Samantha Arthurs

author, reviewer, here for a good time

Author: Samantha Page 2 of 5

August Week 1

The first week of August has been a little slower going than I had hoped for. I did mange though to get to 10,000 words in Then She Grew Up (which I have changed the title of, but I’m keeping that to myself for right now), which was my goal for yesterday. I also hit x-amount of words on Lola, which was another milestone! I think that tomorrow I’ll try some editing, though if the writing bug is there I want to indulge it. I can almost always sit down and get a few words out, but there are times when I get into a real zone and can churn out a lot in a short period of time. Those moments come in fits and starts though so I have to latch onto them while they’re there!

It’s time to really settle into a deep edit of Blue. That is the next book slated for release, and I have to convince myself to set some deadlines. Not just for Blue, but for the other completed projects so I quite dawdling on them. The material is there, it’s all ready to go, so I just need to push myself. I don’t want to be one of those people who puts out something new every single month, that will oversaturate the readers who DO want to follow me. I know there are some people who love getting something new every month, but with myself I think it’s overkill. Or maybe I’m wrong, who knows!

I just know that a release every couple of months or so will suit me better, so a schedule is coming soon. Once I have it I’ll try to post it here so people know what they can tentatively expect (as things are always subject to change at a moment’s notice).

We’re in August now, so it’s time to think ahead to NaNoWriMo too. Maybe I’ll select one of my projects that I’m working on/toward now for that, or maybe inspiration will strike and I’ll get a new idea. If I do I’ll likely tuck it away for November so I have something to work on for just that month. I won’t lie…NaNo has been VERY good to me. Endless Numbered Days began as a NaNo project, even though I didn’t complete it during that particular year. A Crooked Mile was written entirely during NaNo, as was A Different Shade of Blue. I’ve written Crimson twice in that time frame, as well as a horror novel and what I originally did with Bookish.

Do you do NaNoWriMo? Have you published your novel written during November? If you don’t do NaNo then how do you feel about it? I’m genuinely curious!

I think that’s about it for my first week of writing in August. I want to try and get a lot done since I’ll lose a week or so at the end of September for vacation.

Let’s hope week 2 has some better progress!

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July Wrap-Up!

So we’re basically at the end of July! This month went pretty quickly, but I did manage to accomplish quite a bit of writing and organizing. While I wish I had done a lot more, I think it’s important to pace yourself as a writer. I’m never going to be one of those people who can release a book a month, that just isn’t how I am. It takes me too long to edit and make things as good as I can make them, and the whole process tends to slow me way down.

I managed to do outlines for all of my upcoming projects, and have started editing on those that are already finished. I’m taking my time with my read-throughs, but what I really need to do is print off hardcopies. It’s a task to do that when there are hundreds of pages, but I find I do better line editing for myself when I have a print copy. I can kick back outside with a cup of tea, lounge, and read without having to lug my laptop with me. I’ll probably get on that soon, either buying ink for my own printer or heading to the library to turn over some hard earned money in exchange for pages. We’ll see!

I always start out trying to write on various projects at one time. It works to an extent, but then one particular story always jumps out at me and I’ll hyper-focus on it until I finish it. Right now it’s Lola’s story that has me sucked in. I’m really enjoying writing about her and Finn (they’re the two main characters) and I’m just really enjoying myself there.

I’m also very excited to get to join a local writers group! They all seem like awesome people, and I always enjoy getting to meet other authors. They’re trying to arrange a book signing for early September, so I really hope it’s a time and date when I can make it and get to join in on the fun.

I’ve always been working on boosting sales for A Crooked Mile. It’s hard going, I won’t lie, but I’m still trying. It does motivate me though to get A Different Shade of Blue out sooner rather than later, since books in a series tend to sell better than stand alone books do. I also have the third book in the series in editing, and I’m working on book number four too. Four will definitely be the end, it’s just time to let go of those places and those characters. I love them so much, and I’m so proud of what I did with them, but you gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.

