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10 Tips on Traveling to Cuba

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As an American, traveling to Cuba is easier than it has been since the 1960’s. You can jump on a cruise ship, join a cultural group tour (both expensive options) OR save money and go on your own.  This is what we did and how you can too.

Below is a summary of our experience, tips on planning a trip and recommendations.

Summary: We flew to Cuba, on a ‘Family Visa,’ rented an apartment in Havana, through Airbnb, explored the city and took day trips.

The 8-day trip cost less than $700 a person, and this includes everything (airfare, apartment, food, beverages, excursions and shopping). 

During our stay, we explored Havana/ Old Havana, took cab rides in the 1950’s classic cars, did the Havana Club Rum tour, learned how to roll cigars, enjoyed grapefruit daiquiris at Hemingway’s favorite bar – La Floridita, visited markets, historical places (ex. Plaza de la Revolución), walked along the Malecon (famous 5-mile waterfront esplanade), saw an amazing show at the Tropicana and the Don Quixote ballet at the The Gran Teatro de La Habana. We also did lots of eating, salsa dancing (FAVORITE – Club Jardines del 1830), went to the beach outside of Havana – Playa Mar Azule Santa Maria (30-min. cab ride) and spent a day in the countryside in Viñales. There we hiked in the  Cuevas de Santo Tomas in Vinales (2.5 hr. drive from Havana), viewed The Viñales Mural de la Prehistoriaand visited a tobacco farm.

10 Tips – Good Things to Know Before Going to Cuba

Visa*– We were granted a ‘Family Visa,’ at the Southwest airline counter in Ft. Lauderdale, before our flight to Havana. It was $50 a person. Note – my partner and I do not look Cuban nor requested the ‘Family Visa’ in Spanish. The agent did NOT ask us any questions about our‘Cuban family’ nor did the visa form. I’m not confirming or denying we have family in Cuba. I’m just sayin’, nobody asked. Maybe it’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation? Either way, we were allowed to travel to Cuba. *As Americans, we must meet one of 12 categories of travel to obtain a visa to Cuba. 

Money – American credit cards and debit cards will not work in Cuba. Bring cash. $100 bills are best.

There are two official currencies used in Cuba. Visitors use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC$) and residence use the Peso Cubano (CUP or MN – moneda nacional). 

The CUC$ is pretty much an even, 1:1 exchange with the US$. However, the Cuban government imposes a 10% fee when converting US$ to CUC$. Interestingly, they do not impose this fee on other currencies. 

Exchanging money at the government run airport, or any other government run venue, is expensive. You will lose $10 per $100. The key to a better rate is to ask a local if they know a ‘guy’ who can give you a deal. Cubans are resourceful and know ways to work around the system. We met up with a ‘friend of a friend,’ our first night, and lost only $5 per $100.

Hotel vs. Apartment & Casa Particulares– As Americans, we are ‘technically’ NOT allowed to stay in resorts or hotels run by the Cuban government*. Most are run by the government. *The U.S. Department of States’ blacklist’ or ’List of Restricted Cuban Entitles’ can be found here.

We rented a 2-bedroom apartment through AirBnB. It was $60/night – a holiday rate (the week of New Year in January). Normally, the apartment would have been $25/night. It included a once a day maid service. For an extra fee, the apartment’s owner offered to arrange someone to shop and cook authentic Cuban meals for us. 

We were lucky, because our friend’s mom, aka ‘Mommacita’ and sister, who still live in Cuba, cooked for us. Hands down, best food we had all week. My partner gained 8 lbs.!

 

Casa Particulares are another great way to experience Cuba, if you don’t have a ‘Mommacita.’ Similar to a bed & breakfast, you rent out a room in a family’s home and they will cook for you. 

Toilet Paper/ Wet Wipes– Bring them everywhere! They are on short supply, even at the nicest of hotels and venues. Most places, you are lucky if there are toilet seats. Justa’ sayin’! 

Internet –Internet access and its infrastructure is poor in Cuba. They have Wi-Fi hotspots and internet cafes – with long lines outside them. High-end hotels will have internet, but connection is terrible. For us, it was wonderful to disconnect for the week.

Wait outside Internet Cafe

History Research– Post Fidel Castro, Cuba is still a socialist country, run by the Communist Party, with less restrictions. Eleven-million people, live within the 15 providences, of Cuba (2.2 million in the city of Havana). 

I personally like to know as much as I can before traveling to a new country. I recommend watching, The Cuba Libre series on Netflix and the movie, Papa Hemingway in Cuba. Read, : Lonely Planet’s guide on Cuba Barcardi & the Long Fight for Cuba – The Biography of a Cause.

People– Friendly. Always negotiate. People don’t make diddly-squat. The average income, less than $30 a month. Doctors make $50/month and will drive cabs on the side to earn more money. Every household gets monthly rations (X amount of meat, eggs, vegetables, toothpaste, shampoo etc.). If they need anything else, they barter or buy it.

