Death

To my friend Peter F.
You’re one of the tenderest souls the world has known.
Be at peace.
~

Death is yucky.

It’s been on my mind this year. A lot.

One of my first, best work-buddies died suddenly the other day. His name was Peter, too, and we used to set up a cup across the room and take turns trying to throw pens into it. We got into trouble together–a lot. We drank Monsters together and always, always made each other laugh. He did this hilarious thing where anytime you’d tell him anything–anything–he’d whip his head around and, in an exaggeratedly defensive voice snap back, “I know!!!?” So much laughter. Peter was the best, and he was a deep, deep, loving human. . . . One of the hardest things about death, to me, is that you can’t talk with the person about it afterward.

This weird year . . . I’ve watched videos on the news of Black Humans dying who didn’t need to die. I’ve looked at graphs representing hundreds of thousands of people dying in a pandemic. I’ve been there with people barely hold on–wishing I could fix it, knowing I can’t. We’ve adopted a 13-year-old dog who we absolutely adore, but who we know doesn’t have too many more years or months to snuggle with us and eat yummy treats. We’ve talked through preparing for and dealing with “if you or I die,” since that’s a thing adults do, especially this year. And I’ve wrestled with some of my own fears and associations and assumptions and feelings about death.

A close friend recently asked the question: Why aren’t we using this year to reflect on death more? It seems like a healthy activity. But sort of like cod liver oil is healthy. It’s healthy but it is no fun. Cheese tastes better.

Another close friend recently suggested being honest more about the stuff we don’t have all put together. The stuff we aren’t confident about, or don’t know what to say about. The stuff we do struggle with. None of us have all the answers. So it’s good to get real with each other.

So, real from me to you: I don’t like death. Death gets to me. Like all the way.

Since I know you think about death sometimes, too–here are my thoughts–very random and disorganized, as this topic is for me. Once you’ve read this, maybe you can share your thoughts with me? Maybe they’re words I need to hear. Or words you need to say. Maybe you can share those words with others? Maybe we can face these yucky things together more.

First and maybe most of all: When someone dies, there’s this urge to say the right thing to make it feel a little better, to relieve a little pain. Don’t. It doesn’t work. At all. It’s almost hurtful–it is hurtful–to think your words can somehow fix the sting. Death is the worst. Let the pain happen. It needs to happen. Death is awful. Don’t downplay it. Don’t deny it. Don’t “at least” it. Maybe there’s nothing to say, and it’s just time for hugs and for just sitting next to each other.

That being said . . . here are some thoughts to (maybe) help prepare for it? . . . to give the awful experience of death some context. . . .

In some communities, death is very normal. For example, free climber Alex Honnold talks about how routine it is in his community to hear “[this-friend] just died.” Their sport is so full of passion and aliveness. But it’s an incredibly dangerous sport, so they become more used to death. From what I understand it still hurts, but it’s . . . different. It’s more . . . normal. The death? Not surprising. The full-tilt life? Worth the risk, and worth celebrating. “They died doing what they loved.” . . . Sometimes you hear doctors talk about how dying is just a part of the life cycle. In some poor parts of the world, early or painful death is much more “normal,” too. Maybe the experience of death is somewhat subjective.

A Buddhist view on death stresses how natural it is as a part of life. The flip side of the same coin. That it is such a struggle because we try so hard to deny that flip side, clinging to the things we love as if they are permanent, and seeing our individual selves as extra special instead of as one little part of a big, unified, flowing world of life.

“We can reflect on and contemplate the inevitability of death, and learn to accept it as a part of the gift of life. If we learn to celebrate life for its ephemeral beauty, its coming and going, appearance and disappearance, we can come to terms with and make peace with it. We will then appreciate its message of being in a constant process of renewal and regeneration without holding back, like everything and with everything, including the mountains, stars, and even the universe itself undergoing continual change and renewal. This points to the possibility of being at ease with and accepting the fact of constant change, while at the same time making the most sensible and selfless use of the present moment.”

~ Geshe Dadul Namgyal, Feb 26 2020 interview in the New York Times . . . maybe you should read that whole interview!

So what about after death? Do you know exactly what happens? Are you sure? Pretty sure? Not a shadow of a doubt? . . . Or do you not know? Are you comfortable with being unsure? At least able to accept it? Is there some “trust” somewhere in there? Do you think you could find a way to know for sure what happens? And do you think it would change things? . . . Do you need to know? . . .

What will you leave behind? . . . You loved and treasured your moment of life. Will you leave behind a better chance for others to treasure their own lives? Will you leave the world a little better, a little happier, a little more hopeful? Your friends and family? Or the strangers you do or don’t smile at?

Death is uncontrollable. But there is a lot we can do to probably influence the quality and length of our life. Taking care of our bodies, of our health. Taking precautions. Not being a free-climber. Never ever eating happy yummy treats. Steering clear of poor inner cities where violent crime is more common. Not volunteering in war zones. See? It’s not that straight-forward. There are some “good” things we can do to probably lengthen our lifespan . . . and there are things we can do (or not do) that give us more days on the calendar, but days with less meaning.

“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid. . . . You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. . . . You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand. Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”

~ Martin Luther King Jr

What evil or hurt do we do to each other and to the world in our desperate attempts to cling to our fleeting lives? . . . And what unhealthiness do we inject into our own lives to try to escape death, or to deny its pain and fear? . . . Stop and think . . . . . . .

But the good things we can do–taking true care of ourselves, and not to an extreme . . . pause and ponder how deeply you treasure your life. Imagine knowing your last breath. That deep, unsettling feeling of loss . . . it’s real. Life is worth holding onto, for yourself and for others, in every healthy and balanced way you can. So maybe do eat your veggies?

Just, also eat pizza sometimes. Balance. . . . And consider doing some big, brave (if scary) good in the world.

