Santa Barbara Adventure

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“What isn’t clear is why people always say ‘goes without saying,’ yet still feel compelled to say the thing that was supposed to go without saying. Doesn’t that bother you?” – Shawn Spencer, Psych

When my adventure buddy asked me if I wanted to tag along to Santa Barbara, California, where she was headed for a 3-day certification program, it was an immediate omgYES for two big reasons: a) Travel, obviously. And b) Santa Barbara is where Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster run a psychic detective agency. At least in the TV show, Psych, one of my all time favorites. Unfortunately, they didn’t film the show in Santa Barbara, and the city doesn’t even have a commemorative Psych office. Oh well. It was fun to imagine. (Santa Barbara, if you build it, the PsychOs will come.)

I thought about coming up with a full itinerary to experience all the best things I could in the three-and-a-half days we’d be there, but in the end I decided to start with absolutely zero plans, and just explore, solo, seeing where each day took me. Turns out that is an amazing way to travel. I think the word is “wander.”

Here are a few of the magical moments I got to be a part of in sunny Santa Barbara:

 

THE BEACHES

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Santa Barbara’s east beach–great spot to just sit and watch the surf–calmer than some a lot of west coast beaches.

The sandy beach itself was never crammed full of visitors on the weekend I visited and was a great place to escape for some quiet.

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A completely empty itinerary allowed me lots of time to just stop and be still and relax and reflect and just be for a while. It was deeply refreshing, helpful, inspiring. After lunch on day 2 I spent the entire afternoon letting the surf knock me over and tumble me around and then journaling and dreaming in the sun.

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On the morning of day 3, the tide had risen so far that it left long, wide (cold!!) pools toward the back of the beach.

The sound of waves rolling and crashing was mesmerizing. It was like its own meditation. It’s an amazing spot to find presence.

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I’ve never loved the beach as much as I did on this trip. I found a lot of peace, and rest, and simplicity there. Thanks for the incredible place to just be, Santa Barbara.

THE TOWN

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The town of Santa Barbara is awesome. So many great little spots, lots of little holes-in-the-wall to be discovered. And its very Spanish architecture is so unique and beautiful! There’s a great view from everywhere, it’s easy to get around, and a great place to explore on foot!

A long stretch of the east beach is bordered by a long, narrow park of grass and palm trees. In the morning, it made for a peaceful walk. In the afternoon and evening, it came alive with community! People strung hammocks between the palm trees, meditated, practiced yoga, had hula-hooping parties. It became a sunny outdoor party, all to the sound of waves crashing a short jog away. It seemed that this mile long stretch of grass was Santa Barbara’s real beach scene, which made the less crowded sand a little more welcome for travel weary introverts in need of an escape.

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There is lots of good coffee to be found in Santa Barbara, which is a newer pleasure for me. I found a dirty chai at the Santa Barbara Roasting Company (if you’re a where-coffee-comes-from fanatic, go there!), a yummy iced latte at State Street Coffee (I understand there’s usually a line out the door here, certainly was when I visited, but wonderfully close to the beach), and the adorable little macchiato pictured below at Dune Coffee Roasters, whose sunny and cozy patio was the perfect landing spot for my day 1 afternoon of finishing a school essay.

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It was a little rough trying to choose between so many delicious looking places to try, but one we found ourselves at, literally by spontaneously deciding to ditch our plans and walk down a different alley, was The Nook. The food was very good, the spot was GREAT.

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If you ever visit Santa Barbara, go walk through the old Courthouse, make sure to stop in its old courtroom with the fantastic artwork, and climb up the tower for the best views of the town. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

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With an honorable mention to the pizza we got on our last night at Lucky Penny, I have to tell you (maybe in all caps) about the best food I found in Santa Barbara. TAQUERIA EL BAJIO. Oh man oh man. I could go there every day. It seemed like a more authentic/less touristy little place, in a neighborhoody part of town. I went there for lunch on day 2, and it was so mouth-wateringly exactly-perfect that I made my adventure buddy go back with me on day 3. Fresh, yummy, juicy, and just all-together need-to-go-back. Thanks for being my taste-buds highlight of the trip, Taqueria El Bajio! I’ll be back!

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Oh man the trees.

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Walk a lot in downtown Santa Barbara if you find yourself there. The parking is plentiful, convenient, and cheap, so park your car and get trekking. Especially walk up and down State Street. Such a pretty street and so many spots to explore.

