Monday, February 29, 2016

Currently: February

Currently living/working in: Still “unjobbing” in Colorado!! We are very thankful we have lots of choices for spring/summer jobs (yes, there have been rejections mixed in there; we are not that awesome). But, we are just about the most indecisive couple out there, so choices=hard decisions. 

Current mood: Living month to month like we do is equally freeing and taxing. It is like reading a good book and wondering what’s going to happen in the next chapter. I am currently wondering what is going to happen in the next chapter (aka, next few months). 

Currently excited about: Speaking of books (see what I did there?), I think I can finally say it. I am writing a book. While I only have 35 pages written (first draft) and have hardly touched it since returning from New Zealand, I plan to dedicate the entire month of May to writing. J will be climbing; I will be writing! (More on that later). 

Currently not excited about: Getting my cavities filled. We finally signed up for dental insurance after 3 years without any cleanings, etc., so I’m not surprised I have cavities. But I seriously would rather give J a foot rub everyday for the rest of our lives rather than sit in a dentist chair. 

Currently worried about: Family and friends who are having significant health problems. Some are just too young to have to go through this and some (my dad) just have too many problems. Makes me wonder how much one person can handle. Also makes me thankful for our health. 

Currently thankful for: Great relationships with our gear partners. J & I just keep building these relationships and besides the gear they provide, I am also thankful for the opportunities it presents us. I never could have guessed we are where we are today. BTW, we just added a 9th sponsor, CloudLine Apparel! We love the fact that this Seattle-based company represents made-in-the-USA merino wool socks. Makes our feet even happier!!!

Currently proud of: Talented friends and family. J’s second cousin is in the middle of putting together a video of our Te Araroa presentation, one that is 400 times better than J’s 2004 camcorder would have captured. Another friend—who is already widely successful as a young entrepreneur—is launching his first podcast this spring. His interviews with a variety of people will focus on those small moments in life that count. We just may be guests on his show, so stay tuned.  

Currently amazed by: Adventurers. We just saw 27 films at 3 nights of the Banff Mountain Film Festival here in Denver and they never cease to electrify us. These are mostly short films on skiing, mountain biking, climbing and paddling, but there were some longer heart-warming stories. We are having a really hard time deciding on a single favorite, so I’ll give you 3 very different films that you should see if you can.  
“Eclipse”                                            “Reel Rock 10: A Line Across the Sky”                                                       “Unbranded”

Current confession: We really want to go on another long-distance hike! (It didn't help seeing all those inspiring Banff films)

Current guilty pleasure: You better believe I came home from New Zealand with Whittaker’s chocolate!!! 

Currently reading: “Miles from Nowhere: A Round-the-world Bicycle Adventure” by Barbara Savage. This is the story of a couple who traveled 23,000 miles around the world via bicycle. The book is from the 80s, but it has been on my list for awhile because of rave reviews. Not only is the story great, but the writing too. We will most likely stick to walking adventures, but if anyone is into two-wheeled journeys, read this. 

Currently watching on Netflix: If you remember, last month I said we watched the first season of the Netflix series “House of Cards” and I thought that would be it. Well, then we watched the second season. Now we are partly through the third season. Might as well watch the fourth season that is coming out in March.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Colorado Hut Trip: Point Breeze

Last weekend, J & I went on our fourth Colorado backcountry hut trip--the second for this season--with J's sister and wife. This time, we hit Point Breeze Cabin, which is actually privately owned, but still booked through the 10th Mountain Division Hut System. Jamie & Rachel booked the entire hut, which sleeps 8, for us and their friends.

Along the Continental Divide north of Leadville, this hut is what I would call beginner-friendly for a few reasons.

1) This newly built hut is not remote. The trail to the hut is less than a mile, with very little elevation gain. You could take several trips back and forth to the car for supplies, if you wanted. Or, you could pack super heavy (margaritas, but not the jalapeƱo version) and use a sled to bring up supplies. You could even drive to Leadville if you need more provisions (more alcohol). The well-trodden and minuscule section of trail is actually part of the Continental Divide Trail/Colorado Trail. During our weekend, the high traffic allowed the trail to be so snow-packed and frozen that skis or snowshoes were not even necessary.

2) Besides lacking running water during the winter and having to melt snow to hydrate, this hut has all the amenities of a log cabin home. Okay, maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration since it lacks flushing toilets, a heat source other than the wood stove and an oven ... okay, okay, not at all. But it has solar power electricity and that is not something you regularly find at the backcountry huts.

3) Perched at 10,500 feet and with very little uphill to get to the hut, the elevation shouldn't be a factor.

4) The hut is actually kid-friendly, complete with gates to put around the stove, potty training toilet seat (in the outhouse) and sleds. Don't worry, we tested out the sleds.

