Being able to get out and enjoy public lands is one of the things I hold nearest and dearest. With public lands coming up in the news this month and several personal experiences in the last few weeks, I felt the need to write about a topic I’ve always felt was just common knowledge; respect.

My last few hiking experiences have told me differently.

I was raised on the Great Outdoors. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been on trails, on ski slopes, in back country campsites, hanging off rock walls, splashing in rivers and lakes. My dad and mom have been doing it since they were kids and my grandpas before them. I was taught at a very early age to respect the mountain.

The mountain can kill you.

I don’t care if you’re on a day hike, in bounds at a ski area, or climbing a 14er. The mountain can kill you.

The goal of this post is not to instill fear, but to bring about an important realization. Acknowledging the mountain can kill you is Step 1.

With more and more people moving to Colorado, I’m seeing more and more people out on the trails that don’t have a clue what they’re doing. I think its great that they’re getting outside. I hope everybody gets the chance to experience Colorado’s mountains like I do, but I also see that lack of respect and say a little prayer every time I see one that they don’t end up as Search & Rescue’s next target.

Step 2 in having a healthy respect for the mountains is being prepared. If I’m going more than a couple hundred feet from the car, I always have a water bottle and a jacket with me. It doesn’t matter if its the middle of July, or the middle of January. Dehydration is real and the weather can turn on a dime. It doesn’t matter what the weather report says, its the same reason you carry and ice scraper with you all winter long in your car, or the same reason you carry insurance. Anything is possible. If I’m going more than a mile, I stick a granola bar in my backpack.

I grew up getting packed squished Clif Bars for school lunch; my dad’s climbing rejects. Did he ever actually eat the Clif Bars? I don’t know. But I do know that he was always prepared. If you end up out longer than you expect, or god forbid, in a bad situation, a granola bar can be a lifesaver. Literally.

We were snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park a few weeks ago and there was over 60″ of snow. I was up to my knees in some places wearing snowshoes and the weather was threatening to turn all afternoon. I was shocked at the number of people I saw trying to hike in skate shoes. Was it likely ignorance? Yes. But with the capabilities of Google in your pocket, its not hard to check weather conditions. These guys lacked a basic respect for nature.

Step 3 is realizing that you can’t dominate nature. I don’t care how much weight you can lift at the gym, or how many marathons you’ve run. I don’t care that you’re a 22 year old guy and nothing can stop you. Neither does the mountain.

Nature is not something man can dominate. Man builds a sidewalk, and the grass still finds a way to grow through the cracks. Man builds levies and nature destroys their city.

I could direct you to hundreds of stories of athletes, incredibly smart people and even seasoned mountaineers that have died at the hands of nature. Am I being dramatic? A little. But I’m not just talking about Everest. People have died on that 14er you day-hiked last summer. All I had to do was Google “Rocky Mountain National Park” and hit “News” to find this story of someone who got bested by nature there last weekend.

On the same trip in Rocky Mountain National Park, a group of younger guys, who I overhead later were all doctors, thought it would be funny to count to 3 and yell “Avalanche” at the top of their lungs. I would have hit them if I could have gotten there quick enough in my snowshoes (snowshoes, while practical, are not very good for running).

Was there avalanche danger at Emerald Lake that day? I don’t know. But I do know what they did was blatantly disrespectful to the back country skiers and boarders continuing up the ridge.

Being prepared wraps up into realizing you can’t dominate on the mountain. Leaving your ego in the car and grabbing a jacket. Recognizing the weather and realizing when its time to turn back. Realizing that you are NOT in charge and you have to respect Mother Nature or suffer the consequences.

So many outdoor activities seem like domination is the point, don’t they? Let me tell you a secret. Not one of those activities actually dominates Mother Nature. When you raft a section of rapids, did you dominate that river? Or did you successfully navigate the rapids to make it out alive? Do you dominate a mountain when you summit? Do you dominate a route when you send it? The river doesn’t change because of what you did, neither does the mountain or the crag. It’s not domination. It’s symbiosis, which requires respect.

Every outdoor activity holds some danger. Should you stop participating because you might die? Hell, no. You should acknowledge the danger, prepare for the danger and undertake the activity with a mindset of symbiosis, not domination.

Respect the mountain. Be prepared. Check your ego. Don’t ignore posted signs. Pick up your trash. Respect your Mother.

It seems simple, but I guess not everyone was raised on Colorado.


Why You Should Visit Your Favorite Summer Spots in Winter

Winter has never been my favorite time of year. I mean, I love Christmas. And snow. And I’m a ski bunny. But, I also get incredibly cagey and can’t stand being cooped indoors, so winter has never been my friend.

