Friday, July 25, 2014

Memphis (BBQ and Elvis)

My dear friend Julie and her boys live in Memphis and have for a year or more now. The boys were back in the Peoria area with their dad and grandma for some summer vacation, so I visited for some girls time :)! 

Julie has been in Memphis for a year or so now and this was my second visit. Their move was driven by the location of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the discovery that their then ~18 month old had a stage 3 brain tumor. After two surgeries and a slew of chemo treatments, he has come out with NED (no evidence of disease) on his recent scans.  He has also been tested for any developmental deficits from his treatments and he's right on track for a two and half year old little boy. All such wonderful news!! (You can learn more about Ryan and his journey at St. Jude at His older brother went through his own health issues before baby brother came along, including heart surgery. Needless to say, the last few years have challenged Julie and her family so much and I'm in awe of how she deals with it and keeps an upbeat outlook. 

Anyway, she's probably blushing at reading that, but we've been good friends since starting our job together the fall after we graduated from our respective universities back in 2003. We worked together until I left for Singapore and even travelled together (Greece in 2006). I arrived Thursday evening and we were up late catching up with so much changing in both our lives in the past year. I felt bad that she still had to work Friday morning and I could sleep in :). 

Last time I visited, they were still at Target House and her son was mid-chemo. So this visit, she did a great job of showing me Memphis!

Friday night we went for barbecue at a very local, unassuming place. I forgot to get a picture of the "shack" though :). The food was awesome. We split fish tacos (grilled trout I think) and a pulled pork sandwich. I also tried the chili and we had a side of jalapeƱo coleslaw that had bleu cheese crumbles (yum!). All was so good! I was completely stuffed and no room for desert. 

Picture doesn't do it justice

Based on our feast the night before, we were a little more active Saturday and took a bike ride on the Greenline, which is a 6.5 mile paved path for running, biking, walking and roller blading. I'm typically not a good biker. But she assured me it was pretty flat and would be fine. And it was! We rented some cruiser bikes and stopped along the trail for lunch. 

We stopped at a neighborhood sandwich shop and I did a 'create your own' that was a little crazy....egg salad, artichokes, roasted red peppers, tomato, feta, mustard, hummus spread...I think that was it. It was awesome but very messy. Afterwards, we stopped in at the local grocery and I found some fresh baked molasses cookies that lasted me about three days :). 

After the bike ride and some errands, we planned to head to Beale Street which is the party street in downtown Memphis. But first got some more barbecue. :) It was also really good and we split the pork nachos and ribs. Yum!

Then we walked to Beale Street. The police block off the street for a few blocks and there are people, drinks and live music everywhere. Very interesting people watching :). We saw the church group of teenagers from dinner in line at security, a bachelorette party, people dressed for clubs, others barely dressed, the old, the young (who brings their infant?) and everyone in between. 

The security line in the "front" was crazy long. We asked and went down to the next block/side street and got right in. We basically walked up and down each side and took in the sights and visited some of the souvenir shops. I really wanted a cheap, tacky Elvis tshirt but had no luck (for the $5 price point). 
Years ago the two of us would have lived it up a little but we are older and were tired. :) So we did our walking loop and headed back to the car. 

On our walk back we ran into the mounted patrol. I think Beale St is open til like 3am. There were tons of cops on foot and these three mounted cops looked to be joining the fun. 

Sunday we went to the church of Elvis ;)..... i.e. Graceland. We toured the house/mansion along with some of the other exhibits. It was interesting as I knew next to nothing about Elvis. It was done better than I expected at first sight. It makes Elvis sound so wonderful and doesn't mention hardly anything negative. It had about one sentence that he took some prescription drugs and ultimately died of heart failure (not necessarily even linking to two). So probably a bit one sided but still good. You couldn't use flash really anywhere but you can see some of my no flash pics. 

Elvis was a car guy....and he had a little Honda motorcycle like me :) (note the pink Cadillac as well)

They sold photos and I managed to get a quick photo of our official photo as the guy angrily swiped it out of our view (note his hand at the top). $25, I think not.

The house was not that big considering it was Elvis. I loved this stained glass wall in the living area. Also see the kitchen that was remodeled in the 1970's - recognize anything :)? 

Perhaps my favorite room design ;) - I actually do love the look of the ceiling though. 

Outside the house is the meditation garden with the graves of Elvis, his parents, his twin brother who died at birth and Grandma Minnie Mae who outlived them all remarkably. Elvis died in 1977, Grandma 1980. 

Outside the house is a stone fence in front of the road. People from all over and for years have signed and left messages. Julie and I each left our own stamp that will probably wash away after a thunderstorm or two. It is weird to see the mansion plopped down in the middle of town with normal middle class housing all around. 

