• Headed for Heaven

    Oahu’s Stairway to Heaven is one of the most coveted hikes on the planet.

    There’s just one little problem; it’s illegal. We’re talking police helicopters, thousand dollar fines and even the potential of getting arrested if you get caught on the stairs.

    That being said, I am not going to tell you about hiking the Stairway to Heaven. Instead, I’m going to tell you how to hike to the top of the Stairway to Heaven where you can still get a fantastic view without getting in trouble. There is a back way to reach the top of the steps via the Moanalua Valley Trail.

    The Moanalua Valley Trail is a 9.3 mile out & back hike with a 3,050 foot elevation gain.

    I hired a guide for this hike because it is pretty treacherous at times and nothing is marked. His name is Mike and he would love to be your guide too. He charges $165 but also provides gloves and spikes for your shoes. Plus, he’s a professional photographer who will take pics and edit them for you! His info is at the bottom of this post.

    I left for this hike as the sun was coming up (around 7:00 a.m. in January).

    The first hour of the trail is very easy to hike. There are beautiful sights including bamboo and passion fruit trees. It is pretty muddy and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the hike.

    Once you get to a river bed with a flash flood sign (pictured above) you are going to cross the river bed. This is where we put on our spikes and gloves to prepare for the ascent to get more difficult. The trail is rated at the hard level and you will immediately get those legs working at this point in the hike. For a mile or so you are surrounded by trees so there is both protection from the sun and wind. That wind can get intense.

    As you get higher, you are more exposed to the elements and on the day I went, it was incredibly windy. I often crouched along the ridge because I really felt like I might get blown over! Definitely be sure to check the forecast before your hike. I certainly would not want to get caught up here during an actual storm!

    This quick video will give you an idea of how windy it was!

    There are four areas where you have to use ropes to get up the steepest spots on the trail. This is where you will definitely want some gloves. For me, the parts where I needed the rope were the most fun but understandably this will make many people uncomfortable.

    The drop offs on each side are no joke and you need to be paying attention every step of the way.

    It was incredibly muddy when we hiked and my guide Mike said it’s usually worse! If you don’t use a guide, you would benefit from bringing your own set up spikes.

    It takes about 2 1/2 hours to reach the top. You’ll see an old bunker at the top. It’s actually really spacious inside so step on in and explore. It’s covered in graffiti and signatures from adventurers. It’s also nice to be sheltered from the wind.

    Opposite of the bunker are the actual Haiku stairs. Again, it’s illegal to use the steps but you’ll still see dozens of people coming and going on them.

    Without ever stepping onto the stairs, you will stail get a great way at the top of the Moanalua Valley Trail. It’s truly the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen. Seeing the bright blue sky blend into the ocean below is a vision that will stick with me forever.

    I truly hope you get the chance to try this trail on your own trip to Oahu. You’ll never forget it.

    Guide contact: Mike Karas (808) 224-0144

    Address to trailhead: 1849 Ala Aolani St, Honolulu, HI 96819

    What to bring: backpack (you will need both hands!), rain jacket, sunglasses, sunblock, bug spray, water, snacks/lunch, camera

  • When the Journey Hurts

    Camping and taking my daily dose of medication at Grand Teton National Park

    Let’s plan an adventure. Backpack… check. Sunscreen… check. Tent… check. Sleeping bag… check. Six medications… check.

    My packing list includes pills. A lot of them.

    I get a handful of direct messages every day from women suffering with the same disorder I have. They want to know how I could possibly have Interstitial Cystitis and still lead this adventurous life. I don’t always have the time to give the loving response I wish I could always offer. I am writing this post to tell my story of diagnosis, share what helps me manage my health and talk about how I accomodate my health needs when I’m planning an adventure.

    *Disclaimer: Please discuss treatments, procedures, and medications with a medical professional. This post does not contain medical advice. This is MY health story.*

    I was in an Oklahoma City apartment with my boyfriend at the time in May of 2013. I went to the bathroom in the morning and it felt like chards of glass in my urethra. The pain didn’t end when I was done peeing. It actually didn’t dull without the help of opioids for two years.

    I returned home to Phoenix where I was reporter/anchor at Fox 10 News. I had a history of urinary tract infections since the time I was a little girl so I made an appointment with my gynecologist to get the typical dose of antibiotics knowing it would be a simple serving of Cipro or Bactrim… the usual.

    Before I could get to an appointment, the pain became so severe I left a reporting shift to go to the emergency room. I went to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale confident they would know just what I needed to make the suffering stop. At just 25 years old, that was the first of many times I would feel the violating discomfort of a catheter entering my bladder. After removing that demonic device and testing my urine, the doctor told me words I simply couldn’t believe “There’s no infection present. We don’t know what’s causing your pain.” As desperation set in, he offered me something else that would also be the first of many- a percocet for the pain.

    I left the ER of a world-renowned hospital with nothing but incomprehensible suffering and a prescription for painkillers in my purse.

    I went back to work the next day struggling to think straight…struggling to stay sane. Then, I got a call from a staff member at Mayo Clinic. The team determined maybe my test was a false negative. They decided to give me antibiotics just in case there was an infection. For five days I went to the hospital where they gave me a shot. I’m still not sure exactly why I had to take an injectable antibiotic but I wasn’t asking too many questions about anything that could take me out of my misery. I was elated. I remember thinking “Thank God! This nightmare is ending! I’m going to be better as soon as the antibiotics kick in.”

    Then the worst day of my life rolled around. Memorial Day of 2013. I got my last round of antibiotics. The nurse asked me how I was feeling before she injected me. I was still in hellacious pain. Our conversation following my honest response dulled my glimmer of hope in an instant. No one knew what was wrong with me. They referred me to a urologist and sent me on my way. I sat in the waiting room crying alone for about an hour before I had the strength to drive home. “I was a medical mystery at the Mayo Clinic? This pain is forever.”