Do you guys have characters that you’re hopelessly attached to? Is it hard for you to stop writing about them even when their stories are pretty obviously over? Or is it just me?

Here is what my writing/editing schedule looks like for August:

Pretty on par with what I was hoping to accomplish in July. I may not have stuck rigidly to the schedule, but I did manage to accomplish some goals just the same.

Also for those who are interested, here is a snippet from A Shark In Lola’s Pond:

Alright, well, it’s on to August! Let’s hope this month brings lots of book sales, writing, and more goals met for the year.

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July: Week 2

This week didn’t feel insanely productive, but looking back it really was! I got a couple of chapters edited in each finished project, and even finally read over everything I’d already written for the project that just won’t die. Aside from that I wrote a chapter for every single WIP, though I’ll likely start to focus more on one thing ahead of the others very soon. It just feels nice to have touched base with everything I have going on.

Sometimes I think about the other writers that I know, and it’s sort of amazing how we all have such different styles when it comes to how we approach things. I don’t know any two people who do things the same way, but it’s sort of refreshing. It’s nice that we each have our own path set up for ourselves.

For me the act of actually writing is the easiest part of the whole writing process. One I have the idea and I flesh it out some I can knock out a project fairly quickly. If I’m doing something for NaNo I can typically get it finished in about 9 days or so. My fastest ever for finishing a first draft was six days. I still can’t believe that I actually did that.

Now I’m not saying that writing a first draft in six days is ever a great idea. I have only ever done that, or felt driven to do that, during NaNoWriMo. The last two projects I finished first drafts of took me about a month, which I feel is pretty acceptable.

After that though things just get hairy. My first step is to take a break, to move away from what I just finished and give myself breathing room. This can be a week to a month, sometimes more. I can’t help it, I just need the distance. After that I have to force myself to do a first edit. I hate editing, but I really have to make myself do this.

After that it’s all about getting my editors to look it over and make their suggestions, and then I’m forced into a third edit. I use their critiques, advice, and the errors they caught to polish things up. After that I do one more fourth edit where I read through it totally and catch anything else.

This process took me a year from start to finish with A Crooked Mile. Mostly because I was just so crazy slow about it. I’d like to speed things up this time around, but we’ll see.

For now I’m just glad to be in a good pattern, accomplishing things every week.

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July: Week 1

So as a writer if I don’t set goals for myself I accomplish…basically nothing, honestly. What I like to personally do is create a spreadsheet for myself with everything I hope to accomplish in a week and then I try to check everything off. Sometimes I manage to do this, sometimes I fall a little short. This week went pretty well, and here’s a break down of what I managed!

The Dreaming Summer:  I decided on my final ideas for this novel, and did a layout for all the chapters. I use layouts as a loose guideline for what I want to achieve, otherwise I’m all over the place. They really help me to stay focused and not stray off into the unknown, and while I may tweak them as I go they really work for me!

The Heart of War: This is historical fiction, so I not only did a layout for this novel I also started doing research. While fiction does afford some leeway it is still based in fact, and I don’t want to be the person who completely makes up some large aspect of WWII. That won’t fly.

Then She Grew Up: I had two different ideas for how this novel would go, and I ended up mashing them together. I know where I’m going now, which is pretty good!

Rag & Bone:  The first two chapters have now been edited! I started my first pass on this one!

Bookish: I did another two chapter edit on this one. I’m also starting to consider the illustrations as I go along.

Before That Winter: This book will come next in publication after Blue, and so it’s getting a much more heavy edit. I’m doing a read through and noting the things that need to be fixed and where I need to add in and remove things. I started that process last week.

Crimson: I don’t want to talk about it, oi.

Blue: I’m starting the publishing process with this, and it’s slow going. I’m waiting on my editors now, and then I can start to focus more on things like cover art and all that.

A Shark In Lola’s Pond: I started writing on this story this week! I got about 5,000 words but I was also doing layouts and things that took a lot of my attention. Now that those are out of the way I can start to focus on writing on each story and not worry about anything else besides editing. Yeehaw!

