Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Freedom and Loneliness

I recently picked up a book that describes how the fear of freedom often holds us back from actually achieving what we want for ourselves.  The book, “Your Fear Of Love” by Marshall Bryant Hodge, used an example of a man, who dissatisfied with his life, finds fault in his work and family around him, blaming them for limiting his freedom.  But when given the chance to cut his ties and be free, he is too scared of having endless possibilities, and chooses instead to keep walls up around him. His fear of freedom lets him suffer safely and blame others, as opposed to assuming personal responsibility for every choice that led him there.  The author of the book suggests that while freedom is “one of our most deep-rooted ideals,” we like to maintain a fantasy of being trapped because we are too scared to discover that we are free to do whatever we want.

Heavy stuff.

So admittedly, part of the books put me to sleep, and parts I fully disagreed with, and honestly I’d have a hard time recommending it to anyone.  Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about this concept.  That we limit ourselves from achieving freedom out of fear.  And I think he may be right about that to an extent.  Freedom can be a scary thing.  Being able to make all of our own decisions, living as we want to live.  Being the master of our own destiny.

I made the hard decision to choose my freedom over the other parts of my life recently.  I packed up my belongings, and left with tears streaming down my face.  I felt unhappy, like I was living someone else’s life.  I was told to appreciate what I had, told to be happy, but it just doesn’t work like that.  And even living with someone, I still felt lonely.  I felt like I had no one to talk to, no one that cared for me or my feelings  I felt like I didn’t have the ability to live the life of adventure that makes me happy.  I lacked freedom and companionship.  I became depressed, and was a version of myself that I didn’t even like being with.  The instagram pictures may look cheerful, but the reality was that I was miserable.

It was scary being free.  The last year of my life seemed to have turned me from a very competent adult to a less-significant other.  I had to remind myself when I struggled to leave the house for groceries, that at one point, not too long ago, I traveled halfway around the world and walked thousands of miles, making new friends in new places.  At one point in my life I didn’t have anxiety about being home alone.  And when I first left, I felt like a shell of my former self.  But I knew that I had to try and find a better version of myself, even if I didn’t know how.  A true, “Fake it ‘til you Make it” moment.

And it was so very lonely.  I made sure that my dad knew my travel plans so that if something happened he would know where I was, because I knew that no one else was concerned.  I had all the freedom I could ever dream of.  My responsibilities included buying gas and ice, and sometimes I forgot about the ice.  I went to strikingly beautiful places, but had no one to share them with.  I watched a happily-in-love couple (LoveNote and Burly) tie the knot and shared with them and their joy, while fighting to ignore the feelings of longing for something similar.  I stressed about what to do with my future.  I  cried over happy pictures taken from “before.”  I spent many hours alone, and lonely, in my car needing a hug and a Netflix marathon.  And hopefully somewhere in that I have started to heal, to grow.

Freedom is scary.  And mind-blowingly wonderful if you let it be.  I’m trying to focus on being in the moment, allowing for flexibility, exploration, growth.  But some days that same freedom leaves me so depressed and scared.  I don’t know what the future holds for me, whether I should work towards a life lacking freedom, with security and maybe less loneliness.  Or if it’s worth the effort to feel all the lows with the highs and keep seeking my happiness alone.

I guess for now, I’ll buy some ice.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Popping my Inflatable SUP cherry!

Thanks to the awesome guys at SOL Paddleboards, I got the chance to try out my first inflatable SUP on Lake Tahoe this past week.  After a less than ten minute "How-to" chat at Outdoor Retailer, I was off with a SOL Sumo board and jumped in my car headed for Tahoe.  I rolled into North Tahoe late that night, and with some last minute planning, and a wiggly, anxious, excited sleep, we jumped in the frigid waters the next day.

First off, I was super impressed with how easily I was able to get that board water-ready.  The pump was efficient, if not slightly challenging towards the end of inflating with my hiking arms (aka no muscles...), and the lashing points made it easy to strap my waterproof Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter backpack to the back, and a dry bag to the front.  Within minutes we were shuttling cars and in the water.  My initial impression was that this board was super stable.  I was able to take a leap onto the board and glide right out on the water without any wobble or uncertainty.  In fact, it felt so stable that I went for a headstand right at the boat launch, and nailed it on my first try.  I had a good feeling I was going to enjoy this board.