    With a broken heart and an exhausted brain, I went to a urology appointment (not at Mayo Clinic) where I was poked with a catheter yet again. The doctor informed 25-year-old me that I would never have sexual intimacy again, I should go on disability and I needed to be on OxyContin, Percocet and muscle relaxers to manage my pain (yeah, at the same time). On top of my physical pain, I was slipping into a deep, deep hole of depression. Oh and top of that again, the antibiotics were started to wreak havoc on my body and I had no idea. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

    For the next two years, my life became a cycle of surgeries (I think I had 13 in two years), second (then like 17th) opinions, experimental drugs, pills, medical debt, struggling to hold onto my job, endless tears, and suicidal thoughts. I was broken in every way possible.

    Doctors would throw out the words Interstitial Cystitis as a possible option only to determine that wasn’t my problem because that’s a bladder disease and my pain was in my urethra.

    Oh and let’s not forget, when I did finally see the urologist at Mayo Clinic. He gave me a prescription for Xanax and offered me absolutely no medical advice other than to “see a psychologist”. I’m still not sure how I managed not to slap that SOB across the face.

    I also had a boss who said “well, you look fine” and by this time a fiance who told me “it’s all in your head”.

    I knew my problem was real and urological, however, I did still take the Xanax….

    What no one tells you about chronic illness is what it does to you emotionally. Pain made me completely irrational. I was already on edge all the time because my urethra felt like it was being stabbed with a hot metal skewer doused in acid. Any little thing whether is was a rude comment from my boyfriend, a nasty phone call from a newscast viewer sent me over the edge into a fit of anger or sadness. Mix in the fact that I had opioids constantly flowing into my body at inconsistent intervals and there is really no understanding exactly what the hell was going on in my mind. I was in a fog of percocet highs and just drifting through life trying to hang on for one more day in hopes that someone could figure out what the hell was wrong with me and the pain would end.

    Did the pain ever end? No.

    Did it get better? Yes. Here’s how.

    I got sick of being sick.

    It become quite apparent I was going to feel like shit whether I stayed on the couch watching The Walking Dead or whether I actually got outside and did the thing I missed the most- going on a hike.

    Pain pushes the things that make you happy to the last of the priority list. I was just trying to make it from sunrise to sunset every day with a fake smile on my face.

    I forced myself to return to normalcy, but it took time.

    Before the pain started, my boyfriend had bought me a new pair of hiking boots. I never even got to wear them. I finally sat them out in the living room where I could see them. It was a reminder of what was waiting for me if I pulled myself away from the pain. Pain became my identity, leaving it felt as uncomfortable as my urethra did at this point.

    Finally, I put the boots on and I went for a little hike in the Phoenix Mountain Preserves. My body didn’t feel better, but my mind did. Feeling the sun on my skin, hearing the birds chirp, fresh air… it literally gave me my will to live. Again, I’m not saying this made my body feel better but it sure didn’t make it feel worse.

    The boots I displayed as motivation

    The Mohave trail became my medicine.

    Making the choice to return to my hobby was the first of many good choices. I left the Debbie Downer Interstitial Cystitis boards where everyone dwelled on their IC online. Those people lost hope a long time ago but I didn’t have to.

    Instead of reading other sufferers’ research, I did my own. I spent most of my free time learning about IC, how autoimmune disorders work, how one part of the body affected another and how homeopathy could help me put together the puzzle pieces.

    I went to a doctor named Dr. Sara Penton in Scottsdale, AZ who specializes in biofeedback. She started reducing my pain by reducing inflammation. My pain meant something to Dr. Sara and she worked diligently to help me find solutions. Through her treatments I was able to stop taking a steady dose of Percocet. She was also the first to tell me that part of my problem was actually brought on by the dozens of antibiotic treatments that had been thrown at me through the journey.

    Then there was Dr. Robert Stuart Fowler, also in Scottsdale, AZ. Dr. Fowler discovered the antibiotics caused a horrible cause of Vulvodynia in additional to my urethral problems. He also determined I had a hormonal imbalance. To this day I still see Dr. Fowler. This man is a brilliant genius. He saved my very existence with his groundbreaking ability to help women with pelvic pain.

    I saw Dr. Mario Castellanos at St. Joe’s in Phoenix to manage overall pelvic pain. He administered nerve blocks to help reduce pain. I also still see Dr. Castellanos. His gentle demeanor helped me through this horrible time in my life. I cried in his office more times then I count and he never discounted the severity of my suffering.

    My pain never went away but it was manageable. By 2015, I left my TV career and canceled my wedding. As I started to dig myself out of the trauma of having an undiagnosed disease, I decided to return to television. I moved to San Diego for a dream job forecasting weather and living by the beach.

    The pain was managable for the first few months. I would take a painkiller about once a week for severe pain but beyond that things seemed to have really turned around. Until December when IC came back with a vengeance. Here I was, back to missing work and barely surviving. Not being able to get back to Arizona to get the painkillers I needed right away, I called the first San Diego urologist who came up in my insurance search. The doctors were booked out for months. After pleading with the receptionist at UCSD Medical Center to understand the urgency of my situation, she transferred me to a saint-Rudy. Rudy recognized my name. “My favorite weather girl,” he exclaimed. I had never been one to accept perks of my job but in this moment, I did not care what it took to get me an appointment. Rudy got me in later that week.

    If Rudy was a saint, then that must make Dr. Lowell Parsons, an actual angel sent from God. I filled out a questionnaire in the waiting room asking me all these questions about my peeing habits. I’d taken the test a million times… I definitely rolled my eyes upon its presentation this go round. Dr. Parsons reviewed my test form in front of me, looked up and said “has anyone ever told you you have Interstitial Cystitis?”

