When Mari asked me to come up with thoughts on travel destinations everyone should visit in their lifetime and my favorite thing to do in each, my brain almost exploded (in a good, fireworks kind of way). Adventure is my middle name (not really but it should be) and it was also a promise in my wedding vows!
I’m a HUGE fan of learning new things, breaking free from comfort zones, and expanding horizons. Even if adventure means something different to you (and doesn’t involve a racing pulse, or the zing of fear) the places listed have something for everyone! The important thing with each one, at least for me, is that every experience was an education, gave me insight into others, and myself, and left me with a story to tell.
So here are my five places in no particular order…
Lake Arenal… is the largest lake in the northern highlands of Costa Rica. It’s 85-square-kilometers with a depth of up to 60 meters and is surrounded by lush hills and steamy jungles filled with a riot of color from gorgeous elephant-ear sized blooms, to neon red and green birds and iridescent reptiles. From November to April the winds are quite strong and 20 years ago, I went to learn how to windsurf.
Here’s what I didn’t know… Costa Rica is home to some of the deadliest snakes in the world, including the Fer-de-Lance, whose bite can be fatal. In addition, there are A LOT of spiders, including tarantulas with bodies as big as my fist—and that doesn’t include their long legs! Night one, I had a tarantula in my shower. When I ran down the hill to tell the owner of the campsite, he returned carrying a shovel. I pointed out the ENORMOUS spider and he laughed and said it was just a baby!!! The parents dropped onto my bed that night. SERIOUSY. One was on my pillow, the other on my leg.
I am TERRIFIED of spiders… but I went to Lake Arenal to become a windsurfer, so I stayed, although I definitely slept lightly and shook out my shoes each morning (only one scorpion). Bottom line? There are now plenty of nice hotels to stay in while you visit Lake Arenal, so don’t let the snakes, spiders and scorpions scare you away from enjoying the beauty of the land, the kindness of the locals, and the opportunity to learn something new, whether it’s windsurfing or exploring the jungle with a knowledgeable guide.
Provence, France… is a sun-drenched land that reaches from the foothills of the Alps to the mouth of the Rhone and the Mediterranean in the South. It’s an incredible place to road bike (one of my favorite sports). Cycling, whether in Europe or your home state, is a terrific way to see new places—you can stop in tiny towns, grab a coffee or a chocolate croissant (if you’re in the right country), and chat with fellow cyclists or locals. But it’s also a sport I never thought I’d do very well.
The first time I challenged my own perceptions of my abilities was in a small town in Provence named Bedoin, which is at the base of the grueling mountain climb, Mont Ventoux. As a new cyclist, I was certain that I’d never make it to the top of the 6,200-foot climb. I certainly broke no records ascending, but the feeling I got at the summit, as I stepped of my bike, legs shaking, was one of euphoria.
Accomplishing something you didn’t believe possible is a gift. Not everyone is lucky enough to visit France, but there is beauty all around us, and challenges near and far. Pick one. Change your self-perceptions. It doesn’t matter whether or not you reach a summit, the sheer act of trying will feed your soul.
Hood River, Oregon… is one of the most gorgeous places on earth. Set along the Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America, it rises in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada then flows northwest then south into the US, first to Washington then Oregon before emptying in the Pacific Ocean. Hiking and mountain bike trails abound in a small town nestled along the river with Mount Hood and Washington’s Mount Adams’ white peaks in the distance.
My favorite thing to do in Hood River is kitesurfing. It’s a combination of surfing, windsurfing and sailing combined into what some folks think of as an extreme sport. The first time I tried to kitesurf, I cried. The power of the massive kite attached to my body by a harness PETRIFIED me. Over the next few weeks, I cried many more times… out of frustration, fear, and anger at my own limitations and lack of nerve. Finally, I made myself a promise. I WILL LEARN TO KITE, and then I can quit.
I’ve now been kitesurfing for ten years. There is nothing quite like surfing the waves on the Columbia River—probably because it took every ounce of courage to learn the sport, so I cherish the place, the river, and the sense of accomplishment. Visit Hood River for the incredible hiking, biking or water sports, or to sample the wine vineyards. Take time if you come in the spring to see the stunning spring cherry blossoms and wildflowers, and regardless of the season, enjoy bespoke beer breweries and great restaurants. And if you’re game, take a kitesurfing lesson…
A Graveyard … Okay, this is a weird thing to admit, but I LOVE graveyards, especially in small towns. Wandering rows with crooked stones, their inscriptions faded, messages left to fathers, brothers, daughters, poems written by those remaining, remind me that everyone has a story. I wonder about the woman who lived to 102, or the child who died at seven… who they were, who they wanted to be, did they fail, succeed, love, and truly live regardless of the duration of their lives?