In other words, while you’re clinging to life, don’t forget to taste life and to help others find their lives, even if it may cost you a couple years.

At the end of the day, you can’t control death. I keep catching myself wondering, day-dreaming, hoping–maybe I can find a way to help our furry friend Willoughby bypass death, postpone it, live an extra whole lifetime. But eventually, reality steps back in to say: You can’t control death. I can’t control my furry friend’s. I can’t control my wife’s. I can’t control mine. And you can’t control yours. It could be an accident tomorrow. It could be disease a few years from now. Or it could just be time to go when you’re old and grey and full of memories. And I think it may help to accept that–the fact that you can’t control death. It may make your grip a little looser, your fears a little calmer, and life a little sweeter.

One sort of sick but sort of true silver lining–which doesn’t take away the sting but might offer just a little peace: Think what will be over at death. What will be no more. What will be done. Life does include plenty of suffering. And our bodies seem to see more and more pain as we slowly grow older. Some live to see such pain and helplessness that they choose no longer to cling at all costs to their life, knowing it is time to stop fighting a brutal fight. And when there is that much pain, the fact that death will someday relieve it is not an entirely unwelcome thought, though it never makes life less precious. Pain can’t last forever. And so we hear people at funerals give the over-simplified, maybe unwelcome encouragement, “At least they’re not in pain anymore,” and no, it doesn’t fix it, but . . . it’s sort of true. . . . There is a natural end to suffering, just as there is a natural end to life.

Yes, it still stings.

What experiences, feelings, emotions, treasures–are only a part of our lives because we know that one day we will die? There is a sweetness. There is a deep love. There is attentive, expressive, desperate love that comes along with mortality. Because every minute counts.

“If we were vampires and death was a joke,
We’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke,
And laugh at all the lovers and their plans,
I wouldn’t feel the need to hold your hand.
Maybe time running out is a gift,
I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift,
And give you every second I can find,
And hope it isn’t me who’s left behind.
It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever,
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone.
Maybe we’ll get forty years together,
But one day I’ll be gone,
Or one day you’ll be gone.”

~ If We Were Vampires, a song by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Time is a strange and arbitrary measurement of our lives. We crave and cling to our youth, our “prime.” And we don’t want to grow old because we believe growing old means we will lose those things–the things we’re passionate about, the things we do, and love to do. Does this interpretation of time do us a disservice? Does it rob us of what we have? Of the parts of us we never really lose–that just show up in a different “time” of our lives?

“You will always, always, always have the miles you’ve run. You’ll always have the countries you’ve visited. You’ll always have the people you’ve loved. You’ll always have the dances you’ve danced, the songs you’ve sung, the books you’ve read, the letters you’ve written, the rock walls you’ve climbed, the parties you’ve thrown, the puppies you’ve snuggled, and the accomplishments you’ve accomplished. . . . Why do they count less ten years later? . . . The love for the thing is still there. The memories are still there. The reality is still there. The identity is still there.”

~ You still are and you still can, a blog post I wrote a little while ago

Here is the most comforting thought I’ve ever found about growing old–about the irreversible passing of time–though to be fair, I’ve shared it with some who don’t find it comforting–so, in case it does happen to help you, too:

“I should say having been is the surest kind of being. . . . The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a younger person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? ‘No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past . . .”

~ Viktor Frankl, a psychologist who survived Nazi death camps, in his beautiful little book, Man’s Search for Meaning

So . . . time. It passes. We grow old. Death comes. But I am still me. You are still you. The reality, the identity, the beauty–it always IS. It will always be real. One day we’ll be done looking back, but all the love and passion and beauty will still be there, will still be real. . . . any comfort in that for you? For me, there is.

But death still hurts. It’s the worst of the worst of the worst. So . . . how do we face it? I honestly don’t know. I’ve heard that people really need someone there to hold their hand. So maybe we focus on how we can help each other face it. We do need each other.

Spoiler alert, if you haven’t seen Frozen II and you don’t want to know any bits of what happens, skip down to the next paragraph. Remember or imagine with me: Olaf the larger-than-life little snowman is suddenly dying. Anna comes over and holds him as he slowly fades. “I’ve got you.” Wrapped in her embrace, Olaf says, “Hey Anna, I just thought of one thing that’s permanent.” “What’s that?” “Love,” says Olaf. “Warm hugs?” offers Anna. “I like warm hugs,” says Olaf, at home in the love of Anna’s arms. And then he goes. . . . And there it is. . . . “Warm hugs.” If we have to go–and we do–can we go with warm hugs? Can we give someone the warm hugs they need? This year, so many people are dying alone in hospital beds, too far from the loving arms that would give anything to be there to offer warm hugs. So–maybe warm hugs aren’t just physical, in-person, immediate. Maybe we can provide each other a love, a sweetness, a tenderness that proves those warm hugs, even just felt deeply in the heart. Maybe it would help to talk about death more with each other . . . to express, to promise the warm hugs, so that when the time comes, we can feel them, no matter how it happens.

Maybe you get the chance to be right there with someone to hold their hand . . . to hold them. That is a gift you can know is good.

So I don’t know what to do about death.

I don’t.

It is indescribably bad.

But the sadness and hurt of death gives you and me a meaningful purpose in each other’s lives:

Treasure people now. Give happiness now, while people are still here to feel it. Life has plenty of hurts, and death is scary. So when we see each other, maybe we can remember the hurt and the fear we’ll each face, and we can take the opportunities we have, while we still have them, to ease each other’s pain in any way we can . . . to bring love and light and laughter and warm hugs into each other’s impermanent, beautiful lives.

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Western States Adventure

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Well hey friends. :) It’s a weird year, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who is missing more adventurous days. So if it helps, join me on a little virtual road trip to the West Coast and some other gorgeous destinations that direction.

