to and one of my favorite places I’ve hiked.

Hmong Family Sapa Mountains Hmong Culture

  1. Rice paddy fields that dance before your eyes all across the horizon. At my first glance of the endless fields, I knew I was in love with the place. It could be that the terraced lines satisfy the minor OCD tendency I carry around, or it could be that they’re built into mountain sides, or that they’re just so visually appealing to stare at. Whatever it is, gazing upon infinite rice paddy fields and water buffalo meandering around is soothing to the soul.

Rice Paddy Fields Sapa Fields

  1. Floating villages in Halong Bay. Imagine your home, floating on water, susceptible to the waves and weather. You live entirely off of the vegetables you can grow in garden pots and the seafood you can catch while out in the bay. Your small village consists of a school, a barber, a “convenience store”, a church. But it’s all floating on the water, anchored together, built into the sides of the mountain. It is truly one of the most fascinating cultural ways of life I’ve ever seen. If you’re out in Halong Bay, do not miss visiting one of these villages.

Floating Village Floating Village

  1. History. There is so much history in Vietnam. A mind shift happened on this trip, when I heard one of our guides refer to the most recent war as the “American War.” Of course that’s what they’d call it. It just never dawned on me until I heard it audibly spoken. I was anticipating some animosity from locals due to the American-Vietnam War ending not too many decades ago and Americans not actively traveling much to Vietnam yet, but found nothing but kindness and friendliness and pure interest in conversation. But then again, I was in the north part of Vietnam, where they still keep a good portion of loathing for the French and their invasion from long ago. Besides the wars, there is much history to absorb in this fascinating country – from temples and cultural artifacts, multiple languages, empires, and ancient scrolls… if you like history at all, this place will satisfy.

Hanoi Hanoi Ninh Binh

  1. Phở. Lots and lots of Phở. I already loved Phở before going to Vietnam as I was a regular at a local Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall that made the beloved soup from their family recipes. I was incredibly happy to find that what I was used to eating tasted the same in the actual country. Phở is offered at all hours, for all meals. I happily slurped Phở for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend finding a good authentic restaurant and diving in.

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Vietnam was an incredibly unique travel experience for me, and one I think back on with lots of positive memories. I have never once felt regret at skipping Thanksgiving for the trip that rewarded so many new experiences because it is when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone that we grow.

What about you? Have you been to this captivating country before? What are some of your favorite things?

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Things to Do in Montreal

 

People have always said how Montreal is a really cool city, but in the back of my mind, I was always a bit reserved. Maybe it’s because I’d spent some time in Toronto, the super-sized city that’s a nearby neighbor and had left me feeling anything but impressed. Or maybe it’s that cities aren’t usually my thing and rarely make me want to return for another round. Whatever the reason, I went into my Montreal work-play combo trip with a hesitation that was balanced by optimism at looking forward to some fun exploration of a new place with a friend.

Montreal Skyline Montreal Skyline 2

Montreal turned out to be amazing. Below are the top things I experienced and would highly recommend for anyone visiting this fabulously diverse, incredibly friendly, easy to navigate, urban place.

  1. Mont Royal Park – walk, hike, scale, or climb for the amazing views.

I’m positive there is an easy way to get to the top. I’m also equally positive that we didn’t take it. We started out walking on the paved trail that slowly zigzagged its way up the side of the very large hill. Along the way I realized there were short cuts built into the path, which, in theory, should have cut the time. So I led us up one of these timesavers which took us right to the side of the cliff where a barely visible trail sort of existed. My friend was quite skeptical, but I figured the only way was up and somehow convinced her to believe me, so we climbed, crawled, and scaled the side of giant boulders, weaved our way through fences, and finally made it to the top, where we were rewarded with spectacular views overlooking the city. I don’t necessarily recommend the route we went, but going for the views is something one should do. Mont Royal Park is easy to find (it’s the only giant hill in the city) and the easiest route is to take the bus up to the top. We opted to take it back down to the metro station, which then connected us to our downtown hotel area.

