"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Lessons from 12,000 Feet

Yesterday, Shelley and I hiked in the Maroon Bells wilderness area near Aspen, Colorado.  The Bells are supposedly the most photographed mountains in the U.S., and I can see why.

We chose a ten mile, round-trip hike up to Buckskin Pass.  The trailhead was at 9,580 feet, which is about the highest I had previously ever hiked up to (in the Tetons last summer).  From there, we climbed to a thrilling 12,462 feet at the pass - a new record for me!  Shelley's been to over 20,000 feet and is a true mountaineer.  She was an encouraging, gentle guide!  I'm so glad to be following in her bootsteps.

The Maroon Bells from the lake near the trailhead

Woot woot!  So excited to start!
On this beautiful, steady, uphill hike, I noticed many trail metaphors for life.  I began this blog over a year ago to write about such observations - connections between wild nature and everyday life - but haven't posted an entry like that for awhile.  This trail was a patient teacher for me, and I was reminded of some important life lessons.

Mostly, I saw parallels between reaching a goal on the trail and reaching a goal in life.  We set out to reach Buckskin Pass, but I honestly wasn't sure if I would make it.  I didn't know how my body would adjust to the altitude, and I didn't know if my legs would carry me on such a long, steady uphill climb - through the snow, no less.  (Armed with my new inhaler, I hoped at least my lungs may finally be up to the task!)

So the first lesson is this:

Set your goal, and hold it with an open hand.

I was careful how I spoke about our trek from the beginning.  I didn't want to say, "I will get to Buckskin Pass," because as mentioned above, I knew that there were many factors that may cause me to turn around.  But I also didn't want to say, "I won't get to Buckskin Pass," because I didn't want to sell myself short.  So I said, "Let's aim for Buckskin Pass, see how far we get, and enjoy every moment along the way."

Along the trail, near the beginning
As we hiked, I kept looking ahead, wondering which dip between which huge peaks was Buckskin.  Although we could figure out the general direction using our topo map, we couldn't see it until about 3/4 of the way into our hike.  It was hidden by many towering ranges.  I always marvel at the mountains' ability to keep some of their secrets hidden; they reveal wonders one at a time, presenting them to you in pieces as you travel.  I always try to imagine what the trail will look like to get there, and it's always so much different, and so much better, than what I concoct in my mind.

So the next lesson I learned was this:

Trust that your goal still lies ahead of you, even when you can't see it, and you don't know exactly how to get there.

The snow getting deep, and the trail getting steep
When we finally rounded the bend that at last gave us a view of the pass, I found it both exciting and daunting.  Now that I could actually see the goal, I was at the same time encouraged to keep going, and overwhelmed by the sight of the steep switchbacks near the top.  I couldn't believe we still had so much elevation to gain after walking straight uphill for almost four hours!

As we continued our hike, I was often surprised at the turns the trail took.  Now having the pass in sight high above, I knew which direction it would take to get there, but hiking straight up to it would be way too steep - we would have slid right back down the mountain.  So we had to follow the winding trail, even when it meant our bodies were facing geographically away from our goal.  I kept saying things like, "What?  The trail goes this way?"

And I was reminded how often life has taken me in a seemingly opposite direction of where I thought I was going, only to find out after that I was still on my way all along.  So the final lesson I learned on this trail was:

Keep following your path.  Trust that all of the unexpected turns are part of the journey, and there for your own good.

View from the top!

Shelley celebrating

I couldn't be happier

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I'll Huff, and I'll Puff, and I'll. . .

On Saturday, I picked Shelley up from her conference in Denver.  We sat on the floor of her hotel room with the atlas, both of our laptops, and several sheets of scrap paper scrawled with possible plans on the floor in front of us.  We discussed various routes and adventures, finally settling on Glenwood Springs as a start.  We had read about a great bike and several beautiful hikes in that area.

