5 Favorite Favorite Places I’ve Visited :: Faves for 40

May is the month I turn 40. To celebrate, I thought I’d do a series of posts about some of my favorite things.

Today: 5 Favorite Places I’ve Visited, in no particular order

1. London. I’ve been to London six times, all on layovers, including two overnights. I’ve seen Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham (at least the outside), British Museum, rode the Eye, and lots of rides on the Tube (mind the gap). It’s a big, multicultural city and there is still so much to see. I’d like to go back some day and spend a week.

2. Zion National Park. Hands down, ZNP is one of the most beautiful places I have been. And as much as I hate heights, I was able to do the Angels Landing trail. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that again, but the views were breathtaking.

3. Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve been twice and managed to do some hiking surrounded by 14,000ft peaks. Where I live, we have hills. We even have some bluffs along rivers. The Ozarks have their own beauty, but goodness–to see mountains! One thing, though, if you make an unplanned trip in May, remember there will still be snow and you’ll need something more than a light jacket.

4. Zambia. When you grow up in a first world country, you don’t realize how much you have and how much you take for granted. Then you visit a third world country where people live on about $2 a day and the average lifespan is in the 40s, and it changes your perspective. There’s also something beautiful about walking through the African bush and stumbling across thatch hut villages.

5. The Ozark National Scenic River Way. Growing up, summer vacations involved seeing grandma and canoeing. Unfortunately, life has not permitted much time on the rivers of southern Missouri in recent years, but I have spent time in over my half summers in a canoe or kayak among the river bluffs.

Photo, mine

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

To see great things, we often have to step outside of our comfort zone.

In May 2010, a friend and I planned to spend a week storm chasing, something that isn’t as crazy as it sounds when you actually hold a degree in meteorology. But when the weather proved to be too nice, we made a last minute change of plans–a 3000+ mile round trip from Missouri to Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and back. All in seven days.

The pace was a bit grueling. We stayed in a different hotel every night and didn’t have them booked until we were on our way, since we were never quite sure where we’d stop at the start of the day. The hotels didn’t prove that bad, except for one in Denver, but that’s a different story…

Along the way, we made stops at Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Rocky Mountain parks. All were beautiful. All deserved more time than we were able to give.

My favorite among them was Zion.

We hiked several trails at the park that day, but we started with the mother of them all: Angels Landing. The trail to the landing is a 2.5 mile one-way trip that doesn’t sound bad until you include the 1500 foot change in elevation that involves a series of steep switchbacks.

The greatest challenge, however is the final half mile. There, you climb along a spine formation with a narrow path and sheer drops. For most of the climb, you have chains to hold onto, but also many places where you look to your side and see straight down.

It is breath-taking and exhilarating as it leads to the landing–the tall overlook of the canyon carved by the Virgin River below.

Oh, and did I mention: I’m scared of heights.

I don’t like climbing ladders. I hate crawling into attics. And it’s rare situations that I will set foot on a roof. I like roller coasters because I feel safe strapped in. But I stay away from most Ferris wheels.

Needless to say, I’m one of the last people who should probably be making a hike like the Angels Landing trail.

My friend and I even reached one part where he encouraged me to join him for a glance over the side. My chest gets a little tight even thinking about it, and in the moment I did have a mild breakdown. After a few minutes of panic and stating that I was done, my friend said he was going to go on. I could join him or wait for him to return.

My mind raced. I weight the benefits and risks (a beautiful, maybe even once-in-a-lifetime view vs. falling to a horrible death). I reasoned that very few people had fallen to their deaths compared to the numbers who completed the hike, that I may never have the opportunity to do the hike again, that I would likely be okay so long as I didn’t try to tap dance on the ledge, and that if it was my time to go then it could be as easily through a bite by a rabid chipmunk as a fall.

So, I called to my friend to wait, swallowed my fear, got up, and made the hike.

And it was worth it.

Thinking back, I’m still in awe of the views. (Although, I recently watched a video another hiker shot of the final leg, and I wonder how I actually convinced myself to get up and press on.)

The hike was one of the greatest challenges to my comfort zone that I’ve faced. Part of me hopes one day to be able to do it again before I get too old. But even if I don’t, I’m glad nine years ago in that moment I took the risk I did.

(Pictures below all owned by me; you can find the video by that other hiker I mentioned here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jy6K0KoMrco) (note: the “other hiker” is not my friend that I mentioned; I found his video on youtube but have no other connection)