I remember vividly the Greyhound-size bus navigating hair-pin turns, passing other vehicles, and being relentlessly bounced around on the bumpiest and narrowest of roads in the Highlands of Iceland. I was definitely beginning to wonder what the rest of our four day trek would hold for us. We were on our way to hike the beautiful Highlands trail known as the Laugavegur Trail; famous for kaleidoscope-colored mountains, black arctic deserts, geothermal activity, proximity to glaciers, and much more. This area has been recognized by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful treks in the world. The minute I read about the hike and, saw the photos in the Nat Geo article, I had this trek on my radar screen. No we were actually on our way, we were going to go from hut to hut over the course of four days, I couldn’t wait. The week or so we had already spent in Iceland had left me enthralled with this island and I was so excited to be getting deep into the Highlands backcountry to be fully immersed in the wild beauty Iceland offers.
As it would turn out, Iceland is a place, much like Alaska, that really teaches you to just suit up and head out regardless of what the weather is doing. The first two days of our trek we definitely encountered what might be called, really sh*#tty weather. I won’t lie that I was digging a bit deep the first day wondering what the point of this exercise was if we weren’t going to be able to see anything. Sleet was pelting us at what felt like 40 mph, fog was so thick sometimes I could barely see our guide a few steps ahead of me, and a definite wet-cold in the air. I was wondering about asking for our money back if we were just going to be hiking in sleet, snow, fog, etc. Turns out our guide group did not have a policy of reimbursement. This was the best thing that could’ve happened to us as we went on to complete our four days thankful for the breaks in the weather that allowed us to experience this beautiful, remote area.
After the “exciting” bus ride, we headed out towards our first hut, the Hrafntinnusker mountain hut. The terrain in this area is made up of lots of short, steep ups and downs, slick mud, snow fields, and lots of geothermal activity. The geothermal activity here made for really interesting hiking; we would descend to the bottom of a slope and all of sudden there would be boiling water shooting out of holes or bubbling up out of the ground within feet of the trail. This geothermal activity was so interesting to experience but definitely something to respect and to be situationally aware. The trekking was great on this section, the hut was another thing altogether. It was truly akin to a refugee camp. There were people sleeping on the floor in the communal kitchen, people sleeping basically anywhere there was a spot not otherwise occupied by another person or gear. I’m quite sure the coziness of this venue was enhanced due to the fact that the weather was so inclement that even the hardiest of the hikers tent camping outside chose to squeeze inside somewhere. Looking back on it, it’s one of those things that just makes the experience that much richer, funnier. In the moment, the smell of stinky socks, strangers literally inches from your face while you’re in your sleeping bag, etc. tested even my extroverted personality. After the Hrafntinnusker, our expectations for the quality of huts was very low. Thankfully the next 3 huts wildly exceeded our expectations.
The remaining part of the trek included several river crossings that should be taken somewhat seriously, especially if the water level is high. The currents could be quite strong and the rivers are quite wide.
Arriving at the end, I was sad that it was over. I didn’t even really notice inclement weather any more in Iceland. It is just part of what you deal with and so many times, because of it, you get some surprises. For example, on the day we trekked to the campsite with all of the tents (photo immediately above), it was so stormy initially. All of a sudden, at the best vantage point of the whole trek that day, the clouds opened up and we had an expansive vista of rolling green peaks, dramatic clouds, and a rainbow. I almost thought we would see leprechauns and unicorns as well, the moment was so perfect.
Things to Consider if Hiking this Trail:
1.) You don’t need a guide but the terrain is very featureless as far as trees, etc. If you were to get turned around in dense fog, you probably wouldn’t know you’d taken a wrong turn for quite a while. There are no defining features where you would say, oh yeah, I remember that tree, that rock, etc. A guide is also helpful in securing the logistics of the huts. Personally, at this point in life, although I know I could do all of that, I have no interest in spending my time on logistics.
2.) Bring river shoes to change into for the river crossings. Will you get very wet, at least from your thighs down.
3.) Definitely bring good quality waterproof gear, including Gortex shoes, Gortex raincoat and pants, etc.
4.) If you use a guide research them thoroughly. Although our guide got us from point A to B, he was completely under-whelming and less than helpful.
5.) This is a really great experience to see some truly beautiful, remote landscape. If you are in Iceland and enjoy trekking, it is a must.
I collapsed into the camp chair, every inch of my body caked in salty sweat. Sweating was almost useless in the humidity. I had drunk at least three liters of water that day, but my mouth was still parched, unlike my clothes, hair, hat.
Clay’s hand were on his hips as he came to stand over me. His body showed the fatigue of the month and all its challenges, but his face was kind, if serious.
“And now it’s time for The Talk.”
I nodded weakly, knowing exactly what that meant. While Clay’s fatigue was cumulative, built from hours, days, weeks of running, supporting runners, repairing vehicles and I’m sure people, mine was just from those two days of running. We were both doing what we loved, and we were both the kind of tired you felt in your bones.
The Cuban Quattro were due for their annual reunion. Laura and I had organized the previous two years, a marathon on a rainy February Tennessee morning and a March marathon in chilly but sunny Colorado. Dallas stepped up this year to bring us all together again, this time for a 50k in Illinois of all places, as part of the Monarch Ultra.
The Monarch Ultra had begun a month prior in Peterborough, Ontario and was following the route of the monarch butterflies through three countries, down to the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico, where they spend their winter, much like the snowbirds of northern USA.
The Monarch Ultra was also a group of four, celebrating life and friendship while raising awareness. It was the brainchild of imaginative and passionate Carlotta and Clay. Ronald was documenting the entire 47 days. Gunter was keeping the team well fed for their challenges.
The migration is amazing to behold–this year, even appearing on weather radar images.
However, the eastern US monarch population has been in slow decline for many reasons, including the loss of milkweed, the sole diet of the larvae. Like many animal species, monarch butterflies are losing their habitat as cities and highways take over the landscape.
An incredible journey of three thousand miles–about a thousand more than I run in an entire year–the Monarch Ultra is also a celebration of ultrarunners, who also carry themselves across long distances, to arrive at a new, often unknown–physically and spiritually–location. Often, our goal is the same as the monarch: to survive. It may be more an emotional and mental struggle than physical for us runners, but that makes it no less real.
John and Laura couldn’t make it on this adventure, so Dallas had only me to pick up at the airport. Probably a good thing, as the seemingly standard construction zone of orange cones blocking the obvious routes and giant tarps hiding any helpful signage made finding the pickup point more than a little challenging. I’m pretty sure it was the same construction that was going on three years ago and I didn’t navigate it any better, ending up two stories and a city block away from where Dallas was waiting. Hopefully my navigational skills would hold up better during the ultra.
Dallas and I had decided to run the 50k together, taking the later shift of that day. While perusing the maps, I became entranced by the idea of running for a cause instead of a t-shirt, and signed up for a 100k the next day, just hoping Dallas wouldn’t mind crewing. He of course didn’t, only later telling me he was beyond surprised I had signed up for the second day. I just grinned, saying simply, “You don’t know me.”
Dallas and I drove to Vienna, IL–pronounced “v-eye-enna”–that afternoon, stopping only at McDonalds for a biological and to get more drinks. The 95 degrees/95 percent humidity had me worried so I had been drinking nonstop for several days. Colorado does not afford much opportunity for heat training so hydrating as much as possible is about all I can do.
We checked into the hotel and got a recommendation for dinner–the Vienna Grill, which had the largest menu of almost any restaurant I’ve frequented. The catfish was recommended and since we were sort of in the south, that was my choice. And sweet tea. And pie. Dallas went with the old standby spaghetti–the strong smell of garlic almost made me regret my choice.
