The Big 60

Last time I found myself writing for this abandoned little travel journal, I was on an adventure to see number 50, of our great United States. So it seems appropriate that I make my not so triumpahnt return to writing wiith another big milestone- 60.

In case you’re confused, we didn’t add ten more states (that I know of). However, my mother (you know, the only person that I think actually reads this crap that I write) had a pretty big birthday a few weeks ago, and to celebrate her 60th year of life, I put my bossy pants on, and decided we needed to take a trip to London (and a quick stint in Paris). So here I sit at the  United Club, sipping on my vodka soda, waiting for my flight (and per my mothers instructions, trying to not fall down, like I famously did before).

I am an excellent traveler, and a superb vacation planner. However, I am also bossy, have demanding sleep habits (I wake up very early, and due to my narcolepsy, can and will fall asleep anywhere), and tend to want to stick to my itinerary. Basically, I’m selfish (no surprise there). So this trip should be interesting, as I generally prefer to travel alone. The good news, is that I did research on how much it costs to transport a dead body back from Europe to the US, and it STARTS around $20,000, so the chances of us actually killing each other are slim, because there’s no way I’m forking over twenty grand to move a body.

So that’s it. We’re officialy off to jolly old England.  My plan is to update this every other day, but knowing me, I’ll do a great job the first 4 days and then completely disappear. Be prepared for tales of teaching my mom tinder, tea time with the duchess and princess, and getting myself into naughty mischief. See you on the other side of the pond!

 

Follow along on Instagram with the #ANB❤️🇬🇧

 

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#AverysBigFiveOh Day 3

I woke up at 3am. My internal clock said it was time to do something fun. I showered, and loaded up my backpack with gloves, a warm hat and some long underwear. It was time to go fishin’. The schedule for the day looked something like this:

7am- Take a seaplane to the Yentna River.

8am- Land at the Riversong Lodge

9am- 5pm- FISH

6pm- Take a seaplane back to Lake Hood airport

It’s important to note, that I LOVE LOVE LOVE to fish. My technique is horrendous, but it brings me a great deal of peace, and to me, that is all that matters. I had also been told by my boyfriend that when he came to Alaska a few years ago, he went fishing and did not have much luck and that he didn’t really enjoy it. So my expectations were set quite low.

I hear my name called, and I meet my first pilot of the day, Bob. I had done a ton of research on seaplanes and fishing lodges, and I had seen two names pop up under the good reviews consistently- Bob and Curtis. You can imagine that I was incredibly stoked to have one of the “good guys” taking me to the remote fishing lodge. At that time, I also met the other 3 people that I’d be fishing with for the day- Ray, a short and robust gentleman from Florida that owned a pool compny for the last 30 years, and a couple (Nancy and Dave) citrus farmers from right smack dab in the middle of California. After a 30 second safety briefing, we hopped into the seaplane, and we were off.

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Getting ready to take off at Lake Hood!

This was my first time in a seaplane, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was slightly nervous, only because when I was flying from Palm Springs to Los Angeles every Friday and Sunday for work this year, I literally had to hang on for dear life, and almost always barfed on that 30 minute white-knuckled flight from hell. The sea plane was significantly smaller than the Palm Springs vessel, thus my expectations were again set very low.

As we’re taxing down Lake Hood, Bob explains that this water runway has more arrivals and departures every day than LAX, and that there is a waiting list that is 10 years long just to get a slip at the airport. That calmed some of my fears, because if that many people wanted to fly in these tiny little floatplanes, then they couldn’t be that nauseating.

We hear in our headphones that it is our turn for takeoff, and Bob revs up the propeller. We’re off. It was the smoothest takeoff of my life. It takes about 3 minutes, but I decide that the only way I want to travel from here on out, is by floatplane. I yell into the mouthpiece to inquire how old our plane is, and what is an estimated cost to purchase said plane (because you know, clearly I’m in the market for a little plane that I would have no idea how to fly). Turns out, our plane was built in the 1970’s and they have stopped making floatplanes because they are dangerous and such a liability. But, if this plane was to be put up for sale, I’d need at least a cool $1.5 million to make it mine. Soooooo, that was the end of that conversation.

As we are flying ahead, I ask Bob what range is directly in front of us. “That’s Mt. McKinley, and this is one of four days that we’ve been able to see it this year. You all picked the best day of the year to fly.” Fist-pump from the back seat!

View from flying at 900 feet!

View from flying at 900 feet!

We fly for about 35 minutes and Bob points out a boat, and explains that is where we are going to land. I’m not scared anymore. I’m excited.We circle around once, and Bob brings us in for the smoothest landing you could possibly imagine. I actually looked down at the floats, because I wasn’t sure we had truly touched down.

In the boat stands a young bearded man. His name is Jack, and he is going to be one of our guides for the day. Ray, Dave, Nancy and blondie hop into the boat and we take off toward a very pretty lodge on the river. I knew exactly where we were going, because there was literally nothing else around. This was quite possibly the most remote place I have ever been (the canals of East Bangkok are a very close second). We pull up to the lodge and there is cute little redhead to meet us, this is Madeline, and she is our send guide for the day (I loved that we had a female guide, and turns out she knew her stuff!). We get shuffled inside and sign some waivers, give them our wader size, and have a hot beverage while we wait. While I’m fixing my coffee, I’m chatting with the owner of the lodge (Lisa), and she asks if I’ve ever had “Bush Mocha”. Since I hadn’t she explained that instead of putting water into hot chocolate, or sugar into my coffee, I should dump a packet of hot chocolate into my coffee. Oh my balls. You all need to immediately try this, it’s freaking delicious, especially when you’re freezing your toosh off.

Madeline comes back with my waders (in the biggest size of our group because my feet are the size of skis), and Jack explains that we have to take two trips over to where we are going to start our day of fly fishing. Madeline, Jack, Ray, and yours truly hop in the first boat and head to our fishing spot. Madeline, Ray and I hop out and she begins to teach us the basics of fly fishing. After a few basic tips, she puts us about 200 get away from each other in the middle of the river, and lets us try our hand at fly fishing.