Until this past year, that is. In 2016, we made a New Year’s resolution to get our pup out for a hike every weekend. We quickly discovered that even on the snowiest of days, many of our favorite summer hikes were still accesible and, dare I say, even more beautiful.

Today, we went snowshoeing for the first time (I refuse to count the step-step-faceplant, step-step-faceplant incident when I was 8 as a real snowshoe experience) at Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was so beautiful and I think I’m addicted. There was over 60″ of snow and it was an absolute winter wonderland. I’d only ever visited in the summer and fall and it was a completely transformed place.

So here’s why you should be visiting your favorite summer spots in the winter:

1. What doesn’t look more beautiful covered in a foot of snow? (Besides your car when you’re late for work) Your favorite views will be even sweeter in winter.

2. Way fewer people brave the cold and snow, so that crowded trail you never quite enjoy in the summer might be just perfect under a blanket of snow.Rocky Mountain National Park wasn’t running their summer shuttles, so the people hiking were limited to the number of spaces in the lot. 

3. Who wants to do cardio in a sweaty gym? Pine trees and fresh snow smell wayyyy better than your treadmill neighbor’s curry BO. 

4. In winter, you have way more options for how to get to your favorite lake, waterfall or vista. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing are a great way to create a new experience on familiar ground.

Remember to check roads before you head out, think twice if your vehicle has crappy tires, wear layers, stay hydrated and keep an eye on the weather. You’ll have just as much fun, if not more, exploring your favorite places in the winter.


Our Year in Coffee: 2016

Need some coffee inspirations? We worked our way through 303 Magazine’s list of best coffee shops in Denver. Check out our thoughts!

Mikaela: Right around last New Year’s I read an article by 303magazine, “Best of 303: Denver Coffee Shops, 2015 Edition”. As one of my personal resolutions was to spend less money on Starbucks; we made it our 2016 new year’s resolution to visit all 16 on the list and we sipped our last latte of the year at the last coffee shop on the list Saturday morning, New Year’s Eve. (I still drank way too much Starbucks in 2016)

So, what did we think?

Mikaela’s Top 3
1. Stowaway Coffee + Kitchen
2. Bellwether
3. Allegro Coffee

Topher’s Top 3
1. The Molecule Effect
2. Bellwether
3. Maria Empanada

Continue reading “Our Year in Coffee: 2016”

Goodbye, 2016!

In the last few weeks I keep hearing variations of “2016 has been the worst year ever” or “Oh my god, I can’t wait for this year to be over.”

I know Donald Trump was elected president and Prince died, but seriously? 2016 may have been my best year yet!

It was a year full of growth, full of love, full of boosting confidence and taking leaps and as the year comes to a close, my heart is very, very full.

The year opened with me working at Guaranteed Rate mortgage and Topher working for Denver’s biggest theatre company in their scene shop building sets. We were happy enough, but restless.

One night in January, we went out for late night happy hour and cooked up a crazy scheme. We were going to quit our jobs in June, not renew the lease on our apartment, put our stuff in storage and go live in our car in Canada for awhile.

We spent the spring in a state of excitement and anticipation. We worked hard, we saved money. We started #kenziehikes2016 on Instagram and took Kenzie hiking every weekend.

Me and Kenzie at St. Mary’s Glacier

Gianna and I drove up to Aspen to see our favorite band, 21 Pilots, perform at the X-Games and I trial ran sleeping in the car.

My dad and I spent January and February training for a charity ski race called the Jane-a-thon. In March, we skiied 16 mogul runs in 5 hours. It was the most physically intense thing I’ve ever done and it was really rewarding! I had my best ski season EVER!

The view from Tucker Mountain at Copper

We flew to New Orleans with my dad and Sally on St. Patrick’s Day to belatedly celebrate my 21st birthday. It was a really cool trip.

New Orleans

We packed a full summer worth of hikes, bonfires, Yoga on the Rocks and concerts into the month of June and then took off with a fully loaded Subaru on July 1st for our summer adventure.

Me and Markie at Yoga on the Rocks

We went through Wyoming, hitting Grand Tetons and Yellowstone and then spent a week in Montana. Experiencing Glacier National Park was one of my favorite memories of the trip. The drive up Going to the Sun road was incredible.

Beautiful Glacier National Park

The radiator in our car was malfunctioning and the car kept overheating, so we stopped in the tiny town of Kalispell, Montana and Topher replaced the radiator in an O’Reilly parking lot with a $10 socket set. He’s my hero.