    I explained to him I’ve always been told I didn’t have that because my pain is urethral and not just in my bladder. He asked me how long I had been in pain and when I told him since 2013 I could sense he truly felt sorry for me that help hadn’t come sooner. He explained to me that I probably had IC my whole life and that’s why I had urinary problems as a little girl. He explained changing hormones as I got older led me to have horrible IC now. He explained to me most women get diagnosed in their early to mid-20s. He explained to me everything that made no sense for the past two years. He explained to me why I was in pain. Dr. Parsons put the puzzle together. Dr. Parsons put me back together.

    He gave me a prescription for Elmiron. “I’ve taken that before. It didn’t work and I wasted thousands of dollars because insurance didn’t cover it,” I said.

    “They told you to take it with a whole glass of water right,” he asked.

    I told him that was correct.

    “The medicine needs to coat the bladder. Take it with as little water as possible. It will start working in four to six months,” he said. He also put me on a higher dose than the other doctors had because I needed the medicine to be highly concentrated when it passed through my urethra. I took that full dose for about two years until dropping down to a “maintenance” dosage.

    The medicine costs $1,200 a month. Did I come up with the money? Well, I’m still paying off some of the debt but I feel lucky I GET to pay for a solution.

    For what it’s worth here are a couple other little fun facts. I had an unrelated skin procedure that caused some nerve pain. The doctor prescribed Neurontin to make it stop. It also helped control my IC pain before the Elmiron kicked in. Additionally, I started taking Singulair for asthma in 2016. Singulair is now seen as a way to reduce inflammation for IC sufferers.

    I also saw an incredible acupuncturist in San Diego named Sara Sanger. Get this- she had IC too and healed herself! She gave me an herbal remedy to keep my hormones from fluctuating during my cycle. She also used acupuncture to help reduce inflammation and stagnation.

    Despite everything that worked so well to control my pain, I still would get horrible IC flares leading up to and during my cycle. I now have an IUD to eliminate it altogether until/if I decide to have a child.

    Let’s review the pieces of my puzzle:

    1. Interstitial Cystitis- AKA a depleted bladder lining caused by autoimmune problems
    2. Hormones- now commonly associated with IC
    3. Nerve pain- I learned nerves go haywire in the region of chronic pain
    4. Antibiotic damage- I will never take Cipro again
    5. Inflammation- reduce it, reduce the pain

    Before we discuss my medications, please realize every body is different and you must have conversations with your doctors about any of part of my strategy that you want to try.

    Here’s what I take now:

    1. Elmiron- 300mg 3 times a week for maintenance (Used to be 600mg every day)
    2. Singulair- 10mg each night
    3. Neurontin- 100mg each night
    4. Pyridium- 200mg as needed to “numb” urination (This is ALWAYS on me)
    5. Estradiol – estrogen supplement to regulate hormones
    6. Baclofen/Diazepem (muscle relaxer for when I have to be on a flight or long drive… obviously, not as driver)

    (Notice no more painkillers… yay!)

    These are the most important items I pack every time I embark on a journey and sadly, my pain is at its absolute worst when traveling.

    Let’s talk about my preparations:

    I use a daily pill organizer, yeah the one like grandma and grandpa have. It’s honestly the best way to stay organized and not have to take all of your pill bottles. I keep it in my purse so that I always know where it is and it never gets separated from me on a flight or long drive.

    The only pill bottle I take is for my Pyridium. This isn’t a daily need on a normal day but if my flare gets really bad on vacation, I could end up taking the whole bottle on my trip. In fact, I have one bottle in my purse and one bottle in my hiking backpack at ALL times. I typically take 1-2 Pyridium every day of vacation.

    Dr. Parsons says most of his IC patients go into a flare when flying. I am no exception. Flying is absolutely brutal. From the time I flew to Iceland years ago to the time I flew to Salt Lake City this summer, it is not fun to endure a post-flight flare. I don’t have the answers for preventing this pain but here are my recommendations to at least help reduce it:

    1. Take extra Elmiron leading up to your flight (please consult your doc about what “extra” means to you. I had this convo with Dr. Parsons)
    2. Wear loose-fitting clothing
    3. Pack a muscle relaxer so you can use it at bedtime to help relax the pelvic floor and calm everything down (Also, these must be kept cold so plan to pack with an ice pack in your checked baggage)
    4. Plan activities that aren’t strenuous for the first day of your trip
    5. Plan a day to recover before returning to work/school after a trip

    My plan is not foolproof… IC sucks and there is no cure but this is what has helped me. Inevitably, the pain leads sneaks up on vacation. Am I gonna stop going on vacation? Hell no. I’m in charge, not IC. I pack up my pills and I take them diligently even when I’m sleeping outside.

    If you have made it this far in my story, you have got to be as desperate as I was. I am begging you to not give up. This pain is not forever. You must fight for your future. Ask questions. See new doctors. Demand new treatments. Try. Try. Try.

    Do the things you love. Whether it’s hiking like me or dancing or painting or ice skating. Go do it. Prove to your mind it is stronger than the pain.

    You must learn to manage IC, or it will manage you.

  • On the Road with Toyota to Northern Arizona

    Kristen in the Rav 4 Adventure at The Grand Canyon

    Is there anything better than getting behind the wheel of an awesome ride and knowing you can steer it wherever you want? I think that’s one of the best feelings in the world. A road trip is a journey to self discovery and adventure. I got to go on an road epic trip through Northern Arizona with one of my favorite brands! Toyota!

    Toyota has always been in my heart since my very first vehicle at 16 was a Toyota Tacoma. I used to take it off roading after high school (I hope my parents don’t read this). I made epic memories in that truck and it was an absolute joy to drive.

