Merry Christmas! I hope everyone had as great a holiday as I did! I went down to Alabama and spent Christmas with my family and we had a great time. Every relative that I’ve ever known was there. All of those aunts, uncles and cousins that you never really understood how you were related to were there and I have never felt happier around so much family. We had a great time eating, playing games, reminiscing about the past and talking about all of our futures. This holiday season was well spent with the people I love most and that is the most important thing, especially this time of the year. This time next year I will be enjoying my first Christmas in Lesotho! I got to see a few friends in Chattanooga and spend some time with them and hear about their life plans. It seems surreal that we are all graduating college and beginning to start our own lives away from home. I also went to Nashville to spend a few days with Hannah and her family and that was really nice and relaxing. The board game addiction in her family makes for an easy way to have continuous fun with jovial relatives and family friends. I can honestly say that this was the best holiday I have ever had!
To top off this amazing holiday, I also started my traveling adventures that I’ve looked forward to for so long before leaving for my Peace Corps service. Hannah drove my friend Jon and I to the Nashville airport at the unrighteous hour of 5 am on New Year’s Eve to catch our flight to Albuquerque, NM. Looking down out of the airplane made me realize how fortunate we were to not have to drive. At times there were circular fields and farms as far as you could see in any direction. I don’t think I can stand another drive through some of these western states (Sorry Kansas and Nebraska, but you are the worst). Two plane rides and a few hours later we landed at the Albuquerque airport and waited for Pirkle to pick us up. Jon caught me smiling ear to ear at the ground at one point because I was so happy to see Pirkle again for the first time since he and Rachel got married back in July. We made a quick stop at a local brewery (this could be the theme of our trip) and started our adventure driving to Durango, CO. We found the hotel and then headed to a brewery to eat and have a few celebratory brews to bring in the new year. We walked around the town for a while, had a few more beers and decided to head back to the hotel. We were all pretty disappointed that it was only 9 pm when we got back to the room and started to get comfortable. Jon and I had been up for 20 hours at this point and now full of beer and peanut butter pie we crashed hard. We were dead asleep before 11pm local time. The next day we woke up before 7am, got breakfast and headed to Mesa Verde National Park in Cortez, CO. We did a 10 mile hike in snow-covered trails. (The lady at the park that I talked to the day before coming is a liar. I called to ask about snowshoes and she told me there was no snow so they weren’t needed.) Apparently this lady didn’t see all the snow that was on these mesas. We spent most of the hike in calf-deep snow and we pretty much pioneered our own trail. It was beautiful and a lot of fun but very tiring. After 5 hours of hiking we reached the end and drove to a local brewery to eat. The beer was terrible but the food was good. We eventually found the RV park that we would camp at. The receptionist told us we could camp on a strip of grass so that’s where we set up the tent and sleeping bags. It supposed to get down to 12 degrees that night and it was already pretty cold at 6 pm and we couldn’t have a fire without a firepit. So I went around to the RVs asking if they could spare a firepit. Everyone I talked to just stared at me wondering if we were really about to sleep outside. I wondered if they thought we were completely insane or some hardcore dudes. I’d like to think the latter. Luckily, a guy offered his pit to us as he was just burning their wood to get rid of it before they left in the morning. This guy also gave us the rest of his beer and told us we would need it more than he would that night. So we carried the beer and a pit with a fire already going in it over to our patch of grass. If the other RV campers didn’t think we were insane already they definitely did after seeing us literally carry a fire over to our tent. We talked over the fire for a while, changed into warm clothes, then crawled into the tent before 8 pm. The three of us packed into this two-person tent kept us warm majority of the night until I had to get out to relieve my bladder. After I got back in I don’t think I had feeling in my fingers and toes until we woke up and had breakfast at Denny’s the next morning. Another day at Mesa Verde was worthwhile. Along our hike we saw beautiful canyons between the mesas and amazing ruins of cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Puebloan people.
From here we decided to drive to Canyonlands National Park near Moab, UT. We got there after dark and eventually found the way to a campsite and set up the tent. We sat around the fire for a while and got into some deep conversations. Campfires are a gift to people not only for warmth but to also bring people closer together. I don’t know what it is about being outside around a fire but people start sharing things and breaking down walls they have built up over time. Looking up at the stars and seeing the Milky Way in the middle of a national park and being with two awesome guys is truly something special. We eventually got tired and went to sleep. We learned what to do differently during a 15 degree night (like peeing before you get wrapped up in the sleeping bag and tent) and didn’t feel the least bit cold this night. Don’t be mistaken that it was comfortable, though! It felt like I was wrapped in plastic wrap with my back glued to the ground. I don’t think I moved an inch the entire night. We woke up and started out on the 15 mile hike we had planned for the day. This was the best hike I’ve ever done!
We were all exhausted and decided against the 10 mile hike the next day and decided to head to Gallup, NM where Pirkle and Rachel live. Of course we stopped at a local brewery and had dinner and beer. Six hours later we arrived to our home for the next week. I think my body has finally forgiven me from the long hikes and cold, uncomfortable nights. Now we will be hanging out in Gallup while Rachel and Pirkle are working and later this week we will head to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Last stop before heading back home for a few days to start my next trip to Seattle, WA.