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Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

The hotel we stayed at in Flagstaff, AZ was directly across from a very busy train line and therefore the thing I remember most about it was the NOISE. It was utterly utilitarian, and that is the best thing I can say. It reminded me of somewhere Llewelyn Moss might have hidden out from Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

Regardless, we slept there just fine. The 25th of May was our day of adventure in Arizona. We woke late and meandered our way south of Flagstaff to Sedona where we were meeting up with our river guide from Sedona Adventures for our two-hour long kayak trip on The Verde River. The sun was high in the cloudless sky and it felt like about 100 degrees in the sun. I maintain that the Arizona sun is hotter than the sun anywhere else. I know this cannot possibly be true, but I feel like it should be.

By some manner of chance or coincidence, the morning tour down the river had about 13 people on it, but ours was just the two of us. Our guide’s name was Geoff (he never spelled it for me, but he seemed like Geoff rather than a Jeff) and he was … surprising. He might be the cheeriest stranger we met while on holiday. He was certainly enthusiastic about his job, that is for sure. Although neither S nor I had ever kayaked in inflatable kayaks before (or any other type of kayak, to be perfectly honest), Geoff was patient with us and a very concise instructor. He even told us, very enthusiastically and in the car on the way to the launch site, to “POUND THAT WATER!” so we wouldn’t dehydrate on our journey.

What can I say about the actual kayak trip? We LOVED it. It was so quiet and peaceful and serene and…perfect. And, I didn’t fall out of the kayak even once. There was a blue heron which followed us on our path down the river, which I found very comforting. I mentioned that in some depictions of Egyptian mythology the Heron brought the first sunrise to Earth and Geoff liked that very much.

Heron

The water of the river was a chalky-green white colour (hence the name – green river). In places the water ran fast over mini-rapids and at other times it snaked out over larger expanses and slowed to a crawl.

Kayaking

At one section we passed by a cliff face encrusted with swallows’ nests. There weren’t many birds visible, but it was a lovely place. Because there were only the two of us and Geoff didn’t have anything else to do that day, he let us take our time and ask as many questions as we wanted. He was very knowledgeable – and not just about kayaks. We talked books, too. Not TV, though, Geoff didn’t own a TV. He’s exactly the type of person you’d expect to not own a TV.

This kayak trip down the Verde River was my favourite “thing” we did on the whole holiday. I could have spent days there just floating. It was a beautiful place and a beautiful time.

River Verde

If you’re going to Arizona, and spending any time in the middle of the state, go see Sedona Adventures and look what they have to offer – if you have time then do the kayak trip – it really was incredible.

In the evening of 25th May we went to a wild west show at the Blazin M Ranch. This was tourism cheesiness at its best and brightest. The replica old west village was like something out of an amusement park – that over the top… The dinner show was predictable but enjoyable also. The dinner was fun. There were baked beans and biscuits – if you wanted a second biscuit then they’d throw it at you. Very funny!

Blazin M Ranch

They asked where everyone was from and, for some reason, S saying he was Scottish earned him nearly a standing ovation from the audience. Everyone wanted to talk to him or shake his hand. People from England or Ireland weren’t as well received, for some reason. S did not like this. He’s not the spotlight type.  🙂

We’d signed up for cheesy tourism and the Balzin M Ranch delivered. If that is the sort of place you’re looking for then that’s exactly the place you should go.

Afterwards we drove back to Flagstaff for our last night in Arizona. We needed our rest. the next day we were driving all the way to south-west Kansas (a LONG WAY!).

So, tomorrow – out of the Arizona desert and into the wheat fields of the midwest.

For now, sleep.

xo

A

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We woke super early on 24th May and hit the roulette wheel at Gamblin’ Bills one last time before leaving Vegas to fade into the dust in our rear-view mirror. In a very typical A & S moment, our last stop in Sin City was:

Welcome indeed!

From Las Vegas we headed north-east towards southern Utah. Our destination? Zion National Park. We had originally wanted to see both Zion and Bryce Canyon, but there was never going be enough time, so S cast the deciding vote and we went only to Zion. We were not disappointed. After what felt like an endless drive through seemingly featureless landscapes (although we did pas a rather large sand dune at one point, I think…) we finally reached our destination.