Shelley quickly called our mutual friend, Tania, who had backpacked with us back when she lived in D.C., before she moved to Denver.  Tania agreed to join us for a weekend in Glenwood Springs, despite the fact that she had just returned from Iceland only the day before!  To finish off the party, Shelley also called her friend, Ed, who was in town traveling at the same time.  Ed also agreed to join us, as well as bring his friend, Theresa, who was traveling with him.  It was a party!

We rolled in to town after dark, not sure where we would stay.  Since it had worked out so well for me in Moab, I suggested we look for an outfitters store and ask them where we could camp for free.  Just like last time, the woman was quite helpful; she pointed us in the right direction, we met up with Ed and Theresa while in the store, and the four of us caravanned to the mountains - Tania promising to meet us there shortly.

The steep mountain road turned to a sheet of ice, and the forest around us became blanketed with snow the higher we climbed.  I had never camped in snow before.  At 9000 feet, this "fun" camping trip was no joke.  Even the Jack Daniels with honey I had bought in town wasn't enough to warm me up, and the snow-covered kindling wasn't able to catch fire before my toes started going numb.

I spent a very cold, very uncomfortable night, despite the fact that I moved to my car to sleep!  I ended up in my 20 degree bag (with the fleece liner that was supposed to add another 10-15 degrees), wearing my entire merino wool base layer, two layers on top of that, gloves, a hat, a scarf, and hand warmers on each buttcheek (strangely, my butt was the coldest thing).  Curled in the fetal position, I chattered and shivered myself into a fitful sleep.  In the morning, I told Shelley that we may want to rethink our Colorado backpacking plans - at least the sleeping outside part!

After a delicious breakfast, we said goodbye to Ed and Theresa, who were heading west into Utah.  Tania, Shelley, and I hopped on our bikes and pedaled the gorgeous, 10 mile path to the trailhead of Hanging Lake.

Shelly and Tania on the bike path
The hike up to Hanging Lake was excellent for three reasons.
  1. The company.  I always enjoy hiking with women.  The way we seamlessly hike, talk, laugh, and enjoy both the wilderness and each others' company just doesn't happen as easily with men - at least for me.  We touched on all the normal womenfolk topics - men, career, food, the race/class/gender divide, money, being a single adventure-seeking woman, etc.  It was lovely.
  2. The scenery.  Holy cow.  Hanging Lake was stunning - worth every labored, uphill step it took to get there.
Hanging Lake
Falls from the side

The ladies - me, Shelley, Tania, and Nyla

Shelley building her cairn at Spouting Rock, above the lake
The third and final reason that this particular hiking trip was excellent was the important realization I came to -

I have asthma!

Yes.  That was the best part of the trip for me!  I always thought I just huffed and puffed my way up every trail (on foot or bike, on the east coast or west, with fit or unfit companions - doesn't matter) and lagged behind everyone on the uphills because I was out of shape.  I was starting to become quite discouraged that no matter how much hiking, biking, and backpacking I did, the breathlessness didn't ever abate.

Then, at the beginning of yesterday's hike, Tania noticed the way I was breathing and asked me about asthma.  She said that she has exercised-induced asthma, which means that when she exerts herself, her lungs constrict rather than expand.  I remembered being diagnosed with the same thing when I was a kid, but had stopped using an inhaler or thinking about it when I went to college.

Tania gave me a few puffs of her inhaler, and after about 20 minutes, the rest of the hike was gloriously different than any I've taken in years.  I still felt my heart beating and I could obviously feel that I was exerting myself, but I was no longer gasping desperately to fill my lungs with each breath.  

Hooray!  I have asthma!  I'm not just out of shape and overweight!

To confirm, I went to a local clinic the next day.  As expected, I was not able to fill the flow meter breath test thingy they used on me.  I was prescribed an inhaler, and now I'm ready to climb all the mountains!

