When you envision Patagonia, what comes to mind? I think of beautiful mountains, glaciers, alpine lakes, llamas (guanacos), and WIND. Patagonia is known for it’s windy days – sometimes up to 74 mph. I’ve seen pictures of people leaning into the wind and just hanging in mid air. Kind of like the image below! You can pretty much count on wind every day in Patagonia – or so we thought.
For the record, Patagonia is absolutely fantastic – it’s all of those things and more. In March, we spent a couple of weeks hiking around Fitz Roy and the Torres Del Paine. I would have to say the Chilean side of Patagonia (Torres) was my favorite, but I’ll save that for another post.
With the potential windy conditions in mind, I thought it was a good idea to schlep a kite down there and manage it’s whereabouts every day for 13 days. BTW, I know a kite would not survive 74 mph winds, but in March, it’s much closer to 8 or 10 mph.
I kept waiting for the perfect opportunity….One of our 2 day rest stops was at a gorgeous Estancia – in this case a working sheep ranch. We could see the Perito Moreno Glacier in the distance and feel the vastness of Patagonia – wide, open spaces. Needless to say, we had a few hours of downtime at the end of every day – the perfect time to pull out the kite.
So we did…..
….and it was a total bust!! There was no wind – NONE – maybe 1 mph – it had to have been the first time in the history of Patagonia, there was no wind. (I equate this to the situation where you wash your car and it invariably rains! haha.) In fact, for 13 days, there was no wind – the weather was oddly perfect the entire trip.
We tried and tried to get that kite in the air – similar to the definition of insanity. “Repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting different results.” We laughed so hard, my stomach hurt. We’d get the kite up for about a second and then it would just dive bomb right to the ground. Part of the issue was that we initially didn’t set the kite up correctly, but in the end, the lack of wind was our downfall. That didn’t stop us from trying another 20 times!
Truth be told, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip! I still have the kite, waiting for the perfect opportunity to serve its purpose in life! Too bad its maiden voyage was not in Patagonia.
Cheers to funny travel moments – may everyone have them!
For me, there is nothing better then a good backpacking trip. Being in the middle of nowhere with usually no connectivity is heaven on earth. The air is clean, I’m not on an airplane flying to work, not dealing with difficult clients or trying NOT to lose my shit because of a flight delay. My frenzied, somewhat chaotic life slows down and that’s what I need to keep my sanity.
I try to go at least once a year – two times is truly ideal. Our backpacking season is so short in Colorado, one weekend is generally the best I can do. Sometimes I’ll fly to another destination in April or October to get my fix. Just depends on all of the other adventures we have planned. I don’t know what I’ll do when my body gives out and can’t backpack anymore. Knitting is not an option. (no offense to readers who are knitters!)
One of our favorite places to backpack is in the Holy Cross Wilderness – outside of Minturn, outside of Vail, Colorado. Oh man, the scenery up there is just incredible. The wildflowers are beautiful, the hike up is manageable. We camp near an alpine lake inside a box canyon. The lake is stocked with trout, so fishing is in order! There is not one draw back to the location or the wilderness area.
Last year, the terrain was sooo dry – there was a fire on the other side of the ridge. Burning ash was blowing into our campsite – all I could think of ALL NIGHT, was that our campsite was going to catch fire. I plotted my escape and slept in my clothes in case we needed to pack up and run down the mountain. Irrational probably, but man, wildfires last year were insane.
I’d share the name of the trail, but I would have to kill you! I have been sworn to secrecy not to divulge the trail name on the blog. However, if you march down to REI and grab a topo map of the area, there is no doubt you will find the most amazing place to explore. If you are so inclined, there is a 14er in the area fittingly called Mount of the Holy Cross – it is most definitely one of my favorite 14ers in Colorado.
If anyone needs encouragement to get out and at least try backpacking, I’m your girl. It’s been a life saver for me!
So, I’ve had a Standup Paddle Board (SUP) for a few years now. Sadly, it’s been used maybe 5 times in the past 3 years? Partly because we only have one, and it’s not fun for 2 people if both don’t have a board. So, we bought a second one. I cannot WAIT to use it!! Sean finally agreed to the idea given he was able to fish off the board we currently have and really enjoyed it. We paddle on lakes and reservoirs only, not rivers unless they are lazy!
How did we choose a SUP? There are so many brands out there to choose from – many people like NRS, however, the Life Bus is a huge fan of Hala Gear. Mostly because the brand is out of Steamboat Springs which is one of our favorite places in Colorado and we like to support local, small businesses. My requirements weren’t too crazy unusual – the Hala Hoss and the new Hala Rado ticked all the boxes:
Big enough for me and a pup (turns out they are big enough for Sean, me AND a pup. The three of us paddled around Bear Lake in the Flat Tops Wilderness this summer.)
