The Adventure of a Lifetime
Disclaimer-At the time we took this trip, I think we both imagined it would be the only major traveling we did. Boy did we underestimate ourselves! I hope you enjoy the photos and accounts of our first big cross country trip together.
Leaving the Mouse
On December 28th of 2018 I clocked out from my final shift as a Cast Member for the Walt Disney World Company. I had almost five years of amazing experiences, lifelong friends, drama, and so much more. It was a time in my life that I could never forget and would always be grateful for. Looking back, that was one of the hardest choices I ever had to make, but it was by far the best one. My mental and physical health have improved so much since leaving. As much as I loved working at Disney, it was easily the most toxic work environment I have ever encountered. I am grateful for my good memories, as most of the bad ones have faded away, but I will never go back.
Mark and I attended a NYE party at Amy’s house that went in such a wild direction. From trying to find out where a certain coord we all strongly disliked lived, to hopping a pool deck fence, and then having to get Anders to break off a bathroom doorknob because a girl none of us really knew had locked herself in the bathroom. It was the perfect goodbye. We would only be gone for a month but I don’t think I had gone without seeing my Disney friends longer than a few days for the past five years.
On the Road
On January 3rd 2019 (wow before the world fell apart!) Mark and I pulled out of my driveway and set off in my F-150 across the country…. I mean we drove to Jacksonville. My wonderful best friend met us for lunch at a blaze pizza where we all ate cheeses that we shouldn’t eat and covered our pizza’s in too many red pepper flakes. Then we had to swing by a Sprint because after the noted NYE Party I put Mark’s cell phone through the washing machine because it was forgotten in his pants pockets.
We set out from Jacksonville towards New Orleans! We stayed at a run down Days Inn and grabbed an Uber to Bourbon St. We walked down the entire street, got drinks (THANKS LAUREN) at Pat O’Brians. Which was not nearly as grand as the one in City Walk Universal… though the same can be said for the Margaritaville in Key West.
The following day we went to River Walk and saw the Mississippi. It was an amazing sight. A reminder of how much of human history is combined with the use of water as well as how powerful a single river can be. Mark and I also wandered around a small farmers market with vendors and live music, took a few polaroid pictures on the camera that I stole from my younger sister.
Then we hit the road to Galveston, Texas. When we arrived our reserved campsite was flooded so the camp desk employee said we could pick any site we wanted on the non seashore side of the state park. We drove around all the sites, and every one was very damp. We had been camping some nights and staying in 2- stars on others to do the cheapest trip we could, since neither of us had jobs.
So we set up our tent and a twin size blow up bed on the concrete parking spot for our site and had a terrible night attempting to sleep. But I will say that the Galveston Island State Park has stellar bathrooms and showers. I took a long hot water shower and so did every other camper. We also saw a wonderful sunset.
During our day in Houston we went to the Space Center! Mark loves space exploration and learning about astronomy so it only made sense. We spent HOURS exploring the center, taking the tour, seeing “Houston” and watching Astronauts on big screens who are currently at the ISS.
After our amazing space experience we moved on to Guadalupe River State Park. We spent an easy night relaxing with a walk around the park. It was also mostly flooded so the ranger suggested that the next day we go to a nearby park called Pedernales Falls.
We took their advice and had an amazing time at Pedernales Falls. I even fell asleep listening to the water, in the sun, on the rocks.
Our next destination was El Paso, Texas. We stayed in a 2 star with free breakfast and stole all the fruit to take with us. We spent the day in Franklin Mountains State Park, climbing trails and talking to strangers as we overlooked the city from the top of a peak. We got sub par mexican food and stopped at a walmart to stock up on some much needed supplies.
Texas is one of my least favorite states. It takes FOREVER to drive across and most of the drive consists of looking at a bland landscape. It is incredibly hot or incredibly cold. Everyone is a republican and the government has been closed for a while due to the current administration (hence the no National Park Visits).