Because the hut only slept 8 people and we were a group of 9, J & I decided to use this as a good test run for winter camping. We've been wanting to go winter camping all season, but have not willingly left the comforts of inside life to follow through. 

Here's my take. Winter camping is freaking hard. Not only do you have to dig out an area to set up the tent and plod down the snowpack, it is brrr cold. J was testing a -20 degree sleeping bag and was nice and comfy. I had a 0 degree bag and dreamed I was getting frostbite. But, we made it through the night and, for some strange reason, plan to do it again. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Writing Retreat Review

When I was researching writing retreats for my book on Te Araroa, I was completely overwhelmed by the quantity and variety of retreats offered. Some lasted just a weekend. Some lasted longer. Some were local. Some were international. Some included food. Some didn't. Some included lodging. Some didn't.

Eventually I weeded through the mountain of information and decided 2 things. 

1) I wanted to be among all women. I wanted this at least for my first retreat, thinking I just might feel more comfortable and less intimidated. 
2) I wanted to do yoga. Hokey as it sounds, yoga clears my mind and relaxes my body. 

So when I stumbled upon Patchwork Farm's Writing Retreats and there was one coming up with both of those criteria in NEW ZEALAND, I attributed it to serendipity. 

Fresh off my first writing retreat, I have a little insight for anyone thinking about a writing retreat, or for anyone just reading my blog and curious.

Retreat Leader
I cannot say enough about Patricia Lee Lewis, founder of Patchwork Farm and leader of our retreat. She is just one of those people you want to hug. She is extremely diplomatic, making for a great leader of strangers (after 25 years of leading retreats, she has a little experience in this area). She has an open door policy and is very genuine in all her feedback. It doesn't hurt that this lady has spunk! Our yoga instructor was Jane Mortifee, who was equally energetic and kind. 

You cannot go wrong with New Zealand. Okay, but really, I liked the setup of this retreat. We stayed at Mountain Range Lodge, an 8-bedroom house, complete with a kitchen, dining room, 2 living rooms and ample outdoor space. Most of us shared a room and bathroom, but 3 people opted to upgrade to singles. We were all able to spread out and find alone time. 

The house was 1.5 miles from the center of Wanaka, up above the lake. It was just close enough that going into town was feasible. Plus, the house had bikes for borrow. 

Food was included in this retreat. The team at Aspiring Caterers took care of breakfast, lunch and dinner and we seriously ate our hearts out. It was a lot of healthy foods, but I don't think the yoga balanced out the hearty meals. I have to say this was a crucial piece of the retreat for me ... I didn't have to think about preparing foods. Take that piece out of your daily equation and of course you have time to write! 

Writing Prompts/Group Dynamics
We had 13 in total, including Patricia and Jane. The size of the group worked perfectly for me. Apparently, Patricia has a strong following because 5 of the ladies had been on at least one of her retreats and even knew each other. It was helpful to have people who had been before because they really eased the group dynamics. 

I had a roommate, Lisa, and we couldn't have been matched more perfectly. So I had no problems sharing space. I was, of course, the youngest in the group, but it made no difference. I always appreciate age-old wisdom anyway. The group was a mix of published/unpublished folks, so beginners need not worry. Patricia makes it a very friendly environment. 

The way the 10 days went is everyday, sometimes twice a day, we would gather and Patricia would give us a writing prompt. One example is she would give us a verb and a noun. She would send us off to write for anywhere from 7 minutes to 2 hours. We did not have to follow the writing prompts; I hardly did. I was focused on making strides in my book and most of the prompts didn't really fit in. Then we would gather again in 2 groups and read what we wrote. We didn't have to read, and I didn't read during my first 2 sessions. The point of reading was to give positive (only positive) feedback. I found it to be extremely encouraging. I was also surprised at how much I gained from hearing what others read. 

Other Notes
We had free time (4 hours or so) everyday. While I did go for a hike and a bike ride 2 of the days, I typically used my free time to write. Others painted, explored town (wine tour!), read, napped, etc. We started everyday with yoga at 7am. Not everyone participated and that was perfectly fine. I love any yoga, but if you are going for the yoga component, know it is very beginner-friendly. Jane is a very good instructor and you can always take your practice to your own level, but she made it so others wouldn't be intimidated in yoga. 

I am so glad I went to a retreat. It really kicked my book into high gear. I ended up coming away with 35 pages written, which non-writers should know is great progress. Plus, being among other writers is a huge inspiration. I was able to draw on their experience and ideas. I did think there would be a little more instruction on the writing craft, instead of the writing prompts, but I know I can go elsewhere to seek that. Lastly, uh, New Zealand!!!!! Being back there really opened the floodgates for writing about Te Araroa. I don't think I will go to another retreat (never say never), but I am looking into writer residency programs and working with a writing partner. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

America’s Impression

I have something a little different on the blog today … it is an interview with someone about their first-time trip to the good ol’ ’Merica. 