 

Spanish – Brush up on your Spanish. It always helps to know the basics and is appreciated by locals. Outside of touristy areas, most Cubans don’t speak any English.

Food- Stores and most restaurants are state run. The good news, pricing is consistent. The bad news, there is little variety and grocery stores often run out of staples early in the day. There are also shortages. When we were in Cuba, there was a shortage of eggs. A recent hurricane had wiped out half-a-million egg-producing chickens.

Care Packages

Gift Bags–Before we went, I bought $200 of necessities (shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, razors, tampons), Wigwamsocks, items for kids (crayons, coloring books etc.) and made gift bags to give away to people. It was our little way of saying ‘thank you.’

Must Do: 1.) See a show at the Tropicana. It is spectacular!! 2.) The Malecón, a soulful walk along the water. 3.) Go salsa dancing at Club Jardines del 1830.

Over Rated: 1.) Jazz Club La Zorra Y El Cuervo– Recommended by Lonely Planet, we all agreed, it is highly over-rated. It is a small jazz venue, located in a basement. Over an hour wait, just to get inside. While the artists were talented, the acoustics were deafening.

2.) Fusterlandia– Known as the Cuban ‘Gaudi,’ artist, Jose Fuster colorfully tiled this neighborhood with street art. Lonely Planet compares it to Barcelona’s Park Güell. If you’ve never been to Barcelona, and are bored in Havana, check it out. Otherwise, Fusterlandia only covers a few blocks in a small town and is no comparison. 

Last Thoughts & Planning the Next Trip to Cuba:Traveling with a tour group will easily cost $4,500 per person. Tour companies plan and handle all the logistics and that may be worth it for you. 

I definitely want to return to Cuba (sans tour group) and explore the south/east and its mountains near Santiago. I’ll fly into Santiago, in southeastern Cuba (from Havana it is a 12-hour drive or train ride). Explore the city and its history – the Spanish to José Martí, Fidel Castro, Che Guervara and the Barcardi family. Climb Pico Turquino, the country’s highest peak (6,476 feet). Scuba dive off Jardines de la Reina(Gardens of the Queen) and visit the Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos).

Cuba is only 103-miles from the tip of Florida. It is rich in history, culture and beauty. Go. Explore. Learn. 

8 Bucket List Adventures

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At the end of your life, what will you remember most? That trip you took or that {insert expensive material item} you just had to buy. Invest in life experiences, not things.

From Alaska to Africa, if you love to travel, challenge yourself and try new things – then keep reading!

Here are my bucket list adventure recommendations and ‘how-to’ planning tips. I’ve done all of them and loved each and every experience. I hope you will too!

8 Bucket List Adventures


1. Costa Rica: A 154 Miles Cross Country Adventure – Hike, Bike & Raft

Get away from high-end resorts (…and really, aren’t they are all the same) and truly see, feel and experience Costa Rica on this fun, 12-day eco-adventure. Traverse Costa Rica, from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts, 248 kilometers (154 miles), all by hiking, mountain biking, rafting, and kayaking.

You’ll see and stay in mountain villages, sugar plantations, forests, jungles, riverside villages and small beach towns. From quaint bungalows to rainforest tent camps, this is a rewarding adventure.

Read about my experience, ‘Traversing Costa Rica‘ in the article I wrote for National Geographic Adventure.

How

Go with Coast-to-Coast Adventures ($2,375). They handle all the logistics, guides, provide the bikes, rafts, kayaks and incredible food. All you have to do is show up, in shape, motivated and ready to go!

2. New Zealand: An Active South Island Adventure

There are many things to see and experience in New Zealand.  If you only have two weeks, go to the South Island!

Tramp the Southern Alps, in Mt. Cook National Park, along Franz Josef Glacier, climb to the summit of Avalanche Peak, backpack a couple of NZ’s famous hut-to-hut Great Walks (example: Milford Track and Kepler Track), kayak Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park and stroll along the beaches of the Tasman Sea.

Drink wonderful New Zealand wine, dine on lamb, venison pies and green mussels.

How

Plan the trip yourself, rent a campervan and reach out to EasyHike to help set up your Great Walk experiences. This is the most economic option and how we did it. You can read about our epic New Zealand adventure here.

Not into logistics, take a small group tour with Active Adventures. They offer 8-15 day New Zealand adventures with prices ranging from $4,000-$6,200.

3. Europe: Backpack the Tour du Mont Blanc – 105 Miles & 3 Countries

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a beautiful and challenging 170km (105 miles) trek around Mt. Blanc, 4,807 m (15,771 ft.), the tallest mountain in Western Europe. It takes the backpacker through three countries – Italy, Switzerland and France, up and down 11 passes and 19,000 meters (62,000 ft.) – the equivalent elevation gains and losses of climbing Mt. Everest. The traditional starting point is at Les Houches in Chamonix Valley, France. Most backpackers go anti-clockwise and take 11 days to complete it.