P.S. I'm holding all of you east-coasters in the light during Sandy craziness!  Don't you kind of secretly love how storms bring everyone together, because so many people are experiencing the same thing?  Like the blizzard of '94 when my dad had to get out for a surgery and the plow still hadn't come to our street so all of our neighbors worked together to shovel out the entire street so my dad could go to the hospital.  I'm praying y'all are safe, but even more, I'm praying that you're reminded of community during this time, and grateful for all the other days when you are safe and warm and you may have forgotten to be thankful for it!  I'm reminded of that now. :)

P.P.S.  What better thing to do during the storm than become a follower of my blog??  You just click the blue "join this site" button on the right.  You'll get emails each time I write a new post, and it helps me build my writing career!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween, Denver style

One thing that made me a bit sad about living on the road was the prospect of missing Halloween.  I wouldn't be near my friends, wouldn't have any reason to dress up, and would be wandering on my own while everyone else celebrated one of my favorite holidays.  As usual, the things I worry about work themselves out.

While staying in Denver, my lovely, homebody, suburban host mentioned that her mother's gay housemates would be having a Halloween party Friday night, and maybe we could all go.  She said, "They're all middle-aged, you know, it'll be chill and sort of classy, I think.  Nothing out of hand."

"Cool," I said.  "Sounds good."  I had been partying pretty hard for a couple of weeks, and would welcome the chance to relax for a few days.

We threw together costumes last minute and headed out to the "chill" Halloween party.  Which, by the way, was anything but chill.

My couch surfing hosts and me at the party.  Craig as a
chick magnet, me as an elf, and Amy as a cat

The hosts of the party - with jello shots.  Well,
what's left of them.

The incredible food table!  The hosts are pastry chefs.  The thing the
skeletons are sitting on is a cake!
So this "little" party ended up having almost 100 people.  Every square inch of the house was elaborately decorated, and there was a dance floor with lights, a fog machine, and a professional DJ.  I danced like I haven't danced in a long time.  The best part was when some Mexican guy grabbed me and started swinging me around.  He was fabulous!  We danced for a long time and caught the attention of the rest of the crowd.   He wasn't creepy or "grind-y" at all - just a great dancer having tons of fun.

I left pleasantly exhausted and so grateful for a chance to celebrate Halloween!

Friday, October 26, 2012


My journey is taking a turn, in several ways.

First, I've suddenly found myself in winter!  My last night in Telluride brought a beautiful, fluffy snow that blanketed the valley.  I drove in and out of snow on the drive to Denver the next day.  Because the road included many mountain passes, I found myself in many different settings with each new valley.  At times, it was so bright and sunny I needed sunglasses and the windows down.  In just a few minutes, with the pass of another peak, I was surrounded by snow - I shivered, rolled up the windows, and turned on the heat.

The highest point of my drive - crossing over Monarch Mountain pass

Back down to a beautiful valley just outside the Black Canyon -
but still snow-covered peaks in the distance

It got pretty sketchy on the last hour into Denver.  I saw four
accidents on the highway.  Thank god for my new, all-wheel drive!

The second turn my trip is taking, at least temporarily, is a shift towards more stillness.  This makes sense because of being surrounded by winter weather.  We are meant to be more quiet and still during winter.

How this is showing up for me is less partying.  I partied my way through Missoula, Durango, and Telluride, with a short adventure break in Moab.  Understandably, my couch surfing hosts often want to show me a good time by taking me out on the town, and I want to see it!  So I go out and drink.  All night.  Every night.  And my liver is getting tired.

Thankfully, my hosts in Denver for two nights are a calm, suburban couple who are mostly homebodies.  Last night, we had soup and grilled cheese, made a fire, watched "Howl's Moving Castle," and went to bed early.  Ahhhh.

Today, I'm taking a slow morning to explore snowy, nearby Boulder on my own.  Later, I may bake and watch more movies with my host.  Finally, we'll go to the thrift shop and throw a costume together, because I guess we are making an appearance at a Halloween party tonight.  But not a party party - it's more of an "upscale" cocktail party hosted by her mother's gay housemate friends.

