TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek: badlands, south dakota

travel - trekamericas grand trek - badlandsAfter a long driving day and a chilled night in camp yesterday, we were woken up at 5am by a thunderstorm.

Steve told us to go into the bathrooms and wait it out, but with 60mph winds heading our way (signs of a tornado), he told us to pack up everything and go. So there we were in our PJs, packing our tents away in torrential downpours. (Is it me, or is this a case of déjà vu?)

We stopped off at a café where we had a drink and a bite to eat – we all joked about how the rain was following us (little did we know it actually would throughout our whole trek), and waited the storm out. One of the highlights of that day was when Steve was getting the breakfast box out of the trailer for those who didn’t want to buy anything in the café, and we all looked up and saw the lid blowing down the street with Steve chasing after it – it was such a comedy gold moment!

travel - trekamericas grand trek - badlands corn palacethe world famous corn palace
linebreakOnce the storm had calmed down, it was back in the van and straight to our next stop and our first national park, Badlands in South Dakota. On our way there, we stopped off at the world’s only corn palace (yup, you read that right). Let’s just say that it was a very interesting experience – but hey, one to tick off the bucket list!
travel - trekamericas grand trek - badlands visitors centretravel - trekamericas grand trek - badlands entrance
entrance to badlands
linebreakWe then stopped at a gun store, which I wasn’t really too keen on, before we finally arrived at camp to get our hiking gear on and go on our very first hike (out of many) on the trek! After taking a look in the Ben Reifel Visitors Center we started our hike.
travel - trekamericas grand trek - badlands - castle trailtravel - trekamericas grand trek - badlands rockstravel - trekamericas grand trek - badlands me and bobbi
top: view of badlands, bottom: me & bobbi
linebreakSteve took us on our trail, which would only be a short hike (looking back he was easing us all in). It was such a chilled walk – and a different pace from Chicago and being in the van all day.
travel - trekamericas grand trek - badlands beware rattlesnakestravel - trekamericas grand trek - badlands - cacti
top; beware of snakes! sign, bottom: cacti
linebreakBadlands itself was such a beautiful place – who knew rocks could be so interesting? We took so many pictures and even saw the sun set!
travel - trekamericas grand trek - badlands rock formation
travel - trekamericas grand trek - badlands sunsettop: rock formation, bottom: sunset
linebreakAfter our hike, we headed back to camp where most of us went straight into the showers (at this point none of us had washed since the day before, so we were all smelling pretty fresh). At least it gave us an insight of what two days at Yellowstone would be like – with no showers!

Group D were cooking tonight and made an awesome chilli, as it was such a long day we all had a quick chat before calling it a night. Well…we had to be prepared for Mount Rushmore!

sigyhl

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(Corn Palace image from Google)

TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek: wisconsin and minnesota

travel - trekamericas grand trek - wisconsin and minnesotaToday is a big driving day (seven hours to be exact) to our next campsite in Jackson, Minnesota, and that means only one thing – roadside attractions!

One thing that I have to say is that the past couple of days in Chicago definitely surpassed my expectations! The city wasn’t on my bucket list, but I’m so happy that I got to visit it! It’s so beautiful and has amazing architecture, as well as being clean with lots of green areas. It also seemed so much more ‘relaxed’ and friendlier than New York. I definitely want to go back!

travel - trekamericas grand trek - wisconsin and minnesota cheese mousehousewisconsin cheese and mouse house
linebreakOur little roadside attraction day included stops at the Jolly Green Giant Statue, indulging in a chocolate extreme blizzard at a Dairy Queen and sampling some cheese at the Wisconsin Cheese Mouse House. We were also meant to pay a visit to the Spam Museum (because why wouldn’t you?), but unfortunately it was closed due to refurbishment (oh no, we were all clearly gutted…)

travel - trekamericas grand trek - wisconsin and minnesota jolly green giant statuejolly green giant statue
linebreakAfter roadside hopping, we arrived at camp and all pitched our tents before heading into the pool and playing a few games. Me, Bobbi and Polly decided to challenge the boys to a game of mini golf with the losing team having to do a forfeit (their idea not ours). It was a close call, but we won, and the boys had to streak around the campfire! It was so funny! Looking back, I’m so happy that we didn’t lose!

travel - trekamericas grand trek - wisconsin and minnesota campsite jacksonchilling by the pool in our campsite in Jackson, Minnesota
linebreakThat night we also had our first and successful campfire and tried smores! They were so delicious and really sweet! We then all played drinking games and chatted until the early hours.

As everyone was heading to bed, me and Polly decided on a whim coming back from the bathroom to take the tarp off the boys’ tent. It was rather funny as we were making quite a bit of noise and laughing, but they were fast asleep! Little did we know that this small act would start a two week ‘prank war.’