After we patched up the car, we headed North to Canada. The plan was to go to Banff and Jasper National parks, but shortly after we crossed the border we realized our only credit cards without a foreign transaction fee were not accepted anywhere in Canada and camping on public lands is not allowed up there as freely as it is in the US. Overwhelmed and with no place to sleep and no money besides the $100 in Canadian cash we had brought, we got some Tim Horton’s donuts and poutine from A&W and changed course.

Kenzie dog enjoying our road trip

We crossed back into the US and decided to head West. We spent a week traipsing through Northern Washington and spent a day in Seattle. We visited Topher’s grandpa in the North Western-most corner of the country, Sequim, WA and celebrated my 22nd birthday by canoeing in Olympic National Park and taking a ferry to Victoria, B.C. There we spent the day wandering the city and inadvertently smuggled Cuban cigars back to the States.

Canoeing in Olympic

We spent a beautiful few days driving down the coast. Kenzie had a blast playing on the beach and we re-visited tiny beach towns from long-ago childhood vacations. We watched the sunset with our car parked on the beach in Ocean City, which was incredibly cool!

Topher and Kenzie on Cannon Beach

We headed inland and got to see all my grandparents in Eugene, OR and then spent a few days with my Mom outside of Bend.

Camping outside of Bend, we climbed down under Tumalo Falls. That was an epic experience, standing under a waterfall!

We headed south into California and the August heat became oppressive. The car was still overheating and we were all hot and homesick. In Redding, CA when the temperature hit 101, we decided to hightail it home. In one stint, a crazy 24 hour drive straight through, we made it back to Denver. Seeing the sunset over Mt. Shasta, the stars over the Nevada desert and the sunrise over Salt Lake City was pretty great.

We spent just about six weeks on the road and didn’t pay for a single campsite. We camped in National Forests and other than one night in a Fred Meyer parking lot in Astoria, OR, we had pretty great experiences.

Quitting my job was scary. Not having an apartment to come back to was scary. Finding places to sleep every night was scary. But it was all something I desperately wanted to do and it was incredible. My confidence grew. My belief in myself, my capabilities. My bond with my little family grew. It was the most incredible experience I will never forget.

It taught me to just do it. You’re so much more capable than you think you are. If you want it, go for it. The universe has a way of working everything out and if you commit 100%, even if your intentions fail, the journey will be so worth it.

We came home and stayed with my dad and Sally for a few weeks before moving into a new place. We love it! It’s in the Tech Center and at least thirty years newer than our place in Golden was.

Topher’s dream was to design and build sets for stage theatre. He found his way into the job at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and was doing what he had always dreamed of. The pay was not great. The work was hard on his body and he realized that there was not a future in that industry for him.

He’s tried going to college several times since graduating from high school with no luck. Failed classes, withdrawn classes. We had come to the realization that maybe school just wasn’t his thing.

This fall, he made the decision to go back to school for Civil Engineering. He enrolled in Metro State and took out student loans. He finished the semester with straight A’s. I couldn’t be prouder of him.

I know I’ve grown and matured this year and I see that he has as well. We’ve grown and matured as a couple and seeing how far we’ve come makes me incredibly proud. We celebrated our 5th anniversary this past month and every day I wake up more in love with him. I know we’re in it for the long haul.

5 Years!

In September my mom came out to visit. We had a wonderful trip exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, poking around Denver and just being together. This was the third time I’ve seen her this year and it was the third drama free trip. Being on rocky ground since I was a pre-teen, this was a huge milestone for me; my relationship with her growing and strengthening.

In September I also started working for Sally’s company, McGhee Productivity Solutions, as a Digital Marketing Coordinator. I work from home and am learning and growing so much in the role. I really love it!

Topher and I’s relationship with Sally has also grown a ton this year. She’s become one of my best friends. Deepening friendships with so many people this year has been so fulfilling. Friends who live on different coasts, mothers, friends here in the area. It makes my heart happy.

This fall was a beautiful one. We had a vampire Halloween party and took a spontaneous trip to Aspen to spend the night in our car again and wake up among the changing leaves. We saw our favorite artist, Watsky, in concert on election night and had an all girls Thanksgiving while my Dad was busy launching a satellite.

Halloween Vamps
Sunrise at the most gorgeous camping spot in Aspen

This month has been a whirlwind and as we draw to a close I desperately want to throw on the brakes and savor this beautiful year. I’m not ready for it to be over.

A new year is not a new season in life though, unless you want it to be. I’m not ready for this season to end, and so I hope the happiness, the love, the adventure continue into the new year.

For those of you who haven’t experienced this past year like I have, I hope 2017 is the start of a fresh season for you. Look past who’s being inaugurated as president and the ever-present pain and despair in the world and look into your heart for the things that can exist no matter what; love, joy, companionship, peace, forgiveness, determination, hope. Be bigger than outside forces in 2017 and let your inner-light create the year you want 2017 to be.