Coffeeshop where I'm writing in Boulder.  Look at the beautiful
snow outside!

The third way my trip is taking a turn is that I am about to have company!  My good friend, Shelley, from back in Maryland is here!!  She's in Denver for a conference, and so decided to take a week off of work and join me for some adventures before she flies back east.  I'm picking her up tomorrow and we'll head off into the wilderness together for a week!  It will be so nice to have someone other than myself to talk to in the car.  (Although, I've had some pretty great conversations with myself. . .)

And the final way my trip is taking a turn is that I've decided where I will be stationary for a bit.  I have an amazing gig in Taos, New Mexico, and I'm so so so so so so so so so excited about it!!!!

I'll be living at the Snowmansion hostel: http://www.snowmansion.com/Lodging.html (Look at the site!  It's amazing!)

In exchange for four, four-hour shifts per week, I get my own cabin and most of my meals!  My work shifts will include manning the front desk (checking in guests, taking reservations, meeting awesome travelers, etc.), cleaning rooms (changing sheets, sweeping, etc.), working in the greenhouse (weeding, transplanting, watering, etc.), and cooking (making a pot of rice and a delicious soup for the whole community with the organic vegetables from the garden and occasionally a locally-hunted elk or deer).

There will be at least one other worker there with me, a woman who is studying to become a midwife - cool!  Muna, the matriarch of the place, will be out of town for the month of November, but she'll be able to show me the ropes briefly before she goes.  Also, her son, daughter-in-law, and their two kids will be on the premises to teach me as well.  Finally, there is a caretaker from the Pueblo Indian village (which borders our property) living there.

In addition to being a hostel and organic garden, the Snowmansion is also an herbal apothecary!  Muna is an herbalist.  She grows nearly every culinary and medicinal herb, and makes and sells tinctures and all kinds of products.

The town of Taos is four miles away.  I plan to look for a few shifts of part-time work in town as well, so I can save up some more money while I'm there, and meet more people.

Can you possibly imagine anything more perfect????  Because I can't!!!!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cruising Some Altitude in Telluride

Telluride, Colorado is not on the way to anywhere.  There is only one way in and out, because the tiny mountain town runs right into a huge canyon wall at the end.  Being nestled in a narrow valley with towering peaks in every direction gives this place a very safe feeling (which is ironic because people die here every winter from avalanches, more than anywhere else in the U.S.)

I have been lucky enough to couch surf with Crystal, who grew up here and has lived here most of her life.  She made the Junior National Snowboarding Team as a teenager, competed in Europe, and then snowboarded professionally with sponsors.  She moved around a bit but is now back in Telluride snowboarding, waiting tables, and showing me around!

Crystal on the steps of her steep, alpine apartment complex

Another shot of Crystal's apartment on the side of the mountain

Shortly after I arrived, I went on a hike with Crystal and her friend, Kelly.  This was not only a great opportunity for me to see the valley from above, but for me to begin acclimating to the 8760 feet altitude upon which Telluride sits!  My headache is finally beginning to go away after two days of huffing and puffing and gulping ridiculous amounts of water.

Two shots from our hike:

Crystal's parents still live in a small mountain village nearby, in the same house where Crystal grew up.  After the hike, we found out that their poor dog, Lexi, had been quilled by a porcupine and they needed Crystal to come over and help pull the quills out.  This was unfortunate for Lexi, but fortunate for me, because I got to take a beautiful drive and see her parents' amazing house!

Crystal's parents each came to Telluride separately from the midwest to ski (which is why everyone comes here) in their early twenties.  They met here, got married, and have lived here ever since.  Her father built their house almost entirely by himself, using rocks and trees that he harvested himself from the property directly around the home.  He actually cut down the trees, treated the wood, designed the home, and built it, complete with stunning details and a very unique floor plan.

Some shots of the house:

The house from the outside.  Notice the beautiful log detail.

