BLOG: First Stop, Arizona.
Landing sponsored travel has been an active goal of mine since discovering my passion for social media, and the positive impact it can have on our generation. In May 2019, after years of hustle, networking and growth, this goal was achieved. And it’s just the beginning.
FIRST STOP: ARIZONA.
2019’s message was unquestionably clear from the very beginning.
Let go of what you want, in order to make room for what you need and what you seek.
I hadn’t realized just how severely I was neglecting my purpose for living on the west coast, in one of the most thriving cities in my career field. More than that, I also discovered parts of myself that required massive self awareness on my part. They weren’t necessarily toxic, nor harmful. However, they were absolutely holding me back. And when I noticed it was also impacting someone that I so sincerely loved in not-so-positive ways, that’s when my world came to a screeching halt. I was forced to look at this problem dead in the eye, and rather than just keep moving without any sign of stopping, I finally pressed paused on everything around me and turned to prayer. I had been wandering, lost in my own sea of struggles, hardship and heartache. My spirit felt so lost, which terrified me in crippling ways as I’ve never been one to be unsure of anything - let alone myself. Something needed to change. And that change was only going to come from one person.
I don’t need to go into the full story, as it’s really one that I’m really still writing. Maybe one day, one of these blog posts will tell it all in detail. But for now, here’s what came from making some of the absolute hardest decisions of my life. From letting go of what I feared losing most. From the nights I spent crying until 3 o’clock in the morning, to the nights I found myself sleeping more peacefully than I had in far too long. From looking at my own reflection, and saying, “I’m going to love you right this time.”
Here’s a chapter of that story.
One day, I was packing my little world into boxes to make back to North Hollywood after having moved to Sherman Oaks. Not only was I moving back to the part of the valley where my life in LA had first began, but I had somehow won back my first ever apartment in said city. Yes, that’s right. Same unit, same complex. WHAT? In truth, I never would have left it had it not been for the desire to seek a new housemate. It was a healthy decision to make that came with a huge sacrifice (that sacrifice being having to leave suite 202).
Flash forward to 2019, and I was moving back to where it all started. It almost felt like a second chance, and it couldn’t have been a more profound sign from God that I was making the right decisions that I had known I needed to make for some time.
My soul sister, Grace, called me up one day. “What’re you doing right now?!” she asked me, energetic and lively as ever. I told her that for the next couple weeks, I’d be a packing-n-moving machine, and that I’d go back to being sociable once I’d finally settled into my old/new place.
“Great, well, I’m coming over to help you pack,” she said, not even giving me a second to insist she didn’t consume her day with my responsibilities. Next thing I know, we’re storing things into cardboard boxes and having a big heart-to-heart. That’s the thing about Grace, this gem of a human being. You can tell her anything and know that she is listening to you. You know she hears what you’re saying, and that she truly cares.
As we took a break from the packing, I told Grace about the message that was spoken so clearly to me at the beginning of the year: let go of what you want, in order to make room for what you need + seek. I told her that without sacrificing what I was most afraid to let go of, despite knowing it needed to be done, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish my goals or have room for everything that I have been praying - begging God to bless me with in my little world. I told her that while my heart was long from fully healed, that it would heal more with time and that I couldn’t wait to see what adventures were in store and what newfound blessings were to come from this.
Grace smiled. “Well…” she pondered. “I have a proposal for you.”
And my gosh, did she ever…
THE START OF SOMETHING NEW.
Grace is a travel and fashion influencer. As of summer 2019, she was appointed talent liaison by a friend who’d joined forces with her in bringing together a group of creatives + talent to travel the globe and create content for sponsoring brands. They had been lining up different trips for several different brands, and the first one on the itinerary was Arizona. When Grace asked me to be a part of this venture, it took me a moment to process. Was this really happening? I had been working towards this goal for so long, it didn’t feel real being given this offer. Before I knew it, I was saying yes. And soon enough, I was meeting up with Grace and the creative team lead, Evan, the following week for coffee. It was official. Come June 2019, we would be on our way to Sedona, Arizona, where we’d spend 6 days hitting different landmarks to film and photograph for the brands sponsoring this trip.
Funny enough, I’d only been there when passing through during my cross-country move to Los Angeles. I’d never actually stopped to visit there. So naturally, I was excited to go somewhere I’d never really visited.
I had received a few packages from some fashion companies right before the trip, including my other pieces from Coco Rave Swim. So I was able to provide great content for them, whether it was a paid post or with PR pieces. It couldn’t have timed out more perfectly…which meant that whatever I was doing, I was on the right track. I couldn’t deny that.