In fall 2017, Lyssi and I did our first real big outdoorsy adventure, along with our bestie/sister Brie. Since that first thrilling and confidence-building journey, adventuring in the great outdoors has become a regular part of our lives. I hope you’ll do it, too. :)

So come along to Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah!

(Click on a picture in the mosaics to scroll through them full size.)

ARIZONA DRIVE

After an afternoon flight into Phoenix, we hopped in our rental and just started chasing the sunset west. Desert in the dark, California road signs warning of high winds, and, eventually, sprawling lights and speeding cars as we descended toward Palm Springs. One thing we didn’t really grasp ahead of time was the significance of “fire season” out west. A midnight drive through Los Angeles, a few detours for roads closed due to wildfires somewhere in town. When we hopped on the highway heading north, we saw orange blazes all over the hills in front and to the side. It was . . . strange. Heading north from Los Angeles in the dark was quite the way to whet our mountains-appetite, with steep winding ascents for miles. After a long night of driving and a couple hours at a rest stop, we passed through Sacramento and made the long drive up to Portland. Near the Oregon border, we drove up into green, green mountains and stopped to explore Lake Shasta. Around there, we began to realize the “haze” and “fog” we’d been seeing all day was just smoke from wildfires burning all over Oregon and northern Cali. Even closed in our car, it stung our eyes. Our second morning in Portland our car was covered in ash.

NESKOWIN OREGON & THE GHOST FOREST

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After a winding drive through woods of cedar trees, under a starry early-morning sky, we arrived in Neskowin at dawn. Walking out onto the beach to the sound of crashing waves was magical. We could hardly see around us, the mist was so heavy. As the mist rose and the tide slowly came in, a hundred ancient tree stumps covered in marine treasures sank slowly into the ocean. The “Ghost Forest.”

OREGON COAST DRIVE

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A smoky but incredible drive down the Oregon coast. Each bend in the road was incredible.

CALIFORNIA REDWOODS IN JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK

Towering redwoods that remind humans of their relative smallness and just how young we really are.

SECRET BEACH NEAR BROOKINGS OREGON

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So this was a little treasure some research uncovered before our trip. It’s not really a beach, it’s the ocean crashing on the rocks in a little cove. It’s just that when the tide goes all the way out, there’s a spot where you can pull off to the shoulder of the road and venture down to a “Secret Beach.” It did not disappoint. More wonder in this little spot than just about anywhere I’ve seen.

CENTRAL OREGON

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Oregon wasn’t exactly what we expected. I didn’t realize it had literally everything. Deserts, giant cliffs, mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, ocean, and even painted hills. And then these massive rolling grassy plains that I didn’t expect to be as breathtaking as they were. They came right after a drive through a massive, mountainous forest with a stop at Mount Hood–a forest that made me feel like I had found Home.

SMITH ROCK STATE PARK OREGON

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Smith Rock State Park is one of the most other-worldly, shockingly epic places I’ve been or even seen in my life. In the middle of not-too-mountainous central Oregon, a short drive from where we stayed in the adorable city of Bend, Smith Rock’s giant volcanic ash formations rise hundreds of feet straight out of the ground, offering views for miles around and some pretty spectacular and spectacularly-nerve-wracking hikes. We did the aptly named Misery Ridge route. Our views were a little faded with smoke from the wildfires that knocked all the forest, river, and hot springs hikes off our itinerary. But it was still incredible. Honestly, the smokiness just made it feel more enchanting. A highlight of Smith Rock is Monkey Face, a 350-foot narrow rock tower that rock climbers frequent. If you find yourself in Oregon, I can’t stress enough: Smith Rock. Incredible.

CLIFF JUMPING AT STEELHEAD FALLS

If you like cliff jumping, waterfalls, or both, Steelhead Falls near in Terrebonne is an awesome spot. Seemed like a fairly private spot. Easy hike. Absolutely gorgeous and a lot of fun.

PAINTED HILLS IN JOHN DAY FOSSIL BEDS

What can I say about the drives across Oregon?? . . . by the end of it, we had all but decided to move there. Anywhere in Oregon. It was all so beautiful! We drove from Bend straight down to Utah, and a good chunk of the first day we spent driving through John Day Fossil Beds (wow) and stopping for a while in the Painted Hills. It was like visiting another planet.

NEVADA DRIVE

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I did not expect the long, desolate drive across Nevada to be one of the best parts of our adventure. It. Was. Awesome. It started with a sign in south Oregon that said, if I remember correctly, “No Gas for 130 miles.” We were truly in the middle of nowhere. The occasional car would whiz by at 100mph, which meant that drivers didn’t have nearly as much time for passing in the opposite lane as they expected, and we were run off the road once by an oncoming truck. Once we got into Nevada, we drove for hours and hours on a long, straight highway lined with desert and ranches and Native American reservation towns and rows of mountains maybe 10 miles away on both sides. It was majestic.

Top five coolest life moments, for sure–doing 90 alone in the Nevada desert, we suddenly heard–I should say felt–this deafening BANG! Our car shook. What the hell just happened?!? We spun our heads looking for whatever just did that and saw a fighter jet that looked like it couldn’t be more than a hundred or so feet overhead. A second later, another bang shook the car and another fighter jet flew low overhead. It was one of the most exciting and thrilling and special moments ever. I bet the pilots get a kick out of doing that.

When darkness fell, we turned onto US-50, which is called “The Loneliest Road in America,” and for good reason. Vulnerable might be the word to describe that chunk of the adventure. I think we saw just one vehicle between dusk and midnight. But we also saw more jackrabbits and coyotes and deer than I’ve seen in my life. It was also like driving through a blizzard of bugs, unfortunately. And the strangest thing was that we seemed to be climbing. The air was starting to get very cold and sort of thin. Eventually the road began twisting and turning as we rapidly ascended. Eventually we made it to Ely where we turned in for the night.