How

Depending on budget and resources, you can camp, stay in refuges/rifugios, bed & breakfasts, local hotels, sometimes called gites and dortoir.

Click on link to read my TMB trip report: Tour du Mont Blanc – 9 Days, 105 Miles & 3 Countries

Not into planning and logistics, go with a small group tour. Prices range from over $5,300 (REI Adventures, Boundless Journeys) to $1,700 (Gadventures).

Tip: Read the book, “Tour of Mont Blanc – Complete Two Way Trekking Guide,” by Kev Renolds. It will be your bible.  Along with maps and elevation charts, it breaks down the TMB in eleven stages, detailing the terrain, distance, estimated hiking time, route alternatives, sleep and food options.

4. Iceland: Hike, SCUBA, Horseback & the Blue Lagoon


Iceland is an arctic adventure for those who like to hike, dive, dip and ride.  Give yourself at least 10 days to truly see this country. If you go between September and April, you just might see the Northern Lights. This arctic country is sculpted by volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, mountains, lakes, thermal hot springs, black sand beaches and pastures. Some say, “If you can’t go to the moon, just go to Iceland.”

Hiking – To get a taste of the country, take 3-4 day and backpack the 48-mile, Laugavegurinn/ Fimmvörðuháls trek.  Hike over mountains, lava fields and waterfalls.  If the trail isn’t enough, climb one of Iceland’s many volcanoes, like the Hekla and Laki.

SCUBA – Experience the Silfra Fissure, the only place in the world, you can dive directly into the crack between two continental plates. Throw on a dry suit, BCD, tank and jump into Iceland’s Thingvellir Lake to reach out and touch both the North American and Eurasian continents.  If you get thirsty, just drink from the lake. Filtered through porous underground lava, the ice, blue waters are clean and taste great!

Horseback Riding – When you arrive in Reykjavik, connect with Islenski Henstruinn and ride an Icelandic horse. Traced back to the Vikings, these horses are smaller, more like the size of a pony and are known for their unique ‘tolt’ gait.

Blue Lagoon – The most famous geothermal hot spring is the Blue Lagoon, located in the Grindavik Lava Field on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The 37–39 °C (98–102 °F) waters are rich in skin healing minerals, including silica and sulphur.  You can drop in for the day or stay at the adjacent hotel and pamper yourself with one of their many spa treatments.

How

Fly into Reykjavik and rent a car. Hotels can help coordinate day adventures. Companies like Extreme Iceland are also great! Not into logistics? G Adventure’s has an active 8-day trekking adventure starting at $2,899.

5. Greece: Sail the Aegean Sea


“Happy is the man, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea.” ~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

Go to Athens, see the Parthenon and then head out on a true sea adventure. Skip the boring cruise and sail the Aegean Sea on a 60ft. Cutter sailboat or catamaran.

There are many beautiful islands including the famous Santorini and Mykonos. Explore some of the remote islands as well and immerse yourself in their archeological wonders and tiny villages. Go hiking, swimming, cliff diving and kayaking. Sleep each night in your own cabin or on deck, under the stars. Enjoy incredible music, learn about Greek culture, history and how to sail on an intimate sea adventure.

How

If you want a fun, flotilla sailing adventure, go with Poseidon Charters. They offer 7-14 day itineraries, starting at $2,000 and this includes onboard breakfast and lunch. Want to charter your own sailboat or catamaran? A Greek Seas package starts at $3,600 a week for two guests and $5,500 for six.

6. Southeast Asia: Cycle Indochina – Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam

Stretch your legs and minds as you cycle across 3 countries with profound histories and cultures. From Bangkok, Thailand, through Cambodia, visiting one of the 7 Wonders of the World, Angkor Wat, into the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

Ancient temples, rice paddies, riverside villages and cities. If daring, try some local delicacies including barbecued tarantula and rat. Seriously, grilled rat does taste like chicken!

If you love history, trying new things and want to feel a sense of accomplishment by cycling across 3 countries, take this trip!

How

Go with a reputable small, group adventure tour. They take care of all the logistics, bikes and provide fun, local knowledgeable guides. Exodus Travel offers a 14-day trip for $2,365. Intrepid Travel offers a 13-day trip for $2,494.