    My love for Toyota only deepened when I got the keys to my Rav 4 Adventure, the chosen ride for my road trip. It’s like Toyota crept into my mind and designed the perfect vehicle for me. We’re talking a sporty SUV with four wheel drive and all the additions you need to get you to any destination. However, this rugged ride was sleek and luxurious (yes luxurious) on the inside. There was leather on the dash, sleek touches of carbon fiber and my personal favorite part of any vehicle ever, a cup holder big enough to hold my 32 oz. Hydro Flask (I’m kidding but seriously have YOU ever seen a cup holder that can hold one???). By the way the Adventure was a candy apple red with all black wheels… take a look at this beauty. I felt good about being in this car.

    The Rav 4 Adventure in Sedona

    Our journey started with a visit to one of the coolest places on the planet, Sedona. My sister and I hiked Broken Arrow Trail and leading up to it we got a taste of taking the Rav 4 Adventure off road. Now that was fun! I want to make sure you know that for some parts of Sedona you need to have a Red Rocks Pass hanging on your rear view mirror to make sure you don’t get a parking violation. We got ours at Circle K but there are a handful of places that sell them.

    We had the pleasure of dining at Cress on Oak Creek where you absolutely must try the lemon meringue dessert! This restaurant is along Oak Creek so the views and sounds of the creek are divine.

    We stayed at Sedona Rouge Hotel and wow, I would recommend it to anyone! The design was elegant, the bathroom was gigantic (with double sinks) and we had beautiful views of the red rocks. The patios were such a great size, you could really relax and take in the scenery. We also had a fabulous breakfast at the hotel restaurant, Red’s. There was an acai bowl on the menu so it was a huge win for me! This is a hotel I had never heard of before our trip but I absolutely plan to stay here again.

    The next destination on our road trip was Page, Arizona to see Horshoe Bend, hike into a slot canyon and experience Navajo dancing.

    It took us about three hours to drive from Sedona to Page and it was really fun in the Rav 4 Adventure. The drive exiting Sedona on 89A winds through the red rocks and becomes enveloped by lush greenery along the way. It’s the kind of beauty that makes me feel especially stunned by our state.

    We made it to Page and got to head out on an adventure with  Horsehoe Bend Tours. This tour company owns land in Page with exclusive access to Horsehoe Bend. We got to completely avoid the crowds and get a very personal experience. I have been to the regular entrance and I would recommend avoiding that and paying for this private access. You won’t regret it! We were able to get right to the edge and take photos without any tourists in the background. We also didn’t have to hike through the heat because we drove right up to the overlook. Trust me on this!

    We got to offroad in our Toyotas to both Horseshoe Bend and the slot canyon. I rode in a Tacoma with my new friend Jeremy behind the wheel. You can see pictures and check out his version of these events here. Off-roading in the Tacoma reminded me of being a teenager in my own Tacoma. We had such a blast making it to the canyon. Thanks for being a badass driver, Jeremy!

    Getting from our vehicles to the slot canyon required a bit of a hike through sand but it was worth every grain of sand that ended up in my shoes.

    Horshoe Bend via Horseshoe Bend Tours
    Inside a slot canyon on our tour

    Walking through this slot canyon lets you see the beauty of our planet’s processes as a work of art. Every flood for thousands of years worked to erode and carve this canyon. Touching the walls allows you to touch a piece of sacred history. Nature is an artist. As a weather forecaster, I get obsessed with this type of natural process. So often we talk about storms and only notice their destruction. This is a chance to take note of their creations.

    My favorite part of our tour was when our wonderful tour guide allowed us time to explore the canyon on our own then called us back to our meeting spot by softly playing the flute. This was an experience I will never forget.

    Later that night we got to eat dinner and entertainment at Into the Grand. They serve Navajo dishes while you get to enjoy traditional Navajo dancing. First of all, the fry bread was fluffy and wonderful. I got a fry bread taco with beef and I am still dreaming of it. Of course, I had dessert fry bread with honey and powdered sugar too!

    Dancers and Singers at Into the Grand 

    We got to learn a ton of interesting facts about The Grand Canyon, Navajo history and of course the meaning of dancing to the Navajo people. Tomas, the emcee for the dancing portion of the evening, explained the meaning behind every dance before it was performed. His explanation made the music and moves incredibly powerful. I was moved to tears more than once and I was blown away by the intricacies of each outfit. I appreciated this opportunity to learn about and experience the Navajo culture.

    One our final day, we took a trip to the Grand Canyon. Did you know it’s $30 to enter the park but $80 for an annual pass to all national parks? The annual pass can be shared between two primary card holders plus you can take up to four guests with you in a single vehicle!

    Checking out The Grand Canyon
    Glamping at The Grand Canyon

    Jackie and I had a beautiful drive into the park and got out at multiple viewpoints to soak in the sights. It’s incredible to me how many Arizonans have never been to The Grand Canyon. Are you one of them? If so, let’s change that! You don’t even have to be an expert adventurer to appreciate what the parks offers. The viewpoints are accessible for anyone! There are many beautiful camping areas in the park and I already can’t wait to head back to the park for a longer trip.

    I can’t thank Toyota enough for giving me this chance to see my state in a whole new way. Taking a road trip is always a good idea but it’s even better when you are in a reliable vehicle with plush amenities. I got to see new sights, eat amazing food, and most importantly connect with Arizonans.

    Let me know if you have any questions about my Rav 4 Adventure! Let’s go places!

  • Here with Her: Lori Grace Bailey

    Lori Grace Bailey is a professional photographer and storm chaser.

    This is her story and these are her incredible photos.

    From ages 7 to about 10, my mother would often take me to the park down the street from our house in El Paso, Texas  She’d let me play on the hot metal slides and swings (what were they thinking back then?).  Before we left, though, we would always just lay back on the grass and she would ask me what kinds of figures I could see in the clouds.  “Mickey Mouse!” I remember screaming.  She would tell me that she could see dragons, rabbits, and long wiener dogs in the billowing cumulus clouds during the El Paso monsoon.   She had divorced my father when I was 6 and was working as a nurse’s assistant during the graveyard shift, but she still took the time to look up at the clouds with me when she could.  Looking back, I know the times she spent just being with me helped shape me into who I am today.  My passion and love for weather continued as I got older.  By high school I wanted to be one of those “tornado chasers” you’d see on TV and looked into pursuing a degree in meteorology.  But by the time I started college at the University of Texas at El Paso, I also had a desire to help people so I moved towards getting a degree in Psychology.  After college, I married my high school love and we started a family.  Having always been an adrenaline junkie, I jumped career paths again and chased an opportunity to work in law enforcement.   Though I found myself with a rewarding career and happy home, there was one thing missing from that equation: authenticity.

