Alycat's Walkabout bio picture

    Hi! I'm Alyson, a world traveling shutterbug. I started the Alycat's Walkabout blog in 2014 as a way to share my experiences while volunteering in Australia and New Zealand. Since then, the blog has evolved into sharing my traveling experiences, one walkabout at a time.

    Be sure to check back often for updates. You can also follow the adventure on Twitter and Instagram at @alycatphotos. Looking forward to seeing you out there!

    Happy Exploring!


    I truly believe that our national parks are one of America's greatest ideas! To celebrate the Centennial of America's National Park System, I was on a mission to visit as many new parks in 2016 as possible. After finishing with 28, I am hoping to do better in 2017. How many will I get to? Be sure to follow along!


Grand Teton Vs. Cancer: A Weekend In Linville

In July 2018, Alyson, Nathan, Mike and Matt will travel to Grand Teton National Park and attempt to summit its tallest peak, Grand Teton, at 13,776 feet. They will do so to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and funds for Vs. Cancer. They will blog their training and trip on You can contribute to their campaign here.

By: Nathan Rode

A few weeks ago, the Grand Teton Vs. Cancer team spent a weekend in Linville Gorge, NC. It’s part of the Pisgah National Forest and has been referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East, with the Linville River winding through the bottom of steep cliffs that offer stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Between college and permanent residency, Alyson and I have been in North Carolina for 15 years. This was our first trip to Linville and it’s quite obvious we’ve been missing out.

The point of the weekend excursion was to get in some cold-weather camping—though it wasn’t cold—as well as some hiking and outdoor climbing. We planned for the last weekend of February because our crazy travel schedules wouldn’t be that crazy just yet and we expected winter weather, especially being in the mountains. But we had one of North Carolina’s typical fake springs where it was sunny and beautiful one day and rainy the next. The temperatures weren’t what we’ll experience on Grand Teton, but we accomplished much of what we set out to do anyway.

Everybody finished work on a Friday and we gathered at Mike’s house to load all the gear into the car. If you don’t remember, Mike is our experienced climber friend that will be leading us on this expedition. We jammed hiking packs and climbing equipment into the back of Alyson’s new Hyundai Tuscon and spent the next three-plus hours talking plans and jamming out to 90s on 9 on XM radio.

The plan was to camp out on one of the roadside pullouts on the road leading up to Table Rock Mountain, then drive to the parking lot at the top in the morning. Unfortunately, we were waylaid by a gate. So we parked the car, gathered our gear and hiked the last mile or so up the road. We even cut through the woods at one point, practicing our rock scrambling with heavy packs. We finally reached the top, set up camp and then set out for The Prow.

The Prow is a section of cliff face that descends about 500 feet from the ridgeline down to the Linville River. We were going to rappel down, then climb back up. The last time I went rappelling, I was about 13 years old and I hated it. That experience was replaying in my head as we hiked out and set up, but once I started going, it wasn’t so bad. I had one slip that did a number on my hand, but overall, my 33-year-old self handled it much better than the 13-year-old version.

For Alyson, it was her first time rappelling and she is not a fan of heights. She got through the first rappel fine, though not without some anxiety. On the second pitch, she had a slip of her own and, well, I’ll let her words describe that moment. As she posted on Facebook at the end of our trip…

One of the most terrifying moments of my life occurred yesterday. Some of you know of my uncontrollable fear of heights. This weekend, the Grand Teton Vs. Cancer team went out to Linville Gorge for our first training. Part of that training is rappelling. I have never been rappelling before, let alone 500 feet in the air. Needless to say, I was a little uneasy. As I began my second rappel down, I slipped off the wall. Due to the angle of the rope, I was slingshot into the air and around the other side of the mountain face. I screamed and my belayer pulled the bottom of my rope tight so that I was no longer swinging.

At that moment, I clung to the side of a mountain like Spiderman, shaking uncontrollably and trying not to look at the 500-foot vertical drop below me. My teammate above said when I was ready, I could ask for the slack to be put back in my rope to begin working my way back around to the other side of the mountain face. I was paralyzed with fear, absolutely afraid that if I asked for slack, I wouldn’t be able to control it. But then I thought about why we were there, the children who are faced with the same fear when they are told they have cancer. They have the doctors supporting from above with their families holding tight to that bottom of the rope. But it’s the kids who have the hands on the rope. It is those kids that need to fight past their fears and work to get back on track. After shedding a few tears, I took a deep breath and asked for slack in my rope. Slowly, I worked my way down to the lower ledge where my team pulled me in.

I am not trying to summit Grand Teton just for fun. I want to summit Grand Teton to push myself to achieve something I thought I could never do. These kids continue to be my inspiration to live each and every day with that goal. So I kindly ask for anyone who can to please make a donation to our Vs. Cancer page. Help us give these kids the courage and support they need to conquer this mountain.

