I'm not going to lie - I've been dreading this post.
Every time I explore somewhere new, I take a ridiculous excess of photos. Then I nit-pick through them and usually feel like none of them are perfect enough to put up, or on the flip side they're too perfect - and I'll have them beautifully displayed in a gallery some day but I don't want them to just float around the internet risking plagiarism or theft. But then, if I never put them up to be seen - how will anyone ever know they're worth being seen? It's an annoying cycle, and I'm trying to break it. See, I want you all to see my photos - not only because they're my passion, but also because I want the subjects to become your passion. I want all the world to see these spaces across America and think - I'm going to plan a trip there. I'm going to go do that. Hey, that's beautiful. Wow, our country is beautiful. This is something to treasure.
I don't feel the experience I'm having or what I'm doing is unique to me - I have no super powers nor did I win the lottery to allow me to travel the country. There are loads and loads of others doing the same. Anyone can do what I'm doing in life. More than that, anyone can do each individual thing I'm doing, each hike, each trail, each bike ride, each drive - even if they don't feel compelled or able to do it all. The only thing I have on my side is time, because I made sure it was that way. You have time too - especially if you prioritize it. All it takes is looking up a hike in your area. Stepping outside. Going to the park even. So gather your kids, call up your friends, or take some alone time to get to know yourself better and get out there. Grab your bike, your board, your swim suit, hiking boots, dog, whatever it is - and just go be active & outside. I think you'll find nature as compelling, beautiful, and freeing as I do. And I know you'll thank yourself, I promise.
So maybe that's part of it, too. I'm my own harshest critic, I don't think I'm doing anything extraordinary, and I'm a little nervous to be vulnerable to all of you.
Here's the thing though - I'm living it. If everyone who I ever meet, who ever sees one of my photos, ever reads a post or blog of mine - if everyone ends up getting out there and doing this, even if a million times more more epic than I, then mission accomplished. If ANYONE feels inspired and so much as googles one of these places, tells a friend about how neat they think it would be, let alone actually goes out and falls in love with the land, then mission accomplished. This is my personal journey, it's not going to be perfect, and it's not going to be for everyone. I'll do it regardless. My greatest hope is it inspire all those I can to give nature a chance, and hopefully to find their own passion in the outdoors space.
Back to the post, though. (I get side-tracked easily.)
This last month or two has been challenging, primarily mentally and emotionally. I lived in Los Angeles for ten years (ten!) and I never really felt that it was where I was supposed to be. The Colorado girl in me missed the mountains, missed fresh air, the open spaces - things you don't find in LA. Despite this feeling, Manhattan Beach did become home to me. I met so many amazing people and was part of some great communities. I made friends who know me better than anyone may ever, I fell in and out of love plenty, found family, and found my tribe. They may not be outdoorsy people who are adventurous in the same ways as I am or value the same things in the same amounts. In fact, most are completely different than me. The one thing we have in common is that we all love each other and have each other's backs to no end, that we are fully stoked on each other's endeavors and paths even though they are paths we may never embark on. It took leaving that space for me to realize what I had. What I have, rather. Leaving that was harder than I imagined, and I miss my people and our good times every day.
Good thing for me though, is fresh air is what makes me happy and feel full. It's my therapy. All I have to do is step into a field of grass, onto a trailhead, somewhere I can't see another house or power line. That fresh air, freedom, and excitement of the adventure to come brings me up, makes me feel alive and full.
The tough thing is this hasn't been a time full of that, yet. I spent a beautiful week on the road traveling primarily through California as I made my way back to Colorado. First, I drove up to Sequoia National Monument, then into Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. I spent a weekend camping there with someone very dear to me, enjoying the last adventure we'd embark on together for some time. We explored forest roads and trails and trees wider and taller than I'd imagined possible, camped out under a sky full of stars, and had a lazy afternoon at Hume Lake. From there I took off west through central California and spent a day on two lane farm roads headed to Pinnacles National Park. Pinnacles was hotter (100+ degrees!) and smaller than I expected (truthfully I'd never even so much as googled Pinnacles NP before - I just saw it on the map) and it's not exactly Russel friendly, so we ventured on. I'll be back soon enough though - there are some crazy bat caves and awesome places to climb there! My following day was spent exploring the beaches in Monterey Bay and Salinas National Wildlife Refuge. GORGEOUS, by the way. I dipped in the ocean by the Santa Cruz pier and then met with my friend Charlene who I probably hadn't seen since we graduated college six plus years ago. We played lacrosse together in college and lived on the same street for awhile, getting into plenty of shenanigans. It was really great to see her again and catch up on each other's lives. We're a bit more grown up and at totally different places on different paths in life, but we were able to pick right up and I'm thankful for a friend like her. The following day I ventured to Truckee and camped in the forest, enjoying some alone time after being in the city. Russ ran rampant until he heard gun fire from someone's target practice. Freaked him out and he basically smothered me for the next few hours. We woke up at sunrise, cleaned up, and went to visit friends (Nick & Jess) who live in Reno/Tahoe area. From there it was an all night drive across northern Nevada and Utah, a frozen sleep on the road, and a fun day of adventures. Dude, if you've never been to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Utah/Wyoming - GO. I'm obsessed. It's probably that it's hunting season, but I didn't run into a single person the whole day we were there! I mean, I saw trucks and campers tucked in the woods, and there were plenty of hunters around, I just didn't run into any of them. I'll post more on there and on all the wild places I've visited in the days to come. Today's is just a quick catch-up. I left Utah and met up with one of my CA friends who now lives in Denver, Missy. We went to a workout class that made me feel ridiculous and uncoordinated beyond belief, then took Russ and her pup for a long afternoon at Bear Creek Lake Park. I needed that to prep for staying at my parents' place for a bit.