It was a productive week, that’s for sure. There will be weeks where I don’t get much done, or maybe I don’t touch every single project. Which is okay. The point of the “schedule” is to make sure I’m doing SOMETHING, no matter what it is. I try my best to be organized with my writing, because that is the only way I manage to accomplish things. I thrive during NaNoWriMo for that reason. I pre-plan, I have an idea, and then I just dive in. Having a set time to accomplish a goal means I manage more with my time, and that is really what I have to do when working, doing book reviews, and trying to take time for myself too.

It’s really just all about balance.

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Writing & Books Update!

Since I put out A Crooked Mile I’ve taken a little bit of a break from writing to just catch my breath. Tonight I finally sat down, sorted out what there is to do, and I’m ready to get back into a pattern again! Part of it also was a much needed break to read and just see what’s out there in terms of popular fiction right now, and I feel satisfied enough to start putting in a few hours a day with my own words again.

As of right now I have four things that are finished and are in need of editing. Those are: A Different Shade of Blue (Rust #2), Bookish, Rag & Bone, and Before That Winter (Rust #3).

Blue is the most polished of those four, and will be the next book released sometime this fall/winter. I did my first round of edits, and it’s currently with my two editors who are getting to it when they can. I don’t feel a need to rush it, so they’re able to take their time. After Blue I naturally want to rush Before That Winter, but I’m not going to do that. I want people to have a breather from Rust before we revisit it, so I’m thinking that Rag & Bone should come next.

Rag & Bone is very different, and I just hope it doesn’t put off the people who are here for the Rust books. I worry about that, but it was a book I wanted to write and so I did!

As far as Bookish goes, we’ll see. I want illustrations for it since it’s a middle grades style story, and I think that would really make it pop. No ETA on that so it will likely come last of those four no matter what.

On the horizon there’s still Crimson! The Wolves of Winter books are killing me, ya’ll. I’ve worked on this for years and just can’t be satisfied. It may be a WIP forever at this point!

Everything else is totally new! A Shark In Lola’s Pond, Then She Grew Up (Rust #4), Heart of War, and The Dreaming Summer are all brand new things and brand new ideas. To be fair Heart of War is an idea I toyed with before, but it’s with different characters, plot, and whatnot. So…similar but not really quite the same. Everything else though is new to me!

Then She Grew Up will also be different. The first three Rust books are more young adult, but this one will transcend that into more adult territory. Ramona couldn’t stay a teenage girl forever, alas!

So that’s where I am right now. I’m about to mock up a new writing schedule for myself to get back into the grove, especially with editing. I’ll also be back to the life list posts next weekend as planned!

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Life Item 5: Visit All 60 National Parks – TRNP

Last summer I took a road trip to hit up a bunch of National Parks, and I have to admit it was one of the best trips of my life. It was a lot of hours in the car, crazy weather (it snowed in August), hotel swimming pools, nights in tents under the stars, and more emotions than I could ever put into words. I saw some truly wonderful National Parks and  Monuments, but of all the places that I encountered last summer there is one that stands out above the rest:

Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

This is, sadly, a park that many people haven’t heard of let alone visited. It’s located in North Dakota, and on this particular trip it was our first official National Park stop. We came in from the east and so our first stop and our first glimpse of TRNP was at the Painted Canyon Visitors Center. The visitors center was very, very crowded with people who were primarily passing through, but we were happy to be able to stretch our legs after sitting in the car since leaving Fargo.

It was here that we got our first glimpse of the park, walking to a scenic overlook area just off the parking lot. If you haven’t been here before it looks quite a lot like the Badlands smashed together with grassland to create absolutely breathtaking scenery. I wish I could better explain how gorgeous it was with all the strange craggy rocks rising out of the earth, surrounded by grass and dotted with trees, but it’s nearly impossible to give you a proper visual. The pictures above will give you a better glimpse and show you just how unbelievably beautiful this place is!