Can you imagine coming to America for the first time? What would be your first impressions? Our Kiwi friends Max & Lyn took a 6-week road trip around the US of A (that’s what they call it) this past fall and I thought I’d share their thoughts. 

Spoiler alert: they loved it with their favorites being deer sightings, blues music, dancing, and American football (not rugby football) games. 

Q: How long was your trip to America?
A: 2.5 months. We picked up a car in Las Vegas and ended up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where we took a 15-day cruise back through the Panama Canal to LA. We flew home the day we landed in LA. 
Q: Did you use a GPS to get around? (for the record, GPS is not commonly used in NZ)
A: No GPS! Max and I picked up our car in Vegas and sat there for some time in the parking lot. We had to return to the desk, as we couldn’t understand the written instructions on how to turn this way and that to get out of the garage – not a great start! But, the best thing about not having GPS is that we spoke to REAL Americans to ask our way and when we did turn the wrong way, it was always an adventure getting back to where we wanted to be! 

Q: Did the traffic on our highways and in our cities bother you? 
A: Never a bother – we stayed off the very big highways as we wanted to see the countryside. But, we also did drive the odd, large highway and when we did, we loved it. The roads are sooooo good and the speed limits soooo high, but always appropriate for the condition of the highway. Overall, the traffic was VERY polite—much better drivers than in this country! We didn’t really go into too many big cities either. There were 4 drivers—Lyn, Max, Madelaine (Max’s sister) and Rodney (Madelaine’s husband). We each only drove for an hour. When we changed drivers, we always accepted that the other person in the front seat was the co-driver. Great to have a second pair of eyes looks out for signs, speed limits, other traffic. 

Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned/experienced in America?  
A: The amount of wildlife we found outside of the National Parks – especially the deer we saw everywhere and everyday! Remember we have no native animals in New Zealand, so seeing the wildlife in Yellowstone and all over was VERY exciting for us!
Q: Did you find travel in America to be expensive, the same or less than other places you’ve traveled? 
A: More expensive than we had anticipated but pretty good – I guess on a parr with our last big trip (to France).

Q: What was your favorite state in America?
Texas. We loved the people, the cowboy attitudes, the football, the music and dancing in the old dance hall at Austin, Texas. Great to see young and old dancing. Love the Texan Two-step!!
Q: What was your favorite city in America? 
A: New Orleans for Frenchman street, but also Memphis Tennessee for the music and dancing on Beale Street. We were only there one night and wished we’d had more time there. 
Q: What was your favorite attraction in America?
A: Hearst Castle California and the Sea Elephants on the beach just north of the castle. Or maybe the Grizzly Bear and Silver Wolf Sanctuary at the west gate entrance to Yellowstone Park. 

Q: What was the best meal you had? 
A: I’m afraid we were not impressed with the meals! Where we were staying for a few nights, we would buy food in the Walmart or such and cook ourselves. We ate generally in a mid-range quality restaurants and found them to be clean and reasonably priced, but the food choices – ummmm, well too fried, always chips fried this and fried that... and never enough vegetables for us. We gained 4kg!!!!

Q: Who was the most interesting person you met? 
We stayed at “Airbnbs” and several times stayed with American families, which was lovely. But the most interesting person was a rice farmer in Texas. We didn’t even know they grew rice in the US of A, let alone in Texas. He was retired but was still refereeing college football every week and sometimes several games a week. He traveled many miles from his home on the western side of Houston to games all over the district on the eastern side of the city, while newly married and living on the western side – crazy – very hospitable and kind to us. He and his wife immediately invited us to stay, which we did on several occasions as we drove about the eastern region of Texas.

Q: Did you have any negative experiences?  
A: Not a one that I recall. It was a fantastic trip and we loved every minute of it. 

Q: With all the travels you’ve done, why did you wait so long to come here? 
A: Neither of us have ever had a desire to travel in US of A – maybe the typical American we see and hear in NZ are off bus tours and tend to loud and large – a bit overwhelming! Or maybe it’s the security thing. I do remember just prior to departure wondering why we were going there with all that shooting of each other, but of course we never felt unsafe anywhere we went. We only ever saw one person (civilian) carrying a gun in a holster – Lockhart Texas in “Black’s best BBQ” restaurant – I must say it was a shock..... and he had a knife in a holster on the other hip, but he looked a perfectly ordinary person about our own age. Did I feel safe seeing him there with a gun? Well NO! I felt less safe. Overall, the hospitality was fantastic – we loved the people – they were always gracious and welcoming.