Our drive the next morning was a bit of a shock. Turns out the steep twisty roads we’d driven in the dark were bordered by steep hills and drop offs, and we’d climbed thousands of feet into mountains we didn’t really know were there. Our daylight drive back down the mountains was a little slower and more cautious with no guardrails, and sort of thrilling to realize just what sort of scary drive we’d made the night before. 100% I would take another trip just to drive all around the state of Nevada.

ZION NATIONAL PARK

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Zion was indescribable. Our first legit mountain hike as outdoorsy adventurers–4 miles up, 4 miles down, 2000+ ft of elevation gain, through slot canyons and along winding and gusty precipices–took us to Observation Point and its mind-bending views. This little spot was one of the biggest perspective-giving places I’ve been in my life. Shortly after we got home, I wrote a little about why. Here you go: Observation Point, Zion National Park

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The next day we did Angel’s Landing. Have you done Angel’s Landing? If you have, you know what I mean when I say I have never been more sure we were going to die. But what an incredible and beautiful experience. Once in a lifetime. Long, steep switchbacks up to a lookout. What I saw when we reached the lookout literally made me sit down half-paralyzed. It took me a few real minutes to decide to go for it. All I could envision was watching one of my best friends slip. The next half-mile felt like an eternity, following a narrow ridge with 1000+ ft drop-offs on either side. Steep, slanted, sandy slabs where you hold for dear life onto chains. Stepping a little closer to the edge while you say a prayer, so another group of hikers can pass. Deciding which hiker holds the chain and which hiker just tries to keep their balance. Oh. My. Goodness. It was worth it and I want to do it again, but maybe without friends along to worry about or traffic to dodge. The summit of Angel’s Landing is spectacular.

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Our last big Zion hike was Canyon Overlook Trail, another kind of beauty.

Go. To. Zion. 100%.

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CLIFF DWELLERS ARIZONA

After we crossed from Utah into Arizona, we found a little spot to explore called Cliff Dwellers.

GRAND CANYON

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Just a way-too-brief stop at the Grand Canyon on my birthday.

SEDONA ARIZONA

If you ever go to Phoenix or the Grand Canyon, make the trip to Sedona. You’ve probably heard of it. It is so beautiful. Also, drive this route: 89A between Flagstaff and Sedona. You will not be disappointed! It’s gorgeous enough in itself, but our drive was especially beautiful as we wound back and forth in and out of sunshine and rainstorms.

ARIZONA DRIVE

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We kicked off our road trip with a long drive straight west from Phoenix through flat, hot, dry desert. And then we ended our trip coming back into Phoenix from the north, a much, much different drive. A long gradual descent of about 8000 ft. Mountains all around and big open sky. Our ~4-5000-mile adventure brought us just about every imaginable view. Thrills, hidden gems, climbs, lonely night skies, and dizzying heights. We saw a lot of world in a week and a half.

Remember, friends, that adventure is therapeutic and nature is healing and exploring the world opens doors you didn’t know existed. And sometimes it’s just an unusually long but surprisingly affordable road trip away.

Go adventure!

Love to you, fellow adventurers! :)

Big Bend Adventure

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When I think of adventure, I think of Big Bend National Park.

Nestled in the “big bend” on Texas’s southwest border with Mexico, Big Bend is the 7th largest national park in the contiguous United States. Despite its size, its remote location (4.5 hour drive from El Paso, 7.5 hour drive from Dallas) helps it remain a well kept secret. It sees less than 4% of the annual visitors that Great Smoky Mountains National Park does, and ranks only 40th in visitors among National Parks in the contiguous US. In other words: It’s a hidden gem.

Our visit in early 2018 was marked by a peaceful, quiet, lonely feel. Like we had finally found wilderness. Isolated enough to feel free and away-from-it-all, but developed enough to feel safe.

Even more than the feeling of escape it offers, we were struck by Big Bend’s variety and other-worldliness. 7000+ foot mountains, strong cold wind blowing around each corner. A hot, dry desert floor only a quick drive away. Animals everywhere: Coyotes and road runners, deer, birds. The one we didn’t get to see, despite warnings posted everywhere, was the mountain lion.

The views from the top of the Chisos Mountains were just magical. “Other-worldly” is really the only term I’ve found to do it justice. Especially from the mountain range’s “South Rim.” (Don’t miss the South Rim pictures/videos, about halfway through the pictures below!)

Big Bend is also known for its completely dark night skies. You can see the stars and the Milky Way like almost nowhere else. And OMG the sunsets!!!

We went in late February, and it was absolutely perfect weather. If you visit, make sure to read up on the difference between Big Bend in the winter and summer. It gets hot.

We flew through Dallas and rented a small SUV with unlimited miles (thank you Enterprise!) for the 7+ hour drive. We ended up loving the drive across Texas. Long, quiet, and very unique. High winds on the roads and what seemed like dare-devilish semi-truck driving led to a few close calls and left a confusingly high number of over-turned semis along the highway (. . . to any locals–what is that??? . . .). We stayed at a beautiful Airbnb in the awesome little city of Alpine, giving us an hour’s drive into and out of the park each morning, along big mountains and under big sky.

We spent two days at Big Bend National Park. The first day, we explored the mountains with a roughly 17-mile hike (almost 8 hours), ascending over 3000 feet. We hiked up to Emory Peak (the highest point in Big Bend at over 7800 feet), down through Boot Canyon, and then up around the South Rim with its jaw-dropping views.

The second day we drove the long Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the park’s southwest corner, stopping at the Mule Ears and the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off for some quick desert walks, and arriving at the end of the road for a hike along the Rio Grande through the Santa Elena Canyon. We finished the day with a long drive toward some breath-taking mountain ranges on the park’s southeast corner at the Rio Grande Village.