Alyson made it to the next ledge where she caught her breath. At this point, due to a later start, it was time to climb back up. Mike went first, setting safety gear along the way. I was next, being belayed by Mike from the top so I could remove the gear he set. That was a new challenge for me. I had only been on an indoor wall before and my only concerns were where my feet and hands go next. Now I had to stop at certain points, make sure I was stable, remove gear from the cliff face and clip it to my harness to it wasn’t lost to the gorge hundreds of feet below. I’d be lying if I said it was easy, but it certainly wasn’t as hard as I was expecting.

Alyson made her way after me, followed by the fourth member of our team, Matt. We repeated the exercise for the last pitch with the sun setting and Mike topping out as darkness fell across the area. We hiked back, turning our headlamps off for a time to use the bright, silver lighting of a nearly full moon. Once we were back in camp, we had our dinner around a fire and soon passed out after an exhausting day.

On Sunday, our plan was to get some more climbing in, but a storm came through during the night and the next morning was cold and wet—very undesirable conditions for clinging to rock. So we packed everything up, headed back to the car and stopped at a popular Mexican restaurant on our way home.

It was a short trip and certainly didn’t go as expected or even hoped at times, but it was a good experience and another step toward completing our goal.

Grand Teton Vs. Cancer: Owen Spalding Route

In July 2018, Alyson and Nathan will travel to Grand Teton National Park and attempt to summit its tallest peak, Grand Teton, at 13,776 feet. They will do so to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and funds for Vs. Cancer. They will blog their training and trip on You can contribute to their campaign here.

By: Nathan Rode

Welcome back, friends. It’s been a little bit since we’ve had an update on Grand Teton Vs. Cancer, but we’ll certainly be picking up the pace now. Last summer, we announced that we would attempt to summit Grand Teton to raise awareness for pediatric brain cancer and funds for Vs. Cancer and Duke Children’s Hospital. Saying and doing are two completely different things, but right after the New Year, we took an important step toward reaching our goal. On Jan. 3, Grand Teton National Park opened the process for reserving permits for backcountry camping. To stay overnight in the backcountry of the park, you have to have a permit. While it’s possible to summit Grand Teton without spending a night, it’s not easy—relatively speaking of course.

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Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Welcome to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site! Located primarily in Washington state, Fort Vancouver is situated along the Columbia River just across from Portland, Oregon. A portion of the park, the John McLoughlin residence, is located in Oregon City.

Fort Vancouver was founded as a fur trading post in 1825 by the Hudson’s Bay Company . When it was abandoned in the mid 1800’s, the US military took over operation of the fort. While the historical park is no longer in operation as a military post, there is still a heavy military presence and significant history at the site. This includes Pearson Field and the Vancouver Barracks.

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Grand Teton Vs. Cancer

In Summer 2018, Alyson and Nathan Rode will travel to Grand Teton National Park and attempt to summit its tallest peak, Grand Teton, at 13,776 feet. They will do so to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and funds for Vs. Cancer. They will blog their training and trip on You can contribute to their campaign here.

By Nathan Rode

A couple years ago, my wife, Alyson, and I joined a rock climbing gym—Triangle Rock Club in North Carolina. We’ve always been big outdoor enthusiasts and try to stay as physically active as possible in our busy lives. We never thought we’d venture outside on the rocks, but we have slowly developed the itch. Last September, we traveled to the Northwest for vacation—visiting friends in Seattle before heading to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. As we flew over Washington’s Mount Rainier, we thought about our climbing friends who had taken a trip to summit the fourth-tallest peak in the Lower 48 of the United States. Our sense of adventure started to lure us. How cool would it be to stand on top of a mountain, getting there with your own two feet—and hands—and looking out to the horizon with miles of beautiful landscape in between?

As we traveled to Grand Teton, we researched what it would take to summit Mount Rainier. Then we saw the Grand Teton Range for the first time in our lives. It’s absolutely striking. Our research turned into a compare and contrast. Rainier or Teton?

We decided on Teton and have been planning a trip since. One of our climbing friends is qualified to lead us so we don’t have to go through an expedition outfit. Going with a Teton group was our original plan, but our friend allows us to save some money and operate a little bit more freely in our attempt to climb.

We’re not so vain that we want to share our vacation plans with the world. Instead, we’re taking this opportunity to promote something we care about deeply.

As outdoor enthusiasts, Alyson and I are passionate about the environment. Anybody following our expedition can see just one example of what our country has to offer in its natural state. You don’t have to climb Teton to experience or appreciate its grandiose views. Our National Park system has so much to offer and is for everyone to enjoy.

Another passion we have is simply serving the community. We volunteer in several different facets and we’re going to use this trip to promote one of our favorite charities. Vs. Cancer raises funds for pediatric cancer research. Our friend, Chase Jones, founded the organization and we have supported it since its inception. If we can raise awareness for a cause while taking on our own personal challenge, why wouldn’t we seize that opportunity?