7. Alaska: Dogsledding, Hot Springs & the Northern Lights


Iditarod & Northern Lights

Take this 10-day action packed tour to experience Alaska in winter. Start in Anchorage and attend the mushers banquet and start of the famous 1,049-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Afterwards, off to Talkeetna, the famous backpacker’s hub before Denali. Learn how to dog sled at former Yukon Quest champ and Iditarod musher, Vern Halter’s Dream a Dream Premier Iditarod Kennel and go snowmobiling in Trapper Creek. Journey to Fairbanks to attend the world ice-sculpting contest and then up to Chena to take a dip in the famous Chena Hot Springs, tour the ice hotel and see the Aurora Borealis /Northern Lights.

How

Go with Planet Earth Adventures LLC.  Owner and guide, Albert Marquez is the best! The Iditarod package starts at $3,995.

8. Tanzania: Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro & Safari

Push your physical limits and climb the highest mountain in Africa, 19,340 ft. Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is one of the world’s coveted 7-Summits and the ‘easiest’ to scale if you are in shape and have the determination.

Afterwards, enjoy a safari in the Serengeti and get close and personal with the Big Five (Elephants, Lions, Rhinoceros, Leopard and Cape Buffalo).

Tip: When traveling to another country, it is always helpful to know the basics of the local language. In Tanzania, it is Swahili.

Watch the Lion King movie before you go! You’ll be surprised at how much Swahili, is infused into the movie.  For example: the main character, ‘Simba’, literally means ‘lion,’ and his buddy, ‘Rafiki’, actually means ‘friend’.

How

The average success rate of summiting is Mt. Kilimanjaro is 68%. Your odds increase if you choose the right tour operator and route.

RMI Expeditions offers a 15 day climb and safari package for $6,800. Alpine Ascents offers a similar combo trip with a couple different route options and a climb only package.

If you just want to climb, have a few more route options and save a little money, Intrepid Travel offers 5-7 day packages for around $3,000.

Life is short. Don’t wait!

Your Guide to Exploring the Wonderland Trail

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8-Days, 93-Miles + 22,000 Feet of Elevation Gains & Losses

If you love hiking in alpine wilderness, majestic mountain scenery, turquoise lakes, churning glacial rivers and rustic camping, the 93-mile (150km)  Wonderland Trail is for you! The Wonderland Trail circles Mt. Rainier (14,410ft./4,392m) in Washington, USA.  It includes 22,000 feet (6,706m) of elevation gains and losses, with a peak height of 6,800 ft. (2,073m) at Panhandle Gap – one of the most picturesque parts of the trail.

A permit is hard to obtain. Apply online the day Rainier National Park opens their calendar – March 15. Trust me, if you do not, and live out of state, you’ll be S.O.L. The only other option is to gamble and apply for a walk-up permit on the day you want to trek. Two of us, in our party of four, applied online on March 15, each paying the $20 application fee. Only one 9-day itinerary (August 7-15) was approved – and we didn’t get all the campsites requested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did one resupply, dropping off our bucket at Longmire Wilderness Information Station, on the drive from Seattle to our starting location at Sunrise. Because of this, we began our trek carrying 6-days of food and each of our packs weighed 30-40 lbs. We trekked counter-clockwise, starting and finishing at Sunrise. After getting a feel for the trail and talking with other backpackers about water sources and buggy sites, we ‘adjusted’ our plans. We finished the 93-mile Wonderland Trail in 8-days and may or may not have partaken in unauthorized ‘squatting’ at certain campsites.

You can’t beat the grandiose mountains of the West. While we loved the scenery along the Wonderland Trail, we were less than impressed with most campsites. Most were tucked into buggy, wooded locations with no immediate access to drinkable/bathable water (see WT Tips below). Don’t let this deter you, it is worth the experience. 

Like any adventure, there are lessons learned. Below is a list of our 5 favorite gear items, and Wonderland Trail tips to help plan your trek.

5 Gear Favorites

  1. Poptical (Poptrail & Popstar) Sunglasses – Polarized, protects the eyes, crystal clear views, compact storage size and durable.
  2. Leki Mirco Vario Carbon Trekking Poles – Help reduce pack weight by 35%, takes pressure off of the back, hips and knees and great for balance on rocky terrain.
  3. MSR Hubba Hubba Ultralight Tent (2-person) – 3.5 lbs. and roomy
  4. Thule Backpacks 60L & 75L – Super comfortable and spacious.
  5. JetBoil Cooking System – Quick and reliable.

Wonderland Trail Tips:

Permits: Apply for Permits on March 15, the day Rainier National Park opens its calendar. $20 application fee.

Rainier National Park Entrance Fee – $15

Favorite Map: Mt. Rainier Wonderland Trail by Green Trails (National Geographic’s map does not give a big picture with mileage and elevation details. It only shows details on segment maps, going clockwise.)

Campsites:

  • BEST (breathtaking views with easy access to water) – Mowich Lake, Indian Bar & Summerland
  • Buggiest – Granite Creek, Ipsut Creek, S. Mowich Lake & Devils Dream
  • Waterless (requiring a quarter to half-mile walk to drinkable H20) – Ipsut Creek, S. Mowich Lake, North and South Puyallup & Nickel Creek. 

