Just Visiting

Many of us are prepping for Thanksgiving celebrations right now. Some of us are having a very different Thanksgiving, while others are carrying on like things are normal. I wonder how many of us have actually learned the true history behind the Thanksgiving holiday? Maybe we should. We were just visiting. Not to get too dark here, but depending on when you decide to believe was the “first” Thanksgiving, regardless of what you were taught in school, 1637 marked the year that a Thanksgiving celebration ensued after colonial soldiers had just slaughtered 700 Natives. We were just visiting. Then we brought in disease that reduced the Native American population by nearly 90% in New England. We were just visiting. I won’t even start with the wars that continued between Native Americans and colonists…. I guess things haven’t changed that much over the centuries. We’re all still just visiting, spreading disease and fighting with each other. 

As I’m writing this, I have one liter of water left in my van. Why? Because I’m going as long as possible between visits to the city to replenish. What’s the point of that? Because I’m just visiting. There’s a global pandemic and I am very aware that I’m a visitor here. I respect the community who calls this place home and I want my footprint to be as light as possible. I appreciate the land I have the privilege to explore and enjoy, but even then I am staying out of populated areas, choosing trails that are less traveled (or not traveled at all, as I’ve discovered), and staying in a fully contained camper van. 

One thing I realized very quickly as I entered into full time van life is that even though my van is my home, everywhere I go, I’m just visiting. Seems obvious, right? It’s not like I didn’t know or consider this fact prior to making this life change. I get it. I’m a nomad. 

You consider things as you’re making decisions, you take the leap, and you learn a lot very quickly from the reality you chose. Maybe not even learning a new truth, but learning a new perspective. I honestly think that’s the most important thing to learn; perspective. Technically there is only one truth, but there are many, many perspectives. My perspective is that being a visitor is a privilege, not a right. My truth is that previous visitors have made poor choices that were detrimental to other humans, creatures, and the earth. I want to learn from that and not repeat historical mistakes. 

What if we all lived our lives like we were just visiting, and respected every space we came upon? Truth is, we are. When you go into someone’s home, do you walk all over their counters and chairs because it looks fun? Or do you stay in the designated areas, treading lightly, and staying away from that designer accent rug in the corner that clearly isn’t made for walking on. 

Now tell me, what’s the difference from that, and stomping around off-trail in the wilderness, crushing delicate vegetation and damaging the earth so you can go get that perfect Instagram photo? We’re just visiting the trails, too. 

When you go to your grandparent’s home, do you leave your used toilet paper on the floor? Oh I see, there are toilets in homes… so that’s different. YES, it is different. When you’re in the wilderness, you’re visiting a place without toilets. Guess what, there are these things called ziplock bags… pack it out. 

When you’re around friends and family and you need to sneeze do you let it blow and keep on with conversation? Or do you feel it coming, turn your head, cover your mouth and then say “excuse me!”? Why do we have more respect in someone’s home that we are visiting, than when we are out an about in our every day life? Literally, as a visitor everywhere. 

Van Life has been this incredible, exciting, nerve-wracking, mysterious adventure that I’ve fallen head over heels in love with. I’m chasing cell signal and sunsets to find an out-of-the-way place to stay for a week or more. I get to explore, learn, challenge myself, grow, relax, and then when I leave it’s like I was never there. If not for the dozens (probably more like hundreds) of photos I took and an occasional check-in on my GPS to make sure loved ones knew where I was at, you would never had known I was there. 

I find that fascinating. I get to experience so much, and yet, I’m the only one who really sees, sans family I send photos to and some strangers on social media. They don’t even see the whole picture. Just a few seconds here and there of my entire day or week. I reap such reward, satisfaction, happiness, peace, excitement… and yet I’m just a visitor whose name may never be seen or heard. I feel no need to graffiti my name on a rock to prove I was somewhere. I know I was there. I am perfectly content, or better yet, overflowing with gratitude and wonder, that I just get to visit these invaluable places and ponder how things became as they are. 

The next time you leave your home, wherever that may be, think about the impact your presence might make. What happened to the days when if someone’s child was ill, the parent would say “Hey, Sally has been sick. I’d hate to give you whatever she has, so we’re staying home this week until she’s better.”? I get that we are tired and frustrated and lonely and even angry. It’s been a long year. It’s going to continue. But the sooner we realize that we are all visitors, the sooner we will be able to visit each other again, explore more places, and share experiences on more than just social media… 

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, and the coming years, no matter how you chose, try to remember that we’re just visiting. We can’t re-write history, but we can learn from it and move forward with respect, appreciation, love, and compassion. 

The First 30 Days

I handed over the keys to my apartment in Seattle on September 30th. I had been so focused on this day for so long, I don’t think I had even considered how I would actually feel. The apartment complex I lived in is a secure building, so once I walked out those doors I literally couldn’t re-enter the building without my fob, unless I went to the office doors and was buzzed in like someone wanting to learn about the apartments available for rent.

I drove away with my friend’s house as my destination that night to hand off the last of the belongings I was giving away. As I was driving I kept feeling like I was forgetting something, and then kept remembering I only have one set of keys now. It was an invigorating feeling to realize that everything I owned and needed was in my “home”, my van, other than some boxes of select items I decided to keep in my mother’s storage unit.

The last time I drove away with everything I really cared about in my vehicle (certainly not everything I needed to live comfortably) was over ten years ago when I left an abusive relationship. As I drove, I remembered that day, and smiled knowing how far I had come since then. I felt so happy that this was MY choice. Not a choice of circumstance or taking what was thrown at me. I made this choice. I wanted this. I made it happen. For myself and for my dog and no one else.

That evening I stayed in my friend’s driveway, and the next day I drove out to another friend’s property near Seabeck, WA. My friends in Seattle asked if we could to a proper “send-off” get together. With COVID, of course we couldn’t just meet at someone’s home, so we decided to meet for a physical distant camping weekend. Friends could come and go as they pleased, some camped, setting up tents across acres of land, some just drove out for a few hours. We set up chairs a safe distance apart, reminisced, laughed, shared, and just enjoyed each other’s company.

For the first time in my life living in Seattle I felt like I was a part of a community, and here they were sending me off on this crazy adventure. I questioned myself a few times over the weekend if I was making the right choice. How could I leave this community I love so much? And then I decided that community doesn’t have to be a location, for me at least. For me, community is connection. I don’t have to live in Seattle to be connected to my friends. It may take a little more effort and planning to connect, but they are still my community, and always will be.

Sunday afternoon I decided start my “trip” I had planned to Bend, OR to have the builder of my van do a few finishing touches for me before I left the PNW for the winter. A friend had told me about a place near Hood River, OR that had good cell service and views, so I decided to check that location out first, with a backup plan in place if it didn’t work out.

Well, it worked out so well that I ended up staying there for almost the entire week. We had trails near by for running and amazing sunset views of Mount Adams. We only moved on because the temps dropped quickly, and with the weather shift smoke came back into the area.

On to Bend, OR we went! I’ve been to Bend many times over the past 5+ years and every time I visit I’m blown away by how fast it’s growing. The secret is definitely out, and so many people have learned that Bend is pretty much perfect for the outdoor enthusiast.

We ended up staying in Bend for two weeks because I was waiting for a part to be delivered for my van. Certainly not a bad place to be “stuck” longer than you had planned. Although the evening temps were dipping down into the 20’s, during the day it was up in the 70’s.

A friend suggested that Snow and I check out the (very popular, and understandably so) Green Lakes loop trail. It’s only about 45 minutes from Bend, and probably the most runnable, scenic 13 miles of trails I’ve ever been on. It was exactly what we needed after not having a lot of time for running/exploring over the past month while prepping for van life.

While in Bend, I was finally able to meet up with Tiny Home Tours, who had reached out to me two months ago asking if I’d be open to them filming a tour of my van. The finished YouTube video came out lovely! If you have 15 minutes, take a look to see how beautiful my van is. The builder did such an outstanding job!

During the filming of the tour, the videographer and I were chatting and he shared a few places that he recommended I could stay at as I traveled south. Of course they were outstanding, and led me to some epic views in the high desert of OR, and even to some hot spring pools!

Next year I’ll come back to each of these spots and stay for a week at least, but this time of year it was much to cold for my liking. I love that I’m already planning next year….