Despite it being such a long day in the van, it was so good to chill at camp and relax. But this was not going to last as in only a few hours’ time we would be waking up in a thunderstorm with signs of a tornado heading our way…

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek: chicago

travel - trekamericas grand trek - day 5 chicago
After what turned out to be a late night (the joys of waiting for laundry), me and Bobbi woke up at 5am to go see the sun rise at the bean.

Unfortunately, when we arrived we had just missed it! However, there were hardly any tourists in sight and we got some great shots of the skyline reflecting on the bean (hey, every silver lining…)
travel - trekamericas grand trek - chicago - the bean
chicago’s skyline reflecting on the bean
linebreakAfter making the most of the bean we headed back to the hostel for breakfast before walking to the famous Willis Tower. We ended up walking in the direction of the Hancock Tower, but we managed to get to the right one in the end! We decided on the Willis Tower as it had a glass skydeck ledge, where you could literally stand on top of Chicago (you also didn’t have to pay any extra money for this experience, unlike the Hancock).
travel - trekamericas grand trek - chicago - willis tower
travel - trekamericas grand trek - chicago - willis tower glass ceiling
travel - trekamericas grand trek - chicago - willis tower view of chicago
willis tower

linebreakWe luckily got some discounted tickets at the hostel before we set off, so when we arrived at the tower, we just went straight in without any queuing – bonus! We all watched a theatre experience which explained the history of the tower, and we learnt some fun facts. Did you know, that it used to be the world’s tallest tower before it was overtaken by the Taiwan Tower? After the experience we went onto the skydeck ledge – which was so cool! We took so many selfies on the glass ledge and got some breathtaking shots of the city!
travel - trekamericas grand trek - chicago - boats on lake michigan
travel - trekamericas grand trek - chicago - ducks and boats on lake michigan
Our little tour of Chicago that day took us to the Navy Pier, which was apparently the city’s local touristy attraction. There wasn’t much there apart from a ferris wheel and a small fairground – but it did have an amazing view of the city and the skyline along Lake Michigan. Cue more selfie and Go Pro vid moments!
travel - trekamericas grand trek - chicago - navy pier
travel - trekamericas grand trek - chicago - view of skyline from navy pier
navy pier and lake michigan
linebreakThat day, the group was also offered an optional activity of going to see a baseball game. Only me and Bobbi were up for it, so off we went with Steve (on his day off, what a guy) to my very first baseball game! We paid $13 for a nosebleed seat to see the Chicago White Sox take on the Texas Rangers, and each got a hotdog and some nachos. Steve went one step further and bought a strawberry daiquiri (well, it was his day off) and even made us try funnel cake (insanely sugary churros – sweet was an understatement). The game only lasted three hours (they usually last between five and eight), and the White Sox won!
travel - trekamericas grand trek - chicago - chicago white sox baseball game
chicago white sox game at us cellular field

linebreakOnce the game had finished (with fireworks in true American style – did we expect anything less?), we all headed back to the hostel and met Polly and Kirsty for a milkshake at the Shake Shack. We unanimously dubbed it the Sh*t Shack, due to their terrible service and not-so-nice milkshakes, before chilling out in the park.

That night we all met up and decided to go to Millers Pub for an evening meal. I tried a succulent patty melt with fries and coleslaw. If there was one thing I had to get used to, it was how hearty American cuisine could be! It was delicious, but very filling!

To say it was only day five, it felt like we had been on the tour for ages (and we had another 38 days to go!) It was safe to say that Chicago totally picked up everyone’s spirits and we were ready for a long drive day tomorrow through Wisconsin and Minnesota!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek: indiana and chicago

travel - trekamericas grand trek - day 4 indiana and chicagoCedar Point marked a major low point of the trip – and it was only day three!

But we picked ourselves up (in fact, the experience had brought us only closer together) and packed up our soggy tents, ready to head to Amish community, Shipshewana in Indiana!

travel - trekamericas grand trek - day 4 indiana and chicago - amish museum me, kirsty and matty at the amish museum, shipshewana
linebreakSteve took us to the Menno-Hof Museum where we learnt about the Amish & Mennonite way of life. I found it to be really interesting and loved the experience, however a few members of the group thought that the tour was a bit preachy – but hey each to their own! After having some fun playing dress-up in Amish clothes, we all headed back to the van ready to hit our next destination; Chicago!