I cast once, and it’s utter rubbish. Nothing.

I cast a second time, and get it a little closer to the shore, where I can see trout sitting. Still no bite.

I cast a third time, and as my line heads down stream, I set my line and BOOM. I caught a fish.

My first tiny fish. At the time, I thought I needed gloves to touch the fish.  that changed quickly.

My first tiny fish. At the time, I thought I needed gloves to touch the fish. that changed quickly.

HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! I start screaming. I didn’t even know how to use the reel yet. Madeline looks oner in shock, as this blonde idiot she’s guiding has just caught the first fish of the day in less than a minute. You can see in the photo below how freaking happy and shocked I was, never mind that it was the smallest fish I’d ever snagged. We unhooked the little sucker, took a photo (because duh!), and threw him back. I. WAS. HOOKED.

After 2 or 3 more minutes of casting, I hear the boat coming back with Jack, Dave and Nancy. I cast upstream, and BAM!, I caught the second fish of the day, just in time for everyone to watch. This was attention whore heaven. I dramatically reeled it in, making sure to point out that “THIS IS WAY BIGGER THAN MY FIRST FISH!”, and splashed around in the water with joy. I’d like to think that I was some sort of fly fishing savant, but honestly it was probably just dumb luck.

I'm kinda a fishing pro.

I’m kinda a fishing pro.

We fished in this spot for about 2 more hours and I caught 10-15 more fish (everyone else was catching a ton of fish too). The way the sun was hitting us, the water was sparkly and absolutely breathtaking.I could have fished there forever. Jack explained that because the river was lower than the day before (it is glacier fed, so the colder it gets the more shallow the river becomes), we would have to trudge across the river and that the water might be a little bit swift. ADVENTURE. I was pumped.

If you don't have a Texas Tech fishing shirt, you aren't fishing the right way.

If you don’t have a Texas Tech fishing shirt, you aren’t fishing the right way.

We packed up our bags and hiked about half a mile through the river (I was really glad for my long legs, as the other members of the group got a little wet from trying to cross at some deeper spots). I fished here for about 30 minutes, and decided my feet were a little chilly, so I sprawled out on the rocks on the bank, and took a short 7 minute fisherwoman snooze. When I opened my eyes, I started chatting with Maddie (we were on a BFF name basis by this point), and it turns out I was the FIRST woman traveling alone that they had come on a trip all summer, which is baffling to me, because you’d think there would be way more ladies that would like to have some peaceful alone time. She and Jack also were in agreement that THIS was the best day of the entire year to fish, both weather and catch-wise. I sort of thought they were just saying that to make us feel special, but by the end of the day I was certain it really was a phenomenal day to be standing in the Yentna River.

Incredibly view of the river.

Incredibly view of the river.

Around this time, they passed out lunch (these incredible steak sandwiches made by their chef [he has cooked for every celebrity or major musical tour under the sun]) and we sat around basking in the glorious Alaskan sunshine. This makes my top 5 list of favorite quiet moments of my life (I have an actual spreadsheet of these things, not that that would surprise anyone).

The group consensus was that we should hike up the river a little further and fish some more. So we hiked another mile or so upstream, and I proceeded to catch a boatload of trout. On a scale of 1 to 10, my happiness level was about a 14 (to give you a frame of reference, that would be pretty close to how I’d feel if Texas Tech won a national championship in football). Throughout the day, I think I caught close to 30 fish. By around 4pm, my shoulder was tired from casting, and the rest of the group was waning (note, that besides the guides, I was the youngest by at least 30 years). We hiked back (and almost lost Nancy to a rapid) to our original spot by the boat, and decided to fish for another hour or so. We caught a few more fish, and took a ton of photos of the gorgeous and untouched nature surrounding us. There was no way I could look at all that breathtaking beauty and not thank God for such an incredible creation.

A big colorful guy!

A big colorful guy!

We hopped back in the boat and made our way back to the lodge (which, I might add was really well decorated and uber cozy). We chatted with Lisa again, and then a new floatplane was there to whisk us back to the airport.  The plane landed and it was significantly bigger, and the pilot was a different man.

ANB: What is your name?

Pilot: Curtis.

ANB: CURTIS? LIKE “THE” CURTIS? I read so many reviews about you, this can’t be happening! [there were seriously 30+ glowing reviews on this guy on the interwebs]

Curtis: Reviews? About me? You know what young lady? You seem pretty excited, so how about you hop in the front of the plane next to me.

ANB: ARE YOU SERIOUS? THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE! [maybe a tiny over-exageration, but it was close!]

We all pile into this 8 person (and one dog) plane, and take off. 5 minutes into our flight, Curtis asks if I have ever taken flying lessons before. Uhhh, no way. He then proceeds to teach me how to fly the plane. He took his hands off the wheel and let me push the plane up, bank it right and keep it steady. I’m certain that he was in control the entire time, but good gravy, was I over the moon (or rather, over the glacier) The other passengers did not look to pleased when I turned around post-flying the plane solo, but let’s get real, they were probably just jealous of my badass flying skills. Yeah, that’s it.

After my little flying lesson, we got “blown off course” and Curtis took us to see some mating moose, some more remote fishing cabins, and a fighter plane that had crashed in the 70’s. Because that’s what every person in a small plane wants to see, a wrecked airplane that hadn’t been recovered in 40+ years.

We landed (oddly, Curtis didn’t let me help with that part, hmmmm!), and Curtis told me not to go far because he had a present for me.  He comes back a few minutes later, and gives me my very own captain wings. Hello, my name is Avery, and I am 5 years old. I gave him a big hug (thats how you know I was happy, because I HATE touching people, especially strangers) and scurried off.

You can just call me Co-Captain Burns.

You can just call me Co-Captain Burns.