Continuing south, I try to break up my driving so it’s just a few hours at a time, and I don’t have to use up an entire weekend to get somewhere. I saw a spot on iOverlander in Winnimucca, NV that was about 3 hours from where I was at in OR. It was a Friday, but the reviews looked promising and I had other options near by if this spot didn’t work out.

It turned out to be stellar, right next to a creek nestled by a beautiful mountain range. I expect this place would be very busy during the summer, but it was late enough in the season where there were multiple spots available to chose from.

The next day I decided to make the long haul to Lone Pine, CA, where I had hoped to stay for a week or so to explore the Alabama Hills and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, a new fire had started in CA and smoke ended up rolling in by Sunday afternoon. My (and Snow’s) health is more important to me than adventuring, so I decided to head out and find somewhere with better air to breath. Luckily we did get a chance to go for a short run in the area, which in itself was worth the short visit and mild smoke inhalation. This place is magical, and is also on my “next year” list.

Las Vegas was along the route I was planning to take to get to Utah, so I decided to head that direction next since a friend lives there who I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. I didn’t realize that to get to Las Vegas from Lone Pine, CA you actually drove through Death Valley National Park! I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I saw was mind blowing. Every time we came around a corner I was just in awe with the scenery, the history, the terrain… if it had been the weekend I would have adjusted plans and just explored here longer, as I feel like this is the perfect time of year to visit since it’s cooler temperatures that the summer months. Unfortunately, there was zero cell service in the park so pausing here during my workweek wasn’t an option. Yet another destination added to my list for next year!

Van life isn’t always epic views and the perfect spots… I broke up this drive by staying at a rest stop overnight, and working here for most of the day. Then we drove on to Lovell Canyon, which was supposed to have cell service but when we arrived it did not. A brief backtrack to finish up my workday, and then we went back to the canyon for the evening for some much needed “disconnected” time.

After one night of catch-up with my friend, we headed out, again, with hopes of getting to a place in Utah where we could finally just park for a week, relax, run, and do my work. We stayed at a place just east of Lake Mead National Recreation Area that had solid cell service, as well as solid views. I was able to work from hear in the morning, and then broke up my workday (and drive) by driving another hour-isn east on lunch and then stopping to finish out my day. I actually love breaking up my work day like this – I feel like it keeps my brain refreshed and helps me not feel groggy at the end of the day from just sitting and staring at my laptop for 9 hours straight. I am so much more productive when I work in 3 hour chunks intermittently throughout the day and into the evening, than when I just sit and work an 8-6 shift.

The same friend that shared the coordinates for the location near Hood River had reached out to me knowing I was heading to the SW, since she was there also. She invited me to join her where she was parked, and shared that there was solid cell service.

I forgot about the time change, so by the time I was done working in town it was getting dark already. I decided I didn’t want to move again for at least a week, so I topped off my water, got groceries, gassed up, and showed up on my friend’s “doorstep” well after dark. I don’t like driving in the dark, but knowing I had someone there at my destination made it perfectly fine, especially with the awesome new lights I had added to the van while I was in Bend.

Upon arrival I got myself situated as level as I could in the dark, chatted with my friend briefly, and then just made my bed and went to sleep. Snow and I woke up Saturday to breathtaking views, went for a run, and just relaxed in outside soaking up views until it was time to make dinner.

After dinner we got to enjoy the sunset, and watch the Blue Moon rise on Halloween night. It was rather perfect…

Sans waiting for a part for my van and smoke rolling in unexpectedly, I think the first 30 days went rather perfect. Yes, there are challenges, most of which involve ensuring I have solid cell signal to work 40+ hours a week, but overall I feel like things have been going smoothly. No huge surprises. No regrets. Still lots of learning, and so much more adventuring to be had!

I feel like I’m now in a “groove” of van life. I made it to my first targeted destination of the south-west(ish) with aspirations of keeping moderately warm through the winter months, exploring places I’ve never been, and maybe even making a few new friends (safely from a distance) along the way.

I am so appreciative of this traverse I’ve started on, and am beyond excited to see where the next 30 days (and beyond!) lead me.

Broken Dreams brought me here

I’ve had a lot of adversity in my life. More than some, much less than others. But without adversity, I know I wouldn’t be where I’m at today, Today I am happy, strong, courageous, curious, thankful, welcoming, empathetic, and even selfish. Yes, I have my insecurities, my bad days, my doubts… I’m still human, and I hope to always have balance, even if it’s a balance of positivity and struggles.

I’ve had failed relationships, but I believe in love and I will work hard for it.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’m not afraid to try something new.

I’ve lost a lot, but without the loss I might not have learned to appreciate what I have.

I’ve felt sorrow to my bones, but without that I may not have realized when I felt love in my soul.

I’ve had dreams broken and shattered, but where those pieces landed created the beautiful mosaic image that is my life now. It might even be a masterpiece… certainly something to look upon with wonder, seeing how all those shards came together into something so amazing.

I’m not going to lie – this global pandemic has been a kick in the ass. My mosaic masterpiece may have been rearranged again with yet another earth-shattering collapse and realignment. As usual, without knowing at the time I think it was a good thing, and worth the pangs. I’m a pretty simple person, I don’t need or want a lot of things. I like having time in solitude. But this year has been fucking ridiculous. It made me reassess what I really wanted and needed.

Per my previous blog entry, I’d been looking into this “van life” thing for a long time. I work remote, we have the technology to be connected to work from anywhere there’s cell reception, and let’s be honest… I’m kinda the perfect candidate for this lifestyle!

With nothing better to do in quarantine, I was obsessively scrolling through Instagram, looking at other people’s van builds, tips, trips, and mapping out possibilities in my head. I don’t even know where it originated, but someone I follow on Instagram posted the YouTube video by Jarrod Tocci of the van tour to this (now my) van. All I remember is seeing the woodwork. My heart skipped a beat. My Dad is a woodworker. I grew up watching him build, carve, and craft mind blowing things from all types of timber. I immediately noticed the continuous grain of the cabinets… do you realize if there’s ONE mistake, you have to start all over? It’s not like you can just chop up another 2×4 to fix your mistake. Everything has to be perfect. I recognized that, and it made me smile, remembering all the hours I spent watching my dad sand down masterpieces to perfection.

I watched the video, and I watched it again… I paused and zoomed in to the details of the cabinetry. The owner of the van, Dave (and owner of Pacific Crest Vans), was honest, matter-of-fact about the build, and didn’t seem too excited about being in front of a camera. I could relate. Typically people with that artistic ability like to create, not show their work.

Timing was off. I was still months out from my lease being up. I couldn’t afford to buy a built-out van outright. Vans like this are hard to finance. But this van inspired me to reach for the stars. I didn’t think I could make it work, but I wanted Dave to know his work is amazing, and I appreciated it. I sent him a super awkward note via Instagram, sharing that his van reminded me of my dad and I wanted him to know I saw the value of his craftsmanship. He was gracious, we exchanged a few messages, and then I left him alone not wanting to end up with “creepy stalker status” stamped to my Instagram profile.

I did, however, stalk the YouTube video waiting for him to share the link of where he was posting it for sale…. if you checked Google analytics for his posting I bet it got more clicks per day from my IP address than everyone else put together. I started doing a ton of research on financing custom converted vans. One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t hurt to ask questions. So I started asking questions until I got the answer I wanted. I sent every person I connected with the link to this van, telling them “this one isn’t going to work out, but I’m shooting for the stars and this is what it looks like.”

I had a few people laugh. Some gasped with awe. Some were silent, and all I heard was clicking away as they were IMing their manager asking if “they did this type of thing”. Meantime I kept looking for other vans so I would be prepared with an alternative. Nothing (for sale) compared. Everything looked steril. Manufactued. Cookie-cutter. They didn’t check the boxes I’d set in my head. I even looked at one locally, and although I was impressed, I just kept thinking of everything I would want to change immediately.

Then it happened. I was pre-aproved. Everything was contingent on an appraisal of whatever van I wanted. Everything was “no guarantees” but “if the manager accepts the appraisal” I was told “we might be able to finance you”….

So I sent an email Dave. I assumed he sold the van already and I was too late. I figured he would laugh at me and not be interested in waiting an extra 1-2 weeks to find out if I could make things work. Turns out he was tired showing his van and paused for a bit. He wanted his van to go to someone who appreciated it and understood the effort that went into the build…

The first time I saw the van in person was the same day I had scheduled an appraisal for it. I was confident the appraisal would be good. I told Dave I was willing to take the chance and lose the money, if my financing didn’t go through, he’d end up with a cool piece of paper that showed what his van is worth. I would rather have tried and had it not work out, then not tried at all and always wondered.

