One of the goals on my bucket list is to hike the John Muir Trail, so when videographer Peter Bell got in touch with me to share his story about his time on the trail, I knew I had to share it with you.
In the summer of 2008, Peter hiked the John Muir Trail, but he didn’t just strap on a backpack and go. Instead, he hit the trail with nine other people … six of whom were boys in high school. Many of these boys were novices to backpacking, especially on something as intense as the John Muir Trail. In fact, even Peter had only ever backpacked for a couple nights at a time. Knowing what I know about high schoolers, this seems like quite the courageous endeavor and I give Peter huge kudos for introducing these kids to the California wilderness.
The other thing that made hiking the trail tougher than normal for Peter was the fact that he had to haul along video equipment. The purpose? To film the trip and create a documentary, which he has entered into the Sundance Film Festival, Mountain Film Festival and Wild and Scenic Film Festival. A trailer for the film is at the bottom of this post; I personally can’t wait to see the whole film!
Peter was kind enough to answer a few questions about his 2008 hike on the John Muir Trail. If you have other questions, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you hit him up on Twitter.
1. What was the catalyst for hiking the John Muir Trail with this group of high school students?
I came up with the idea to film the John Muir Trail while hiking in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia in college. We made a really bad hiking and camping TV show for college credit. We were hiking along the Appalachian Trail and some dudes were like, “You have to see the JMT out West. It is pretty much the best and most amazingly scenic hiking trail ever.” I took their word for it.
I rarely buy books, and I’m not much into shoes. I have no problem avoiding the mall, and I’m more likely to run out of cereal than have an overstock supply of it in my cupboard.
In short, I’m not a shopper.
But then I walked into Le Travel Store, and it was the equivalent of walking into heaven for me. (In fact, I tweeted that finding the store was my version of porn, which got me all sorts of followers I’d rather not have.) The truth is, though, that when I need travel gear, I generally have to buy clothes in one place, books in another and gear somewhere else. Le Travel Store, however, really is a one-stop shop for the urban traveler.
The owners of the store, Bill and Joan Keller, have been perfecting Le Travel Store’s model over the last 34 years. Their extensive travel experience has made them aware of the needs and desires of other travelers. With that in mind, the store stocks quality products at good prices. Eagle Creek, Timbuk2, The North Face, Patagonia, Columbia and Rick Steves brands are all represented.
I might as well say it upfront: William Penn Hotel is not your average hotel.
But that’s a good thing.
On a recent trip to San Diego, we pulled up in front of our accommodations and I hopped out to check us in, expecting a line or at least the typical lobby of a common hotel. Instead, I was met by a single person sitting behind a desk, waiting for me to check in as I was the last guest of the day to arrive. With only 17 rooms available, this makes sense.
The William Penn Hotel was built in 1913 and has since been remodeled and reopened, offering comfortable and roomy living suites for a steal of a deal. When I walked into our suite — approximately 800 square feet in size — I knew we’d have enough space to hunker down and call the place home for the next few nights.
Though each suite at the hotel is slightly different in floor plan and interior design, they are all exceptionally large and don’t do the word “hotel” justice. These places are condos, and a person could easily live in one. Each has a large living room (most with a pull-out sleeper couch), a kitchen stocked with all the necessary supplies and a bedroom with a queen-sized bed. The bathroom and closet are both large. My sister was able to spread all of her dissertation research around the living room and we didn’t feel at all crammed by the scattered papers. This wouldn’t have been the case in most other hotels.
East of Montego Bay, Jamaica, is an impressive Georgian mansion that sits high on a hill overlooking the ocean. This isn’t just any great house, however. The story goes that Annie Palmer moved to this house with her husband, John Palmer, in the 1920s. Shortly thereafter, John mysteriously died. Annie’s two subsequent husbands also died under strange circumstances. A mistress of voodoo, Annie is said to have terrorized the slaves on the plantation and supposedly murdered a handful of slaves she lured into bed.
Rose Hall fell into disrepair over the years, and in the 1970s, former Miss USA Michelle Rollins and her husband John Rollins bought it. They refurbished the buildings, and today, visitors to Rose Hall can tour the place where Annie ate, slept and went about her daily life. Some even say the place is haunted.