We spent the next 5 days on the water, Brian in an inflatable kayak, Sara in the water, myself on the SUP.  Unfortunately, Sara wasn't able to complete her perimeter swim of Lake Tahoe on account of the freezing cold waters playing mind games on her, but that does not mean to suggest that her attempt was anything short of superhuman.  I would periodically jump into the water (or fall while doing yoga) and I could barely tolerate being in there for more than a minute or two at a time.  That amazing young lady swam over 20 MILES in that water before renting a wetsuit, and completed over half the lake before deciding to end the sufferfest.  I fully supported that decision to end the attempt as the poor girl was drained emotionally and physically from the water, and I missed her smiling face and cheerful disposition.  She pushed herself hard and impressed me so much, as there is no way I could have even swam a mile in that lake.  She is one hardcore chickadee and I am super proud of her.

As for my time on the water, I was stoked that the Sumo was a nice fatty stable board as it kept me well above the water, and it was sturdy even in the crazy wind and wake we encountered around the lake.  For the first two days, the lake was relatively mellow, and the wind was in our favor, but then we got to the south shore and headed west and north and the wind kicked up all day long, making the current strong and the water choppy.  I had to paddle kneeling and sitting at times when the wind was turning me into a human sail boat, but I always felt secure on that Sumo.  And the bright colors gave me confidence that I wouldn't get run over by a boat, an added perk with so much traffic on the water.  When the wind would die down and the water would flatten, I attempted yoga on the Sumo, as the stability, even loaded with my gear, was phenomenal, and it was fun practicing on the water.  I mastered my headstand and even pulled off a forearm stand at one point, though there were a few involuntary dips in the lake. :) When I felt particularly warm, I worked on front flips off the board, but I never did master a full rotation, though it made for some good entertainment for Brian.

(Photo Credit: Brian Ahlers)

All in all, it was a good trip on Tahoe.  We worked hard to keep Sara warm and encouraged, and she kept us entertained with her deep "underwater thoughts." I would have loved to have a live stream of what was going on in her head while swimming, Even though it was a miserable struggle for her, she showed amazing fortitude to push herself to get in that water every day.  And that little fishy can swim!

As the Tahoe swim ended a little early, I decided to head south to Bishop to attend one of my favorite trail friend's wedding.  My friend Liz that I first met on the PCT in 2011, and again hiking around on the CDT is getting married to a lovely gentleman Aaron that she met her first day on the CDT in 2013.  They started the same day by chance, fell in love, and now are getting hitched!  Ah trail love.  And my friend Brian from the Glacier hiking trip was finishing up an epic climbing road trip with some friends and I was able to meet up with them for a day of swapping stories and laughing until my cheeks hurt.  On the way down I was even able to sneak a quick paddle on Mono Lake.  The lake is so salty from run off that nothing can live in it other than brine shrimp, like the Great Salt Lake in Utah.  I was able to toss my SUP back in the water and paddle around the striking Tufa towers, created from mineral deposits.  Plans and no plans.  Just trying to go with the flow.

I also want to give a huge shout out to Kate, the owner of Bold Babe SPF Clothing (www.boldbabespfclothing.com) for some great conversation at OR and giving me one of her awesome SPF shirt dresses to wear while on the lake.  Although the water was cold, the altitude and sunshine left us all struggling to stay covered from the harsh sun.  A Denver resident, Kate and I got to small talk at Outdoor Retailer and she offered one of her rash guard dresses to me to wear to stay covered and protected from the sun.  I wore it every day I was out there, as it dried fast when wet, kept me covered without lathering on harsh chemical sunscreens, and was pretty darn cute on top of it.  I wore it around town when we resupplied, to bed at night, and nearly all day on the water.  I absolutely fell in love with it since it fulfilled so many needs, and it was lightweight and really comfortable to wear all day long, with thumb holes!  I don't have may pictures of it yet (still waiting for Brian to send me the pictures he snapped) but the black top I was wearing in one of the first pictures was the dress top with the ruching pulled up so it could also be worn as a shirt. It really was an awesome top, and I expect it to get a lot more use in my life.  I highly recommend picking one up if you spend a lot of time on the water or in the sun and want to avoid the dreaded sunscreen chemical dilemma. Plus she is an awesome kind-hearted soul and the clothing is all handmade in Denver.  Support small local business!!!!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mindfulness and Outdoor Retailer

The stars aligned, and for the first time I attended the Outdoor Retailer convention in Salt Lake City.  I first learned of this of this massive meeting of the minds nearly 5 years ago, and for years I  fantasized about walking through those doors and having access to all of the latest and greatest innovations in the outdoor gear world.  It ended up being quite the shock to my senses, and honestly I feel rather fulfilled in only two days of attending.  