Make no mistake, I love my family. It was wonderful seeing them and spending time with them. I feel like we're starting to understand each other better than we used to, allowing us to connect more meaningfully. However, I'm not a kid anymore - and being stuck back in my parents' house definitely wore on me. Especially this early in the trip - I'm just starting out - what am I doing staying in a house in town, and for this long?! My dad turned 70 at the end of October, then Thanksgiving was right around the corner, I'd promised my aunt to fix up her cabin in preparation to rent it out on AirBnB, and I had some loose ends to tie up, so there was plenty to stay around for.
After a week in Colorado I hit the road with Russ Pup, headed to Austin. First of all, I never realized how much public land / amazing scenery there is in Texas. I guess I thought of it as a dust bowl with farms, ranches, and mostly small spread-out towns. Incorrect. Definitely incorrect. Life on the road is already opening up my eyes! Second of all, I did not plan this trip properly so I wasn't able to venture outside of Austin or much along the way there to see all of these great places. Have no fear, I will return - friends and people I met along the way were raving about plenty of spots, so I definitely have some adventuring back in Texas cut out for me. In Austin I stayed with two sets of friends - the first being a former co-worker of mine back in restaurant days, Jill, and her hilarious and kind husband, Davy. She is an amazing soul with hidden talents, and I was thrilled to get to see her band perform (Jill is pretty humble and none of us even knew she sang, never mind totally rocked out). They're a 90s cover band called The Reminders - check 'em out if you're in ATX. Two of our friends from back in CA (Doug & Leah) flew out to meet us as well, and we spent the weekend wandering art walks, listening to music, drinking lots of whiskey, and eating SO MUCH MEAT. Dude, so much. I actually begged for vegetables by the end. My gut wasn't ready for that, but Russel sure did love all the leftovers :) After visiting with them I got to spend a couple days with another favorite couple of mine, Esa & Mark from back in Manhattan Beach. (Side note, all my south bay friends either move to Colorado or Texas.) We took our pups to Zilker Park which has got to be one of the nicest, cleanest, biggest off-leash dog parks I'll ever see and is right on the Colorado River. More eating was definitely involved, including an epic asian food mix take-out night, and lots of talk on being a creative and how to best fulfill our souls. Esa even took me to a little spiritual healing shop where we geeked out on essential oils, healing crystals, and books on how to communicate with your dog. Austin = legit town.
Once that adventure was over I headed back up to CO, to the cabin near Winter Park. I was welcomed by a few inches of snow and 14 degree weather. Truth be told, it was freezing but I loved every moment of it. That cabin is my happy place. It's the one place in Colorado I feel most at home and free. Russel runs around exploring the mountainside and I don't have to even check on him if I am inside working on something. Then we hop in the van for a short drive to one of a million places we can cross country ski, snowboard, snowmobile, ice fish, sled, etc in the winter or hike, mountain bike, trail run, kayak, and fish during the summer. It's always beautiful, always peaceful, and always freeing. The people I encounter up there are friendly and welcoming, everyone says hello and gives you a wave or a smile when you pass by. I've seen deer, bear, elk, moose, all sorts of animals up there, and around every turn is another space wide open for your exploring. I LOVE it.
After fixing up the cabin and cleaning it out, I headed back to Denver for Thanksgiving with the fam. It was a pretty mellow one, which I was thankful for. My family was out for most of the day and relatives didn't come over until later, so I had some free time to myself and could cook without feeling rushed or chaotic. The following Saturday was our high school reunion, which I think secretly or not so secretly most of us were dreading or nervous about going to. Our high school is known for being affluent and all of the negative stereotypes of a primarily white upper-middle-class community. The kind of place with white picket fences and 2.5 kids per family, where kids take too many liberties and their parents cover up for their mistakes, where going to an ivy-league school and then having a corporate-type career was an expectation, and having money was valued way too highly. I think being a self-employed photographer living in a van made me a little nervous; I was uncomfortable with what I expected my former peers to think of that, with how my life is very much different than the life our community fostered and encouraged us to aspire to growing up. Once I got there, though, one of my buddies reminded me - I'm doing something I am passionate about, working to make a positive difference, and I am happy. That's what truly matters. Another reminded me to look at it as an opportunity to build upon the common thread we all shared (high school) and help each other out where we may now be able to. So there is no reason to be insecure, or to even worry about what judgements others may pass. It turned into a fun evening once I got that through my head. I'm definitely thankful for their friendship, their words and their truths.
Soon enough (or what felt like a decade later) it was time to move on, leave Colorado for another adventure. This one - to Hawaii. I'll be posting about adventures in Hawaii in the next few days. Look forward to posts more regularly from here on out, and with a different twist. I'll still write narrative posts so I can keep anyone who cares to follow up to date, but I'll also be posting about specific adventures. These posts will be to educate you on places you can easily access, things to do there, the land and animals, any troubles these areas may be facing, and to inspire you to have an adventure of your own.