I checked the score of the Tech game (I had exactly zero cell phone reception all day [which was uh-mazing]), and then headed to dinner at the famous Brewhouse. After a few (okay, more than a few) brews and some pretty decent fish (even the best Anchorage restaurants don’t hold a flame to my favorite Houston establishments), I went back to my hotel. But I couldn’t sleep, I was just too happy. I had to be up around 3 am to head to Seward, and knew that trying to sleep would be a waste of time, so I decided to stay up all night. Around 2 am, I hopped in my car and headed into the wilderness, in hopes of seeing the Aurora Borealis. I’d been told that it was pretty unlikely I’d see them because this summer had been incredibly rainy and cloudy, but I figured if I wasn’t sleeping anyway, it was at least worth a shot.

I am so glad I didn’t sleep Saturday night. The Northern Lights are something every person should experience at least once in their lifetime. They are hauntingly beautiful. Also, I could see why people might believe that they have something to do with aliens, because it was definitely other-worldly. After the lights started to die down, I took a 12 minute nap, in my car, and started to make my trek to Seward, Alaska.

#AverysBigFiveOh Day 1-2

***I wrote this at three different times, so if I switch in and out of tenses, it is not because I’m crazy, it’s because I’m too lazy to go back and fix it. You’ve been warned.***

The original plan was for me to fly out of Houston and into Anchorage on Wednesday afternoon, unfortunately I had some cases come up at work that made that logistically impossible (take note people of the earth- if you decide to show up even 5 minutes late for your scheduled surgery time, you are seriously screwing up a ton of people’s day, not just your doctor, so don’t be an inconsiderate nincompoop). Thankfully I was able to switch my flight to Thursday afternoon, it just shortened my trip by a day.

Normally bizarre things happen to me at the airport, but Thursday was surprisingly normal. Except for the Saudi man who gave me his card and basically offered me a flight any time anywhere to “be with him” (uhhh, no thanks) and the gate agent who DEMANDED that I either put on my ski coat or check my bag, because my coat put me over the carry-on limit (I put on my coat and sweat my ass off).  So after those few flight hiccups (and more than a few champagne hiccups in the United Club [and no, I didn’t fall this time]), I made my way to Anchorage.

This was admittedly a last-minute trip, as I had booked a flight somewhere else that wasn’t working out, so I didn’t have my usual amount of time to plan. First, I felt pretty clueless on what to pack. Naturally I turned to my mountain man brother and my well-traveled boyfriend. Do you know what the first thing they BOTH told me to pack? BEAR SPRAY.

What the hell kind of vacation have I booked that the FIRST thing people tell me to take is BEAR SPRAY. FUCKING BEAR SPRAY. I had to ask the almighty Google what it was and where to buy it. Also, bear spray is roughly $80 (seriously!) and TSA doesn’t allow it on the plane (and I refuse to check a bag). And even if they did allow me to bring it on the aircraft, the two Academy stores I went to were sold out. Question, who are all these Texans that are so frightened of bears that they have bear spray sitting around their urban homes? I have lived in Houston almost 8 years, and I have seen exactly ZERO bears roaming around inside the 610 loop. Get a grip Houstonians.

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In case you ever wondered how to really piss off a bear, this is a good starting point. Bears are assholes.

I basically have now ignored the advice of my boyfriend and brother, and packed a bunch of warm clothes, “fishing pants” (they are the ugliest thing I have ever purchased, and I once bought Crocs in college [don’t judge me]), my binoculars, a camera and a bird book. Hopefully one of those will protect me from bears*. If I were a bear, I wouldn’t want to be seen with someone wearing fishing pants**. Gross.

After a smooth (but long) flight, we touched down in Anchorage. It was basically midnight, and raining cats and dogs (but not of the Iditarod variety). Honestly, I probably had my expectations set wayyyyy to high, but landing was kind of a let down. I think in my mind I was anticipating fireworks shooting out of everyones ass and a parade upon my arrival, but it was pretty anti-climatic (minus the fact that all three of the jet walk workers were Inuits, and I almost peed my pants from excitement). I called my driver as I walked through the airport (it was packed, which I found to be really strange considering the time of day), and thankfully he pulled up just minutes after I walked out into the torrential rain. Once we got to the hotel, I grabbed my key (Hilton lets you check-in and choose your room online now!), and promptly passed out (side note: someone remind me that my next mattress is going to be purchased through Hilton, because I never have a hard time sleeping in their beds [and when we went to the Hilton Austin a few weeks ago, I slept until 9am, which is personal record!]).

Around 4am, I was wide awake and ready to get moving. Unfortunately, the place where I rented a bike for the day did not open until 8am, so I had some time to kill. I pulled out my Sibley’s and brushed up on some birds that I wasn’t super familiar with (because I’ve never seen them with my own two eyes), and then went to YouTube and listened to songs and calls for an hour (which I’m so glad I did). I then went to breakfast (egg white omelette and black coffee), and headed to downtown Anchorage to pick up my bicycle.

The first thing I noticed as I walked around downtown, was that there is a fur shop every 20 steps (and that isn’t an exaggeration). The second was there are gorgeous flowers everywhere. I picked up my bike from the really sweet guy named David at the bike shop, who didn’t even flinch when I lifted up my outer layer to show him my awesome bike themed tank top (apparently he’s been flashed before, or so he claimed). The goal for the day was to bike the entire Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (12 miles) and then circle back through the city on my way back (about 13 miles). If you are ever in Anchorage, and have at least 3 hours to kill, I would put this on my MUST DO list. I would also make sure you have a bicycle that is equipped to go up and down hills (I say this, because my gears were more screwed up than Lindsay Lohan, and I wish I’d figured that out before I was 5 miles in).

45 seconds into the Coastal Trail, my ears were assaulted. THERE WERE BIRDS EVERYWHERE. I didn’t know who to listen to first. I passed the first lagoon and saw birds galore. Rednecked Grebes, Cook’s Petrels, Northern Shovelers, Hooded Mergansers, and Pelagic Cormorants. . .to name a few. I started to take photos, but quickly came to the executive decision that it would be considerably less stressful for me, to just watch, remember, and take notes. By the end of the ride, I was so thankful I did this because it would have taken me hours and hours if I’d kept whipping out my camera.