Mont Royal Path Mont Royal Boulders

Montreal View Mont Royal Staircase

  1. Explore Vieux Montreal

Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) is an amazing place. Cobblestone streets, history, restaurants, shopping, the old port, the path along the water, the narrow streets filled with all kinds of architectural details, the market at Marché Bonsecours, the old churches… I could go on. Bottom line, don’t leave Montreal without at least one trip to Vieux Montreal.

Vieux Montreal Vieux Montreal Church

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  1. Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal

I’ve been to a lot of beautiful churches around the world, including the Notre Dame Basilica in Paris. But when I entered the Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal, I actually gasped. It’s gorgeous. I most definitely cannot describe it adequately, so just go and see it for yourself. The rich blue and gold tones are incredibly soothing, the level of detail is astounding, and the energy in the building is peaceful despite all the tourists milling around.

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  1. Stop for coffee, tea, or a light bite at Les Intraitables Bistro and Café

This might have been one of my favorite finds in Vieux Montreal. It’s swanky, it’s sparkling, it’s inviting, and above all, it’s super friendly. Go ahead…. take a break here. You’ll be glad you did.

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  1. Shop on Rue Sainte-Catherine

Unless it’s an outdoor store like REI, I pretty much hate shopping. My friend, however, loves it, and we spent an evening shopping on the famous Rue Sainte-Catherine, which  conveniently was just 2 blocks away from our hotel. The prominent shopping street is a beautiful one, filled with people from all over the world, fancy shops like Michael Kors and Tiffany & Co. balanced with affordable places like H&M and Forever 21. There’s something for everyone.

  1. Grab lunch at the fabulous vegan restaurant, Aux Vivres, in the Mile End district

If you happen to be in the Mile End district, or walking your way from the Metro station to Mont Royal Park like we were, swing by Aux Vivres for lunch. You’ll be so very glad that you did, especially if you’re a healthy, whole foods person like I am. This place has some serious flavor and makes creative vegan food taste like the best gourmet meal you’ve ever had. Check it out if you’re in the area. It’s worth it.

 Aux Vivres Aux Vivres Coffee

  1. Ride the Metro

You might think I’m joking. I’m not. I seriously loved the Metro in Montreal. It’s clean, it’s easy, it’s affordable. It’s convenient to get where you want to go. I grew up in the country, where the nearest Metro or Subway was multiple states away and the nearest town, at the time, had one stop sign. I love utilizing public transit in large cities to have a better experience of local life and to get to practice some city skills, and the Montreal Metro might be one of the best ones I’ve taken.

Metro Station Metro

  1. While you’re at it, Ride the Bus

If you’re good with riding the Metro, then take your city skills up one more step and ride the city bus. It’s also incredibly easy to use and figure out. We had a car while in Montreal as my friend drove up from New York, but we never took it out of the hotel parking garage because we never needed it. The Metro and the Bus and our good ol’ walking shoes got us everywhere we needed and wanted to go. If you’re flying into Montreal, take the bus from the airport to your hotel (and back again). It only costs $10 and saves you a ton of money instead of taking a cab.

  1. People Watch

Montreal is a fabulous city for people watching. Trendy and chic, this fashionable city has a plethora of styles, languages, cultures and ethnicities. Much to our amusement, we didn’t even need to leave our hotel to enjoy the variety of people. We stayed at the downtown Sheraton, which has become one of my all-time favorite hotels, and that’s saying a lot. But it’s evidently also the choice for when the Chinese Premier comes to town, as he was there for a few nights with his wife and entourage to meet with the Prime Minister of Canada. Having these two government superstars at the same hotel meant lots of security – ranging from Chinese security with snappy looking suits and secret-service like ear buds, to Montreal police and military complete with leg-strapped weapons, both in the building and outside keeping the protesters corralled. Just think about this combo, all within the hotel lobby…. Chinese Premier. Canadian Prime Minister. Security. Protesters… Entertaining, to say the least. We were somehow able to drag ourselves from the bustling activity at the Sheraton and ventured outside, where the people-watching and interactions were incredible. From visitors, business folks, locals, and hockey fans, this city has a lot going on. And they’re all just so darn friendly… Except for the government security. They must not have been feeling very social.

Chinese Protestors People Wacthing

Bottom line: Montreal is awesome. I am positive I’ll be back for another visit. And if you happen to be heading there, consider a few of these recommendations – you’ll be glad that you did!

