My Love For Nature Grew While Hiking At Five NC State Parks

I Hiked At Five NC State Parks In Two Days—A Mountain Adventure That Elevated My Love For Nature

"Oh what a wonderful world we live in indeed—now let's get out and explore it."

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If you know me, then you probably also know that I am by no means an outdoorsy kind of gal. It's not that I have some deep-rooted fear or opposition to Mother Nature, but rather, that I've just never really given "the great outdoors" the proper time of day. For a long time, I recognized the importance of nature and what it has to offer, but that was all. For a long time, I held a degree of indifference towards the beauty of our planet, and that is something that I am glad to say has changed — and for the better, at that.

When you think "college spring break," odds are you probably think of something a little crazy — but have you ever thought of a couple of 20-something year olds bracing the cold (and wilderness) of a North Carolina mountain winter to camp and hike at five different state parks?

I'm going to go with no.

And yet, that was exactly what I did this past spring break — and oh, was it worth it.

All of this started with my best friend, whose love for the outdoors and state parks led her to challenge herself to visit all of the NC State Parks, and keeping up with that (and winning fun prizes) through the NC State Parks Passport Program. With her Passport Challenge in mind (coupled with our knowledge of setting up a tent that we gained from camping in the Outer Banks last summer), and the two days of spring break that she, I, and our other best friend had to spend together, the greatest "mountain spring break trip" of all time was born.

Ashley Oldham

Before we knew it, a couple of girls — who had only the slightest clue what they were doing — found themselves squeezing visits to five NC State Parks into just two days. They also found themselves camping on a campground at one state park all alone (and in 30-degree temperatures), starting fires, wearing multiples layers to keep warm, blowing their noses constantly because they had slight colds, hiking more than their legs had ever carried them before, getting scared every time a twig snapped or a bird chirped, and having the best time doing it all.

Before we knew it, these girls went from a moderate love of nature to a love that stretched well beyond the ten-plus miles they hiked in those two days.

The trip started at Elk Knob State Park, where we hiked to see a beautiful view of the mountains and the near-setting sun. It went on to Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, where we saw the sunrise and the hustle and bustle of mountain towns a ways below us. It went on to Grandfather Mountain State Park, where we swung on a swinging bridge and had an impromptu photo op a ways above the world.

Ashley Oldham

It then landed us at the Rough Ridge Trail, where I took a picture on the edge of a rock that I had to climb and roll of all fours just to reach. It took us to sunrise at New River State Park, which also happened to be where we were camping. Lastly, it took us to Stone Mountain State Park, where we climbed a literal stone mountain and saw some of the most beautiful views we'd ever seen.

Ashley Oldham

Needless to say, we were a little all over the place. Also needless to say? We had the best time. We explored nature more in two days than I ever have in my entire life — and I got my own NC State Park Passport (which I am so excited to get stamped at my future State Park destinations). We also grew closer to nature than ever before, and I had to stop and question why I had never taken advantage of all the beauty North Carolina — and the world — has to offer.

We joked on the car ride up that we were going to all "find ourselves" on this trip. However, I don't think that any of us truly believed that was going to happen — at least until it actually did. Coming home, I really felt like I had grown closer to this beautiful, wonderful, exciting, and incredible planet that we live on. I love it more now than I ever could have dreamed.

Oh, what a wonderful world we live in indeed—now let's get out and explore it.

For more information about North Carolina State Parks, visit https://www.ncparks.gov/. To learn more about participating in the NC State Parks Passport Program, check out https://www.ncparks.gov/passport-program.

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I Visited The "Shameless" Houses And Here's Why You Shouldn't

Glamorizing a less-than-ideal way to live.
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After five hours of driving, hearing the GPS say, "Turn right onto South Homan Avenue" was a blessing.

My eyes peeled to the side of the road, viciously looking for what I have been driving so long for, when finally, I see it: the house from "Shameless."

"Shameless" is a hit TV show produced by Showtime. It takes place in modern-day Southside, Chicago. The plot, while straying at times, largely revolves around the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. While a majority of the show is filmed offsite in a studio in Los Angeles, many outside scenes are filmed in Southside and the houses of the Gallagher's and side-characters are very much based on real houses.

We walked down the street, stopped in front of the two houses, took pictures and admired seeing the house in real life. It was a surreal experience and I felt out of place like I didn't belong there. As we prepared to leave (and see other spots from the show), a man came strolling down on his bicycle and asked how we were doing.