Each gravestone reminds me that this journey has an end, and that living in the moment, making the most of each experience, is a gift if we remember it’s there for the taking. So pick a graveyard in your hometown, or wander through one the next time you’re on a road trip and need to stretch your legs. Maybe there will be a marked stone that captures your imagination…
Girona, Spain… during the Flower Festival (The Temps De Flors). Girona is a city in Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region with medieval architectures, a walled Old Quarter, and Roman remains. Set on a hill, narrow cobbled streets wind between stone churches, ancient squares, and watchtowers. It’s a place to fall in love, eat amazing tapas, drink red wine, listen to music and take in the gorgeous views along the River Onyar. And in May, The Temps De Flors happens…
The Temps De Flors turns the streets of Girona into a living art installation. There’s music, fountains, lights, and the intoxicating scent of flowers everywhere. Blooms of every size and color flow down the stone steps of churches, corkscrew up alleys, shower from above, and burst from narrow windows. Each display stuns, boggles, and inspires. Every installation has a story to tell, from the designers who created it to the artisans who painstakingly assembled it, to the crowds that flock from all over the world to appreciate the beauty that unraveled from someone’s imagination. Sometimes an adventure is taken solely with the mind. This is one worth the trip.
The second questions Mari asked is what I refuse to leave home without when taking a trip. Since I travel a bunch, I’ve got quite a list but I’ll keep it short!
- My kindle. I read a TON and FAST. Everything, not just young adult novels! So there’s no way I can lug as many books as I need when traveling, especially since sometimes we go to places where there are no bookstores, or there are but the books are in another language.
- My computer. I am ALWAYS writing or editing so there’s no way I can take a trip without my computer.
- A down jacket. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in Alaska or Brazil, there is always a time in the day when I am cold!
- My iPhone is a must. I wish it wasn’t, but as a young adult novelist, I am active on Instagram and Twitter and I love the chance to share the books I’m reading, writing inspirations or to comment on other the posts made by authors and readers.
- A yoga mat. It doesn’t matter where I travel, yoga is such a great way to unwind, stretch and get a bit of exercise no matter the weather!
I’m a published author with children’s, teen and adult titles including: The Golden Globe, Lyric’s World and Promises (Junior Jedi Knights Trilogy) for LucasFilm (Berkeley Press), Feel No Fear, The Power, Passion and Politics of a Life in Gymnastics (Hyperion), Monica: From Fear to Victory (HarperCollins), A Journey: The Autobiography of Apolo Anton Ohno (Simon & Schuster), Nadia Comaneci: Letters to a Young Gymnast (Basic Books), and Winning Every Day with Shannon Miller (Bantam Books).
I’ve written for a circus, a graduate school, tried my hand at waitressing (I was terrible!), baking carrot cakes (I was messy but good!), and been lucky enough to ultimately do what I love – write.
I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband and our mostly wonderful (but sometimes vorpal) Vizsla. When I’m not conjuring a story, I love to kite-board, bike, ski or plan adventures with my two guys, who both make me laugh for different reasons and are the best partners in fun a gal could ever imagine.
Danger “Danny” Danielle Warren is no stranger to falling. After losing an eye in a childhood accident, she had to relearn her perception of movement and space. Now Danny keeps her head down, studies hard, and works to fulfill everyone else’s needs. She’s certain that her mom’s bitterness and her TV star father’s absence are her fault. If only she were more―more athletic, charismatic, attractive―life would be perfect.
When her dad calls with an offer to join him to film the next episode of his popular survivalist show, Danny jumps at the chance to prove she’s not the disappointment he left behind. Being on set with the hottest teen movie idol of the moment, Gus Price, should be the cherry on top. But when their small plane crashes in the Amazon, and a terrible secret is revealed, Danny must face the truth about the parent she worships and falling for Gus, and find her own inner strength and worth to light the way home.
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