The morning of departure came quickly. I had just settled into my new place, and barely 2 weeks later we were on the road. Jake met up with Grace and I to pick us up. We all 3 became the “car trio,” and it pretty much stayed that way for the next 6 days. We all headed out and followed the van to the first location for sunset video and photos before checking into Airbnb #1 of the trip. When we all stopped at the gas station before reaching our destination, I met the other 3 traveling with us - Pierson, Brennan and Savannah. We all clicked effortlessly, and I could tell they would all be great travel partners - which is crucial when traveling, especially for work.
Our first landmark was Goldfield Ghost Town. I felt like I was onset getting ready to shoot a feature or show. It was such a realistic setting, and eerily quiet. That night, we all unloaded our belongings into the Airbnb. There were 4 bedrooms, but the girls and I all took the master with the king bed so that we could get ready together. Grace and I were already best of friends, so it was fun getting to bond with Savannah as well. Being two very extroverted females, it didn’t take long at all. After a delicious dinner, and an intense game of Black Magic (lead by Jake, Evan and myself, because we were proudly the geeks who knew the game), we all crashed asleep before waking up the next morning to reload the vans before hitting our 2nd location: Bell Canyon Trail.
Oh, Bell Canyon Trail…
Let’s talk about Bell Canyon Trail.
Because this in itself was a trip of its own.
Buckle up for this one.
So let’s be clear about something: the hike was about 10 miles round trip.
I’m a very active person. I live for nature and anything outdoors. Hikes, exercise, anything in or on the water, you name it. I am there. I am your girl. There has never been an adventure that I wasn’t willing to face (except roller coasters, shut that down right this instance). So, I didn’t even think twice when it came to being told we’d have to hike a long ways in order to reach Wet Beaver Creek (also known as “The Crack”). I knew that the two key factors to making it safely would be hydration and SPF, so I threw the sunscreen in my backpack along with 4 water bottles to sip throughout the trip both ways. And with that, we embarked on the journey through Bell Canyon Trail.
And that is the first time in my life that I wondered if I was going to die.
A few things to know:
It was 107 degrees out.
Thank God for the comfiest suit from Coco Rave Swim, because that’s all I wore.
We all reapplied sunblock about 4 times on the way.
I definitely saw the light.
A few weeks before the trip, a friend had been telling me about one of his craziest hikes and how he had learned you have to sip on water in order to stay hydrated while preserving enough water for the track back. Guzzling not only makes you run out of it faster, but it’s genuinely not good to physically shock your system with the harsh intake.
Kudos to that friend for this insight. Because little did I know, I’d be applying it to an intense hike of my own just weeks later.
We’d been hiking for a little over 45 minutes, when we encountered a mother hiking back with her child. Perfect, we thought, we shouldn’t be too far out then. We asked her if we were getting close, and she just stared at us. Then she tells us, “Oh no… you still have a little over an hour to go.”
hi sorry did you just say
a LiTtLe OvEr An HoUr?
Yep. She did.
We all looked at each other. The adrenaline rush that came with starting off the hike was already fading, due to the heat. So that was really not encouraging to hear that we had so much longer to go before reaching the creek. We kept hiking, and we would pass by a few other groups of people along the way. They all seemed to be saying the same thing: about an hour left.
I think it goes without saying that none of us had cell service, so tracking/mapping the remaining distance was out of the question. We just had to keep going, and trust that these strangers were right. Another hour goes by, and we reach these two guys who tell us, “you’re almost there, it’s just around the rock!” We’d also just reached a fork on the path, so thank God they were there to point us in the right direction. Not much longer, we all thought. We just gotta get around that rock!
That rock cost us another 30 minutes. And this time, at a steep incline.
I reached a point where my legs simply would not hoist the rest of my body up onto another step. They were done. At least, that’s what my body and mind were telling me. For the first time in my life, I actually felt discouraged. Truly discouraged. No matter how hard the circumstances, I had never been faced with something that made me question whether or not I would get through it. This hike was the exception.
I remember exactly when my body was ready to give out. I remember looking over at Savannah, and the look she gave me said she was in the same boat as I was. I remember seeing 3 figures walking towards us, and feeling iced cold water pressed to our wrists and necks. It was 3 women, who happened to have iced cold water packs on their backs. They had moved us into the shade by a rock, where I looked over and saw Pierson trying to catch his own breath. Everyone was.
