How I Went To the Spa and Ended Up At the Grand Canyon

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There’s a lot of debate over Solo Travel – especially amongst women.  Is it dangerous? Is it lonely?  Does it mean that I’m pathetic because I can’t find anyone to go with me?

Not that I’m immune from these thoughts, but I am one of those people that does enjoy traveling alone.  In the past, I have traveled on my own for months at a time, and while it is lonely at times, it’s something that I enjoy forcing myself to do on a regular basis because…well,  it’s uncomfortable.  It takes me a couple days to get into the rhythm, but I’m quickly reminded that there are immense benefits.  I can allow myself to be indulgent – eat candy, stay inside, and sleep all day long with zero guilt.  I can choose my own itinerary.  I can sit in a cafe and read for 5 hours.  But the most important thing though, is gettting a rest from having to compromise in all your decisions.  So refreshing.

And so that’s how I ended up in Scottsdale, Arizona, in a room with 2 giant Queen beds, completely on my own. I’m sure some of you are saying “Alana, that’s not really a solo adventure.. I’ve traveled through the Sahara Desert on a camel for 6 months living with the locals.”  And I would say you’re right.  But I would also say that visiting a Republican state that loves guns, anti-immigration laws, Fox News and Nancy Grace is also an adventure for a girl from Vancouver, Canada.  Just a different kind.

So why Arizona you ask?  Expedia told me it was cheap, and the Westin was having a sell-out on their hotel rooms.  Need I say more?   The Westin, if you don’t know, has this Heavenly Bed upgrade which is exactly as advertised.  I was first introduced to it at a conference several years ago…. the bed at the hotel was so comfortable that I chose to play hooky and relax amongst the 8 pillows and extravagant white linens while watching crappy day-time television.  It was pure bliss.  So… obviously Arizona seemed like the place to go.  After all, how hot could it get in the beginning of July?

I arrived at the hotel and promptly took myself out for a fancy dinner at a Cuban restaurant.  I sat at the bar, ordered delicious cocktails and flirted with my server Jose, because after all, isn’t that the fun of traveling alone?  I went to bed early because each drink cost 12 dollars and I’m a bit cheap, and then woke up in the morning to beautiful sunshine.

I headed out to the pool, and started my first Solo Independent morning.  I’m not used to 39 degrees (103 Farenheit for you Americans), and so this was a bit uncomfortable.  That might have been mostly because I could only lie on the recliner on my back, since solo-sunscreen application proved to be a bit difficult.

By 1 pm it was a bit much, so I decided to go to the ice cream bar.  Guilt free.  I contemplated buying an extra one for my pretend vacation partner.  Not realizing that the effects of sunstroke were about to smack me in the face, I was a bit embarrassed when I got super nauseous and had to sit down collapse against the cold metal of the ice cream bar to rest.  Luckily the place was pretty empty and the 19 year old kid working there was very busy on his Facebook, so it wasn’t really that awkward.  I managed to push through (since I”m an independent solo woman), and passed out on the Heavenly bed to rest.

The next morning, fully recovered and pretty sure that my sun burn was just temporary, I had another great day at the pool. I bought a super ugly giant sun hat and rocked it because I remembered that no one knew me or cared what I looked like.  Solo travel was looking up again.

After 4 days of swimming in the pool and pretending to work out in the Spa (the TVs attached to the machines were really difficult to watch if you moved quickly), I had fully embraced my vacation.  I didn’t have to ask anyone what they wanted to eat, I stopped shaving my legs and washing my hair since there was no one to impress (except Jose), and I was having as many naps as I wanted without feeling lazy or ashamed.  I was a bit bored though, so decided to rent a car and go on a road trip.

I took off in a giant Buick rental car with room for 4 sets of golf clubs early the next morning, and headed north to Sedona.   Who knew that Arizona held some of the most beautiful scenery in the world?  My mind was blown.  Driving into Sedona and seeing the incredible Red Rocks was breath-taking.

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After taking about 80 images of rock formations for my geography students, I saw a sign for Helicopter Tours.  Of course!  This was easily justified because of the fact that I was being a virtuous and independent woman, and I subsequently booked myself into a 20 minute helicopter ride for an enormous amount of money.

The helicopter had no doors, and so you could lean right out to take pictures, and it was simply the seat belt that held you in.  I was in Rock Heaven (which does exist for you skeptics).  Here are some of the beautiful mesas and buttes that I saw.

When we landed it was only about noon and so I decided to just keep going… the Grand Canyon looked close on the map, and so I figured – why not?  I  headed off, and as the elevation changed, so did the weather.  Dark storms clouds emerged from nowhere, and the fields became dramatic.  I took some artsy photos out the window as I was driving.

