A season of firsts – a reflection of life after college

While the rest of the country is buried in snow and sipping hot chocolate under a thick blanket, here in the South, we’re finally feeling fall.

Taken outside the station last week

Taken outside the station last week

The leaves are just now turning shades of orange and falling off the trees. The temperature has dipped to a comfortable 60 degrees (I speak for myself – people around here like the heat). Just this week, we felt our first overnight freeze and I was scrambling to get to a Home Depot for a new furnace filter. I sincerely hope the rest of my apartment complex did the same.

A Midwestern gal at heart, I just can’t get a grip on hearing Christmas music on the radio when I can still go outside without a jacket. My favorite is watching girls  wear fall layers in September when it’s still a blazing 80 degrees outside (insert chuckle and apology here).

First full day of live reporting

First full day of live reporting

Nonetheless – 80 degrees or 20 degrees – we’ve reached a new season. For me and many other spring 2014 graduates, it’s a new season of life.

I’ve experienced so many “firsts” in the last five months – first full time job, first apartment and first college loan payment (wait, does that make me an adult?). Life moves fast!

A few months ago I was sweating under a brand new Fox10 polo not only because of the southern heat, but because I was so nervous about doing my very first live shot in front of thousands of viewers. Now I’d like to think that polo is broken in (thanks to coffee in moving vehicles)…but I’m still sweating about live TV.

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A season of firsts

It’s been an exciting and fun season of life to say the least. It feels good to see the fruits of my college labor. No time to admire, though. It’s time to plant new seeds for the future.

Don’t let me or anyone else kid you – beneath the happy Facebook

New baby tiger at the Gulf Coast Zoo - yes I got to pet it for free

New baby tiger at the Gulf Coast Zoo – yes I got to pet it 

posts about cute baby tigers and the screen shots reporting live, it’s been a seasons of ups and downs. Learning how to pay all your bills sucks. Learning the ins and outs of a brand new town world is hard as hell, and figuring out how to be the best you can be at your job – well I’m still figuring that out.

As an overall reflection, though, I’m happy. I’m extremely grateful for the last five months and proud of all that I’ve accomplished.

I’m not old and wise by any means, but it feels good to know I’ve got so many “firsts” under my belt. Hope all you other grads feel the same. If not, hang in there. Hard work pays off.

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A journalist’s empathy

Check out the link for our story on Fox10:

 Candlelight vigil in Citronelle for two teens killed in car accident

Fair warning – this post is a heavy one.

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During my short three months at Fox10 I’ve covered the murders of a 5-year-old girl in Gulfport Mississippi and an 8-year-old in Prichard. I’ve seen the white sheets at motorcycle accidents with blood painting the highway around them, interviewed grieving communities, stood in the places where bodies were found lifeless, and probably the worst – listened to the painful sobs of a parent as they mourn the loss of a child.

Death is no stranger in this job.

Grief

But for some reason, tonight’s story about two loved Citronelle teens was the story that overwhelmed me. Over the weekend two friends, athletes, and students were killed in a car accident.

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Tonight family, friends and community came together to celebrate these boys’ lives in a prayer service and candle light vigil. Volunteers handed out tissues, passed out water and fanned people as they cried. The boys’ fellow teammates fell to the ground in hiccuping sobs. So many people collapsed when the music started that volunteers had to carry them outside. I wish I could describe the weight of emotion in that church as people sang, lifted their hands and testified to God.

Empathy

I couldn’t keep it together. In the first ten minutes of the service I felt the salty tears in the back of my throat. Before the choir got through the second song, I found myself crying for families I had never met and the boys that I would never know. And then I started to think of my own loved ones. In that moment everyone else’s pain felt so real. Death became real. I was no longer an outsider looking in.

I believe there are different levels of empathy. First you see others’ emotion, then you start to understand it, and finally you feel it…almost as photo 2strongly as they do. On nights like tonight empathy transforms from simply understanding other’s heartbreak, to feeling it in your own heart.

Lessons

I learn a lot on this job every day. In the past few weeks I’ve learned that journalists are not numb. Reporters are not immune to grief and sorrow. On the outside there may be “on” and “off” switches so we can do our job…but on the inside we are (or at least I am) overflowing with emotion.

While we don’t enjoy asking grieving people for interviews or filming their tears, we have to keep in mind that we are there for a purpose….whether it’s to bring closure, pay tribute, raise awareness, or even to help police in an investigation.

I think discovering that reason and remembering it through the entire process of reporting is what makes a journalist real. We’re not just simply covering a story…We are covering a story for greater purpose.