Having researched the park only enough to make our decision to visit, we weren’t really sure what to expect. Well, I can tell you one thing for certain – Zion National Park is a wonderful, beautiful place. The road that winds through the valley is no longer accessible by private vehicle, but the park runs an excellent bus which circles the route very frequently. It stops often which gives you a chance to hop-on-hop-off and explore the surrounding areas. An outdoorsy person would be seriously spoilt for choice at Zion. The hiking and rock -climbing opportunities are endless. We, well, we stayed on the bus until it reached its terminus and only then did we get off.

Zion National Park

I wasn’t too pleased with the idea of the bus at first – however, I now have to say that it is very, very good. There was a constant commentary explaining about the discovery of the canyons and the history behind the area. They explained some of the names of the individual features and why they’re called what they’re called. If I was able to remember any of it, I would share it with you now, but I don’t. (Thrilling story, right?)

Cliffs across the river.

At the end of the bus line there’s an extremely accessible and peaceful mile-long walk along the green waters of the Virgin River. We took our time wandering the path, which was quite crowded considering the early hour. For reasons known only to themselves there was a group of older tourists there who were obsessed with taking pictures of squirrels. Honestly. Here you are in a canyon of absolutely stunning natural beauty and you’re taking pictures of the…squirrels? Yeah, ok….

Beautiful, beautiful, wish you were here!

It really was phenomenally beautiful. Quiet and peaceful, despite the fact that it was quite busy. Again, it’s interesting to imagine the very first person who ever encountered these canyons…it would certainly fuel belief in a higher power, that’s all I’m saying.

When we returned to our car we headed straight back onto the road. This was one of the longest driving days of the entire trip – but there was no way I was going to come to Southern Utah and not go to Monument Valley. I mean, really, who does that?

So we drove and we drove and we drove. The scenery does not change much in this part of the world, I’m afraid. The view from the window was either the backside of an 18-wheeler (if I was driving) or the horizon stretched out interminably (if S was driving). It was the very essence of a Road Trip – and I enjoyed every single mile of the journey.

The Road.

Our plan was to arrive in Monument Valley in time to wander the monoliths in the settling dusk, then spend the night camped nearby. However, I am sorry to report that the only camping in the area was certainly not suitable for us. There was no running water or toilet facilities, no place to cook or anywhere to make a fire. If you add onto this the fact that there was a very, very strong wind that evening, you have all the information which fuelled our decision to power on through to Flagstaff, AZ after our brief, but no less wondrous visit.

Like I said, it was one of the heaviest driving days of the entire three week journey.

However, having said that, it was entirely worth every extra mile and every cent spent on the gasoline which took us there.

If there is only one place to ever see in the Southwest of America, I recommend this above all else that I have seen:

Monument Valley

It is a hushed, silent and scared place. Totally awe-inspiring. Iconic and unforgettable. We stayed for a very long time just looking.

Along the roadside.

Unfortunately, due to the reasons I mentioned above, we did not have long to linger. So we looked our fill and then headed back onto the road. The drive to Flagstaff was long and tiring, we did not arrive until early morning. Luckly, the 25th of May was a quieter day (more later), so we were able to sleep in a bit and get out from behind the wheel of the car. Although, with views like this:

In the mirror.

…it’s certainly easy to drive…

xo

A

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On the morning of the 19th of May we drove out of The City by the Bay headed towards Sacramento where we met up with my Uncle Jack & Aunt Diane for a late brunch. Needless to say, we had a wonderful time. They are two of my favourite people in the entire world and I hadn’t seen them in quite a few years.

After brunch we stopped and bought some supplies we were going to need for the next few weeks. We planned to spend a few nights camping out so we needed to buy… well, everything. It’s not as if we’d flown over with a tent in our luggage!! After we stocked-up we headed back on the road.

The plan was to drive south a bit and then into Yosemite National Park. However, due to an overnight snowfall of 19 inches, a lot of the passes were closed, so we had to amend our itinerary. This was not a total loss – although we were very saddened to miss out on all Yosemite had to offer. And S is still quite upset that we never got to see the giant redwoods. I am surprisingly OK with this, because it means we have even more reasons to return to California in the future!