The living room.  Notice the ceiling!

The greenhouse, which sits directly attached to the
kitchen and also has a small hot tub in the corner

The stairs.  Notice the gorgeous support beams.

Crystal's father telling us about his paintings.
(Yes he's also a painter and an author.)
Lexi, the poor quilled dog, ended up having to be taken to the vet because the quills were too deep for us to pull out with pliers.  On the way back from her parents' house, I asked Crystal, "Do you see much wildlife around here?"  As if scripted, she pointed out the window and I saw this:

Herd of elk
Today, we rode the free gondola over the mountain to Mountain Village on the other side.  This is a totally free, green form of transportation that reduces the need for cars to drive between the two towns.  You can even bring your pets, bikes, skis, and snowboards on board.  This breathtaking ride is part of Crystal's daily commute to the restaurant at the top of the mountain where she waitresses!  Mountain Village on the other side boasts the winter homes of Tom Cruise, Kid Rock, and too many other celebrities for me to even remember naming right now.

Telluride from the top of the Gondola

One view from the top of the gondola.  These are the peaks on
the Coors Light can.  (Tap the rockies. . .)

Yikes!  No wonder I'm always out of breath!

Mountain Village from the gondola
This place is crazy - like nothing I've ever seen.  Every single person skis or snowboards.  The town is built on it.  Every job in town provides daily ski breaks during the winter season.  This means you can either come in late, leave early, or take an extended lunch to get on the slopes at least a bit every day.  And it's all paid.


A few fun facts to leave you with:
  • Each house is unique and colorful; no two are alike.  
  • No chain restaurants or stores are allowed in town; everything is local.  
  • It is a very small town.  Crystal's graduating class was 40 - and that includes students from the smaller, surrounding towns that came to Telluride to go to high school.
  • There is a hydroelectric plant up one of the mountains on top of a waterfall.  This used to provide 100% of the power to Telluride, but as the town has grown, it now only provides about 20%.
  • Bears frequent the town so regularly that all residents are required to have bear-proof trash cans that lock.  Crystal has seen black bears when walking home alone on her street - more than once.
  • There is a "free box" on one of the streets full of well-organized clothing, shoes, books, and sporting goods.  You can leave things or take things as you need to.
  • The risk of dying in an avalanche is so great on these peaks that most people wear inflatable backpacks when they ski, snowboard, snowshoe, or hike on the mountains in winter.  If they are caught in an avalanche, they can inflate the pack and hopefully "fly" down the mountain without getting buried in snow or banged against trees and rocks.
I'm so grateful to Whitney and Nikki, my Durango hosts, for insisting that I stop in Telluride on my way up to Denver!  It has been a worthwhile visit, and it's not even over.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

An Ode to Couchsurfing

Most of you readers know that I have been couch surfing my way across this country over the past month.  It's not my first time traveling through couch surfing, and I'm sure won't be my last.  I get a lot of questions about this aspect of my trip.

"What is couch surfing?"

"Is it safe?"

"How do you know you can trust the person?"

"How do you find couches on which to surf?"

These are great questions, and all ones I had myself before I had any experience with CSing.  I will answer them here by way of telling you the story of how I ended up in Durango, Colorado with my current, fabulous CS host.

First of all, yes, it is an actual website and I do this "formally."  (www.couchsurfing.org)  You can make a profile and begin hosting or surfing immediately.  Every time you make a new connection, that person leaves a reference for you.  Members become quite thoroughly referenced and vouched for, which adds tremendously to the safety aspect and to my (and I'm sure my parents') peace of mind.

When I know I want to go to a town, I hop on to the site and search hosts in that place.  Personally, I only ever look for females, families, or group houses (no single men), and I only contact people with photos (there are search filters for this).  I usually send out multiple requests for a town and see what comes back to me.  If I don't get a response in time, I either stay in a hostel (like in Moab), or decide that the universe must want me to skip that town.