Prayer

I’m not afraid to end on a cliche. It wouldn’t be right to end a post like this without a call to faith. I’ll say a prayer for this community tonight…And I’ll probably even say a prayer for my own family and friends tonight.  Seeing tragedy so often reminds you that life really is fleeting.

Fairhope, Alabama – My new home

As I was filling up my car with gas yesterday, a man walking back to his truck – boat in tow – walked right up to my bumper and said, “Ah-owa…That’s a lonnnnng drive.”

 

I said, “Yep, sure was, but I’m here to stay.” He wished me luck and that was the end of the conversation.

 

I paid with my credit card, filled my tank and sat in my car for a few moments. It really was a long way!

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Everything has happened so quickly in the last two weeks that the drive south felt like a quick road trip rather than a thousand mile transplant.

 

Monday, June 9 I found out I got the job at Fox10. I spent a week rounding up my things and celebrating with friends and family. Then Monday June 16 I packed everything I could fit in my car and began my 908 mile trek to Mobile, Alabama.  By Tuesday afternoon I had arrived in Mobile. By Wednesday morning I had signed a lease. By Thursday evening I was all moved in, and on Friday Ryan drove over to see me and help settle in to my new life.

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My life in a car

I hadn’t had a moment to breathe and really think about this incredible move until yesterday when a stranger pointed it out. All I could think was, “HOLY CRAP I’M AN ALABAMIAN! (Kind of)”

Starting over in a new city is harder than it looks. I’m still sleeping on a mattress pad on the floor. I’ve been eating cold food on paper plates while standing up at the counter. My boxes remain full in the corners because my things need table tops to live on.  The only edible objects in my fridge are wine, English muffins and some eggs. My clothes are neatly folded on the closet shelf because I don’t have a dresser, and my single chair doesn’t quite cut it as a couch.

Luckily my amazing boyfriend surprised me with shelving, a living room table set, a lamp and some important odds and ends. My nine-year-old niece said, “Wow, he must really love you!” I think so.

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Man of the house.

The great thing about where I live, though is that I’m five minutes from the Fairhope pier and beach. I’m even closer to cute downtown with fun boutiques and delicious food. I’m very very lucky to have snagged this apartment right in town. It was literally the last one in Fairhope until late July or August.

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Hippie filter

I miss my friends and family dearly, but I haven’t looked back yet. This is my first big career move. This is my new and exciting adventure and we all know how much I love adventures.

Cheers from Alabama,

Rebekah

 

More pictures of the beach and pier to scroll through:

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My Dr. Suess/Snapchat version of home:

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The Fiery Gizzard Trail-1, Technology-0

The good, the bad and the ugly

This week I bought a new phone and buried a soggy Canon 60-D at the camera morgue.

Good news: I finally joined the iPhone world.

Bad news: I owe a lot of money.

Good news: you all can laugh at my misfortune (it’s okay, chuckle as you read. I have thick skin)

Bad news: I owe a lot of money…

Now let’s rewind a few days to find out how I got myself in this hilariously unfortunate predicament.

Fiery Gizzard Trail and South Cumberland State Park

My Friday edition of Adventures with Bekah consisted of a day-long hike at South Cumberland State Park. I was very excited to finally hit the trails.

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The Fiery Gizzard Trail is a 12.5 mile hike filled with diverse rock formations, bouldering opportunities, beautiful running water, swimming holes, and waterfalls. Most of it is a moderate difficulty but the Fiery Gizzard stretch is a bit precarious. At the parking lot you sign in so the rangers will know you’re in there. If you don’t sign back out, I imagine they start a search party.

Fiery Gizzard TrailIf you look at this map, I parked up in the top left. I had planned on only doing a short 4-5 mile loop through Grundy Forest, but I got so excited that I found myself halfway finished with the trail before I realized I missed the loop!

Check out the highlights of the trail (If you click on a photo it will start a larger slideshow).

Me vs. Little Gizzard Creek

Here’s where the hike takes a turn for the worst. A little over halfway through the trail I tripped over an out-of-ground tree root.

No, I did not just face plant forward like a normal person…I face planted then rolled down a hill into the creek. KCRG, did you get that? Golden Klutz Award goes to me.

What most of the trail looked like

Most of the trail was inclined slightly above the creek. The hill I fell down was a little bit bigger than the one pictured here.

The worst part? My camera bag strapped across my body was slightly unzipped.

