Friday, May 23, 2014

Into The Blue

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its nets of wonder forever." Spoken and uplifting words from the Father of Scuba diving himself, Jacques Cousteau. Inspiring many others like myself to never stop exploring and to dig deeper to find the meaning of life. I am filled with gratitude to have experienced the depths of the sea at an early age. I become a PADI certified Rescue Diver with over 45 logged dives by the age of 14. Thankful to further appreciate the everlasting beauty of our oceans, I was given the opportunity to live aboard a catamaran for two consecutive Summers in my high school years with Odyssey Expedition. One Summer in the British Virgin Islands, as well as the next in the St Vincent and Grenadine Islands to St. Lucia. Undoubtedly spoiled of my inaugural dives in luminous waters, the bar was set high. This would be the beginning of my new relationship with the sea. With many hopes to be adventurous and explore in pristine waters! 

Between my time from adolescence to adulthood, I was able to catch only a single dive. The life of a student called with high school passing before my eyes, college responsibilities, plentiful of obligations, and the limited discretionary income I had for travel. It was not until near the end of my college days I finally had enough waiting. I was reminiscing on the deep blue sea, the schools of tropical fish and the serene feeling of losing all sense of time, island time. A reward to all the hard work that I had achieved through what seem liked endless years of education, a celebration was in order and not to mention my 21st birthday. It was the Spring of 2010 with a few months remaining of my undergraduate studies in Austin, my best friend Aless and I booked a trip for a celebratory cruise and belated birthday festivities aboard a cruise ship. After a refresher dive course at a local dive shop back home, I was finally able to break the streak of putting off any diving by going on a drift dive off Anthony's Key in Roatan, Honduras. 

The year rapidly passing and a flash before my eyes, I am sitting here in my 24th year of life.  To make up for that missed composition on my dive in Honduras (Helen of Travel didn't exist at the time), I finally told myself, I wanted to share a dive experience through this blog. I want to share my latest entry that covers my most recent dive in Cozumel. A vacation taken on a holiday cruise out of Galvestion, TX on Royal Caribbean with close friends of mine and my fiance Tim. Even though I am not a huge fan of cruises, they are wonderful for allowing you to see multiple places in one trip, eating as much food as your body can handle, some much needed forced relaxation and in my case, forcing me back into the water. My next dive trip would bring me to the lucent waters of Cozumel.

The dives in Cozumel were pretty spectacular. My travel companion, Tim and soon-to-be-husband is also a certified diver. He would join me on a two-tank dive aboard a locally operated diving company. I'm a lucky girl to have found someone who shares so many similar interests and most importantly in this case, a dive certification! Once gathering up our dive gear and climbing aboard an unstable and aging dive boat, we were on our way to what they called the Cozumel National Marine Park, a protected underwater environment in Cozumel covering over 29,000 acres of ocean. Our first dive, Chankanaab Bolones brought us to depths around 60 to 70 feet. As we were descending, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a wreck or perhaps an operating tourist submarine as you notice in the photo below. Our dive boat, separated into two groups, 2 dive masters and 20 other divers. During our descent, we were briefly separated from our dive group and joined the other group. The least of my worries, since my mind was focused on the plentiful of marine animals, as well as large coral heads scattered around. However not as colorful as I would have hope for, the sensation of being in the water overcame anything else on my mind. With a clear visibility and the warm water touching my skin, my soul was happy again, happy to be back in the water where I belong. Here is a video that will give you a better idea of what to expect on the dive. Not a personal video, but one that will allow you to get a sense of what the dive was like.

All geared up!

My forever dive buddy!

Descending in Chankannab Bolognes

Prior to our second dive, an unfortunate accident took place for one of the elderly dive couples that was aboard our dive boat. As we ascended and reached the surface, it was clear that our dive boat was no where to be found. As everyone looked around, our heads bobbing like a buoy in the water, there wasn't our boat in sight. As our divemaster yelled at another local dive company for their attention, the persistency eventually worked and we were aboard another boat, without our possessions: our bags, cruise cards, clothing or even money. As the current boat radioed to find out what was the cause of us being left in open water, I thought to myself, this was all apart of the adventure right? Thirty minutes passed, we were finally reunited with out boat and come to find out a terrible situation had taken place. A frightening medical emergency had taken place while we were underwater. The wife of the elderly couple mentioned earlier had gone into cardiac arrest underwater and was brought immediately up to the surface, she was unresponsive. She was transported quickly to the closest resort and picked up my an emergency vehicle. We never heard what happened after that, however my thoughts are with her.