Driving south through California was a gorgeous journey. We stopped at a fruit stand located…somewhere… and bought the biggest, sweetest strawberries either of us had ever eaten.

Fruit Stand

Seriously, the strawberries were the size of your palm. I know that isn’t particularly significant – but it is a detail that has stuck with me. I wish we had more carefully documented exactly where we were, but I honestly have no idea of the route we took, the towns we passed or the roads we drove. For instance:

Unnamed Town

I have no idea where this picture was taken, but I do know that we turned around there at some point.

The most exciting part of the evening of the 19th was our dinner, but that is a story for another time. Suffice it to say it was quite a hilarious evening. 🙂

We were just entering Death Valley as the sun rose on the 20th of May. It was an utterly silent, desolate place. But the sunrise was beautiful – cresting the hills in the distance, burnishing everything with the golden gleam of morning.

Sunrise, Death Valley

Death Valley was all you would expect it to be – hot. Although it was bigger than I imagined, somehow. We were only there for a few hours, and I suppose we saw everything we were able to see. I would have liked to have seen the Sailing Stones, but we weren’t near enough to journey that way.

We saw the natural stone arch:

Natural Stone Arch

And, of course, we saw Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America:

Badwater Basin

It was very salty, which I never knew. There was also water there, which came as a surprise, considering what I know of Death Valley.

Salt Water

The fuel prices were exorbitantly high – over $5.00 a gallon! Which isn’t yet as high as we pay here in Scotland, but it’s high enough, thank you very much! Sadly, we did have to refuel there, although we were smart enough to only get what we absolutely needed to see us through.

We left on the Nevada side of Death Valley, and on the way past we stopped at an old abandoned mining town called Rhyolite. Settled in 1905 and heavily populated during the ensuing gold rush, at its peak in 1908 the town housed around 4,000 people. By 1920, however, the mine was exhausted and the population of Rhyolite drooped to nearly zero.

It is a haunting, eerie place. The first ever ghost town I’ve seen. There was a small museum of sorts at the entrance of the town, and there were pallets there with artefacts which had been unearthed in the area, as well as from the buildings themselves. I liked it there, although there wasn’t much to see except dust.

Pickaxes

The old mercantile store was setting there on blocks, which was kind of surreal.

Mercantile Store

Some of the other buildings were still standing as well, a few walls of the jail and the school moulder in the scorching sun. The train station was mostly intact. It is a beautiful building which highlights the fact that, although they may be ghost towns now, in their heyday these mining towns held an awful lot of money and importance. Hence, the expense laid out for schools, banks and, as below, railway stations.

Rhyolite Train Station

The era of the American gold rush is an interesting phenomenon. The amount of ghosts towns dotting the south west of America is staggering. Rhyolite is of little importance now, but if you had been there at its peak it probably would have astonished you.

Old Truck

The rest of the day we spent driving across Nevada. We weren’t sure where we wanted to stay for the night, but we had had an early start so we pressed on past Las Vegas and into the Valley of Fire where we set up camp for the night.

Camping, Vallye of Fire State Park

This was one of my favourite nights of our vacation. S and I spent the evening relaxing and watching the sun go down behind the fiery-red sandstone, eating hamburgers off the BBQ and toasting marshmallows over the open fire. It truly was spectacular. The Valley of fire is breath-taking. The weather we had while there was splendid. Camping out in nice weather in the warmth of early summer is an experience to be envied.

The evening of 20th May this time last year was a welcome, relaxing break before we woke on the 21st and headed into the neon of the Las Vegas strip. Over the past two days we had driven a very, very long way and seen quite a lot of magnificent sights. The prevailing image I have from the 19th and 20th May, 2011 is the image I will end this post on. One which can’t be experienced here in the UK, because there simply isn’t the space here for a road so incredibly straight and long:

The Road

If you look close enough, you can still see the road straight ahead at the very base of the hills. Impressive, isn’t it? Just looking back at that photo makes my fingers itch to be curled around a steering wheel.