Q: What this the one story you’re going to tell all the people back home over and over again? 
A: How in the Cat’s Club on Frenchman street we chatted with a group of people who it turned out, had travelled all the way from New York to hear the band playing that we had been listening too for some time that evening – not realising just how good they were! The group we spoke too were also musicians and they popped in and out of the band and took over various instruments which was very cool to see and hear such talented people.

Q: Would you come back? 
A: Tomorrow!!!! But we need to find a pot of gold first!

I was so glad to hear of their positive experience, especially since we always boast about the amazing hospitality we experience in New Zealand. When you are traveling--and especially hiking as we were--anything is welcomed. We were grateful for everything from the “good on you” calls from the street to cold water on a warm day to a warm and dry place to sleep on a cold day.

Max and Lyn were 2 of the people who showed us NZ hospitality ... they met us as we were hiking a road portion of Te Araroa. In the 5 minutes we talked, they invited us to their home in Christchurch after we finished trekking. They ended up housing us for 2 days and driving us to the airport in the early AM. I wish we could have repaid the hospitality while they were in America, but our paths didn't cross. It was interesting to hear their perspective.

There were also so many interesting things I noticed during our 5+ months walking across New Zealand that differed from America. There are no screens in their windows. People always said at least "hiya" when passing on the streets. The telephone poles were concrete. Few people have dryers and line dry everything. Public restrooms were impeccably clean (you could literally eat off the floor).

 For the record, I love it in NZ. But I also love it in America and think we have a lot to offer. I am honestly relieved that Max and Lyn came away with a good impression of the US of A. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

New Zealand: Adventures in Milford Sound

Sadly, I am bidding farewell to New Zealand today. I am extremely pleased with my book-writing accomplishments and plan to write a full post about the retreat, etc, but for the time being, I have a report on one more NZ excursion: Milford Sound!

Even though J & I had been to Milford Sound last year, I don't think it is possible to yawn at this World Heritage Area. Plus, the weather can play a major role in changing your experience, which was the case for me.

Milford Sound 2015 trip:
J & I did a day trip in 2015, taking a motor boat about 12 kilometers into the fiord, then kayaking back. We did this under blue skies, thoroughly enjoying the mile-high cliffs and a few (operative word) waterfalls, including the 500-foot permanent Stirling Falls.

Milford Sound 2016 trip:
With my book-writing friends, we did an overnighter aboard the Real Journeys Milford Wanderer. This ship sleeps 36 and includes dinner and breakfast the next morning, traveling all the way through the 15-kilometer fiord to the Tasmen Sea and back. A naturalist guide took us on a 2-mile out-and-back hike of the Milford Track via Sandfly Point.

While those details were all nice and dandy, what amazed me was how different Milford Sound looked to me. Our rainy forecast translated into an explosion of temporary waterfalls. And, there is just something about misty mountains that makes my heart sing.

I still don't know which experience I favor. I do know this ... I thoroughly miss my traveling partner!!

Friday, February 12, 2016

New Zealand: Adventures in Wanaka

Greetings from New Zealand! I am doing well ... busy writing, practicing yoga, writing, writing, biking, hiking, writing, practicing yoga, writing ... you get the picture. And if you don't, this is what it looks like.
In between the retreat, my fellow writers and I are enjoying grand adventures around Wanaka. I thought I'd give a short recap! Do not expect much fancy prose ... all my creativity has been wasted on that little 'ol book I might be working on ...

The first thing we did was take a 4WD jeep tour through Ridgeline Adventures around a high-country farm. It was a unique experience to drive into the far-reaching corners of Wanaka and pick the driver's brain about the land and life here. I can't ever seem to drop my reporter hat.

My roommate, Lisa, and I took a 12-mile bike ride around the northeast shoreline of Lake Wanaka beyond Beacon Point to where the lake meets the Clutha River. Most of this path is along Te Araroa, and I was happy to run into a thru hiker!!! I didn't have any trail magic for him, but he said talking to me was magic enough. 

Four of us also climbed Mt. Iron, the staunch rock at the backside of Wanaka. There is a 3-mile trail that loops up and over the summit (1200 feet high or so), giving you a great view of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. It was very user-friendly!!

It is my hope that all of this exercise is balancing out all the delicious catered food we are eating at the retreat ... 

And meanwhile, back in Colorado, J is hard at work training for his Denali climb. He spent the last 3 days with the Colorado Mountain School in Rocky Mountain National Park getting certified for his AIARE Level 1, which stands for the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education. 

Basically, he spent time studying weather patterns, snow conditions, digging pits (not for poop) to study snow structure and density, figuring how snow slides all in an effort to minimize risk in Avalanche terrain. Riveting stuff. He says his brain hurts. He also says apparently there is a whole lot more to snow than background for a beautiful picture or getting your car stuck.