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(P.S. If you’ve ever seen Psych, they did a pretty good job of recreating the feel of Spanish-built, sunny, laid-back Santa Barbara. I intend to go back.)

THE MOUNTAINS

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So here is a treasure that it seemed most visitors miss. A short (and steep) drive from town is E Camino Cielo, a long road that runs miles from well west of Santa Barbara all the way past and on to the east. Exactly as lonely as you’d like beautiful scenery to be.

It is NOT the scariest road I’ve been on, if nerve-wracking drives are not your thing. But you do very much feel like you’ve found your way above it all.

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Yes, that’s the road you see running along the mountain. Spectacular drive.

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The variety of colors and textures was amazing.

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The 360 views were incredible. You’re in the Santa Ynez mountains looking out over the ocean, Santa Barbara, and other nearby coastal cities. Spin around and you’re looking miles and miles out over Los Padres National Forest with its massive desolate-looking mountains.

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And sunny California is sunnier-California at that elevation. The sun feels like your next door neighbor. Bring sunscreen and a hat if you’re going to make a day of it.

There are so many perfect spots to hop out and explore and just take in the views.

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Lots of bicyclers struggling up and zipping down the steep mountain roads, and lots of hang gliders taking off from the top and gliding out over the hills behind Santa Barbara.

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In the picture above you can see Santa Barbara with its renowned Stearns Wharf jutting out into the ocean. To the right of the wharf is Santa Barbara Harbor. Far in the distance you can see one of the islands of the Channel Islands National Park. I so wanted to get there. Someday!

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“Camino Cielo” translates “sky road.” Accurate.

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THE OCEAN

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Visiting on a weekend, I felt like Santa Barbara’s ocean had the ideal balance between popular and quiet. On the actual beach, and especially out on the water, it was never crowded, but you were also never felt totally out on your own. There was a carefree feel to it.

Stearns Wharf was basically a little city on a big dock. Lots of little places to stop, and a lot longer a walk than you’d expect. Lots of fishing, too. And lots and lots of wildlife. I sat and watched a little sea lion friend play around the wharf for about ten minutes.

Thank you to the Paddle Sports Center at the Santa Barbara Harbor for making one of my dreams come true! I got to kayak for a while out on the ocean and it was so beautiful and so much fun!

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If you visit, consider getting a kayak or paddle board and getting a good ways out onto the water. Sitting on the ocean surface, right down level with the water, you start to see and feel the ocean breathing. You rise and fall and rise and fall and it is so, so, so magical.

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Santa Barbara is one of my chillest memories in the world. It’s the perfect place to go without an itinerary. It’s sun and sand and waves and mountains and tacos and a beautiful town to explore.

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And as always, shout out to the world’s greatest adventure buddy. We only got little bits and pieces together down by the water and up in the mountains because she was so busy with her certification, but I’m thankful for all the little moments we got to stand together on the beach.

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“To travel is to live.” – Hans Christian Anderson

My Little Broken Buddha

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My best friend gave me a little figurine of a meditating Buddha. Its head was still on.

I meditate and I really like Buddhism. In a nutshell to me, it’s about letting go of our need for things to be just-so.

Our first big excursion to the mountains since my last concussion, a long road trip to the Canadian Rockies. . . . I was really nervous as we prepared to leave, because travel is my thing and mountains are my best friend’s happy place . . . but my concussion on our last adventure had done a number on me, and each month since then had felt hard, sad, gloomy–anything-but-adventurous.

So I brought my little Buddha along. To remind me not to hold on too tightly to my expectations for the trip. To help me know that it would be okay if everything didn’t end up being just-so. Its head was still on.

Things did NOT go just-so.

Morning, middle-of-nowhere, Saskatchewan, my adventure buddy’s wrist started hurting where a few days earlier she burned it on the stove. It started getting red and it became a small bump. By the end of the day it was a not-at-all-small bump, the entire arm too painful to use much. We checked into our Canmore hotel and after several frustrating calls to insurance we drove to the local emergency room where after a quick glance the doctor hooked her up to an IV for antibiotics.

Four visits to the emergency room in three days. Fevers, dizziness, red lines starting to spread, needles, blood draws, tubes installed in my best friend’s arm, a panicky midnight outing to find a thermometer interrupted by my phone ringing and my best friend telling me that she was now shaking so violently she could hardly hold onto anything.