So tomorrow it’s onwards into Vegas. Wish us luck!

xo

A

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Stage One – San Francisco

After travelling for a very, very long time we spent only one full day and two nights in San Francisco. It was a welcome chance to get our bearings, to refresh and refuel. To say to ourselves; “Here is where it starts.”

It was raining when we got to The City by the Bay, and after settling in S and I travelled by local bus into the heart of the city. The bus ride was an adventure in and of itself. Two guys at the back of the bus got into a rather heated argument about whether the air vent on the roof of the bus should be open or closed – S and I found this quite amusing at first, a welcome diversion from the monotony of bus travel. Until the argument got much louder and more heated. And at some point it dawned on me that we weren’t in Scotland any more. That we were in America. Where everyone can carry a gun just about anywhere they want to. After that, I was less amused and more terrified. Eventually they settled down. And, a few stops later (after one of the guys had already left the bus) the bus driver finally asked, “What’s going on back there?” leading me to believe that he was quite aware of the threat of danger himself.

It was a strange sort of paradigm shift, let me tell you.

Exploring the city in the rain wasn’t much fun although we did our best. We first tackled some necessities (getting a USA phone number, for instance) and then got down to the business of Adventure.

Cable Cars in the Rain, San Francisco

We rode the Cable Cars. Obviously. They were as I remembered them. Charming. A much-needed reminder of bygone times when nobody really needed to be anywhere in all that much of a hurry. I loved them.

At Fisherman’s Wharf we were both over- and underwhelmed. There was a lot of neon, I’ll grant you that. And perhaps on a nicer day, or later in the day it would have been something to see. But we didn’t bother staying long.

We did visit the Musée Mécanique, which was equal parts fascinating and frightening. Again, I like harking back to an earlier age, but papier-mâché fortune tellers have always scared me.

For instance:

Fortune Teller

This guy is super creepy. As are his good buddies, the wooden dancing men:

Frank, Bob, Charlie and Sam

I’m sorry, but that’s just FREAKY!  Although, considering we did spend about an hour there wandering about and paying the odd nickel to watch some of the fascinating machines actually working, it was well worth the visit.

Knowing, as you do, my adoration for all things Amusement Park, consider the following:

Toothpick Fantasy

This one is made entirely out of toothpicks!!! How awesome is that??

After we had spent all of our dimes and nickels we wandered away down the Embarcadero towards the Ferry Building. We stopped in for something to eat at Johnny Rockets. Because S had never been to one. And because they sell milkshakes. And play excellent music. And you have a mini-jukebox at your table.

Milkshakes and Jukeboxes

See? There IS reason behind my madness, even if I am the only one who sees it!! 🙂

We saw many iconic images during our walk including Alcatraz (as seen in yesterday’s post), the Fog City Diner (of cookbook fame) and, of course, The Ferry Building itself.

The Ferry Building

When we returned to The Ferry Building the next morning the view had changed somewhat. See if you can spot it…

The Ferry Building, Again

Yes, folks, that’s right. The sun was shining. Glorious, warm, American sunshine. Nothing beats it, trust me. The Scottish sun, even at its highest and hottest, just can’t hold a candle (and yes, I am aware there is only one sun…).

We met up with a dear friend of mine, Jeremy, whom I hadn’t seen in years. He took us for coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee in the Ferry Marketplace which was, quite possibly, the best coffee I’ve ever had (And I’ve been to Italy. And the Italians know their coffee!). Oh, my! Can they ever brew a good cup of coffee. If you haven’t been and get the chance to go – do it. RIGHT NOW. that’s an order!!

After that we went for a short walk in the sunshine (see above) and then stopped for something to eat at The Plant Organic Cafe. Where the food, company and conversation were all extremely satisfying.

When we parted with Jeremy (with promises to meet up later that night) we headed straight to the Alcatraz Ferry. Even though our scheduled ferry didn’t leave until much later, the folks at the ticket office were very kind and let us take an earlier crossing (freeing up our afternoon for more frivolity).

On the Ferry

What can I say about Alcatraz that you don’t know or can’t guess? It is over-commercialised, yes, but even so it is an eerily silent place with whispering ghosts in every shadowy corner.