Outside the front door of the Grill was a garden of painted rocks. They were bright, each with a beautiful saying. “Please take one–that’s what they’re for,” a kind voice behind said. “Oh, I couldn’t,” the Southerner in me began. She picked up a rock and handed to me.
“Remember why you started.”
I can’t say I’m a true believer in signs, but there are moments where I question that doubt. This was one such moment.
Despite the eleven AM start, I was up early. I was still full from dinner, but still managed to partake of the free breakfast. Dallas is a late starter, so I walked around and did some reading while I waited. Vienna is your typical small town Americana, with McDonalds, a park and a historic downtown. Part of me wanted to explore this quaint little place, knowing I would probably never be there again. Part of me felt like I had explored it all before in other adventures.
The eleven start became a one thirty start. This was the first ultra of Jessica, the morning runner, had ever completed. As we drove to our starting point, we saw a runner on the road. Dallas commented that it couldn’t be her, that “she didn’t look like an ultra runner.” Dallas is pretty enlightened for a near octogenarian, so this comment took me by surprise.
I struggled with bulimia during and after college, abusing my body as a way to feel in control, when I felt anything but. It makes me sensitive to body image comments, as this comment seemed to be. I asked Dallas what he meant, how did an ultra runner look, and he responded “Efficient. You can’t finish an ultra running like that.”
I was glad I’d learned to ask questions rather than respond with a knee-jerk reaction.
After introductions, congratulations and hugs, the baton was passed. The baton is a poem written by grade three students in Peterborough, Ontario, expressing hope for the butterflies and inspiration for the runners. It was hard to finish, the hope of third graders contrasting my fifty year old cynicism.
A couple more hugs and we were off. Dallas, a retired professor as well as an ultra runner, immediately took charge, explaining how we needed to pace ourselves, walk the uphills, and stay hydrated. I glanced around, reminded of Cuba and how the “flatlanders” and I were always joking about what constituted “hilly”. To me, there were no hills to be seen, but Dallas was serious, so I followed his lead, walking when he did.
Not far into the run, we passed a sign marking the Trail of Tears, the thousand mile journey forced on the Native Americans in 1838 and 1839. It seemed my journey would cross centuries and migrations and tragedies. Almost a quarter of those on the Trail of Tears died. The monarch butterflies are in slow decline.
Not far after that, we saw our first monarch butterflies.
Dallas wasn’t doing that great himself. He had run the Vol State 500k again that year, and it had hurt his health. Dallas owns basically every time record in running for his age group–even at 78, he put me to shame. That day, though, he was dragging. I had convinced him to carry a second water bottle, knowing I would slow him down, but he needed even more.
A calf cramp hit him hard after the first “aid station” at 10k. I waited while he massaged it out. This was the second time I’d seen someone literally floored by an intensity of pain I’d rather not think about. It wasn’t long before the other calf had him swearing at a decibal I’d not heard from him before. After a few excruciating moments, he was able to breathe and walk, so we continued on at a casual pace.
Dallas was discouraged, not wanting to hold me back but not wanting to quit. I reminded him of the email Clay had sent when Dallas had referred to the run as a race. “We want to change that mindset. You are not running for a medal–you are running for a cause.” It was a glorious day, aside from the heat, and I was just happy to be out, running somewhere new.
I couldn’t convince Dallas to call and get a ride, so I gave him one of my water bottles. I needed it but he needed it more. We took it easy to the next 10k aid station. The heat was truly angry.
At the aid station, we took a good break, refueling and rehydrating. Jessica and her husband had decided to continue crewing. Her food stash was a glory to behold. I stuffed peanut M&Ms in my pack as I guzzled an iced Red Bull. Then I drank a liter of coconut water. I had not yet peed, for which I was partially grateful since women don’t have it quite as convenient as men in that department, but I knew it was a bad sign as well.
After soda and Gatorade, Dallas was feeling more like himself and decided to continue on. Even though it was past three, the heat was not abating. We were less than three miles into that segment, and my thirst was again overwhelming. The warm water in my bottles wasn’t cutting it.
At each aid station, Clay gave us directions for the next ten kilometers, which would take us to the next aid station. I knew that the first turn would be at a grocery store in the small town of Cairo, which I’m pretty sure was pronounced K-eye-row. I ran ahead and signaled Dallas that I was going in, happy that I’d remember to stick cash in my pack. I grabbed one of those giant iced tea drinks loaded with sugar, and guzzled almost all of it before Dallas got there.
“I’m done” is all he said when he got to the store. After making absolutely sure he wasn’t just waffling, I texted Clay. I didn’t want to just leave Dallas, but it was late afternoon and I wasn’t even halfway done with the day. As I stood there waffling myself, a pickup truck pulled up alongside us and a gentleman with a true southern accent jumped out. He asked what we were doing and Dallas explained about the Monarch Ultra.
“God directed me to stop,” he explained, and asked if he could pray with us. I have lost and found religion my entire life. As I enter my fifties, I more hope there’s something more than actually believe it. I also know that I live my life on a fine edge and any advantage I can gain–physical, spiritual, or otherwise–cannot possibly hurt.
So Dallas and I bowed our heads with our new preacher friend as he asked for our peace and protection–that we be “highly visible” along our journey.
Dallas shooed me on, so I continued down the road. Clay drove past a few minutes later so I knew Dallas was safe. Not long after that, Jessica and her crew stopped and gave me an impromptu aid station. Even after the giant can of tea, I was able to drink another half liter of cold water.
The gang was stopping for a late picnic lunch as I continued down the road. I put my music on as I felt the loneliness of the evening stretch before me. Another 5k slipped under my feet as the sun settled on the horizon, releasing the landscape from its intensity. The next aid station was missing Jessica and her party as they had to make their way home sixty miles in the opposite direction. They left their snacks for me, and I stuffed more M&Ms in my pack.
The dusk lingered for the next 5k as I headed out on a quiet country road. I ran toward the royal purple and magenta, orange rays still striking through, and thought of my insignificance. I also thought of the preacher’s prayer for visibility and hoped that someone was listening. There had not been a street light since I turned on this road, and the only lights that weren’t from vehicles were from small farmhouses. I hadn’t thought to bring anything reflective and was feeling invisible as well as insignificant.
Until a pickup truck slowed down and the driver shouted something obscene. I then found myself wishing for invisibility as I choked back my fear. I could see my end: a truck slowing down, me seeing the wrong end of shotgun. I had my satellite messenger with me, but it was small solace that they’d be able to quickly find my body.
My fear rode alongside my anger, whose target alternated between myself for allowing the fear and the driver for causing it, whom I’m sure was blissfully unaware of his impact. The fears weren’t unfounded and they weren’t fair. The vast majority of women have been harassed while running and more than a few have not returned from a run. I didn’t want to give in to the fear but I didn’t want to end up dead either.
I thought about calling friends. I had to smile when I realized that I rejected calling many because I knew they’d drive straight out to help me. I have good friends. I finally called my friend, Joelle. “You are brave, you are strong, and you’ve got this.” She was at a mountain rescue training and couldn’t stay with me on the phone, but her words did.
The lonely country road finally ended in a busier but equally poorly lit road. It was ever so slightly downhill, so I was able to pick up the pace. A car slowed and I again fought my panic. He asked if I needed a ride and I responded with an exaggeratedly bright “No thanks!” He drove on and I settled uneasily into my pace, urging my tired legs to speed up, to get to the end.
The road flattened again as I watched the moon set two hours after its counterpart. I had no true idea where I was, but I knew there were no more turns. My legs ached with the monotony of the terrain and I finally had to give in and walk, frustrated, so wanting to be done with the fatigue and fear. I was doing 100k the next day, and at this pace, I’d be out after dark again.
I cared not to repeat the experience.