After getting our park passports stamped in the gift shop we piled back in the car to continue on to the town of Medora. We would be camping that night at the Medora Campground, which is located right in the town itself just beyond the entrance to the South Unit. We had a campsite that was right at the edge of the area, right against a bank with a path that led to the nearby river. Our site had an electric hook up, a water pump, and a small charcoal grill as well as a shade tree. We set up quickly and then departed from the sight to drive into the park, wanting to see what sights we could fit in before it was time to make dinner and bed down for the night.

We came in through the South Unit, and there was a small line of cars waiting to check in with the ranger station. I had purchased an annual parks pass a few months before we left, so we could drive straight into the parks without paying at each individual station. This worked in our favor as a second ranger was walking car to car and, after checking our pass, let us bypass the line and head on into the park.

As you drive in you immediately pass through a massive prairie dog town, the first of these I had ever seen for myself. We didn’t stop as we entered, however, wanting to get to see some of the overlooks and do a short hike before we went back. So we continued on, driving along the winding road that put us up close and personal with some of the beautiful features of the park. We drove straight to the old East Entrance Station trail (0.8 miles) and found a place to pull off and park. We took our cameras and set out on the dusty trail, passing more prairie dogs who were living in holes right off the trail. There was only a handful of people on this trail, and after a while it was just us.

We didn’t walk all the way to the old entrance, but we got close enough to catch a glimpse of it before heading back. Some more people had arrived as we were leaving, so we were glad to be getting out before there was any kind of crowd making noise. As we started back I made a comment that I’d like to see a wild horse and then, as we came around a curve, one was standing right by the road!

I might have cried a little.

Okay, I cried. I can’t and won’t lie.

To be fair these horses are not truly wild, but are rather free-roaming. The park is fenced in, and every so often they thin the herds in the park by allowing people (who are well vetted beforehand) to adopt the horses. You can learn about each individual  horse here, including the one I saw who is named Ranger! At the time I saw him he was living with a herd of buffalo, but has since moved on to having his own herd. Get it, Ranger!

We drove back through the park then, pulling over to the side of the road to watch the prairie dogs. From a distance we saw more wild horses in a small herd, and by now the sun was dipping low in the sky so we headed on back. We cooked burgers and potatoes (using the garlic dill cheese curds we bought in Wisconsin), and then took showers in the nearby bath house. It was still fairly warm out when we crawled into bed, but sometime in the night the temperature took a drop and it got pretty chilly. Not enough to be miserable, but enough to make me wish I’d put on some pants instead of shorts!

One thing we did learn that evening is that the town of Medora shuts down early. We ventured out after dinner to see what was going on, and the answer was nothing. Almost everything was closed! One small store was open so we stopped in to check it out, but we ended up getting in bed early for lack of things to do. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, we did have to get up early to move on, but it would have been nice to have planned better for an evening activity. We had originally planned to do a night hike in the park under the full moon, but it was cancelled due to the smoke from the BC wildfires. Bummer!

There was just something magical about this place, something that spoke to me deeply. I wish I could put a name to what it was, but I really can’t. It was just the experience of it, the way that even though there were other people around this place still felt wild. It wasn’t packed to the gills like Yellowstone, or a little bit intimidating like the Badlands. It was just…beautiful and peaceful, and it was something my soul needed to experience and to feel

I would love to go back here and stay for a week, just camping and taking it all in. We only got a small taste of the place, and it left me wanting more. I want to see new parks, but this one? This one is a place I do plan to return to eventually.

Life List Item: Complete

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Life List Item 19: Swim With Stingrays

It is no secret that I’m an animal lover, though some people don’t know of my adoration for sea creatures. At one point in my adolescence I was pretty self-assured that I wanted to be an oceanographer, and was active in organizations such as Oceana. I attended lectures, handed out literature, and was very heavily invested in the exploration of our oceans and in the idea of saving them from human destruction. Eventually I moved on to other pursuits in life, but one thing has never changed: I love all things that live in the ocean.  Dolphins, wales, turtles, fish, blob looking creatures with weird names, I love them all. So when planning my last cruise to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands I knew I wanted to do some sort of excursion that would get me up close and personal with SOME sort of animal.