OK, so I may be employing a bit of poetic license there, but the fact is there’s a chill in the air on the cell blocks. Anyone with a modicum of imagination can picture what the place was like when it was actively being used as a prison and wish themselves elsewhere.

Cell Block

We learned a lot – the audio tour is very useful. We saw the scarce windows (above) and the solitary confinement cells just opposite. We saw the mess hall and the warden’s office. We saw the depressing visitor’s area. We looked through the plexiglass into the ventilation shaft where the only people to escape Alcatraz snaked their way to the roof.

We walked in the rec-yard where you have an exceptional view of the bay and of the city. A perfect means of punishment for some of the prisoners who were sentenced to be on The Rock for life.

View of the City

View of the Bay

Of course, the prison closed in 1963 and now it’s a tourist trap. But, like I said, if you can imagine them, the inmates are still there, whispering to each other through the closed bars…

Prison Cell

Anyway, I digress.

After we got back to the mainland we walked towards Fisherman’s Wharf. At some point it struck us that it might be a fine idea to rent bicycles and ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. No, I’m not joking. That was our actual thought process. Wouldn’t it be fun to ride bikes across the bridge? Well, yes, it would.

So we rented bikes.

And we rode.

And rode.

And rode.

Uphill.

A lot.

And then we rode some more. And then, when we eventually arrived at the base of the gigantic, monstrous, insurmountable (teeny, tiny) hill leading to the roadway across the bridge – we realised we didn’t have time to cross it and get the bikes back in time. So we took a few pictures and rode back.

I may be exaggerating a little, but I swear to you it felt like we rode for about 100 miles. All uphill.

The end result was worth it, though. I mean, look at these pictures:

So then we rode back to the city and dropped the bikes off. And walked around a while, and rode more cable cars. It was, of course, necessary for us to visit Lombard Street:

Having wrung all the fun we could out of one day in San Francisco, we returned to the hotel to freshen up a bit, then headed back to the airport to pick up our rental car.

This was not a simple task. This car would be our mobile home for the next 20 days! Somehow we snaffled an upgrade, and I sure am glad we did. Look how pretty he was:

Dodge Avenger 🙂

We then drove back to the city and met up with Jeremy and some other friends for a much-deserved and much-enjoyed night on the town. There were drinks and merriment and laughter. The perfect end to an excellent start to our vacation.

San Francisco was beautiful and warm and welcoming. We could have spent much more time there. Certainly one full day did not do it justice. However, our plane was leaving from New York City in a few short weeks and we had a lot of miles to cover.

So, we went to bed on the 18th of May full of excitement for the next morning when we would really and truly begin our Epic Road Trip Adventure and the next day we woke early and drove out of the city towards Sacramento.

With my longing for, and love of, the open road, with the sound of wheels on asphalt and the wind coming through the open window it’s not hard to understand how my mind barley lingered on the beautiful city we were leaving far too early. Somehow, though, I found time to regret our departure.

Perhaps this is why:

Sunshine on the Bay

Sunshine on the Bay

xo

A

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Hello again. Welcome to the first in a series of installments detailing the events of our trip to America. I know – you can hardly wait, right?

At 04:30 BST exactly one year ago today, S and I were checking in at Glasgow Airport for our flights to San Francisco.

This was the beginning of our three-week whirlwind adventure to cross the breadth of America in a rented car. It was amazing. One of the best things I have ever done.

I realise I never wrote about it. Never shared any anecdotes our photos or anything!

So, starting tomorrow, watch this space!

It will be thrilling. Almost indescribably so. Trust me.

In fact, here, have a teaser:

image

See? Thrilling.

But, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for more!

xo
A

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In preparation for our upcoming Road Trip Adventure I have started reading travel books.

At the moment I’m 111 pages into William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways: A Journey Into America.

The foreword:

On the old highway maps of America, the main routes were red and the back roads blue. Now even the colors are changing. But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk – times neither day nor night – the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.

If that paragraph doesn’t make you want to pick up a copy of the book then I am afraid the rest of my post will bore you. So far I am in love. Blue Highways is fascinating and informative and, at times, painful, but also irresistible.

Would you like further incentive?