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Birds were EVERYWHERE. F’realz.

The trail is really phenomenal as it takes you directly along the coast (you can see the famous mudflats for miles and miles), and unfortunately for my out of shape legs, is full of some very large hills. A few miles in, I realized that my bike gears were ummmm. . .not exactly working. There were basically two modes- the lowest gear, and the highest gear. Needless to say, by mile 7, my legs were completely wasted. I hoped (and prayed) that the trail would flatten out. And then I hit mile 8. Straight uphill. For what I believe was over a mile. I was about 10 seconds away from quitting, when I passed a man standing in an open field (on the interior side of the path). He silently waved at me to come over. After giving him the once over (I could definitely take this guy down), I hopped off my bike and walked over.

He’s holding binoculars and has the biggest lens I have ever seen attached to the camera around his neck. I pull out my binoculars, and then immediately realize, that I don’t need them.  There is a giant bull (moose) standing 50 feet from us, chomping away on a tree. I look at him with my jaw on the floor. Then he points further to the right. It is an even BIGGER bull. We stood watching them in silence for about 15 minutes until they wandered out of sight. I then started chatting with the gentleman (Lee), about wildlife in the area. He was a native Alaskan, and was a wealth of information for  all things nature related. He whipped out his camera and started showing me the photos he had taken that morning of various birds, and said he had stumbled on the moose when he was birding. Naturally, I asked if I could tag along, and we wandered around the trees spotting yellow warblers, willow ptarmigan and even a hairy woodpecker. I was ecstatic.

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This guy probably weighed a ton. And he was all mooscle.

Needing to get back to the bike shop so I could head out on my guided hike, I parted ways with Lee and continued on my bicycle journey. I made my way to the end of the Tony Knowles trail and then circled back through Anchorage to scope out the city (it’s a pretty average “big” city, in my opinion). I landed back at the bike shop right at 12:15pm, 15 minutes early for my 12:30pm check-in for a 1pm hike of Flattop Mountain.

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Looking a little worse for the wear towards the end of the Tony Knowles Coastal Ride.

Now, if you know me in ANY capacity, you know that I put a very high value on being punctual and on time. I get massive anxiety if I am not 15 minutes early FOR EVERYTHING (and yes, I know this drives everyone in my life crazy, but I’ve been like this since childhood, so don’t expect it to change anytime soon). So just know that I wasn’t late, in fact I was really early. I walked my bike into the shop, my legs completely shot from riding a less than stellar bike, and really sweetly let them know that there is an issue with the bike (so the next person doesn’t have to deal with the same issue I did). I didn’t ask for a refund, or complain, I just stated that the gears maybe needed some help. Here is where things started to go awry.

I want to preface this story with this statement: Anyone that has ever gone ANYWHERE with me, knows that I am friendly and nice to any person that crosses my path. I ask everyone their name, use it, remember it, and treat them with respect, even when it isn’t shown back to me. I remember every waiter, flight attendant, bartender and sales persons name that I’ve had in at least the last 3 years (if not longer), and it is a very rare day that I receive bad service.

The manager takes my bicycle, and says he’ll take a look at it. Another gentleman that we will call “TJ” (short for The Jerk), looks at me and says “you probably don’t know how to use a bike“. I smile and tell him I ride my bike a couple of times a week at home, but maybe he’s right and I’m just a dumb blonde. He looks me directly in the eyes and says “you need a tissue”. He was right, my nose was a little drippy from getting sweaty and also being out in the cold. He turns around and reaches for a Kleenex box. He pulls two tissues out, puts the box back on the shelf behind him and proceeds to BLOW HIS NOSE.

Y’all, I kinda felt like I was getting punked. I didn’t know what to do, so I laughed and said, “maybe I get a tissue when you have a chance“. His response was “maybe”. And then he stood and stared at me. Things were getting weird, so I decided to get out of there. I explained that I had paid for my hike (and showed him my receipt), and then asked where I could go grab some quick food to eat in the car on the way to the trailhead. Here is exactly how this went down:

ANB: I haven’t eaten since 7 am, where is the fastest place to grab a sandwich or a something with some sustenance for lunch?

TJ: You don’t have time to eat.

ANB: Ummmm. . .it’s not even 12:30 and the car doesn’t leave until 1pm, so I should have time, right?

TJ: You can’t go. I will sell you a banana here. It’s $2.00.

ANB: Actually, I think I’m probably going to need more than a banana if I want to finish this hike, so I’ll just go grab something really quick. [Bananas give me tummy aches, so I really didn’t want that]

TJ: There is a sandwich place around the corner called Brown Bag Cafe. It’s too busy, you don’t have time. There is also a place called Corner Cafe, which is better, but you don’t have time.

ANB: Okay, well I see a convenience store across the street, so I’ll just go over there.  I’ll be right back.

I walked across the street. Bought some Cheez-Its and an apple, and walked back across the street. I was gone at a MAXIMUM 3 minutes. It was 12:29pm when I walked back inside the bike shop. TJ and the manager are standing at the front.

TJ:I told you that you didn’t have time to get food. What do you think you are doing? Do you not listen?

ANB [I am starting to get irritated by this mans very bizarre behavior]: Sir, I won’t be able to hike if I don’t eat. I’m here and you haven’t left yet. I think it would be better if I go stand outside and wait for us to leave.

The Manager: The car you’re going in is out front, you can go hop in and wait. It’s going to be about 30 minutes.

I walk outside, fuming. My face was literally hot from trying to keep my cool. I honestly could not understand who peed in this mans Cheerios, and why it was being taken out on me (a paying customer). I hop into the front seat of the car, and wait.  A few minutes later the manager walks out and tries to give me a banana and Gatorade (which I can’t drink because I have an aspartame allergy). I politely decline.

