With so many of you lovely Trekkers joining us on the road each year we have decided to publish some of your stories right here for past, present and future bloggers to read all about. We share with you their worries, their memories and their passion for adventure. Enjoy!
Travelling solo with TrekAmerica
by Ross Murray
I had been aware of TrekAmerica for a few years before I finally took the plunge and decided to book my first trip with TrekAmerica, and I'm so glad I did! As a solo traveler, I had been a bit apprehensive about booking a trip, wondering would I get on with everyone? would I enjoy camping? What about American immigration? One winters morning in 2013 I thought "It's now or never!" and decided it was time to take the plunge and see some of the USA. I had always wanted to go to America, and this was further emphasised as a workmate was preparing to walk the Pacific Crest Trail – an epic 2,650 trail from Mexico to Canada. Surely I could handle a two week camping trip!
So in early January 2013 without hesitation I hit the book button on the Best Of The East tour for the following June – yes June 2014! This was probably the best decision I have ever made. As part of the booking I included two nights before and after the Trek in the gateway hotel at New York. I had decided to book a trip well in advance so I could spread the payments for the holiday and make sure I got the most out of the trip, and take part in everything I wanted. This worked out really well, and even though I spent a fair amount of money, as it was spread out over all that time I really didn't feel the pinch on the wallet. It also gave me something to look forward to for the year!
By January 2014, I had met several of my fellow Trekkers: Jay, Jen, Portia, Dan and Jamie, and we were regularly chatting on our own Facebook group. By the time June came around I had met 11 of our 13 trekkers (full van!) on our Facebook group. This really helped any apprehensions I had about meeting the people on the trip for the first time, by this point we weren't really strangers at all!
June rolled around quickly and I was soon flying out to the USA. I booked my flights through Trek and managed to get direct flights from my local airport, Edinburgh to New York which worked out nicely, as it meant not having to worry about connecting flights on my first transatlantic flight. This was one of the reasons I chose Best Of The East for my first Trek – flying to the east coast would be easier and a nice introduction to flying long haul! Of course the destinations on the trip were a highlight too! Flying into the USA really wasn't as hard as I had imagined and there is really no need to let this bother you, as long as you've done the ESTA, the immigration officers are pleasant and not at all intimidating in my experience. This was something which rung true throughout my trip – every American I met was really friendly!
I arrived in New York two days before before the trip and actually met two fellow trekkers on the shuttle bus to the gateway hotel: Jen and Dan, who would be my room mate. After a drink in the hotel we headed into Manhattan and made the most of our time in the city, hitting the sights including Times Square where we had dinner and an evening trip to to the top of the Empire State Building – it was amazing to see the city lit up at night!
After two nights in the city it was time to begin our tour. Early on the Sunday morning the entire group met in the lobby of the hotel for the first time. We met our tour leader for the first time, Mary Rae Staples – who was such a good tour leader – we can't praise her enough! We filled out some paper work and went through the plan for the day before packing the trailer and hitting the road!It was Mary Rae's first big trip and we got the privilege of naming the van – we decided on Gary straight away!
Our first day was a drive from New York to Washington DC via Philadelphia. We got to know each other on the van, playing games such as the 'License Plate Game' where we had to name every US state and mark off when we found a car from each state! We stopped for lunch after a quick visit to the famous Rocky Steps at Tony Lukes where we ate awesome Philly Cheese Steaks! It didn't take long for everyone to bond, even though we were all solo travellers.
We stayed for 2 nights at the Cherry Hill Campsite, which was a brilliant introduction to camping. Mary Rae gave us a good demonstration on how to put up the tents. We got camp sorted quickly, and as my tent mate James was a repeat trekker, I was in good hands when it came to putting up the tent. Soon we could all put up the tents within 5 minutes! The campsite had a pool and hot-tub which I enjoyed that night! Another Trek group, the Southern Sun, stayed with us for our time in Washington, and we enjoyed getting to know each other with s'mores by the campfire.
The Best Of The East hit a lot of the places I wanted to see in the USA. If there is one optional activity you really must do it is the White Water Rafting in West Virginia. This was absolutely incredible, and was hugely fun! I can't deny being nervous about falling in at the start, but the instructors really put you at ease and within no time I was really enjoying myself. Another one of the highlights, was seeing three black bears in the Smoky Mountains, including two cubs playing with each other! I also loved the Niagara Falls and walking over the pedestrian bridge for a couple of hours in Canada!
One of the awesome things about TrekAmerica is the flexibility of the tours. As I mentioned we named the van Gary early in the trip. On our way to Chicago we noticed on the map that there was a town called Gary just a few minutes detour away. We stopped here for photos next to the 'Welcome to Gary' sign. We all felt slightly on edge here as the town was really run down and had clearly been hit by the recession! But hey, it turns out it was also the birthplace of the Jackson 5! The group also wanted to see a baseball game and Mary Rae gladly accommodated this, organising for us to see the White Sox vs LA Angels game while in Chicago!
I can honestly say I had two of the best weeks ever on this trip. For anyone considering it and travelling solo, don't worry just book it! The entire group got on really well. We have only been back in the UK for a few weeks and those of us in the UK are already planning a reunion in November! I loved the experience so much that I've already booked to travel on the Westerner next year. Thanks to Dan, Jamie, James, Jay, Jennifer, Portia, Katie, Jenny, Liz, Margo, Olivia, Kate and of course Mary Rae and TrekAmerica for such a brilliant trip!