Get Out and Experience Life.

There’s something almost counter intuitive about it, but I think that the best chance we have of preserving the beautiful, natural places on our planet is to get people out to truly experience them; to really care about them.

In this age of extreme connectivity, we’re exposed to some of the most amazing places on Earth from the comfort of our beds. We can open Instagram waiting for food at a restaurant, on a conference call, in the drive-thru at Starbucks, anywhere and immediately get a glimpse of the wilds of this world.

When we’re faced with the stark beauty of the Arctic or the remote beaches and rain forests of Asia, its easy to fall in love in a passive way. Nobody wants to see the ice caps melt, nobody wants to see forests bulldozed to grow crops or build homes for our exploding population. Its easy to pretend we care.

Its a passive care, though. Its like seeing a shooting on the news. Its horrifying. Its sad. We feel sympathy, but do we really care? Does it really, deeply affect us? What about when that shooting happens at your neighborhood theater, or in your kids’ school? Suddenly it becomes very, very real. Suddenly you really, really care. Because you’re truly experiencing it.

Continue reading “Get Out and Experience Life.”

I’m Afraid Too.

Would you rather die having not lived at all, or take a risk and live life to the fullest?

I don’t think I’m a brave person.

I’m anxious, I over-analyze and spontaneity is usually reserved for late night Waffle House runs.

I constantly kick myself for living life in fear.

My boyfriend and I were recently talking about how we feel were not “that outdoorsy” or “that adventurous” compared to some of the crazies we see on Instagram. But when I really started to think about it, we are pretty outdoorsy and adventurous compared to a lot of people. I’m shocked when I run into somebody who’s lived in Colorado for a couple years and has never made it up to the mountains. I can’t believe it when someone says they’ve never camped or been to the top of a 14er or snowshoed or skiied.

But then, I have to back myself up.

Fear is nothing to be ashamed of.

Continue reading “I’m Afraid Too.”

Travel Diary – Moab, Utah

The best places to hike, camp and drink coffee in Moab, Utah. Fisher Towers, Dead Horse State Park and camping on HWY 128.

One of my very favorite things to do is to throw some camp gear in the car, take off after work and drive through the dark to find what we hope is an epic campsite, stumble around with headlights and then wake up the next morning to discover where we ended up.

This past week, our destination was just outside Moab, up Utah State Highway 128. We rolled into a campsite at 2AM, the sucking blackness hiding any hint of a landmark, and awoke the next morning to this view:

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Waking up at first light and making coffee on the camp stove while Topher sleeps is another one of my favorite activities. I love the smell of hot coffee and damp grass, watching the sun touch our little corner of the universe, feeling the warmth of the coffee seep through the tin mug into my numb hands and the steam warm my cold nose.

This trip to Moab was focused on hiking. On Thursday we explored Dead Horse State Park and hiked the East Rim Trail, from the visitor’s center to Dead Horse Point. Its an easy 3 mile round trip hike with stunning views the entire way. After thinking it looked familiar, and texting my dad a picture, I realized that I’d rafted that section of river and hiked up the mesa at the point when I was 15, long before the Instagramification of the scenic spot. Yes, I am a hipster.

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On Friday, we got up early and did my favorite hike to date. Fisher Towers feels like stepping onto another planet. The trail immediately takes you down into a canyon and keeps climbing in and out of various canyons, along ledges, on top of cliffs, all while being shadowed by the most amazing red rocks spires. At just over 5 miles round trip, the hike was definitely strenuous with all the elevation loss and gain, but well worth it. There are many epic views along the way and the scenery is incredible. There’s a point where you have to descend an approximately 10 ft metal ladder into a canyon, which was definitely a feat with the dog. It took both of us balancing precariously and a stranger pushing her over the ledge to get her across.

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Kenzie and I enjoying the views

 

This is a trail that I would definitely not attempt in the heat of the day or at all in the summer months. With no shade or running water, once you’re out of the spires’ shadows, you’re pretty much being cooked. Bring more water than you think you could possibly drink, sunscreen and a hat. If there’s even a chance of rain, don’t attempt. Much of the trail winds in and out of canyons that are prime territory for flash flooding.

While we’re not normally “campground people,” we did choose to stay in one of the BLM campgrounds along HWY 128 because we knew we’d be coming in late and didn’t want to have to search for primitive camping. At $15 a night, these plentiful campgrounds are a great option. Note that they were completely full by a Friday night in March, so finding a spot on weekends may not be possible.

While we spent most of our time hiking and reading in camp, we did stop at Moab Coffee Roasters on our way to Dead Horse State Park and were pleasantly surprised by their coffee being roasted in paint buckets in the side of a Life is Good store. Give them a try if you’re in town and in need of a cup of coffee.

I love the stark beauty of the desert. Beaches and rain forests and bustling cities are beautiful, but sometimes all that amazing-ness coming at me is overwhelming. I love the simple colors, the harsh landscape, the marvel of a teeny tiny flower blossoming under a rock or nothing but red rock and scrub brush as far as the eye can see. Somehow, that simple beauty is more beautiful to me than the busiest landscape.