As I leaned against the rock to cool off, I saw the entire year that lead up to this very second flash before my eyes. Every good day, every bad day. Every moment of struggle that had lead me to making so many hard decisions, and applying them. I saw that night where I’d sat alone in my car, sobbing into the steering wheel and begging God to help me figure it all out. I remember saying, “God, how am I supposed to do all of this on my own? When is it going to make sense?” Bell Canyon Trail was metaphorically mirroring that night, when I wondered exactly how I was going to push through those struggles. And suddenly I knew, I was going to be fine. I was stronger than my mind was allowing me to think, and I was going to reach that damn creek.
It was a surreal experience. It’s as if God had just placed angels on our path, reminding us that we were going to make it. I got up to keep walking, turning around when one of our little angels was beginning to pass out herself. I told the group to keep going. The guys really needed to get set up for filming and cool off before we started, so I told them that I’d meet them there once I’d hung tight to help them out after they had gone out of their way to do the same.
I walked the remaining 15 minutes alone, the angel women not far behind me. I spent those last minutes in silence. Praying. Thinking. In awe of my surroundings.
And then I made it. I had reached the creek. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the second I arrived, I immediately flung my backpack on top of a rock and plunged off the cliff into the cold water.
We swam, reveling at what we had all just achieved together then laughing hysterically when Brennan mentioned that we were about to do it all over again when walking back. In truth, none of us cared. That would be right before sunset, in far cooler circumstances. Plus, the hike back is always known to be easier and faster. Without fail, it always is.
After soaking in our surroundings camera free, we all captured incredible photo and video footage with the products for several of the sponsoring brands, including White Claw, Brumate, Sackcloth & Ashes, a pool float company and some nutrition bar companies. The whole thing was wild. And the fact that it was only day 2 was blowing my mind.
We all spent the walk back talking, bonding and drooling over our favorite foods. We were starving. When we got back, we ate like kings then headed straight to Airbnb #2 and crashed asleep.
Oh, but not for long. Because at 4am, we’d be up for Hot Air Ballooning at sunrise.
ADVENTURE MEANS ACCEPTING THE UNEXPECTED.
4 o’clock in the morning came all too quickly.
The initial pain of waking up only lasted a few moments, until I remembered why I was waking up. One of my bucket list items (honestly, it ranked at #1) was about to be checked off.
Flying in a hot air balloon.
My little white dress from Free People was hanging on the closet, waiting for me to threw it on before heading out on my most magical adventure yet. It was pitch black outside, and Grace, Pierson and I were being put inside a van on our way to inflate huge balloons just minutes away at Northern Light Balloon Expeditions. Evan and Brennan were following us with drones, ready to be catching our adventures from the ground. The sound of hot fire filled my ears, along with the colorful tents that suddenly became balloons. I was in awe of the entire thing, and I hadn’t even left the ground yet.
Next thing I know, our guide is looking at us and saying, “Quick! Hope in!” I followed behind Pierson, helping Grace inside the basket behind me. And in a flash, we’d had lift off. Our basket rose up from the ground, and we soared up into the sky chasing the sunrise. I was completely breathless. Speechless, entranced and breathless. I remember laughing out loud to myself, out of sheer exhilaration. I was also tickled at the fact that I was not big on heights, and yet somehow, this was at the top of my bucket list. I shook my head at myself. I really was always looking to conquer anything that could in any way potentially be a fear, even when I didn’t realize it.
As we soared over Arizona, I kept looking out at the sky, the trees and world around me. Grace suddenly looked at me with a huge smile and wild eyes, telling me, “Look over the edge.” I blinked. I hadn’t thought about that part.
At first, I was pretty nervous to do so. That would almost bring just how high up we were to the forefront of my mind. But I did it anyway, and the chills sent up my spine could have made me scream had the sight of it not knocked the wind out of me. I was mesmerized, unable to look away from the earth that was suddenly so far beneath us. An airplane had absolutely nothing on this. Because seriously, we were flying in a basket being lifted by a balloon. Like, hi? Holy crap?
After capturing all the photos and videos with the little tumblers from Brumate, along with the nutrition bars, we just flew in silence. I basked in the magic of it all, the sun smiling back at me.
We landed to a delicious 7a.m. breakfast and champagne toast, as is hot air balloon flight tradition. When being poured mimosas into our flutes, the aircraft team told us that pilots would carry champagne bottles as a peace-offering (almost an apology gift) to the farmers whose fields would be used as a landing strip. Apparently, it helped assure the farmers that the flying balloons weren't signs of witchcraft and that the pilots meant no harm, as hot air balloons were an absolutely unheard of invention when they were first created. I never knew that.