After some infinite length of time and distance, I saw the flashing beacons of a police car. It signal safety to me and immediately decided that was where I would end, whether anyone was there to greet me or no.
I picked up my pace, trying and failing to run, but determined to get to the flashing blue and red. The lights grew no bigger nor brighter. The moon had set and there was nothing to distract me from the lights. Even my music seemed to pick just annoying songs and I finally turned it off.
I just watched the blue and red lights, not getting any closer. It reminded me of a race I did in Canada. It ended on the far end of a lake, which was visible from a couple thousand feet above. It never seemed to get closer until you were finally next to it, and even then, you had to run its mile length before you were finished.
The blue and red lights continued to not get closer. A train passed. The flashing lights disappeared then reappeared as the train continued on. It seemed everything was closer than the lights.
Finally, finally there was the police car, its officer and Clay and Dallas, all right there. The officer, Jason, was not an ultra runner but was completely taken with the idea of running the Monarch Ultra through the town he looked out for. We assured him a year was more than enough time to train. He took a selfie with us and bid us well.
It was nine o’clock. I wanted nothing more than a shower and bed. The logistics were a bit blurred, but it was two hotel stops then a room. Dallas had secured the last available hotel room in Cape Girardeau. I was so grateful. As an added bonus, it was equipped for the physically challenged, among which I counted myself that night. I sat through my shower, absorbing the warmth of the water despite the miserable heat of the day.
I was asleep before Dallas finished his shower, having laid out everything for the next day. It was easy to plan for a day where the temperature would not fluctuate, a luxury not often enjoyed in temperamental Colorado. I put my water bottles in the small fridge, a vain gesture.
Dallas wasn’t convinced my wakeup time would get us to the start by 6, but I assured him I could do it. I needed more than five hours of sleep more than I needed time to get ready. It is completely unfair how much more quickly hours spent sleeping slide by than those spent running–well, most of the time anyway.
The crew met us sleepily, having had more to do before they could call it a night. The start was much less an event than the day prior, as I simply waved and took off. I put on my lightweight reflective jacket wanting to believe it would be somewhat cool, but took it off before I had run a mile. I wrapped it around my pack, so I would still be visible, thinking again of the pastor.
The first segment passed slowly as I ran quietly along a dirt road. I was already staring at my feet, my body still aching from the day before. I marveled at the number of dead frogs. As I passed over a small bridge over a small stream, I wondered at the dead fish. Like, really wondered. The frogs, yeah okay–there were a lot of them but I could see where they came from. But how did the fish get on the road? Was there some kind of mass suicide? Bored kids maybe pulling them up and leaving them to die? I stumbled out the next few miles, fish thoughts occupying my mind.
It was the first thing I asked when I got to my aid station. Ronald explained that it had flooded recently and these small skeletons were the sad victims of that weather. I was glad I asked, as there were dead fish on all the bridges I crossed that day and I didn’t need my mind going into those dark corners.
Dallas joined me for the second segment which had the second biggest highlight of the day: crossing the mighty Mississippi, one of the geological dividers of our country. Dallas had run across it before, but this was my first time. It was also the goodbye point for Illinois and the welcome to Missouri. Another first–a run that took me across state lines.
The river, much like a lot of nature, was not what it once was, abused and dumped on by greedy profiteers. I wanted to be excited, thrilled, happy about running across it, but just like when thinking of the monarch butterflies, I felt extreme sadness and loss for what would never be again.
On the other side, in Missouri, were the flattened remains of a dog. It took up the entire width of the sidewalk, forcing Dallas and I onto the now busy road. The stench was overwhelming, the ninety degree temps making a nauseating stew from the lifeless forms.
The theme for most of the rest of the day was roadkill. So much roadkill. I counted two monarch butterflies, and was happy the death toll for them was so low, although I couldn’t help but wonder how far they’d traveled merely to die on the side of the road in Nowhere Missouri. I couldn’t count the number of possums and, yes, dead fish.
Then came the next aid station. A Missouri lady, whose name I’m not sure I ever knew, and her husband had joined us that day. They “raised” butterflies until they came out of their cocoon when they set them free to follow their destiny. A butterfly was born that morning, and it was time for her to join the migration south.
When she said that I should do the honors, my body stopped aching for a moment. We named her Delta, for the next town. Delta is latin for “change”, and no name better suited the meaning of this run.
I was terrified of breaking Delta and couldn’t bring myself to wrap my hand around her as instructed. I instead waited until she climbed onto my thumb. I felt like a child in my absolute wonderment. I couldn’t stop grinning as I watched her tentatively spread her wings.
“Welcome to the world,” I whispered. I was supposed to encourage her to fly but I couldn’t bring myself to rush the process, fascinated as she stretched her wings and tested their strength.
Finally she was ready. She beat her wings harder and launched from my finger. She fluttered a moment, rising just a little, before her beautiful wings hesitated and she floated towards the ground. Landing on a blade of grass she rested, Rodney filming her the entire time.
My only regret for those two days was my addled brain becoming distracted at that moment and walking off. I never saw Delta truly begin her voyage to Mexico. If all went well for her, she is there now. I will never know, but I have to believe. I have to have hope.
From there to almost the end of my day, there were no more turns. I ran through a one gas station town. Seated out front in dilapidated chairs was a trio of men that is only ever seen in front of the only gas station in a town. I heard them yell my name and turned in surprise. They were cheering and clapping. I grinned and waved, gaining just a bit of energy from their enthusiasm and the general silliness and randomness of the brief encounter. I correctly assumed Carlotta was behind it.
I needed that energy because I wanted nothing more than to stop, a desire with which I am intimately familiar. It’s the ultimate conundrum of ultrarunning. Logically, you would never even start an ultra–or even a marathon for that matter. There’s no logical reason to put yourself through that kind of pain, no logical reason to spend that much time being not much more than a mouse on a wheel with nice scenery. So what do you rely on to begin the journey, to keep going?
Passion and stone cold pig-headedness.
But when it comes time to quit? Then what? How do you know when to start relying on logic again? Logic is always going to want you to stop. Logic is the enemy.
For this event, it was Clay standing over me, giving me my options. This run had never been about me–not about me finishing, not about me even running. It was about the butterflies. It was about community. It was about giving back.
And it was time for me to give again. The crew was exhausted. Their RV, which had broken down three hundred miles back, was ready to go again. Dallas didn’t like driving after dark and was ready to be back home. It had taken me almost nine hours to complete the first 50k of the day, and the second half would have me done well after midnight. The goal each day was to complete an ultra, and I had completed that.
I smiled and shrugged. “Guess I’m done.” A small ceremony, a certificate, hugs, photos, and the adventure was at an end for me. Another couple weeks was in store for these four, and they were ready to face it with bravery and a sense of humor.
And what about building bridges? Politics inevitably came up, the rollback of many critical environmental protections impacting so much of what each of us loved. I try to celebrate what I love instead of bashing what I hate, so I bragged on Colorado’s new governor, Jared Polis, who had recently signed an executive order to study the migratory paths in Colorado in order to build routes for animals, protecting both them and the people injured in crashes with them.
“Incredible,” said Ronald, shaking his head sadly but smiling. “A politician building bridges instead of walls.”
Incredible indeed. All of us, butterflies included, could use more bridges in our lives.
As I have written about before, I am a 14 year member of Alpine Rescue Team, located in Evergreen, CO. Alpine Rescue Team has been safely rescuing people having a bad day in the mountains for 60 years. We are a proud member of the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) community. This is a prestigious designation conferred on those teams who, every 5 years, demonstrate proficiency in high angle evacuations, scree evacuations, search, and avalanche rescue. We are on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and we always provide our services free of charge. This year alone we have responded to over 150 calls. A number that has exploded with the dramatic expansion of Colorado’s population.