I found out Elvis never forgot the tiny Tupelo, MS house where he was born and lived for the first portion of his life before the family moved to Memphis. He was a great humanitarian and very generous with his fame and fortune. Below is a plaque of some recipients of his donations, including St. Jude. He also had a big donation to the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor, among many, many others. 


A couple fun suits on display. The replicas in the shops were only like ~$2,000.

And perhaps my favorite moment of the day.....a boy in grade school asked his dad, "hey Dad, what's this? What's this box?"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bald Knob Cross

The park service person mentioned that a friend hiked Bald Knob Cross a few times before heading to Colorado and that it was the highest point in IL (I have not tried to verify this). They told me it was about 1,000 feet, so still not very high. But I figured it would be good for me. 

I did manage to get in an hour or so nap in the morning light after my short night. So my start was later than I would have liked. But thanks to the 'polar vortex' the temps still weren't too high last week (last Thursday). I followed signs and quickly realized the road was taking me to the top. It is a loop trail and my preference was to start and end on the bottom rather than saving the hike up for last. It did allow for me to see the cross from afar though. 

Once I found the trailhead (which was down a couple gravel roads), it took me a little time to organize myself, so I didn't start hiking til almost 11. Then, I had to find the trail which was harder than expected. But eventually I found the white diamonds nailed to successive trees and I followed. 

It looked like there were some fairly recent downed trees on the path and there were spider webs everywhere! I had my trekking poles with me and I started throwing them out ahead of me, even above my head, to try and clear webs before I ran into them with my face. I hate spiders. The bugs were around but not too horrible considering I sprayed my exposed skin and was covered almost everywhere. No one was there to take my pic, but I had my heavy duty hiking boots, tall socks, hiking pants, icebreaker (merino wool) short sleeved shirt with a long sleeved button up on over it, sunglasses and topped off with my sun/hiking hat that I love. Only when I had to stop to pee did the mosquitoes find somewhere to bite (and my hips itched all weekend). 

The trail says it's 1.5 miles. My hiking app said as high as 4 miles. Based on the level of phone service, I think my phone was quite a bit off. However it still took two hours up and one down. I didn't eat lunch until 1  but finished off my tuna and tortillas along with some other items. There was a breeze up top that helped dry me out, I took some pics and a toilet break before heading back down. It was a good hike and I felt like I could tell a difference in my endurance (but who really knows). 

Then I got on the road for a 3.5 hour drive to Memphis for the weekend. So glad everyone has the 70mph limits now :). 

**One more item of note - I found my first ever attached tick on my leg after ending my hike, and one crawling up the outside of my pants that I brushed off. I think that's actually pretty good considering all the alerts for tick season and other comments I've read. I thank all my clothing :). 

Camping with Critters

I feel like today is one of my first lazy days in a while. I've arrived in Colorado, my last stop of this road trip. I need to do a hike today but am tentatively leaving that until this afternoon and trying to catch you up on my goings on :). 

Where did I leave off.....yes my last night of camping. I went to the western side of Shawnee and found a $10 campground. I was basically the only camper there. There was another group further back, but I couldn't see or hear them, so it felt like I had the place to myself. I set up camp, had some dinner and retired to the tent. One of the guys from the other camp came up near the front of the campground, where I was, with his flashlight looking for water. But there was none to be found and he promptly left. It is nerve wracking to hear sounds and not see anything though. So I opened a flap on each side of my tent and started to read my book. 

Walking stick at my campsite (middle left, crawling up over the chunky stick)

I had brought an apple and string cheese into the tent with me for a late treat. I again got nervous about food in my tent and threw the leftover apple core out a ways (I can get it in the morning) and left the string cheese outside the tent. As I read my book, I thought I heard sounds outside the tent. No flashlights to be seen and it's about 10pm, so the insects were loud and it was pitch black. 

I decided it was time to sleep, turned off my light and laid down. Now I hear everything. And I begin to really freak myself out. I swear I hear movement outside the tent. I'm fairly close to my car. I can't see anything though. I hit the lock buttons on the car to see if they will show me anything. Nothing. But it was a quick flash of the hazard lights. I hit the lock button twice, the lights flashed and the car beeped. That did it - "they" scurried! Oh man now I knew something was out there because I heard them all run away. I still didn't know what "they" were. 

