I’m collecting donations of gently used running shoes, clothing, and gear for the track and field athletes at Rhodes Hall High School in Hanover, Jamaica. Donations can be mailed to: Danielle Cemprola, PO Box 26101, Greenville, SC 29616. If you would prefer to donate online, please visit my GoFundMe page! All funds raised will go directly to the team. You can read more about the kids and their incredible stories here.
As you might know, I turned 30 a
couple weeks ago about a month ago (geez, I’ve really slacked on writing this post)! I’ve never been one to make a huge deal out of my birthday, especially as I’ve gotten older. Primarily, that’s because my birthday is so close to Christmas and all celebrations inevitably focus around Christmas, people are busy (my birthday always fell during finals in college), and everyone is already broke from buying presents for everyone else, so I’ve learned that it’s not worth trying to make a big deal over. I still had the same intentions this year – no party, no pomp and circumstance – but I was determined to spend my birthday somewhere far away from South Carolina. Ideally, that would have been another country, but it didn’t pan out, so AJ and I ended up flying out to Arizona to see my best friend, Lauren! You may remember Lauren from plenty of my travel tales from years past – she’s the one that has been known to get punched in the face by Italian men in Japan (accidentally or not, the world may never know), puke during a desert safari in the UAE, and share lengthy conversations with homeless men wearing one giant confederate flag as an outfit in Nashville. Basically, she is one of my most interesting (if occasionally most travel-stress-inducing) friends, and we met 10 years ago in our sorority house and have pretty much been best friends ever since.
My brother and his wife live in Phoenix, too, so my mom flew out with me and AJ to go visit them. We flew to Arizona on my actual birthday and had lunch with my brother and his wife while waiting for Lauren to get off work – probably the first time I’ve seen any of my family on my birthday since I turned 18!
We met up with Lauren and her boyfriend Andrew at Four Peaks Brewery and the weekend was officially underway! Lauren and Andrew have been together for about a year, but I had never had the chance to meet him since I hadn’t been out to Phoenix since Lauren moved and he hadn’t made his way to South Carolina. My 30th birthday dinner was spent eating tacos and margaritas inside an old church, which is, in my opinion, the superior place to eat tacos. If you live in the Phoenix area and have not yet been to Taco Guild, please go immediately. It’s urgent.
The rest of our trip was more or less dedicated to making sure that AJ hit the highlights of Arizona while we were out there, since he had never been before and we aren’t sure when he’ll have the chance to get back. Now, I’ve been to Arizona several times, and it is an absolutely gorgeous state with many things to see, but I think most of us will agree that the Grand Canyon and Sedona are pretty high on that list. So we set out Thursday morning for the 4-hour drive to the Grand Canyon, keeping our fingers crossed for good weather and no fog. While Lauren has lived in Arizona for over a year, she’s never actually seen the Grand Canyon, because it was foggy and cold the one time she tried to go. Little did she know that in addition to the beautiful views, Andrew and I had another surprise in store for her!
A few months ago, Andrew reached out to me and asked if I would be ok with him proposing to Lauren while I was out there visiting, and if so, if I would be willing to help him plan it! Um, OF COURSE! Now, Lauren had started getting pretty suspiciously recently and sensed that a proposal was coming. She was absolutely convinced that she was way too observant and there was no way he could surprise her. She had all these guesses for different days she thought he might propose and talked to me about it endlessly. At one point, she even said, “Do you think he will propose when you’re out here?” “Um, he better not,” I said. “And if he is planning on it, he better ask me first! I will be so mad if you steal my thunder on my birthday weekend! Not to mention, can you imagine how awkward AJ would be if he got caught in the middle of a proposal? Good Lord, even if he did ask me, I would highly encourage Andrew to avoid a situation like that.” Now, two things to note: 1) Had Lauren not been so wrapped up in the whole thing, she would have remembered that I definitely don’t care that much about my birthday, let alone my “birthday weekend,” and I certainly have never used a phrase like “stealing my thunder” with any kind of serious tone. I generally hate attention, so I prefer people to steal my thunder. 2) AJ really is bad at being caught in the middle of serious situations like that and has been known to have inappropriate responses (like the time he laughed – to be fair, he was drunk – when our friend told him he and his girlfriend were going to have a baby – awkward!), so this was actually a totally reasonable response. “Good point,” Lauren said. “AJ should definitely not be there when Andrew proposes.” Whew! Dodged that bullet!
