Hug somebody

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My favorite future Trail Talkers reminding all of us of the lightness of life {and inflatability of their stomachs}

Hi friends, it’s been a while, and I’m sorry for that. I promised myself that when I returned to corporate life, I would make a dedicated effort to keep this blog, something that makes me so happy, up and running.

I’m eager to share with you all the update on Havasupi Falls! I started on the wrap-up over two weeks ago, but I’ve also learned a few things since being back in the corporate world:

  1. it’s harder than I estimated to carve out time
  2. it’s more important than I imagined to carve out time to fulfill my non-work interests

Despite getting my ass kicked at work, I’d kept my personal promise and found those extra minutes a day to write. My second day back on the job, I sat on a sad, chain restaurant bar stool in suburban Illinois and over a solo dinner of blah, I wrote to you all. And you know what? I loved it. It made my day better. I was on track to keep my commitment until something I didn’t anticipate happened – Tuesday, November 8th. Like many of you, my world stopped. I’ll save you all the rehashing, but it’s been a week and now going on two. I’ve stopped writing. I’ve stopped calling friends. I’ve stopped un-forced smiling.

I’ve read countless opinion pieces on how this happened, an inbox full of despondent/disbelieving/analyzing/pseudo-encouraging/attempted uplifting emails from friends, and every post in the pantsuit nation.

My heart aches deeply. I don’t know what to say. I came across an Instagram photo from one of my favorite humans, Michael Franti, today. His words resonated with me in a way no words have been able to lately.

“Everybody oughta hug somebody, at least once a day”

And for the first time in days, I smiled. Yes, we all need a hug. A big one. And for the next four years, I might need two a day, but we can overcome this.

The backpackers guide to sexting

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I got you reading with the title, right? Megan wins for best presentation.

I am too prude, safe, and boring to understand the more popular form of racy photo exchanges, but I can tell you that nothing gets my heart fluttering faster than the pictures swapped between my girlfriends this week.

After nearly nine months of planning, we set off on our Havasu Canyon Girls Weekend Adventure this Friday – eight girls, two nights, endless waterfalls!

Over the last 48 hours, the girls and I traded “gear shots” in anticipation. I hope you find them as tantalizing as I do!

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Not my best organization, but this gear makes me so happy.

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Kendra was chastised for the Birkenstocks – they were replaced with proper river shoes.

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Steph is famous for once asking if she should bring a queen size air mattress on a hut trip. Steph wins most improved packer.

Anticipated Trail Talk topics: my first week back in corporate america, Megan’s pending move across the pond, men, our next backpacking adventure, attire for the big night out in Vegas upon our return, Jana’s adventures in labor and delivery, skin care tips, men…

Stay tuned for the fully monty report!

Some days I do go inside – Fierce 45

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One of those epic winter days when you need your legs as strong as possible

I am a light sleeper. It’s usually the sounds of the city that wake me at night. Last week I awoke to a completely new sensation – my left ass cheek involuntarily twitching so much it stirred me from slumber.

My intention for Trail Talks is to share OUTDOOR adventures, but today friends, you get to hear about my new INDOOR obsession, Lagree Fitness classes at Fierce 45.

First, I need to tell you that I never would have tried this on my own. I blame Darcy. Historically, I’ve scoffed at aerobic activities that don’t involve pounding of some sort. I found the Barre Method as boring as golf {sorry}. I prefer exercise that involves a helmet, hours of struggle, or at least an opportunity to throw an elbow around. I assumed Darcy, a college soccer player turned Ironman triathlete, shared my opinion. And yet, about three months ago, Darcy talked me into trying a noon class at Fierce 45 in LoHi.

I thought to myself, “whatever, I’ll try it once.” I had some spare time for a change, and I always love the opportunity to catch up with a friend, especially mid-day.  How luxurious!

I rolled my eyes as I walked into the studio. This was NOT my scene! I prefer to exercise in old cotton t-shirts.  Here, however, were jazzercise leg warmers for sale prominently displayed on the wall. Flashbacks to the third grade were instantly triggered. I was 5’6” and 9 years old. I was not destined to be a dancer/gymnast/anything even remotely described as petite.

“Ugh, Darcy. It’s a good thing I like you.”