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By mid-afternoon I arrived at the Grand Canyon, one of the places I’ve most wanted to see, and it fulfilled its namesake in all its entirety.  I wandered around, called my father on my cell – the only other person I know that loves rocks as much as me – and then simply turned back.

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Being alone, I had to take a self-portrait to prove that I was actually there, as it felt important to have at least one photograph with a person in it.

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It kind of looks like one of those silly and vain profile pictures that people take of themselves, but that was just because I was having trouble getting my whole face into the frame with the glare of the sun.

Traveling out the east exit of the Grand Canyon took me on a road that was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.  Once you leave the park, the canyon continues for miles, winding its way through the earth like a giant gash inflicted by a giant sword.  There are homes on the edge of the canyon, some without even electricity, completely isolated.   The wind picked up, and I contemplated what it must be like to live on the edge of such a dramatic and extreme landscape.

I made it back to the hotel after 12 hours of driving – one of the best random road trips of my life.  While it seemed ridiculous to have spent such a short time in two spectacular places, it was also just one of those things that happened…

I got into my giant spa tub, relaxed, and then called Daryl and got mad at him for not having called me while I was on my Solo Adventure Trip.  He replied “I thought you said to not call you because you were being independent?” and I stated “I know that’s what I said, but you were supposed to know I didn’t actually mean that.”   After I cleared up that confusion, the loneliness passed, and I reminded myself of the good things about the past week.  That actually, I was very very happy, and while I missed my family, I did adore traveling alone because it makes me feel brave…even if it’s just in the smallest way.

Do I wish that I could have shared the Grand Canyon with Daryl, or someone else that I loved?  Of course. But, when you are alone, you become more in tune with your emotions and your thoughts.  This focus leads to an intensity of emotions that isn’t always felt when traveling with others.  When you play the role of a stranger, alone in a foreign land, your sense of what it means to be alive, is simply very different.

And you also don’t have to share the wonderful free toiletries that they leave in the hotel room.

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Weekend in Portland ~ Land of Hipsters, Craft Beer & Powell’s Books

The search for great cities.

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Heading to Portland for the weekend is sort of like a rite of passage for many people living in Vancouver.  The craft beer beckons – (“a 6-pack for less than 7 dollars, that’s crazy!” says Daryl) – as do the great restaurants, the food trucks, and of course, Powell’s Books.  Who can resist a book store that’s larger than a city block, with every book imaginable?  I’m old school, and still prefer a book that you can take in the bath, get dirty on a beach, and have no need to plug in to recharge.  So we decided to head to Portland, Oregon for the weekend to check out the Northwest Conference for Social Justice, which turned out to be one of the most amazing education conferences we’d ever been to.  Definitely would recommend this year’s conference in Seattle to any teachers out there.

Off we went.  The first thing we remembered is that Portland is actually really far from Vancouver — it’s like a weekend getaway that deserves 5 days.  Surprise! There is endless highway between Seattle and Portland.  Silly Canadians.  We arrived in the city at 9:30pm with rain pelting down on our windshield, and felt… right at home.   I’ve argued many times that the Pacific Northwest is a region and culture unto itself, with lots in common despite the border between us.  And it’s true.  Portland does feel a lot like home, and it’s a city we’d return to in a heartbeat.

A few great finds…

1. Powell’s Books – as mentioned above, but really deserving of a second mention.  Book lover’s delight.

2. Beer, beer, beer.  We headed to the Deschutes brewery, but Portland is the land and heart of craft beer.  This was just the beginning though, and perhaps a return during Craft Beer Festival is in order.

3. Great record stores.  Portland hipsters would make great friends with Vancouver hipsters, because they would have lots in common and speak the same ‘Whole Foods, Farmers Market, Bicycles’ kind of language.  Have you seen episodes from Portlandia?  Hilarious, and also slightly embarrassing, in one of those “oh, is this kind of about me?” sort of way.  ‘Put a Bird on It’ episode is a gem.

4. Food Trucks.  And the most delicious ones in the world.  Every type of food you can imagine, and all of it given to you in a wrapper made from recycled materials.   The first time I visited Peru, I ate a lot of ‘meat on a stick’ meals — pretty straight forward street meat comprised of a wooden bbq skewer with a hunk of surprise meat and a giant potato.  Thus began my love affair with street food.  I’m so pleased at how well it has since adapted to North America.

Any further recommendations for great spots in Portland?  We will most definitely return.  My friend Jason is raving about a tiny convenience store on the outskirts of town that sells over 500 different types of craft beer inside…