Huge brands are here, showing off the latest collections they are presenting; new fabrics, designs, concepts.  And dozens and dozens of the highest quality athletes are here, representing these same companies, and learning about the advances in the industry.  It is honestly an overwhelming experience of colors, textiles and conversations.  The first day I walked the floor, I ended up with a splitting headache and ended up disappearing for a nap after a few hours of wandering.  As an introvert, this whole event is extremely draining, and I struggled with the constant bombarding of the senses.  I want to run away to the mountains, the desert, the ocean.  Anywhere I can calm myself and relax my brain. 

After my first day spent at the convention, I struggled with the idea of going back for a second day, but I decided to challenge myself with walking through the whole event, and to make it a positive experience.  And so I did, and I smiled the whole time.  I wandered around the massive convention with a silly smile on my face, making eye contact and greeting those people willing to return a smile.  I found it shocking how many people avoided eye contact and seemed generally uncomfortable with the friendly gesture.  Yet, among all those lost connections, I made some incredible ones.  I saw people that were stoked to see a smiling face, and strike up a conversation, and it made my entire experience a positive one.  I walked up to companies I like and respect, and told them I appreciated them and what they do, and said thank you, and never had any expectations to receive anything from them. It felt amazing.  I met some wonderful people, eager to share their passion for what they do, and equally willing to talk to someone about their interests.  I connected with people. Amazing, wonderful, kind, creative people.  I didn't want anything, and didn't have anything other than a smile to offer, and yet that was all that was needed to foster a positive experience.  

I walked away from my second day with a much better feeling.  I was mindful of how I felt through the day, and wanted to spread positive vibes, and while walking around with a silly smile on my face might have confused some people, I felt that it helped make my day better, and hopeful others as well.  I've decided to make this a very active goal, that I want to do what I can to spread happiness, whether through a simple smile, a genuine complement, or a simple, yet meaningful conversation. In the theme of this blog, I want to try my hardest to give 5 more complements or positive experiences daily to those around me.  You never know what circumstances a person has gone through before crossing paths with you, and the best you can do is make the experience they have with you a positive one.  Surround yourself with happiness and love, and share it freely with those around you, life is far too short for anything less.  

And in the latest adventure news, I'm headed to Lake Tahoe tomorrow to meet up with the wonderful and amazing Sara while she swims, self supported around the entire perimeter of the lake.  In roughly one week, she will swim approximately 72 miles around Lake Tahoe, and I will join her on a standup paddleboard.  In a quirky twist of fate, I ran into a friend, Abe, working for a SUP company out of Telluride, CO, SOL Paddle Boards, that I met on a Wilderness First Responder course nearly 3 years ago in Oregon.   Continuing to spread the good vibes, he is hooking me up with a board to borrow to paddle along with Sara to encourage her and play lifeguard.  Sara is the most amazing ray of sunshine, and I can't want to spend more time with her.  She suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury as a teenager while playing water polo and has fought for every minute of her wild and adventure filled life since, and I'm beyond excited to spend this trip with her.  You can check out her story at www.sarafry.wordpress.com and believe me, she's even more fun in person.  This girl knows what living is all about.

I might have been out of my element for the last few days, but I'm getting back into the Subaru and pointing myself towards adventure again, and I'm so very appreciative of the life I live.  You are responsible for your own happiness, and always choose happiness.  :)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

When it gets too hot to hike, go SUPing!