From that incident, a few of the other divers aboard the boat were turned off by the accident and decided to leave the boat as we were refiling our takes at a nearby marina. Our dive boat of 20 dwindled down to 14. Our next dive, brought us to Paradise Reef. Situated South of the Puerto Maya Cruise Ship port, it is one of the most visited and popular dive sites in the area and a beautiful one indeed. With a current running south to north, a start from the entrance of Caleta, we drifted North. A drift dive with an abundance of coral ridges, assortment of sea sponges to every kind of fish imaginable. A few of my favorite sea animals included, a spotted manta ray, moray eels, barracudas, and groupers. Considered a novice dive with depth ratings of 30 to 45 feet, our total bottom time was approximately 45 minutes. I was pleased with this second dive. It was by far an improvement of the previous one. I highly encourage checking out this dive if you are in this area. It offers endless visibility and vibrant colors. I was indeed ecstatic to log two more dives in my waterproof log book by the end of our day in Cozumel. Now I was officially on dive number 48. Finishing 2 dives before noon and sipping on a pina colada right after, I couldn't be happier! As for the next dive, perhaps somewhere in the Great Barrier Reef or Bali!

Scuba diving, the closest feeling you can imagine to an astronaut in zero gravity. It's an adventure sport that can expose you to an extraordinary world. I truly am a person that believes life begins when you begin to explore, not only exploring for yourself but sharing those explorations with others. Many people have wondered or asked my main motive for writing this blog. Even for my inconsistent entries and lack of time to write, I want to be able to compile my thoughts in one place so one day I can share my most memorable adventures with my children and to people that I meet along the way. We can only dream of the many places we have yet to travel, but we can share with others the places someday we hope they can see and experienced as we have.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Day Trip to Possom Kingdom State Park

"For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it.” - Jacques Cousteau

A reservoir off Brazos County lies a state park in the heart of Palo Pinto County in Caddo, Texas. Known for a lake with some of the clearest waters within Texas, you might have heard of Possum Kingdom Lake. Wildfires had went through this area in 2011 due to drought, however the beauty and terrain of the area are slowly being restored and visitors are slowly beginning to trickle in once again. The state park is taking steps to improve the area and adding new trails. Amongst beautiful terrain, a fish farm that grossed me out and winding rounds, this state park was tucked away, away from the city which undoubtedly was music to my ears.  A manageable drive of three hours from Dallas, it is a potential option for a day or weekend trip for any parties looking for a few nice hikes and a relaxing departure away from the city.

Even with the scolding temperatures of the Summer, we cinched up our daypacks, filled a camelback or two of water and grabbed a few Kind bars (which were sure to melt) for the 6 mile trek. A great moderate to difficult trail we had planned to hike up the top of Johnson Peak, the highest point in the area. I only say challenging because it was nearly 100 degrees and not a cloud or tree to provide a sliver of shade. My companions and compadres along this journey included my Fiance' Tim and our dear friend Jordan. We didn't see another single soul besides ourselves on our hike up to the top. Perhaps we were the only ones crazy enough to partake in sauna like temperatures.  

With a few rest points and lookouts along the way, they were named after the major Texas Universities. Not to be biased, or to be biased, the Texas Longhorns had the best lookout! Johnson Peak is a 350 foot hill above the lake with beautiful landscaped views of the entire lake. You can see my panoramic photo from my iPhone below from the hike up to the top. It is a nice lunch spot with plenty of shade and benches to accomdate. Despite the heat, it was a clear as day throughout Caddo. With clouds as fluffy as the freshest cotton candy, this was a day trip and carnival of heat worth the climb all in great company.

At the top of Johnson Peak Trail

No matter when you have the time to get out into the realms of Mother Nature, it's almost a natural remedy for all of life's curve balls. The best moments in life are when you refresh and share experiences with friends and love ones on the open trail even when it is close to home. Even though we might have skipped out on the relaxing "beach" portion post hike, almost running out of gas on the ride home and stopped at quite possibly the most horrible farmers market I have dawned upon, moments like these...I would never change.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Weekend to Wichita Mountains

Beautiful sunrise at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

The REI tent I had purchased a year ago at the members only garage sale was slowly accumulating a layer of dust bunnies in the corner. As I pound on my keyboard and heavily glaring at the unread emails in my inbox a twitch hit me. This was the type of twitch that always seemed to occur every two months or so. Indescribable and a common occurrence and only curable with a dosage of Mother Nature.  Thinking about that poor tent and lonely camping gear slowly melting in the attic from the blazing oven of Texas heat, it dawned on me that a camping trip was needed. Not really keeping in consideration it was already the end of June and the triple digits creeping around the corner, my traveling companion and I decided a camping trip to the Wichita Mountains was a must. On our list of "close" hiking and mountains from the Dallas area, for a weekend getaway it seemed like the best option. Desert in the summer. What a great idea!