The Manager: I’m sorry about TJ, he’s just an old man set in his ways. I told him to take it easy on you during your hike.

EXCUSE ME. THIS ASSWIPE, IS MY HIKING GUIDE? NO WAY. NO FUCKING WAY. I honestly didn’t know what to do. Let me tell you what I should have done- I should have asked for a refund and taken myself on a hike somewhere else, alone. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.

20 minutes go by, and TJ hops into the driver side of the car. He looks at me like I am an alien, and tells me to get in the back. I can’t make this shit up.

So I opened the door and got in the back seat. And he drove us up to the trailhead of Flattop. The entire 25 minute ride, he berated me for going to get food, while I sat quietly in the back trying not to cry, or completely go ballistic on his ass. (I’m getting upset even thinking about this entire scenario again)

We arrived at the trailhead and he explained we’d hike to the 4th summit of the peak, and turn around at about 4:00pm.

ANB: I just biked all morning and my legs are pretty wiped, so I’m totally okay if we don’t reach the top. I’d rather just enjoy myself, see some birds and have a nice afternoon. 

TJ: The plan is to reach the 4th summit.

I am livid. Since the car ride, I’ve been texting with my boyfriend (who is in Romania), and he encourages me to stand up for myself and tell this dude to fuck off, because I am paying him, and he should tailor this hike to me. I should have followed his advice. Instead, shaking, and trying to take the high road, the following happened:

ANB: Okay, I’ll try my best.

We start hiking, and this guy TAKES OFF. I have long legs, and a decent stride, but there is no way I can keep up this pace. He is basically the Usain Bolt of the hiking world, and I am screwed. I holler at him that I’d like to slow down, and he stops for a brief second, looks at me, and keeps going. I really did try to keep up, but I physically couldn’t. Especially because I could hardly see from the tears pouring out of my eyes and streaming down my face. I had such a perfect morning, and this douche nozzle had completely spoiled my afternoon.

Finally after an hour of busting my butt to keep up, I yelled at him to stop.

ANB: TJ, I just can’t keep going like this. We either have to slow down, or I have to quit.

TJ: WE AREN’T SLOWING DOWN. WE HAVE TO REACH THE 4TH SUMMIT BY 4:00.

ANB [this cannot be happening!]: Okay, well then, I’m going back down.

TJ: Okay.

And that was that. No offer to come back down. No offer to drive me back to the bike shop (that was a 25 minute car ride from the trail head). So I marched down the mountain, and once I had phone service, I called a cab. It was cold, and there was no way on earth I was going to sit and wait for that vile man to hike up and then back down to drive me home.  It took 30 minutes for the cab to show up, but I have never been so happy in my entire life to see a taxi cab (and I have taken my fair share of drunk cab rides).

The driver took me back to my hotel, and I charged my phone, waiting for a call from the guide company to apologize for their guides behavior. I’m still waiting for that call***.

I took a shower, went down to the hotel bar and had a very large glass of wine, and then went to a place called Humpy’s for dinner. After dinner, I headed back to my hotel and crashed to prepare for an early morning.

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This photo is out of order, but while I was resting my legs, this eagle and his buddy landed SOOOO close to me, that it startled me.

*I am going first thing in the morning to buy bear spray. I’m not a total idiot. Sheesh.

**Fishing pants for men aren’t bad.It’s like they make ladies fishing pants fugly on purpose to try and deter women from fishing. It didn’t work this time, fishing pant makers!

***I called and left a message for the manager. I still have not received a call back. This company will be getting a VERY bad review (with a link to my website) on TripAdvisor. For what it’s worth, I’ve never given a bad review to anyone on TripAdvisor, but I suppose there is a first time for everything.

The Big Five Oh!

The year was 1994.  Mrs. Brewster’s 4th grade class. That was the impetus of everything that has lead me to today. A BIG DAY. A big year, if you will.

I have never been a naturally great student. Medicore? Probably. But never anything exceptional (seriously, just ask my mother). 4th grade was not an exception. Couple that mediocrity with the most emotionally challenging year of my life, and you wind up with a very difficult child to teach. That year, I was (and I don’t think there is a polite way to say this, so I’m just going to be truthful) a raging asshole. I interrupted others, didn’t pay attention in class, would throw away homework assignments that I had completed (seriously, what kind of imbecile does that?) and incessantly talked back. And that was with a teacher that I liked and respected. It’s a good thing TCA didn’t have corporal punishment, because I am certain that my rear end would still be smarting from being such a mouthy little jerk.

Thankfully, there were two things that got me through that year. The first was writing. Every week, Mrs. Brewster had us do a creative writing assignment. I think it was something like 5 pages double spaced and handwritten, because it was 1994 and we still wrote things with a paper and pencil, duh. No surprise, I loved that weekly assignment (and just about always went over my page limit- point in case: this blog). The second saving grace was geography. Mid-way through the year, we were required asked to learn the location and capital of all FIFTY states. Then we were each assigned a state to learn about and create a diorama that we showcased to our class (I had Arizona, which after living there this year, I can attest is in the top 5 states I would happily call home).

SIDE NOTE: I don’t know the repercussions of what I’m about to say are, but I don’t give a flying fuck (unless my institutions of higher learning take away my two degrees because I technically cheated in the 4th grade). Here it goes: my mother did my entire diorama. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to do it, but she didn’t think I was capable of creating a perfect realistic Grand Canyon out of papier-mâché. So she made the whole damn thing. And I still don’t know how to use papier-mâché. So there’s that.

Back to geography. I loved learning the location of the states and their capitals, and where they all fit into our fascinating country. Those were the only quizzes where I would achieve 100% accuracy. I will never forget the day of our final test on the United States. I remembered everything from Alabama to Wyoming. I also vividly remember thinking to myself (in a very 4th grade sort of way) “I’m going to get out of this place. And I’m going to see every last one of those states.”

Little did I know that as a 9 year old, I was setting a goal that would take exactly 20 more years to accomplish.