Ability to pack a tent, sleeping bag, etc. for paddling across a lake to camp (I have yet to do this BTW – but it’s still on the list of things to do).
Stability – not interested in a board that wants to tip over every time I move! Why am I fearful of falling in, it’s just water for gods sake!!
Inflatable – mostly for storage and the potential requirement to travel with it.
Now that we bought a second board, we need to figure out where we are going to paddle together! I thought I would do some research and use this forum as a way to capture ideas for us to refer back to and also share information with others.
I scoured a bunch of websites and whittled it down to the list below – it covers the entire state, btw and is not meant to be exhaustive by any stretch. The picks were based on lakes/reservoirs where there are no motorized boats allowed (or very little activity), amazing views, and good, clean water. I stuck to 10 options – anything more than that gets overwhelming to digest!
Brainard Lake (near Nederland) – We hike and snowshoe up that way, but have never thought to paddle-board up there. I am sure the views are breathtaking!! Nederland is a cool, funky town too – great pizza, BBQ and coffee shops. Also close to Boulder, which is a super cool town.
Evergreen Lake (near Evergreen) – I can confirm this is a great place to paddle-board. The town of Evergreen is close by and has a pretty cool vibe. Tons of great hiking and mountain biking in this area as well.
Monarch Lake (near Granby) – Some friends just posted facebook pics from their Sunday funday here and it is a beauty! We have backpacked up in this area and it is one of our favorite spots. There is a ton of fish in this lake so you can bring a fishing pole, go on an incredible hike and possibly see a moose or two while you are at it!
Lake Dillon (near Frisco) – This truly is a beautiful place to SUP and is in the heart of Summit County – close to Frisco, Dillon, Keystone, Breckenridge and Vail. The views of the mountains are absolutely gorgeous up there. You can paddle to different islands within the lake and picnic or take a snooze. All the neighboring towns offer so many fun activities, restaurants, bars, music, etc. One of the best parts of Summit County in my opinion.
Trout Lake (near Telluride) – I added this one because we will be in Telluride for a music festival in the fall. If it’s not too cold, I’d love to check this out. Anything in this part of Colorado is amazing! The lake is supposed to be pretty calm and good for beginners.
Gross Reservoir (near Nederland). This spot is wonderful!! There’s no swimming allowed, though, so if you go overboard, get back on the board STAT. Additionally, you’ll have some rules: stand-up paddle-boards have to be labeled with the owner’s name and basic information (address and phone) and all those out on the water must have a life jacket and a whistle or horn for safety reasons.
Twin Lakes (near Leadville) – These lakes are beautiful!! They are tucked in a scenic valley just 20 miles from Leadville. You can find some great dispersed camping in this area and hike a 14er while you are at it. If you are there at the right time, you may experience the Leadville 100 foot race! Yep, these people run 100 miles through the mountainous terrain in this region.
Lake San Cristobal (near Lake City) – I love, love, love Lake City. It reminds me of a town you might find in Alaska. Supposedly the lake is full of trout so you can fish off the board! It too, is supposed to be great for beginner paddle-boarding. There are a couple of great 14ers in the area as well! Lake City itself is simple and adorable.
Any of the Lakes and reservoirs in the East Flat Tops Wilderness (near Steamboat Springs) – We loved it up there – lots of fishing to be done at the same time, so bring a pole if you are so inclined. Hiking shoes, mountain bikes and tents need to be included in the adventure!
McIntosh Lake (near Longmont) — We checked this place out last Sunday. It’s great! Paddle boarders and kayakers only and not that many to boot. It’s supposed to be great for spotting wildlife, but honestly, I am not sure this is possible given it’s in the middle of a neighborhood.
Alright, alright, I think we are ready to get out there and explore some really good options.
This is a totally random post, but I have had some random thoughts cross my mind lately! The first time I remember finding money on the ground, I was around 10 years old – I looked just like Shaun Cassidy – haha. We took a family road trip from Arizona to Florida in our 1970 something blue station wagon. My dad was a smoker and made us drive with the windows up – why, I have no idea. I remember cracking the window gasping for fresh air without much success. UGH! Once we got there, we made our way to the local grocery store and it was there, in the parking lot, where I found a 10,000 peso note. I thought I was RICH! I quickly learned about foreign currency exchange after my aunt took me to the bank and it was really worth 2 bucks or something like that). Boy was I crushed – I had all kinds of visions of new toys and tennis shoes! I always wanted a new pair and my mother would not allow any new shoes unless they had a hole in em….don’t think I need to tell you what I did to get a new pair of shoes. haha.