Not much planning involved for this trip. A trip to REI to grab a new pair of trail shoes (awesome and amazingly comfortable Brooks) and a new camping pad for Tim (purchased the Big Agnes). I would be lying if I didn't say we made a trip to REI three times in the past week. REI is my home away from home. This time headed Northwest of Dallas, there is a town three hours away known as Lawton Oklahoma. Just North of Lawton lies the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Covering over 59,020 acres and located next to Fort Sill Army Base, the refuge is a conservation area for many prairie animals ranging from bison, longhorn, white-tailed deer to prairie dogs. Interesting fact...The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge played a very important part in saving the extinction of the American Buffalo

Bison at the refuge.

Although having the option of doing some backcountry camping due to a short weekend. Tim and I decided to stay at the Doris Campground. Only $10.00 a night, this was a sure bargain! Sleeping under the stars is good for the soul. The campground is a first-come first-serve basis. We arrived on a Saturday morning around 9:30am and luckily there were plenty of camping spots available. We claimed and pitched our tent in a spot right by a small lake. Originally I had pictured dessert grassland like environments for the Wichita Mountains area, however was pleasantly surprised the abundance of lush greens, wildflower and the plentiful amount of trees giving our campsite a shadowy escape from the heat.

Our campsite at Doris Campground!

Excited to get on our first trail, a visit to the visitors center led us to purchase a topography map (which we were thankful to have later on). It was impossible to beat the heat since we decided to begin our hike around 10 and decided to hike through midday, which in terms translates to a bit of craziness. Having water was crucial that day. We each had a 3 liter camelback full of water. Our mission of the trip was to climb and boulder up to the top of Elk Mountain. The trailhead begins at Sunset Creek. There are two bridges that have trailheads, make sure to take the bride or the left past the restrooms. The hike up to Elk Mountain is not well marked and some parts a bit overgrown. If you do not follow a map or instructions, going off-trail is very easy to do (which we did). The hike begins through a lush forest-like area with overgrown grass and hitchhikers. Make sure to wear bug spray!

As the hike heads towards the creek make sure to veer left up a slight incline to where a trail is hidden. We wished we were told about this trail earlier. Our hike took a two hour detour off an unmarked trail. We ended up taking a trail just Southwest of the Elk Mountain trail and diverted back onto the proper trail a few hours later. Our unmarked and unnamed trail we had aimlessly walked on provided us a great change of terrain and gave us a perimeter view of the mountains. The hike was moderate, however at some points difficult due to the sweltering midday heat. Worth the trek and heavy sweat.

At one point on the Elk Mountain Trail we came upon the Valley of Boulders. This section, full of granite and large boulders led us to utilize our hopping skills and endurance to climb our way through. My adrenaline satisfaction was undoubtedly fulfilled. After roughly four hours through brush, rocks and small abrupt ascents and descents and the pounding of rocks on our feet, I spoke in my mind, I was sure going to sleep like a rock tonight. 

Valley of Boulders 
View from the side of Elk Mountain
Our lunch break.

The trip was a getaway needed to fix that twitch in my system and was exactly the proper remedy. After settling down for the day, it was already time for a nice hearty dinner. Tim had the brilliant of all brilliant ideas to pack fajita meat from la michoacana meat market. We grilled up delicious fajita tacos on a skillet over a camp stove. After dinner, we decided to make the twenty minute drive to catch a sunset at Mt. Scott. Beautiful yet windy!  The sunset was unfortunately blocked by a group of clouds, but I can imagine how beautiful this place must be on a clear day! Some of the highlights of our evening was watching from afar a speed trap cop pulling people over and a tarantula scurrying across the rocks.

Top of Mt. Scott
Watching a sunset at Mt. Scott.