If you would like to donate to our Vs. Cancer campaign, we’ve set up a page with information. Half of the money raised will go toward research and the other half will benefit Duke Children’s Hospital, located in our hometown of Durham, N.C. Most Vs. Cancer campaigns are done by sports teams with athletes cutting or shaving their hair at an event. We don’t plan on being any different. Upon reaching the summit of Teton at 13,776 feet, I will pull out the clippers and Alyson will pull out the shears.

For the two of us, this will be the hardest thing we’ve done, but still easier than what hundreds of thousands of kids and their families go through fighting cancer. We hope you follow our journey and support our cause. We certainly look forward to sharing the story.

February 13, 2018 - 2:29 pm

Grand Teton Vs. Cancer: Owen Spalding Route » Alycat's Walkabout - […] Cancer, but we’ll certainly be picking up the pace now. Last summer, we announced that we would attempt to summit Grand Teton to raise awareness for pediatric brain cancer and funds for Vs. Cancer and Duke Children’s […]

The Sights and Sounds of New Orleans

Welcome to New Orleans! It’s a city rich in history and culture with its own distinct flare for music, food and a good time. I just love it!

This will be a somewhat different Alycat’s Walkabout blog post as I reflect back on my time in New Orleans as a disaster responder. I invite you to see how the city has changed since 2005 through my eyes and lens.

New Orleans and its people hold a special place in my heart. Almost 12 years ago, I was deployed on my first disaster mission for the American Red Cross to the area in response to Hurricane Katrina.  I spent several weeks working in and around New Orleans and even rode out Hurricane Rita with people I had been helping. It was a tense few days as Rita came roaring ashore, but I remember them fondly.

This was my first trip back to New Orleans since my deployment. In between work events, I stopped by a few of the places I had worked to see how things had changed.

A few of the photos I took during my time in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

A before and after of a local school.

Above: the deserted French Quarter a week after Katrina came ashore in 2005.

Below: a lively French Quarter eleven years later. The bubbles (and people) have returned!

One of the few places that stayed opened following the hurricane was the Famous Door. The owners welcomed in the military personnel, first responders, and disaster staff with open arms. When you had a day off, it was nice to visit the local places that were still open. The thought was that by visiting these places, we were also helping the community recover economically.

Below: a photo of me with a group of fellow volunteers back in 2005 enjoying a day off at the Famous Door. Above: a photo of the Famous Door on my recent visit. It was great to see it open and busy.

As I mentioned before, New Orleans has some incredible culture, and music is at the heart of it. Spend an evening walking around, you are guaranteed to stumble across some amazing local band jamming out.

You never know what you will find in New Orleans, especially in the French Quarter. A variety of street performers can be found on each corner. You may even be invited to crash a wedding parade!

I mentioned the rich history that New Orleans has. If you enjoy history, a great first place to stop is at Jackson Square.

Oh, the food! New Orleans certainly knows how to do food. Cafe Du Monde is famous for it’s coffee and desserts. The original location in the French Quarter is open 24 hours a day. Just be prepared to wait as the line is usually very long. I promise though, it is worth it!

If waiting isn’t your style, there are other Cafe Du Monde locations around the city and suburbs. While they are not open 24 hours a day, the lines are usually a lot shorter.

Antoine’s Restaurant is the oldest family owned restaurant in New Orleans. If you are looking for a nice meal, this is the place to go! While I am not a steak eater, I was told by several folks that this was the best steak they had ever had.

Looking for some good Bar B Que? Moe’s is the place for you! It was recommended to us by a local, and it certainly lived up to the expectations.

Our final meal was at Camellia Grill, which opened in 1946. This beloved local restaurant was closed after Hurricane Katrina and did not reopen again until 2007. It’s famous for its counter service and incredible food. The milkshakes… oh man. So delicious!

Of course, you can’t leave New Orleans without having a few of their famous pralines!

As someone who considers them self a huge World War II buff, I was greatly surprised to learn that the official United States WWII museum was in New Orleans. That seemed like an odd location to me until I learned about the huge role the city played in the war.

Higgins Industries, which was based in New Orleans, built many boats for the military during WWII including the Higgins land crafts that were used on D-Day. These ships played such a significant role in the war that Dwight D. Eisenhower was quoted as say that Andrew Higgins’s ship designs won the war for the Allies.

If you are a history buff or a fan of the history of WWII, I highly highly recommend building in at least half a day into your schedule to visit this museum. It is one of the best museums I have even visited. If you would like to do the movies, I recommend getting there earlier in the day as they fill up fast.

Thank you New Orleans for a wonderful visit. I cannot wait to get back!

M o r e   i n f o