Let’s fast forward to 1996. I had survived 4th AND 5th grade. School was still not my thang, but science was definitely not something that I liked (which makes me laugh now, because I talk about science all the ding-dong day at work). In fact, if my 6th grade science teacher (Mr. Blagburn) hadn’t been really cute, I probably would have flunked and as a result been kicked out of TCA. Thankfully, he made all the girls swoon, and I managed to pay just enough attention in class. Toward the end of the year, he MADE us start learning to identify something like 60 species of birds and their calls. It was a huge portion of our final grade. I pretended to hate it. But honestly, I LOVED IT. The days our class went out into the woods to go birding were some of the best learning days of my life. Birds made me happy. Really happy. Birds could be anywhere in the entire world at any given time, and that intrigued me. I loved that I could see a Tufted Titmouse on the way to school. Or that when I went to the park with my friends, we weren’t just feeding any old duck. It was Pied-billed Grebe. And that no matter how many nights I sat awake in my bed, that a Mourning Dove would be on the other side of the darkness to greet me. I was (and still am), a full blown Bird Nerd.

Now you might be wondering (or maybe not, because I think the only person still reading this thing is my little brother) “Avery, what do those two very weird years of your childhood have anything to do with each other, and more importantly, this blog?”. Great question, reader. Great question. The answer is, EVERYTHING.

It took me 29 years, but as of tonight at 11:49 pm (UTC), I will have reached my goal set out in 1994. (I wrote this on my flight, so I’m technically not there yet)

TONIGHT, I HIT THE BIG FIVE-OH.

I will have officially visited ALL of the FIFTY (nifty) United States. (I started crying typing that. It’s that special to my heart. [And now the Indian man sitting next to me on this flight is staring. Sorry dude, avert your eyes.])

To make it even better,  90% (NINETY PERCENT!) of this trip is devoted to birding, in a place where some truly phenomenal birds are hanging out right now. 5% is devoted to finding an eskimo and making them become my best friend/let me sleep in their igloo, and 5% is devoted to playing with Iditarod puppies, because, hello, puppies!

And now that I’ve rambled on long enough that even my brother isn’t reading, I’ll conclude the pithy blather (for today). But maybe check back tomorrow, because you never know when I’m going to post photos of me playing with puppies. Or me clutching my Sibley and staring gap-jawed through binoculars at birds. Basically the same thing, right?

 

 

 

 

 

**If you’d like to follow along on any of the other nine-thousand forms of social media I subscribe to (except twitter, I quit that in May and never looked back), you can search #AverysBigFiveOh . Cheers!**

Cold Feet

Sunday was the Houston Half Marathon.

It’s the first of three parts of the warm-up series for the Chevron Houston Marathon.

I’ve completed this race 3 times, all of which were a little on the chilly side (I am a Texan, after all, so anything below 70 warrants a coat, gloves, ski hat and bourbon).

But Sunday, it was chilly AND rainy.

You’ll see how chilly it is in every single one of my photos from the race (a bit nippy, you might say).

Let’s rewind to Saturday night.

I drove from Dallas to Houston, and met with Amy (she and her fiancé invited me to stay at their house, since mine is currently devoid of all furniture) at Escalante’s for a late lunch, where we proceeded to devour 3 baskets of chips and guac, along with their incredible chicken tortilla soup. We tooted around Highland Village and did some last minute wedding shopping (for her), and then headed to her house to watch the Texas Tech game (which was a really stressful, yet fun, game to watch). After the game, we moseyed up to Central Market to get some pre-race food.

Now, on almost every single day of the year (with the exclusion of my birthday), I am the easiest person when it comes to food. As long as it’s high quality, I will eat everything (except pudding). The only other time I’m picky with my food, is the night before a race.

The night before, I MUST, no matter what, eat a turkey sandwich. And it can’t be made at home. I have to go somewhere, have it prepared by someone else, pick out the perfect side item and dessert, and then feast. When I ran the Seattle Half Marathon this summer with Megan, we spent the entire week leading up to the race, googling places to get me the right turkey sandwich (in case you’re wondering, we ended up at Honey Hole, which was mindblowingly good, and also where everyone in the gayborhood thought we were taking engagement photos with each other [but that’s another story, for another day]).

We arrive at Central Market, I pick out just the right Bosc Pear (race day breakfast), grab a bottle of water, and have them make my ultimate turkey sandwich. We chomp on our glorious manna from heaven and make our way back to the house.  Our film du jour was “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” (it’s harder than you think, y’all), and Amy and yours truly both promptly passed out snuggled up on the couch. I woke up around 11:30 pm, went to my room, stripped down and conked out again.

At 1 am, I woke up. Wide awake. I was ready to run. Obviously it wasn’t time, so I caught up on emails, admired people’s photos of clever Halloween costumes, and judged the images of the various characters that girls somehow turned skanky (unless you’re between the ages of 19-22, put on some damn clothes. No one wants to see your 40 year old ba donk a donk hanging out of your skirt. F’realz.). But I just couldn’t fall back asleep (if you know me IRL, you know that I only sleep 2-4 hours a night, every night).

Finally at 5 am, I got up, put on my scarlet and black (Wreck ‘Em!), ate my pear and drove downtown to the starting line. I parked three blocks from the finish, and made my way over to meet my friend Ashley that had graciously picked up my race bib, since I wasn’t able to.

As I was walking, I felt some rain sprinkling on my shoulders. I didn’t know it was supposed to rain, and had not planned accordingly. After searching through multiple trashcans trying to find an extra trash bag, I finally found a man at the food tent who had a bag I could have. Except there was trash in it. Gah-ross. I made the executive decision to take my chances with that bag. I dumped out the empty water bottles and banana peels from the bag and went to wait under the results tent for Ashley.

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This look is called Trash Bag Chic. I was soooooo certain this would garner me a gentleman caller, but no such luck.