Imagine this in slow motion: Foot catches root, body flies forward, out launches my phone, camera and sunglasses, body lands not so gracefully onto my phone, jamming it into my ribcage right as I witness my pretty Canon 60D splash into the water. I scramble to my feet and hurl myself in the direction of the camera. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand…by now the camera is fully submerged…three-one-thousand…I snatch the strap and rescue it from drowning.

…only three seconds too late.

Unfortunately neither piece of technology survived the ordeal. I did. That’s the important part, right? Though I may have to sell my soul anyway just to pay for the damn camera.

So what did I do with the dripping camera next? Only what any technology-experienced millenial would do – I put the lens and camera into a bag of rice.

Now we have a soggy, very expensive maraka. The noisy, rice-filled lens mocked my with it’s shakety-shake-shake the rest of the way home.

A happy little metaphor

After falling down a mountain – as you can imagine – I was a bit disoriented. I started hiking at lightning pace, my heart beating wildly and blood rushing to my face. Instead of looking up at the trail, I stared angrily at my dripping camera, trying to hold it at what I imagined was the best position to get the water to drain out and away from the gears and gadgets inside.

Right…like that’s going to help.

In my adrenaline-motivated wild race to the finish line I found myself lost on the trail. I couldn’t use my phone compass and my map was somewhere in the bottom of the creek.

Luckily earlier in the expedition I had met a few fellow hikers.

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Father John Dowling led me back to safety

The guy above’s name is John Dowling, and he is a priest in the Nashville area. We exchanged numbers (before my phone broke) so that when I came back to Tennessee he could tell me about the best trails in the Smokey’s and so I could send him these photos I took. They caught up with me as I sat by the water kicking myself.

Father Dowling led me back to the right path.

How metaphoric is that? A priest leads me back to the narrow road. Halleluiah, good God!

Later that night

After my fall, I headed back to Chattanooga, cleaned up at my hostel and decided I needed a drink at the bar. I met some really great guys again. Here’s how that conversation went…

“Hey, can I get your number?”

“No…sorry I dropped my phone down a mountain.”

“Seriously? Wow you could have just said no.”

“No, really…I dropped my phone down a mountain.”

All I can say is I am grateful for good people, beautiful nature…and payment plans.

 

Pick up lines (travel style)

I apologize, I don’t really have any good photos to explain what I’m writing here! When you’re having fun you forget to take them!

So….

“How do you meet so many people all by yourself?!”

I get the question a lot.

Well, it’s simple. You talk.

I get it, I get it…It can be nerve-racking! Humans are scary creatures! (I’m not even being sarcastic) The trick is to put yourself out there. You won’t meet anyone alone in your hotel room.

Is it awkward sometimes? Yes, I won’t lie. Is it risky? Yeah, it can be. But does it pay off? HELL YES.

Now if you’re ready for some tried and true tips, skip to the next heading. If you’re still not convinced (or you want to hear more of my rambling), read on…

Why meet people? I just want to see stuff.

So you’re going on a trip. Good for you! You can choose to be a standard tourist sight-see-er, or you can put yourself out there, get a taste of the local culture, discover hidden secrets, and meet new friends all over the country. Which sounds better?

Tourist attractions are great. I’m not saying skip out on the neat aquarium or museum you’ve just been itching to see. I’m saying supplement your out-of-town experience with a few local treats. As a bonus, they tend to be cheaper, too!

In all the places I’ve been, the things that I really remember happened with fellow travelers or locals. In Colorado, I enjoyed river rafting for a price – but I enjoyed the free bonfire with the river rafting instructors much more. At Shaver Lake in California, I enjoyed the hot sun and a good book, but I had a blast downing a few beers, grilling out and dancing with some Texans. In Chattanooga, I had a great time exploring historic downtown and some already-trail-blazed hikes, but I really enjoyed taste testing beer with the bartender, eating the best fried chicken with locals and tipping back a few beers with the guys.

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River rafting and zip-lining in Colorado

…so you see where I’m going here.

Remember, it is high risk, high reward. Trust your gut instinct and be safe about stepping out of your comfort zone. It is always okay to say no.

I’m ready. Tell me how to meet people.

Start easy. Stop at the visitor centers.  Talk with the front desk workers of your hotel. Grab a coffee and spark a conversation with the barista. Take a tour of the town.

visitor center

Courtesy of chattanoogan.com

The great thing about visitor centers, specifically, is that the people working there generally are there for a reason. At almost every visitor center I’ve been to, the person working loves where they live and he or she always wants to share!

Put yourself out there.  Instead of reading or blogging in your hotel room, hang out in the lobby. Get a coffee at the local coffee shop.  Sit at the bar when you order out. Beer and coffee are social drinks, so don’t do it in your room!  Picking up what I’m putting down yet?