I headed back to the Airbnb to catch a 3 hour nap, shocked at how quickly the adrenaline rush dissolved once I was back in my comfy clothes and fell into the bed. But not for long. Because before I knew it, we were up, re-packing our belongings and back on the road.
The next stop was Monument Valley.
LIVING IN + FOR EVERY MOMENT.
When we reached Monument Valley, the scenery was wild. So much dessert that seemed to stretch on for years.
Evan had a very specific look in mind for the shoot: “Think ‘Little House on the Prairie’ 2019.”
Thankfully, we all had just the right outfits for that.
We braved the road, capturing all kinds of video and photos that Brennan and I both kept shamelessly referring to as “that tumblr girl aesthetic.” Dear reader, don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. Running with your girlfriends down the street, holding hands and laughing. Dancing in the street, like no one is watching. Getting just the right hair flip in the wind, and looking back at the camera as if you didn't know it was there. Let me tell you: we got it all. And it looked great. We blasted music on the speakers the whole time we shot during sunset, and the rush of it all was dreamlike. As the sun went down, we hopped back in the car, throwing on the tourist t-shirts that we all picked up along the way (mine was red, of course, because #BetterOffRed).
The next stop wasn't’t an Airbnb, though. That night, we were camping.
Here’s some news for you. There isn’t a single photo of me from this camping adventure. Why? Because none of us captured one. We all spent the evening making food, toasting to an amazing trip and just talking. Laughing. Bonding. I suddenly realized that this group of people, all 7 of us creatives, made a great travel team. No one was high maintenance. No one was moody, or unaccepting of whatever was thrown their way. Everyone had adventure in their soul, and there wasn’t a single complaint from anyone. Even during the crazy hike we’d all endured just a couple days before. My face hurt from smiling so hard that night, and my head was dizzied from the laughter that went on until well after midnight. I passed out asleep in the tent, and woke up as the sun made its way above the rocks to say good morning.
We all headed out to the nearest Starbucks, realizing how caffeine deprived we had allowed ourselves to be. Coffee in hand, we headed to the next Airbnb of the trip where we would spend the last 2 nights. Grace, Brennan and I got to spend the first half of the day relaxing, while Evan, Savannah, Pierson and Jake ventured out to Antelope Canyon. Once they were back, we all headed out the the next location, Horseshoe Bend. And I was absolutely blown away by its beauty.
The hike there was a breeze. Honestly, any hike was a breeze after the one we endured at Bell Canyon Trail. I audibly gasped out loud when we got to Horseshoe Bend. My God, we were so high up and I felt far more vulnerable to falling to my death on that ledge than I ever could have in the hot air balloon. The view was unbeatable. The water below, during the sunset hour leading into twilight, was proof that our Creator’s work cannot be matched.
We spread out the blankets from Sackcloth & Ashes, whether it was used as a little picnic blanket to sit on or if we let it bounce around our shoulders in the wind. By the way, the wind was whipping. I mean really, whipping. You felt light as a feather in those winds, and as though you’d plummet down to the bottom if you stepped too close to the edge of the cliffs. That sight was dangerously enchanting. Sometimes, we’d all just start laughing maniacally at each other because it was so terrifyingly awesome.
Once again, I was rendered speechless by my surroundings. And during the last few moments, I began to feel something tugging at my heart. It latched in my throat, making me wonder exactly what it was. Then I put my finger on it. Bittersweetness. The kind of bittersweetness that could only come with traveling, when your mind realizes that you’re nearing the end of your adventures. I couldn’t cry, nor could I really smile. So I just stared out at the water below me and let it sink all in, allowing myself to feel whatever internal conflict I needed to face.
And before I knew it, it was time to leave this destination.
“She was life itself. Wild and free. Wonderfully chaotic. A perfectly put together mess.”
- THE BETTER MAN PROJECT
That night, the guys brought back an abundance of food and drinks from the store. We all had a smorgasbord, played card games, and blasted the music on high. With the exception of Grace, I had not known any of these people before embarking on this wild journey. Yet, that night said otherwise. It didn’t matter how often we saw each other whenever we all got back to Los Angeles, because this trip had shown us just how well we all connected. And would continue to connect, should we all share the next adventures together. At the end of the night, we’d all scattered off into our own rooms, and I was smiling to myself till I found myself fast asleep.
We all finally got to sleep in the next day, letting our bodies wake up naturally. No alarm clocks, no pressing schedule. The last stop was Red Rock Canyon. The guys were mainly going to be getting drone footage, so after we all captured some photos and hand-held camera footage, I found