Before I get started, let me say that I was blown away by the overwhelming positive response to my first post. Thank you for all the love and comments. I heard from new friends, old friends, people at the gym, people out on the trail and even people in countries and on continents I’ve never even been to. THANK YOU. I frequently say that I’m the luckiest guy on the planet and it is precisely because of people like you. I am immensely grateful for all the incredible individuals in my life.
As promised, this post will focus on my favorite places, both near and far. All of these places hold special meaning to me and I hope that you are inspired to check out one or all of them in your future travels. And if you find you need an adventure buddy, tour guide or just somebody to make you look good in your Instagram photos, hit me up!!!
Las Vegas, Nevada
Yup. You read that right. America’s Playground. Before you click unsubscribe or go back to your social media, hear me out. Now, I don’t consider myself a city boy. Or a country boy for that matter. And it makes little difference to me if you happen to lean one way or the other. To each their own. But, whatever floats your boat or milks your goat, Vegas has something for you.
World class shows, five-star restaurants and high roller rooms where the minimum bet might be as high as $500. Not interested in squandering your retirement in a matter of hours? Fine. Buy some two dollar tacos, play the penny slots and check out the street performers. The world really is your oyster here. Want Thai food at 4AM? Not a problem. Care to see the Strip from the seat of a helicopter? Easy peasy. Want to go to a spa and sit on a heated bench while fake snow falls all around you? Yup, it’s all right there. In the middle of the desert no less.
But, let us just pretend for a moment that you can’t fathom setting foot in Sin City. The thought of all that neon and excess just rubs you the wrong way. So be it. Buy your ticket anyway. Why? The Colorado Plateau. That’s why.
Ever heard of the Plateau? Probably not. Most people haven’t. Ever heard of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Zion, or the Colorado River? Sure you have. Know where you’ll find all those things and dozens of other mind-blowing landscapes? Yup. On the Plateau. The late, great Edward Abbey once famously described a piece of the Plateau as “the most beautiful place on earth.” You’d be hard pressed to find a larger, wilder, more beautifully diverse area in the lower 48.
You would be similarly hard pressed to find another major metropolitan area more conveniently located and prepared to equip you for your Plateau trip than Vegas.
You can touch down at McCarran, pick up your rental car (I suggest red convertible), turn your tail lights towards the neon on the Strip and find yourself completely alone in a true desert paradise faster than it takes an Elvis impersonator to go through tonight’s selections of the King’s greatest hits.
Not a fan of the desert? No worries. One of the largest lakes in the Western Hemisphere is just a thirty minute drive outside of Vegas.
Prefer higher elevation? Head west out of Vegas up to Mt. Charleston where you’ll find plenty of skiing, hiking and camping to satisfy your adventure itch.
No matter which direction or adventure you choose, you can do it all within a few hours of the Strip. The highest and lowest points in the lower 48 and all the excitement that lies between are less than 200 miles away. Get out there and get after it. Just be sure to hit up a buffet and catch a show or two before you grab your redeye back home…
Population: 772. Home to Spruce Knob – West Virginia’s highest point.
I left my heart in the Monongahela National Forest. Part of it at least. I’m pretty sure one of my favorite sweatshirts is still up there somewhere as well. That’s ok though. I will be back soon enough.
This isolated spot in the heart of rural Appalachia is a magical place.
The magic might come from the near absence of cell phone and Wi-Fi signals bouncing around. (Spruce Knob sits near the middle of the U.S. National Radio Quiet Zone which limits the amount of radio transmissions in the area.)
Maybe it is the fact that this area boasts some of the darkest skies east of the Mississippi.
Maybe it is the hundreds of acres of old growth forest filled with hemlock, spruce and pine.
Some people even claim that the magic comes from an energy vortex on the mountain.
Whatever the cause, it is tangible and one that I highly recommend experiencing for yourself.
I first learned about Spruce Knob shortly after I received my Wilderness First Responder certification. I worked as a field instructor at Experience Learning where I had the opportunity to share my love of the outdoors with children and adults of all ages and backgrounds. That was when part of my heart decided that it would stay there permanently. This is a common experience. Lives are changed on that mountain. It gets in your blood. You don’t leave the same person you were when you arrived. Some people just don’t leave.
Some great life lessons were given to me during my time on Spruce. I learned more important things there than I ever have in a class, office or courtroom. Some of my best teachers were still in single digits. I hope to share some of their tutelage with you as this blog progresses.
I could go on and on about Spruce Knob but I have my eye on a word limit and honestly I’m not gonna do it justice anyway. If you want to know more or you’d like to experience it for yourself, don’t hesitate to contact me. Seriously. We’ll climb a mountain or two, swim in an underground creek, pick some ramps and wild mushrooms to go along with supper and then relax in a yurt while we wait for the stars to come out. If you’re lucky…and you almost certainly will be, you will also get to enjoy the best s’mores you have ever had in your life.
