Monday, September 10, 2012

Why I stopped blogging

If you check this site regularly -- or scroll down a few inches -- you will have noticed I haven't written anything in a while. As much for myself as for everyone out there, I feel I should give a few reasons for why this has happened. Many of them are typical why-I-stopped-blogging excuses, but I present them nonetheless.

It became a comparison game. Once I decided to take my blog beyond the family readership zone, I discovered sites with multimedia outlets, daily posts, scrolling banners, avatars... I couldn't compete. Search engines are amazing resources for learning about HTML and other computer codes, but hours of trial and error still left me with a basic home page and endless frustration. Nail-biting, stomach-churtling frustration. In the end, not worth the anxiety.

I wasn't capturing the experience. I started this blog because I wanted to share my journey. It worked for a while (a blip, really), then doubt smothered my honesty. I often skirted around my impressions in the interest of diplomacy and the pretense of positivity. Instead, I adapted a snapshot-and-comment formula, creating more of an extended tourism advert for the UK than a fresh personal account of my experiences. If I had, you would have discovered that I had very little money to travel -- compromising the whole travel blog idea from the first -- and was more interested in discovering how it feels to be a minority and answering questions like, "What makes me happy?"

Self-promotion makes me queasy. From early on it was clear that successful bloggers spend rather obscene amounts spearing their awesomeness across as many Twitter, Facebook, YouTube feeds as possible. Really, we all do this on our own virtual walls (OMG, check out this ah-mah-zing spaghetti I made myself tonight!), but out of necessity, they take it to a new level. It takes up the majority of the working day and I am not comfortable spending that much time selling myself. This means I will never be a successful writer, but apparently that is okay with me.

I stopped seeing. Going on Sunday walks became compulsory; I had to go out to find the next story. I scuttled through ancient forests and along geological phenomenons mentally composing a list of quips for my next post rather than looking around. Memories were made through my camera lens, edited and uploaded to my Flickr account. Experiences lost all their integrity because I was too busy deciphering how to sell them. It was no longer genuine, so, true to form, I lost interest altogether.

I don't like that you who checked my blog often were left with nothing for such a long time. Your interest in my life and writing gave me a different kind of confidence than I have had before; I thank you for it. But to preserve my sanity and integrity as a teller of life-stories -- and yours, as readers -- I resume my silence until I discover a new approach.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hadrian's Wall: Walk Two of the Great Munro Challenge

With the recent Easter holiday came another chance to train for the Great Munro Challenge. Hadrian's Wall presented an interesting challenge: not a level walk, but not a steep one either. The wall -- a World Heritage site -- skims over fault lines that extend the width of Northern England. It is a remnant of the Roman Empire, built to defend its far-reaching lands from feisty clans north of the border.

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse
Our walk was on a bit of wall in Northumberland -- near Housesteads, a large fort sitting atop some of the most dramatic fluctuations in the fault line. We walked uphill from parking lot to museum to wall; a suitable warm-up for myself and the boyfriend. At the top, we met a particularly angry northern wind, who felt like testing its strength against my less than steely frame.

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

At this point, I acquainted myself with the wall. I noted its uniformity and strength, despite 200 years of gale-force winds that put these to shame. All my sympathies lay with the low-ranking military men who patrolled this wall way before Thermafleece existed. What remains of the wall would block a gust, if only they came from one direction.

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

We walked along from Housesteads until we hit our first dip. Our path quickly resembled a lackluster carnival ride: down a little and straight back up again. Needless to say, we were panting at the top of each hill. And the next, and the next.

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

We followed along cliff edges, freshwater lochs and tiny patches of forest with knobby trees thrashed about by the wind. At one high point, I saw a group of birds suspended midair against the wind. Wings spread, but motionless; simply surfing the gusts as they came.

Sycamore Gap - Image belongs to Kelsey Morse
By this time, my heart thumped in spurts. We made it just beyond the famed Sycamore Gap then turned back to finish our four-mile trek along this cross-country wall. At the end we took our jelly legs for a warm English pint, happy to have seen a classic bit of history and landscape. Happy it was over, too.

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

HostelBookers 7 Super Shots

Thanks to Emma from Emma's Travel Tales, I have a chance to show off my best photog. She tagged me in HostelBookers 7 Super Shots challenge, giving me full permission to flaunt my stuff for the rest of the travel blogging community. With much excitement, here goes! My list of photos that...

1. Takes my breath away

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

Halfway through climbing 'The Pap at Glencoe,' a hill that falls just under the 3000 foot Munro mark, I turned around to this view of Loch Leven. We were knee-deep in snow and heaving from the climb, but it was worth every raspy breath. Every hill and valley in this area teems with violent, proud history. We had to turn back in the end -- the snow was too much -- but I felt like I'd done my ancestors proud with this shot.

2. Makes me laugh/smile

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

These two sisters at the 4-H fair in Brown County, Indiana were getting more attention than the cattle being shown. With the matching boots and all-round enthusiasm, they stole the show. I love the concentration on the face of the youngest sister, to the left.