travel - trekamericas grand trek - day 4 indiana and chicago - on the way to chicagotravel - trekamericas grand trek - indiana and chicago - chicago art institution lion helmettravel - trekamericas grand trek - day 4 indiana and chicago - giorgianos pizzatop: on our way into chicago, bottom; giordanos pizza at the bean
linebreakWell, what can I say about Chicago, apart from the fact that it was my favourite city of the entire trip?!  Once we had arrived at the Windy City, we checked into our lovely Hostel International (which was conveniently located just down the road from Millennium Park and the famous bean) before heading out to try Giordano’s famous deep dish pizza. We arrived at the bean to find that Steve had already ordered us some, so after taking many selfies, we all had a few slices (we could see why Chicago’s so famous for them) and chilled out in front of the bean.
travel - trekamericas grand trek - indiana and chicago - chicaho skyline on lake michigantravel - trekamericas grand trek - indiana and chicago - chicago bike tour - trump buildingtravel - trekamericas grand trek - indiana and chicago - chicago bike tour - rain men
top: chicago skyline along lake michigan, middle: trump tower, bottom: rain men
linebreakAfter stuffing our faces we all went on a nighttime bike tour with Bobby’s Bike Hike. I’m not going to lie, it was one of the best bike tours I’ve ever done! Our guide Jeremy was so friendly! We got to cycle along Lake Michigan, pass the Abraham Lincoln statue , through the infamous Viagra Triangle (yep, you read that right – this area is apparently where sugar daddies meet their younger and hotter counterparts) and visited the Trump building and a hotel which was featured in The Dark Knight.  We also went passed a few museums and the planetarium before ending our tour at the Buckingham Fountain which was all beautifully lit up!
travel - trekamericas grand trek - indiana and chicago - chicago bike tour - buckingham fountain
buckingham fountain

linebreakSeeing Chi-Town all lit up a night was such an amazing experience! It gave us all an idea of where to go on our free day and it more than lifted the spirits of the group after the mishaps of Cedar Point!

Later on that night a few members of the group went out for a few drinks at Kelsey’s Bar, whilst me and a couple of others decided to stay in and do laundry (I know, party animals!) But me and Bobbi needed an earlish night as we were on a mission to see a not-so-crowded bean at sunrise!

sigyhl

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(Image one credit to Bobbi, rest from Google Images)

TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek: cedar point, ohio

travel - trekamericas grand trek - day 3 cedar point ohioAfter a couple of days of long drives and sightseeing, today we finally got to let our hair down and visit the Rollercoaster Capital of the World, Cedar Point!

With predictions of thunderstorms and scattered showers, we put on our best brave faces and headed to the theme park. It was so much fun to head out as a group and go on a few rollercoasters together such as The Gatekeeper and Wicked Twister. The sun was shining and as I was getting badly sunburnt (classic move not applying sun cream Sarah), I thought for a split second ‘wow it actually might not rain…’

travel - trekamericas grand trek - day 3 cedar point ohio th gatekeeper the gatekeeper
linebreakBoy, in a few hours’ time was I wrong! After splitting off into little groups for a while, we all met back up to tackle some water rides – Thunder Rapids and Snake River Falls. As we all got onto Snake River Falls and were ready to set off, it suddenly started pouring down with rain. Yep, we were about to go on a water ride and get absolutely soaked by not only the ride itself but also by the thunderstorm! All we could do in that moment was laugh as the ride attendant had already pressed the ‘go’ button. Needless to say, we all got very wet!

travel - trekamericas grand trek - day 3 cedar point ohio snake river fallssnake river falls
linebreakOnce we got off the ride, we sought shelter and got chatting to some of the theme park staff who were amazed by our English accents. After what seemed like forever waiting for the rain to stop, it finally did. A few of us wanted to try Millennium Force, the world’s only steel rollercoaster but due to the thunderstorm it had closed. We all decided to wait for 20 minutes to see if it would open up again, but after being super-soaked and with the fear of flooded tents beginning to set in, we decided to call it a day and head back to camp.

travel - trekamericas grand trek - day 3 cedar point theme park ohiocedar point
linebreakWhen we arrived back at camp, we saw that some of the group’s tents had flooded. At that point we wanted to get cabins but Steve was adamant that we could cope. To top off the flooded tents the rain had picked up again, and another thunderstorm was brewing. To add a further blow, me, Matty and Marc still had to cook. So there we were, cooking in a thunderstorm in ankle deep water getting bitten by mosquitos. What had started out as such a fun-filled day had brought the whole group to a major low point. That night a few members of the group went bowling, but deciding to call it a day, I went to bed… only to find out that my sleeping bag was locked up in the trailer and Steve had gone bowling with the other guys...