Love always,


Oh Christmas Tree

(This post delayed by flooded apartments and lack of remembering to take a pictute of out decorated tree)

The Christmas tree is probably the most iconic holiday symbol for me. It doesn’t quite feel like Christmas until the tree is up and covered in twinkly lights, my favorite ornaments from over the years tucked away in the branches.
For as long as I can remember, my family has gotten a forest service permit and gone and cut our own tree. It’s a wonderful tradition and I have fond memories of tail-gating with our uncle and cousins, dragging massive 18-ft trees up ravines (the best trees always grow in the bottom of ravines, according to my dad) and coming home frozen, to decorate it.

For all of you fake-tree and Christmas tree lot people, Colorado trees are a little bit different. Topher sometimes fondly, sometimes not so fondly, refers to them as Charlie Brown trees. They’re not the big beautiful West Coast firs you can buy in parking lots and they’re not perfectly symmetrical like their fake wanna-be counterparts, but I think that’s what makes them beautiful none-the-less.

I’ve carried on my family’s tree cutting tradition with Topher and Kenzie the past few years and while its not always the magical, rainbow and butterflies outing I remember it to have been, it feels really good to tramp around the forest, pick out the least Charlie Brown of all the trees, cut it down, strap it to the roof and pray it doesn’t come flying off on the highway.

This year we got our permit from the Pike Ranger District in Fairplay and drove half an hour back towards Denver to get to Lost Creek Road where we cut. The area actually doesn’t have that many trees, its a little prairie-ish in parts (much like beautiful South Park it butts onto) and we drove around for three hours, hiking around looking for the best tree.

Wild trees are imperfect. There’s always bald patches, or the trunk has grown a little wonky. The tree will be completely two-dimensional, lacking branches on the back side or it will be covered in moss.

We finally settled on a “better than anything we’ve seen so far” tree and drug it home.

And that’s where the magic happens.

Because when you get it in your 3×5 spot you had picked out for it, suddenly its the grandest of all the trees and its mighty branches are fighting the wall for space to unfurl and knocking appliances over.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree. How lovely are your branches.

Share in the magic and cut your own tree this year. It’s $10 of fun you really shouldn’t miss out on!

Hunting for Authentic Experiences

Several weeks ago, one of my favorite Instagrammers, Chris Burkard (@chrisburkard), wrote, “It’s only recently that I realized that one authentic experience during a trip is better than 50 tourist stops.”

This has probably been nagging at the back of my mind for several weeks, because I can definitely fall in to this trap. This spring, we went to New Orleans and ended up walking something crazy like 37 miles over the course of the long weekend, mostly at my behest. I tend to feel that if I am not doing, doing, doing I am not truly experiencing. This feeling is magnified like crazy when I’m in a new place. In NOLA, I wanted to have a truly authentic, meaningful experience and so I tried to cram as much into those few short days as possible. The results were hurried and stressful and although I got some great pictures, many of the tourist experiences I was hoping would feel truly meaningful, fell flat. My favorite experience of the whole trip was our first night when we had nothing planned and ended up experiencing a “true” New Orleans night on the town.

I’m not trying to say that tourist “traps” can’t be real or authentic and create amazing memories. On our trip this summer we ended up in a lot of really touristy places. Walking through Geyser Basin in Yellowstone and taking the ferry to Victoria, BC were some of my most cherished experiences of the trip and they were arguably some of the most touristy. However, when you walk into a trip with a list of items to check off, or you Google “Best Things to do in XXX” and try to accomplish them all in a short period of time, the chances of you truly feeling rewarded are not high.

As I mentioned, our road trip this summer was full of touristy places. Some were amazing, others were not. Sometimes tourist traps can really resonate. I think the key is to allow the space for things that work and to admit when things aren’t working and move on. I’m a planner and it can be really hard to get out of the mindset that every little moment needs to be planned. This summer was so good for me because 99% of our time was unplanned. I hadn’t spent hours pouring over Google for the best places to visit or planned our route based on tourist attractions. The most memorable moments of the trip were truly spontaneous and organic. Hammocking next to a river in the middle of Wyoming. Laying on a blanket under the stars in Oregon. Swimming in a mountain lake in Montana. Driving through the last light of the Eastern Washington countryside on a spur of the moment side trip.

And the worst moments? The moments when I most felt like I wanted to go home, the moments where I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting the most out of our crazy adventure? It was when I tried to over plan. It was when I Googled “Best Hikes on the Olympic Peninsula” and we ended up climbing a 13% grade with a million other people. It was when I planned a solid day around hanging out at a lake I’d seen pictures of on Instagram and it turned out to be a crowded, buggy swamp. It was when we started stopping places just to collect postcards rather than because we really wanted to.