In addition to our search, rescue, and recovery services, one of our key goals is to further the learning and understanding of the general public on how to stay safe in the backcountry. To achieve this goal, you can find us: hanging out at many popular trail heads checking in with people heading into the mountains to see if they are prepared, giving presentations to various outdoor groups along the Front Range of Colorado, and hosting backcountry skills clinics at our team facility. I thought I would share some key tips from time to time to get the word out to the blogosphere of adventurers. Hopefully you will find some nugget of information in here that helps keep you safe in the backcountry.
Tips to avoid backcountry peril:
Take the 10 Essentials on every hike! If you ever find yourself saying … “I’m just going to …” and therefore the implication is you don’t need to take much, please reconsider the decision to not pack any critical items. I can’t tell you how many rescues we do for people who twist / break ankles, fall and hit heads, get lost, the hike takes longer and now it’s getting dark, etc.
Please note this list of things can fit easily into a small daypack
The 10 Essentials give you a chance to survive 24-48 hrs and be found alive.
Set a realistic scheduled and follow your turn-around plan
Do not rely upon electronics – have basic knowledge of how to use a topo map
A cellphone and 911 do not replace preparedness
Do not separate with your party – this is true with VERY few exceptions.
Know the weather forecast before you go and heed any weather indications
Always tell someone your specific plan: where you’re going, what trail, and your estimated return time. Do not deviate from this without letting someone know your changes.
Temperature drops 4 degrees per 1,000 feet of elevation – be prepared for this
Lightening kills – be off summit and ridge lines by 11 am (depending on the forecast for storms)
Altitude sickness is aided only by descent
If lost, stay put
Make yourself findable – wear bright clothing, have whistle / reflective device, fire kit, etc. (See 10 essentials)
Do at least some research on the trail / wilderness area you are going to
Don’t have summit fever when all indicators tell you otherwise. Like the famous mountaineer Ed Viesturs said … “live to climb another day.” The mountain will still be there.
Remember … it can happen to you.
Just taking a few steps ahead of time can ensure the best outcomes for when we recreate, no matter what we encounter along the way. If the worst should happen, rest assured that there are dedicated, trained people who will come find you, get you, and take care of you all free of charge.
There we were, in a yellow school bus bumping down the Denali Park Road headed towards the Wonder Lake campground. The weather was cold, cloudy, and drizzly and we were more than a bit bummed that the weather would most likely make us miss out on the amazing views supposedly to be had at the end of the road, at the campground. The thing about Alaska, however, that I learned early on in this trip is that you just need to gear up with good rain gear and head out. Nine times out of ten you will be rewarded with some memorable experience, you would’ve missed out on had you fretted about the weather and stayed in. So, despite the drizzle, we were still headed to Wonder Lake to camp for the night.
Wonder Lake sits almost at the end of the 92 miles of Denali Park Road (DPR) and a mere 26 miles from Denali peak. The DPR is the only road in Denali NP and, the only way for visitors to explore the park. Visitors can only drive a very short section of this road in their own vehicles. The rest of the approximate 90 miles is via yellow school bus and takes about 6 hours. Yep, that’s 6 hours in a school bus like the one you might have ridden in as a child. The same crappy windows that are hard to get up and down, the same green naugahyde seats with minimal cushion, the same limited suspension. Despite the lack of luxury transportation, the 6 hours in our bus actually went by fairly quickly, and was not nearly the torture it first sounded like it might be. Despite the soggy weather, we were rewarded with quite a few breaks in the fog. These clearings afforded us the ability to make out quite a bit of the beauty surrounding us. We were also lucky to see several grizzlies, wolves, and caribou crossing sections of the road – all from the safety of our bus. Dahl bighorn sheep dotted the high ridge lines of the peaks.
Arriving at the Wonder Lake campsite we were definitely happy to be in Denali but definitely bummed that Denali peak, and all the surrounding mountains, were shrouded in heavy cloud cover. We pitched our tents and ate dinner, accepting the fact that we might not get the chance to actually see the peak on this trip. Travel is about the experience right.
What a thrilling surprise then to wake up in the morning, unzip our tents, and be greeted by a bluebird day and the hulking white mass of Denali peak visible in all its splendor. The Denali massif is so impressive from this vantage point, the majesty is really indescribable.
Alaska is amazing for many things, one of them for sure is that it teaches you to just accept the moments you’re given and head out adventuring anyway.
Here are a few tips about camping at Wonder Lake:
Be prepared for the potential for lots of mosquitos. Those fun, little net hats are definitely worth a purchase. The mosquitos, although quite prolific, did not ruin the experience of camping at Wonder Lake.
There are 28 reservable sites
Bear canisters must be obtained and used for almost anything you might be bringing … i.e. toothpaste, chapstick, sunscreen, food, etc. even if it says unscented.
Last but not least … I would highly recommend bringing lots of your own snacks for the bus ride since it is 6 hours in and 6 hours out without any food purchase options along the way.
If you find yourself in Denali I highly recommend at least one night at Wonder Lake campground.
Happy camping and you get to ride a version of the Life Bus to the camp sight.
One of my favorite new things to do in the summer is paddle board!! When we first got ours, about a year or two ago, I could barely actually stand up on it … LOL. Fortunately, I’ve gotten much better at it, which was needed for this paddle day near Telluride. Going out from the put-in location towards the mountain we barely had to paddle. The current was so strong we basically just drifted along. Of course, that means on the way back you will be paddling against the current. Add a bit of a head wind and I was thankful I’ve finally gotten some sea legs on these things. One note about SUPing in Colorado. The wind typically picks up in the afternoons so it’s best to try to paddle in the mornings or early afternoon. (I would at least always recommend checking the weather forecast for lightening and / or wind when doing anything in Colorado in the summers.) This day wasn’t too bad but we did have some afternoon headwinds causing some decent wave action – to add to the fun.
Paddling here was such a spontaneous find, we were driving from Durango to Telluride the day before when we spotted this lake from the road and saw people paddling on it. The color of the water in some places was turquoise green. Upon arrival at Telluride Mountain, we made a bee line straight for a place where we could rent SUPs. Everything turned out so perfectly. The store was a block from our hotel and they would bring the boards down to the lake and pick them back up for us. Done. We were booked for the next day.
This was such a beautiful place to paddle. The views were jaw dropping. My husband Todd (fellow Life Buser), his sister Cinda and fellow Life Buser too, her husband, and I all had such a great time we hung out here forever. We brought beers in an insulated rafting bag, strapped the bag to a board, and enjoyed the cold brews at the far end of the lake where there’s a little beach; while we just lounged on our boards in the shallow tide.
I love spontaneous finds like this so much. It’s what the Life Bus is all about. The lake we were on is Trout Lake. The rental shop was Mountain Adventure Equipment on Telluride Mountain, not in town. They provided excellent service and the SOL boards they rent were great, very stable.
Just as an FYI – The boards we have are from a Steamboat Springs brand called Hala, our boards are the Hala Hoss model (Carbon). We love them too. They have a carbon component to their construction which makes for some great stability. I just love the name as well 🙂
The woman we rescued in the below story wrote a book about her experience. She asked me to write a chapter for her book, which I happily did. Sadly, it didn’t make the final cut, so I’m adding it here for your reading pleasure.
I was three quarters the way to the summit of Mt Morrison when the pager went off. I sighed. This was my umpteenth time trying to reach the top of this innocuous little hill, and I really did not want to turn around again. I pulled out the annoying device to shut it up. I read the message.
Request for assistance for a carry out in Park County.
That sounded promising. At least I would get to do something.