"Great! How are you?"

It fell silent as the man stopped in front of the Gallagher house, opened the gate, parked his bike and entered his home. We left a donation on his front porch, got back to the car and took off.

As we took the drive to downtown Chicago, something didn't sit right with me. While it was exciting to have this experience, I began to feel a sense of guilt or wrongdoing. After discussing it with my friends, I came to a sudden realization: No one should visit the "Gallagher" house.

The plot largely revolves the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. It represents what Southside is like for so many residents. While TV shows always dramatize reality, I realized coming to this house was an exploitation of their conditions. It's entertaining to see Frank's shenanigans on TV, the emotional roller coasters characters endure and the outlandish things they have to do to survive. I didn't come here to help better their conditions, immerse myself in what their reality is or even for the donation I left: I came here for my entertainment.

Southside Chicago is notoriously dangerous. The thefts, murders and other crimes committed on the show are not a far-fetched fantasy for many of the residents, it's a brutal reality. It's a scary way to live. Besides the Milkovich home, all the houses typically seen by tourists are occupied by homeowners. It's not a corporation or a small museum, it's their actual property. I don't know how many visitors these homes get per day, week, month or year. Still, these homeowners have to see frequent visitors at any hour of the day, interfering with their lives. In my view, coming to their homes and taking pictures of them is a silent way of glamorizing the cycle of poverty. It's a silent way of saying we find joy in their almost unlivable conditions.

The conceit of the show is not the issue. TV shows have a way of romanticizing very negative things all the time. The issue at hand is that several visitors are privileged enough to live in a higher quality of life.

I myself experienced the desire and excitement to see the houses. I came for the experience but left with a lesson. I understand that tourism will continue to the homes of these individuals and I am aware that my grievances may not be shared with everyone, however, I think it's important to take a step back and think about if this were your life. Would you want hundreds, potentially thousands, of people coming to your house? Would you want people to find entertainment in your lifestyle, good and bad?

I understand the experience, excitement, and fun the trip can be. While I recommend skipping the houses altogether and just head downtown, it's most important to remember to be respectful to those very individuals whose lives have been affected so deeply by "Shameless."

Cover Image Credit: itsfilmedthere.com

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6 Reasons Traveling Is Good For Your Mind, Body, And Soul

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

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Have you ever traveled to a new destination and felt your mood instantly improve? Are you like me and feel happiest when you're on vacation? This is because traveling is a way for you to renew your soul and step out of your comfort zone. It keeps you happy and allows you to experience new things.

Visiting new destinations can open your mind to experiences you didn't even know were possible. You can meet new people, fall in love, try new foods, and see remarkable sites all while traveling. There are no limits to the places you can visit, and the things you can see. Currently, I am on a mini weekend trip to Arizona, and being here has opened my eyes and made me realize how impactful traveling really is on your mind, body, and soul. Traveling should be something you do as often as possible and whenever you get the chance. Here's why:

1. Traveling makes your heart happy 

Traveling is something that most people enjoy. It keeps the heart young and childlike. Traveling brings people joy because they get to experience new things that they love with the people they love.

2. It teaches you to embrace every moment 

Traveling can be unpredictable, especially because you are experiencing new things. Although it can be challenging, we learn best from these unpredictable moments. When we travel we learn to embrace every situation that is thrown at us.

3. Traveling relieves stress and improves mental health 

Traveling reduces stress and allows you to relax. More often than not, you take off work when you go on vacation and you focus on renewing your self. You get away from all the crazy things going on in your life, and you can just relax and focus on your own happiness.

4. It broadens your horizons 

Traveling lets you branch out and experience different cultures. You can try new foods, new activities, and meet all different types of people. You learn diversity, and you learn respect for other people and their culture's. Traveling helps you learn other perspectives around the world and lets your mind think in ways it never has before.

5. It keeps you healthy 

Traveling actually plays a big part in your physical health as well. During vacations, you often walk a lot to destinations and participate in calorie burning activities like hiking and swimming. Activities like these are often why you still are able to get your workout in while on vacation.

6. Traveling reminds you what is important 

Most importantly, traveling reminds you of the important things in life. We live day by day forgetting that every moment is remarkable. Sometimes, we get stuck in the same old boring routine and take for granted the life we have been given. Traveling reminds us that memories are valuable and that our lives should be cherished.

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