We left feeling like we could have spent another two weeks there and still not explored everywhere we wanted to explore.

Guys, if you’re looking for adventure, make the flight and/or the drive to Big Bend. You will NOT be disappointed!

Below are some highlights and pictures to share with you!

On a personal note–friends, nature is inspiring and healing and so happy. And usually we can go explore. Today, all across the world, people are experiencing some version of “shelter-in-place,” or quarantine. Nobody is going on adventurous travels, as we join in solidarity to make it through the Coronavirus Pandemic as safely as we all can. But at some point, all this is going to be over. And beautiful nature will be there for us on the other side. And the great outdoors are not hard to get to. Take a hiking adventure as soon as you can! If you need any tips, let me know! In the meantime, I hope these pictures offer you some inspiration, healing, and happy while you’re being safe at home. :)20180225_053025

(Shout out to Foundation Training for keeping us feeling good and strong on our long adventures with long flights and long drives!)

(And shout out to Lyssi, the greatest adventure buddy I could ever ask for!)

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Road into the Chisos Basin, surrounded by the Chisos Mountains
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Kicking off our ~17 mile/8 hour hike to to Emory Peak, through Boot Canyon, and around the South Rim
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The first few minutes of hiking from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center
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Casa Grande peak from the Chisos Basin
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The Pinnacles
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Hiking through high winds and crazy terrain toward Emory Peak
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Significant rock scramble up a rock wall to the top of Emory Peak
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Dizzying views from the rocky precipices of Emory Peak–not for the faint of heart
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Emory Peak, 7825 feet
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View from Emory Peak with Casa Grande on the left, Lost Mine Peak in the middle behind Toll Mountain, and Crown Mountain on the right
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Chisos Basin–incredible, other-worldly, too perfect, a green gem hidden in a desert in the middle of nowhere–I want to go back!
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Nearing the South Rim from Boot Canyon
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And the most breath-taking part of it all, the South Rim, one of the spots from all our exploring that we talk about the most as the spot we need to go see again
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Breath-taking (South Rim)
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Chisos Mountains
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Mule Ears, off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
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The desert along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, with the Chisos Mountains in the distance–you can see Emory Peak (highest point) right-middle of the range farthest in the distance
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The beautiful Chihuahuan Desert
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A hot, sunny walk with views of the cliffs on Mexico’s border
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Santa Elena Canyon
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Hiking up into Santa Elena Canyon’s trail along the Rio Grande River
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Standing in Texas, just across the river from Mexico
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Mexico, from the bottom of the unique and beautiful Santa Elena Canyon
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Rio Grande
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Santa Elena Canyon hike
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Mexico and the United States
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A short desert hike from the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive on our way to the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off
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Back in the Chisos Basin for one last look through “The Window”

Put the shampoo bottle down

Do you remember having to take naps as a kid? Being forced to just lay there in silence for hours! Okay, probably like 30 minutes, but it felt like eternity. Do you remember the sound that silence made after a while? Like a wave or white noise machine, that deafening, on-going whoosh type noise. Almost as if you could hear your insides–heart beating, ear drums waiting for something to happen. I don’t hear that sound very often now that I’m an adult.

How about you? Do you remember what silence sounds like? Can you try it right now? Just put your phone down or turn away from your screen and just be quiet. Try it for 60 seconds.

. . .

. . .

. . .

That was WEIRD, right? To just sit there in the quiet, nothing particular going on, not listening to something or watching something or accomplishing something, just being there in the silence.

Sometimes, when I’m in the bathroom (yeah, this is gonna get weird), when I’m just sitting there–where you might normally sit in a bathroom–I’ll suddenly realize I’ve picked up my shampoo bottle and started to read the back of it.

Literally. Reading my shampoo bottle. Here’s the thing–I have NO interest in the back of my shampoo bottle. I’m not like super jazzed to read about all its ingredients. It’s just that there was silence and there was nothing happening, and when nothing is happening it’s weird and uncomfortable! So I’ll grab anything–anything–to fill the void.

What do we call it when all of a sudden everyone stops talking and there’s just this quiet? We call it an “awkward silence,” right? We can’t stand it. We have to fill the silence.

Soooo frequently, we just automatically hate letting nothing happen. We have to find something–noise, information, food, color–anything–to fill the quiet times, the slow times, the empty moments.

What is your shampoo bottle? I bet you do something like that! I bet you find yourself cramming your quiet moments with stuff and things and information that you actually don’t care about, just because you can’t help it.

Do you pick up a magazine in a waiting room that you would absolutely never pick out in any other context, just because it would be weird to just sit there silently? Do you have to be listening to something or watching something every time you eat? Or do you have this compulsive habit of picking up your phone? Hopping on social media?

How about this: Have you ever realized that you’re mindlessly browsing Facebook, set your phone down, and then immediately picked your phone back up and mindlessly popped Facebook right back open?

 

Why do we do this? Why do we so automatically fill every spare second, every quiet moment, with NOISE? Information, media, activities, stuff. So often the things we fill every second with aren’t actually things we care about, but we do them because we’re so uncomfortable stopping.

Why do we catch ourselves reading the backs of our shampoo bottles?

Why can’t we just be quiet sometimes?

I think that it has a lot to do with fear. Sure, there’s definitely some habit, some addiction built in there. But I think even if we could stop distracting ourselves all day every day, we might choose not to, because of fear.

Each one of us have weird stuff in our lives. The stuff that sometimes keeps us up at night. Fear, uncertainty, confusion, hurt, crappy feelings. Quiet brings those feelings to the surface. When we just let quiet time be quiet, silent time be silent, suddenly we discover we have all these thoughts and feelings that we usually keep buried down inside us as we hurtle through our days. You know what feels better than facing our deep down selves? Facebook again.