During the tour we were chatting and I mentioned my dog, Snow. Dave did a double take and asked what I said my dog’s name was… turns out, his dog’s name is Yuki, which means “snow” in Japanese…. we both said “that’s weird” at the same time… maybe meant to be?

The appraiser showed up in the parking lot an hour after I got the in-person tour. I had sent him photos and the specs of the van, so he knew what to expect. He was still mind blown, and said the van was even more amazing that he expected.

After the appraisal, I learned it’s a thing to name your van. Dave named his van “Broken Dreams” as a joke. Apparently everything that could have gone wrong while living in a van, building it, with a new puppy, did go wrong. He laughed when he told me the name, and when I asked if it’s customary for a van to keep the name it was given originally, I was told that was completely up to me…

Long story shortened a bit, the appraisal came through, my financing went through, and before I knew it, I was driving to Bend, OR in Dave’s brand new Sprinter van straight off the semi truck (another fun story) to pick up my van. MY VAN. I’m still in shock.

Another walk through, new plates, a suggested destination for my first night, and off I drove, for the first time, in my van. I didn’t even test drive the van when I saw it for the first time – I was worried that would make it too real, and I would get my hopes up for something that wouldn’t work out.

My first night in the van was near a trailhead. Snow and I woke up early and literally stepped out the door onto trails for a morning run. It was bliss. I’m well aware not every morning will be like this, but even if only a third of my mornings are like this, it will still be more than what I’ve had.

Since then I’ve been on some more adventures, tested things out, and confirmed that this is perfect for me right now. Broken Dreams brought me here, parked by a lake, with my Beau, Snow, snoring next to me as I write this draft for my blog. Tomorrow we will hopefully hop on a paddle board for a while, relax in the woods, and make plans to head back towards cell service by Monday so I can work another week. I’m looking forward to more of this.

Broken Dreams brought me here, but I don’t feel like my dreams are broken anymore. For the first time in my life I’ve made a decision to move forward only for me, with no influence of anyone else. Broken Dreams brought me here, but my dreams alone will propel me forward on this journey. I’m not broken anymore.

Thus, my van has been dubbed simply with the name “Dreams”. Keeping part of the past, moving into the future with a blank slate and nothing but curiosity to fuel us.

I’m looking forward to sharing the adventures of Sierra and Snow, chaperoned by our Dreams.

My Next Endeavor

It turns out that the term “Hindsight is 20/20” couldn’t have been a more perfect quote for this year so far. I posted about it on Instagram back on December 31st, 2019. That literally feels like a lifetime ago. 

Wrapping up 2019, I felt confident. It took me nearly 40 years to get here, and I was so excited to move forward in life the way I wanted to, without feeling like I was adjusting or adapting to anyone else.  Exhausted from the dating scene, I accepted happily that my dog, Snow, was truly my Beau and the one thing on this earth who loved me for who I was. (obviously my parents don’t count here, and I’m very lucky to have them, supporting me with every adventure and failure I’ve had to date)

I decided I was going to plan things. Yes, I’d like to meet that special (human) someone, but I wanted it to be organic. I didn’t want to stress about it. If I met someone, cool. If not, I’m good. Really good. So I started making plans for the year for things I would enjoy. Maybe I’d meet someone along the way who was also in the same boat. Maybe not. Regardless, I’d be doing fun things, meeting people, making friends, and experiencing new adventures. I bought tickets to shows and concerts I knew I would enjoy. I started signing up for trail running races that I could take Snow to and we could run together. I looked into races I wanted to volunteer at. I made a training plan. I started making weekend plans that I could adapt to weather conditions. I even got a white board and started writing out daily/weekly/monthly goals, and putting up race course maps and trip reports for where I was planning on going.

This was going to be my year! 

Enter: Global pandemic….. what. the. hell. just. happened? 

Just like everyone else in the world, I watched my plans get canceled, one by one. The first few weeks, I was still ok because I thought “Good thing I’m a trail runner! The trails will be safe – they can’t close those!”

Ha. Insert reality check here. 

So I stayed in my little apartment in the city, thankfully continued to work full time (I worked remote before, so no change there), attended Zoom calls to stay in touch with friends and went on countless miserable runs and walks in the city, with my scared dog in tow.  After a while he started refusing to go out, which broke my heart. We were both miserable.  My previous blog post shared a little insight into that. 

I’m a firm believer that if you’re not going to do something about a situation you’re in that you don’t like, you don’t have any right to complain about it. (except fireworks – I will always complain about fireworks)

So I started changing things up with Snow, trying to make going out fun again, even if it just meant running in circles in a park letting him lead the way, or getting up super early on a weekday to go somewhere not populated to run. I started trying to walk different streets in my neighborhood just to change up the scenery. I would look at all of the different types of houses, yards manicured in various ways, porches decorated to the owner’s fancy. For the first time in six years I missed having a house and yard. I started thinking that maybe it was time for me to buy a home again. I’ve bought multiple houses in the past,  but none were truly “mine”. I realized as much as I love my friends in Seattle and the community I lived in, I would never want to buy a home here. 

So that led to the question, where would I buy a home? I really haven’t been that many places. There is nothing keeping me here. I’m single, work remote, and my only family is in Eastern Washington, which is also somewhere I would not want to live permanently. 

I’ve dreamed of “van life” for years. The way I grew up, “camping” full time seemed pretty easy, considering I could have everything I needed in a van and not have to deal with setting up tents daily in possible inclimate weather.  I’ve been saying for years: “I work remote, I could totally do that”…. but I didn’t. I kept paying rent because that was my comfort zone. 

So many times I’d be on my way to a trail thinking that if I had a van to conveniently camp in, I could have come to the trailhead the night before and gotten more sleep before my adventure. When I drive to a trail, it’s typically for an all-day affair. When I get back to the trail head after a full day’s exploration, it sure would be nice to be able to change my clothes easily, cook a meal, heck, even take a nap! Yes, I can do this in my car and bring things I need, but packing/unpacking things every time I go somewhere is not fun for me, even though I have it down to a science. 

My lease in Seattle is up in a few months, and the thought of renewing literally made me feel ill. I don’t want to be stuck. I don’t want to keep dumping money into something that isn’t mine. Everything that I loved about living where I do was taken away, and I don’t see it going back to “normal” any time soon. I’m ok with that, because ultimately at the end of the day I’m very happy with my life, with who I am, and with who I’m becoming. I don’t want to go buy a house somewhere because “that’s what you’re supposed to do”. I’ve barely been anywhere beyond the Pacific Northwest – how can I possibly decide where I want to live when I haven’t experienced so much of the country?

So that did it. I started researching, and decided to buy my very first “home” completely independent without the influence of anyone else. My desire to explore and distaste for long-term commitment had me scouring online resources and considering what type of van I wanted. What did I truly need? What comforts could I live without, and what did I want to keep? 

And then I saw it. And somehow, I made it work. I pick up my new “home” next week, and I’ll write another installment about how I found it, and the things that transpired before it all came together. It’s a pretty cool story, and I’m still in shock over the whole thing. I’ll also share a full van tour and introduce you to the amazing craftsman who built it. Spoiler alert: your brain might explode.

Don’t worry, I will still have a home base in Eastern Washington, and have many friends who have offered up space for when I need to be in Seattle for work. I figure the worst that will happen is it won’t work out, but at least I tried. The best case scenario is I’ll have the greatest adventure of my life. I’m leaning towards the latter. 

Nothing New…

I’ve had this rattling around in my brain for quite a while now, and today I felt the need to write it down and share. Maybe you can relate, maybe not. Regardless, it’s been too long since I wrote in my blog and this seemed like too many thoughts to put into a social media post, so here goes nothing.

I recently had someone reaching out asking me to share “the good side” of how COVID-19 has affected my life. I’ve also been on multiple Zoom calls with friends where everyone asks the rhetorical question “What’s new?”. I seem to have the same response for both: nothing.