Search and rescue has been singularly the most frustrating endeavor of my life. I joined for a very simple reason. I had been rescued from Longs Peak after my climbing partner fell. We had spent a very long night high up on that fourteen thousand foot mountain. I was a novice and convinced I would die that night.
Actually, I had spent most of the day feeling that way. I was in way over my head. It was a typical mountaineering disaster story: Over ambitious boyfriend dragging along his clueless girlfriend on a route neither of us had the skill to be on. I had fortunately taken enough outdoor classes to at least have what I needed: food, water, warm clothes. Sadly, my expensive, thick, wool socks were sitting on the dash of his car. “Leave them. You won’t need them.” Not exactly the truest words spoken.
I remember believing for no logical reason that, if I saw the sunrise, I would live. There had been a full moon for part of the night, but it had set behind the mountain. I sat, looking at the lights of Estes Park with envy and despair, thinking of all those people in their warm, cozy beds, happily ignorant of the two hapless climbers on Longs Peak.
The sun brought with it twenty some guardian angels in the form of a search and rescue team. They took us under their wings and back safely to our car, thirty six hours after we had started. All I could think about the rest of that day was how selfless these individuals were and how I wanted to be just like that. I wanted to be the one to say, it’s going to be okay now.
An internet search turned up a local search and rescue organization : Alpine Rescue Team. The timing was almost eerie. They were recruiting for a new class, something that only happened once every two years. An application and an interview and I was accepted into the class. Six months of training and a team vote and I was officially a member.
That’s when the fun stopped. As a new member, I was an “unknown”, someone with an unknown skill set, so understandably not someone who was often put in the field. Together with numerous stand downs–missions where the subject walked out before we arrived–and I found myself with a large gas bill and not much to show for it.
But I was raised with strong ethics. I had committed to this and I would do this to the absolute best of my abilities. So I went to all the trainings and attended as many missions as my job and life would allow. I slowly got better. I hoped someone noticed.
I looked again at the pager. A carry out in February would be long and painful. Add to that the prediction of a blizzard and time was of the essence. I am an endurance athlete. This was my kind of mission. I put the pager away and turned back to my car.
I had worked my way up the ranks of the rescue team enough to earn a handheld radio. I turned it on in the car in a vain attempt to hear anything about this mission. I drove on in silence. Many team members talk about how they mentally prepare as they drive, deciding what will go into their pack, what they might encounter. I preferred to let my mind be blank. It was counterintuitive but it was how my mind worked. I had learned it when I was flying hang gliders. If I over thought the situation, it inevitably ended badly. So I learned to trust my subconscious.
That and I never took anything out of my pack anyway. I train to run a hundred miles. I hike every chance I get. Most missions did not tax me in the slightest, so carrying a heavy pack made up for any training I might be missing. It was a running joke on the team–I never knew if that was a good thing or not.
I was pleasantly surprised to be one of the first rescuers on scene–that greatly increased the odds I wouldn’t spend the day sitting around. One of my favorite mission leaders (MLs) was there already and he shouted to me to grab my pack as I stepped out of my car. I grabbed it and headed over. One of the MLs just looked at me and shook his head. “Light and fast” is all he said. I returned to my car and pulled a few items out. When he did not look convinced, I told him the bulk was from a down jacket. He, I, and one other ML, headed into the field for the carryout. It was about 4pm.
I was briefed on the way. A young lady had fallen and broken her femur. Another agency had already secured her, and we were there to pull her via sled over the snowy trails of Rosalie Peak. She was somewhere around 13,000ft. A helicopter had located her, but had to leave because of an impending blizzard. I could only imagine her despair. The same had happened on my rescue, but I knew I could walk out. She didn’t have that option.
One of the advantages to being fielded with an ML is their radios–they have access to information the rest of us don’t. The conversations were confusing, but it soon became apparent that the subject was not only not secured, she had not been located. The MLs discussed options. Darkness seemed to fall quickly. We continued on the assumption that we would be carrying out the subject, but the mood was decidedly more tense.
That assumption lasted until about 8 o’clock, when we heard singing. “This Little Light of Mine”. Both MLs muttered quietly then jumped into action. One turned, looked straight at me, and said, “You’re medical. Go.”
I nodded. Medical is something I knew. Something I was good at. I had taken my first first-aid course at least fifteen years prior. Six months before that, I had found myself dangling from a tree, blood everywhere, unable to breath. I had crashed my hang glider into a tree. My friends were standing there, staring at me. All I could think was, “I am going to die while they watch.” A nurse who happened to live nearby was soon there, took control, got me out of the tree and I was able to breath again.
As the ambulance drove me to the local hospital, I vowed I would never be in that position, watching a friend die and powerless to help. I’ve taken countless CPR and first aid courses, before becoming an instructor myself. I moved to Colorado, fell in love with the mountains, and became a Wilderness First Aid instructor.
Now, I was facing my first, real, medical crisis. Everything I’d taught for twenty years seemed to desert me. I hurried over to the subject. I put on a positive cheery attitude. As I kneeled beside her, it all came flooding back
Scene safety. The blizzard arrived at the same time as we did. We built a shelter out of a single tarp. She and her friend were on the saddle and in the brunt of the weather. With no way to move her, it was the best I could do.
Subject rapid assessment. Broken femur. I knew that. Hypothermia. That was obvious. Vitals. She was so bundled up and so cold, I was afraid to expose any part of her to take a pulse. There was no way to see her breathing. She was alert and oriented. And terrified.
“It’s all okay now, right?”
It was the moment I had dreamed of for three years. My chance to say “It is all okay now.”
Except that it wasn’t. Not even close.
We had come under the assumption that she was packaged and ready to go. That was not the case. If it had been, her leg would be secured, she’d be in a “beanbag” to stabilize her, a thick sleeping bag, and a litter–a titanium, full body carrying device. She would have been warm and somewhat stable, and, while not the most fun she’d ever had, it wouldn’t have been too bad a ride out.
We had a beanbag and that was it. She was about to face the most excruciating experience of her life. Having broken seven bones in my life, I felt my nerves and skin rebel just at the thought of what lay ahead. I glanced down the trail I’d come up. I could feel the indescribable pain of bone against bone. It was four miles back to the trailhead. I had no idea where the litter was.
I took a breath. I had been trying to keep it upbeat, but I couldn’t lie.
“Actually, the next bit is going to really suck. But I promise, you will get through that, and then it will get better.”
Her friend, helping me out, said, “Oh don’t worry about her. She can do it. She runs 50 miles for fun.”
I looked up. A fellow runner. Suddenly there was a bit of brightness. Suddenly, I wasn’t lead medic in a blizzard in the middle of the night with a subject with the only kind of bone break that could kill you.
“Me too! I ran Leadville last year! Doing it again this year.”
“OMG! Can I pace you?”
I laughed. “Well, let’s get you outta here first, then, yes, definitely.”
The beanbag was laid out beside her. It was time for the torture. I explained what was going to happen. Her eyes were covered by goggles, but I could feel them widen. I took her head as lead medic. Other teams had arrived by this time, and there were four others, ready to move her.
For the next hour, all I can remember is the screaming. It’s what I will always remember most from the experience. We got her into the beanbag, and began the descent to the litter and eventually the trailhead and ambulance, assuming it could even get there in the blizzard. She begged desperately for drugs. There was nothing I could do. I was helpless.
We went slowly, stopping often to give her a little break from the torture, and allow the litter to get closer. I stayed next to her, shouting encouragements over the wind. She and her friend had been imagining a beach in Mexico to escape the bitter cold. I shouted about the sun and the heat and the sand. I could tell it was doing absolutely no good, but there was nothing else I could do.