When we slow down, embrace the quiet, and just be present with ourselves, as ourselves, for ourselves in this moment, we sometimes feel a lot of discomfort. Or maybe all the time. (“Every of the time.” – Kevin Malone)

Have you ever told someone, or had someone tell you, that they like to keep busy because it’s hard to just sit with their thoughts?

 

Quiet brings out the real. It brings everything to the surface. And I think that we generally expect that this is going to be disastrously painful.

 

But my own experience tells me that when you embrace the quiet, eventually it becomes so much better than expected. After a while, sitting quietly, embracing the silent, empty times can be one of the most wonderful parts of life.

After high school I spent a while volunteering in Ethiopia and in Uganda. Every day there, we had time to take naps in the afternoons. We walked slowly places, saw the sights, smelled the smells. And at each meal, we had time to just sit and visit and enjoy the moment.

It was quite the culture shock for me–not going to Africa, but coming back to America where life happens at breakneck speed. Suddenly there was hardly time for anything! Every moment was crammed full of stuff. Everyone walked quickly. Everyone drove quickly. Me, too! It took some reacclimating, but it just became life again: Hurry, hurry, hurry!

My wife and I got married and honeymooned in Italy (ugh, memories). A strange thing happens every day in many parts of Italy from about noon to 3. All the shops close up and everyone goes home to just sit quietly with their families and friends, relax, eat lunch together (probably cheese :'( oh my heart), drink wine, and just generally enjoy. This love for peaceful moments plays such an important part in the Italian way of life, they even coined a special phrase for it: Il dolce far niente. “The sweetness of doing nothing.”

I wondered if maybe I should insert some academic quote or study here about how beneficial it is for people to take more time to be quiet, to relax, to let go of doing, to just slow down, be present. But I don’t think any of us actually need to be convinced of this. I’m pretty sure this is something we all already know deep down. Right?

Are you too busy? Does the pace of your life make you feel stressed? Do you feel like there’s some really important stuff you’re missing out on because you’re always, always, always going, going, going?

 

Life has some really amazing stuff in it that you can only find and experience and appreciate when you sloooooow down, be present, and embrace the silence.

But slowing down makes us uneasy. We get addicted to filling each moment, and when we stop filling moments we start feeling unfamiliar feelings and OMG that’s weird.

So we zoom zoom zoom through life, like it’s a computer game, and even though we know we’re doing it the wrong way, we can always slow down and be present next time. Only, we don’t get extra lives. There’s no next time. If we rush through life and fill every second with distracting noise–that’s it. Life will be gone. It was your last life, and now it’s game over.

So maybe we need to go ahead and start slowing down today. Facing those silent times. Embracing those silent times.

 

Consider for a minute–what else could you find if you slowed down?

Try it now. Take this time. Look around you.

What do you see?

What do you notice?

What do you see that you don’t usually stop and appreciate?

There are probably some happy things around you.

There are probably some noises that you used to find interesting, comforting, or therapeutic.

There is probably some stuff that you like, that brings you lots of joy, but that you kind of forgot about.

Maybe there’s a human person sitting next to you with human person feelings and needs and a heart, somebody there for the connecting and the loving, and you forgot to notice that something that important was right there.

Feel your ear. Go ahead, touch it. You have an EAR! Isn’t that crazy??? Your ear is a beautiful and incredibly complex and elegant and delicate little instrument. And it is so much cooler than your iPhone! It gives you balance and spatial awareness. And it lets you hear the voices of your loved ones, and beautiful music. It’s amazing, right?

I bet you’re happy you have an ear. But I bet you forgot you have an ear today.

Did you know massaging your ear lobe is an easy and quick stress reliever and even pain reliever? And you have it free to you every day. Do you remember your ear?

Look outside of the window. What do you see? Something that’s there, there for you, right now?

How about a tree? Do you see a tree? Do you like trees? Trees are beautiful, right? Has a tree ever made you feel happy? Of course! What about today, though? Did a tree make you feel happy today? Pssh, no, why would you have looked at a tree today?! You’ve got to get to work! You have so much stuff to do!

Last weird-thing, I promise. Reach into your pocket, or your purse, or your bag. Or maybe look at your wrist or your finger or your neck. Do you have something with you that you’re wearing or that you keep on your person–something that makes you happy? Something that means a lot to you? Maybe a ring or a bracelet or a necklace. Or something significant on your key chain. Maybe when you saw it in a gift shop, it reminded you of adventure and you had to buy it. Or maybe it was a gift from someone special. What’s your thing you found? What does it mean to you? Does it make you happy, or bring you feelings of love? Let’s be honest, though–how often do you actually notice it anymore? Like when I bought my new car a few years ago, that was an incredible machine full of potential and adventures to be had. I appreciated it and wanted to show it off to everyone. I’d wake up in the morning and go oh man, my car! And then it got normal, and I forgot to notice it, and I forgot that I appreciate it, and I forgot that it makes me happy, and now it doesn’t make me happy anymore.

Until I slow down.

What doesn’t make you happy anymore because you are too busy to notice it? What is something you know you would like to get back in touch with, if only you could slow down a little bit? What do you take for granted now? What beauty and happiness in your life are you too distracted to have anymore?

I couldn’t help but ask for you to say it all again.
I tried to write it down but I could never find a pen.
I’d give anything to hear you say it one more time
That the universe was made just to be seen by my eyes
With shortness of breath, I’ll explain the infinite:
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist.

Saturn, by Sleeping at Last

 

So do you want to slow down? Do you need to slow down? Need more quiet times? More time to just be present? Discover beauty around you, discover yourself? Quiet time to just get in touch with yourself and what matters to you?

Me, too.

 

I hope that thinking about all this–thinking about your version of shampoo-bottles and how silly they are, looking around you and remembering what you’re missing when you’re too busy to look around you–I hope that all this inspires you a little bit to slow down, to be quiet, and to be present. To put the shampoo bottle down. It takes a lot of practice, I think. So good luck!