My host in Durango has been especially wonderful.  Whitney accepted my request very shortly after I sent it.  She was at work when I rolled in to town Friday night, but she left the key for me.  She also texted me the wireless code and told me to feel free to use the kitchen, shower, and laundry machines - all of which I did before she even got home.  What an amazingly trusting, kind person!

Whitney with J.C. the pit bull
The next morning, we officially met (after I had already slept on her couch, taken a shower in her bathroom, washed two loads of laundry in her machines, and cooked dinner with her cookware).  We got to know each other over some morning coffee before she had to rush off to another shift at work.  She felt badly that she couldn't hang out with me on Saturday due to her busy schedule, so she connected me with some couch surfers she had just hosted last week and whom were still in town canvassing for the Obama campaign.

I texted Maya (Whitney's previous couchsurfer) right away, asking if she wanted to hang out later.  She invited me to meet her and her canvassing crew for drinks downtown later that evening.  Perfect.  I decided to spend the day exploring Durango on bike and foot, on my own, until that time.

My evening with Maya and her Obama-loving friends was a raucous, great time!  I'm not very political myself, and probably care less about this election than anyone else I know.  So I didn't really care if they were for Obama, Romney, or anyone else.  The anthropological observation experience was fulfilling enough for me!  I joined in a bit, but I mostly just sipped my beer and listened to everyone argue passionately about which part of Obama's platform is most important, and the difference between Clinton and Obama era America, with a little good ol' fashioned Bush-hating thrown in for fun.

The Obama crew at the bar

I was planning to leave Sunday, but when Whitney told me that she had the day off of work, her best friend from back in Minnesota was flying in that morning, and she wanted to take both of us to some hidden hot springs in the woods, I was easily convinced to stay.

We picked Acacia up at the airport and immediately headed to the hot springs about 45 minutes away from Durango.  There are many commercial hot springs here that cost money and are in buildings, like swimming pools.  That's not what we did.  We hiked two miles down an 800 foot drop (really it was more like sliding on our butts some of the time) to reach these springs, which were just little pools dug next to the river in which we could sit and soak in 107 degree water all day.

Acacia and Whitney enjoying the springs

These weren't necessary

View from the hot spring pool

I could stay here forever.

Can you see the steam rising off the water?
We met another beautiful woman while down there - Amanda.  Just when the four of us were starting to get hungry, three "elder" goddess-like women came down the trail.  We shouted to them to join us.  They immediately stripped down and hopped in the pool.  And they had brought ice cream!  Now all seven of us - from ages 25 to 65 - sat soaking, laughing, sharing the joys and sorrows of womanhood, and eating ice cream.

All of this never would have happened without couch surfing.  But let me be explicitly clear.  I don't just love this way of travel because it's free.  This isn't about being a freeloader.  I often cook, clean, and leave little gifts and notes with my hosts each time as a small token of my appreciation.

This is about coming one step closer to erasing the illusion of separateness between us.  Phrases like "my" house and "my" food and "my" car just won't serve us for much longer as humans.  It is not natural for humanity to be closed up in separate boxes like houses and offices, pretending we must do this life thing all alone.  For the majority of human history on this earth, we have lived in small communities, sharing food, shelter, and the tasks of life with one another.

Couchsurfing brings people together under the premise that your happiness is my happiness.  If you are safe, warm, and well-fed for the night, than I am fulfilled as well.  We all have things to teach each other, and we can all benefit from meeting another kind soul on this journey of life that ultimately, is shared.

So thank you to Whitney (and her roommate, Nikki, whom I just met when she returned to town from a weekend in Denver) in Durango, Colorado.

Thank you to Kelsey, Ethan, and Theo in Missoula, Montana.

To Katie and Emily in Whitefish, Montana.

To Deanna in Duluth, Minnesota.

To Scott and Krissy, and also to Mike in Toledo, Ohio.

To Alex and her crew in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

To Jeff & Alice in Great Falls, Montana.