Namche Bazaar, Nepal
Few places stir up as much wanderlust in my heart as Namche Bazaar. Even though I only spent a few days here going to and from Everest Base Camp, this tiny alcove tucked high in the Himalayas left an indelible mark on my soul. I’m a huge fan of watching the sunrise and the early morning celestial show around Namche rivals any that I have seen.
Imagine this…you’re awakened by the sound of bells and yaks hooves as a procession carrying mountaineering supplies passes by the window of the lodge where you lay under heavy, woven blankets. You reach the window in time to see dawn light painting some of the higher reaches of the peaks nearly two vertical miles above while the rural village in the valley remains shrouded in relative darkness. That is Namche.
My best view of Everest and its less famous/more beautiful sister Ama Dablam both came during these early morning hours before the clouds descended and covered the iconic peaks. The skies are generally clearer in the morning before the mighty giants pull their curtains closed and obscure their riches to everyone not brave enough to take an up close and personal look.
But Namche isn’t just yaks and views of the Himalaya. There are also enough gear and coffee shops hawking legit and not so legit merchandise to outfit your own personal expedition if you decide you need that personal look (trust me, you probably don’t).
Much better to sip your off brand Starbucks coffee and mingle with the locals and tourists alike while you walk around in a slightly oxygen deprived state of giddiness. Just remember to look up every now and then and take in the sight that is one of the most awe inspiring spectacles that exists anywhere on this planet.
And while you’re waiting for the clouds to pass, ponder this – for many years, this land was seen mostly only by those who lived there. No high end mountaineer equipment. No carts full of oxygen bottles. No helicopters buzzing the skies above. But then, Hillary and his British expedition came through and helped pave the way for aspiring individuals who want to take their chance at the tallest mountain in the world. If it weren’t for man’s seemingly irresistible urge to conquer things; perhaps Namche wouldn’t even exist. Certainly not in the commercial form that it does today. But, I for one am glad that it does and I know at least one other Georgia boy who probably feels the same way.
I visited Zurich the summer after my first year in law school. While most of our classmates were getting their first taste of shuffling papers and learning how to bill hours, my buddy and I were bumming around Europe under the pretense of studying international law. We visited quite a few cities in the seven countries we visited while we were there but Zurich was undoubtedly one of my favorites.
I was training for a half marathon at the time and I ran in almost every city we visited during those six weeks. It was that first run in Switzerland that made me fall in love with the place. Yeah…I fall in love with a lot of places. Sort of a hopeless romantic when it comes to travel. It is a common side effect of the incurable disease known as “Itchy Feet.”
With the help of my travel journal, I can still remember the specifics of that run despite the passage of over a decade. I set out alone since my buddy needed a nap. I remember thinking right away that Zurich was one of the cleanest cities I had ever seen. The stunning architecture that greeted me at each new turn left vivid memories that I have not forgotten even a decade later. As any avid runner will tell you, certain runs stay with you. Excursions where the conditions were so right or so horribly wrong that your brain stores them in a protected backup folder that you can access months or years later.
I quickly got lost in the maze of streets and by the time I pulled out the paper map the hotel front desk had given me, my sweat had rendered it largely indecipherable. This oversight coupled with my inability to remember the hotel’s name ended up adding miles onto my route. At the time, I never ran more than around five miles at any given time so I became overly attentive of my surroundings looking for anything that seemed familiar.
I ran along the Limmat river, past the uber high end stores and bank headquarters of the Bahnhofstrasse and around a couple of Zurich’s famous cathedrals. And the chocolate stores. I’ve never ran by so many chocolate stores in my life. I knew exactly how I was going to replenish all those calories I was burning.
It was around that time that I seemed to let go of my worries over being lost and instead found myself enjoying the moment; willing to let it lead me wherever it may. Maybe it was the release of endorphins from the smell of the chocolate. Maybe it was my brain throwing its hands up in defeat. I don’t know what it was; but I do remember feeling like I was right where I was supposed to be.
As a runner, I long for moments like that. They are frequently few and far between. Most days, it is just the repetitive left/right/left/right. A process of trying to block out distracting thoughts so I can focus on my breathing; or my form, or ideally nothing at all. But, every now and then, the air beneath my feet becomes a bit more buoyant, my smell and vision slightly more crisp and for a few precious moments, the exertion becomes somewhat effortless as I become one with my immersive environment. That’s the good stuff and ultimately one of the things that keeps me coming back for more.
I could go on and on about Zurich’s chocolate, beautiful churches and the spotlessly clean streets, but if I am really honest with myself, it was that near perfect run that really made me fall in love with the city.
And that was a few of my favorite places…
Thanks for stopping by. I hope that you enjoyed learning a bit more about some of my cherished spots on this giant rock that we all call home. I still have three continents left to check out. I am excited to add to my list that I’ve shared with you. And if you have any suggestions about places I should visit in my travels, please leave them below.
I also welcome any ideas for future posts comments about improving the blog or features that you would like to see added. I would love to hear your thoughts. One final thing before I go – If you haven’t done so, please click the link below so that you will know when my next post goes live. I thank you in advance for joining the journey.
Much love and happy trails.