In case it helps, I have three little tips: Meditate; Go outside; And literally put “Downtime” on your schedule.

Meditation: Have you tried meditation? Have you tried making it a regular part of your life for a while? I think it’s amazing. Of course, there are hundreds of different kinds of meditation, and each kind works for some people and doesn’t work for others. Actually, “work” is the wrong word to use about meditation. See, I think the kind of meditation that helps us slow down and be present isn’t a meditation that “works.” It doesn’t fix our lives, get rid of our pain, make us happy. It is just a way to practice accepting exactly where we are, who we are. Accepting things. Accepting everything. Accepting life. So that when those awkward silences happen and when the alone-with-your-thoughts times come around, it’s okay for you. You’ve learned to breathe through the weird stuff. Only then can you be present for the good stuff, too. If you haven’t tried meditating, I’d really encourage you to try it. Click here to read about how meditation helps me, and click here for a couple great places to get started.

Going outside: Guys, outside is FREE! And it’s RIGHT THERE! It’s so accessible, just waiting for you to go be in it. If you don’t know where to go, ask a friend! If you live in Minnesota, ask me! And if you’re an introvert and asking people about something unfamiliar is scary, pop open Google Maps and look for the areas shaded green. Leave your phone behind and just go walk. (I know, this is the 21st century and leaving your phone behind is an absolutely terrifying prospect. See Ryan in The Office, season 8, episode 11: Trivia. Leave me a comment if you already know exactly what he says because then I want to be your friend.) Or at least leave your phone in your pocket. And just go. Go walk. Go sit or lie down under a tree. Go feel the fresh air. You know what’s not outside in nature? Your long to-do list, your crazy inbox, your busy workweek, your stressful social obligations, your house that needs cleaning. Nature is a great escape. It’s a place of beauty, a place of inspiration, and it’s a place that makes all the busy, stressful parts of life seem a whole lot smaller. So get outside! Escape! Find beauty! Find quiet!

Scheduling downtime: Okay, I’m going to bet you don’t have free space in your schedule these days, right? But let’s be honest, if you have absolutely no space to squeeze free time in to your schedule, you need it more than anyone else! We can’t afford not to. We only get this one life to be present for. We need to slow down sometimes. Like–top priority. I’m doing research for a school essay and ran across some scary statistics: You and I (the average American adult) spend well over 2 hours a day on social media type stuff on our smartphones. And we spend over 11 hours a day interacting with some kind of internet connection and media (see this eye-opening graphic from Nielsen). I really bet we do have time to slow down and be quiet and be present–if we make time. And if scheduling downtime really still seems impossible, if you really do have too much to do, then maybe just get reckless and throw your to-do list away for a day. Before you turn 85. Life goes fast! So please–commit to downtime.

I hope these help. What are your ideas for slowing down, finding quiet, and experiencing more present moments in your life? We’re all in this together!

 

Have you seen Pixar’s movie Up? Have you cried watching Up? Okay, have you cried like a baby watching Up? I thought so.

One of Pixar’s most iconic scenes, because it touches us on such a deeply human level: The old man, whose wife has passed away, is feeling guilty and regretful–they didn’t do all the big stuff they were going to do together with their lives. He pulls out an old photo album and flips through the pictures of their life together. And you know what he finds? The quiet moments. The little things! Sitting on a park bench feeding the birds. Sharing a mug of coffee at the kitchen table, smiling and laughing. Holding hands. Laying in the grass. Turns out they lived the richest, sweetest, most fulfilling life together they possibly could have lived. (Here, watch it again. You know you want to.)

See life has so much beauty to be found. So much peace to be found. So much love to be found.

But we’ll miss it if we don’t slow down.

So be slow. Be quiet. Be present.

Beauty, peace, and love to you!

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the mindfulness teacher:
“It is indeed a radical act of love just to sit down and be quiet for a time by yourself.”

~

Eckhart Tolle - Most humans are never fully present

Colorado Rockies Adventure

A - Title pic

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir

If there were one thing I could convince everyone to do more of, it would be going outside and being in nature.

In the great outdoors you can find peace and rest, freedom and clarity, challenge and excitement, beauty and awe.

So in the interest of inspiring as many people as I can to go find their adventures, here is the little story of another of Lyssi’s and my biggest adventures: The Colorado Rockies.

August 2018, Lyssi and I took a 5 day roadtrip to Colorado. We booked the coziest Airbnb suite in Boulder. Days 1 and 5 were long drives from and back to Minnesota (14ish hours both ways!), leaving us 3 full days to explore! Here are the highlights for you.

Enjoy! I hope that you get to find beautiful, happy places to visit. And if you can’t right now, I hope the pictures from our adventure bring you some of the happiness and wonder of nature! :)

BEAR LAKE TRAILHEAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

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After arriving in Estes Park at dawn, we kicked off our first hike in the chilly morning air. We started at Bear Lake Trailhead with an 8-mile loop planned, taking us to a bunch of pretty lakes and waterfalls. No strenuous hiking this day, though the first hour or so we definitely felt the effects of the elevation!

NYMPH LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

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Our first stop was at Nymph Lake. Aptly named, it looked like a scene from a fairy tale. The next leg of our hike took us to an overlook directly above the little lake, and it couldn’t have been prettier!

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DREAM LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Dream Lake is the second of the three lakes in a row along Emerald Lake Trail. It’s a long picturesque lake with the trail running right along the edge.

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EMERALD LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Emerald Lake, the end of its trail. You can see where the Rocky Mountains get their name.

Emerald Lake

DREAM LAKE AGAIN

Once past Nymph Lake, the trail to Emerald Lake becomes an out-and-back, which means you get to hike by Dream Lake again on the way back.