I survived the first class. It was awkward. I felt gangly, uncoordinated, and shockingly weak. Sure, I could run up mountains, bike 100 miles without hesitation, but hold a piked plank for ten seconds, “ummm NO THANK YOU.”

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No really, it hurts

Without Darcy by my side, I would have quit. F45 utilizes Lagree Reformers for a series of strengthening moves. Each exercise is only done for one minute and performed as slowly as possible. The instructors have repeatedly told me that a slow pace is better for my fitness, but usually my legs/abs/ass are shaking too much for me to concentrate on their words and understand why.

Somewhere around class #7, I got hooked. {I’m also a big sucker for Salt ‘N Pepper, so the class soundtrack helps big time!} But, I already belonged to a gym. I came to F45 to hang with Darcy, and now here I am, fully committed. F45 and I had the DTR – I was in.

Darcy and I signed up to participate in the FAF October Challenge – “Fierce as Fuck” for those curious, a title I surely would have not-so-silently judged prior to embarking upon it. The goal is to complete 25 classes in the month of October.

And so began my mid-night muscle shaking wake ups. I am constantly tired. I’m insatiably hungry. I’m not certain my new job schedule is going to allow me to get to class daily, and yet, I’m still trying!

I’m happier and healthier with F45 in my life. It helps to have a good friend to push me on this journey. {Update, Darcy is now the model student in class.} I think the FAF October Challenge will serve me, and my ass, well as I put on a helmet and toss myself down a mountain this winter.

The Weminuche Wilderness, 2014

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The Continental Divide from the Colorado Trail

As I finally laid my head back on my puffy coat-turned makeshift pillow, the adrenaline pumping through my body eased and was replaced by a dull fear. I said goodnight and nothing more to my tent mate knowing the fewer words I spoke, the better chance I had of hiding my unease. I got us into this. Outside the rain poured down and thunder clapped loudly in the sky leading a pack of something to begin howling and barking. There couldn’t be wolves out here, right? I’m fairly certain it wasn’t my imagination running wild. I thought about the bear bag we’d recently hastily tied to a low hanging tree. If we weren’t eaten by wolves in the night, would my organic chocolate be left unmolested by wild animals? Assuming a lack of wolves and bears, would it ever stop raining?

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Columbine Lake

The “Women in the Weminuche” trip idea was hatched earlier that summer. I met Perrin my very first day of college under an elm tree waiting to embark on a five-day guided backpacking trip known as FOOT (Freshmen Outdoor Orientation Trip). I was immediately drawn to Perrin because she looked as confused as I did that day. Our friendship blossomed over a mutual love of Dawson’s Creek, dance parties, and obscure history. Fast forward 13 years, we were both suffering broken hearts and needed an escape. Perrin, who lives in DC, gave me the reins to plan. “Pick somewhere. I’ll be there.”

After soliciting advice from outdoorsy friends, I decided on a train supported excursion in an area of the San Juan Mountains known as the Weminuche Wilderness.

And then the realization struck me – I’d never planned a backpacking trip. I didn’t have all the gear. I felt woefully unqualified to lead this expedition. Yes, I’d been on plenty of trips but always as the sous chef of sorts. I’d relied on boyfriends, and before that, brothers to take charge. I’d show up and just start walking/skiing/biking as I was instructed. I think I knew how to set up a tent and start a fire, but I’d never been asked to do so.

My inner “rah, rah women” voice egged me on. “You can do this. Of course you can! Embrace singledom. You don’t need a guy to set up a tent.”

I spent the next few weeks pestering the old man who works the map counter at REI. I checked every backpacker.com/.net/.org gear checklist I could find and overbought on everything.

In August, Perrin arrived in Denver, and we hit the road for the seven-hour drive to Durango. As we summited Wolf Creek Pass, the raindrops began to fall. Casually via the radio, the next few days’ weather forecast became known to us: “Severe rain and thunderstorms. High chance of flash floods. Retreat to high grounds as necessary.” Hmmm. We stopped in Poncho Springs for extra tarps and ill-fitting rain pants.

I planned a route that seemed reasonable for three nights. Using my finger distance estimation on a map, it looked like roughly 40 miles. We boarded the Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from Durango for the second stop at Elk Park. The rain that morning was a light drizzle. I wasn’t optimistic, but we were determined to give this trip a go.