To the girl in Bismarck, North Dakota, whose name I can't remember now.

To the Swiss paragliding photographer in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland,

And to the woman in Paris, France, who was my very first couch surfing experience.  She picked me up at the train station, let me stay with her for three days, and even left me alone in her apartment for the last day after she left for her vacation.

You have all contributed to my deepening belief in the inherent goodness of humanity.  May I only aspire to repay all the kindnesses I have been shown tenfold!

If you enjoy my blog, please feel free to become a follower by clicking the blue "Join this site" button on the right.  You'll receive emails each time I post a new entry, and it helps me out as I build my writing career.  Thanks!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sun-Soaked Adventures

My last two days in Moab were deliciously adventurous in many new ways.  Yesterday, I began the day with an 8.6 mile mountain bike ride through desert single track.  It was the longest mountain-biking trail I'd ever done, albeit slightly less technical than the four mile track in Whitefish, Montana.  I hooked my phone up to the mount on my handlebars and blasted music the whole way.  I only saw two other people, and so mostly had the beautiful, expansive track to myself.  I was pumping adrenaline by the time I finished!  So exciting.

A shot of the trail

Arches National Park way off in the distance

Woot woot!  I did it!
When I arrived back at the hostel after my bike ride, Brian (my new friend from the hostel) and I began planning our backcountry trip into Canyonlands for that night.  We chose a trail, loaded our packs, swung by the grocery store for some camping food, and headed out into the gorgeous afternoon.

When we arrived at the trailhead and were arranging our packs, Brian began suspiciously eyeing mine.  It was much heaver and more loaded down than his.  He thru-hiked the A.T. last year and I knew he was into ultra-light backpacking.

"What?" I asked, a bit defensively.

"Nothing," he replied, still eyeing my pack.

"What are you looking at?  What's wrong with my pack?"

"Nothing, just - do you mind if I help you out a bit?  I love to do this."

"You mean reorganize my pack?  I've done that for my students in the past, but never had anyone do it for me."

"No I want to go through and see if I can make it lighter for you.  I can already see you have way more than you need."

I paused.  "Ok," I replied, hesitantly.

He emptied out my entire pack into the parking lot.  Everything.  He tossed my extra socks, extra water bottle, and several other things out.  When he took out the ground cover for my tent, I stopped him.

"Wait, I need that for my tent.  I don't want to risk the rocky ground tearing it."

He gave me a mischeivious grin.  "We're not using a tent."  Then he pulled my tent out and threw it into the back of my car.

My jaw dropped.  "What do you mean, not using a tent?"

"We'll just throw our mylar emergency blankets on the ground and put our pads and sleeping bags on top.  You don't need a tent out here.  It's not going to rain tonight, and we can see the stars better that way."

"But what about snakes and scorpions and other creatures?" I balked.

"What about them?" he gave me another one of those grins.

I sighed.  Open backcountry camping is something I've wanted to do for awhile, but always been to scared to do it.  I guess now is as good a time as any.  "Ok," I said.  "No tent."

The hike was a little over eight miles total, and none of it was flat.  We hiked straight down into a canyon, and then back up to our camping spot.  The three miles we did on the first night kicked my butt, and we hadn't even gotten to the hard part yet.

The sun beginning to set as we hiked down the canyon

As much as I hate admitting when a man is right, Brian was right about the tent.  It took no time at all to set ourselves up without it.  We ate some quick dinner and settled in to our bags to watch the stars.  We laid there and talked for hours, counting shooting stars in between.  (We saw well over twenty - we stopped counting eventually.)

When our conversation finally fell to a natural lull, I began drifting off to sleep.  The canyon was completely silent and still.  No wind, no trees rustling, no animal sounds - save a few distant owl hoots from somewhere across the expanse.  There was nothing to be afraid of, so I wasn't.  A few times during the night, I groggily awoke to shift position and saw where I was - under a blanket of billions of stars - and I smiled and closed my eyes again.