It was a bit hard at first, because the dolphin swims were calling my name. The major thing that was stopping me, however, was the nature in which those swims are set up. The dolphins are kept in captivity, which I don’t like, and I don’t feel right in taking joy from another creatures potential misery. Maybe they treat the dolphins well, I don’t know, but I knew it had to be something that involved animals not in containment or if they were contained then at a sanctuary. It was during my research that I found Stingray City and, after doing a lot of reading, I determined that it would be the right fit.

Stingray City is a total tourist destination, but the stingrays are not kept in captivity. They naturally flock to this particular place because that is where the people come, and the people bring food. It’s actually a sandbar pretty far out into the water of the sound off Grand Cayman, so you feel like you’re just hanging out in the middle of the ocean. The stingrays are abundant there, and you have plenty of opportunities to pet, feed, and snorkel with them. Once I found out about it and checked into the prices offered through our cruise ship I knew it was a must-do!

We took a small tour bus (absolutely filled to the brim) from the cruise port to the docks where we would board our boat. The boat ride was actually a great part of the experience, since the guides were all local and strove to make it a good time. The boat was open air with benches in the lower shaded area, and then a top deck where you could sit in the sun. They played music and had free drinks for the trip, which was just long enough to be exciting without being excessive. We navigated out to the sandbar, far enough away from the island that it felt like you were just out in the ocean with nothing around for miles. To be honest the place was rather crowded, there were a lot of other boats there, but it didn’t feel like too much. Each boat had its own little area, and once all the engines died down the waves were pretty manageable if a bit rough at times.

As soon as the boat was parked they gave us instructions on how to avoid being stung (watch for the stingers!) and how to approach and pet the rays. It was a little bit intimidating at first, southern stingrays are BIG, but eventually we all hopped into the water with all the stingrays.

It was so cool! The stingrays are a bit like big floppy salt water puppies, curious about people and eager to see if you have any food to offer them. They’ll just swim right up to you or glide past your legs, not the least bit afraid. I was more scared of them than they were of me, which is definitely not the norm when dealing with any sort of wild animal. The guides held rays for people to pet, and offered snorkeling gear for those who wanted to get a good underwater view. They took a lot of posed pictures, which were cheesy but fun, and mostly we just hung out in the water enjoying the day. The water was super warm, fairly calm, and it was a nice sunny day. The water at the sandbar was so clear you could see everything, which made the experience even more cool. You didn’t have to snorkel, you could just stand there and see everything going on under the water. It was honestly sort of surreal, but in the best way possible.

Petting the stingrays was wonderful, they’re so soft and smooth to touch. My friend fed one a piece of shrimp out of her fist, but I was more interested in just petting them and watching them swim around all the people. You do have to use some level of caution here, because getting stung is a real possibility if you aren’t being careful. So if you do participate in going to Stingray City, keep that in mind! Just stay calm and aware, and enjoy your time while also keeping safety in mind.

Once our time was done we climbed back onto the boat via ladder and were sprayed down from a fresh water hose. We enjoyed some punch on the way back to the island, and were mostly dry from the wind and sun by the time we got back. From there we caught our bus back to the port area and spent a few minutes browsing before we got on the tender back to our ship. The trip in total was a few hours, and it was totally worth the time and the money paid!

You can book an excursion to Stingray City if you’re on a cruise that stops in Grand Cayman through the ship you’re on, or through a private company. There are lots of local charters that go there, which is also a great option for folks who are just staying on the island sans cruise. If you’re a nature lover or just want to experience something  totally unique to the island then I highly recommend giving this a try! Especially if you’re like me and you want these experiences without the animals being confined in an isolating environment.

Life List Item: Complete

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Life List Items 5 and 66: Visit All 61 National Parks and See Old Faithful Erupt

This is two for one on the Life List! I could have written two very different posts for both of these things, but I they tie so closely together that I figured I would just do a post about my visit to Yellowstone and about seeing Old Faithful in person. Both were amazing experiences, but you can’t have one without the other and so here we are!