That evening we purchased firewood from the campsite check-in office and gathered twigs for kindling. As we were relaxing and talking about the lovely things in life while lounging in our camp chairs, we hear our nearby camping neighbors slowly strum a guitar.  We were listening to Blind Pilot play from our portable I-Pod dock and decided to hit the off button as we heard the slow strum of a guitar turned to an acoustic and private session filled from tunes of country to Ray La Montagne. It was perfect on all levels. Ending the night with s'mores by the fire and entertaining ourselves with clever word games. It was a hot as hell night with an annoying bird chirping over our tent while trying to fall asleep but still a good one. The Wichita Moutains offered a retreat to lead us to forget about the city's monotony. Nature always leads me to wake up right as the morning sun breaks the horizon. After enjoying a nice light breakfast, we ended our weekend on a thirty minute stroll on the Longhorn Trail off of French Lake. This isnt Yosemite or Glacier National Park, but any chance to get away is worth every minute. Another adventure to add to this timeless journey...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Beavers Bend State Park

The adventures needed to be written down are abundant, however time seems to have escaped me the last six months due to a move cross country back to my hometown of Dallas, TX. Why the re-location back to my roots? For love, family, a new business venture and another pit stop in my journey to another stepping stone that I needed take in this soul-searching expedition. In the time that I was away, there have been many missed hike posts, mini-adventures and even an epic trip to Kauai that consisted of conquering the relentless Kalalau Trail. It will be up soon for your viewing pleasures! To make it a habit of writing down our thoughts before the finer details escape our memories in my opinion are the hardest habits to retain and something I am striving to fine tune.

Nature is calling!

Moving to Texas has been quite the adjustment and slowly replacing my adventurous needs has become a challenge, however a challenge of creative collaboration. From checking out the great indoors, yes I said "indoor"...from rock climbing gyms, boxing classes to ripping out my cruiser skateboard on the concrete jungle has been rather indescribable. Truly indescribable with a mix of heartache from missing the West Coast. I decided that the only way to get my fix of greenery, terrain and climbing had to be done in a road-trip format at an average of three to five hours outside of the city. This brings me to Beaver's Bend State Park in Oklahoma.

Photo by Rachel Nielsen!

Growing up in the North Dallas area, my idea of Oklahoma never included a picturesque view off cascading trees and tributaries. Roughly three hours Northeast of Dallas, Texas nestles a tranquil weekend getaway. Beavers Bend State Park was recommended by some of my boyfriends' classmates from PT school. The trip was a last minute decision on our part, but the greatest idea since Tim and I were itching to get away from the city. Our good friends Joanna and Jacob from Austin were able to join us.

Prior to our trek up to Oklahoma, we were able to find a site that recommended a scenic route and bypassed the major freeway. I jump at any chance to escape to scenic! Here is the website that provides the scenic route directions, as well as the cabins we had reserved for our weekend getaway Cabins in Broken Bow. Pulling into our cabin deep into the woods of Beavers Bend nestles the most adorable cabins I have ever laid my eyes on. Each cabin and accommodation had a pleasant name. Our cabin, Steph's Secret was a rustic studio space that accommodates four with full kitchen, king bed, pullout couch, fireplace and hot tub. Always up for a fusion of extravagance and ruggedness.

Cabins in Broken Bow, OK

What a cute cabin!

The state park had a warm and welcoming visitor and nature center with a gallery and museum with intriguing information on the Broken Bow area. The hike we all had in mind was upon a bluff overlooking the river. The day was beautiful yet windy and somewhere around mid 70's. Wanting something moderately challenging, a combination of a few trails were necessary. Asking the park ranger was indeed great idea. The combination of the trails, Beaver Creek, Deer Crossing to Cedar Bluff are apart of the David Boren Trail. Two cars are needed for the trail considering the trail is not a loop. We dropped off a car at the south entrance trail head of Skyline Trail across from the Dogwood Campground and another at the nature center where we began the trail.

 The entrance of the trail head is to the right of the firewood shed at the nature center. The total distance of the the combined trails were roughly 6 miles or so. The trail is well marked and have trail markers along the way. Total walking time at a leisurely pace set the time at or around three hours. At a few points where you ascend, warning a sweat may be broken. We were quicly shedding our layers. With plenty of greenery everywhere and change in terrain and a few small stream crossing, I was pleasantly surprised at the beauty around in these woods. Highly recommend for hikers looking for something different than the trail offerings in North Texas!  The bluff was absolutely beautiful with a few points to overlook with steep dropoffs down to the river.  I give the trail an overall moderate rating with only a few steep climbs. We ended the hike on the bluff with our packed lunches overlooking the beautiful river below. I felt ecstatic knowing that nature was calling at me once again...

Part of the group.

Jacob & Joanna on the trail.

Gorgeous Views of the Cedar Bluff

Lunch on the bluff

Yes, dogs are allowed on leash!