Of course, AJ and I were both there and, having ample time to prepare for the situation, AJ handled it just fine. The whole thing went off with out a hitch because, as luck would have it (in this situation, not in general), Andrew is afraid of heights! SO while we were taking pictures close to the edge and for most of the time we were out there, he was extremely nervous, but Lauren just assumed it was his fear of heights. Perfect! I was jumping out of my skin the whole time we were there, just waiting for him to ask me to take a picture of the two of them, because that was the cue! I am so, so glad I was there to witness it.
After a million more pictures, we headed off to Flagstaff, where we would be staying for the night. Andrew went to college in Flagstaff and told us it was a cool town with lots of fun bars and restaurants, and we were not disappointed. The first brewery we went to had great food (including an extensive gluten-free pizza menu) and all the terrible shooters we used to drink in college, so we ordered a round of Dirty Girl Scouts (known in Arizona as the more appropriately named “Girl Scout Cookie”).
At the next bar, we’re standing there minding our own business when in walks a man wearing a fur-lined cape. Lauren and I just gaped at each other. Flagstaff is kind of hipster, but a fur-lined cape? We had to know where he got it.
Me: ” I like your cape! Where is it from?”
Man: “It’s not a cape, it’s a capoat. CAPE-COAT. I made it. I’ve been making capes since I was in elementary school and all my friends started wearing them too. I’ve made hundreds of capes. My wife and I have a cape company.”
I mean…what do you even say to that? A capoat, you guys. A capoat. In case you were wondering, the average capoat costs $250. I was too stunned into silence to ask to take a picture, as was also the case at the next bar we went to, which featured a karaoke room inside a hotel and also the strongest stench of body odor I have ever experienced. That includes the time I hiked the Inca Trail for 4 days without showering – the Inca Trail situation was roses by comparison. Strangely, AJ and Andrew were not that into it and did not want to sing karaoke with hoards of smelly people, so they dragged me and Lauren out of there far too soon. Oh well, there’s always next time, I guess.
We took a leisurely drive down to Sedona the following morning. Like I said – hitting the high points! AJ and I absolutely love hiking, and there is no better place to hike than Sedona. The last time I was here, I had a less than great race at the Sedona Marathon, and I have to say, being there with a functioning back and not running 26.2 miles is definitely the superior way to visit this beautiful area. Andrew had the idea to do geocaching (basically, a scavenger hunt using your phone), which AJ and I had never done before. It was a tough climb to find the box, but it was worth it! We left some random stuff behind for the next people to find and remember us by.
Sedona is known for its “cosmic” or “mystic” energy, and people visit spiritual vortexes there. It’s pretty interesting, but also seems to involve the inexplicable purchase of a lot of crystals at one of the hundreds of crystal stores in the area, so it’s a little weird for me. The scenery can’t be beat, though. If I was going to be a spiritual vortex, I would probably be in Sedona, too, although I doubt that will come up in the near future.
After our hike, we headed back to Phoenix to enjoy dinner with Lauren’s parents. The next morning, I tricked Lauren into working out with me at Barre3 North Scottsdale, too! Ok, she did actually know it was happening, but she surprised even herself by really enjoying it! And she wasn’t just saying that – she has gone back several times since, proving that the Barre3 gospel is real and I’m not crazy.
And finally, we wrapped up our visit with an impromptu engagement celebration at Lauren and Andrew’s favorite townie bar. By this point, my liver had had quite enough of the weekend’s events, thank you very much, so I decided to just sit back and observe since we had an early flight the next day. What I observed was: 1) the angriest karaoke I have ever heard, including an extremely racist song that I didn’t even know could be played out loud and selections from “Tool’s Greatest Hits,” and 2) a local guy who got blackout drunk before 7:30 pm and passed out in the booth. The bartenders occasionally woke him up to give him water, but otherwise no one seemed that concerned. I have to tell you, I have been to some trashy bars in my day, but I think Phoenix is currently holding the record. It was naturally the perfect way to wrap up the celebration of the next phase of my adulthood.
With that, our trip to Arizona came to a close, as did my 2015 year in travel. Given that it took me about a week to recover from that trip, I think it’s safe to say I’m not 20 anymore. What is it that they say? 30 is the new 20? Uhh, my liver begs to differ.