3. Makes me dream

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

On one of the last summer days of 2010, I went for a solo walk around the sand dunes in Southwest Michigan. The beach was deserted save for myself, another man and this long stretch of driftwood. It was eerie seeing this beach from my childhood without the July crowds. When I itch for the comforts of home, I imagine myself cross-legged next to this log, gazing out at Lake Michigan.

4. Makes me think

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

Just outside Nigg, in northeastern Scotland, there is an abandoned air base used during the second World War. Troops were stationed up here for years, enduring the gale-force winds, rains, anxiety and certain boredom. The walk to this hilltop site is gorgeous -- as is the view -- but the bunkers themselves have such heavy spirits. I found myself wondering what these cold corridors have seen.

5. Makes my mouth water

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

After a day of downpour in Kyle of Lochalsh, we drove to a highly rated seafood restaurant in Broadford, Isle of Skye. These mussels were gathered meters away from where we sat in the tiny, seaside dining room. Their journey from seawater to garlic butter bath happened within hours. With a glass of white wine, these humble bivalves made me the happiest girl in the West of Scotland. 

6. Tells a story 

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

Amidst the controlled chaos of the Occupy Boston camp, this man was deep in meditation. He somehow pulled himself from his surroundings despite the sporadic shouts, passing bicycles and dumbstruck tourists. His concentration held my attention so intensely, I couldn't look away. The photo captures his pure calm. Moments later, a wind blew his sign over and he snapped back to the present. 

7. I am most proud of

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

Fair enough, I think the sun did most of the work for me in this photograph. It was the first time I felt I captured the aura of a place in a single shot. Durness, Scotland on the warmest day of summer was stunningly beautiful. Colors were everywhere: yellow wildflowers, black cattle, white sand. Pulling up to the North Atlantic, I expected the brown waters of the North Sea; instead, I found the turquoise-blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Coupled with the sunshine, it changed my ideas about Scotland entirely.

If you want to show off your best travel photography, use this blog post as a model and don't forget to tweet the link using hashtag #7SuperShots.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Finding Glasgow's underbelly

Kelvingrove Park -- Image belongs to Kelsey Morse
On a weekend trip to Glasgow, I did not watch a football game. Nor did I drink any Tennent's, the city's signature brew. I even skipped the Kelvingrove Museum and strolled by the flamboyant buildings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh without touching my camera. Instead I sipped gin and tonics, spotted a walking tree and discovered where Scotland hides its hipsters.

Fair enough, it was a girls' weekend. My friend, Faye, and I went down searching for Glasgow's girly offerings. On a Saturday morning we hopped from one charity shop to the next, seeing more secondhand threads than I've encountered my entire life. Sofas, books, handbags -- they were flying off the shelves as soon as the doors were open.

It was the start to an alternative day, followed by a quick turn through my first comic con and the Sharmanka exhibit at Trongate 103. The kinetic theatre, made from wood carvings, bone and reinvented old scrap, move with varying levels of grace to Russian- or Scottish-inspired tunes. My reaction was a mix of enthusiasm, awe and confusion. I had found Glasgow's other world.

 On the street afterwards, (Or was it before?) we spotted a tree wandering listlessly between buildings. It was slightly comforting to see a camera crew surround it; turns out it was less random than we thought. Then, further on, a trumpet blare drew us in to an near-East End pub -- Laurie's -- where scores of pensioners were swing dancing through clouds of powdery perfume and canonical jazz tunes. It was glorious. Before we finished our half pints, Faye and I both danced with clearly the best 50 plus dancer in Scotland.

By nightfall we were bouncing to funk music at The Buff Club, about as far from techno and neon as you're likely to get. A lone disco ball twinkled, Diana Ross made her Gen Y debut. High-waisted jeans and Elvis-like quaffs floated and twirled to the bar. Once I overcame the weirdness of hearing songs that remind me of dancing in princess pajamas, it was fantastic fun. A refreshing change from heart-thumping beats and awkward hook-ups.

I found Glasgow's underbelly. It's soft, sensitive, and a colorful mosaic of friendliness. I would never slag off the city's football and beer culture, but it was nice to discover another side.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Liebster Blog Award

In the vast blog-o-sphere, I have been found. Amy Allender of Aprons & Ambitions has bestowed the Liebster Blog Award upon me. Its requirements are simple: write cool stuff on your blog for a few humble followers. Under fifty, in fact. Thanks, Amy, for giving me a shout on your blog and thinking of me when making your list! (Love the burlap roses, by the way.) Now to return the favor...

A few of my favorite wee corners of the Internet:
  • jackie_travels: Jackie's hilarious. Her website has a few more than fifty followers, but it is growing and that's what matters. Between her wit and her new internship with Vagabundo Magazine, I'm sure we will hear more from her soon! 
  • Emma's Travel Tales: With a nice photography-narrative balance, Emma does her faraway destinations justice. She also balances travel within her native Scotland well with exotic locales. 
  • Andy P Black: I am biased, fair enough, but my cousin's comic art blog rocks. His talent is undeniable; browse through the mix of original and classic drawings.
Thanks again, Amy, for the nod. Trying to get your name out into the virtual universe is incredibly difficult; a little attention is always appreciated!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Arthur's Seat ate my wellies: Climb one of The Great Munro Challenge

One draw to the Scottish Highlands is the mountains. Planted mystically on the horizon, they beckon to most everyone. Snow-capped or thatched with bracken or shrouded in mist. Whatever the condition, they remain regal, ancient, and very Gaelic somehow.