Length of Trip: 

  • Backpackers – Take 10-11 days and give yourself a rest day (ideally at Mowich Lake – it is BEAUTIFUL! and/or if you can get a room, in Longmire National Park Inn).
  • Ultramarathon Runners – Take 1-3 days utilizing resupply/caching or support crew.

Favorite Spot: Mowich Lake (It’s a REAL lake, big, blue and did I mention BEAUTIFUL!)

Most Challenging Day:

  • Ipsut Pass– Ascending 2,700 ft. in 3.6-miles up switchbacks (a few were pretty steep) with limited shade.

Resupply/Caching: 

  • Mail a 2nd resupply bucket to lighten the load. Be sure to mail it at least 2 weeks ahead of time.
  • Longmire and Sunrise are the only places you can buy anything. Inventory is limited.
  • ‘Dumpster Diving’ – Most resupply areas have a ‘hiker donation’ bucket you can pick through.

Water Situation:

  • Not as plentiful as you’d think. Fill-up at running streams when you can.
  • To purify water, we used different methods – A UV SteriPenand filtrations systems using a LifeStrawbottle/ Sawyer Squeeze
  • Don’t depend on ‘lakes’ for good drinking water. Most are small, stagnant, buggy and more like ‘ponds’, including: Mystic, Golden, Aurora & St. Andrews.
  • River water is churned and dirty. It will clog the best of filters. 

Bugs: Absolutely bring bug spray for flies and mosquitos and shelter with a bug net. They are relentless on many parts of the trail.

Animals: We saw no bear, mountain lions or wolves. We did see a bunch of goats, handful of squirrels, a marmot and two little black snakes that crossed the trail.

Weather:

  • Mid-August is warm. Warmer than I expected. It gets a little chilly at night. A light down coat or fleece is recommended. A sleeping bag rated to 35F would be fine.
  • We lucked out and only had one day of rain. Bring rain gear.

Tent vs. Hammock: All campsites have trees. That being said, it is easier to find a spot for a tent vs. two suitable trees.

This article was written by Payge McMahon and originally appeared inPopticals: Your Guide to Exploring the Wonderland Trail

 

 

How I Fell from a Tree and Found a Tumor

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On Wednesday, March 14, 2018, while trimming an oak tree in Florida, I fell. I broke my back in four places, left fibula (leg) in two places, left radius (arm) in multiple places, suffered a lung contusion and to my surprise, found out I had a 9cm tumor on my left ovary.

Wait. What?

Whether you’re a risk taker or someone who tends to blow off that inner voice that sets off warning signals, or says, ‘get a second opinion,’ read my story below.

Everything happens for a reason.

Tree Trimming is Risky 

First and foremost, tree trimming is very risky. Even professionals fail.

According to the Tree Care Industry Association(TCIA) 2017 accident report, of the 129 occupational incidents, there were 72 fatalities and 45 serious injuries. The three main reasons for accidents; fall, struck-by or electrocution. Like myself, typical fall victims were unsecured and their average age, 43.

Also, like me, there are many people – non-professional tree trimmers – who like to do things ourselves. We tend to be calculated risk takers and 9 out of 10 times are successful in whatever we attempt to do.

You know who you are.

Lesson Learned #1: Stop. Think twice. Never trim trees alone. Use safety equipment – including a harness anytime you are off the ground. When in doubt, don’t do it. Hire a professional. It is not worth it.

What Happened?

My partner, RG’s, 86-year old mother, who lives near Pensacola, FL, asked us to remove a bunch of low hanging branches/limbs over her driveway and house, along with a rotting tree in the back.

Armed with a couple chainsaws, a pole saw, ropes, ladders, gloves, eye protection (we forgot to bring ear muffs), previous tree trimming experience and theoretical knowledge of physics, we got to work.

The first day was great. After six hours, a majority of our mission was completed.

The next morning, RG headed to Home Depot and I stayed behind to work on the yard.

Before he left, we discussed cutting up a tree we had taken down and trimming off a few more oak limbs hanging over the garage. Unfortunately, the pole saw (a chainsaw on an extension pole), we would normally use to remove the high limbs, was having issues and out of commission.

As someone, with a touch of OCD and stubbornness, who probably shouldn’t be left to their own devices, instead of cutting up the downed tree, I decided to figure out how we could tackle the limbs above the garage without the pole saw.

I love climbing trees and knowing RG was not a big fan of heights himself, I resolved to scale the tree and use one of the regular chainsaws to finish the job. I didn’t have a harness, but rationalized that I was only going up 12-15 feet. I’d be fine. Besides, I’ve done this before. It will only take a few minutes.