In my opinion, one of the most fascinating aspects of the refurbished hall are the walls, which are covered in wallpaper made of silk and fabric. One is even embroidered! Every single room is decorated differently than the last, and the wallpaper very much matches the design of each room’s decor. I snapped a few shots of the walls as I made my way through Rose Hall.
As my husband and I pulled into the parking lot of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, a bolt of lightning pierced the sky behind us. The jagged needle touched and disappeared, leaving a crack then a low rumble vibrating in the air. Clouds had been gathering for several hours and flashes of lightning had been threatening from the sky for the last 45 minutes or so.
But rain is hardly a deterrent for my husband and me. We’d spent more than half of our time on the Inca Trail wet from mist and rain. We wore rain gear on more than one journey on the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. When everyone else headed out of Bryce Canyon at the sight of a cloud, we headed in, rain ponchos in hand.
So that strike of lightning in the distance didn’t faze us. Instead, we pulled on our backpacks and headed for the mile-long trail at the base of Sunset Crater.
On my recent trip to New York City, my husband took charge in finding a place for me to stay on my last night in the city. NYC’s hostels didn’t come at rock-bottom prices, and for just a bit more, he took a friend’s advice and booked a room for me at The Jane, a funky boutique hotel that’s been around in some form since 1908.
New York City is a hotbed for hotels, and while I’m sure many of them are very nice, this one is particularly memorable. It was originally built for sailors with its tight, cabin-like rooms, and in 1912, survivors of the Titanic stayed there. Throughout the years it has been a YMCA and a standard hotel, but in 2008, it was renovated and today reflects its original “at sea” theme.
When I arrived at The Jane, a bellhop in a turn-of-the-century outfit with thick gold buttons helped me with my bag. I checked in and was given my key, a heavy metallic item that I returned to the front desk each time I left the hotel. I approached and stepped into the elevator and was met by a uniformed gentleman who asked me what floor I was staying on. He closed a metal door and then a grated one and cranked the elevator up by hand. In an age of quick technological advances, I was impressed by this attention to detail.
Sunset over Mexico
I’m sitting on the runway at McCarran International Airport, watching the airplanes in front of ours eek slowly down the runway until they, too, reach the front and are granted permission to take off. First it’s a Southwest plane, with its purple and orange wings, followed by a plane from Frontier, the slogan “A Different Kind of Animal” across the side. Behind us, there are two more Southwest planes (smaller than the one in front), one from United, another from American Airlines.
Inside are hundreds of people, their luggage stowed in the overhead compartments, tray tables in the upright position and all electronics turned off and tucked away for the duration of the flight.
I love this moment of culmination, when these massive tubular structures speed down the runaway and somehow lift into the air. Despite my attempts to understand Bernoulli’s Principle and the physics of flight, I still don’t get how it works and prefer instead to be content in appreciating this magical ability to take me anywhere in the world in a matter of hours.
I arrived at Secrets Wild Orchid at night.
I could tell the Jamaican property was expansive, with the lighting tracing the sidewalks that wound past the buildings and out of sight, but I had no sense of direction. When I encountered a bartender on my way to the beach, he mixed up a strong drink, comfortably and easily. Humidity hung in the air but wasn’t so sticky that it strangled me. Even in the dark I could tell Secrets was large and impressive but subtle and elegant.
But there was one thing missing …
Located right off of Highway 191 near Chinle, Arizona, Canyon de Chelly is one of the longest continuously inhabited places in all of North America.
People have lived in these canyons for nearly 5,000 years. First the Basketmakers lived here, followed by the Anasazi (ancestors of today’s Pueblo and Hopi Indians). This latter group moved out of the canyons some 700 years ago, but the Hopi migrated to the area after that and settled in the canyon during the summers. The Navajo followed. Today, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which was established in 1931, encompasses nearly 84,000 acres within the Navajo Reservation, and many Navajo families still live in the canyon.
There are several cliff dwellings in Canyon de Chelly, which can be viewed from scenic drives and overlooks on both the north and south sides of the canyon. Though this provides a good overview of the area, if you want to get into the canyon, your options are fairly limited.