Honestly, it was scary as hell. I think scarier for me than for her. It got a lot worse before it got better, and I knew that an infection going bad isn’t a thing you want to experience.

Just out of the woods, day two or three–the days became a blur of emergency room and hotel room–I hopped in the car to go pick up some groceries–completely drained of every kind of energy. I grabbed my little Buddha and held it in my palm as I drove, more for its vague feeling of comfort and familiarity than for anything else.

I hopped out of the car at the grocery store and tossed my little Buddha into the center console, and heard two things bouncing around. I picked it up. Its head was gone.

*feeling when your heart sinks but even sinkier*

I broke my little Buddha. :(

And then I sort of grinned. No sh**, may as well, everything else is broken. I guess it’s exactly appropriate that my little token of not-holding-on-too-tightly broke.

At first I thought about replacing it, but more and more it seemed perfect to me that it stay broken. Because now–every time I see it on my desk–I remember just how much holding on too tightly doesn’t work. That “broken” is only “broken” in the context of my need for things to be just-so.

 

In the 5th century BCE, a man named Siddhartha Gautama lived in what is now Nepal. His family was wealthy, but he was struck by the pain and suffering he saw in the world, so he tried being intentionally-poor instead. It didn’t “work” for him, so he embraced “the middle way”–a life of moderation: not desperately seeking ease and pleasure, but also not seeking pain and self-abasement. In all this practice, he learned a lot about life and then he taught the people around him a lot about life and then he became known as “The Buddha.”

“Dharma,” the teachings of The Buddha, have at their heart the “four noble truths.” Dukkha, Samudaya, Nirodha, and Magga. And the first three are why I love my little broken Buddha.

Dukkha: Suffering is a thing. It’s a part of life.

Samudaya: Why is suffering a thing? Because we think things are supposed to be just-so. We crave pleasure, we desperately try to control, and we hold on too tightly to what we think we want or need or love. Attachment.

“According to Buddhist psychology, most of our troubles stem from attachment to things that we mistakenly see as permanent.” ~ Dalai Lama

Nirodha: There is an antidote to suffering: Letting go of attachments, obsessive cravings, and desperate control, and living–not in a bitter past or an anxious future–but fully in the present, one day at a time. Acceptance.

 

What are you holding onto too tightly?

 

I still bring my little broken Buddha with me whenever I go out of town or when I have a big scary thing that I think needs to go just-so.

It’s a perfect reminder not to hold on too tightly.

Things break. Things hurt. Things fade.

Life is weird, and needing it to not be weird will only lead to frustration.

But life is also beautiful. And a strange and strong beauty and peace can be felt when you let go of your need for things to be just-so. . . . when you remember not to hold on too tightly.

~

“The root of suffering is attachment.” ~ The Buddha

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Happy Thanksgiving 2019!

Happy Thanksgiving 2019! Last year I wrote that I thought that year was the oddest year of my life. I was wrong. This year. 100%. Odd isn’t bad, though.

I have a lot to be thankful for. There’s all the usual, but there are some things I’m especially, newly thankful for this year. An odd year makes an odd list, I guess.

Starting with this will probably help the rest of my list make sense: I’m thankful for therapy. Life is weird. Different ones of us have more weird, less weird, different weird, fun weird, scary weird, exhausting weird, scarring weird, confusing weird, or just plain weird weird. I should probably have started seeing a therapist way back when I was an unusually anxious little kid. I should probably have started seeing a therapist as a young adult when I felt so much loneliness and hurt that I hated and hurt myself. I should probably have started seeing a therapist as a little-less-young adult who finally learned to keep my balance surfing the waves of life by pretending like I didn’t need anything. But I didn’t. I waited until I had a concussion last year that knocked all the “okay” out of me and I could hardly make it through each day because everyone and everything scared and hurt me. Shortly after starting with him, my therapist teased me (a little bit honestly, though) that hitting my head was probably going to turn out to be one of the best things to happen to me, because it shook my feelings back into view. Turned out I still had lots of feelings. Like . . . think a long, confusing, lonely, depressing childhood’s worth of feelings, but with ten additional years for the mess to simmer while I added more hurt to my life by using the crutches I learned to get through said childhood. Moral of the story, I needed a therapist. Thank goodness that I have one, and thank goodness for the one I found. Therapy has ended up being absolutely the healthiest thing in my life. It has changed so much in this last year. It has helped with so much healing. It has given me so much more hope and freedom. It has made so much more sense of the world. It has made life safer. It has made me more confident. It has given me permission to be myself. It has explained so many scary things. It has helped me know myself, finally. And it has helped me to take care of myself, in a way I never thought I was allowed.