Since the stay home order, nothing good has come that I didn’t already have. Now how selfish does that sound, right? I’m not writing this for people to tell me they are sorry, or to tell me things will get better, or to suggest the positives. And I want to be VERY clear that I am SO THANKFUL for my life, and how I still have a safe, warm home, food, health, my job, family, and friends. What more could I ask for? I’m writing this to share that it’s ok to be sad. Everyone has a different experience. Everyone comes from a different background. Everyone has a different perspective. It’s not fair to feel that because there’s a homeless man living in the park next to my apartment who has one leg, that I have no right to feel sad about my situation. Or yours. It’s important to allow yourself to feel from your perspective. I also think it’s important to have empathy and compassion for others, no matter what their story is.

I wrote an article about Balancing Compassion over a year ago, and I feel like it’s relatable now more than ever.

I try to live a simple life, with the mindset of living like I’m going to live forever. I also wrote a little piece about that years back. But I’m not gong to lie – these past few months have been a struggle

Last night I had the honor of watching the Trail Running Film Festival, virtually, with many of my friends texting back and forth during the show. It has been my favorite, most enjoyable experience to date since we have been restricted with Stay Home orders and all of our parks and public lands were closed.

One of the films, put on by #TheWildOnesFilms, was about the positive experiences you’ve had with your pets since our stay home orders were put in place. It was wonderful, and some of the people I used to run with weekly in group runs were featured. I was asked to submit something about how great it’s been for Snow and I since we’ve been stuck at home together. I just couldn’t do it. I spent weeks rolling ideas and words around in my head of what to share, what to submit, and everything felt like a lie. The person who asked me to share was being supportive, telling me to just share how I feel, talk about all the extra time I get with my dog now, etc… I couldn’t think up anything without tears welling up.

Those that know Snow Beau and I know that my dog is my world. I lost him for 28 days and had never felt that level of grief in my life. He’s a rescue, so I have no clue what the first 4 months of his life was like. He is, quite literally, afraid of everything, unless we are on trails together. I think he loves the trails more than I do. He loves to run, also maybe more than I do, and we would run in the city during the week together, but always with groups. He loves familiarity, loves seeing his friends, loves sitting on my lap at the brewery while people take turns giving him treats… He loves car rides (well, the end of them) even more, because he knows there’s always an adventure when we stop. He even recognizes a trail head as we get close.

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Since the stay home order, things haven’t been “better” for Snow and I. Yes, we are healthy and safe and I am beyond thankful for that, but it still hasn’t been easy. I worked from home before this, so I’m not spending more time with him. In fact, we spend less time because we aren’t running on trails or camping or going to breweries together. He stopped enjoying road runs because there are so many things that scare him when we’re out. Sometimes he’s refusing to go out at all. When he does decide he wants to run, I’m desperately trying to find routes in the city that are less traveled and may have footpaths off to the side that are easier on his paws. He often hides in his crate or a corner of the apartment for hours. He’s afraid of the TV, so if I chose to watch anything that means he’s hiding somewhere else. Often I just watch things on my laptop so he’ll sit next to me.

Snow doesn’t understand why he can’t go running up to friends to say hi when we cross paths. He doesn’t understand why we’re running past all the places we used to run to. He doesn’t understand why he doesn’t get to go to trails anymore, and I can’t explain that this is just temporary, hopefully.

When you try to live a very simple life, and the only thing that truly brings you peace and solace are taken away, it’s hard. It doesn’t matter how “good” you have it. It doesn’t mean you’re not thankful for what you have if you’re struggling or sad. It just means you’re human, and trying to adapt to something that no one in the world expected would happen.

I have been enjoying hearing about how my friends are doing, adapting, and coping with this “new normal” in positive ways so much. It also has brought me some comfort when I hear about their struggles, how they are trying to overcome them, or even just accepting them. It helps me feel like I’m not alone. At least not with how I’m feeling.

So what positives in my life have come from this COVID-19 era? Maybe just more appreciation in general. Appreciation for the simple life I had growing up, and my parents teaching me how to cook and care for myself with basic essentials. Appreciation for the ability to enjoy simple things and be happy with less. Appreciation for loving myself, and being comfortable in my own skin. Appreciation for the companionship of a scared little rescue dog who just wants to run on trails and sit on my lap. Soon we’ll be back to our normal, simple life, and looking forward to our next adventures.

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Why Trail Running? Because.

Because comes from the Middle English: from the phrase by cause, influenced by Old French par cause de ‘by reason of’

Why? This seems to be the quintessential question we all get asked…
Every ultra-trail runner has heard it.
Why trail run?
Aren’t you afraid of tripping?
Ultra what?
Why go so far?
Why would you do that alone?
Why DO that to yourself?

I even ask myself these very same questions. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting on my couch in a pool of anxiety wondering why this weekend I am going to go run 31 miles in the mountains with more elevation gain than I’ve ever attempted in a day, in a race setting with cutoffs and time limits. I mean, I could just go do that myself, at my own pace, with less stress. So why?

Curiosity? Peer pressure? Stupidity? Adventure? Community?

Because.

And then with my fingers that have found their way out of that anxiety pool, I start clicking on races that are happening later in the year or looking up routes through the mountains that look intriguing. That 50 miler… what about 100 miles? That route looks fantastic, I could totally go 40 miles in a day unsupported…

I find myself chatting with friends about things like planning a traverse of the Wonderland Trail. “It’s only 93 miles and 22k feet of elevation again! We could do that in three days with some support….” And I start reading blog posts about other people who have done this very same thing. It’s really quite popular.

Why would I do this?

Because.

Because I love the mountains, and they feel like home.
They make me feel like I don’t need anything else.
I’m happy when I’m out there.
They fascinate me.
And by learning about them, I learn about myself.
Because I can, and I want to see how far I can go.
I meet incredible humans out there, with this same crazy passion I have.
And of course, because of the views!

What started this spark, that has turned into an ever-present smolder of wonder inside me? I have to consistently feed it to keep it alive. It keeps me alive.

I was raised in a very secluded place in the mountains. When I was really young, I remember being terrified of being outside by myself. I guess that’s normal for a kid, right? That passed quickly as my parents chose to not feed that fear, and instead reassure me that they loved me, they would never let anything happen to me, and it was totally normal to be out in the wilderness for hours on end.

I was homeschooled, so as soon as my homework for the day was complete, I would go outside and explore. I was sheltered in so many ways on that mountain, but I was FREE. I’m still not quite sure how it all worked out, being sheltered and free, but it did. Just because, I guess.

My parents taught me to listen, and to appreciate. “Leave no trace” was our way of life. The wilderness was home, so there was nothing to fear. I was taught to respect, not to be afraid. To this day I’m still so comfortable in the wilderness, I have to remind myself that there are things to fear out there. Or better yet, to respect with the highest level that there is.

I grew up running on deer trails. I’d explore and bushwhack around our property, stumble across a deer trail, and just start running to see where it would take me. I even named the trails. I’d take those little 3×5 notecards, write down a name for the trail, and hang them on the bushes at each trail crossing. Our property was next to tons of forest land, so I literally had over a hundred acres I could explore in my back yard. I learned that land like the back of my hand.

What’s so funny is, I didn’t know that maintained trails for humans existed until I moved to Western Washington as an adult. When I discovered all these trails, all I could think was “Wow, isn’t that cheating?” I remember a friend asking if I wanted to go on a hike… and my first thought was “Oh, go walk through the woods, sure!” We arrived at a trail head, and what came to my mind was “This isn’t hiking! Someone already made a trail here!” Then it hit me. There are trails. Miles and miles and miles of maintained trails that lead through endless mountain ranges, caress lakes, and skirt along streams and rivers.

That’s when I got excited and realized I could run the trails like my heart had been trained to as a child. With awe, wonder, excitement, and passion. I remember the first time I heard a hiker shout “we’ve got a trail runner!” as I was barreling down a trail towards them, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

I didn’t even know that “trail running” was a thing. It made sense to me, but I never expected other people would enjoy running on deer trails also. All of a sudden, I wasn’t the odd one out, and I discovered this whole community at my fingertips that shared this passion, offered support, and had an unconditional love for the mountains.

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Trail Running to me resonates with everything I strive to focus on in life. Independence, strength, curiosity, minimalism, adventure, and community.

Those six words right there are for a different blog entry, or maybe even six, but that is why I run. That is what drives me through the mountains, step after breath, breath after step, day after night, until the day my body won’t allow me to anymore. That is my because. What’s yours?