    In almost every area of my life, I was quite extroverted, boisterous, and opinionated.  But buried deep inside, since as early as I can remember, I suffered in silence because my mind and heart were telling me that I was different than what my body showed me in front of a mirror.   After lots of heart to heart talks with my loving and supportive wife, dozens of hours of counseling, hormone replacement therapy and medical procedures , I transitioned from male to female.  Depression lifted, I could see the world through clear lenses, and my passion for life was renewed.

    My story and life are vastly more complex than what I’ve shared, but transition revealed to me that living authentically brought me back to my love for capturing the weather.   As a wedding and portrait photographer, I’ve discovered that what my clients want most from a great photographer is to capture their spirit of authenticity and reveal true smiles or laughter.  I’ve also discovered another gem:  I now have a renewed passion for chasing storms that I did when I was young.  When I’m watching one of the most dazzling sunset storms in the middle of the Arizona desert on a chase, I still think of my mom and wonder what she would see in the clouds before me.  I still can’t help but see Mickey Mouse ears every once in a while.  If there’s a storm to chase in southern Arizona, you’ll eventually see me on a dirt road or trail looking for the right vantage point to find and capture something extraordinary!

    You can learn more about Lori and her photography here.

  • Six Things to Try in Strawberry-Pine

    The heat is on in the Valley and Strawberry-Pine is the perfect escape!

    Did you know Strawberry-Pine is about TWENTY degrees cooler than Phoenix on a typical summer day? Instead of enduring triple-digit heat, you could be enjoying highs in the 80s and all it takes is about a two-hour drive! My favorite part: unlike in the Valley, it actually gets cool at night! Here are the six things you’ve gotta do when you head to Strawberry-Pine!

    #1 Stay at The Strawberry Inn

    Not only is The Strawberry Inn unique and comfy, but it’s also in the center of all the action. This boutique beauty is right off Highway 87. The Strawberry Inn has the charm of a historic building with all of the modern luxuries you can dream of from WiFi and a Keurig to a flat screen TV and the softest sheets you’ve ever slept in. In fact, it’s non-hosted, meaning you’ll get an access code in your email so you can grab your key from a lockbox without even talking to a single person. There are eight rooms and each one has completely unique decor. Rooms 5-8 sleep two and are perfect for a romantic getaway. Rooms 1-4 sleep four and they are pupper friendly! We brought Ace on our last trip and he felt right at home.

    You can pick the room you want and make your reservations now.

    #2 Hike to Tonto Natural Bridge

    Tonto Natural Bridge is an incredible natural display of beauty in Payson, AZ (short drive from Strawberry-Pine). It is believed to be the world’s largest natural travertine bridge. It’s beautifully formed by erosion and you can even walk beneath the bridge to explore the stunning scenery within. The bridge is 400 feet long, 183 feet high and 150 feet wide. Underneath the bridge, you’ll experience the erosion in action as water drips down the sides and ceiling of the bridge. It actually seems like it’s raining. There are green plants breaking through the rock and thriving. It is truly magical. I recommend taking the Pine Creek Trail which is a ½ mile scenic route to get under the bridge. If you like an adventurous trek this is for you! You’ll be climbing big boulders, stepping through river rock, and hearing the sound of a waterfall as you get closer and closer to the bridge. You do not have to hike to the bridge. What I love is that a whole family could enjoy this scenery whether they are a little one in a stroller or an adult with limited mobility. This state park provides viewing areas that are just a short distance from the parking lot and have ramps. You can go to one of those areas and look down at the bridge!

    To research more on this part of your adventure head here.

    #3 Visit Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm

    (Owners Terry and Rick)

    Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm is an absolute must. This property is historic and was initially established in the 1800s. The original log cabin on the property was built in 1890 and today you’ll find it storing all of the lavender that is currently drying at the farm. Terry Gorton and Rick Vesci restored the property in 2015 and decided to plant lavender. Turns out lavender is one of the few things the neighborhood Elk won’t eat and now there are 5,000 lavender plants for guests to enjoy! In addition to getting to take in the beauty and amazing aroma, you can shop, take cooking classes and even have a portrait session.

    Check out everything the farm offers 

    #4 Grab a Beer at THAT Brewery

    (Kristen with Michael Willis of THAT Brewery)

    One of my favorite parts of any trip is drinking local. On this trip, you’re going to need to swing by THAT Brewery for a beer and you’ll surely want to stay for dinner. I had the pleasure of getting a one-on-one tasting. My favorite is the Strawberry Blonde. If you can’t make it up to THAT Brewery, you’ll find it in the Valley at Fry’s and Basha’s in cans.

    #5 Cool off at Fossil Creek

    This just might be your favorite part of the trip!

    The hike to Fossil Creek is short and sweet but the drive to the trailhead is about 14 miles long. Plus, don’t forget you need a permit from April to October. For all of the details, read this.

    #6 Indulge at Pine Creek Fudge, Ice Cream & Espresso

    Whether you’re in the mood for decadent fudge, a scoop of ice cream, pastries or an incredible cup of coffee, you’re going to find a delicious treat at Pine Creek Fudge. An absolute must for me is the Pine Creek Elk Tracks Frappe. It’s a blended combo of espresso, chocolate, caramel, peanut butter and more. It’s pictured in my hands below! Pine Creek Fudge also has an online shop.