Hey, you, person-reading-this: If you are having a tough time deep down inside, feeling depressed or anxious, or even if you’re “totally fine” but know that actually something’s not quite right and you’re a year or two away from having to stop playing strong . . . please know that talking about it is okay. There is nothing weak about seeing a therapist. Actually, I hate that sentence. It doesn’t matter if there is anything weak or strong about seeing a therapist. “Weak” isn’t bad. “Strong” isn’t good. You have a real heart. Your heart is the same exact heart you had as an emotional little 3-year-old, an adventurous little 7-year-old, a confused little 12-year-old, an angst little 16-year-old, and as a lost little 21-year-old. It doesn’t matter if you’re a female or a male. It doesn’t matter if you grew up poor or wealthy. It doesn’t matter if you have a cushy life or scrape by week to week. It doesn’t matter if your big feelings and scars come from getting physically abused, bullied, emotionally neglected, molested or assaulted, or from going through a terrible experience that left you with PTSD. Or from none of the above, so you feel like you have no right to be struggling. Please know that you are not silly or dramatic for having feelings. Sure, some of your feelings may have a little silliness or a lot of drama-ness, but hurting, being scared, feeling weak, feeling helpless or hopeless, confused, sad, angry–all those big feelings are okay to have. And if you need help with how to navigate them and how to take care of yourself at this point in your life, therapy is just a really good idea. It’s like a doctor or a personal trainer but for your feelings. You have those. That’s good! Please don’t feel any shame in taking care of them. Therapy is GOOD.

Being open with your people is good, too. Being real about your humanness. We’re all in this together. A lot of us think we’re alone, but if we talked about all this weird stuff more, we’d all discover that we’re very much not alone. It’s amazing what it does for your heart and for your life to allow yourself to stop being alone about who you are and what you think and how you feel.

So I’m thankful for therapy. And thanks to therapy I’m thankful for . . .

Myself. Weird, right?

Tears. Healing. Even though tears don’t feel like healing. Healing apparently doesn’t feel like healing either. Nobody warned me on that one, what the heck. But for real, tears are good. No matter how strong or adult or male you think you are. You’re just a person. People need to cry sometimes. Sometimes a lot.

Imperfection. I’m thankful for imperfection. I guess the okayness of imperfection or the freedom to be imperfect.

Guilt-free pleasure. I grew up feeling guilty about fun. Guilty about anything that felt good for me. Hobby stuff, social stuff, body stuff, braggy stuff, self-care stuff, freedom stuff, me stuff. Everything had to be “worthwhile” or “productive,” and I existed to serve others. I’m thankful for the freedom I’ve found as an adult to just love and enjoy stuff, without having to wonder if it’s “selfish” or if I’m “wasting time” or if it’s “too indulgent.” Life has good stuff. Have it!

Weirdness. My weirdness, your weirdness, people’s weirdness. Weirdness is something I’ve really come to appreciate this year. Weirdness is like cooking with salt and pepper and thyme and rosemary and cilantro and chili powder and maybe a dash of ketchup for those weird-people who put ketchup on everything because it makes them happy. Being normal, doing everything the “right” way, is bland if it’s not you. So embrace the spice of weird in your life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as confident or thankful for my weirdness as I do this year.

Freedom. Freedom. Just freedom. Freedom to choose, freedom to be, freedom to talk, freedom to be silent, freedom to feel, freedom to be angry, freedom to be happy, freedom to be sad, freedom to be tired, freedom to be bored, freedom to not feel a thing. Freedom to be who I want to be. Or just freedom to be who I am sometimes without having to want to be something else. Freedom from things that I used to think I had to serve or protect or acknowledge or care for or fix. Just freedom to do life and not look back and not spend every day handing out band-aids to everyone and everything that might not like me.

Friendships. Thank you to my friends. I have never realized the value of friendships as I have this year. Friends are good. Friends are needed.