Words could not describe our luck that day… but hey, it could have been worse, I could have been sick on the rides like Aussie Dave…

sigyhl

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(Image one credit to Bobbi, rest from Google Images)

TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek: niagara falls and lake erie

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - niagara falls and lake erieAfter a chilled first day, I woke up at 5am to the sound of bullfrogs and trains. Ahh, the camping life…

As I headed to the toilet, dodging every bullfrog I that I couldn’t see, I looked across the lake and saw the most beautiful sunrise with some mist eerily creeping along it. That was the moment I thought, wow I’m actually in America…

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - sunrisesunrise at finger lakes
linebreakNoisy bullfrogs and sunrises aside, today was the day I could tick off something else on my bucket list – Niagara Falls! Once everyone had swiftly packed up their tents (me and Polly woke up first so we didn’t have to take ours down, score!), and had breakfast, we packed up all our stuff and got into the van for a long drive to the Falls. Along the way we discovered that we would be in small groups and would have chores to do on the trip such as DJing, van cleaning, cooking and washing up. I was paired with Matty and Marc. We also handed over our food kitty money for the first half of the trip – it was so much easier handing it over in one go, rather than dishing out $10 a day!

travel - trekamericas grand trek - niagara falls view of toronto

travel - trekamericas grand trek - niagara falls rainbowtop: toronto, bottom: rainbow on the falls
linebreakWith Luke Bryan’s Country Girl blasting out (soon to become a trek favourite), we all seemed a lot chattier today and couldn’t wait to arrive at Niagara! As soon as we got there Steve took us to Horseshoe Falls before having some lunch. Then it was onto the Maid of the Mist cruise (with some elegant big blue ponchos to match). The views up close on the cruise were incredible, and it was amazing to see the Canadian side of the Falls – all of the buildings looked so futuristic and so different from New York!

travel - trekamerica tour tips- girls at niagara fallsthe girls after the maid in the mist cruise
linebreakAfter getting a tad wet on the cruise (which I would really recommend), we then all walked up to the observation pier, where we took plenty of selfies and got to see the Falls from a different angle.

travel - trekamericas grand trek - up close to niagara fallscloser view of the falls
linebreakOnce we were all selfied out, we said goodbye to Niagara Falls and headed to Walmart. Ahh Walmart… You could literally get lost in that store and possibly never find a way out for days. Me, Marc and Matty were the first one’s chosen to cook so we decided on something simple – fajitas! After we picked up everything that we needed, we then headed to our next campsite, Geneva State Park in Lake Erie!

That night was another quiet and chilled one – we all had some gorgeous teriyaki burgers and tried to light a fire for smores. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going our way so we decided to go to bed, all excited for tomorrow where we would hit Cedar Point!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek: finger lakes

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakesAfter two months of waiting and preparing, the day has finally come…

Today was our first day of the trekamerica’s Grand Trek. We all met in the Hotel’s lounge after breakfast where we were introduced to our tour leader for the next 21 days – Steve. (Who later become known as Beer Steve, but more on that later.) After filling out some paperwork and a quick round of introductions, we all packed our luggage into the van and headed to our first stop of the tour – Finger Lakes. I’m not going to lie, the first couple of hours were painfully silent. Maybe we all had a case of pre-trek nerves? (This however, was soon going to change in a couple of days time where the van would be filled with Kirsty’s snoring, the odd dance move and plenty of pranking.)

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - delaware water gapdelaware water gap
linebreakPossibly sensing the deafening silence, Steve made a quick pit stop at Delaware Water Gap for lunch (provided by him, whatta guy.) It was a nice break from the busy streets of New York and to just to sit there and get to know one another. Feeling a little bit better acquainted we all got back into the van and headed to our first campsite – Watkins KOA.

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - camp tentmine and polly’s tent – nantawald
linebreakI was actually really surprised at how fancy this campsite was (I envisioned a festival sort of moment with toilet drops and dodgy showers) – but it even had a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi! After a dishing out of the tents (me and my tent buddy Polly picked Nantawold – oh how we will come to miss that tent in 21 days’ time…) and a demonstration from Steve, we tried our hand at pitching them before heading to winery Pompous Ass.

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - pompous ass wine tastingpompous ass winery
linebreakIf there’s one way to break the ice, it’s wine tasting. We all got to sample a variety of different flavours, and if you liked a particular wine you could buy it with a special one-off price, so naturally me and Polly picked the Riesling. (Es war seht gut!)

After pretending to be top wine connoisseurs, Steve had planned for us to go to the beach and walk near the falls, but unfortunately due to bad weather they were off limits. Instead, sensing that we were beginning to open up with one another after being plied with alcohol, he took us to a liquor store. Me and Polly decided to buy some gin (America’s first fyi – which did last us about 35 out of 43 days of the trip – maybe it lasted so long because it tasted like America’s first gin) before heading back to the campsite.

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - camp life

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - day 1 fingerlakes - camp foodtop: our first family meal, bottom: bbq chicken with asparagus & salad
linebreakAs Steve was cooking tea (a yummy bbq with asparagus – this was the start of healthy cooked meals we had the entire trip), all of the girls decided to have a bounce around on a giant inflatable pillow (yes, you read that correctly) before chilling in the pool. Once we all had tea, we then played a few drinking games before heading to bed.

It was such a good first night of the trip! And everyone seemed so excited to head to our next destination – Niagara Falls and Lake Erie!

sigyhl

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