Now it's dark again and I swear I hear them advancing. My mind is running with what it could be. I lie still. I think I hear them to the right, where my car is. I look. I still can't see well, but I convince myself I see raccoons crawling all over my car. All that separates me from them is a mesh screen. I get my headlamp out and at the right time, shine it at the car. Nothing! Absolutely nada. I had thought I saw 3-4 for sure. I check out as much area as I can with my headlamp while still staying in my tent. Nothing...anywhere. 
My tent and car

I lay back down. I drift in and out of sleep as I continue to hear noises, imagine raccoons and possums, check with the headlamp and never see anything. Frustrated, a bit scared and tired, I drifted off to sleep for several hours and was up with the morning light about 5:30. Outside the tent, my string cheese was still there, but the apple core is no where to be found. Then I knew there really had been something. I didn't know what and was happy they left me and my tent below. 

I was up sending my morning texts to let everyone else know I survived. As I walked out the gate, I looked to my right and what do you think was crossing the road??

An armadillo :). I believe this to be the culprit. I tried to chase after and get a pic, but not much luck. I feel like armadillos are much less scarier than raccoons and possum so it made me feel better. I googled it and sure enough armadillos are nocturnal, most active at dusk and dawn, and have in the last few years been seen migrating as far north as southern Illinois. 
Stupid iphone did not catch the armadillo

So without the best night's sleep, I head off for a day hike. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Shawnee & Southern IL

I have so many topics I could probably talk about but will try not to make this too long :). 

I woke up early on Wednesday, maybe 6:30ish. Actually I woke up during the night at like 12:30.  All the insects had quieted and I could tell the moon was up high because I looked out and could see the trees and everything (food still there) whereas when I went to sleep it was pitch black. In the morning, all the food and garbage was still outside my tent. No foragers - yay!

I packed up and hiked back to the car where I switched to a lighter pack and hike the loop trail I just camped on. 

As I hiked I kept smelling the summer sausage. It is a strong smell and had been in my tent on my hat for a while (albeit in a ziplock bag). As I got back to the car, I took a whiff of my hat....hmm not the culprit. I notice I was sure sweating on that hike...maybe....(sniff, sniff)...OH MAN!! It's ME! I smell like summer sausage! I had probably five pieces Monday night and only two Tuesday night. I think the rest will be wasted. I cannot go around reeking of summer sausage. So gross! But I do love these nuggets of random knowledge that you get from trial and error. :)

I drove further south and aired myself out along the way. I visited Cave in a Rock State Park. Pirates use to run on the river and this was a haunt of theirs. It's a huge cave on the side of the river. Pretty cool and weird to think it wouldn't collapse. I went on to the next town, Elizabethtown (Etown), for lunch on a floating restaurant on the river. I had the river catfish snack (they fish fresh from the river) and hush puppies and some fried pickles. I was surprised the southern accent of the girl working the register :). 

Next I tried to find War Bluff. A friend (Brad) recommended it actually as a good camping spot. However I never found it :). It was hard to find online and the park office was able to tell me the area but not exactly how to get there. I did find War Bluff Sanctuary for bird lovers. It has lots of trails and was off the beaten path for sure. It also offers a fun restroom stop that I gladly took advantage of. The trails didn't excite me too much though and I wanted to move on to the next place. 

From here I headed west to another state park at the Cache River. I actually went to Heron Pond (near Belknap, IL). There are trails by the river and forest which are pretty normal but then you get to the pond. It's full of cypress trees and the pond is green with little leaf plants that help to clean/filter the water. There was a lot about the wetlands, how important they are and how much we've destroyed them (oops!). The trail continues on the pond on a boardwalk and it is quiet and peaceful out there. 

I headed further west and a little north back to a campground in Shawnee. I'll save that camping story for my next post ;). 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Shawnee National Forest

Today was about the best it could have been. I left Peoria by 7:30 but had to make a Kroger stop, get some cash, fill up with gas and get a donut from my favorite East Peoria donut shop (Carl's). I was on the road by 8 which would put me at the ranger station by 12:30. I made it by 1, which I was happy with given the road construction and bathroom break. 

The park office was super helpful, gave me good info and maps and a plan for a couple days exploring. Since it was already afternoon I went to Rim Rock that has some outlook points but also has a trail to nearby Pounds Hollow - which has a lake. 
It was at least on hour before I got to the lake but there was practically no one there. I changed into my suit and went for a dip. The water was warm and clear. There was one little fishy that swam around me but otherwise pretty quiet. Very nice as lakes go. 

I hiked back to the car and headed to Garden of the Gods which was where I planned to sleep. It was about 5:30/6 at this point. The quarter mile trail with outlooks was amazing. Only downside was the annoying teenage girls there :). I was nice (by keeping my comments to myself). It is really crazy how this is still Illinois. My iphone pics won't do it justice but I took some with the nice camera and maybe I can add those later. 
Trail pic
Garden of the Gods #failedselfie

There is a backpacker parking lot for hikers where they can go on a trail and do dispersed camping, which I understand to be just camp near the trail where you find a spot and it's free! My backpack was stuffed and I'm glad I met no one on the trail because I'm sure they would have laughed. And I definitely need to practice more hiking with a pack. I didn't get very far, found a nice view and set up camp. 