And emotions. One of the most helpful of all my sessions with a therapist was when he taught me the little chart-of-emotions that little kids learn: Happy, Sad, Angry, Fearful. These are normal. These feelings are okay. You should have them. I should have them. I didn’t know that. Especially, especially, especially anger. I didn’t think I was supposed to have anger. I thought that if I felt any anger I had to real quick stop it, put it away, take responsibility for it, solve it, protect everyone else from it. I thought that anger meant that I wasn’t being a good enough person. I learned how to be angry this year. I learned that it is okay. Like, I won’t be an ass hole about anger. But I can actually say when I’m upset now. I can express anger. That’s a new thing and boy is it life-changing. Do you know that it’s okay to be angry? To be sad? To be happy? Or to be afraid? Or even to have multiple emotions at the same time, like being happy AND mad? You can do those emotion-things without recklessly and viciously taking them all out on the people around you, but you absolutely can do those emotions. You have to have emotions. You do have emotions. Let yourself be you. So this year, for the first time in my life, I’m really thankful for all the emotions.

Therapy has done so much for me this year. I recently wrote a letter to my younger self, an experiment I highly recommend, and I’ll link to it here because I hope that you can find a little encouragement and hope in a few of the words and if they resonate a lot with you, I hope you’ll take care of yourself and see a therapist, too, if you also have weird stuff you need help with and if you don’t already see one.

If I could send a message to 18-year-old me

Thank you therapy.

I’m so thankful for all the good things in my life. I’m thankful for evenings laughing with friends. I’m thankful for interesting things to learn about the world. I’m thankful for languages. I’m thankful for cheese. I’m thankful for piano. I’m thankful for music. I’m thankful for an absolutely amazing SYML concert. I’m thankful for travel. I’m thankful for for a body that can move. I’m thankful for people like chiropractors and massage therapists who can help when your body’s not moving quite right. I’m thankful for the Canadian Rockies and road trips. I’m thankful for poetry that says what other things can’t. I’m thankful for books to read, especially books by Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury. I’m thankful for Iron Man, which is a painful subject. I’m thankful for adventures. I’m so thankful for cooking and food and especially food. I’m thankful that I got to go to my first Yankees game and then book tickets for the next night which turned out to be a past-midnight nail-biter with the wildest ending. I’m still thankful for cheese and just want you to know that hasn’t changed since the beginning of this paragraph. I’m thankful for really good movies to watch and really great buddies to go see movies with. I’m thankful for quiet time. I’m thankful for Toastmasters, a place where I have felt myself come alive and felt connected and engaged and passionate, learning to help people through words, and helping people find their own words. I’m thankful for Santa Barbara, even though Psych wasn’t actually filmed there, for its waves to play in, its nearby winding mountain-top-roads, and for its little taquerias. I’m thankful for coffee, which is weird because I never was before. And, as always, I’m thankful for The Office.

I’m thankful for this blog. At the beginning of the year, I committed to write five blog posts every month, because blogging, writing, and helping and inspiring people is a dream I’ve had for a long, long time. And my experience blogging this year has taught me that consistent action builds good stuff. I’ve been so honored that some of the things I have written have deeply resonated with lots of people, helping them feel understood and like they’re not alone, helping them find the right words for their own experiences they want to share, helping inspire them with big life stuff or the little day to day odds and ends. Thank you all for being with me on this journey. If one little thing I write helps you with one little thing, that is all the motivation I need to keep writing.

I’m thankful for my friend Lyssi. I’m thankful to have a person who really likes me and wants to be my friend and is on my team and supports me so much.

I’m thankful for a life of adventures.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your life is weird and full of zest!

Colorado Rockies Adventure

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“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.

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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. :)

Canadian Rockies Adventure

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Hello again! It’s been a while! I was away on an adventure and now I get to share it with you, which is almost like getting to relive it again! :)

My wife and I drove from Minnesota (home) up to the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and stopped through Glacier National Park in Montana on the way home.

Road trips are our favorite, and it was an exciting one! We had a week and a half of hiking on the agenda. Life had a different adventure in store, and we spent the first several days visiting the emergency room and recovering due to an infection that randomly turned up in my wife’s wrist. It was a little scary, and it meant we had to throw our whole schedule out the window. But it also meant we got to relax more on our vacation than planned, so–silver lining. ;)

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It also meant we had time to explore the hip little town of Canmore, Alberta (with all its extroverted little bunnies). Great place to book your lodging if you’re visiting Banff and its neighboring mountain ranges!