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The Amimas River

Being two young women with massive packs on a train full of old Texan tourists got us a few sideways stares and concerned looks. In my mind, I responded to their gazes. “I know. I’m not sure what the hell we’re doing either.”

We departed the train and spent nearly an hour trying to find the trailhead. Once found, we hiked along the Colorado Trail until late afternoon when black clouds crept across the sky warning us to find a campsite soon.

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The clouds lingered after the rain passed

Despite the rain, thunder, and howling animals, we survived that first night. The next morning, the rain tapered off as we made coffee under our tarp. I untied the bear bag to find all our food untouched. Our spirits rose with the sun, and we set off ready to continue the adventure with gusto.

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Lot of rain means lots of mushrooms

Our four days of trail talks centered around the challenges of dating in the modern world. Perrin had recently broken up with her boyfriend of seven years when he started his first year of med school and decided he needed to embark on the adventure alone. Prior to their breakup, Perrin had moved across the country to support his doctor/educational aspirations. I’d just wrapped up two unsuccessful years of trying to convince my man that there was more to life than investment banking in New York and making a life with a great lady (me) in a smaller city was a good life choice.

As the miles ticked on, Perrin and I transitioned from reminiscing about the wonderful times in our previous love lives to how we would have done it differently. Dating is hard. I often wonder if dating was easier back in my parents’ generation and earlier when you married your high school/college sweetheart and started planning a life together much earlier. Honestly, it’s a very short wonder because, honestly, I wouldn’t trade my twenties for anything. I’m thankful I had time to grow into me, kiss lots of handsome frogs, travel the world, and establish a career.

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Just a few of the wildflowers – picture never capture them quite right

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Looking down into Chicago Basin

The Weminuche did not disappoint with its beauty. Fortunately for us, it didn’t rain the entire time – maybe only 40% of the time. Thanks to the rain, even in August, the area is so green it almost doesn’t feel like Colorado. We crested numerous passes and descended into stunning valleys and basins. One morning, I woke up to a moose rummaging near our tent. The next morning, the all night rainstorm turned to a blanket of fresh snow (yes, it was August).

Hours on the trail with Perrin lightened my soul. We laughed as only best friends can. She told me about a girlfriend who keeps a detailed Excel spreadsheet of her online dates. While we vowed not to take our romantic lives to that extreme, business-like precision, we both promised to get out there more. I left my sadness in the Weminuche and took with me sore abs from laughing and a newfound optimism.

Four days full of trail talks later, we boarded the train at Needle Creek to head back to Durango. We were elated to learn that the train served hot toddies. I’m not sure powdered cocoa mix with a small splash of booze has ever tasted so good.

A few weeks after getting home, I ran into the friend who recommended the Weminuche trip. He’s a big outdoorsman with quite the resume of Colorado summits.

“Thanks for the suggestion on the trip. Despite some rain, I’m glad we went. The Weminuche is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado,” I said.

He laughed, “Oh, I think I left out the part where we only camped one night and hiked out to the road and hitchhiked home. It never stopped raining. It was miserable.”

I smiled. I felt victorious.

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Trip Tips:

  • Trip length: ~40 miles, 4 days and 3 nights. If I did it again, I might take another night to explore a bit more around Hunchback Pass. The area can be accessed without the train from Hwy 550 but doing so adds quite a bit of distance.
  • Route: From the Elk Creek Trailhead head west on the Colorado Trail toward the Continental Divide Trail. Head south on the Continental Divide Trail over Hunchback Pass to Vallecito Trail. Head south on Vallecito Trail to the junction with Johnson Creek Trail. Hike along Johnson Creek Trail into Vallecito Basin and finally, Chicago Basin. Follow the Need Creek Trail back to the Needed Creek Trail head.
  • While there are no designated campsites, it’s easy to identify where others previously established camps. Water is available along the entire route.
  • Don’t just go to this area for Chicago Basin! It’s like going to NYC and only seeing Times Square. It’s spectacular, but it’s crowded and there are cooler things out there.
  • In Chicago Basin, pee on the rocks and not in the foliage. Wild goats like the acid in urine and will try to lick your pee. The goats are more likely to leave you alone if it’s on rocks.
  • Turns out, I wasn’t crazy. While I’m not sure if there are wolves in the Weminuche, there are big sheep dogs that guard their flocks all night long.