The Tour I Didn’t Know I Joined

I’ve been wanting to write this for years to share my story, and maybe show some insight to certain people that chose to read in to my photos as something they are not. Woman Empowerment is the true story here, but sadly a lot of responses turn into harassment on many levels. As a single woman who does a lot of things on my own, I could blog for days about all types of harassment, from cat calls to assault, but that is for another day.

For now, I’ll share my story, and how I ended up participating in “The Topless Tour” without even knowing it.

I started something almost four years ago, not realizing it was a “thing” and never having seen anyone else doing it. The significance to me was very personal, and without thinking of the reaction it might cause, I started posting my personal journey on social media.

Up until this time, I had always been an independent person, but never truly been independent, if that makes any sense. I was capable of taking care of myself and enjoyed my alone time, but the majority of my decisions, actions, and plans revolved around whoever I was partnered with at the time.

The mountains have always been home to me, and through multiple relationships I wanted to get out in them more, but my partners were never as enthused as I was about it. After a long term relationship ended and I was living by myself for the first time ever, I decided to do what I wanted to do, regardless if I had someone to do it with. I started planning backpacking trips, many of which are referenced at the beginning of this blog.

One of the first trips was what inspired me to start taking these photos. It was my very first two-night trip since I was a teenager, and my first one ever alone. My pack was too heavy, I had way too much stuff with me, and it was hard, for me, at that time.

The first night I arrived early to my campsite by a lovely lake. I set up my tent, made dinner, and just relished in the sheer joy and pride I felt of getting myself to this place. I’d come so far, both figuratively and literally.

I love photography, and am no stranger to being my own model when I get inspired for a shoot. Sometimes I just “see” something, and want to create it, so I’ll pull out my camera and remote shutter and try my best to re-create my vision. Typically, as with most artists, my inspiration would always come from some pivotal moment in my life.

This was one of those moments. I was looking out over a lake from my campsite, listening to the complete silence, and there was this log near the water. I thought “Wouldn’t that make a beautiful photo? Woman in nature, just sitting quietly, looking over the lake. She is comfortable in her own skin, she is proud, and she is so thankful to be here…” So I propped my phone up on a rock, set the timer, and captured the photo.

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The next day was hard. Looking back, I laugh at how easy it should have been. But it wasn’t for me on that day. My pack was so heavy, and the trail up to the next lake was so steep. I remember literally taking a few steps and having to rest, a few steps more and another rest. I almost cried, I kept asking myself why the hell I was doing this.

And then I was there. I made it. It was, to date, the hardest thing I had physically done. But I got there without anyone’s help, I had supplied my own gear and food. I had planned the trip. I went through the permit process for my campsite. And then I did cry, because I realized all of this at once, and I was so proud. I found my campsite, set up my tent, and then I had my next vision to capture. I certainly wasn’t going to sit all calm and serene on a log this time. I was a happy, proud, independent woman and wanted to shout it out to the world!

So this time I stood in the lake and threw my arms in the air to celebrate. And as I took this photo, I wasn’t just celebrating this trip. I was celebrating my traverse in life. Celebrating having parents that put the love and respect for nature in my heart forever. Celebrating moving on from learning from mistakes. Celebrating walking away from abuse. Celebrating independence. Celebrating health. Celebrating LIFE.

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Since then I’ve had many more celebrations, traverses, and adventures. Whenever possible, I take this photo along the way. I posted one to a social media site one time, and among many other comments, one commented simply: #TheToplessTour. Low and behold, there is a worldwide movement celebrating everything I was, for all the same reasons. And here I thought I was all alone.

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So the next time you see a photo like this, strip away (no pun intended) everything society has conditioned us to see, and instead see the beauty for what it is. Strong, independent, empowered, and happy.

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#TheToplessTour #BeEmpowered #WomenWhoExplore #WonderfulWildWomen

The Solo Year

Here I am, a year later, with dozens of subjects, ideas, and adventures I’ve jotted down over the year, but not one piece complete in 2018. And by complete, I mean that I didn’t sit down and curate a story on my laptop that I felt was “worthy” of sharing on some sort of social media platform. But I feel like for me, this past year wasn’t about that. This year was about me, and learning what it is to truly be single, solo, independent of anyone’s opinions, cultivating friendships that add value to each other’s lives, and learning about what I honestly need to be happy, healthy, and successful.

Four years ago I moved into an apartment and started living by myself for the first time in my entire life, sans a few months when I was 19 between moving out of my childhood home, just before my first relationship. This was huge, terrifying, exciting, confusing, and empowering. I thought in those first few years I’d learned everything about myself. I lived alone, but I was still dating and in some sort of consistent relationship. Many of my actions and decisions were still influenced by another person. Of course it was all voluntary, but there was so much compromise that, looking back, I know wasn’t healthy for me on many levels.

Christmas of 2017 I ended a 2.5 year relationship. I am lucky that we were mature enough to allow the friendship to remain, but see that we just weren’t the best match beyond adventures together. 2018 has been my first truly solo year as an adult. This year has been a year of growth beyond expectations, a year of unforgettable adventure, a year of friends, a year of health, and one of the most amazing years of my life.

I didn’t let rejection hinder me from my goals. I planned trips for me, not waiting for someone to be available or want to go with me. I said “Yes!” to friends’ invitations. I gained confidence in myself, my abilities, my decisions. I listened to myself, learned to trust, and learned to say no. I rediscovered my culinary passion and the joy of providing for yourself, and sharing with people who appreciate it. I stopped feeling guilty for lazy Saturdays when I could have been out “doing” something, but decided to stay home and read a great book instead.

It’s funny, that I’ve felt more alive, connected, and empowered this past year “alone”, than I ever have when I’ve been in a relationship with someone. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy previous relationships. I mean, you are “with” someone for a reason at first, right? But people change, people grow, people learn, and people move on. I wouldn’t change any of my past, because it’s brought me to where I am today. And yes, someday, I hope to meet that special someone, and both our hearts skip a beat when we see each other, and we get to enjoy a piece of our lives together.

Meantime, here’s a glimpse of some of the adventures, both solo and with friends, that I had the privilege to experience in 2018.

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My first real adventure of the year was booked in the Methow Valley as a birthday retreat. I had planned this trip well before December 2017, finding a cute little Airbnb studio cottage right on the endless groomed trails near Mazama. Originally this was supposed to be a romantic getaway as well, but I think in my heart I knew I would be alone on this trip when I booked it. When I knew I was definitely going to be alone, I considered canceling. Eating the cost and just staying home. It’s a long drive. It’s winter. I was alone.

I went, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. I enjoyed the quiet solitude in the little studio. I slept in, cooked myself breakfast, and went out to skate ski when I wanted to. I skied at my own pace. I stopped on the trail when I wanted, and just enjoyed the silence the snow covered forest gives us. I tried some difficult trails, knowing I had all the time I needed to navigate. I talked to strangers on the trail to learn where they were visiting from, and treated myself to a birthday dinner. When the weather turned and trail conditions were awful, I opted to stay in, enjoy the cabin, and not fight through slop just because I was “on a ski trip”. I was on my trip.

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In April one of my friends had this great idea to hike in to Goldmyer Hot Springs and camp overnight so we could enjoy the hot springs even longer. April in the PNW is pretty much a gamble when it comes to weather, literally to the hour. The forecast was not promising the day before our trip. But we had reservations, and the four of us that went have good camping gear. So we went.

It was freezing. It rained. It snowed. My friend had a mouse chew a hole through her tent.

We soaked in a beautiful natural cave of hot spring goodness. We all piled into one tent as it poured down rain and played  Trivia Pursuit while drinking wine and eating chocolate. I think we should do it again.

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I finished my first 50k race in October 2017. I didn’t really train for it, but I was just curious if I could do it. Well, I did it, and it made me curious about more races. The Sun Mountain 50k in May is a lottery entry only, and is a very popular race for “beginners”. I entered and won the lottery (I only seem to win lotteries when it involves running over 30 miles) and then had a lot of mixed feelings about actually running the race. I didn’t train for it to the level I should have, I was struggling with some hip issues and foot pain. I considered not going.