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Etcetera, Paducah, KY

Stay at a hostel. That – by far – has been the easiest way to explore. (But do your research first. Be safe!) Other people staying generally have a similar mindset. I didn’t even had to start the conversation at The Crash Pad! People were talking to me constantly!

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The Crash Pad

10 Pick-up lines (travel style)

I’ve used all of these and at one time or another, they all worked. You may laugh, but you can’t judge until you try one and watch it work.

1. “Hello.” 

Yes, people generally respond when you say hello. Weird, huh?

2. “I’m from Iowa.”

iowa

From Raygun 

Now, I’m not promising a nice response…I get, “Oh, I’m sorry,” or “What the hell is in Iowa?” a lot… but hey, it’s a conversation starter! When people hear you’re from Iowa, they want to know about it. It’s makes you exotic.

Now, don’t give them your entire address…be safe you guys.

3. “Man, I don’t know what to order. You order for me.”

Yes, this one is totally bizarre, but you would be surprised how it works. I got it from another solo travel blog. It’s called the “Chili cheese omelet opener.” You sit down at the bar, ask if the person next to you is a local, ask if they’ve eaten there before, and then convince them to order your meal. When I did it, I got a laugh…then some great food. 🙂

 

4. “Can I pet your dog, please?”

I’ve done this twice. Once with a huge (seriously.. gigantic) dog while on a walk and once with a little pup at a bar/restaurant. The guy with the big dog was so tickled that I liked his not-so-little-fido that he talked to me for 15 minutes about it. (Bonus: he was cute)

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Really, it’s just an ice breaker. When I pet the little pup, it was enough to break the ice and talk, and that led to the best fried chicken in town!

5. “Can you watch my jacket?”

Be careful with this one…if you like your jacket I wouldn’t recommend it…

When in Nashville I sat down at the front end of the bar and ordered a drink. I kept noticing a group of people look over at me. I’m sure they were thinking, “What the hell is this girl doing sitting by herself at a bar?” Eventually I got tired of them watching me so I picked up all my valuables (but left my old coat to “save my chair”), walked over to the group and said, “Hey can you guys watch my coat for a second while I use the ladies’ room?”

They did. And when I came back, I had already broken the ice! The rest is history.

6. Drink liquid confidence.

Enough said. But be careful!

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7. Can I take your photo?

People love this one. In a family or group there is always that one person who never gets in the photo because he or she is taking it. So when someone offers to take their photo they’re always really grateful. And in return they usually take yours!

A fellow hiker I met at Cumberland State Park, we exchanged emails so I could send him the photo

A fellow hiker I met at Cumberland State Park, we exchanged emails so I could send him the photo

8. “I couldn’t help but notice your Midwestern accent!”

This one works when you run into people from your region. It establishes rapport with them. You have a connection, something to talk about.

9. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I just love your bracelet (shirt, earrings, etc.)”

Who doesn’t love to be complimented? Sometimes they’ll tell you a great boutique or local place to shop, too!

10. “Can you help me find….?”

People are generally nice. And generally nice people will be willing to help you find what you’re looking for. Since the hardest part of talking to someone is actually the hello, now all you have to do is say, “So what’s the best local coffee shop?” “What’s your favorite part of this town?” …or if you’re really daring, “So, tell me your story!”

Safety

Come back for my next post and we’ll talk safety. There are definitely risks involved with solo travel and with meeting new people.

 

Southern food, Southern friends and damn good beer

I came to Chattanooga to hike, but I couldn’t leave without exploring downtown. Chattanooga is a mid sized city with lots to do and things to see. Here’s a few of my favorite stops.

The Flying Squirrel

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The Flying Squirrel is a bar in South Chattanooga. It’s literally 30 feet from The Crash Pad and offers a huge selection of draft and bottled beer, tapas style food, and fun and interesting people. Plus, the bartenders are really good looking…

Like really good looking…

At The Flying Squirrel I met a myriad of different people. Last night I met two guys who went to school together in Cookville, Tennessee. Josh, Scott and I talked and drank all night and had a great time! They asked me to stay another night and meet them at The Flying Squirrel Saturday, but I decided it was best to hit the road instead.  Now I’m kind of real sad about it.

Thursday night I met a new group of friends at The Flying Squirrel by asking to pet their dog. After a few playful puppy kisses and some intereesting conversation, they took me out to dinner for the best fried chicken in Chattanooga. That leads me to Champy’s.