No sooner than I step under the tent, does it start to rain. Torrential downpour. Suddenly there are 80 of my new closest friends huddled next to me, shivering. Within minutes, we’re stranded in 2 inches of standing water in the grass, which has since turned to thick, goopy, sticky mud. We hear the race directors saying something over the intercom, but the thunder was so loud that we couldn’t hear him.

Naturally, I took to twitter. The fingers that be had tweeted that the race has been delayed an hour. I also find out that a handful of people I know are in the tent directly adjacent to me, but far enough away that I’m gonna get wet. I carefully make my way over to the Chevron Houston Marathon tent (almost face planting it, in the process). Everyone there is just as wet, and cold. A man comes by with extra trash bags, so they all make rain coats (if you’re a novice runner, a trash bag is better than a rain jacket in some cases when it’s raining, because you can just toss it and don’t have to hang onto a jacket once the rain stops, or if you get hot). We’re still all standing with wet feet in the mud.

We wait for about 30 minutes with lightening, thunder and some serious showers pelting down all around us. By this point it was quite a gaggle of gals- some ladies from the Chevron Houston Marathon Committee, Vicky (wrangler of the ambassadors), Kristin (my sorority sister and friend), and a bunch of other strangers are all squished together, when they announce to take our place at the starting line.

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Dirty paws.  Not just a song.

I was soaked to the bone. And shivering. And there was a 83.96% chance that my feet were no longer attached to my body, because I couldn’t feel them (which is a scary thing when you’re about to run 13.1 miles).

I had a serious case of cold feet.

We meander over to the starting line, and I get my iPhone ready to play my music.

I hit play.

NOTHING.

I look at Kristin, panicked.

MY $#!?&*@ MUSIC WON’T WORK.

She looks at me calmly and says:

I just lost a tooth.

And swallowed it.

Things were going from bad, to worse.

And then the gun went off.

So we did what any normal humans would do. We ran.

I continued to mess with my music, but all I got was silence.

Irritated, I left the device alone and started to fidget with the bag I had placed on my head for warmth. Besides looking good, I clearly possessed the most aerodynamic makeshift hat of any homeless person running the streets of Houston. It was driving me bonkers, but I couldn’t risk getting colder, so I finally just left it alone. And went back to figuring out why my music wouldn’t play.

The first three miles felt surprisingly good. I wasn’t ready to shed my fierce outfit made by Gladso I kept on trucking through the cats and dogs.

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Sexy times with Kristin and our ensembles.

I saw Vicky (ambassador wrangler extraordinaire) a little bit ahead of me, so I unhitched the trailer, and tried to keep pace with her.  We chatted briefly (said hello to Nick as he whizzed past), and then put our heads down to pound the pavement in the relentless rain.

Suddenly, mid-step, my music came blaring on! Never in my life have I been so happy to hear Petey Pablo. I kinda freek-a-leeked out, I was so excited.

Around mile 5, I started to finally feel warm again (hallelujah!), and just happened to spot two cute guys in Ironman shirts, so I sprinted ahead of them and proceeded to rip my trash bag off as provocatively as possible in the middle of Memorial Drive. . .in a thunderstorm.

And my friends wonder why I’m single.

Those men must have liked what they saw (that was hard to write without laughing), because they joined me as we trotted past the halfway point.  We flirted and were discussing other races and what not, when a man tapped me on the shoulder.

I looked at him and had never seen him before in my life.

Stranger: I would really like to meet your brother. He sounds like a really neat man.

ANB: [blank stare] 

Stranger: You’re Avery, right?

ANB: Yes, but I’m a little confused, have we met. . .I don’t recall-

Stranger: I read your blog. About the marathon.

HOLY HECK. Someone besides my mother has read my website (in truth, I don’t even think my own brother reads this verbose blather). I wanted to hug the man, but tried to play it cool.

ANB: Oh wow, I’ll have to tell him he has a fan. 

And then the Stranger ran past me. (also Stranger, if you’re reading this, thanks for reading!)

I turned back to the two dudes. They weren’t impressed with my badass fan. Whatever, I didn’t like them anyway. Jerks.

We turned back towards downtown at the 610 loop, and I had to make a potty break (good job Houston Half for having ample port-o-potties), so the two guys carried on without me.

As I kept on trucking in the rain, I started to feel defeated (I wasn’t even that tired) and began mentally beating myself up for not training. And I started to walk. And walk. And walk. For no reason. My lungs weren’t tired. I had no cramps. I just felt like walking.

I walked miles 8, 9, and 10. And not a power walk, but a lazy stroll.

And then something happened. I feel another tap on my shoulder.

It’s a lady I met at the Lucky Trail Marathon Challenge a few years ago and have run several races with her since. Her name is Theresa and every time I see her she brightens my day. She is such a genuine and lovely person, it’s hard not to be happy when you’re around her. Y’all she had her 14th wedding anniversary this week, and equally as impressive, Sunday’s race was her 50th (FIFTIETH!) half marathon (which, she PR’d!). Talk about someone to admire. She gave me some words of encouragement (she reads my blog too! I mean, that makes me a Houston celebrity now, right?), and I ran with her for the next two miles or so. 

She picked up her pace, and I wasn’t about to keep up with her, so I jogged my way into the finish line a few minutes behind her. I don’t really care about times (because, I finished! I didn’t poop my pants!), but I did okay at 2:19:20, considering my training consisted of drinking margaritas and shoveling queso into my mouth. I also didn’t feel so bad about my pace, when I took my shoes off (first time to race in them), and discovered I had identical hives covering both feet (I later found out my shoes have latex in them, which I’m allergic to [and one of three reasons that I’m the perfect woman, but this isn’t the time or place for that list]). So when it was all said and done, I was happy. And happy to have another medal to add to the growing collection.

Like I have said a million times, I’m sooooooo NOT a runner, and sometimes, I really don’t even like to run (see mile 8, 9, 10). But even with cold wet feet, matted hair, and freezing my patookus off, this race reminded me why I still run.