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Experiences from Brazil

The Rio Olympics are underway, and all this talk about Brazil has got me thinking about my trip there many, many, years ago. Brazil was my first trip traveling on my own, my first exposure to a country plagued by economic struggles and extreme poverty, and the first time I learned that entire governments can go on strike.

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I wish I’d kept a journal from back then, and even more importantly, I wish I’d known more about photography. But this was before digital cameras and smart phones and I definitely didn’t think to write things down. While a journal would be amazing to go back through, this trip left lasting impressions that need no written documentation for me to recall.

We spent a morning walking around a vast outdoor market in São Paulo, and I still, to this day, remember the smells. Not good smells, but the smells of sewage. You see, São Paulo has rivers that run through the city, and the rivers contain industrial runoff and wastewater. These rivers are filthy, repulsive, and repugnant, and unfortunately, the market wasn’t too far from the watery sludge. São Paulo is the largest metropolis in Brazil, the Americas, and the southern hemisphere, with 11.3 million people inhabiting the city. It has 3 million more people than London and New York City. Pause and think about that for a moment. It’s enormous.

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During my visit the government was on strike, which closed many things including my friend’s college. She indicated this wasn’t that uncommon, but it was such a foreign concept to me. The economy was unstable, and instead of converting my money to Brazilian Reals, my friend’s family wanted to pay for my expenses and I then paid them my US dollars. I wondered what they did with the dollars – did they hide them under the mattress and convert them when the markets were more favorable?

From São Paulo we embarked on the several hour bus ride to Curitiba, where my friend’s home was. She had written to me ahead of time, stating they would meet me in São Paulo and accompany me on this bus trip because a local flight was even less safe than the most dangerous highway in Brazil, the BR-116, and they didn’t want me making the trip on my own. This section of the country’s arterial highway is nicknamed the “Highway of Death” because part of the route runs along steep cliffs that are lacking in any safety fencing, and traffic is intense with trucks and drivers edging their way through tunnels, narrows, and turns. Google “most dangerous roads in the world” and this section of highway makes the top 10 list. Earlier this week I read an article that described the horrendous exploitation of girls as young as 9 on the BR-116, trafficked in the highway’s towns and at the road’s many stops. While I was not aware of the sex trafficking problem, I do remember the feeling of the truck stops being unsafe, and my friend and her mother insisting we always stick together when we were stopped and using facilities or buying snacks.

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I visited in July, which is winter in Brazil, and the further south we went the chillier it got. I will never forget driving down the streets of Curitiba and seeing people standing outside their makeshift homes, constructed of boxes the size of refrigerators with trash bags and tarps for protection from the elements. Entire stretches of several blocks were lined with the poverty-stricken people. It was the first time I’d ever been in a car that was swarmed by children begging for money when you were stopped at an intersection. It was the first time I saw gated homes and communities, with access gained only by code, key, or call boxes. It was the first time I’d been anywhere where a middle class didn’t really exist. You were either in privilege, or you were in extreme poverty and I’m not sure much has changed there since my trip all those years ago.

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Curitiba is home to roughly 1.8 million people and is known as the cultural center of Brazil. While there I visited many of the beautiful attractions, and loved every new experience I had. But what I remember most from my time spent in Curitiba is the feeling of extended family and friends and the many evenings we spent together. We watched soccer games, we bantered, we ate a lot of food, we went out to clubs, and we ate breakfast at unholy hours of the morning because we hadn’t gone home yet. Extended family takes on a whole new meaning in Brazil, and the camaraderie of this tight-knit large group of friends is something I’d never experienced before, and have never experienced since.

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Toward the end of my visit we made the journey back to São Paulo, surviving yet again the Highway of Death. From São Paulo we traveled within the state to the small city of Espírito Santo do Pinhal, to visit the family farm, which to me, resembled something more like a plantation. The farm was a beautiful and peaceful slice of rural Brazil, and I was glad to have experienced this part of my friend’s life.