    Have a great trip to Strawberry-Pine!

    For more travel fun, follow Kristen on Instagram.

  • Cool Down with a Kayak

    You guys know my forever fav outdoor activity is hiking but when you live in Arizona, hiking can be a brutal hobby.

    Before summer arrived I invested in a kayak to both keep me cool and keep me sane. When I get cooped up inside during the summer I start to get totally bummed!

    Before I got my kayak, there were two factors preventing me from making the purchase:

    1. Where would I store a kayak?
    2. Am I going to put it on my car incorrectly and lose it on the freeway?

    I eliminated both of those concerns by getting an inflatable kayak!

    The kayak I bought was $80 on Amazon.  I waited to test it out a few times before writing a post on my experience and now I can happily report, I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS THING! It folds up to to be the size of carry-on luggage and it’s super easy to set up!

    I was afraid it would be flimsy or easily pop but it is durable and sturdy! I have had so much fun taking this to spots all over Arizona!

    The kayak comes with a foot pump but I highly recommend investing in an electric handheld pump and plugging it into a power convertor connected to your vehicle. It will save you time and frustration.

    Keep in mind, in most places, you are required by law to wear a life jacket. I got mine for $20 bucks at Walmart. I bring my dog Ace kayaking so he has a lifejacket too. I found his on Amazon.

    Also, summer comes with danger from Monsoon storms in Arizona. Make sure you check the forecast and if there is any risk for thunderstorms in your region you need to reconsider your plans. If you were planning to kayak on a river or tributary you should absolutely not go kayaking if there is inclement weather forecast in the region.

    Okay now back to the fun stuff! Here’s where I went kayaking and you can too! Even if you don’t want to buy a kayak, you will find rental information below.

    1. Lake Pleasant: We dropped the boat in at Pleasant Harbor and even took a lunch break at Dillion’s BBQ. It really was quite pleasant but I highly recommend going early and getting off the water by 1pm before the big boats take over and sadly some of their operators are intoxicated.
      • Address: 40202 87th Ave, Peoria, AZ 85383
      • Rentals:
    2. Show Low Lake: This is a small lake but it’s just right for a calm afternoon on the kayak. It is ambient and the scenery is beautiful with pine trees surrounding the water. Only boats with 10 horsepower or less are allowed.
      • Address: 5800 E. Show Low Rd,Show Low, AZ
      • Rentals:
    3. Watson Lake: I love this lake so much I almost felt I shouldn’t share, but I trust my readers treat every spot they visit with respect. Please prove me right. Watson Lake is magnificent. It is small and full of kayaks and paddleboards. It has unique formations called Granite Dells where you can even “island hop” and go for little hikes. See pic below!
      1. Address: 3101 Watson Lake Rd, Prescott, AZ 86301
      2. Rentals:

    Last thing… bring cash for parking/fees!

    Now you’re ready to have a kayaking adventure of your own!

  • Here with Her: Emiley Stroud

    Emiley Stroud is an adventurous mama and military wife. This is her story:

    For as long as I can remember, I thought about what was next — how hard I was going to have to work to get from here to there and if I could only just make this one thing happen, then I would be happy… Then I could slow down and enjoy things. It was an insane way to live and I ended up missing out on a lot because of it. By the time I graduated college, I had worked for a few of the biggest names in sports, a newspaper in a top ten market and got a job right out of school — something most people dream about. A few years into it, I got burnt out. I lost my passion and myself. All the years I spent climbing a ladder that was leading me further and further away from who I was. 

    About that time, I got married and my husband deployed for the 4th time. I didn’t know how to handle the stress of him being in another war torn country, on the other side of the world for 7 months with barely any communication. I needed an outlet for all the worry that came along with being an infantryman’s wife. I needed a way to deal with not being able to talk to him or know whether or not he was ok.

    Running became that thing for me – it was my outlet, my way of coping and, I believe, the one thing that really kept me sane through it all. It also gave me a lot of time to think — about my husband, about my family and about how my passions had shifted. I realized that there was more to life than a 9-5 and decided to leave my career and the life I had built for myself in Arizona to move to 29 Palms, CA.

    What people assumed would be my biggest struggle — no corporate offices or big time jobs — turned into just the thing I needed. 29 Palms is about as no frills as it gets and in the time I was there, I was able to unbecome everything Arizona had made me into.  I found my way back to me.

    I ran a lot. Hiked a lot and spent as much time with my husband as I could. I started to realize that THINGS didn’t matter. As long as my husband was safe and my family was healthy, I didn’t need much else.

    We’ve since been through two more deployments, the workups that went along with them,had our first child and moved to a place that’s even more remote and secluded than 29 Palms. This time in Coleville, CA where we’ve been able to explore all of what the Eastern Sierras have to offer. I’ve been doing a lot of running, a LOT of hiking and spending as much time with my son, my dog and my husband as possible.

    I’m working again, but my life is much more balanced. My passion is back and I’m sure as heck not going to miss out on anything anymore.

  • Escape the Heat with a Night Hike

    I recently got the opportunity to collaborate with Chirag Patel for a photoshoot. Chirag takes the kind of photos that prompt you to stop scrolling through Instagram, pause and truly appreciate the talent it took to capture nature so beautifully. Chirag’s specialty is taking mesmerizing night portraits.
    Check out some of the photos he took of me at Piestewa Peak.
    Night hiking is truly an experience unlike any other. At night everything is different…sparkly…magical! With it being dangerously hot during the day, it’s the right time to take up night hiking at trails that permit it. I’ll have details on which trails are open plus gear at the end of the post.
    Chirag is so comfortable night hiking, I wanted to share his story and advice with you in this interview.
    Kristen: When did you start night hiking?