I decided a long time ago that I wanted to visit all 61 (then 59) National Parks. I had been to a few already, and the idea of conquering all of them just felt enchanting somehow. I did not begin this quest in earnest until the end of last summer, however, when I embarked on a road trip to visit six national parks along with several national monuments and other some protected areas. It was during this trip that I marked Yellowstone off the list, one of the “Big Five” for me in terms of parks I most want/wanted to visit.

Before we continue, let’s do a rundown of the “Big Five”:

1.       Yellowstone

2.       Yosemite

3.       Denali

4.       Zion

5.       Grand Canyon

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s keep going with the story here.

Yellowstone was the second park of our trip, and we were scheduled to spend three days and two nights (well, 2.5 days and two nights) there. We drove straight through from visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, and got to Yellowstone a bit late in the day. It was worth it though, because the drive through the mountains on the Beartooth Highway was nothing short of stunning. The views were spectacular, and for the first time in my life I saw actual glaciers! I will admit it blew my mind a little bit, and it also got me super excited for what we would see during our time in the park.
We passed through the Silver Gate into the park, and entered through the Lamar Valley. When people say that this is the place in Yellowstone to view wildlife they aren’t kidding! We had barely entered the park proper and were seeing herds of buffalo left and right. We also saw some smaller critters, such as antelope, but we did not see any wolves or bears nor would see any for the duration of the trip. A bit of a bummer, but I guess it’s better to see no bear than to come face to face with one!

We stayed at the Grant Village Campground, and check in was nice and simple since we’d booked well ahead of time. We bought a box of wood with the intentions of building a fire and then set up camp. As we were setting up the temperature began to drop significantly, though at the time we didn’t think much of it. We knew it would be on the cooler side here despite it being August, but when the rain set in, well, that was when things really went south.

We had covered our tent with tarps, so while we stayed dry it still became pretty miserable fairly quickly. We had brought long pants and sweatshirts, but the cold that set in was very unpleasant and even under our blankets we were tossing, turning, and freezing. Going out to the bathroom was not pleasant because the campsite didn’t do well with water and had no real drainage so it pooled all around our tent and soaked our shoes. By the time morning came we were all unhappy campers and we made a tough decision: see what we could in Yellowstone and move on that evening. This choice was made somewhat easier by folks around us talking about a ‘snowstorm’ that was coming our way.

Now we had no idea what these people considered to be a snowstorm. They were campers, like us, and probably not locals but we didn’t wat to take chances. We ultimately decided to head to Grand Teton for our boat tour (more on that in the Teton post) and to see the mountains. We would then drive back up, pack up camp, and make a whirlwind tour around Yellowstone before heading for Cody, Wyoming to seek the refuge of a hotel for the night.

After we packed up we headed went to the geyser basin nearest our camp and started there. We then just followed the map we had been giving, hitting up the highlights such as Grand Prismatic Spring. We hadn’t fully planned on seeing Old Faithful, but we ended up there and only had about 15-20 minutes before the next eruption so we figured we’d stay. We were very, very glad we did! Because we got there just before starting time we were able to get a literal front row seat, glad to rest and just wait things out. As time began to tick away the place filled up, and we were glad that we’d gone ahead and snagged a place to sit. We were able to see this amazing wonder of nature, and take pictures and videos, unencumbered.

Seeing Old Faithful erupt is something I truly recommend for anyone visiting the park. Is it the biggest geyser? No. Does it go off the longest? No. Is it beautiful? Absolutely. Was it more than I had anticipated it to be? Yes!

There was just something wonderful about waiting, about anticipating the big eruption as the geyser began to gear up for the big moment. It would spew steam and bits of water, and you’d THINK it was time and then it would back off again. When it finally went it was a moment of elation, because you were witnessing something that you had (likely) never witnessed before. It was breataking and awe inspiring, and I can see why Yellowstone had spent over 100 years drawing in people to share in its wonders. It was something to behold, that’s for sure!

