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: 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: 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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TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek: before the trek – new york city

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - before the trek new york cityYou may be aware that this summer I travelled around America with tour company trekamerica. Here is a photo diary of what I got up to in New York before the trek started!

Flying on my own to New York was quite scary, I’m not usually a plane person but flying with Delta Airlines definitely helped! It was all plane sailing (ahahah) until I landed at Newark Airport, where our plane was met with the Port Authority Police. Apparently there had been a bomb threat to our plane. Luckily they had found nothing too suspicious! Glad to be alive and well, I headed to the Crowne Plaza Hotel Newark to check-in, where I met Polly and Matty – my fellow Grand Trekkers. After an initial hello, we all got on the train to New York Penn Station (after a mini tour of Terminal P4 courtesy of me and my bad directions), where we were greeted with the hustle and bustle of New York City.

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city - madison square garden

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city - hooterstop: madison square gardens, middle: the city, bottom: hooters
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travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city - bryant park 3bryant park
linebreakWe ticked off quite a few areas that afternoon – Madison Square Garden (which was conveniently placed outside Penn Station), Macy’s, Broadway, Bryant Park and of course Times Square. It didn’t seem real that we were in New York, which was quite strange as it has been on my travel bucket list for ages! Maybe it was the fact that I had been awake for almost 24 hours? After many selfies were taken, we were all feeling a bit peckish, so after spending ages trying to find somewhere to eat, we headed to a pizza place for a slice of New York’s finest pizza. One thing which I love about America is the generous portion sizes, and that pizza slice was just a taste of what was to come on the trip food-wise.

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city - pizza

travel - trekamerica the grand trek - new york city - usa flag times squaretop: hawaiian pizza slice, bottom: times square
linebreakAfter a long day, it was time to head back to the hotel, where I met my roommate Holly, who was also joining us on the trek – and to get ready for bed as tomorrow would be an early start – 7.30am eeek!

Look out for my next post where I meet the rest of my trek group and we travel to our first stop – Finger Lakes!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – trek america tour tips

travel - trekamerica tour tipsYou may be aware that I spent the past two months travelling around America with trekamerica, and I cannot recommend them enough! Here are my top tips if you’re considering or have already booked yourself onto a tour.

1) Take a suitcase.  You might want to live the stereotypical ‘traveller/backpacker’ dream, but give your back a break (trust me, it will get a workout if you’re hiking) and invest in a suitcase! You can not only fit more clothes in it, you will also have more room for the inevitable souvenirs that you will buy! I personally took a hardshell suitcase which definitely came in handy when there were torrential downpours and some of the tents got flooded!

2) Take insect repellant with at least 50% DEET. Believe it or not, mosquitoes and ticks live in America. And they just love your skin. When you arrive at camp, DEET. When you just come out of the shower, DEET. When you’re in Lafayette, DEET. (I forgot to DEET in Lafayette, and my legs are still recovering now). Just remember to DEET.

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3) Buy a pillow when you get there. If you’re camping, invest in a $2 pillow from Walmart when you arrive. You already have to sleep on the ground, why make it more uncomfortable without a cheap fluffy pillow?

4) Take a head torch (and batteries). You never know when you might need to put your tent up in the dark (as we found out in Jackson, Wyoming). Luckily for me and Polly, we had built our tent about 15 times before then and mastered the art of tent erecting in the dark perfectly. But a head torch does help. It also helps for late night trips to the toilets too…

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5) Invest in a good waterproof jacket. If the rain curse decides to follow you on your tour (like it did ours), a waterproof jacket is a must-have!

6) Take hiking boots. These guys will especially come in handy if you’re visiting any of the National Parks. I bought these waterproof Gelert high top boots from Sports Direct, and they were great not only for walking, but for when you’re cooking in ankle deep water! (as we discovered in Cedar Point, Ohio!)

7) It will get cold. Cold you say!? Yup, it does get cold in America, especially at night! So make sure you pack yourself a comfy hoodie (this will be your campsite and van drive essential) and some fluffy cosy socks to keep those tootsies warm!

linebreaktravel - trekamerica tour tips - the trek family at mount washburn yellowstonethe trek family at mt. washburn, yellowstonelinebreak

8) Flip flops are a must! At first, you will use them for when you visit the showers, but as the trip goes on, they literally become your footwear staple (aside from hiking boots) and you will wear them everywhere! You can thank me for this tidbit later…

9) Be prepared to tip! The American minimum wage is $2.13p/h. Without tips, the amazing waiter who served you your beautiful food won’t be able to pay their rent or even buy food of their own. So don’t forget to tip your waiters (between 15-20%), and to also tip a $1 to the bartender per drink. (Tipping bartenders also ensures you’ll get their attention first and maybe a little stronger tipple in your drink the next time you head to the bar)

linebreaktravel - trekamerica tour tips - girls at angels landing zionthe girls at angels landing, zionlinebreak

10) If you’re gonna start a prank war, make sure you execute your ideas perfectly! As me and Polly learnt on our Northern Trail trip! After a triumphant first round taking the tarp off the boys’ tent, our pranking then went down hill. (Note to self: Flip flops and giggles will give the game away)

11) You will make friends! Most of the people on your tour will be solo travellers and will be in the same boat as you. But after the first van ride, you will become so close (you’re literally spending 24/7 with them), that you will get on with somebody! One conversation starter is: ‘what place are you looking forward to visiting the most?’

There you go! I hope this helps anyone who is considering or has already booked a trekamerica tour! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below!

sigyhl

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TRAVEL – trek america’s grand trek instagram snaps week six

travel - grand trek insta snaps week six

There’s only a week to go until my American adventure ends! But first it’s time to sample the famous food and nightlife in New Orleans and Tennessee!

travel - new orleans - hurricane cocktails and gumboNew Orleans: Hurricane cocktails / Trying out the gumbo from The Gumbo Shop

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memphis beales street and rooftop view in nashvilleLive bands on Beales Street, Memphis / A drink with a view in Nashville

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jack daniels distillery in lynchberg and view of appalachian mountains in wythevilleJack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchberg, Tennessee / View of Appalachian Mountains in Wytheville, Virginia

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After a quick overnight stop in Lafayette (where there was humidity and mozzies galore), we finally arrived in New Orleans! Our first activity was a swamp tour where we got to see plenty of alligators and even got to hold a baby one! Then it was onto our accommodation for the next two nights – a townhouse for the eight of us! Better yet, it was only a stone’s throw away from the French Quarter and the infamous Bourbon Street! After a walking tour of the French Quarter, we all had a crawfish bowl for dinner before hitting the nightlife! We all tried the famous Hurricane cocktail, and partied the night away! The next day, me and Polly headed out and explored the local art galleries, shops and tried Creole cuisine (so delicious), before a voodoo tour that night. The next couple of days were then spent in the home of country music – Memphis and Nashville. We had a couple of amazing nights out – including a dance off in a Honky Tonk bar in Nashville – before travelling to Tennessee to visit the Jack Daniel’s distillery (in a non-drinking state, how ironic) and whitewater rafting in Ocoee. Our last stop of the week was Wytheville in Virginia, where we hit the batting cages, played pool and watched Harry Potter!

Stay up to date with all the latest goings-on with my USA trip on instagram – @sazwatson.

sigyhl

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