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I love Utah, I love Moab and I love the desert. Go visit for yourself.

Stay tuned for why you should go take a road trip there 🙂

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Why I Chose To Be Homeless

Last summer, I chose to be homeless.

Last summer, my boyfriend and I quit our well-paying jobs, chose not to renew the lease on our apartment, packed our lives into a 10×10 storage unit and took off across the country with nothing but a Subaru, our dog and a 2 person tent (you can read about our adventures under the Two and a Half BAMFS in Banff tab).

For years, I had scrolled jealously through the feeds of wanderers on Instagram. I had longingly devoured articles with titles like, “Why You Should Quit Your Job and Travel the World.” I saw all these people, these perfect internet people, living the dream, living my dream. I saw that it was possible. For them.

“I could never do that.” I would scoff to myself.

There were a million reasons why I couldn’t. I was a broke college student, a broke young adult, I had a life, a job, family and a dog counting on me, my boyfriend, college to graduate from, careers to start. We were too young, the world was too vast and scary.

As I scrolled through my Instagram feed with my increasingly long list of “can’t”s, I started to see all these beautiful images of Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta.

I had graduated from college and still had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up and was working an unsatisfying job, my boyfriend had decided college wasn’t for him and was working a manual labor job.

Slowly, an idea began to form in my mind.

Maybe quitting our jobs to travel the world was too lofty, but maybe it didn’t have to be the world. Maybe it could just be Canada.

Once I got up the courage to have that first initial thought of “maybe I could”, every “can’t” started to melt away.

If we pinched our pennies and saved, and weren’t paying rent on an apartment, we’d have enough money to spend a few months on the road. We could camp and sleep in our Subaru to avoid paying for lodging. And Canada wasn’t that vast and scary, was it? Even at 21, it seemed attainable.

And what was the worst that could happen? We’d break down, we’d be stranded, we’d have to go live with my parents for awhile.

Once I actually let myself start to believe that I could live my dream, nothing else was that scary. Saving money came easily. Quitting jobs we weren’t passionate about wasn’t hard. There were more apartments we could rent when we came back. Our friends and families understood; we weren’t leaving forever. Just the summer.

So, we packed our 1998 Subaru Outback to the brim and headed North. I don’t think it occurred to me until the first night we were on the road that we were truly homeless. It was a little scary, but also exhilarating.

We were on the road for over 40 days and didn’t pay for a single night of lodging. We slept in our car, pitched our tent or stayed with relatives every night. A couple grand got us through the summer, including unforeseen expenses, and held us over until we found jobs upon our return in August.

Was it all rainbows and butterflies?

Hell, no.

The radiator in our Subaru started to go on the fritz several days into our trip. We ended up having to replace it in a parts store parking lot in the middle-of-nowhere Montana and the car continued to overheat every time we’d go less than 25mph for the rest of the trip.

We found ourselves in a town called Fort McCloud, Alberta and realized our credit cards didn’t work outside the US and that Canada has hardly any free camping. We called my dad in tears in a Tim Horton’s parking lot. After buying donuts and poutine with the last of our Canadian cash, we headed back to America after less than six hours and changed trajectory.

One night, after scouring the Washington and Oregon coasts for hours looking for an open campsite, we ended up sleeping (or at least parking for the night) in a Fred Meyer parking lot and brushing our teeth in their bathroom.

Showers were not plentiful. I did an 11 day stint without bathing and had to get pretty creative with trial passes at gyms to get clean.

Some nights were terrifying. Some nights were cold. Some nights were hot. I was grumpy at times. He was grumpy at times. The dog was grumpy at times.

Our tire went flat on a 4wd road, we almost got stuck more times than I can count. We got eaten alive by mosquitoes and ate hummus for at least 1/3 of our meals.

We found ourselves in Redding, CA in August and the heat was oppressive, even at night, the car was protesting, the dog ran through a burr bush and had thousands of burrs stuck in her fur and we were homesick. We cut our trip a few weeks short and lived with my parents until we found a new place to call home.

The worst happened.

It wasn’t that bad.

The trip was actually the best experience of my life.

We saw amazing things, we bonded, we laughed, we turned our Subaru into a home.

We lived our dream.

I chose to be homeless because it was my dream to cut my ties and just go.

I’m telling you this story, not because I want to be another one of those perfect internet people who are living your dream life. I don’t want to be another “can’t”. I want to motivate you to find your “can”.

Whether your dream is to travel, or to pursue a freelance career, or to publish a book, my advice is this: find your “can” and just do it.

Things will go wrong. It won’t be what you expected. But if you’re living your dream? That’s all any of us can ask for.

Here’s a picture of Lake Louise. This was the start of my “can”. I never made it there, but was that really the point?

Just do it, you won’t regret it. I promise.

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Respect.

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.

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.