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LAKE HAIYAHA, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Here’s where the trip got fun. Or . . . interesting. ;)

Lake Haiyaha was just to die for. I’d go back and just sit there for hours. Halfway back to the trailhead from Emerald Lake, you can turn off onto the longer Glacier Gorge Trail which eventually loops around past Alberta Falls back to Bear Lake Trailhead. Somewhere along the way you can take Haiyaha Trail out to the sprawling Lake Haiyaha. Its shore all around is made up of big rocks and boulders to clamber over and hide behind. I think this was the most peaceful spot we found all day.

We found our way to another side of the lake and found a quiet spot to just be alone and happy for a while.

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

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The thing is, to get to and from the trail takes some climbing over rocks, and when we left the lake, there was a little hiccup. Without looking up to see what was above the brim of my hat, I launched myself up onto a rock to hop over it, and I could just feel and hear this CRACK run straight through me. I’d slammed my head directly into a giant rock-solid tree branch hanging over the trail. Blacked out and sat down hard. Said a choice word–sorry families with little kids that were there! I could immediately tell I’d done something legit.

Not only did I give myself whip lash, but it turned out I’d gotten a concussion as well. Which explained the foggy and emotional state I was in for the rest of the trip, and the fact that I couldn’t walk in a straight line too well for a while. But we were four miles out, so we kept on trekking, in between pretty frequent sit-down-and-feel-dazed breaks. And my whole shoulder and arm weren’t too happy. My epic best friend Lyssi insisted on carrying both of our backpacks for a while–and these were heavy backpacks, loaded for an entire day on the trail. Thanks Lys, you’re a champ! ;)

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THE LOCH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

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A ways past Lake Haiyaha Trail on Glacier Gorge, you can turn off on The Loch Trail to head up past beautiful green hills with streams and falls. Eventually you get to another big, picture-perfect lake, The Loch.

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ALBERTA FALLS, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

The rest of the day as we finished the loop back to Bear Lake Trailhead, we got to see some beautiful mountainous views, some beautiful streams, and Alberta Falls.

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

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Alberta Falls

SOUTH SAINT VRAIN CANYON

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

Day 2 we started by driving South Saint Vrain Drive along South Saint Vrain Creek in South Saint Vrain Canyon. Memorable names. Just a beautiful drive, roads winding through brown cliffs and boulders, rushing creek on the side of the road. We hopped out at one spot and enjoyed the rushing water.

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

PEAK TO PEAK HIGHWAY

At the end of South Saint Vrain Drive begins one of the most beautiful scenic byways we’ve ever driven: Colorado’s “Peak to Peak Highway.”

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MOUNT EVANS

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

After we reached the south end of Peak to Peak Highway, we headed down to Mount Evans. Absolutely worth it, but hands down the scariest road I have ever driven in my life. Up to the peak of the 14,265′ Mount Evans runs the highest paved road in the United States.

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A mixture of fast elevation gain, concussion symptoms, and just generally being halfway to space, meant I almost passed out on the drive back down. It was rough. And scary. But man alive what a view! In the picture above, you can see in the upper right corner the road cut out of the side of the mountain. Right along the edge of the road the entire way was just a steep mountainside that just kept going and going and going.

Mount Evans was just . . . massive.

PEAK 12,150, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

We got to see some Elk sparring at dawn across from Poudre Lake at Milner Pass. We arrived to the trailhead just as it was starting to get light, and the drive there was absolutely incredible. It was foggy, dark, and stormy as we drove Trail Ridge Road from one side of Rocky Mountain National Park to the other. The Alpine Visitor Center lies at the top of Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved through-road in the United States. When we pulled into the Visitor Center at around 5 or 5:30 AM, there was lightning all around us. The fog all around us was flashing yellow and pink. Up above the treeline, where the world is huge. What a morning!

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Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

Our plan had been to hike from Poudre Lake Trailhead to Mount Ida, but more incoming thunderstorms meant a last-minute change of plans. We would have just enough time to get as far as Peak 12,150 and back down below the tree line before the rain started. The mountain we hiked is called Peak 12,150 because it’s not considered its own mountain. Because of the saddle between it and Mount Ida, Peak 12,150 just lacks its own distinct prominence just barely enough that it doesn’t get its own name. However, at 12,150 feet, it is an epic spot!

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To this day, I think this was the most awe-inspiring place I have ever had the pleasure of walking. Above the treeline in the Alpine Tundra with the occasional marmot or glacier, and endless views of the Never Summer Mountains to the east. A long, beautiful walk. Very uphill. What a picturesque path!

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Oh man, the colors! Other-worldly.

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Ragged.

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In the picture above, you can see Mount Ida on the right. And on the left is Lyssi taking the last few steps up to the tip-top of Peak 12,150.

Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

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Back below treeline just in time for the rain to start!

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

ALPINE VISITOR CENTER, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

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Glaciers in the fog at 11,800′.

OLD FALL RIVER ROAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Pretty stream along Old Fall River Road. The road is a one-way precarious drive on dirt and gravel from the east side of the park up to the Alpine Visitor Center. Very beautiful!

TRAIL RIDGE ROAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Near Forest Canyon Overlook on Trail Ridge Road. Goodbye, Rockies! We miss you!

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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge
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Photo credit: Alyssa Elbridge

Happy adventuring, everyone!

There’s lots of beauty out there, and lots of thrill! Chase it down!

 

P.S. As always, thank you Altra Running for being a big reason my feet love hiking miles and miles up and down mountains! :)

P.P.S. And thank you Airbnb and Enterprise Car Rental for making so accessible a life of exploring our big, beautiful world!

P.P.P.S. And thank you Panic! at the Disco for great tunes to sing on our 14 hour drives and thank you Neil Gaiman for writing and narrating Norse Mythology to keep me awake and enthralled for the drives before sunrise. :)