It’s the community.  Seeing people that are encouraging, happy and full of energy (even after 13.1 miles) brings me so much joy. Week after week, it’s the same smiling faces pounding the pavement.

Maybe running 13.1, 26.2 or even 50 miles doesn’t interest you.

I get that. Believe me, I get it.

But don’t have cold feet. Go give a 5k a shot. You might just make some new friends.

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See how happy Frida Kahlo I look. Even though it was freeeezzzzzinnngggg.

That Word

That word.

You know which one I’m talking about.

You probably hear or say it hundreds of times a week.

That word is my least favorite word in the American vernacular.

Worse than floppy.

More disgusting than moist.

Even more vomit inducing than pudding.

BUSY.

*chills*

If you’re like me, you have that conversation (mine’s usually at Whole Foods or running in the park) on a daily basis:

MeHey sexy gentleman who doesn’t have a brain cell to spare, that I haven’t seen in months (since I stopped returning your phone calls). How’s it going?

HimOh, the usual. Just busy. Busy with work.

I despise that conversation. In fact, in the past few years, I’ve made it a point to not use that term. Mostly because I believe that people prioritize what is important, and if you’re “too busy” to do something, it’s usually because that thing/person/event/plan is pretty stinkin’ low on your life’s totem pole. I get that it’s easier to say that word because it’s less taxing than explaining what you’ve actually been up to. But that word is just not authentic.

All of that was to say, is that I’ve been penciling -in marking things in sharpie on my calendar a little differently the past few weeks.

I sat at the hospital almost the entire day with a family member.                                Because it was important and essential.

Mexican food and guys night before the big move went ahead of a personal training sesh. Those friends are my heart and soul funny-bone.

Tailgating and watching football replaced my movers coming.                                    Moving could be pushed back and it’s not every day your team is the best in Texas.

A paltry two dates in two weeks.                                                                                 Karaoke with girlfriends trumps a lousy first date anyway.

The list could go on and on and on (which is probably how most of you feel when reading my silly little website).

There are more than enough hours in the day to go for a run or cross train. I’ve been choosing not to. Which will be interesting when I run the Houston Half this Sunday (I’ll be surprised if I even make it to mile 9 before the walking commences).

I’m making a concerted effort with my brother over the next 3 weeks (since I’m running the Dallas Marathon in a month, YIKES, 26.2!) to try and run/workout at least three times a week. Feel free to hold me accountable, interwebs.

Because let’s get real, I’m not too. . .that word.

Barefoot in the park

The most common question people ask me when I’m running around town (both for exercise and errands) is “how do you like your shoes?”.

My response is always “I LOVE them!”

For the past 5 years I have been wearing Vibram Five fingers, which I’ve heard called everything from “frog feet” to “alien shoes”. While I don’t think these are for everyone, they are literally the only thing I can put on my feet that makes my entire body feel phenomenal (even if they are absolutely hideous).

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Running my first Chevron Houston Marathon in my Vibrams.

I was first introduced to these by the brother of my boyfriend (TOTGA), who wore them when we hiked the Jewel Basin (which nearly killed me because I was such a sloth). Fascinated by the ideas behind this heinous footwear, I returned home and promptly purchased a pair off their website.

A few weeks later was the first time I wore them. I made the mistake of doing the Great Urban Race (which ended up being about 8 miles traversing across the Bayou City) in a new pair of shoes. Rookie move, Burns.

I should have properly worn them walking around and built up to running in them. Instead, I felt like an evil kitten had ripped my calves to shreds and placed sandbags where the muscles had previously resided. For two solid months.

Shortly after that fiasco, I started doing short 1 mile runs in them, completely pain free. I was hooked.

I went from being less active than Jessica Simpson during a pregnancy, to running a marathon in about 7 months. These shoes changed my life.

Fast forward to 2011 and I see a man running along the bayou, completely barefoot. Intrigued, I nearly killed myself chasing him down. When I finally caught him (Andrew Blaquerie was his name, I believe), I inquired about his bare feet.  He happily explained that he transitioned from Vibrams to going completely barefoot in a matter of weeks. Skeptical, I asked to see the bottom of his feet. They were surprisingly normal looking.

When I arrived home, I researched and found a book on barefoot running and not being patient enough to wait for the mailman, went to Whole Earth Provisions, and bought (and read) it that day.

feet, yo.

These are my feet. I hope there is never a day I regret posting this on the internet (I’m looking at you creepy foot fetish people).

A few days later, I got up the nerve to try running in Hermann Park. . .naked.

Foot naked. I said foot naked, right?

The doorman at my building thought I had lost my damn mind when I walked out dressed for a run without shoes on. He warned me of the danger my precious tooties would encounter in the park. He regaled me with tales of glass, sticks and stones. And worst of all, steaming dog dookie. Deep in my heart, I knew he was right, but being stubborn, I needed to learn for myself.

Do you know what happened?

The doorman was wrong.

*side note: every time I write “doorman” I think of this scene from “Knocked Up” and it cracks me up.*

I ran 3 miles around Hermann and LOVED IT. I felt. . .

Joyful.

Childlike.

FREE.

Did my feet feel a little tender and sore? Of course.

Did people look at me like I was a vagrant (in expensive running clothes)? Duh.

Did I do it again? Absolutely.

Since that day, I  have alternated between shoes and no shoes.  I typically like to run on concrete paths barefoot (it’s easier to see potential danger) and when it’s below 95 degrees (above that it burns my foot pads). I’ve also never run more than 8 miles barefoot, although I’d like to one day run a marathon sans shoes.  If it’s a trail run, or somewhere I am not familiar with, I will 100% wear my running shoes. Y’all would never hear the end of it if I got a stick lodged into my one of my giant paws.

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Running on air. Reason 340298433 I love my shoes.

As I’ve said a million times, I’m not a runner, or an expert on feet (is that even a real thing?), but have found these two (somewhat unconventional) things to work for me.

Do any of y’all have shoes (or feet) that you absolutely love?