I went. It hurt, and I wasn’t a fan of the final miles of the route. But I finished, and ate pizza and had beer and got to visit with other runners after the race. I didn’t have anyone waiting for me at the finish. It was honestly very anti-climactic, as was my first race with no one there to congratulate me at the finish other than the volunteer telling me to keep running and cross the marker so my time would record. But it was a goal I’d set, a curiosity I’d quenched, and it’s something I’m proud of. It was for me, and me alone.

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By July the North Cascades had melted enough to plan an overnight trip with a friend to adventure around the Mt. Baker area. If you haven’t been to the Chain Lakes Loop, I think it’s one of the best bang for your bucks with regards to views, runnable trails, and lots of options for distance or side trips. A longer trek was planned and completed along Welcome Pass to Excelsior Peak the following day, but honestly this shorter loop was more scenic with such a variety of terrain.

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I also had my first true glissading experience. Note to self: don’t wear short running shorts if you’re going to glissade down snow. Do you call that snow rash? Ice burn? Regardless, it was totally worth it.

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The High Divide Loop in Olympic National Park is one of my favorites. I first backpacked this loop in July 2015 before I started trail running any long distances. It’s only a 19 mile loop, with 4k of elevation gain. Back then I planned a two night backpacking trip to complete it, and ended up having to complete it in one night. Now it’s a day run for me. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of this loop, and hope to be able to do it every year. This loop also just means a lot to me because of the memories I have from my first solo trip around it. This was my biggest solo adventure at the time, and to remember how I felt that first time, and how I felt this past summer on the same trails was something that stopped me in my tracks multiple times, having me ponder the past years’ accomplishments and goals I’ve achieved.

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In 2015 a friend sent me a link to a video of the Bridger Ridge Run, which is a 20 mile point to point traverse along the Bridger Mountain Range near Bozeman, MT in August. At one point is was considered the most technical trail run in the States. It was immediately put on my bucket list to complete. Not the actual race, but just the traverse itself. A few years went by, and plans didn’t happen. This year, I decided to make it happen, regardless of not having anyone to go with. My first option was to enter the lottery for the race. I thought that would be a safe option and also would allow for an easy way to carpool to the trail head since it’s a point to point run. Well, this race is only 20 miles, as opposed to 31, so I didn’t win the lottery.

I decided I was still going, but would plan the traverse for the weekend after the race. I joined a local trail running Facebook group and started asking if anyone else was in the same boat as me, and would be interested in a carpool/shuttle/key swap… anything. After multiple asks and a few conversations went mute, one amazing woman saw my post and put me in contact with her long-term friend that was planning the run with some friends that same weekend. She even offered to talk on the phone to give me a reference, friended me on Facebook so I could see photos of him and his family and shared that she was planning to help support the run by bringing aid to one of the trail crossings. Trust me, people, there are some amazing humans in this world!

So, I started texting with this random guy that lives near Bozeman, and he said I was welcome to catch a ride with him and his buddy to the trailhead. Seemed legit. So there I was, a few weeks later, pulling up to some random home in Bozeman, shaking the hands of some men I’d never met, throwing my gear into a borrowed sprinter van, and starting what would prove to be the hardest adventure I’ve completed to date.

Two more of his friends came to join us at the campsite that night, and the next morning 4 men I had just met stood at the trail head with me for a group photo. The guys thought they’d finish in 6ish hours. I was aiming for 7-8 hours. That was the last time I saw two of them, and I didn’t see the other two until I finished, 10 hours later. Due to the fires that summer, the smoke was thick and hit my lungs like a brick. Most of the traverse is around an elevation of 8-9k. The trail was terrifying, with pieces of shale that, had I tripped and fell on them, may have gored me or taken off an arm (well, maybe not that bad, but it was still scary and different than anything I’d ever run on). There wasn’t a lot of running. But I finished, and didn’t even take the “opt out” path at mile 10 that one other in the group decided to take.

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I was greeted at the end by high fives and hugs from two new friends and a container of watermelon that was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I was stressed the whole time that due to my slow pace, I was holding everyone up (I was originally supposed to be the shuttle back to where we started), but the guy that decided to call it early ended up driving around to get the van, and when he got back to pick up his friend at the end, they had literally only been waiting for me for 15 minutes.

Everything worked out. And as hard as it was, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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The Bridgers was the first stop on a 9 day road trip I had planned. Next on my list was Grand Teton National Park. I have never planned a trip like this on my own, I’d never driven this far on my own, and I’d never traversed this many miles, back to back to back, on my own.

The Tetons stole my heart. I had two long runs planned, with a “rest day” between each one to explore other local sites. The weather had shifted, and there was smoke from fires in Idaho that blanketed the park when I arrived. I’ll admit I was frustrated and about to throw in the towel that first night. Then in the morning the weather changed again, this time for the better, and a breeze came in that cleared out the worst of the smoke.

The next four days I couldn’t stop smiling. My favorite  was the 20 miles on the Paintbrush Divide Loop. This adventure literally took my breath away as I climbed to 10,400ft, the highest elevation I’ve ever been. As slow as I was, and as hard as it was, I felt strong. I ran when I could and hiked when I couldn’t. I met people from all over the world. I was so proud of myself to be here, now, and knew that if I had “waited” for someone to go with me, this may never have happened. Life is short and this world has so  much to offer. Never wait!

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Every hiker and runner in Washington has to experience the Enchantments. This traverse is now a destination for people around the world, and is so popular there is a strict, coveted lottery just to be able to camp in the core of this truly enchanting place. Due to the lottery, through-hikes are more and more popular. This is an 18 mile point to point traverse, much of which is technical terrain and/or only marked with cairns.

A friend and I were talking about Labor Day plans, and last minute decided to make a weekend trip, gamble on finding a place to car camp, and complete the traverse. As always, everything worked out perfectly, albeit it taking us a few hours longer  to complete this adventure than we were expecting. My friend already wrote an awesome blog post about it, so please see her recap here.

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In October my work sends everyone to a tropical location for an annual meeting. Sucks, right? Well, this year we were sent to Maui, and I decided to extend my “work trip” by taking a short vacation on Molokai, the little tiny island off the coast of Maui.

Molokai is not a tourist destination. There’s not much there, and it’s exactly what I wanted. I fell in love, and will be back again without doubt. This was the first time I’d taken a vacation that required air travel by myself, and wasn’t meeting anyone at the other end.

When I arrived on Molokai, I walked across a field to pick up my rental car (paid for via PayPal to a local) and drove a car that might have been older than me to a little condo I found on Airbnb. The next day I handed another local some cash for him to take me on his personal fishing boat to see the highest sea cliffs in the world. I went snorkeling for the second time ever, and saw my first sea turtles. Pretty sure I saw a shark, also, but the guy on the boat that took me out assured me I was fine…. I went to a macadamia nut farm and met the owner while cracking open fresh macadamia nuts.

I sat on the beach and watched the sun set every night. I was only on the island for three full days, so was limited with what I could do and see, but the culture there won my heart and I can’t wait to return. The island is so small, within those three days I was already bumping in to other visitors and locals and remembering people’s names. It’s a simple, magical place and I truly hope their mantra of “Don’t change Molokai, just visit.” stays true for centuries to come.

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One of the most amazing part of this past “solo” year has been the friends I’ve made, and the adventures I’ve had with them. I’ve never had more than one or two true girlfriends in my life before this past year. And I’ve certainly never had more than one or two friends I would be willing to go take a weekend trip with.

I said yes to an invite for a girl’s weekend trip to Mt. Saint Helens, and went in on an Airbnb for, initially, four friends, including myself, to stay in and go explore for the weekend. And then there were eight of us going, and a handful more that had been invited but couldn’t come.

We cooked, laughed, drank, hiked, and ran. We ranged in ages, relationship status, dietary needs, backgrounds, and even athletic ability. We had so much fun and supported each other in every way. Even the Keto diet lover was excited to make vegan bacon! We have since decided to make this an annual tradition, but we may need a bigger cabin next time.

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Summing up my “solo” year, I’ve never felt so connected and a part of a community. Over the holidays, I actually had to pick and chose what Friendsgiving and Holiday get-togethers I went to, and had to keep events on my calendar to keep track of when I was going where.

I also felt completely comfortable and happy when I had a day that had no plans, no friends, no social interaction. I’ve found that my solo time is just as important, if not more, than my time out and about in social settings.

Cheers to another year, solo or not, that I know will be an amazing adventure!

Sierra’s Traverse Through 2017

A Year Behind or a Year Ahead?