I was at my breaking point. This wasn’t what I had imagined. I couldn’t tell her it would all be okay. It wasn’t. It was so much worse. I could feel the tears welling, but I pushed them away angrily. I had no right to cry. I wasn’t the one in pain. At the end of seemingly endless night, I would go home, and collapse in my bed. She would be wheeled into an ER and all the torture that brought with it. I kept encouraging her, kept telling her she was doing great, telling her it was almost over.
Finally, finally, we were at the litter. More teams were there–a call had gone out, requesting assistance from other teams.. They loaded her and her relief was as palpable as mine. It was still slow going. The trail was packed, but the snow was soft and deep on either side. To keep the litter going in the right direction, rescuers were forced to post hole on the sides. Everyone was struggling. I at least had snowshoes–most had left them, thinking they would not be needed. A team had brought extra pairs, but still some went without.
As they pulled her down the trail, I kept up as best I could. The adrenaline was leaving my body. It was midnight already and we were still at least two miles out. Other medics were there and I was no longer needed. I dropped back. At a mile out, the snow machines were waiting. By the time I got there, she had already been pulled out by a machine.
There was one machine waiting. Ego kept others from getting a ride, but I was beyond that. I gratefully accepted a ride out. No one could question my strength and abilities. I had given my all.
I thanked the driver at the trailhead, checked out with the ML, and got in my car. An hour later, I was home. I crawled into bed. I squeezed my eyes shut and pulled the covers over my head.
But I could not block out the sounds of the screaming.
“How did you meet” seems to be a question reserved for the happenstance that led to one being coupled. True friends, so the thinking goes, are the ones you’ve known so long that you cannot even remember not knowing them, much less how you met.
But these days, people meet on all kinds of adventures. Holly I met while running Zion. Laura in the Miami airport on the way to Cuba. Lexi and I are mountain rescue friends. A couple weekends ago, I met a new friend under circumstances that test all but the most understanding of friendships.
This time, the Life Bus took me to Blairsville, GA. It ranks highest in friendliness in a state renowned for friendliness. The goal: completion of the Cruel Jewel, a 106 mile (the extra six are the cruel part) trail run over ten Appalachian peaks. The other part of the cruel is Dragon’s spine in the last twenty miles of the race.
Mike and I are also mountain rescue friends. He left the team several years ago to pursue a career in nursing but we have kept in touch, me pestering him to DJ at the Evergreen Town Race, and him inviting me to the Camp Kesem annual charity event. It’s the mark of either true friendship or complete insanity that he offered to crew for me during this event. Possibly both, in his case.
I tore off my Colorado layers as the Georgia humidity enveloped me while Mike navigated the Atlanta airport traffic, comparable to what I had experienced in Nepal several years ago. With matching eyerolls, I jumped in the Jeep he’d rented and settled into my role as navigator.
First stop, Whole Foods. It is an undying pre-100 race belief of mine that no city on the planet has any food like Denver’s food and that I must bring all the food with me. A sixty pound suitcase convinced me that maybe I should at least check to see if coconut water existed in the remote regions of Georgia. Sure enough, on the outskirts, even on the way, was a Whole Foods.
And what a Whole Foods it was. We stocked up with enough food to last two nuclear holocausts because I was still convinced Blairsville would be in the middle of a terrible famine. Then had lunch. Fried chicken and catfish and peach cobbler is a healthy lunch when it’s purchased at Whole Foods, right? Pretty sure it didn’t count as carbo loading either.
I had booked a cabin at Helton Falls, less than two miles from the race start at Vogel State Park. In retrospect, finding a spot more midway between Blairsville and Vogel would have been more convenient, but I don’t think we would have found a more peaceful, comfortable spot. And Stephen, the owner, called twice and texted once as we made our way there, making sure we weren’t lost. Our cabin was appropriately named “The Nut House”.
Blairsville was not in the middle of a famine, I am happy to report. On the contrary, it boasts more bakeshops per capita than all of Colorado. And one spectacular Southern cooking restaurant appropriately called Hole in the Wall. I think Mike visited again while I was out running. But that night, I continued my splurge with more fried catfish, hush puppies and fried okra. I skipped the sweet tea–I didn’t want to overdo it.
Especially when one of the bakeries was also an Italian restaurant, with homemade tiramisu. I might have finished the race an hour slower, but it was worth every calorie.
Thursday was reserved for checking out the course. Mike estimated about four hours to drive the hundred miles I would be running. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that my friends at Fatdog had driven many many more miles than that, the aid station driving route often being more circuitous than the running route.
We were both relieved that it was much shorter. There was no real indication of where the stations actually were, but at least the roads were solid dirt roads, which was one thing off my mind. I wouldn’t have to call Mike’s wife to explain how Mike had driven off a cliff after two sleepless nights.
I kept myself at least entertained by pointing out the names of the roads, apparently named by locals. 4 Wheel Drive. Snake Nation (the name of my next band) Road. Winding Road. Just-A-Mere Drive. And my personal favorite: Cookie Martin Drive.
There were a few named after couples (Harrison and Ada Road), and we wondered who got the road when there wasn’t a happily-ever-after.
On the way back to the Nut House, we stopped at Cabin Coffee, quaint, Southern friendly, and amazing coffee. Their logo is “Just be happy and have fun”. Is there a better logo?
They lived it. There was no calling out your name, vaguely mispronounced. No, they brought your coffee right to you, with a smile and a have-a-great-day. The religious sayings posted on the walls made me want to believe. Bill, one of the locals who made it his duty to greet everyone with a smile and a God-bless-you, reminded me of the Christianity I grew up with, the love-one-another kind, not the use-the-Bible-to-judge-and-condemn-those-who-are-different kind that seems so prevalent these days. I don’t think Bill ever judges anyone. He looks out for those having a bad day, or a bad life, and does what he can to bring a little light in. Every coffee shop needs a Bill.
I had a chai while Mike indulged in the Palomino frappe, a “highly caffeinated” coffee–I suggested Mike might bring me one the second night. I know Mike stopped by more than once during the race. He didn’t bring me any coffee. But I’m not holding that against him. Really.
The rest of the day was spent trying to stay off my feet and relax. Being told to relax, even and maybe especially by yourself, never works.
The race started at noon Friday and I was stressing about stressing the day of the race. Packet pickup was at 9. Should we get there at 9 in case there’s a rush? 10 so we didn’t have to wait around so long? What would parking be like? In addition to believing nowhere has grocery stores, I also believe that the parking situation will always be akin to that of the Boston marathon, with its thousands of runners. 150 people signed up for the Cruel Jewel. Parking would be as much a problem as finding food. Mike, to his credit, was happy with whatever I wanted to do, which changed every time he asked me. I think he was just happy to not have to get up at 4 am.
I stayed up as late as I could, only to wake up at 4 am Georgia time. I slept fitfully then gave up around 7. I tried to eat slowly. I tried to pack slowly. I tried to dress slowly. I tried to relax.
I was ready to go before 8.
We drove over around 9 (stopping to finally say hi to Stephen, thank him for his hospitality and try to explain why anyone would run a hundred miles). Maybe three people were there for packet pickup. I picked up my packet and walked back to the car. I sat down and stared straight ahead. Mike suggested coffee. I froze with indecision–what if there was no parking when we got back, what if we got lost, what if we fell asleep–but coffee won.
We got coffee, drank it and drove back. There was still plenty of parking. The minutes continued to drag by, me fluctuating between wishing them speed and enjoying my final moments of repose, knowing what was to come.
Then we were off.
I’ve written almost two pages on the events leading up to the race, but what do I say about the race itself? I ran. I ran up then I ran down. Then I ran back up again. I never ran flat, though. That’s the other cruel part of this race. For being so cruel, the course was amazing. I am not skilled at technical terrain and this was beautiful terrain, the trails cushioned by centuries of pine needles and leaves. Georgia was in the middle of 40 days and nights of rain and that held for the race. It was a light rain the first day, holding the temperatures down. I was still drenched from the humidity, praying the pound of goop I’d applied to my entire body would protect me from the dreaded chafing.