Champy’s Chicken

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Champy’s Chicken supposedly has the best fried chicken in all of Chattanooga (some say it gets beat, though, by a little hole in the wall place with velvet walls located inside a budget hotel building).  I ordered fried pickles to share with the group. They were delicious but I don’t think I want to get used to Southern fried food on a regular basis.

Champy’s Chicken definitely had a local feel. I’d say the only way that visitor’s find the restaurant and bar is by meeting friends in Chattanooga.

Chattanooga River Market

I don’t have any pictures unfortunately because my phone and camera are both broken! The River Market is a day long event every Saturday during warm months. There’s local made jewelry, clothes, art, and even dog food…

I got this free Barley Bones t-shirt by eating a dog bone on camera for their Youtube and Facebook networks. I’m famous you guys.

Also…I at a dog bone.

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Seriously….

A cheddar and barley dog bone.

…anything for a free shirt. #Collegeprobs

Also they entrepreneurs at this booth were very interesting. They gave me lots of advice for scenic hiking trails close to town and we talked for a long time about traveling and business. They are trying to raise enough money selling their pure-ingredient dog bones to transform the puppy treats into human treats perfect for hiking.

Walnut Street Bridge

walnut street bridge

The Walnut Street Bridge was the first bridge to connect Chattanooga’s downtown with the North Shore. It was built in 1890 and it’s one of the many historical structures of the town. Since it’s now too outdated to meet current standards for automobiles it’s been turned into a pedestrian bridge.

chattanooga bridge

 

 

Lesson learned

I’m really going to miss Chattanooga! There’s so much hiking to be done, people to meet, shops to explore, and downtown events to enjoy. I left one day early for many reasons.

…but now I really wish I hadn’t left early.

Be a yes traveler. You only get so many chances to travel, so enjoy it. When you’re in a new state, it’s a long drive to get back there, so experience everything while you can. Say yes to new adventures.

The hostel experience – a must

 

 

The Crash Pad, an uncommon place to stay

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Before: When I heard the word hostel, I thought of the 2005 horror film where people get holes drilled into their chest, Achilles tendons cut, and blowtorches to the eye….yeah, gross. Watch the trailer here.

Now: When I hear hostel I will always remember my favorite place to stay – The Crash Pad. And no ones limbs are cut off or eyeballs burned out. It’s a clean, very comfortable, simplistic, sustainable and fun place to stay. I’d even go as far to say that it was the best night’s sleep of the entire road trip.

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This is a professional photo from The Crash Pad’s website

The common area

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Taken from Crash Pad’s website

When you walk in (far left in the photo), the front desk attendants are incredibly friendly. They relax any fears you have about staying in a bunk bed with a room full of people.

The kitchen is in the far corner and every morning they put out eggs (not cooked, you have to make them yourself!), bread, spreads and coffee. You can also store your labeled travel snacks on the shelf or in the fridge.

On the far right you can see two computers free to use. And in the middle of the room there’s a common area where people sit, relax, research on their laptops and socialize with other guests. They even have a really informative “Adventure Book” filled with the area’s greatest food, drinks and outdoor activities among other things.

Also, the coffee in the morning is some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. And the bread is local – baked right across the street! YUM!

Now, the part you’re all worried about…my bunk.

There are two floors of bunk beds. Each bunk has a reading light, several outlets, a personal fan, a shelf and clean sheets. It’s actually quite roomy inside and the curtains pull all the way shut for privacy. The bed is incredibly comfortable! Seriously, I’m due for a new one at home and I might ask them where they get their beds…

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I stayed in bunk A.

An atmosphere for a successful stay

Honestly, the best part about staying in this hostel is the atmosphere. The staff makes everyone comfortable, and their friendly openness brings out the outgoing side of the guests, too. I may be stereotyping a bit much, but I believe everyone there has at least one common value or belief about traveling, sustainability, budgeting, or a love for the outdoors. I’ve met so many hikers and boulderers!

And people aren’t afraid to say hello! I’ve finally found my fellow travel crowd. No one talks at stuffy, expensive hotels, (well…unless their coffee is spiked with something strong) but here, people want to share their experience, hoping to also get a little nugget of new information about traveling in return. How do you think I found my hiking trail today?

Sustainability

Now that I’ve stayed at The Crash Pad, it’s going to be hard to go back to regular hotels. Everything about hotel life is anti-sustainable and quite frankly excessive! The extra towels, everyday cleaning, baby shampoo and conditioner bottles, unlimited access to anything you want (usually just to be thrown away the next day anyway).

Don’t get me wrong, I love to be pampered…but this makes sense. I like my little bunk and the people around it. The Crash Pad is reason enough to come visit Chattanooga.