Two years ago was full of life changes. Not just the typical “I met someone new” or “I lost some weight” type of changes. 2016 for me was pivotal in so may ways. I could say I finally found myself, after I thought I already had.

Then along comes 2017 in a whirlwind of more discovery, growth and strategic steps towards personal goals. One of the things I was really proud of in 2016 was that I started writing again, even if mostly just for my adventure blog. Each adventure would go by this past year, I’d make a few notes, and never complete my entry for a multitude of reasons.

October came along and I just kept thinking “I’m a year behind! How am I going to catch up?”  Six hours in to my first 50k trail run, I started some heavy reflecting on the past year. Why am I doing this? I am doing this! I never thought I could do this! Look how far I’ve come! This year has been amazing and hard and rewarding and painful! I thought about writing, what to write, when to write, who I wanted my audience to be, what my voice was… then I came to the realization that I’m not a year behind – I’m a year ahead in so many ways!

I decided I’d write a little synopsis  of my past year’s adventures, including one lesson learned from each trip, and then carry on into 2018 writing about whatever meets my fancy. Take a seat, my friends, and settle in for a story of Sierra’s Traverse through 2017. I hope you’ll join me in 2018  and many years to come as well.

Bandon to Port Orford

June is always that transition time in the PNW, trying to find somewhere without snow for the first fastpacking trip of the year. The Oregon Coast seemed like a good plan, and there was that write-up someone had of this trip along the coast starting at Bandon, ending at Port Orford, for a total of 30 miles along the Oregon Coast.  We also had read the report in Backpacking Oregon that made the trip sound “fun”.

If you like long walks on the beach, I highly recommend this trip in the two day trek we completed it in. And by long walks on the beach, I mean literally 17 miles of hiking in the sand with the weight of a fastpack, with 12 miles of that sandy stroll having pretty much the same view. Not to say it wasn’t a beautiful view… but variety is the spice of life. After the 17 miles in the sand, the remaining 13 miles were lovely, with Hobbit-like forest trails and views of lighthouses and beautiful cliffs with ocean waves crashing below.

I wouldn’t say I would ever do this trip again, but I am thrilled to have a few stories to tell about the experience. The best is probably when my three companions and I had to strip naked to wade (or in my case, swim since I was too short) across two rivers flowing into the ocean. The seals nearby did not seem amused. Why naked, you ask? When you still have half a day of hiking  in cold, windy temperatures along the beach, wearing wet clothes is not that appealing. And when it’s that cold and windy, you really don’t give a crap about modesty so long as you can be dry and warm again as soon as possible.

Lesson learned: Setting expectations with your partners (hiking, running, and other) is the most important piece of having a successful trip. I was honest that this trip made me nervous, and I wasn’t confident on my ability to read a tide map or hike along the ocean. Thankfully I was given patience and impromptu lessons on ocean hiking, which gave me the confidence to keep going, when otherwise I would have thrown in the towel at the first river crossing.

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Necklace Valley

Along comes July, and the hunt for the first backpacking trip in the mountains with minimal snow was on. Necklace Valley gets it’s name from all of the alpine lakes that are so close to each other in the valley – all of which have names after a stone. It was still too early in the year to be able to explore and see all of them because of the snow, but maybe next year we’ll go back later and not have to wade through freezing water following the trails along the side of the lakes. Due to snow melt, the lake water levels were well above where the trails were cut in. Luckily we only had to get thigh deep at the worst, and no stripping or swimming was involved.

Lesson learned: It’s totally worth carrying the extra 2.2 pounds of a liter of boxed wine up into the mountains. (especially when your friend carries the wine!) For a simple, non-technical backpack trip in, wine with dinner was definitely fun!

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Spray Park Loop

Also in July was Spray Park Loop! This is probably one of my most favorite long day runs I’ve completed to date. This 17 mile loop starting at Mowich Lake in Mt Rainier National Park has it all. Don’t expect to get a PR on this route, as I kept stopping to take pictures. I don’t think I stopped smiling for the entire run, other than that fun slog up Ipsut Pass.

Lesson learned: Make sure to fuel yourself before you start up a pass. Serious bonking happened with the intent of “I’ll save that chocolate for when I get to the top as a reward!”

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Klahanie Ridge

August brought Klahinie Ridge, along with all of the forest fires. Next time I’ll do this loop in a day run, but this time was spent with a friend over a two day backpacking trip. I may have underestimated the number of passes we had to go over on this trip, but thankfully my friend was a good sport and kept going without complaining. I think the views, even with the low visibility due to smoke, made the trek with unexpected elevation worth every step!

Lesson learned: Make sure you are well aware of your partner’s abilities before starting a trip, and always triple check your maps and route for not only direction, but elevation as well.

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Ragnar Ultra – Crystal Mountain

I’ve never been someone into organized, commercialized races, and have preferred to spend my race entry fees on races that support the trails and community. I had seen this advertisement, and thought it looked fun, as there’s something to be said for camaraderie also. When I brought it up to a friend, I was told they knew about the race, they were already planning on doing it with mutual friends, and they thought I couldn’t do it because “they were doing the Ultra version”, which is what I was interested in.

Months later, and only a few weeks before the race, I was asked (by this same person) if I wanted to join the Ultra team. Someone had bailed at the last minute, and they needed a 4th participant or else they would have to withdraw, and lose money. Of course my initial response was “eff you” and “you said I can’t do it”. Another friend on the team called me, explained the course, encouraged me, and I decided to help out and try it.

Yes, I was the slowest on the team. But I finished. Many teams didn’t finish. 32 miles and 7400ft of elevation gain/loss in 24 hours. In fact, if I remember correctly, out of 13 Ultra teams, only 7 finished, and out of those 7, we won our division, which was the co-ed w/ two women/two men.

Lesson learned: Running on trails in the dark isn’t that bad, and never let anyone tell you what you can/not do. And certainly don’t let it bother you if they do.

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Heather Maple Pass

Along comes September, and finally exploring one of the most popular hikes in the North Cascades. It’s been on my list for years, but at only 7 miles I never could justify driving all the way there for such a short run. Having a longer traverse the following day made for a great excuse to check this off the list! Plenty of time to drive up to the Cascades, find a place to camp, and run/hike this amazing loop without trashing yourself for the next day’s adventure. After completing this loop, it would have definitely been worth the drive. Views are literally picture perfect, and the smoke from neighboring forest fires hadn’t yet rolled in.

Lesson learned: Don’t miss out on an epic hike just because you think it’s not “worthy” of a drive. There’s a reason this route is so popular, and it is well deserved.

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Easy Pass to Colonial Creek

The day after Heather Maple Pass Loop was a 24 mile run from Easy Pass to Colonial Creek. Smoke came in overnight, and visibility was terrible. Easy Pass was not easy, though the remaining 20 miles were mostly flat, soft, and in the forest without views. Highly recommended for a training route, as I’m told the views atop Easy Pass are outstanding when smoke-free, and who wouldn’t want 20 miles of easy trails to run?

Lesson learned: Communication and honesty is key, before, during, and after any adventure. Plans to meet up with a friend for the traverse failed, making the trip one of the most awkward runs to date due to everyone in the party being upset at each other. Life is short. Trails are long. Confirm plans, follow through, and stop to say what’s on your mind. Don’t wait months to resolve a friendship.

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Copper Ridge Loop

The last fair weathered weekend before winter started to settle in atop the mountain ranges ended on the Copper Ridge Loop in the North Cascades. The plan was to fastpack the 34 miles and 9k of elevation gain in two days. This was accomplished, but the first day required 24 miles due to lack of permits at the more reasonable camping sites.

This loop had it all, panoramic views, ridge running, fire towers, wildlife, river crossings, suspension bridges, and even a cable car to cross a ravine in. It was probably the hardest traverse I’ve completed, and worth every step.

Lesson learned: If you have reservations about the route, timing, and technicality of the trail, speak up louder. Just because one person in the party says “It’s fine”, doesn’t mean that it will be fine for you.

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Maui

A perk of my job is that they send their employees to a tropical location once  year for an annual meeting, and you have the option to extend your stay if you pay for your own accommodations for the additional days. This year, I decided to stay an extra 4 days in Maui.

This island has it all, and I’m in love. Beaches, culture, food, forest, and a crater. Being on Maui felt like you were able to go from the beach to the moon and back in the same day.