We finished up our rounds in Yellowstone, and we did have a reprieve from the dreary, rainy weather! The sun showed its face for at least a little while, which we all appreciated. It didn’t rain a drop during our viewing of Old Faithful either, which was a blessing. We even ate some ice cream and shopped in the gift shops before moving on, wanting to make the most of our shortened time.

As we left Yellowstone to head for Cody we drove….straight into the snow! It was surreal for all of us to see snow in August, and it was really coming down. We saw one lone buffalo traveling up the mountain on our way down, and then I saw a moose! He was down in a valley by a creek, and I wish we could have pulled off to snap some photos but the snow wasn’t waiting for anyone and we wanted to get to town before it got worse after dark.

We ended our time at Yellowstone with a Chinese buffet and a night at a hotel with a nice hot tub and pool. We did laundry, ate some snacks and slept indoors in the warmth of a soft bed after hot showers for everyone. I wish we could have stayed longer, or would have thought to pack better for the area we were in. I never anticipated it getting so cold or snowy, and I had done some research and had THOUGHT I was well prepared. I learned a lesson when traveling in Yellowstone, and I would love to go back and try again. There was a lot we didn’t get to see during our cramped few hours there, and I feel like I could stay there for a week and still not get around to everything I’d want to do. It was a good first time though, and it makes for a great story now. Though, at the time, I can assure you none of us were happy at ALL!

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Life List Item 27: Ride A Horse Out West

This is a Life List item that has been in my head and heart since I was a pretty young kid. My desire to ride a horse out west began when I first read By The Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The scene in which Laura and her cousin, Lena, race ponies across the vast open prairie spoke to the young adventurer in me and I never let the idea go. So while planning our National Parks road trip last year (the National Parks posts are coming soon) I knew one thing for certain: now was the time to fulfill a childhood fantasy!

Now, I’m from Kentucky which is the land of horses. Our neighbors have horses, I had a horse as a kid, and I have ridden horses before. The act of riding was not new to me, nor was being around horses in general. Still I am a planner at heart, and so I couldn’t just go out west and pick the first place that I saw. I started to research early on in the planning stages, and initially I was going to plan a ride at Yellowstone through Xanterra. After a lot of reviews though I ultimately changed my mind, and anyway we didn’t want to rush through our time at that particular park (with so much to do) to fit in a ride.

The last long stretch of our trip was to be spent in South Dakota, specifically in and around the Badlands, and so that felt like the area best suited for this particular venture. I looked into some places, read a lot of reviews, and ultimately I found Rockin’ R Trail Rides.

The reviews for this place were glowing, with plenty of good words out there for their wranglers and their care for the horses. That was important to me, as a person who has grown up with so many horse folk, and that is ultimately what drew me in. They offered so many types of rides too, and were willing to work with both experienced and inexperienced riders. My travel partner had never been on a horse before, while I had, and my sister wasn’t interested in riding at all. So with two of us prepared I booked the $43 one hour scenic loop ride for each of us.

The area we would be riding in was located in the Black Hills State Park, which is such a gorgeous place! I was already impressed with the scenery when we arrived there, and I was ready to go. We had to sign some paperwork (waivers and whatnot) and my friend opted for a helmet while I did not. Was I that confident in my skills? Not really, but as a Kentucky girl it felt wrong (even if it would have been smart) to go against my upbringing and wear one. Anyone under a certain age must wear a helmet, so if you’re a parent or traveling with kids they do have great safety guidelines in place!

The horses were already saddled up and ready to go, and they had a little platform for you to mount from to make it easier. My sister stayed behind at the corral while we got on our horses, and then we were off after a short demonstration on how to steer and give the horses commands.

There were a couple of guides with us on our trek, one in front and one in back. I was bringing up the rear, so I had some good conversations with the guide in back. They talked about the Black Hills, and told us at what point we came into the park. The horses all had saddle bags too, for storing cameras and whatnot. I took no pictures on the actual ride though; the stunning view was enough! You could actually see the Crazy Horse monument from the trail, it was pretty awesome.