    Chirag: I started night hiking accidentally a few years ago, when I used to hike up Thunderbird Mountain and Deem Hills at sunset to capture the Full Moon rising.  After I would capture the Full Moon rise, I quickly realized that it was dark and I had to hike back down the mountain in darkness.  It was a pleasant, surreal, and eerie experience at first, now it is an exhilarating experience.

    Kristen: What makes night hiking special to you?

    Chirag: Night hikes gives one a different perspective than the known daytime views.  First thing to notice is the sunset and the changes in sky colors as the sun goes below the horizon.  You will notice the beautiful Earth’s Shadow in the sky.  If you are really lucky, you may even see the Earth’s Shadow along with Anti-Crepuscular Rays as shown below.

    Chirag: As the sun goes down, one will also see the city lights come up tracing the popular streets of the city making them come alive with street lights and car trails.  See below.

    Chirag: The views become really stunning and spectacular!

    Kristen: Where is your favorite place to night hike regularly?

    Chirag: My favorite night hike is Piestewa Peak using the Summit Trail to the top.  Biggest reason is because it has the best 360° views anywhere in town and it is also the only place within the city where you can hike until 11 pm, legally!

    Kristen: What gear do you recommend for night hikers?

    Being in the desert, one must carefully select gear that is appropriate for the hike.  In the summer, water and snacks are an absolute necessity!  Not having enough water has caused many emergencies and could become very dangerous.  I would also highly recommend headlamps, smartphone with maps, and even a light jacket in case it gets really cool after sunset.

    Kristen You’re an incredible nighttime photographer. Where are your favorite nighttime locations?

    My favorite night time locations are below:

    Piestewa Peak, for its incredible 360° city views.
    Fremont Saddle on the Peralta Trail:

    Watson Lake in Prescott:

    Kristen: What does it require to take great photos at night? Gear? Patience? Education?
    Taking photographs at night is a bit more challenging due to the lack of light.  But, images can still be captured using long exposures to gather and capture the limited available light.  To capture an image using long exposures requires a tripod and the use of high ISO and longer shutter speeds in the camera.  There are lots of resources on YouTube teaching you the basics of long exposure photography.

    Kristen: You’re incredibly committed to your photography hobby. You even sacrifice sleep on Fridays! Talk about a memorable journey you took to get photos.

    Chirag: Because time is extremely valuable and has to be allocated appropriately between work, family, and leisure, time must be used wisely.  Sometimes regularly sacrificing sleep one day a week to do some night photography and being with the family the by the time they wake up the next day.  Thus, it has become normal for me to be up awake for about 36 hours in a row once a week.  My typical Friday/Saturday consists of working all day, coming home for dinner with the family, hiking and photographing all night, and spending the rest of the day Saturday with the family.  I finally sleep Saturday night after being up awake for 36 hours.
    Kristen: What would you say to someone who is nervous to try night hiking?

    Chirag: Your headlamps will make it seem like daytime on the trails!  It is very comforting when you can see everything.  Here is one available on Amazon that is rechargeable and extremely bright.

    I can’t thank Chirag enough for his photos and insight. Please give him a follow on Instagram.

    As of April, night hiking is now a regular hobby for me! I had a bad experience with buying a headlamp online so I highly recommend heading to see my friends at Just Roughin’ It Adventure Company in Scottsdale. They’ll also give you a ton of advice and answer your questions. Just Roughin’ It is a shop and a tour service so you’re talking to the experts!

    If you aren’t afraid of buying online and don’t want anymore advice, then check out my head lamp online. It is Black Diamond, a great price point and is very bright!

    Keep in mind, it’s cooler than daytime but if you’re night hiking from June- September it’s still going to be toasty so you need to bring just as much water as you would for a day hike.

    I also always bring a spare flashlight, snacks and a first aid kit.

    Watch out for snakes. As I embarked around sunset for my last night hike, a park ranger stopped to tell me a lot of rattlers were out and warned me to be careful.

    If you’re hiking with a pet, remember the temp has to be below 100 degrees to legally take them hiking in many areas so make sure the temp has dropped. 90s are still toasty for dogs. I only hike with Ace when it’s 85 or cooler. If your dog handles 90s, well definitely clip a light to them. Here’s one I like.

    Let’s talk about where to go night hiking. You can’t just go anywhere. Try hiking at night at the wrong spot and your car will get towed!

    Here are some places where you can night hike but keep in mind the gate into the parking lots typically close at either 7:00 pm or 9:00pm and the gates to get out close at 10 or 11pm. It’s night hiking, not OVERNIGHT hiking.

    Click on each area listed for more details on trail times:

    Phoenix Mountains Preserve

    Trails until 11:00pm

    South Mountain Regional Park

    Trails open until 11:00pm

    Lost Dutchman State Park

    Trails open until 10:00pm

    White Tank Mountain Regional Park

    Open until 10:00pm on Friday & Saturday

    Note: Camelback Mountain closes at Sunset.

    Have fun, be safe and let me know how your night hike goes!

    Make sure you’re following me on Instagram.

  • Here with Her: Jackie Blackburn

    Meet Jackie Blackburn, founder of She Guides The Way. This is her story of how the outdoors raised her self-esteem, transformed her career and helped her (in her words) drop the “bullshit stories”.

    Feet grounded, heart open, arms stretched out wide and head tilted back, flowing in the energy of the sunset on the side of a mountain. For me this is a sacred space of aligning with I who really am. Basically, dropping  all of the bullshit stories I carry in my mind and in my body. The stories of not being good enough, being too much, basically being too whatever everyone thinks I should be, our do, or look like. Most importantly finally actually loving who I am and know I am enough just as I am, for the first time in my life. The letting go wasn’t anything that I had learned, this is what my soul was crying out for.  So I asked for guidance and I went with it, I trusted my inner-knowing to begin teaching me how the Universe really thought of me and how it wanted me to let go of my perceptions of how the world is and it did all of this through hiking and connecting with nature.