The second glorious time, I had just come back from 10 days at summer camp and was running to my friends house to tell her all about it. About 2 blocks from her house, I found a $5 bill – talk about ecstatic. That was in 1977 and five bucks could buy a lot of junk. I am sure I spent all of it on bad soda, Doritos and Hubba Bubba chewing gum! It’s a Christmas miracle I have all of my teeth with the amount of sugar consumed in the 70’s!
Since then, I find money ALL the time – so much so – it is a running joke for the Life Bus….$100 in New Orleans, LA; $20 in Portland, OR; $20 in Jerome, AZ; $5 in Boulder, CO; $40 in Norway. Many times, the dollars are found in 3’s meaning, I will find 3 one dollar bills together – outside of my Orange Theory class, Drs office, a street in Minneapolis. If I happen to see a homeless person at the time of my good fortune, I pay it forward with hopes I fill my karma bank with a bunch of credits for use later. Sometimes I stumble upon an exotic foreign currency.
I’m not sure why this happens so often, but I appreciate it very much. For some reason, I always feel like it is my own personal angel reminding me to pay attention to my surroundings as you never know what treasures you are going to find. It could be my dad or grand-dad who’s lives were lost WAY too soon playing a game with me. Perhaps I look at the ground too much!
Not only does it bring me joy and a few chuckles, I feel taken care of in some strange way.
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.
So, here I sit on a train to a small town about an hour away from Lausanne, Switzerland reflecting on an amazing adventure in the Alps. My backpack smells like sweat, my legs are fatigued, at least 2 of my toenails are black, my hair hasn’t seen a good conditioner in weeks, and my heart is full, though everything seems to feel like a dream.Do you ever feel as soon as a vacation is over, it was really only a dream?!!I feel that way right now – I’m not quite sure how I landed on this train or if I really spent an amazing 11 days trekking around Mont Blanc.
Mont Blanc is the tallest mountain in the European Alps, at about 4,809 meters (15,778 feet). The trip I reference above, also called the Tour of Mont Blanc or “TMB”, has been on the list for years – the circuit passes through Switzerland, Italy and France. How did I hear about it? I met a Swiss guy some time ago who talked about this adventure – how lovely it was and how it could be done self guided.Since then, it’s always been in the back of my mind, but it never seemed within my reach for some reason….I have no idea why.Perhaps the thought of it was intimidating – how on earth could I accomplish such a thing?!How can this possibly be done without a guide?
In December of 2017, I FINALLY started researching self guided trips around Mont Blanc – it only took about 10 years!I found a tour company called Macs Adventure to help plan it. The thought of researching all the logistics seemed like a hideously daunting task, so I hired them to do it for me! It turned out great – though I can see how people are able to book everything on their own given how organized the trail is and the number of lodging options available (at least in most places). One of the benefits of companies like Macs Adventure is they provide an app that has a description of the trails as well as a GPS map to help navigate the trip. Super easy to use assuming you use it! If you want to plan this on your own, the bible for this trek is called “The Tour of Mont Blanc” by Kev Reynolds.It lays out the entire trip and provides recommendations on lodging, routes, etc. We leveraged the book every day, it’s one of the best I’ve seen.
We started counter-clockwise (the most popular route) in Les Houches, France (not 100% confident on the pronunciation but I do know its NOT Lez Hoochies – lol) and ended in Chamonix, France. There are a total of 11 stages – about 29k of elevation gain and 29k of elevation loss – roughly about 110 miles depending on how many times you get lost or if you decide to take the variant routes. The variants supposedly provide better views along the way, but in many cases are significantly more difficult. We did 2 of them – the others seemed to be terrifyingly exposed (at least to me).
The trail was so well marked, I’m not sure how people got lost, but everyone we spoke to (including us) had some challenges at least once. The day we did get lost, we followed the path of one of the most challenging variants. Instead of looking at our handy app, we kept following the standard red and white stripe trail markers and a 20-something backpacker. It never felt quite right but we kept going. BIG mistake – we should have used the app – but we assumed the trail was heading in the right direction. It took us an hour and a half off track! We nearly had another disastrous detour, but thanks to a heaping pile of human poo on the trail (not ours – LOL), we redirected and headed back the proper way. (Apparently when you gotta go, you gotta go!)