We ended the weekend at another recommended outing at a place roughly five miles outside the park. Girls Gone Wine, a cute boutique and wine tasting shop. They brew and bottle their own wine in house and offer a great variety. The wine tasting was completely free!  I recommend the frozen bellinis, however a warning that they do cost a hefty ten buckaroos which none of us were expecting in OK, perhaps a bar in uptown! We ended up purchasing a glass of wine and sitting on the patio. Luckily they had warmers and blankets outside since it was a bit chilly that day, which is clearly unheard of in May. Just our luck and our hunger striking us, a man was grilling around the corner and offered us free hot dogs. Hot dogs and wine, what a great combination of epic proportions.

The remainder of the weekend was tranquil getaway from the city. A crisp and delightful weekend of board games from our childhood nostalgia, roasting marshmallows, meeting new friends, laughing with great friends to consuming perhaps the best chili and rolls ever (made with love by the Turner's) was exactly what I needed! A hand of hot tea and stories to share, weekends away from the hustle and bustle are indeed the best! Being able to share great memories and anniversaries with others are unparalleled. For all the Texans looking for a retreat away from the lights and a night under the stars, I highly recommend a weekend away at Beavers Bend State Park. Worth the drive guaranteed! Forgetting to hit the reset button once in a while from all the structures in our life is very common and shouldn't be forgotten.

Tim and I celebrating our one year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The New Chapter

2012 you have been truly a magical year. This year will be hard to beat. I've had unforgettable times with amazing friends and family, great health, endless adventures and  finding the love of my life.

"There's a time in your life where following your heart is the strongest and at it's purest form."

Unforgettable times with my besties!

Almost 2 1/2 years ago I was in pursuit of life's beauty again and a phase of self discovery. Moving out on my own in a new city was exactly what I needed to do in order to seek out that fulfillment. I've chased many dreams and journeys throughout my life, however not one's to seek out my heart and where that passion lives. The time I spent in L.A. I will never forget and has impacted and shaped me in every way possible.

Balance: I probably say this time and time again but balance means everything to me. Without finding your life’s it’s difficult to focus or accomplish your goals. Without balance, life is like a world of fog. You know exactly where you’re going, but don’t know how to get there. We take many risks in life that are outside of our comfort zone, but the most rewarding outcomes are received out of them. Los Angeles has helped me further acknowledge what it means to have balance in life. Even though I feel like a balanced person thus far, there is always room for improvement. The importance of balance and finding that balance is a complex thing but I truly believe it is one of the many components in life we must find and something that is worth seeking.

Strength: I have found empowerment and the strength within myself both emotionally and physically. I learned the strength to stay true to that inner balance.  Having that ability to find that connection of strength is powerful and rather difficult to explain in writing. When you’re at my age, 23 people tell me, “You have your whole life ahead of you and there are endless opportunities that are given and thrown to you.” However, no one tells you there is an inner voice controlling your emotions and telling you to stay true to your heart. Los Angeles has brought me strength and the confidence to know that wherever I am in my life or the decisions I make, I will always have the strength to pick myself up again.

Love: I learned to love again. I don’t just mean love from evolving relationships with people, but with Mother Nature itself. From the outside we may exude with love, but it may not seem that way from within. Being able to connect my soul with the outdoors has taught me how to love again and more than ever. From the sight and sounds of the sea to the echoes of the mountains my glass would feel a little less full. The feeling of chasing life’s beauty has brought towards a new excitement and a continuing journey to find love and more importantly hang on to it. Beauty is everywhere and loving it I consider a bonus.

Taking chances and letting go are the most difficult things in life. But the past few years in LA have helped me find strength, balance and love. Without my move Westward it is hard to imagine my growth as an individual. Everyday from here on it is an adventure. Life’s beauty can offer something to never have thought that could be imaginable. The most important lesson I have learned is “whatever your passions are in life, follow them and find them”. The only constant in life is change. Thank you again LA for the sun, surf, friends, health, food, beauty and adventures that will be cherished forever in my soul. Where there is love, family and good friends, there is opportunity. Los Angeles you have been good to me in every imaginable way. Now it's off to write the next chapter. Helen of Travel is headed back to where I lived during my childhood, however conquering in adulthood. To 2013 and Dallas here I come...

 My first surf competition: Placed 4th in Finals

 Best Friend <3
 Relentless trail on Kauai: 31 miles 
Backpacking in Kauai
10 day Hawaii Surf Trip
 Camping in Ojai
 Rock Climbing in Malibu
 Sailing in San Francisco Bay
Miss the M.A.D.E. team!
 Went from my 7'6 down to a 6'0 
Saw the Grand Canyon for the 1st time

 Fulfilled a Childhood dream
 ASP Tour Stop in Huntington
Started snowboarding (work in progress haha)
 Sailing in San Francisco Harbor
 Quite possibly the best Thanksgiving ever
To the new adventures and beauty ahead...