My internal voice said,

‘Payge, you should probably wait for RG to get back. It is not wise to climb a tree with no one else around – let alone operate a chainsaw while in said tree. Plus, he could pull the guide-line rope around the limb to aid its fall direction.’

My determination to get the job done, won over the warnings in my head.

Bad Decision: See Lesson Learned #1

Timber. Yoga. Ultramarathon Running 

I climbed a ladder, stepped onto a branch, calculated the best approach, sat down- straddling a large limb, and got to work.

The first two limbs were easy.

On my left, I was cutting the final limb and was almost finished when, instead of dropping down, it unexpectedly and violently sprang back, towards my chest. I miscalculated the cutting angle. It happened so fast. The limb threw me off – backwards. The chainsaw was in my righthand and I hurled it away. I reached for another branch to stop my descent and missed.

Before impact, I managed to drop my left foot and hand, then THUMP! I landed on my back and everything went black.

“Huhhhhh,” I exhaled, making a hacking sound. Imagine getting the wind knocked out of you and then multiply that times twenty. Excruciating pain radiated through my ribs and back. I couldn’t inhale.

I looked up at the sky. It was a beautiful sunny day. What did I do?

My first instinct, interestingly, was to start a yoga breathing technique – audibly forcing air out and slowly breathing it in through the nose. This would regulate respiration, keep me calm and focused. It worked. Though I couldn’t move yet, I was able to find my breath.

I started to take inventory.

Laying on my back with legs stretched out, my left hand rested on my chest, in an unnatural position. Throbbing, sharp pain shot through it. The same with the left ankle.

Yup, pretty sure they were both broken.

Always one to look at the positive, I whispered, “Thank God, Baby Jesus, Odin, Buddha and Allah!” Pain was good. Not paralyzed.

I then thought, ‘Well, damn! I guess running next month’s Badwater Salton Sea 81-mile Ultramarathon in California is out of the question – and our trip to China.’ I pushed these ridiculous thoughts aside, I had more important things to worry about.

My head, neck, right arm and leg felt fine. I also didn’t see any blood – so I had that going for me.

The left extremities, chest, ribs and back were not fine. They hurt bad. Did I break any ribs? My back? Is there internal damage?

I was alone. My cell phone was in the house, as was RG’s mom.  She couldn’t hear well. I also had no idea when he would return from the store.

Shit.

Worried about internal damage, I decided I needed to move and get help.

Whenever running an ultramarathon and struggling, I create small goals/make deals with myself. Run three more minutes and then speed walk for one. Repeat. This way, the whole task doesn’t feel so overwhelming.

I looked at this situation the same. If I can move, try to crawl. If I can crawl, try to stand. If I can stand, try to walk. From the tree, make it to the driveway. Then the garage and into the house. Maybe fifty feet. Small goals.

Focusing on breathing. Ignoring the pain, fifteen minutes after falling, I rolled to the right and onto all fours – well, all three. The left hand was not moving anywhere.

I crawled five feet, over to the chainsaw, and turned it off. Yes, it had continued to run after I threw it. A well-built chainsaw, I was damn lucky not to have fallen on it.

Next, I made it to the ladder and with the right hand, pulled myself up, wobbling, to a standing position, dizzy and light headed.

Focus on breathing.

Dragging the left leg, painfully and slowly I trudged forward – checking off those small goals.

I entered the house, through the garage door, into the kitchen, to the phone and called RG.

“Please don’t be mad. I fell. I’m hurt bad and need to go to the hospital,” I told him.

“Do you need an ambulance?” He asked.

“No. Probably. I want you to take me” I answered.

RG raced home and gingerly loaded me into the reclined front seat of his truck. Thankfully, only a five-minute drive, we arrived at Santa Rosa Hospital’s Emergency Room entrance.

He sweetly and reassuring said, “Baby, stay here. I’m going to get help.” He ran inside.

The next thing I knew, hospital staff were all around me. I had a neck brace on and was loaded from the truck, onto a board, gurney and rushed into the trauma unit. Clothes were cut off, an IV put in, morphine, x-rays, a full body CT scan and then, due to the extent of my injuries, I was wheeled into an ambulance and transferred to (a bigger hospital) Sacred Heart in Pensacola, FL.

Lesson Learned #2: Yoga & Endurance Running May Save Your Life

CT SCAN Results 

  • Back – acute compression fractures of (thoracic) T8 and T12 with transverse fractures of the T7 & T11 spinous process.
  • Left Leg – fracture of fibula in 2 places
  • Left Arm – comminuted and displaced radial fracture
  • Right Lung – contusion (bruised)
  • Pelvic – a large (9cm) mass near or on left ovary.

Shocked to hear my back was broken in four places, I was more surprised and concerned about the tumor. I just had the annual exam with my gynecologist the week before. How did he miss something the size of an avocado?

Did I have cancer?