Page 33

While I ate buttermilk pie, [Thurmond] Watts served as disc jockey of Nameless, Tennessee. “Here’s ‘Mountain Rose.'” It was one of those moments that you know at the time will stay with you to the grave; the sweet pie, the gaunt man playing the old music, the coals in the stove glowing orange, the scent of kerosene and hot bread. “Here’s ‘Evening Rhapsody.'” The music was so heavily romantic we both laughed. I thought: It is for this I have come.

Page 70

“Nothin’ in that water but water. Be comin’ up from four hundred feet, gettin’ cleaned all the way down and all the way back up. Natural wells used to be all over here, but them new, drilled wells dried up the othern. But this one, he be too deep.” The man closed the trunk and helped his wife into the car. “Government man come round and say he’d drill a well by the house. I tole him all we’d do with it was flush a water toilet, and we got no water toilet. I says ‘How that water gone get up to me?’ He say with a lectric pump. I says ‘We drinks water what come up of his own mind.'”

When I went back for more, the water pressure shifted, answering some change in the aquifer deep below. I wondered how old the water was, how long it had taken to get down and back up. I’ve never drunk glacier water from snows that fell a thousand years ago, but I couldn’t imagine it being any better than the South Carolina water what come up of his own mind.

I have been swept in. I couldn’t put this book down if I wanted to. I bought it from Amazon second-hand and it shipped to me from America but I guarantee it’s going right back over the ocean with me in May.

William Least Heat-Moon’s circular route around the country shares not one location with our own planned journey, although we do cross his path twice. Regardless, I think I will find this an indispensable accompaniment to our trip – if only to remind me what we should be doing. We are not taking the old blue highways – we simply don’t have the time, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose sight of the real experience. We may not stop and have dinner with strangers in a small town called Nameless, but the idea of it should still be there.

As I said, I am only on page 111. I will let you know when I get to the end and what my views are then.

xo
A

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What a wonderful day we’ve had!  We woke up to gray skies and decided to take a drive further south to where the sun promised to be. I’ve always wanted to visit the Gem & Rock Museum in Creetown so away we went down to Dumfries and Galloway to see it.

We took the forest road down which didn’t take too long.  It rained on and off for a while, but there was nothing too heavy. Creetown was lovely, a typical main-street village with tons of little shops and such.  We did not spend any time there at all, just went to the museum and the left again after that. I’d like to go back, though because it was beautiful!

As a precursor let me say that I am a sucker to gems and rocks and minerals and anything that comes from the Earth.  In another life I am pretty sure I was a geologist.  I love crystals and all of that, so the museum was right up my alley.  S on the other hand, well, he only went to please me!  Which is lovely, don’t you think?

Anyway, we spent the most of our time in the gift shop where I bought some tumbled stones and lusted after some jewelry. It was a nice place if you like rocks, pretty boring if you don’t.

We took the coast road back home through Stranraer and Girvan and stopped at Turnberry Hotel for afternoon tea.  I have always loved Turnberry Hotel.  I got a certificate for a free night’s stay there in January of 2008 which was lovely. The certificate was for dinner, bed and breakfast and we still managed to spend £160 in just over 24 hours.  How did we do that, you ask, well… The certificate only entitled us to £50 each for dinner which covered only food, so any beverages were on top of that.  And we took tea the day we arrived, and had a coffee I think the next day.  Anyway, it all adds up pretty quick in a place like that.

Last summer we went down to The British Open at Turnberry and it was amazing.  The hotel is just iconic, sitting on a rise above the water all windows and white wash – it truly is a sight to see.  I love it.

So on the drive home today we stopped in to have afternoon tea.  For £24 per person.  No joke.  Why would we agree to pay £24 each for a few finger sandwiches and a couple of cups of tea?  Well, this may give you a small idea of how very worth it it was:

Also, just as a note, there has never been a better time to go to Turnberry – they had an all over renovation last year for The British Open and it is absolutely gorgeous inside. Honestly, it is a sight to see. Especially on a day like today with the sun seeping through the clouds and sparkling off the water and the hulking mass of Ailsa Craig in the distance. Swoon.

So, all in all, it was a fantastic day.

xo
A

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