City Of Rocks (and Stars)
Our stop in New Mexico was at City of Rocks State Park. It is a certified dark sky park in the middle of nowhere. The rock structures are amazing and the sky was like nothing I had ever seen. We hiked through the structures and learned about the stars at the educational exhibits.
It rained most of the second half of our day and then became incredibly cold.We spent most of our day driving to a Walmart to buy dry firewood and lays chips. Then when we got back to camp I spent some time reading Michelle Obama’s book and reflecting on our journey so far. I built a fire and then we got so close to it we almost had our feet touching the flames. Neither Mark or I had appropriate winter gear to be traveling the country in January.
The night sky cleared for us to see a spectacular view and Mark pointed out constellations that I had never been able to see in the light polluted central Florida night sky. Mark did love something about New Mexico, other than the night sky. The vibe of the people. He looked deep into the meaning of the New Mexico Flag and really has used that as a method of growth in his life since.
We took the worst showers of our entire life. They have extreme water limits at this park, for good reason! But they also don’t have warm water (at least in winter, as we have returned in summer and they did). Our cold, but clean, bodies packed up into my truck and we headed westward once again.
Sweet Sweet Arizona
Kartchner Caverns State Park in Arizona is the best state park I have ever stepped foot in. The sites had amazing fire pits, well kept tent pads, and views of desert and mountains. The bathrooms had amazing showers and even dish washing stations! We had been struggling to keep dishes clean with our single dish tub and gallon of water method, so it was time for a deep clean. We became revived with an amazing campfire before heading into a restful sleep.
The next day we got to tour the caverns and it was the most amazing and new experience I had ever had. The Caverns are still living and Arizona has done a lot of work to make sure they stay that way. It was an amazing tour that I would recommend to anyone passing through the state. Mark and I both fell in love with Arizona after a few days at Kartchner Caverns.
We left Arizona at sunrise and headed to John Wayne Airport in California to pick up our dearest friend Anders for a few days at Disneyland. I mean if you’re a (ex)cast member in California what else do you do?
The three of us squeezed into the front seat of my truck and headed to The Grand Californian. We checked in, took some very long showers, and headed into Downtown Disney.
It was raining the entire evening which is hilarious because Mark has never been able to see Disneyland California in good weather. We joke that it is his bad lifeguard karma coming for him.
The next few days we spend doing as much of California Adventure and Disneyland as we can cram in. Then we head to Newport Beach for a fun side adventure before dropping Anders back at the airport and promising to come see him in Miami as soon as we could, which turned out to be tons of times that spring and summer.
Mark and I headed north to Bakersfield, spent a night in a 2-star and kept moving forward to Three Rivers.
Our short time in Three Rivers was amazing. The air was fresh and mild and the scenery was peaceful and gorgeous. We stopped to rent tire chains for heading up the mountain to the national parks and met some incredibly friendly convenience store employees who helped us learn how to use the chains we rented. Our drive up the mountain into Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks was spectacular. It started snowing- Mark’s first time in it!
We played in the snow, saw giant trees, and ate a spectacular meal in a lodge with a view down a hill of snow covered trees and a warm fireplace. It was the first National Park we visited together and the first one on this trip due to many of them being closed during the government shut down. No park staff is currently being paid. It has been over a month that they haven’t been paid. They aren’t allowed to accept tips or money from guests. So we did the best we could to help keep things clean around the park and to not need any ranger services.
We also almost ran out of gas trying to leave- but we didn’t!
With our California adventures coming to an end we drove to River Island State Park in Arizona. We could see California from our campsite! We took a great hike up through the nearby mountain and 4×4 areas and FINALLY enjoyed some good weather for living out of a tent. Our Arizona adventures continued in Flagstaff. We watched the lunar eclipse from the hotel parking lot without good winter gear, while standing in a pile of snow. Then we had the scariest drive to the grand canyon ever! Followed by the most awe inspiring experience of my life. The Grand Canyon. We have since been many times, but that first viewing especially takes your breath away.
The Way Home
The remainder of our trip was really just getting home. It felt rushed and sad and I don’t think either of us was ready to return to Florida and figure out what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives.