Happy Holidays, (to anyone reading this). I may not quite have gotten this blogging this perfected, however, I'm proud to say it's still going strong and next year (all going to plan) there will be some amazing content coming (even if I do say so myself).
I'm busy planning for the next 12 months but wanted to take a minute to tell you my reasons for loving Christmas and why I'm so positive at this time of year.
1. REFLECTION When I think back over 2017, it's quite possibly the best experience of my life so far. I've had heartbreak and survived, I put myself out there both romantically (dating apps are scary) and professionally, I also pushed myself physically and mentally. This year I've been so lucky, it began with a trip to Chicago, then I moved into my first flat, I climbed Ben Nevis (with an ice axe!), completed my second Tough Mudder, started a design website, blog, youtube channel, freelancing, trekked across the west coast, made a bunch of new friends (all while working a full time and a part time job) and that's just half of it. I'm a different person at the end of the year than I was at the start. How can I not be, 12 months of experiences have had a huge impact. It's important to reflect on everything good and bad, because without it I wouldn't be the person I am right now.
2. FESTIVE FUN! It doesn't get more festive than drinking some Baileys hot chocolates around Manchester and snacking on nutella smothered pancakes. I go to the christmas markets every year to over indulge in treats. There's always new additions to the food selection (this year being the yorkshire pudding wrap), handcrafted gifts and ice skating! It's busy don't get me wrong but I don't mind the crowds, because everyone's in the festive spirit.
3. DECORATING This year I'm in my own flat for the first time at Christmas, which means I get to decorate it! Putting up the tree, playing christmas songs and then sitting back on a night with the fairy lights twinkling. It just gives my flat such a cosy and magical atmosphere.
4. WRAPPING Being a designer, I'm obsessed with packaging and what is wrapping? It's essentially packaging you get to create. I can be slightly OCD at this but I do find it very therapeutic. Matching wrap with bows and ribbon, adding little tags and the anticipation of giving something sweet to someone you care about.
5. SNOW! Although I complain about the cold (I'm freezing most the time), there's something different about it in December. Collecting bobble hats and gloves is just another obsession of mine. I love the outdoors and hiking and at this time of year, everything looks so different to summer. The possibility of waking up in a Narnia like wonderland gets me so excited I'm ready to belt out 'Let it Go'.
6. CRAFTING Now I am a graphic designer, christmas brings with it potential to get creative. This year I've designed my own christmas cards (slowly becoming a tradition of mine) and not only that but I've designed a few presents as well! There's something more personal in making gifts for people. I've also designed cards available on Thortful and lots of people have been buying them which is exciting!
7. OFFICE MORALE I love my job(s) especially at this time of year! In the office it's all festive, the decorations are up and people just seem a little more light hearted and giggly than normal. The atmosphere in general is great all year round, but at christmas there's just an added excitement for the holidays.
8. CHRISTMAS JUMPERS Getting to wear the most ridiculous and ugly sweaters, hats and light up garments is a definite highlight. This year I've actually found a pretty hilarious one (bauble boobs at the ready). They are a staple of the season, and seeing people dress up in something they would never usually wear makes me smile.
9. MOVIE MAGIC Life isn't perfect but Christmas movies are! Snuggling up on the sofa with your other half to watch 'The Holiday'. This film in particular makes me all fuzzy, with the snow covered cottage and holiday romances (I wouldn't mind finding Jude Law on my doorstep). You can't beat a bit of holiday cheese.
10. VLOGMAS Now I myself am not taking part (I literally wouldn't know where to start) but since I started blogging, I've found there's this whole community of people sharing all sorts of exciting stories, tips and thoughts on the holiday season. I have a few favourites and it's really interesting to get extra content from people you admire, it's like a video advent calendar!
Christmas has always been special in my house growing up. It's always picture perfect (my mum matches the wrapping paper to the colour of the decorations). We do forget sometimes that, for some people they're not looking forward to Christmas. I'm so very lucky to have had the childhood I have and it's important to remember that at this time of year. Appreciate what you have, whether you've had an amazing 2017 like me, or if you're optimistic for a fresh start in the New Year. Enjoy it because you always have something to be thankful for.
🍑 A B Y
Sorry I've been a bit quiet on here recently, Trek America meant I had a lot of catching up to do when I got back home. I haven't had much I can write about, but with a trip to the Manchester markets this weekend and some creative projects to share, there's plenty to post about!
On Sunday the 26th November, I had a little trip to climb Snowden (for the second time this year) planned with two friends Amy & Yasmin (also known as A2Y Travellers on Youtube). Since getting back from my Trek America, I have been desperate to get back into the wild. I've been busy catching up with work and a few exciting creative projects (plus friends and family stuff), but finally it was time for some more exploring. If you hadn't already guessed, I'm most happy when I am outside. It had been particularly cold the week before and so we had some high expectations for snow, we definitely were not disappointed.
After a 6am pick up and a quick stop at the services for a festive Eggnog latte, we headed for Wales. The air was very crisp, so we had all packed the bobble hats and jumpers to keep us warm. The hike began in high spirits (it was dry which was the main thing), A2Y got their drone out and we were able to really explore the landscapes. I love the drone, this was my second time seeing it in action (he's called Goose for those wondering) it captures some amazing footage and I think if I ever got to travel full time, I'd definitely invest in my own (they're a pricey piece of kit but worth the effort). I got out my little action camera and did a bit of shooting myself, which is why this post has so many photos in it. My last visit had been so foggy that my shots had a moody feel, this time before we knew it we were hitting snowy hills. What better excuse to get the christmas songs playing and dance around (that was more to keep ourselves warm).
It was incredible how drastically our surroundings transformed. It started out as a typical Welsh, wet and windy morning with the green and brown hills spread around us. Before we knew it, it felt like we had stepped beyond the wall. I was expecting to spot a Wilding or a white walker (I'm a massive GOT nerd), the white mist swallowed the top of the mountain which meant that this Snowdon climb was worlds apart from my last visit. In all my mountain climbing experiences, the snowy ones are the most memorable. Hellvellyn last December with snow up to my thighs and Ben Nevis using ice axes and crampons. I think it's because you no longer feel like you're in the UK, you could be in a completely different country entirely and it does add a magical, Narnia like quality to the experience. Not only that but being a photography lover, it provides the opportunity to really capture something stunning.
As we ascended, the pressure (and temperature) swiftly dropped, we were wrapped in a white blanket and the winds started to howl. Our visibility was lacking as everything was white from the ground to the sky, they were difficult to differentiate between. Now we weren't cold because we had practical clothing and footwear which made it easy to continue hiking, but the hailstone began and as we became more exposed the winds were making it a little more treacherous. This brought our conversation to Everest Base camp (on my bucket list if I ever win the lottery). It's funny because the photos whilst stunning are also peaceful and calm, in reality it was quite the opposite. Hopefully, my video footage will give a little bit more insight into that, but we struggled to film anything up at this point because of the moisture. To be totally honest I was also a little worried my camera would blow away, so that wasn't a risk I wanted to take.
Unfortunately, we couldn't quite make it to the top, we had to turn back on the last part of the Rhyd Ddu path - Bwlch Main. We had started along the ridges and I knew we weren't far from the summit (around 120m) but as the path got a little icy, the terrain was rather precarious. With the added element of the extremely high winds it was better not to chance it. You need to stick together in these situations, and as I had climbed this route before in less than ideal conditions, I knew that it would get a little but exposed (which we discussed before deciding to turn back). I wasn't too fussed because I have reached the summit, the two climbs were completely different though. I actually preferred the snowy covered ridges, because it was more of a challenge for me and a lot of people don't experience the mountain at this time of year.
I did notice that it was a lot quieter than when I came up in June. The trains aren't running and the cafe is closed, so for more novice hikers I think it loses it's appeal. I remember seeing people with kids at the top, but that certainly wouldn't be a good idea in the winter months. I do prefer the mountains when it feels like you're the only person on there (it's an escape from reality). The snowy landscape was probably a second factor for people staying away because despite it's popularity, it still is a mountain and accidents can happen on clear days never mind in the winter (we had a lovely chat with a mountain guide about this we crossed paths with twice). Our descent brought with it welcome warmth and a little picnic spot, including a well deserved hot chocolate complete with mini marshmallows! Amy & Yasmine had been very clever to pack this and it began to feel a lot more like December, with the Christmas spirit sinking in.
I can't wait to share my video with you, I didn't shoot too much with the weather conditions (especially as we climbed higher) being not ideal but the shots I did get I'm pretty happy with. Yasmin & Amy have kindly offered to send me some of there drone footage to include in my video and they got some ace slow motion stuff (I really need to get a camera like theres for Christmas). I will be sure to share there video when it goes live as well. For now I am considering a New Years Eve hike because I couldn't think of any better way to bring in the New Year, especially after it being such an incredibly 2017.
I've climbed 9 mountains total the last 12 months! Which for me is a crazy achievement, especially as I only climbed my very first one last November (Birkhouse Moor, in case Andy reads this. I actually remembered this time). If I could round it off to 10 for January that would be a great achievement! It could be my first solo mountain climb too, which I think would be a great step for me. Keep an eye out for updates on that...
🍑 A B Y
I know I can be impulsive and when I returned from America I decided to get a new tattoo. A tribute to the one place on earth I felt more at home than ever before, Yosemite.
Everyone, meet Bucky!
The original plan was to get something in the states, but I chose to wait and use my trusted tattooist back home. Rather than risk an infection or living with something I wasn't completely happy with, because they are pretty permanent remember. The tattoo (as you can see) is a squirrel silhouette, because I saw lots of them in Yosemite, with a beautiful camping scene illustrated inside. It captures the place perfectly, including the night sky. For the first time in my life, I saw constellations as clear as day, we don't see that back home. The pollution from cities makes it difficult, and so in certain corners of the world the sky is completely different at nighttime. It was breathtaking.
I like to think of it as a window to show I'm wild at heart. On the inside I'm always dreaming about being in the woods, hiking or travelling and this tattoo captures that. It's not quite finished yet, I want to add some autumnal leaves and foliage around the silhouette, to create a frame. I always say it's my last tattoo but when something important happens to me, I like to remember my life this way. I have always said I want to keep the tattoos hidden (just my personal choice), so they are in locations that make them easy to cover. If I wear a dress you wouldn't know I had any, but maybe I will add more intimate ones to the collection, maybe not. Only time will tell. It all depends what happens to me I suppose.
🍑 A B Y
Get Your Kicks
For the final leg of my american road trip we drove down the infamous Route 66, (well a part of it) stopping in the quirkiest little town I've ever come across in my 24 years. It's apparently the inspiration behind the town in Disney Pixar's Cars, and it's not hard to see why. This place was an Instagram/ bloggers dream come true! There were so many retro road signs, faded old pieces of junk and cars. In fact parked behind the Snow Cap were a selection of cars that looked just like the movie ones, even having the eyes drawn onto the windscreen for a magical touch.
We were given a couple of hours to wander up and down, again I quickly located a souvenir store for my next jacket patch, before my stomach started to rumble and it was lunch time. Snow Cap was Andrews recommendation, this quirky diner full of pranksters was covered in stickers, patches and business cards (I only can assume were from people passing through). I opted for some sweet potato fries with mustard, which were incredible and a little pick me up smiley face was thrown in. To wash them down I picked a strawberry milkshake (this place is apparently famous for their milkshakes), it is the BEST SHAKE I've ever had, the fresh strawberries and ice-cream blend was perfection on such a hot autumn afternoon. That's another thing about this trip, all summer in the UK we don't get weather anywhere near as stunning as in my time on the west coast, so I soaked up all I could.
It was sad to have to climb back into the van and I was tempted to buy a licence plate (which I picked up on Venice Beach later) but saving my cash for the next stop seemed more practical. We continued driving through the desert, little did we know our next stop was such a beautiful little escape.
This is were we set up camp for the next night, right beside the Colorado River. Straight on arrival we pulled up, through on our swimsuits and headed straight for the water. It was sweltering by this point and my Australian trek mates were in their element, more so than me. After a brief moment to apply some much needed sunscreen (damn my milk bottle skin), I followed them in. We spent the afternoon swimming, sunbathing and playing a ton of drinking games.
Beer pong with actual red plastic cups (I know it sounds lame but I was excited), turns out my aim wasn't half bad. I watched the sunset with my road trip playlist providing the background music for the evening, I believe it was a mix of CHVRCHES and Ben Howard by this point. The sun set and some of the gang started making food, burritos and a whole lot of them. After some interesting narratives during our games of MAFIA and clearly competitive rounds of Warlords and Scumbags, it was soon time to say goodnight. Unlike our previous camping spots the night air was warm and so we threw down a tarp and our sleeping bags, setting up right under a couple of shooting stars and never wanting the night to end.
We packed up the van the next morning and continued down the dirt road, with a couple of stops to stretch our legs and grab a spot of early lunch, before we knew it the desert landscapes of the last few days faded behind us. Instead the landscape changed dramatically, the mountains and cacti replaced by buildings and celebrities. We had officially made it to Los Angeles, this place was nothing like I had imagined and with recent forest fires the air was heavy and smokey on our arrival. Our first stop was of course the Hollywood walk of fame, we strolled along the boulevard (here I found my final patch), grabbed a misty sighting of the Hollywood sign and stepped over the names of actors, musicians and people who had made history here.
It was chaotic, we grabbed some ice cream, explored a little more and after meeting the Hulk and Batman I was pretty happy to retreat from the bustle of the Boulevard and head to the beach. Venice Beach I'd seen before in so many films, in real life it was such a hub of creatives. Where else can you pass a 80 year old rollerblader blasting out a guitar solo and an 8 year old skateboarder, with a golden helmet who I could only dream of being as talented as. I was in my element here, the beach front was full of market stalls with handmade trinkets. However, I had previously been tempted on Route 66 to pick up a licence plate to hang on my photo wall at home. Here I found the perfect one. An Arizona plate (it is the grand canyon state after all), it's sitting proudly in my living room now and I'm so glad I picked one up. I found a place to grab a decent cup of coffee and headed down onto the beach to watch the muscle men, skaters and get some serious Baywatch vibes.
The next thing you know and our time in L.A was over at least as part of our group. We parted ways and headed onto the next destination (for me that was going to be home) I managed to get some pretty ace shots around L.A though. Venice beach street art was definitely my favourite thing about the city. Driving through Bel Air and Beverly Hills was worlds away from the reality of being on the streets in Hollywood, it's not as glamorous as I expected it to be, but I suppose that's the movies talking. I'm planning on booking my next Trek soon there are two I'm choosing between including the Deep South BLT so I can explore the Smokey Mountains and drink some moonshine, or heading up to Canada for a glaciers and grizzlies expedition.
In the New Year, I will hopefully have made my decision and will let you know. Until then I'm going to try and settle back into my normal routine, enjoy Christmas with family and friends and who knows what adventures 2018 will bring. All I can say is this road trip has made me hungry for more travel and 2017 has been a year that has completely changed who I am, for the better.
🍑 A B Y
If you fancy watching what I got up to, then check out my Trek Trailer:
After the most incredible 9 days I'm finally back home, feeling a little jet lagged. I'd been planning this Trek America trip since January, when a break up pushed me to step outside my comfort zone, I'd never been abroad on my own before but impulsively booked to do a road trip around the west coast. I can honestly say that it's been the best experience of my life and I intend on booking another similar trip for next summer (still undecided on the destination). Travelling solo was eye opening and gave me a huge boost of independence. I was excited at the prospect of meeting new people, exploring new places and the memories will last a lifetime.
My Trek began at Manchester Airport, heading to JFK and then on to San Francisco. I spent the night before in the Red Roof Inn, we were meeting as a group in the lobby at 7.30am. At 6am I headed to the diner just next door for a classic american breakfast, bacon and blueberry pancakes obviously, to ensure I was fuelled for the start of what was going to be an epic adventure. It soon became clear who our group members were, we were the bunch with huge backpacks and hiking boots on. In total there were 11 members, plus our tour leader Andrew, the majority coming from all over Australia, with a couple of europeans and brits mixed in. We did a few ice breakers, filled out some forms and through our suitcases into the back of the van before setting off.
It was a stunning week for weather, San Francisco is well known for it's misty fog on the Golden Gate Bridge but we got a crystal clear view of the city. It felt like being in a movie, you start the Trek with a walk across the bridge and it's hard not to be taken back by the views. The walk itself was longer than I anticipated, you realise seeing these things in real life puts them into perspective (the scale of the Grand Canyon was something I certainly couldn't have grasped without seeing it in person). I'm a fitness fanatic about 70% of the time so I thoroughly enjoyed being out in the sunshine, with my camera for company. This is also were I picked up my first patch! I wanted to get a unique souvenir from each place originally, but in our van they had patches stuck to the interior walls and so I decided to collect one from each place (to then stitch onto a denim jacket back home).
We stopped off for drinks, snacks and were given chance to wander around for a bit before our first part of the driving began, heading to Yosemite. Now a big part of these trips is the driving, it gives you chance to see the parts of America that you wouldn't otherwise get to experience. I also chose a camping holiday because we spent more time as a group, food shopping in Walmart, cooking in teams on a night back in camp, taking it in turns to make breakfast and wash dishes, pulling up roadside and getting out the makeshift table from the van to build a sandwich lunch station, this made it all the more memorable. It was a holiday that I would choose over sunbathing on the beach any day of the week.
Into the Wild
As we pulled further away from San Francisco, the forest grew and I found myself in a place that felt more familiar, the wilderness. Having read books like 'Into the Wild', climbed the 3 peaks in the UK and watched documentaries like 'Valley Uprising', Yosemite felt like home to me. Driving through the mountain hills whilst gazing into the valleys below I couldn't help but feel like I belonged here. It's mad but from the minute we stopped by the campsite and set up our tents, I knew I didn't want to leave. The first night was spent eating s'mores, playing games around the campfire and getting to know the people we were going to be spending a lot of time with. A few bottles of beer helped to get the conversations going and soon we all settled in.
Our first full day in Yosemite, we were given a few options for hikes and trails to follow over breakfast. A cup of camp coffee and a blueberry bagel, covered in crunchy peanut butter (how much more american could I be) was the perfect morning pick me up. We made ourselves lunch from our Walmart haul, grabbed a few protein bars and headed back deeper into the national park. We stopped off at the village were we would all meet again later, and set off in different groups as we had people of different abilities so we chose different hiking routes. The majority of our group went for the 7 mile waterfall hike, in hindsight we didn't know the elevation was 5910ft, it was intense and challenging. However, the views from the top made it totally worth it! I've never seen a place so beautiful in my entire life and I would have loved to have camped up top to appreciate the view for longer.
We had made it up in two separate groups, but all joined together at the top for a spot of lunch and to make our way back down and back to the village to meet up with the group in time. The hike was rather quiet, being outside of peak season and I think this made it even more stunning. The lower part of the routes were busier but as the incline increased people appeared to be turning back, especially families and older walkers. There was plenty of wildlife on our hike too, deer, elks, birds and squirrels (unfortunately no bears though). The photos below do it more justice than I can, the experience was unbelievable. Once back at the village I stopped for my Yosemite patch, and a hoody which I admittedly had on my shopping list from the moment I booked the trip. I stuffed in some sweets and chips and our tour leader picked us up to head back to camp. We spent the remainder of our nights cooking more s'mores, playing music and exploring the local area. I could happily have spent the whole 9 days here but there was more to see.
The night after the hike I did sleep pretty well, in fact passed out would be more accurate. The heat and lack of food probably contributed, it also didn't help that because of all my camera equipment I was the only person carrying a back pack. This definitely made my hike a little more brutal than the rest of the group but we were a persistent bunch, I'm often stubborn in these situations so it doesn't matter how difficult it gets and even though I was feeling not 100%, once I put my mind to it I won't turn back. I am glad though because the hike was the highlight of the entire trip for me, it stands out as the biggest challenge for me to date (especially since its 300m higher than Ben Nevis, which was the highest climb I had done).
The Mafia Gang (from left to right): Kelsey, Craig, Gareth, Lissa, Rebecca, Alyce, Jess, Anette, Rob, Me and Louisa.
We got up the next morning, and drove to a lake for a dip. The crisp morning air meant that we weren't quite brave enough to get into our swimwear but it did make for a beautiful little photoshoot and filming area. We spent a lot of time in Yosemite over the 3 days, but theres so much more to explore, I would love to go back and climb more of the mountains. It was time to leave and head towards Nevada for the next part of our journey but I could never forget the beauty of ancient sequoia trees and granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome. Hopefully we will meet again Yosemite...
🍑 A B Y
Aby, 24. Northerner.