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Imogene, the update

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Downhill!

Now that I can walk again, I’d like to share with you my final thoughts on this race. First, second, and third, I’m not doing it again! I’ve heard there is a hormone released during childbirth that makes women to forget about the agonizing pain of labor allowing them to go through the process again. While I can’t scientifically say why a similar phenomenon exists for runners, it does. I call it the “March Optimism.” It’s cold and dark in March. You’re sitting in a cubical feeling a little softer than you did in August. You look at a few pictures of beautiful mountain scenery and starting thinking, “that wasn’t that hard. I could do that run/ride/hike/bike/tri again.” Well, I’m here to tell you {and remind myself} that yes, Imogene was that hard.

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Very thankful to see this cone

I burst into exhausted tears of relief upon hitting the summit. If I wasn’t so spent, I would have taken a reminder video of myself to save for the upcoming days of March Optimism . “This is stupid. It hurts. I don’t want to do this in 2017.”

It was beautifully scenic, the volunteers were heartwarming, and the post-race beers were delicious, but I’m done. I’ll return to cheer on others in the coming years but with a coffee and scone in hand.

On the drive back to Ouray, we stopped at the Colorado Boy Brewing Company in Ridgeway. Granted, I would have enjoyed a warm Natty Light at that point, the Colorado Boy beers are fantastic. It’s a great spot, worth a stop.

We made it back to Ouray in time for a soak in the Orvis Hot Springs. Turns out it’s not just clothing optional at night, but all day, every day. My legs ached all afternoon and only during the five minutes of shock from the sight of numerous naked, old, out of shape men, did I seem to forget the pain caused by this race.

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Photos and accompanying emotional support courtesy of my super fan sister-in-law

Changing expectations, Imogene 2016

 

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Imogene summit and Tomboy Mine from the top to Telluride Ski Resort – squint and you can see the course zigzagging across the mountain

A few curious friends asked me how long it took me to run {struggle} up and down Imogene Pass. Honestly, until I looked it up for the purpose of writing this I didn’t know. My rough estimate was “3ish hours up, 1 hour down, 20 minutes to drink chicken soup and chat with volunteers at the summit.” My actual time was 4:34 which put me squarely in the middle of the pack. I was elated with my performance especially since my goal was “don’t get kicked off the course for going too slow.” There are cut-offs at various stages to make sure that no one is standing at the top during an afternoon thunderstorm.

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Straight up, straight down.

I loved the race last year. This year, I’m nearly dreading it. Year two, I have updated expectations. It’s no longer good enough to just not get kicked off the course, I feel the need to BEAT last year’s time. I hate this expectation and pressure that accompanies it, and yet I can’t make it go away. Ugh. I’m open to suggestions.

As a positive change for 2016, I expect this year’s race to hurt considerably less. In 2015, you can imagine my horror upon arriving in the sleepy, one-street town of Ouray, Colorado at 10pm realize that despite all my pre-race planning and checking, I forgot a sports bra. I had a better chance of winning the race the next day than I did of finding such a luxury item at that hour. While Shakira brags, “lucky that my breasts are small and humble, so you don’t confuse them with mountains,” mine aren’t.* They need support. I dug through my overstuffed bag: three dresses, two pairs of non-athletic shoes, two swimsuits, ZERO sports bras, and no girlfriends to borrow from. In a panic, I called my resident swimwear expert Kerry, my bestie from college and the “hold all the pieces together”/president extraordinaire at Faherty Brand, a fab swim wear company. Kerry assured me that running in a Faherty Brand swim top would not in fact kill me, and I should not skip the run the next day. “I do it all the time!” Kerry claimed. Damn, I would have taken the out.

 

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Not me, Faherty Brand

Welp, Kerry was right. The race was so painful and challenging for the first 10 miles, I hardly noticed the unjust discomfort – no man on the course was feeling my pain. It wasn’t until the sharp turn downhill that was I quickly reminded of my packing blunder. Personally, I think I should have received a 20 minute time deduction for my tenacity. You try it, runner dude. As you know, I did in fact finish the race. I didn’t die. I doubt I did permanent damage and I now smile a little brighter every time I pack my suit for the beach.