I finally got to see Mike around mile twenty, about seven hours into the race. I was feeling pretty good–I was actually feeling great. I was going way faster than I would allow myself to believe. I was eating and drinking plenty. I was happy.
The weather gods did not smile down that night.
Shortly after sunset, the lightning started. Lightning is beautiful when curled up with a good book. Not so much alone on a trail. I watched it with growing trepidation. A final crack-boom opened the heavens and the deluge began.
The rain did a disco dance in the light of my headlamp. I threw on my rain jacket for no other reason than I wanted to–it certainly didn’t do any good. My route meandered from edge to edge of the road, unable to see a foot in front of my feet. “Geez, I wanna see something!” I finally yelled to no one in particular.
CRACK BOOM. The landscape lit up, and it took only those few dazzling seconds for me to decide maybe utter darkness wasn’t so bad.
I slogged through the rain and mud throughout the night and as the sun made its appearance. I kept running. The clouds disappeared and the temperatures rose. I kept running. I never got got any drier.
I was starting to feel a glimmer of hope that I wouldn’t have to run through the entirety of the second night, when I started on yet another endless uphill. The course was an out-and-back but I’d run this section through the night more than twelve hours before. I remembered none of it.
That’s when I met my fifteen hour friend.
Her name is Lara and she was running the 50 mile race. She was supposed to be running it with friends but life being as it is, she was now alone. She had started at eight that morning, but still was not looking forward to the Dragon’s Spine that night alone.
Me either. I knew it would take everything I had to get through it and I knew I’d be dealing with hallucinations on top of bitter fatigue. I knew by then that I would do it, because, deep in my soul, I wanted to finish. But to do what it would take to get there–that I really, really didn’t want to do.
Lara’s pace was much stronger than mine, but I offered up a weak, if you really want company and don’t mind waiting… I didn’t expect her take me up on it.
But there she was, at the final aid station before the big climb, waiting. My gratitude went beyond words. Mike had hoped to pace me the last bit when I knew I needed it the most, but the logistics didn’t work out. I was trying to not be bitterly disappointed, but it was hard.
When running ultras, I’m always reminded on the “Footprint in the Sands” story about God carrying us the during the trials of our lives. For me, it’s not so much God as it is my friends who carry me through the trials of my life. And while the second night of a hundred compares not at all to the loss of a job or a loved one, still, I feel carried by the people who has given up days of their life to help me achieve my simple goal to finish.
And here was Lara. My fifteen hour friend. Prior to the aid station, Oak and I had become friends and he became part of our straggly band of runners. Somewhere along the next section, we picked up another runner, a Latvian whose training regime consisted of running two miles a day. That’s it. I’m still not sure what I make of that. Oak and the Latvian disappeared somewhere along the trail during the dark night, but Lara was right there with me.
Up and up and up and up we traveled on the Dragon’s Spine, a stupid steep section and the only technical terrain on the course. I marveled at how little I remembered. And I had tried so hard to memorize as much as I could so I wouldn’t be surprised on the return trip.
Lara and I shared bits and pieces of our lives when we weren’t swearing at the trail and wondering where the hell the aid station was, bonded by our shared misery and our shared goal. She was going through a divorce, me, a mid life crisis. Mostly, though, we were silent, each in our own thoughts and misery, trying to just make it through.
We somehow managed to time the rising of the sun with the final big ascent before a blessed four mile downhill. It ended at a bridge that marked the final three miles and, with memories of Grand Raid, I saw bridges everywhere. I tried staring only at my feet, but I could still “see” the bridges. I swore I would never run a 48 hour race again.
What was in reality a small uphill, but with the fatigue seemed so much longer, was almost our undoing. Lara shed a few tears of frustration–at the race and at life–and only my exhaustion kept me from joining her, the effort even to cry beyond me at this point.
And then, forty-five hours after I’d started, we were on the road that led directly to the finish. We just looked at each other and grinned. We marveled as we limped our way along at how we, two complete strangers, could have shared such an experience as we just had, pushing and pulling each other along on our journeys, giving the support and sarcasm each needed to do what we had set out to do.
I collapsed at the end, trying to explain to Mike what I was feeling and thinking. Lara had to get a shower before they booted her out of the cabin she’d rented. We saw each other once more before I left, exchanging a heartfelt hug of gratitude that was beyond words.
Will we see each other again? Keep in touch? It’s hard to say. Before social media, it would have been a certain “no”. Call a virtual stranger, no matter the circumstances, just to say hi? When was the last time anyone even wrote a letter? There are so many people we encounter at races, during vacations, and at other random events in our lives, who have such an impact in such a short time, people we will never forget, yet who fade from our existence as easily and they entered it. Is that how it’s supposed to be? Our lives so different that it truly is for just those few moments that we are meant to be together? Maybe so. However these stories end, I believe being grateful that the story was ever written is the part we should keep with us always.
So what does this mean? We are truly honored to be nominated by Lana at Cole Campfire blog for an award that recognizes blogs for being captivating, inspiring, and motivating. I would recommend checking Lana’s website out as well as she and her family definitely embody the qualities of the Mystery Blogger Award as well. I love that she mentions how “quirky” they are a lot! Quirky is like cowbell, we need more of it 🙂
It is truly wonderful to realize that what you set out to do here at The Life Bus is actually resonating with fellow adventurers and travelers around the world. “This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.” I think this sums up a nutshell pretty well. We love adventuring and sharing our experiences and insights with you all. Thank you so much for this honor. Thank you Okota Enigma for creating this very motivating blog award
So here are the Rules:
Put the award logo/image on your blog
List the rules.
Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
You have to nominate 10 – 20 people
Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)
Share a link to your best post(s)
Three Things About Myself
I am obsessed with exploring and will always take the long and winding road to see where it goes
I have a Border Collie, Clover, and a brown lab mix, Daisy, who are my faithful companions on virtually everything.
I am happiest doing anything on a mountain trail
5 Questions for Lana
a. We love breweries too!! Colorado has virtually exploded with microbreweries over the last 5-10 years, thank God!! What is your favorite type of beer and where is your favorite brewery? We’re mostly IPA fans at the Life Bus. As a fan of brown ales and porters Lynda is bit of an outcast 🙂
b. I love your nerdiness. Especially the list making part. You might be my older sister’s twin separated at birth. She is a voracious reader and truly obsessed with lists. Her lists have sublists, and so on. It is virtually impossible to pry the notepad out of her hands; it’s as if the list is her life preserver and she won’t let go. I’m wondering if you get all that’s on your lists accomplished and also what types of books you enjoying reading?
c. What prompted you to become a vegan?
d. What is one of your quirkiest traits or moments?
e. What is your travel / camping dream, if you could go anywhere or do anything?
Ok, I’m not going to lie, re-entry after 5 days on Isla Holbox, has been very, very challenging for me. I wake up remembering that oh yeah, I actually do have to wear shoes, and, no I can’t just walk everywhere barefoot. I’m bummed that I can’t just order a delicious Casa Sandra cocktail (cucumber, lime, mint, and gin) any time of day I desire one. I find that I’m cranky because I actually have things I have to get done, pesky things called deadlines. I can’t just go jump in warm Caribbean water when I feel like it. Can you feel my pain? I think this crankiness must come over most people who venture out to this tiny island off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula; only to have to return to reality.