So, to start, I have almost a month of back-logged adventures. It started around the 4th of July climbing 14ers in Colorado, then a trip to Glacier National Park to hike and packraft, with stops in the Tetons, Yellowstone, and other cool spots along the way.  Then I made a pit stop in Colorado, hit up the CDT loop in Rocky Mountain National Park, then Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Bisti Badlands in NM, Mesa Verde National Park, Recapture Pocket in UT, the Grand Canyon to see my pops, then I decided to play in the water a little and found myself in Lake Powell.  I still have plenty more planned in the new few months, but I'm going to try and write about those trips when I find the time.  But honestly, I'm fully enjoying the fact that I can check out and unplug and don't mind a dead computer battery.  It means I'm busy doing other things. :)

But I'm going to try my best to stay up-to-date, and Lake Powell was my latest adventure.  I initially wanted to keep hiking in the Grand Canyon.  There's a proposal to build a gondola near Solitude Point at the Confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado River and I hope to see it before it gets marred with steel and motors.  I'd love for it to never happen, and I hope efforts to block it work, but I truly hate the politics and sale of our beautiful land, and eventually someone sells out.  Unfortunately that's always the case.  Fingers are crossed that it never happens in my, or anyone else's lifetime, but the system is all about money and making "wilderness" accessible for those folks that don't want to dirty their shoes or leave the pavement.  It's a shame. But I've hit 8 national parks so far this summer, and numerous other public lands, and the bootprints rarely leave the paved trails.  And when they do, they leave their trash behind.  But that's another topic...

Anyway, it's pretty hot in the Southwest this time of year, and the hike out to Solitude was going to be at least 20 miles round-trip, and I just wasn't up for more brain cooking, so I retreated to Page, AZ, and decided to rent a standup paddleboard (SUP).  In about a week I will hopefully be paddling around Lake Tahoe with the amazing Sara Fry ( www.sarafry.wordpress.com ) as she is circum-swimming the lake.  I would most certainly drown, so instead I'm putting my expired lifeguarding skills to good use and keeping her motivated with whiskey and muscle rubs. Having no idea what it's like to SUP 76 miles in a week, I figured I could dust off my skills with some paddling around Lake Powell.  I contacted one of the few companies in town that rents boards, the awesome Lake Powell Paddleboards, and they rented me a board for two days, gave me some good beta about where to go, and away I went.  I packed my overnight gear in my Hyperlite backpack, lashed it to the SUP, and jumped in.

The joy of being able to jump in the water when it's hot is pretty exciting, and I found plenty of cliffs to jump off along the way.  I was headed for Antelope Canyon, one of the most famous, and photographed, slot canyons in the world.  To access the upper parts of the canyon it is required to go with a tour, as in the past, tourists have been caught in flash floods while deep within the slot.  But, if you paddle to the lower mouth of the canyon via the lake, you can stash your mode of travel, then hike back into the less traveled part of the slot.  It doesn't get as tight as the highly photographed area, but it is still awesome, and you can have it all to yourself.  Google "Antelope Canyon" and I'm sure there are some ahh-mazing pictures out there, but my camera just couldn't do it justice.  You just have to go there yourself.

I hiked back in the canyon, sloshing through some silty, slippery pools of stagnant water, clay caking my feet and toes.  The canyon walls were super steep, and there were multiple spots that I would be shot like a pinball down canyon if a flash flood thundered through.  Thankfully the forecast was clear through the morning and I was able to hike without too much concern, but slot canyons are eerie no matter the forecast, and with every tourist flight overhead I stopped to make sure it was a motor sound, and not a wall of water rushing towards me.  It was entirely uneventful, in a good way, and I appreciated the solitude and company of the birds and lizards.  With no exact end point, I kept hiking further, eager to see how the canyon changed around the next corner, the way the light was bouncing off the walls, and the curves of the sandstone.  Eventually I had to turn around, though part of me still wanted to proceed deeper and deeper.  Unlike a mountain with a summit to signal the end, slot canyons often feel incomplete to me.  I still want to know whats around that next corner.

However, I was hot, the sun directly overhead, the sand burning bare feet, and my water was almost so hot that it couldn't quench my thirst, so I turned back to my SUP and started paddling pack out the wet part of the canyon.

The boaters were much more active in the afternoon, with giant tour boats and speed boats towing tubers.  The wake was a little choppier and I found a protected cove on an island to swim and refuel.  I checked my maps and decided to start paddling back towards my car, grab some extra water, then keep going to find a place to camp for the night.  The weather had different plans for me.  With a huge storm brewing on the northern horizon, I watched lightning strike the mesa repeatedly as I turned into a human sail boat.  Fighting the wind and wake was nearly impossible, and I made very little progress, so I dropped to my knees and starting digging in with each stroke.  I made it to a spot where I could hike up to my car easily, though not the marina, and I decided that was good enough until the wind died down.  I grabbed some water, then sat on the shore as the wind chased the beach goers away.