My great aunt died from ovarian cancer and my mother, at the age of 55, had a hysterectomy, because of a large fibroid tumor in her uterus.

Ever since I turned forty, I had a gut feeling (no pun intended) that I should get a second opinion about this area – just to be safe. But I never did.

Lesson Learned #3: When in doubt, get a second opinion.

The Hospital 

I would spend the next 5 days in the hospital.

Surgery was done on my left wrist and ankle and they were put in casts. I now have titanium plates and screws keeping those bones together.

A pelvic ultrasound was inconclusive in determining if the mass was a pedunculated fibroid or an ovarian stromal tumor. When I returned to Nashville, I would need to find a new gynecologist and have it removed.

The doctors said the compression fractures nearly paralyzed me. Had I not thrown my left foot and hand down first, before my back impacted with the ground and had I not been in good shape (muscles tensed up around the spine to protect it), I would not be walking.

I received a customized clam shell body brace and a platform walker. I would need to wear the brace and keep weight off my left leg for the next 8-12 weeks. Gingerly, I hopped out of the hospital on the fifth day.

One More Surgery 

On April 17th, my new gynecologist performed a laparoscopic myomectomy. Four 1-inch incisions were made in my abdomen, including the bellybutton, to remove a large pedunculated fibroid attached to, and on the outside of, my uterus. Biopsy results came back negative for cancer.

Lucky or Unlucky? 

Cancerous or benign, had I not fallen, when would I have learned about the large mass growing inside me?

Am I lucky or unlucky?

This is also the second time I’ve broken my back. Who breaks their back twice in one lifetime – and walks away from both?

The first time was a lumbar compression fracture from a car accident in 1990. I was 16-years old and spent 2 weeks in the hospital. Doctors put a fiberglass body cast on me and I was bedridden for a month. Afterwards, I wore a metal back brace for three more months. Chronic back pain became a new normal, but I would walk and later run.

That experience taught me a lot about life, perspective and being thankful. I learned to focus on the things I can do and go from there.

I like to think I’m lucky.

Lesson Learned #4: Perspective

Lesson Learned #5: Be Thankful

Lesson Learned #6: Focus on the things you can do and go from there.

Lesson Learned #7:  Surround yourself with quality people 

Lesson Learned #8: Everything happens for a reason.

 

 

20 Gift Ideas for the Adventure Traveler

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Give a gift that keeps on giving!

Outdoor enthusiast and adventure travelers appreciate items that help them check off that bucket list. Whether the budget is $10 or $500, we have ideas for you!


20 Gift Ideas for the Adventurer Traveler

Cross-Over Carry-On 56cm / 22” by Thule

This is a smart looking, hybrid roller carry-on!

The Cross-Over has a padded top load pouch for a laptop and a durable exoskeleton with hide-away backpack straps. It has a divided main compartment to separate clean clothes from wet and dirty ones.

This versatile piece of luggage is perfect for a Caribbean beach get-away or jaunt around the world that takes you from the city, desert, mountains to jungle.       Cost $299.95

Slidebelt Survival Belt at BuckleGear

Who wouldn’t want this belt?

The only belt you’ll ever need. This is a high quality, attractive, multifunctional leather belt with a built in LED flashlight, knife, bottle opener, fire rod and survival strap. It also comes with free molle accessory straps!

Cost: $150

 

 

Popstar Polarized Sunglasses by Popticals

Popticals are our new favorite sunglasses! They are durable, compactable, multifunctional and ideal for travelers, backpackers, runners, anglers and anyone with an active lifestyle.

Their patent FL2 Mirco-Rail system allows the lenses to slide in parallel to each other, ‘spooning,’ compacting their size in half to fit neatly into a durable hard-shell case.

Cost: $180-$239

 

 

 

Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles by Leki

Propel down the trail or up the mountain with these ultralight, folding trekking poles.

These strong, compactable hiking poles should go on all your adventures. Increase stability and take 35% of pack weight and pressure off your back, hips and knees.

Cost: $199.95

 

 

 

Terrex Climaheat Ultimate Fleece Jacket by adidas Terrex

A go-to jacket for cold weather activities.

Breathable insulation and moisture wicking, the Terrex Climaheat Ultimate Fleece is attractive, cozy and warm.

Cost: $139

 

 

 1996 VIOZ LUX GTX® RR Backpacking Boots by Zamberlan

From Patagonia, the Andes, Rockies to the Alps, the new Vioz boots are what you need for backpacking adventures in the mountains.

Handcrafted in Italy with Tuscan full-grain leather, upper and Vibram outsole with wide lugs, these boots are comfortable, water resistant, strong, sturdy and can handle tough terrain.      Cost: $330

 

 

Revolt Head Lamp by Black Diamond

Traveling, backpacking, mountain climbing or working on your car, always have access to light!