That’s not to say that some of my high quality planning didn’t pan out. Taking the ferry to Victoria was magical. Seeing Glacier National Park was a highlight of the trip. We found the most amazing campsite by Googling “Best waterfall hikes near Bend”. I think the moral of what I’m trying to say here is what Burkard wrote. A truly authentic experience is worth so much more than checking off items on a list. Are those truly authentic experiences sometimes items off a list? Absolutely. One of my favorite memories ever is of the hanging bridges in Costa Rica which were absolutely a tourist destination and I’m sure my parents had planned based on some in-depth Googling. Is it wrong to plan those things? No. Not at all. But its also important not to plan every second and to let those authentic experiences happen. Because sometimes, you’re going to fly into New Orleans on St. Patrick’s Day and the torrential downpour is going to stop and there’s going to be a parade like nothing you’ve ever seen. Sometimes, you’re going to be waiting for your ferry in Victoria and have two hours to kill and walk a million miles to the neatest part of the city you never would have stumbled upon otherwise. Coming home from a trip with a camera roll full of pictures of the same iconic places that everybody who has ever been to there possess’ means far less than a truly wonderful memory. Does that mean a truly wonderful memory can’t include walking a hundred miles (are you noticing a theme here?) to the Golden Gate Bridge for some crazy great pictures? Not at all.

Make sure you’re present in the moment. Close Snapchat. Put down your camera for a minute. Take a deep breath and decide if what you’re doing in that moment is truly something you want to be doing. And if it is? Then enjoy the moment however you choose. If its not? Go find something that truly sparks your heart. Because that’s what travel is all about.

Creating Memories or Taking Selfies?

Is snapping a selfie the same as making a memory? Is our instant gratification culture is confusing the two?

With Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook documenting our every step, it can be really hard not to want to have “experiences” that make people scrolling through their news feeds jealous. I can’t tell you the number of hikes I’ve been on lately where teenagers show up with a hammock, stage three or four iPhone pictures and then pack up and leave. Last year I witnessed a couple get out of their car, take two steps down a trail, take a selfie, discuss the caption, and then get in their car and drive away. I think we can all agree there’s no way these people are actually making memories. But it can be so hard not to fall into the trap! Sometimes I’ll have an idea in mind for the best Instagram post. Topher makes fun of me all the time for taking pictures just for “the ‘gram”. Am I guilty of that? Absolutely. We can be having a piss-poor time, the weather can be crappy, we can be hot and hungry and tired and not enjoying ourselves in the slightest, but I stop the car, snap a picture and then doctor it up and make this fake memory for the sole purpose of likes online.

Especially when you’re a photographer, an artist, its a thin line. Sometimes, I want to shoot something because its beautiful, its inspiring. Sometimes I just want to shoot something because I want the photo for social media. Sometimes I set the shot up, take a million different angles, and try really hard. Other times, I snap one photo, just cropping out the hoards of other people doing the same thing, check to make sure its clear and am on my way. Because it looks good on everyone else’s feed. Because I have a witty caption in mind. Because I’ve been dreaming of the shot and I don’t want to admit its not the experience I’d hoped.

An Instagrammer I really admire, @minayounglee suggested truly experiencing a location, with no cameras, cellphones, etc, for 30 minutes before the first snap is ever taken. That way, you have time to really have an experience. To get a feel for the spot and find the perfect shot before you start blindly shooting and ruining a moment with your social aspirations. Its a humbling idea. Could I really sit still for thirty minutes without taking a picture?

The answer is yes. Absolutely. This summer I was gone for a month and a half in some of the most beautiful spots in the country and I only have 400 pictures to prove it. Do I wish I had taken photos some of the places we stopped? Absolutely. Do I regret not taking enough pictures? Honestly, no. The experiences are so much more valuable than a million photos of something I only saw through a lens. I am no Nat Geo photographer, and lucky for me, they have captured most of the world for me already (way better than I ever could hope to!) When time permits, I pull out my camera and try to create art. When it doesn’t, I’m learning to try to create an experience instead. I’m still guilty of pulling out my camera or my phone and taking several generic photos, but I also try to really be present in the moment. I want to be “Instafamous.” I think everyone does! But I also want a mind rich with memories and experiences. So, its a delicate balance. If you’re trying to create art, go for it. If you’re going for an experience, stop with the selfies. You don’t need to prove you were there, if you yourself are not going to remember it because your back was turned to it for a Snapchat.