Lesson learned: Jellyfish stings hurt. Even little tiny ones. Warm compresses are for stings from the ocean (jellyfish, etc), and cold compresses are for stings from the land (bees, etc). The old tale of peeing on a jellyfish sting has nothing to do with urine. It has to do with warm liquid flowing over the sting. Warm water works just as well.

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Cougar Mountain 50k

The last weekend of October was my very first 50k (31 mile) trail run. I signed up on a whim, just out of sheer curiosity if I could. It was on Cougar Mountain, which I know oh-so well after living near there and running almost daily through the mountain. I felt like it would be a good “first” for me, since I was familiar with the course and would know what to expect. My goal was simply to finish and not get injured.

I finished (nearly last) and had no injuries. It’s crazy to think that only a few years ago I could barely run 3 miles without stopping, and on this day I moved (not necessarily running the whole time) for 8 hours, over 31 miles and 7k of elevation gain.

Lesson learned: We are capable of a hell of a lot more than we think we are sometimes. We just have to have the curiosity and drive to try.

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Wrapping Up 2017

Of course there were many more day adventures, runs, and lessons learned in 2017. If I was to list them all, it would be more of a book than a blog entry. My first bikepacking experience inspired me to plan more adventures on my gravel bike this coming summer. The few shorter races I ran made me want to run more, if only for the camaraderie and opportunity to meet new people. New friends have inspired me in so many ways.

I’m definitely more of a year ahead than behind coming in to the New Year. I can’t wait to see what new adventures and learning comes in 2018! Cheers!

The Grand Loop – Olympic National Park

Labor Day weekend seemed to be the last opportunity we had for a “big” trip this summer.  The weather forecast was promising, so we went ahead and decided to trek the long-awaited Grand Pass Loop in Olympic National Park. This would be 46 miles and 12,600 feet of elevation gain over three days and two nights.

I read the trip reports, studied the chapter referencing this trip in my backpacking book, and looked at other people’s photos, but nothing prepared me for the beauty that was, quite literally, seen on every step of this trek.

The drive up to the Obstruction Peak trailhead was a bit terrifying. A one lane dirt road with a cliff going up one side, and down the other… it took some concentration to focus on the road, as the views even here were captivating.

Typically at a trail head you’re kind of in the middle of no where, maybe in a gully or valley secluded by trees. Your first real views don’t start until you’ve climbed some elevation and emerged from the forest canopy. This was not the case here. Expansive views were immediate, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

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We headed south on Grand Pass trail. Fifteen minutes in we were already pausing to take in the views.  They call it Grand Pass Trail for a reason! The trail was nice and mellow for a while, dipping down into the valley while still boasting views of the mountain ranges around us.

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Passing Grand Lake along a ridge, we came to Moose Lake, which seemed to be a popular day-hike destination. There are also many camp sites available, and would be a great destination with kids or for first time backpackers.

The ascent up Grand Pass wasn’t terrible, and the views made the climb nearly unnoticeable. We paused at the peak of the pass for a snack and some view-soaking-in and then quickly started our decent. Clouds were starting to come in, and we still had two passes to go today!

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The steep decent from Grand Pass kept reminding me of the ascent we were up against with Cameron Pass. It was starting to rain, and though it wasn’t pouring, it was cool enough out that if I stopped moving, I got cold. Quick. So, I kept moving…

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Cameron Creek Trail was a slow climb through some amazing fields with summer flowers blooming everywhere. Even in the rain, it was so beautiful I couldn’t help but smile while taking it all in. Clouds were low, but they didn’t hide the immediate mountain range that surrounded us. As the climb got steeper, the waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides became more plentiful. Every direction you looked were waterfalls, flowers, and breathtaking terrain.

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As I continued the climb up, I kept looking at the mountains ahead of me, and the little gullies and valleys, wondering which crack we were going to be led through. The trail started turning into a huge scree field that continued up the mountainside. I lost the trail a little and paused to let my eyes settle on the scree, looking to cairns or the faint lines of the trail from others before me. When I saw it, all that I could say was “Oh f**k”…. There was no trail hugging a ridge and leading us through a gully, but only a faint trail that zig-zagged straight up the scree covered mountain side. It was cold and rainy, and I had to put on my mountain goat hat. And that I did!

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I decided on a happy, excited attitude and started up the “trail”. I learned quickly it was even colder on that slope, so that was motivation to keep moving. I kept my eyes on the ground right in front of me, and only paused a few times to snap some photos of this craziness.

The views at the top were of course amazing, but due to the low clouds we missed out on seeing the Cameron Glaciers… maybe next time!

The decent from Cameron Pass was… wait for it… beautiful. (Gasp!) Subalpine meadows, more waterfalls, and even friendly mule deer to keep us company. The rain was letting up, and we could see blue sky playing peek-a-boo with us.

Crossing Lost River, we started re-gaining some elevation that we just lost coming down from Cameron Pass. Everything was wet from the earlier rain, and we came across a nicely brushed down path of grass that was clearly made by a bear. Singing started, and not too much further down the trail we saw a “cute little bear” most likely enjoying some berries in a meadow. We took a few pictures, and very quickly he didn’t seem as cute or little when he looked our way and made motion of the possibility of checking us out. We continued up to Lost Pass with due haste, and I’ll admit I was looking over my shoulder quite a bit!

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Lost Pass greeted us with a rainbow, and then sent us off with a laugh about the steep decent we had ahead of us. The knee breaker down certainly made us a bit grumpy and impatient for us to get to Bear Camp to complete our 16 miles and 4,500 feet of elevation gain for the day.

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We woke the next morning to ice on a little footbridge. Yup, a little colder than we were expecting. Shoes were still soaking wet, but clothes were dry so we ate, packed up, and headed out towards our one pass of the day.

Gray Wolf River Trail wasn’t technical or even that steep. It was just a long climb along a less traveled path. Due to the previous day’s rain, brush and grass were all at capacity for water retention, so that meant we were once again drenched from the hips down. Once again, as long as I kept moving, I didn’t get cold. Good motivation to maintain pace!

The pass was well worth the trek up, with clouds parting just in time for us to get a 360 degree view of the ranges around us. Though not raining, the wind was chilly, so we took shelter by a few little trees and had lunch.

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I had to get moving again quickly so I didn’t freeze on the pass. The decent down from Gray Wolf pass reminded me so much of my favorite part of the Northern Loop on Mt Rainier; Windy Gap. I found myself wondering what it would be like to just be here… make a little shelter and stay for weeks on end. There was a water fall cascading down one of the sides of the valley and a few small tarns scattered in the meadows.

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I was smiling ear to ear again, just in awe of this amazing place, and so thankful that I had the ability to see it!

We continued along Gray Wolf River Trail, and even when the mountain views were lost through the forest closing in, the trail was still spectacular. I’ve been on some boring river trails, and this wasn’t one of them! It felt like there should be little hobbits or gnomes dancing around or peaking our from behind the mossy rocks.

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Crossing some long log bridges over a few rivers, we went through Three Forks camp and then settled in to Gray Wolf Camp for the evening. 15 miles and only 2,900 feet of elevation gain allowed us a little extra time this evening for chatting with fellow backpackers and prepping for our final day.

We were up and out early, and temperatures were a little warmer today. The trail up to Deer park campground was well maintained. Though it was 4 miles up with 3,100 feet of elevation gain, the switchbacks were nice and long so it  didn’t feel that steep. Just felt like 4 miles of an uphill climb with no reprieve… which it was.

We filled up on water at Deer Park and continued on Elk Mountain Trail. Up and over Maiden Peak wasn’t too challenging, and the scrambles along Elk Mountain were steep, but short, so there was some rest time in between the intense climbing.

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As we came around the bend of Elk Mountain Trail, we could see Grand Pass and Moose Lake, where we started our trek just two days prior. The trail along the ridge was making me wish I didn’t have a pack – I wanted to run! Mt Olympus, as well as layers and layers of other Olympic mountain ranges could be seen. We could see Badger Valley Trail all the way to Grand Lake.

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As we were nearing the trailhead and about to end our trek, all I could think of was how small we really are. This 46 mile loop through the mountains was just a little 8″x10″ map which was a blow up piece from a map of the entire Olympic National Park, which was just a little piece of Washington State. I think you get the picture… I stood there feeling like the mountains went on forever, but really it’s just a speck in space.