The sunset was very pretty, leaving pink and purple streaks in the sky that I never could have caught with my camera. Now it is bedtime and very noisy with what I assume to be insects maybe birds or frogs. I really have no idea. :)  At the last minute I put my food garbage and summer sausage outside the tent. In case someone comes foraging I'd rather they forage outside than inside my tent. I last checked and it was 66 degrees here. Should be a great night. Today's high was like 75. Can't imagine how different it would have been if it was in the 90s like usual in July. 


Monday, July 14, 2014


I added my upcoming calendar on the right side of my blog sometime last week I think. I know people were having trouble keeping track of my plan :). The big trips are to Sweden and Peru during the month of August. The rest of July is a road trip to visit friends and some day hikes to try and get myself in shape. 

Tonight I'm in Peoria. You will note I'm already a day behind the calendar :). But it was a very fun Saturday at the Cubs' game and I needed Sunday to recover. So instead of Sunday night in Peoria, it's now Monday night. 

There are several positives though. I was at my parents' this morning in time for the delivery of my new motorcycle boots. Then on the drive down, the shop in Pekin where I ordered my jacket and gloves called and those were in too! So now I am geared up for the bike and ready to go. To be honest though, I'm still pretty nervous to ride on the road. And I need to continue my road trip (in the Edge) in order to get in practice hikes and still make it to Memphis on time! So I'll have to leave it for another time. Here is my new gear though. 

I'm headed to Harrisburg, IL in the morning - almost five hours. I hope to get there around noon at least, so I have some portion of the day left. There is a park office in town where I can get maps and you don't need permits to camp and it seems that you can set up your tent almost anywhere. I'll head to the Garden of the Gods first as I've been seeing that one come up on my searches the most. My biggest fear/worry.....snakes. There are copperheads and a couple type of rattlers. I think as long as I stay on the trail and look down, I'll be okay. Definitely on the list of questions for the park office though :). 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Happy Independence Day

My friends, Team GU, invited me to spend the Fourth of July with the U part of the family in Michigan (Muskegon). It was a perfect opportunity to do some practice camping. I originally wanted to camp at Hoffmaster State Park, but turns out everyone else had that idea and reserved well in advance! Hoffmaster is a park along the lake and the campsites are just beyond the tree line of the shore. I can imagine it is a perfect spot as I did some hiking in the park when I arrived in town Thursday and had some time to kill before dinner. However, I luckily found Lake Fran campground which was very rustic ($18/night and only portapots for services) but perfect for what I needed.

It wasn't too big and had a small lake to play around in/on. You can see my tent is pretty small so I don't need much room. I learned some lessons on those three nights and it was great to have planned events during the day. 

On Friday I headed to Planet Fitness to get in a workout and shower. I have a nationwide membership and there tend to be lots of locations, which helps when you are at a campground with no services. Then we went for what was maybe the worst mani/pedi I've ever had. The lady was watching the Food Network as much as my fingers and toes I think. I had to re-file some nails afterwards because they weren't straight. 

But the day got better and we went to the dog beach. The U family is a dog family. There were seven of us and 3 dogs. I kinda wish I had brought Sadie (mom and dad's dog) because I think she would have loved it. The Lake (Michigan) was a little cool, but you easily acclimated. My floatie popped, which was a bit embarrassing. We played catch and the dogs played fetch and we enjoyed the sun and waves. It was a pretty great way to end the day and I passed out in my tent before any fireworks started. 

On Saturday, Team GU rented a pontoon boat for the day and graciously offered the rest of us to join them. We stayed on the water inland but it was a really fun day. It was a little cloudy, but the water was still 76 degrees and it didn't stop us or the dogs from swimming. We had a minor maintenance issue, but we just ate lunch at a park while the boat was fixed. Boats are a lot of work....but boat rental days are wonderful on vacation :). We also saw how the other half lived in their crazy lake houses. Maybe one day......after I get another job......:). 

No texting and driving! :)

She watched for a bit.....

....then joined!

Sunday I headed in for another workout and shower, then on the road to visit other friends in St. Joseph, Michigan. They are due for a family addition in the fall and I hadn't seen them since the end of last summer - so it was nice to catch up. 

The weather was pretty great all weekend - not too warm during the day, generally sunshine and cool at night. But definitely bring the deet! They grow the mosquitoes aplenty in Michigan. I highly recommend OFF wipes. So much easier than spray and for the most part I escaped the bites.