The terrain was as you would expect – MOUNTAINOUS with the most stunning views you can imagine! The challenging parts of this hike are the significant ups and downs on a daily basis.Those ups and downs will break your soul if you let them.You just have to realize you are in an amazingly beautiful place and accomplishing something you will never forget – to keep on keepin’ on.
Photo: Mont Blanc in the Chamonix Valley
On most days we hiked what felt like straight up for a minimum of 4 hours, however, there were a couple of “easy” days of 2 hour ascents. What goes up must come down so the downhill is brutal. Switchbacks are not the norm, hence my comment about the black toenails…the day after day, relentless shoving of toenails into the toe box of my hiking boots has made for some lovely feet! My trip to the nail salon is going to be hideous!
Photo: Leaving Refuge de Mottets where we stayed 1 night
Photo: Entering Switzerland from Italy
I absolutely LOVED the entire Italian valley called Vallon de la Lee Blanche (I had a precious cat named Blanche!).You can see all the way from the French border (starting point) to Switzerland when this leg of the trip is complete.It is the coolest thing to be able to see how far you have gone – unreal feeling actually! In the image below, we started this leg of the trip from the most pointed “Rock” about two inches in from the left! We have about another hour to the border of Switzerland from this point in the picture.
Photo: Bye-Bye Italy – you were amazing!
Photo: Beautiful Italy!
A panic attack is inevitable any time there are slippery rocks, ledges, steep drop-offs or steep descents in loose rock. Irrational fears blow – I can’t explain them. Somehow I managed to dig deep, breathe and carry on until we got to the dreaded ladders.The ladders are in Stage 10 the Tre le Champ area of the trail, which thankfully is near the end of the TMB. The 10 sets of ladders themselves are not too crazy, its the ledges in between that will scare the bejeezus out of you if there is any slight fear of heights! There are railings – BUT STILL.
Photo: The ladders!
Photo: Not my ideal downhill trail!
The lodging was great! We did the “comfort” tour which means we stayed in 3 star hotels and only 2 huts.I was ok with that in the end….the huts are fun – but the food just wasn’t that great.Les Mottets was in a beautiful location but they gave us corn puffs, bread and cheese for breakfast. Not super sustainable when hiking 6 to 8 hours a day.
Photo: Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly
Photo: Refugio Walter Bonatti
Who do you meet on the trail?? The Brits.The Irish.The Americans. The Australians.The French.The Germans – that’s who! What do we all have in common?We all hiked the TMB! The camaraderie of fellow trekkers from all over the world is one the magical components of travel.The people you meet can make or break trips. In this case, we were extremely lucky with the peeps who crossed our path (below). The German couple second from the left were unbelievable hikers – they would leave a half hour later and finish an hour sooner every day – without sweating I swear! All in this group but Sean and I, saw an Ibex – I still think those animals are really unicorns – somehow we missed them every day whilst they were grazing by seemingly every trail our friends were hiking. We miss them – thank goodness for Facebook!
It was hard, it was long, it was scary at times, we sweat like pigs, it was beautiful, the people were amazing – what else do you need on a vacation?? Every time I return from adventure like this, my gratitude for life expands 10-fold.
What amazing adventures did you have this summer??
“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!!
I went for the rude awakening on this theme for this weeks WPC – Awakening. Mainly because it’s essentially still winter in Colorado. Sure, it was 60 degrees and sunny today, but I fear we will get a 5 foot snow storm in the coming weeks. I don’t have a garden and things are barely blooming around town.
Ok, so here goes. Last summer I went to Borneo, Malaysia for two weeks. One of our packing list items was a pair of leech sox. Who has a pair of those hanging around? No-one with any fashion sense (they were cheap to buy in Borneo). These sox are so tightly woven, leeches cannot penetrate the fabric. They also warned not to wear pants with zip off legs because they can inch their way through the tiny teeth of the zippers.
I didn’t believe it – I thought – no friggen’ way can they get through zippers. But it was true. Disgustingly so. Those little buggers look like super skinny nails when not engorged….and when they are done feasting they blow up to about 1.4 inches or 4 cm.
This image below is a macro version of tiger leech we came across in the Danum Valley (image taken by John Mittan – our guide). They sit on leaves and lie in wait until something walks by. As soon as they get a whiff of you, they jump and then wiggle their way into strange places! UGH.
There were 10 people on our trip – all but 2 of us got attacked – I did not – thankfully. Probably because I was obsessively checking my body parts. They landed on arms, necks, stomachs, and crawled through pant zippers. It was a rude awakening these things even exist, much less are able to crawl through zippers!!!
For those of you who live in climates where these creatures exist, bless you. I am truly disturbed by their existence! LOL.