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My time in Brazil was amazing and it firmly planted my early passion for travel. I enjoyed my time so much that I considered intentionally missing my flight, as the idea of travel was much more appealing than going off to college a few short weeks later. But forever ingrained with the responsibility gene, I made it back to the United States on schedule, with the hopes of one day seeing my friend and visiting Brazil again. Thanks to social media, we’re once again connected, and I have no doubt we will one day be reunited.

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Traveling Back… to 1937

Letters Letters 2

Usually I write about my travels and adventures. But today, I took a journey without ever leaving my home. You see, I seem to be the designated family historian, and when I opened a box I recently obtained from my grandma, I discovered a treasure trove of letters (along with a few random bullets) and I time hopped back to the era of mid 1937 to early 1942.

I never knew this man, but I have zero doubt that I would have really loved him. He had a zest for life. He traveled. He did what needed to be done, but made time for plenty of fun. He was born in 1919, and grew up poor, on a country farm. He graduated in 1937 from high school and moved to the city. Kansas City, that is. And through his letters, I am able to picture his life, imagine the places he’s traveled to, and feel his exuberance at young adulthood.
Family Farm Young Adult Melvin
Above Photos: The family farm homestead. / Entering Young Adulthood.

On August 1, 1937 he wrote: “Dear Mom, Dad, and Merle… Well, I have finally stayed one night away from home… This certainly is like a mansion. They have three floors and a basement, grounds that cover many acres, and lots of beautiful trees, chairs, lily ponds, and fish ponds…. Last night I sat in the yard and watched a few cars go along. There is a continual string of them. About ten times as many as go by 36. There are two night clubs just a block from here.” I do not know where he was staying, as that’s not specified, but I imagine it was quite different than what he was familiar with. I also have little doubt that he visited those night clubs.

He started working, and was quite the budgeting person. On February 12, 1938 he wrote, “I get paid $30 Tuesday and it really will come in handy and I am just about broke now. You see I have 12 dollars every 4 weeks for room, $14 for board, $4 for lunch, $5 for carfare, $4 for enjoyment, $5 for clothes, and $5 for saving, the rest for incidentals.” Sounds like a pretty good budgeting plan to me!

His letters indicate he was quite the networker, always meeting managers and people in high places of companies he hoped to one day work for. He was a socializer, too, always going somewhere, or meeting new friends. He went to the Golden Gloves Tournament, tennis tournaments, country clubs, met H.G. Wells, went to shows.

He took classes at Rockhurst and the KC Business College. He mentions that tuition to start was $7.50 at Rockhurst, and that he’d later owe another $7.50 for the next semester. In another letter he mentions that tuition was only $40 and books were another $2. In one letter he chastised his younger brother for not working harder on his English classes, even though it wasn’t an easy subject.

In early 1939 he writes that he got another job and will receive $20 salary each week. He was very happy with that pay. The company was Stewart Sand and Material Company, located at 18th and Grant on the 3rd floor of the City National Bank Building. He says that Stewart Sand is the largest company in KC in regards to sand, stone, tile, rocks and that they do a million dollars in business each year. He writes that he “secured the job through my personality.” That made me laugh.

He got a promotion to a new position, and writes on March 4, 1939, “Got paid last Tuesday. Certainly like the larger salary. I continue to like my new position as much as possible. My boss is exceptionally nice and friendly. I am so much happier now. I was almost despondent before when I had my other position and just setting still. Now I am jubilant. I really do believe I got the best position I ever applied for.” People don’t talk like that anymore… despondent, jubilant, best position ever.

He moved boarding locations several times, and writes at one point that it cost $2.20 to have a delivery company move all of his stuff. All he had to do was pack it up. Things sure have changed… I’ve moved 13 times, and can’t even fathom how much money it’s cost me over the years.

Letters 3 Letters 4

If you are familiar at all with your American History, you will know what’s coming. World War II began. We hadn’t entered it yet, but it was only a matter of time.

On May 20, 1941 he writes that he will be enlisting at Ft. Leavenworth and then will report to Oxnard, California, on June 4th. “Oxnard is about 60 miles north of Los Angeles on the coast. Population of town about 9,000. There are 7 other boys from Kansas City going to this same school at this same time.”