Bright, this waterproof, 300 lumens of light headlamp is USB-rechargeable and also runs on standard AAA batteries.

Cost: $59.95

 

 

FASTPACK 35 by Ultimate Direction

The perfect backpack for day or weekend hikes, climbing 14’ers or running self-supported stage-race ultramarathons.

The FASTPACK 35 is light-weight and comfortable! We love the easy access, large, front storage pockets, on the straps, for water bottles, cell phone, maps and more.

Cost: $185

 

 

 

Hiker Hat by Tilley

The ultimate travel hat! Not only will you look good, it protects you from the sun and rain.

The Hiker Hat is made with a water resistant, sun protection UPF 50+, HyperKewl™ Evaporative cooling material. Combined with its mesh ventilation system, you won’t overheat and keep the elements at bay!

Cost: $100

 

 

Challenger ATR 4 by Hoka One One

The new and improved Challenger ATR 4, all-terrain trail sneakers are the real deal!

They are fast and light (7.4 oz.) with an improved upper durability. You’ll feel their stability and traction running or hiking across rocks, scree and dirt tracks.

Cost: $130

 

 

Parachute Nylon Print Double Hammock by Grand Trunk Goods

Sleep like a baby in this roomie Double Hammock from Grand Trunk.

Made from strong parachute nylon, this hammock is 20% bigger than other double hammocks and only weighs 28oz. Choose from 15 different, very cool, print designs and be the envy of campsite neighbors.

You’ll never want to sleep on the ground again.     Cost: $74.99

 

 

Spark SP II Sleeping Bag by Sea-to-Summit

The Spark II is warm and packs small!

Rated for 35F/1C, it is an ideal ultra-lightweight (< 1lb.), super compressible sleeping bag for three-season camping, backpacking and self-supported ultra-marathons.    Cost: $379-$399

 

NeoAir® XTherm™ Sleeping Mattress by Thermarest

This is a must have for any backpacker or mountain climber!

NeoAir® XTherm™ is light-weight (1 lbs.), durable, four-season air mattress that gives the greatest warmth to weight ratio than any other on the market. Its 2.5” thickness makes for a comfortable sleep.

Cost: $199.95 – $239.95

Fly Creek HV2 Platinum Tent by Big Agnes

When backpacking fast and light, this 2-person tent is what you need!

Stay dry and warm on your next adventure with the lightest, three-season, double-walled, free-standing BA tent to date. Weighing in at 2lbs, with 28 sqft of floor space and 7ft in the vestibule, there is plenty of room to stretch out and store gear.     Cost: $549.95

 

UNDER $50 Gift Ideas

5-Piece Straw Set by Klean Kanteen

On the home front, these eco-friendly, reusable, stainless-steal straws are the solution to never having to buy disposable plastic straws again!

Whether drinking smoothies, daiquiris, pressed juice or protein shakes, these straws make for smooth sipping! They come with removable silicone flex tips (multi-colors or black) and a separate, natural palm fiber brush for easy cleaning.

Cost: $9.95

 

 

Give-N-Go Underwear by Exofficio

Because you only need 1 pair.

Not into going commando? Need to pack less? Get these comfortable, odor-resistant, wash-in-a-sink unmentionables. Great for travel, the gym, shopping or date night! For her, Give-N-Go Sports Mesh Thongs. For him, Sports Mesh Boxer Briefs

Costs: $22-$25

 

 

Cutie Bootie Socks by Wigwam

Comfortable, colorful and warm for cross-fit, hiking and walking around town!

A knit combo of drirelease® Tencel®, Stretch Nylon and Spandex your feet will stay dry and blister-free.

Cost: $13

 

 

 

Bug Out Bag Belt by BuckleGear

When you want more than just a belt!

Made from heavy duty nylon and strong polymer, this belt doesn’t just hold your pants up. It can be disassembled and reassembled for multiple uses. From a strap, rigging, tether, tourniquet and snare, everyone should have a Bug Out Bag Belt.

Cost: $12.99

 

Insulated Classic 20 or 32oz Bottle by Klean Kanteen

Take this eco-friendly bottle everywhere and always stay hydrated!

Made from stainless steel, with double-wall vacuum insulation and a leak proof loop cap, your hot chocolate will stay toasty for up to 20 hours and cold beverages will stay cold for up to 50 hours.

Cost: $27.97 – 30.95

 

Ultra Compression OTC Socks by Injinji

A toe sock with compression is a wonderful thing! Ideal for traveling, especially when sitting or standing for long periods of time, hiking, running, post run or hanging out at camp with flip flops.

Anti-chaffing, Injinji has built in a graduated compression component that starts at the ankle and goes up the calf. This increases circulation, blood flow, reduce recovery time and muscle fatigue.

Cost: $49

 

 

 

Need ideas on where to go? Read my blog on: 8 Bucket List Ideas for 2018

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