The ride was, for the most part, pretty laid back. We were in a group of five riders, seven counting the guides. The only scary moment happened when we were entering a wooded area and a group of turkey vultures rose up and spooked the horses. Mine jumped pretty high and shied away (all the horses startled badly), but I just pulled hard and he stopped immediately. Right about then I second guessed that no helmet thing, but my heart stopped pounding and I was fine!

I didn’t go galloping off across the plains and through what would someday be the town of De Smet, but I did ride a horse in South Dakota just like I had dreamed of since childhood. I had horse back for days (get it!) and was sore in a bevvy of new and interesting places, but it was worth it. Seeing those gorgeous views, spending an hour on the back of a horse in nature, and feeling like I was a girl on the prairie for just a little while? Worth every penny and every bit of pain.

Life List Item: Complete

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Life List Item 16: Climb A Waterfall

I don’t know that anybody really sets out in life with the absolute intention of climbing a waterfall. I mean those people might exist in the world, but I can honestly say that I was never one of them. For one it is a very odd thing to think about, so it had never really crossed my mind. For another it sounds a little bit crazy when you say it out loud.

Say it out loud now:

I am going to climb a waterfall.

See what I mean?

I first knew that this was destined to be a Life List item was when I was planning out a cruise with my travel partner a few years ago. I had never been to Jamaica, and there is so much to do there it was almost overwhelming to decide how to spend our time. One thing people kept raving about, however, was Dunn’s River Falls. They declared this place a must-see destination, so I looked into it a little deeper.

Dunn’s River Falls is a waterfall in Ocho Rios, and is about 180 feet tall at its highest point. At the bottom the water flows into the ocean on a pristine white beach, making for a very picturesque setting. I read a lot of reviews before our trip, trying to work out just how this all might go. Some folks said it was an easy activity, some said it was scary, and others said it was very strenuous. Being fairly young and in relatively good health it seemed like a task that could be conquered, and so we went for it.

It was basically everything that everyone had proclaimed it to be, all rolled up into one.

We took an air conditioned bus from the cruise port out to Dunn’s River Falls, where our guide handed us over to the guys who lead you up the falls. One actually helps you navigate the terrain, while the other films your journey. Beware: they will make you scream ‘yes mon’ more times than you could ever imagine. At first you’re enthusiastic, but later on that enthusiasm turns to something else entirely. A battle cry, perhaps, that you can and will best this never ending flow of water, rocks, and burning lungs.

For me it was mildly terrifying climbing this thing. It isn’t that you’re high in the air or anything like that, you aren’t, but they very much drill it into you that you have to step where they show you to step and that you must be super careful with your footing. One wrong step could result in injury, because you are climbing very slippery rocks while rushing water tries it’s best to knock your feet out from under you. That, I think, was something I hadn’t anticipated or even thought about. Rushing water is a force to be reckoned with, and that adds a level of fear to the experience.

The waterfall is interspersed with lagoons where you can take a break, snap photos, and catch your breath. I personally made it about half way up before I decided that I’d rather enjoy myself by just lazing in some warm water rather than continue to climb. My knees ached, my chest heaved, and I had come to the realization that I am very much out of shape. That and, well, the constant feeling of maybe falling and breaking a leg was just not what I was about that day.

So while the rest of the group (well, the few who kept going) continued to climb, I was happy lying in the water, taking in the jungle setting, and enjoying myself. I had climbed enough to be satisfied, and that was enough for me.

If you’re going on a cruise that stops in Jamaica this might be a good excursion to book through your cruise line. There were other stops, and I must say that even if you aren’t into the idea of the climb the scenery alone is worth a look.

If you visit Jamaica and aren’t on a cruise, there are lots of options for seeing Dunn’s River Falls! You can book a private excursion, or drive yourself and pay to join a group. There’s no worry about heights here, it’s not astoundingly tall, though you may want to reconsider if you’re not in the best shape.

Life List Item: Complete

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