A shot of our sleeping spot in the morning.  Notice our bags on the ground.

A closer-up shot.  Brian is still in his bag, too cold to come out. :)

The trail out the next day kicked my butt even harder.  It was also never flat, and had many parts of rock scramble, which is always interesting with a pack on.  Brian skipped over everything like a mountain goat in gym shorts and minimus sneakers, and I huffed and puffed behind him in my heavy hiking boots.

As we hiked, we talked more.  All in all, we talked about religion, backpacking, traveling, his lady friend, my sort-of husband, our childhoods, and our life goals - just to name a few small topics.  I don't have many male friends, and it was really nice to make a new one.

All in all, Moab has been an incredible stop.  No one here ever asks each other what they do for work - only what they do for fun.  Everybody is on some sort of adventure; you can feel the playful energy in the air.  It made me want to get out there and explore, which I did - every day - and I have the scrapes, bruises, and sunburn to prove it!

Brian on the trail

And me

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Moab travelers

Since the universe decided to plop me in Moab spontaneously (the full story), I didn't have time to secure a couchsurfing host.  So I figured it was time for a change of pace.  Thus far, I have been staying with locals and seeing towns from their perspective.  In Moab, I would return to my old days of hosteling, and get to know some fellow travelers instead.

I booked a room at The Lazy Lizard for two nights at only $10 per night.  (The cheapest hostel I have ever stayed at.)  When I rolled up, there was a dude slack lining between two trees on the side of the parking lot, another dude hanging upside down by his knees in one of the trees, and a smattering of french girls smoking and laughing around the picnic table.  This would be exactly what I needed.

My first full day in town, I drove and hiked through Arches National Park by myself.  That evening, I joined the crowd in the hostel common room and made some friends.  Two of those friends ended up being my hiking partners the next day.  Zach, from Whitehall, PA (in the same county where I grew up), and Brian, from Florida.  Both are living out of their cars just like me.  Both are wandering around the west, only making plans one town at a time, just like me.

We spent the next day hiking all over Moab together.  It wasn't just a fun day, but a much-needed connection.  We laughed and joked, but we also got into some pretty deep life stuff.  At one point, we stopped in a beautiful, cool canyon bottom to tell stories for almost two hours.  We barely made it out by sunset.

Brian, me, and Zach at Corona Arch
I've gotten to know these two guys the best, but I've also met lots of other fascinating people over the past few days.  Last night, two guys in their forties from Alberta, Canada, invited Zach and I to play cards with them while we were waiting for our potatoes to bake for dinner.  Turns out, these two had been staying in the cabins out back of the hostel, which are much "nicer" and for the people with real jobs who can pay more than $10.  But the Canadian mountain-bikers liked the friendly vibe in our "peasants quarters" better, so they began to join us instead - which was fine because they bought the beer. :)

I met two guys from the French Alps who are here mountain biking every trail they can.  One of them is on a round-the-world trip.  Next, he will visit California, New Zealand, Indonesia, and a few others places before returning home to France in seven months.

In my dorm room, there is a Dutch girl who looks like a supermodel, who came to Moab to work on a farm and then quit when the farmer turned out to be a sleaze ball.  There is also a German girl who is here to work and was able to give me some great tips about what to do in Durango, Colorado (my next stop).  And finally, an Israeli woman with a strangely New York accent because her parents grew up in Brooklyn - she just came from Alaska and is planning to drive across the whole country on her visit.

Last night, I overheard a conversation between the Dutch supermodel girl and a young, zealous Mormon boy.  He was explaining earnestly to her why Mormonism is the best faith.  At one point, she asked him what would happen if he left the church.  He replied, "My parents would disown me, but not because they're mean, because they love me and would need to show me that I'm not making a wise choice."

This has been an excellent watering hole for me to meet like-minded souls who are on similar journeys.  I've picked up great tips on possible outdoor jobs, and most importantly, made some friends that I think will last a long time.