So here’s to Imogene 2016 – hopefully a faster, more supported race. Also I’m hoping this year to have enough pep post race to make it to the famous Ouray Hot Springs.

*Side note, I’d like to get a 20-year old tutor/life intern to get me up to speed on pop culture of 2010+.

The Lost Coast

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The Lost Coast in northern California has been on my “must do” list since I first heard about the area over seven years ago. A trip to the region is logistically challenging to pull off from Colorado without taking too many vacation days so I begrudgingly I added to my growing “someday” list.

But this past spring, the backpacking gods blessed me. I was chatting with a best friend about swapping dresses worn to various weddings over the last summer {we’re both at 27 Dresses and counting} when she mentioned she was leaving in five days to hike the Lost Coast. My heart skipped several beats – I was between jobs and I had an abundance of airlines miles. “Um, I want in! I’ll see you on Sunday.”

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King Range NCA

The Lost Coast is the remote area where California’s Highway 1 ventures away from the ocean to head inland leaving a large swath of coastline difficult to access via a road. The King Range National Conservation Area was created in 1970 to protect this unique landscape. It stretches 35 miles along the coast and covers 68,000 acres.

After a few requisite trips to REI and Trader Joes and a swanky stay in Napa, our group of three ladies departed for the Kings Range BLM office to secure permits and confirm our itinerary. A stop at the BLM office is also necessary to pick up a tide map and rent a bear box if needed. The office is 3 hours from Healdsburg where we stayed or 4.5 hours from San Francisco and is only open Monday through Friday which can add to the challenges of accessing this area.

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Tide table

The traditional Lost Cost hike is a one direction 35 mile hike along the coast. Nearly everyone recommends hiking north to south so the wind remains at your back. It is necessary to have a tide map and plan your route in advance because at high tide some of the sections of the trail are impassable.

According to trip websites, there are shuttle services available to make the trip possible with one car and minimal shuttling. However, this area is REMOTE. Cell service doesn’t work. The shuttle service listed on the website we tried to call never picked up the phone. We’d also heard a bummer of a story from a friend who was able to book the shuttle, but it never arrived to pick him up. We opted for two cars. We left one car at the Black Sands Beach and hopped back in the car for another 2 hours drive up to our starting trailhead at Mattole. I mentioned this is logistically challenging, right? The driving, permit obtaining, car shuttling, etc. took us an entire day. We pulled into the campsite at Mattole just in time to start a fire and cook some dinner. We camped at a designated site that night and left all our unnecessary items in the car the next morning to be picked up there in 3 days.

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Yeah, I’d say it’s scenic

We spent three days hiking along the coast marveling at wild flowers and sea creatures. The trail itself is easy to navigate, but hiking on sand was a new experience for us. Sand is tiring and slopes into the ocean leaving legs unevenly sore. I am now keenly aware of what it would be like to have one leg shorter than the other. While campsites are not designated along the trail, it’s pretty easy to spot good sites close to fresh water access. Our second night, we passed up too many good sites and ended up having to hike uphill,  away from the ocean for quite some time to find a suitable spot.

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Yes, I probably got too close

The trail meanders inland from the beach in stretches, but the ocean is always visible. We spent an hour one afternoon watching the whales migrate north to pass the time for the tide to lower and our route to become passable. The next day, we watched a river otter frolic around in a stream while we pumped drinking water.

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California Poppies

whale watching

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Likely my favorite campsite of all time

A few other things to know:

  • there are definitely bears in the area – we saw the prints in the sand
  • long pants are a must – the area is covered in poison oak
  • you are supposed to poop in the sand on the beach – I’ll let someone else explain that
  • never turn your back on the ocean
  • you must have a permit to start a campfire
  • Humbolt County is known for its rouge marijuana fields on public lands, and as a result, there were some interesting folks wandering around the desolate roads between Black Sands and Mattole
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The last mile at Black Sand Beach

We ended 35 miles later at Black Sand Beach with sore feet and big smiles on our faces. There was more car shuttling to pick up the one left at Mattole, but as a wonderful bonus, the drive back to San Francisco treks right though the Humbolt Redwoods State Park. I love the ocean, but I also really LOVE redwoods trees. I made my tired and hungry friends stop the car while I marveled in their glory – and hugged a few trees too.