Do you remember that song by Madonna, La Isla Bonita? Holbox must be the island she was singing about. The roads on the island, if you could call them that, are really lanes of sand where the only traffic is golf carts, some ATVs, a few mopeds, and cruiser bikes. The color of the sky and water are so unbelievably blue and turquoise that it’s hard to believe your eyes are seeing things correctly. I’ve never met so many incredibly kind people in a week, employees, locals, and other intrepid travelers, all seemed infused with a happiness that came from just spending time in such a beautiful place. Holbox definitely embraces a zen mindset and pace. Not at all in a pretentious, obnoxious way but in what seems to be the true spirit of that kind of philosophy. Todd and I had the best yoga class of our lives given by the warmest, kindest, funniest person I’ve met in a long time, Luchi Lux. Luchi came highly recommended by Juls at Le Petis Pas de Juls travel blog. Juls has become a friend and she lives on Holbox. Everywhere we went, we were treated so kindly, warmly, and genuinely. Luis at the restaurant at Casa de las Tortugas was so kind, William our jack-of-all-things at our hotel Casa Sandra anticipated our every desire, Luchi made yoga, for two non-yogis, fun and energizing.
Our beach bar
Casa Sandra at night
More lounging area
Serendipitously we wound up at one of the best beach boutique hotels I’ve ever stayed in, Casa Sandra. Initially I had hoped to stay at Casa de Las Tortugas, but had no such luck with availabitliy. We booked the Casa Sandra hoping that it would meet up to the expectations we had had for the Tortugas hotel. We were so happy at our little bungalow and hotel. Beautifully done in linen, grey, and sand tones, the staff was incredible and everyone knew our names. The location is amazing. Casa Sandra is so small that even when they were at capacity there were so few people that we had the beach bartender virtually to ourselves. Our routine became: Casa Sandra cocktails, lobster tacos, and guacamole for lunch under our palapa. In the afternoon, pretty much all of 3 hours later, we would go the 100 yards from the beach back to the hotel and have dessert and coffee poolside. On the beach we had our choice of relaxing on a day bed under a palapa, hammocks under a palapa, lounge chairs under a palapa, or bean bags … you guessed it under a palapa. I was almost stressed out making sure I took the opportunity to try all of these various methods of relaxation 🙂 Relaxing is pretty much the most popular sport on Holbox. There are hammocks everywhere; quite a few can be found hanging out in the water off the beach.
Relaxing in Casa Sandra beach hammocks
Holbox: The Island of Hammocks
The water on Holbox is spectacular. You can wade out quite far and never have water higher than your shoulders (I’m 5’10” for reference.) The water starts out ankle high and then drops to shoulder / head high, and then returns to ankle deep out on a sandbar. It’s an amazing thing to look out on the horizon and see groups of people all walking parallel to the beach but 100 yards out in the water. Many people walk the length of this sandbar all the way to Punta Mosquito where the wildlife refuge and flamingos are. This is about a mile or two from Casa Sandra to the refuge.
You can also walk out to the refuge via the beach but we were told you might have to “swim” a bit going this way. We had to choose this beach route because I didn’t bring water shoes. There are a lot of rays and horseshoe crabs in the sand and I didn’t want to get a nice, big stinger in my foot. The fact that we had to “swim a bit” didn’t seem too daunting until we got to the second river crossing. The first river crossing was maybe 20 feet across and shin deep. The second river crossing definitely caught our attention. It was a significant, actual river which seemed much deeper and, with a stronger current, than the open ocean. Todd and I stood there for a while trying to decide if we should take on the challenge. A Scottish woman eventually showed up and she also seemed quite surprised and daunted by the size of this second river. My concern about the current of the river was primarily due to the fact that I had heard that there are crocs in the mangroves. The ocean flows into the river, which then flows into the mangroves. I imagined myself being swept by the river current into the mangroves and decided I was out. (I’m sure it’s fine to actually swim across this but I would want some more information on the whole process before venturing across the rio.) The next day Todd and I kayaked out to Punta Mosquito. It really is a cool place to get to, no matter how you arrive … by sand bar walking, beach walking with river crossings, kayaking, or paddle boarding.
Because the water is so shallow it is very warm and you can swim in it all day. Holbox might also be one of the best places ever to paddle board. Because the water is so shallow so far out, there is almost no surf … especially early in the morning. Some mornings the water was like glass. We did have significant wind pick up every day typically starting around 11 and ending around 3PM. I’m not sure if this is a year round occurrence or just a random weather pattern. Either way, if you get out early in the morning you’re likely to have extremely calm waters and much cooler temps for any physical activity.
One thing we didn’t get to do, because we were there at the wrong time of year, is see the whale sharks that apparently take up residence from June to November off the coast. It would be amazing to these gentle giants in such a beautiful location.
Entrance to Casa Sandra
The sand road in front of Casa Sandra
View from beach bar Casa de Las Tortugas
Just writing this blog makes me drift off to Holbox in my mind. It truly was four days of beach bliss on a relatively undiscovered gem of an island. So if you really like hammocks, turquoise water, beautiful sunsets, long sandbars, and you’re interested in trying something new in Mexico I highly recommend you get your Life Bus to Holbox. Here’s to cold cervezas and new adventures in Mexico!!
In thinking about the Favorite Place challenge, I thought immediately about this humble little place in the Rockies. The roots that bind me to this little old miner’s cabin near Boulder, CO run very deep. My father’s family has been in the Boulder area since the 1890’s. My dad was born in Boulder, in 1933, when the hospital building was just a house. My grandparents bought this tiny cabin somewhere in the 1950’s. It’s only about 1200 square feet but it has so much character and historical charm. It’s made out of the original log and chinking dating back to the 1920’s. The cabin does have electricity, rigged by my grandfather, but is not winterized. When we were little kids we still had to use the outhouse. I remember having to run in the pitch black of night outside to use the outhouse. To a small kid, the blackness of the night made the distance to the loo feel like it was a mile from the cabin. In reality it’s about 20 yards. The porch screen door has that familiar slam I’ve heard for the forty plus years I’ve been going to this wonderful place.
Growing up, we visited our grandparents at the cabin frequently. The back bedroom was the kids room and the beds in there were jammed together so it was like one big mattress. With the cool mountain nights, we had lots of blankets piled all around us making it so cozy, it felt like camp. The primary feature of the cabin is a giant river rock hearth which roars with a huge fire and heats the place so warmly. When we were little we used to play pick-up-sticks in front of the fireplace and roast marshmallows. We still have those same pick-up-sticks and still play in front of the fire.
Our porcini crop
Columbine – the CO state flower
Historic old buildings in town
Daisy surveying her happy place
Another old cabin in town
I learned to tie my shoes here on a water tank which. As kids we would go to the creek and bring back big buckets of water from which my grandmother would then boil the water on the stove. This was very often our drinking water. My father’s relatives, would come up and we would all go on long hikes into the Indian Peaks Wilderness where we would fish and mushroom hunt. Pam, Todd, my nephew, and I all spent a recent Halloween up there in the pitch black night watching scary movies. My favorite memory, however, is when my best buddy in life, Todd, and I got married there. Sixty-ish of our best friends joined us under the pine trees for a very simple ceremony. It was the perfect spot!
The flyspeck of a village where my family cabin is, is part true ghost town, part eclectic community. There is only one stop sign in the town and 2 dirt roads. The mushroom hunting is pretty great, last summer we saw a moose every weekend we were there, and the darkness of the night and stars on display is mind-boggling.
This is the place that makes me the happiest. There isn’t any internet or TV in the cabin, only a DVD player. I love waking with the sun, going to bed when it’s dark, watching the hummingbirds at the feeder, going for hikes, hearing the roar of the creek, having the neighbor dog, Saber, come over to great us when we roll up to the property, coffee on the big back deck, and just being in the moment with nature all around. No matter where my Life Bus rolls, this is where I always want to come back to.