The wind wasn't letting up, so I decided to go with the current and let the wind take me back to the cove I was at earlier and I found a great spot to set up camp.  There was a perfect 25-ft cliff to jump off of around the corner, so I went for one last dip then started cooking dinner.  Even with the storm off in the distance, I felt confident the weather would stay clear, so I threw my sleeping bag on the ground and waited for the blue moon to peek out from behind the clouds.  There were a few mosquitoes buzzing around, so I tossed my bug net on for a little face protection, since I had been bit in the Grand under my left eye and woke up to a swollen eye, and I figured I would avoid repeating that. Unfortunately, it didn't work out so well for me.

Around 3am I woke up and realized that my face felt funny.  The right side of my face, from chin to forehead was swollen and tingly.  I grabbed my phone and put the selfie camera on my face and realized I had a serious issue.  My lips were swollen, my eye was swollen, and I was obviously disfigured.  I had slept with the bug net on the whole night to this point, but something must have either bit me through it, or got under it and when to town.  Normally I carry Benadryl in my med kit at all times, as I'm a huge fan of the drug because it really can save lives by keeping an open airway when an allergic reaction leads to anaphylaxis.  Of course I didn't have any and had neglected to restock.  Not having any known allergies that lead to anaphylactic shock, but seeing half of my face swollen, I decided that it was a pretty bad idea to stay out on that island by myself if it were to get any worse.  I packed up my camp as fast as I could, loaded up my SUP and started back to my car.  Thankfully the water was glassy and calm, and no boats were on the water at 3am, because I'm 99% sure that paddling in the middle of the night with only a headlamp is against the boater rules, but I decided to take that chance.  Honestly, it was a gorgeous paddle under the blue moon, and it was so bright that I could see the rocks underwater, and I tried my best to enjoy it while staying hyper-aware of my airway.

The paddle back to the car was much quicker without a headwind, and I loaded the SUP on the roof and booked it to the 24hr Wal-Mart.  Or so Google said.  As a child of generation Google, I've learned not to question it's validity, but unfortunately this time it was wrong.  But I kept driving around until I found a 24-hr gas station that had a whole 24-ct box.  I popped two of those bad boys, drove back to Wally World and promptly passed out in the back of the Subaru.

My drug induced sleep was heavy, and I woke up late in the morning, in a steaming hot car, still with a swollen face, but breathing.  Too groggy to handle much heavy thinking, I lollygagged around town before driving to a different boat launch to get back on the water.  I wasn't sure I had the energy to go paddling, and considered returning the board early, but it proved a great distraction for my face, and the swelling receded as I paddled around Lone Rock and looked for cliffs to jump off and canyons to explore. I even managed to glide right into a bay where 15 Bighorn desert sheep were hydrating, and they let me sit and watch them for nearly 20 minutes, prancing on near vertical sandstone, locking horns and bleating at me.

After returning the SUP, I pointed the Subi towards the greatest state on the planet, Utah, and headed north.  I was feeling drained and with a sloppy car interior in need of tiding, so I pulled into a 4 wheeler recreation area early, just outside Kanab, UT, and was looking for a place to camp when I spotted a guy waving his illuminated cell phone with gusto.  Just behind him was a truck nearly rolled on it's side, and he came running over to me shaken up and in need of help.  My car wasn't going to do him any good, but I cleared out the passenger seat and brought him back to town so he could try and get ahold of someone to help him.  He was new to town, and it turned into a comedy of drunken errors (him being the drunk one...probably a factor in the nearly flipped truck...), but he was friendly, and I left him at his place to solve his problems in the morning while I went off to find a camping spot, again. He was super appreciative of the help though, and he wasn't hurt, so hopefully it works out for him.

I woke up this morning feeling much more relaxed, my face completely back to normal, and I drove through Zion National Park, enjoying the always beautiful views.  The visitor center was swamped and I kept my road rage in check as rude drivers stole my parking spot on 2 occasions as I politely waited for a car to back out.  Annoyed, I headed to a roadside pull-off near a boulder with some climbing routes on it and threw my crash pad in the red dust and pumped out some frustration on the side of the road.  It felt great to get on some rock, and my crash pad has officially been christened with red rock and chalk dust, a fitting place for it to happen.  There's no such thing as too many hobbies!

I'm headed onward to SLC, and to my first real shower in 2 weeks.  But I swear, I don't smell. :)