    When I first began hiking alone, I did so because everyone was busy. Well I couldn’t just wait around for someone so, I created the motto “Make Your Own Adventures.”  I would hike only a couple of different trails, a few hours before sunset.  It helped me to gain my confidence in my abilities especially with my feet and unstable rock.  “Let the feet do the thinking” quickly became my motto, because when you overthink your steps that’s when you fall.  You’re body knows what to do and that is the beauty about hiking, it teaches you to trust your mind, body and soul. This is the part that lights me up, because so often as a child and even a grown adult I didn’t feel capable of doing anything like this. I had my fair share of childhood accidents that made me feel incapable and hiking changed all of that for me. It helped me to completely shift my mindset from fear to I got this!

    With my self-esteem built up, soon I was hiking up the mountain later to meditate and watch the sunset and for me  this was my everything. It quickly became a ritual for me because if you have ever seen an Arizona sunset you know why!  On weekends I would get up early to hike before people were on the trail, sometimes taking a nap on some rocks or reading a book.  As I spent more time on my trail the more I was connecting to the magic I had never seen before. My spirit animal the red tailed hawk kiting over me on numerous occasions. The hooting of great horned owls. Little creatures like lizards, the caterpillars that would you have to walk around, and sparrows tweeting so loudly. Hiking the same trail and seeing the  subtle changes of the seasons over the years.  I like call all of this “Tangible Divinity” because when you pay attention to nature you can see that the divinity that is in all things is also within you. There is Divine Love connecting us all.

    With all of these spiritual truths coming to me as I hiked and finding myself, I was beginning to see a new path being created for me. This would eventually become my life’s purpose of guiding people into their own inner-knowing.  So I created my company, She Guides The Way. I am a Life Coach that likes to get my clients on the trail, connect with nature, tap into their own inner-knowing, all while building their confidence in their capabilities.  I lead Full Moon group hikes that helps people connect with the sun, moon, Mother Earth and Father Sky.  These are powerful ceremonies full of love, healing and intention setting.

    But let’s be honest here for a second, there were always nay sayers and people concerned with my well-being.  Saying things like, “A young woman like you shouldn’t be hiking alone in the dark.” And while I honor their point of view, it has always been my responsibility to stay in my peace and know my abilities.  I was always responsible with the right gear and a head lamp. It is so easy to go on the path of illusions with your fears.  It is a constant resurgence of trusting yourself.  This is how inner-power is built, because at the end of the day no one knows how to live your life better than you.

    You can follow Jackie on Instagram: @sheguidestheway

  • Here with Her News!

    When I started Here with Her I wasn’t exactly clear on what it could become. I knew I wanted to empower women to get outside and feel the freedom I do in nature. As I moved toward this calling I put my faith in a higher power to guide me. I wrote this prayer:

    “I know you put this dream in my heart because you want me to see it through. I will walk in your path as you guide my steps. I turn my fears over to you and trust in your plan. Thy will be done.”

    The path started to become clear when I posted this picture (above) from The Moanalua Valley Trail in Hawaii. I wanted to share this moment of pure elation on my hike through the most breathtaking beauty I’ve ever seen. For the first time in my life I didn’t care that I was about to post a photo with my hair totally out of place, my crow’s feet showing, no fake lashes, no eyeliner. I wanted to share my experience, my accomplishment and my bravery on this hike.

    Up until last year, I placed my value on my appearance. I thought what my body looked like was more important that what it was capable of. I needed my physique to be perfect, my hair to be glamorous, my lashes to be long and my skin to be free of any imperfections. It turns out, I didn’t actually care about any of these things to please myself, I cared about them to please others.

    I spent my entire adulthood in the TV industry where I had to endure cruel opinions about my appearance. I felt ashamed about the way I looked. I was born with light blonde hair that grew to my hips by middle school. I got curves at 14 years old. I was told so many times during my career that my hair was too blonde for TV. I looked too much like Barbie. My boobs were too big and needed to become less of a distraction. I endured the humiliating experience of having a consultant take me BRA SHOPPING. It was reinforced for many years that no one would take me seriously because of my appearance.

    Do you know how much that hurts? To be told your appearance is going to hold you back regardless of your effort, skills or intelligence?

    Somehow public judgment of my appearance was worth more than my talent.

    Unfortunately, I believe most women understand this pain. For one reason or another, the way we look seems to somehow be used against us at some point in our lives. For some it’s because we are a so-called Barbie, others are considered overweight, some are judged for the color of their skin, maybe they’re considered masculine. I mean, we’re too skinny, not skinny enough, we’re too old, we’re not old enough… BLAH BLAH BLAH!

    The pressure for me to change and look another way doesn’t align with who I really am. Succumbing to judgment does not align with who any of us really are.

    When we get outdoors there is no judgment. Nature doesn’t think I’m too blonde. Nature doesn’t get offended by my curves.  Nature doesn’t mind my wrinkles. Nature doesn’t care that I bite my nails and have an autoimmune disease causing my hands to peel.

    Nature only cares that I show up for her.

    The person I am out here… this is who I really am. Out here, I don’t think about what I look like. Out here I just think about how I feel. Out here I don’t think about my legs having cellulite, scars and stretch marks. I think about where my legs can take me. Out here I don’t worry about judgments. In fact, I don’t worry about anything.

    I thank God for giving me a love for the outdoors. The outdoors saved me from a superficial life. The outdoors saved me from this trap of trying to be perfect. The outdoors saved me from the prison of public opinion.

    From here forward, I am dedicating this brand to not only sharing beautiful outdoor destinations, but also to sharing stories of how nature has helped women defy society’s insane expectations of them.

    So please ladies- share your stories with me. Tell me how nature has helped you see the REAL you. Tell me how it’s changed your life for the better. We want to hear your story. We need to hear your story.

    Please tag @here_with_her in your Instagram posts and use #herewithher. You can also send an email with your story and photo to

    Thank you for your support!