Bunnies were just one of the adorable species we spied on our adventure.

When we finally did make it out for some mountainous adventures, it was EPIC.

Here are some highlights for you. Enjoy the views, and I hope you’ll drag yourself on ridiculously extravagant and exhausting and make-it-up-as-you-go-along adventures! There’s a whole big world to explore out there. :)

KANANASKIS, ALBERTA

Highway 40 down through the Kananaskis mountain range south of Canmore was our first easy excursion after a recovery day off.

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Mostly just drove the Kananaskis–the views couldn’t have been much better. We stopped halfway down south for a little scenic walk in the Kananskis village. And we stopped several more times to wait for crowds of moulting bighorn sheep chilling on the highway. And they just couldn’t be bothered. They had no time for all the traffic. Didn’t even notice us. Until we finally made it past, when without fail they’d suddenly whip their heads up and glare at us as we drove away as if they couldn’t have been more just disgusted with us. They were legit hilarious.

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Watching storm clouds roll in at a surprising speed.

BOW LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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Bow Lake was our first stop in Banff, just off the Icefields Parkway, north of Lake Louise. That day we drove in and out of sunshine, rain, clouds, and even snow. Amazing how quickly and dramatically the weather changes in the mountains.

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Haunting.

PEYTO LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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The iconic Peyto Lake is a little ways north of Bow Lake and was our second stop.

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Our first attempted hike was down steep switchbacks from the Peyto overlook to a flat rock surface by the water’s edge. We turned back halfway down to be responsible and not overdo it with Alyssa’s recovery. Good call, but what a spot to miss!

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My favorite little adventurer :)

LAKE LOUISE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, CANADA

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SENTINEL PASS, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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Our first big hike was about 5.5 miles up to Sentinel Pass from the trailhead at Lake Moraine. This was just incredible. 360° views of the grandest looking mountains.

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Up in the alpine tundra–snowy hiking with icy lakes and the occasional nervous marmot.

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Sometime when we’re not recovering from a medical scare, we’ll hike the rest of the way up the switchbacks and snowy rock scramble to that final peak on the right.

MORAINE LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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The shocking turquoise blue of the glacier-fed-lakes in the northern Rockies is one of the most breathtaking sights in the world, I think.

TENT RIDGE HORSESHOE HIKE, PETER LOUGHEED PROVINCIAL PARK, ALBERTA

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Tent Ridge Horseshoe–our most challenging hike, finally feeling better enough for a pack and some serious uphill. Still a bit of a stretch for a recovering hiking warrior.

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After the first mile or so we came to a clear valley in the middle of a horseshoe-shaped mountain ridge. This shot was just after crossing a deep snow-packed area with downed pine trees where an avalanche had crossed the trail.

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So this rock scramble was possibly the most intense we’ve done yet. Half a mile of steep (and sometimes wobbly) rocks to pick your way through. Not for the faint of heart. But also there’s only one way to become not-faint-at-heart–come try!

After we reached the first peak we turned to the right and hiked down and back up a saddle to the highest point of the hike.

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Tent Ridge to the right, Mount Indefatigable and The Fist to the left.

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From the highest peak with views of Mount Indefatigable and other nearby snowy peaks, we turned right for the long Tent Ridge walk/scramble. The initial descent may have been the most nerve-wracking part of the hike. And the wind gusts. Oh man.

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Breathtaking.

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GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA

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On our way back from Canada we spent a day hiking in Glacier National Park, Montana. I remembered why quiet woods and rushing water is so magical to me. Good to sit and breathe it all in.

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Views from Going-to-the-Sun Road. Recently opened for the season, cleared of snow. Our day in Glacier was so overcast and rainy that we could hardly see a thing–except the couple hours we spent on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and up at Logan’s Pass. The clouds parted and we got sunshine and mind-bending views. Thank you!!

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Logan’s Pass

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P.S. Hey friends–Nature is magical and healing and inspiring, and is open to everyone. Get outdoors! :)

P.P.S. See you soon, mountains!

P.P.P.S. Thank you, Altra Running, for making hiking comfy! And thank you All Trails for great maps to follow by GPS!