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The unnecessary “Fear of Missing Out”

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The Tetons, photo credit to my labrador friend

I have a group of guy friends who are affectionately known as “the labradors.” I didn’t come up with the nickname; I believe they did, but it fits them to a tee – picture a lab smiling, slobbering, and bouncing around the trunk of an SUV. “Where are we going? What are we doing next? Where’s the fun? I’m ready NOW!” These are my friends. I love them for their enthusiasm. There are endless adventures to be had in the Rocky Mountains, and they are clipping them off at an unprecedented pace.

This past weekend, the labradors organized an epic trip to explore Jackson and the Tetons. Sounds amazing, right? Well, for a few reasons, I opted to go visit a new friend in rural Nebraska instead. It was a hard call to make – both in the decision but also to my labrador friend to explain why a 7 hour drive across the plains was my choice for the weekend.

I had a fabulous time in Nebraska, but it’s always tough looking at instagram/snaps/texts of jagged peaks and glacial lakes not to be a smidge envious. Did I make the right choice for the weekend? What fun did I miss out on? And then I let that feeling go. My friends and I are incredibly lucky to have the opportunities we do to explore and adventure and sometimes its okay to sit one out or better, sit one out from a cornfield.

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Happy 100th!

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Skinning across Lake Haiyaha, Rocky Mountain National Park

Raise your plastic, utilitarian glass of boxed wine and toast with me to a magnificent birthday! (Maybe you opt for champagne in the parks, but I stick to the more eco-friendly and easier to carry boxed option.) Happy 100th Birthday National Parks!

The history of the parks is incredible. We should thank our lucky stars ken burnsfor men like John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson for their support of our country’s biggest treasure. There are many more to thank, but as opposed to recreating the entire saga here, I’ll highly recommend Ken Burn’s documentary The National Parks, America’s Best Idea for the history lesson. Buy the entire set. Watch it start to finish on a gloomy weekend. Get inspired. Watch it over and over when you get sick. It’s also great background noise for napping after you’ve seen it a time or two.

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Colorado National Monument National Park at sunset

I love our parks. As a child, I wanted to be a park ranger when I grew up. I envisioned days of chatting with folks from all over about the wonders of nature. I also dreamed of long breaks where I could sit in the solitude of the phone booth-sized fee collection station and read novels; I was a nerdy kid. As an adult, I dream of being a park ranger when I grow up.

Quick shout out to an amazing friend who had the moxie to fulfill his childhood dream of visiting all 59 parks. Check it out, 59in59.

Iphone 730.JPGNot sure what my total park count is, but there are many, many more I’m dying to visit.

Next park to visit: Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Dream visit: Denali

Curiosity visit: Dry Tortugas

My Little Monster

I’ve always had a thing for naming my gear. I consider gear family and therefore worthy of proper names. It started on a cross-country bike ride on a shiny new Specialized bike. After the first hundred miles of cursing America and its poorly paved roads, I decided it was time we, the shiny new bike and I, got along better. My bike got a name; he became my companion instead of an inanimate enemy; life got better.

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Meet my new friend: Little Monster, Ultimate Direction’s Ultra Vesta

Cheryl Strayed un-affectionately named her giant, poorly packed backpack Monster. My little pack is friendly, cute, and saves the day and will forever be known as my (adorable) Little Monster.

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The flat section of Bear Creek Trail

I recognize running alone in the wilderness is not always the safest idea, but there are days when you just need to get out the door, human companions be damned. On long trail runs, I always carry a pack. My Little Monster is the most comfortable pack I’ve used without sacrificing any functionality. On a typical 2ish hour run like today, I carry:

  • water, duh
  • Nuun tabs
  • Shot bloks
  • 2 asprin
  • a bear/animal/emergency of all sorts whistle
  • my phone

I generally include sunscreen and a lightweight raincoat, but it wasn’t necessary today. My favorite weekday solo run starts at Lair o’ the Bear Park. The Bear Creek Trail is a nice out and back with shade and rolling-ish hills (meaning it doesn’t go straight up and straight down like most foothills trails).

My Little Monster made a great companion today, and I’m looking forward to more miles on the trail together this summer.

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My Little Monster even comes with a backup hair tie because you never want to find yourself in this situation.