June 15, 1941: “Boy, I certainly have been putting in the days. The Air Corps have a system of demerits that are given for various things you do wrong, for instance making your bed, finding dust on the top of your door, being late to a formation, etc. I spend about 2 hours daily making my bed just right and dusting the room and keeping everything in order. If you get over 5 demerits in any one week you are not allowed to go out over the weekend.”

He became a pilot. That same date he writes, “Last week we started flying. They have some pretty nice airplanes. Certainly enjoy flying.

Cockpit of Plane Pilot
Above photos: July 1, 1941. In the cockpit of a Stearman at Oxnard. / July 1, 1941. In front of a Vultee plane at Oxnard.

July 13, 1941. “I made my solo airplane ride last Thursday. Did it quite well, wasn’t scared at all and really liked it. Friday and Saturday made my 2nd and 3rd supervised solos. Starting next Monday I will take a plane out by myself and practice different maneuvers. I have 14 hours in the air now. As yet we haven’t received uniforms here but understand we will soon. The class before us had to buy theirs, cost them $30, but I know we won’t. Sure have enjoyed myself when in L.A. on weekends.”

August 3, 1941. “Now have 49 hours of time in the air. Have been flying 3 hours or more every day last week. I will have my 60 hours check next week and if I successfully pass it will know I will get to the next school. Have been doing acrobatics this last week. Flying upside down, doing slow rolls, that is rolling the plane clear around up and over, loops, that is diving down and then pulling the nose up and coming over on your back. As far as I know there has never been a parachute jump at this school. The planes we fly are almost foolproof and safety is always practiced to the utmost. However, we wear parachutes at all times and they are inspected every 30 days to be sure they are in perfect condition.”

August 9, 1941. “I passed my final army check. I was sure glad to get by it. You have to pass 3 checks with Cal Aero and 3 with the army, by the time you have 60 hours. I have 32 hours solo now. None of the acrobatics are dangerous as long as you have plenty of altitude to go in case you fall out of one into a spin or something. Yesterday after I passed my check I went up to 10,000 feet. That is about as high as these airplanes will go…. I understand they have extended the draft to 2 ½ years. I still think I am much better off here. I was afraid of that extension of the draft, one of the reasons why I joined the Aviation Cadets.”

Echelon Formation
Above Photo: Sept. 15, 1941. Flying an echelon formation.

He moved on to Bakersfield for a few weeks. “Next week we will start flying and have ground school. We will fly BT 13A’s.” On October 24, 1941 he writes, “I have passed all checks ok. I really do like flying more and more. Have been flying formation quite a bit the last two weeks, and it is a lot of fun. We found out yesterday approximately where we would be sent next. I will go to a school that specializes in two motored plans, such as bomber planes. I am expecting to go to Sacramento, but I may either go to Stockton or Victorville Have been getting pretty good grades in ground school. Last week I ranked 5th in the class of 135.

Instrument Panel
Above Photo: He wrote on the back of the picture: “View showing a few of instruments in cockpit of BT13A, ship which I am flying at Bakersfield.”

He moved on to Sacramento, at Mather Field. On November 21, 1941, he writes “I soloed in the planes we fly here last Tuesday. Have 8 hours in these planes now. The plane we fly here is about 20 mph faster. Also the landing wheels come up into the body of the plan after getting off the ground, allowing it to go faster…. We were issued winter flying equipment last week. It is all leather, fur lined, and is the very warmest material possible. I bought most of my uniform when I get to be an officer. I am paying $45 for my blouse and $16 for pants, and $2.75 for flight cap. Sam Brown leather belt $11 and saber chain $2.50. Also have to get various other articles such as poplin shirts, dress shirts, air corps insignia, ties, socks, shoes, a raincoat or officers overcoat. I will get the $150 from the government to pay for it probably about February 15.”

He also met a girl. “I had a very swell Thanksgiving dinner yesterday at some friends of the girl that I go with here in Sacramento. I met the girl when I was up to Yosemite Park last August. She and her parents are very nice and I have been at her house several times for meals. She is a graduate of the University of California.”