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

Naturally, people want to climb them. It's called 'Munro-bagging': a weekend affair with various degrees of dedication/intensity/flashiness propelling walkers to the top of Scotland's highest mountains, which must sit above 3000 feet to deserve the name. Since my first walks, I have wanted to be one of these people. Carry a titanium walking stick. Wear swishy waterproof trousers. Talk about mile-long journeys like they were a Sunday stroll. On New Year's Day, full of optimism, I decided to try. Before my time here is through, I would climb a Munro. I resolved to walk more, work hills and go to the gym until my poor Midwestern heart can handle the altitude. 

Since then I have scuttled around town trying to build up my endurance. Walk my way to fit enough for a Munro so I don't keel over halfway. I'm calling it The Great Munro Challenge with only a slight sense of irony. (I do realize that most of Scotland plus some have done this already, but this girl is from the flatlands and no attempt to conquer a mountain will go untold.) Here's the plan: I will walk hills to build my strength, take photos along the way and report back with all the novel happenings. This will continue -- steadily building in height and difficulty -- until I am strong enough to top a Munro. Then I'll climb one, toast with cheap wine at the top and, I imagine, come down in some mixed state of euphoria and pain. 

My first documented challenge is Arthur's Seat. It is an extinct volcano that sits right next to Her Majesty's Palace of Holyroodhouse, at the bottom of Edinburgh's Royal Mile. It is approximately 919 feet tall with partially tarmacked (READ: paved) trails and stone steps. A few folk were walking in dress shoes, bless their souls. I chose welly boots.

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

The first bit of walk was pleasant. Mild with a light breeze and sunshine above. I was particularly thrilled at the chance to see Edinburgh not shrouded in cloud, as it usually is when I visit. A woman passed on her way down in Converse All-stars. It was hard to ignore the caked mud that crept from her canvas-clad feet to her knees. Trouble ahead, but no worries. I had faith in my knee-high rubber shells.

A while later, we began to ascend some noticeably steep stone stairs. I knew my heart would be thumping in my throat regardless the pace, so I channelled my determination and powered up. By halfway I stopped, heaving great yogic breaths and waiting for my pulse to calm. I looked down at my wellies to see their black sheen covered in brown mud. The squidgy kind that kids and dogs love. The boots seemed a little worse for wear; I questioned my decision to wear these instead of my hiking shoes. For a city walk, Arthur's Seat was proving more rugged than expected.

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

Near the top: face flush, warm muscles. My eyes glided horizontally across Edinburgh; I felt almost satisfied, if a little winded. We had just one more jaunt up to the top and even though I responded with something like,  "You've gotta be kidding me," I wanted to finish the walk.

At the top, as always, the sense of accomplishment set in. Wind blasted me from every side. Body heat faded within seconds; I buried myself in the layers I lost on the way up. Took photos, then turned to descend. On the way down, though, I noticed a sad little fissure in my left welly. Then three more in my right.  I had made it to the top, but my poor £12 wellies didn't have it in them.

Image belongs to Kelsey Morse

One climb closer, I came down reaffirmed in things I've learned millions of times: Never compromise on footwear and any exercise is good exercise, no matter the sloppiness involved. I feel 919 feet closer to a Munro and determined as ever to bag one in 2012.

Next up: Berwick Law in North Berwick, near Edinburgh.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Scary Noises of Easter Ross

Every destination has its noises. In Elkhart, Indiana -- my home town -- trains grind on metal tracks day and night, casting off sounds that plainly reveal its industrial roots. Long-drawn horns, too, become the soundtrack of morning commutes. It all becomes white noise after you adjust. Then, without noticing, it fades away.

In this corner of the Highlands, their noise comes from planes. Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 fighter jets, to be precise. They fly low over Easter Ross from nearby air bases, swooping dramatically into the air, then dropping inactive decoy bombs onto their range a few miles away. The noise, it could be said, is terrifying. The Tornado's hollow roar propels my heart from chest to throat every time, especially when they fly overhead. I would think their whooping and hollering could stop any chat on the High Street, but the locals go on chatting nonetheless.

Image via

Whether by choice or weathered ears, Highland people seem completely unfazed. I, on the other hand, stop nearly every time I hear one and play 'Spot the Airplane' like a five-year-old. What else can I do? Each time I hear one, its equal parts amazement and terror.

Despite being totally conspicuous, RAF Tornadoes fit in the Highland playlist alongside cackly seagulls and howling wind. It answers for the Highlands' practical side and keeps visitors from assuming it really is all wool and whiskey. Just bring along your heart medication when you visit.

What noises have you picked up on in your travels?

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