November 29, 1941. “Have 21 hours flying time in the airplane that we are flying here. Last week I flew up to Lake Tahoe, up northeast about 100 miles. It is very pretty from the sky, had to get up to 12 to 14,000 feet to get over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Also went down to San Francisco over the ocean a little ways in the airplane. Started formation flying yesterday, and my instructor soloed me after a few minutes as I flew it pretty good as had quite a bit of formation flying at Bakersfield. You see 3 ships fly together, take off and land all together.”

December 7, 1941 is a milestone date in American history. He writes home, “I suppose you heard the news today that Japan has declared war. It’s too bad but I can’t see where she can do too much by herself as long as Germany and Italy are not actively engaged. Time can only tell what will happen…. I do not know nor do I have any idea as to what will happen when I get my commission in January. I hardly believe I will be sent directly into a tactical unit in the Pacific after getting commissioned in view of the little flying time I actually have in comparison to those who graduated before me, many of whom are instructors now. I truly believe almost all of us graduating when I do will be made instructors for some time until we build up our flying time and get more experience… We have been flying all weekend. I took several cross countries aggregating 5 or 600 miles. The planes I fly here are all single motored, but have half as many horsepower as those at basic training. The ones I fly now have 650 hp.”

December 15, 1941. “Today 35 or 40 pursuit planes came in here, which I understand are to be stationed here as protection against the Japanese. They came from the middle west and are the fastest planes in the world, cruising at over 400 miles per hour, and that is really fast. They are to be used for protection.”

He spent Christmas with his girlfriend and her family, saying how nice it was and how much he liked them all. Her father was an electrician with the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, and they had built their home only a couple of years prior. His journal entries state “I can’t get her out of my mind. I am in love with her.”

He was happy.

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December 27, 1941. “I still firmly believe, and even more so now, that I would much rather be in the Air Corps making a decent salary and having some sort of position than being a common soldier with no pay and certainly no position, even though I am taking more risk now that we are at war. At least I am seeing the country. In my position as a Lieutenant I will meet and associate with the best class of people wherever I may be, just as I have been as an Aviation Cadet. I know it to be a fact that there is nobody of young men in the world that can compare to the physical and educational or heritage qualities of my classmates here in the Air Corps, unless it be in the Navy Air Corps, which is very similar except they are in the Navy and I am in the Army. I consider the Air Corps to be on par with West Point or better. It looks to me as though this war will take anywhere from 2 to 5 years and I know were I in the draft it would change my entire outlook on life and I would have missed the part of it that I could never enjoy. So, please do not worry about me too much because I am happy and I am enjoying life and going to keep on doing so while I may.... We will be commissioned January 9th, a week from this coming Friday. I do not know where I will be sent nor whether I will be made an instructor or go into a tactical unit after that.”

January 11, 1942. “We had graduation Friday. It certainly feels great to be a second Lieutenant and having all the enlisted men saluting you and everything. My officer’s uniform certainly does look nice if I do say so myself and it feels better, too. There were 155 of us new Lts. We got our travel orders to repost at new stations. 70 of us are going to Long Beach. 4 to Wichita, 11 to Michigan. The other 70 are staying on at Mather Field as instructors. I am going to Long Beach. All of us that are leaving Mather are going into the Ferry Command, which is flying new ships to different parts of the U.S. after they have been built at the airplane factors. I am really the happiest I have ever been in my life as this Ferry Command is the best in the whole army. I expect to take many trips east to New York, going through Kansas City en route. I can hardly wait until I get to Long Beach Tuesday the 13th.”

January 15, 1942. “I understand we are to leave tomorrow to ferry some ships anyplace in the U.S. We never will know where we are going or when. It is quite possible that I may get to fly several thousand miles on this first hop. We fly only during the day time and you are the sole judge of weather conditions and whether you want to fly in unsettled weather or not. After delivering a ship at the end of the trip we catch the first airliner coming back to Long Beach.”

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And that was his last letter he ever sent. He never did get to make a several thousand mile journey ferrying an airplane. He died on January 19, 1942, just two days after his last letter, upon takeoff in Selma, Alabama, on his first ferry flight. I imagine his parents received notification of his death before they even received his last letter.

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While his death was a tragedy, his short life was well lived. That’s more than a lot of people can say. He worked. He studied. He traveled. He served. He fell in love. He was 22 years old when he died.

He was my great-uncle.

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