Saturday, July 30, 2016

Currently: July

Currently living/working in: We roadtripped most of July, with a few days on either end in Denver. Somehow, I squeezed in a bunch of writing projects and J found some gems in our storage units to sell off. But in August, we will be returning to our contract job at Fenton Ranch in New Mexico, where we will again teach kids outdoor education for a few weeks!!!  
Current mood: So stoked we finally bought a home on wheels. 

Currently excited about: Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City!!! This will be our second time at OR, an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Basically, gear companies come to showcase their newest products at the tradeshow, mainly to retailers. We are going on behalf of Backpacker Magazine, who is there to scope out all the newest gear. Not only do we get to be in on that action, but this is also an opportunity to have face-to-face meetings with a bunch of our gear partners. 

Currently not excited about: The potential for more work to be done on our 21-year-old campervan. While it did great on its 4,000-mile maiden voyage, we have many, many other miles planned for it. And we already have a long list of “things that are broken, but are they worth fixing???” I’m sure that list will grow, not shrink. 

Currently thankful for: Our guardian angels. Even though the tread on our Roadtrek tires looked pretty good upon our purchase, it wasn’t. There were a bunch of hidden bubbles that somehow stayed intact. Our mechanic said he was surprised we made across the country without a blowout. 
Currently worried about: We are getting older. Our parents are getting older. Our friends are getting older. Health issues ensue. It sucks getting older. 
Currently proud of: We tried to personalize the interior of our Roadtrek as much as possible. I finally get to decorate a home again!!! Pictures coming soon!

Currently regretting: This eastbound-westbound trip was pretty quick and put together last minute, so we missed stopping to see a lot of people, including a few family members! Next time!!! 

Currently amazed by: Just how much stuff we still have. We visited our VA storage unit, which is mainly full of expensive furniture we can’t sell. We figure for the $720 we paid in storage unit fees this past year, why not keep it for awhile longer on the off chance we will sometime own a sticks and bricks home again. We’ll see how we feel next year. We did eliminate 4 boxes on this trip. I don’t think anyone can tell a difference. 

Current confession: We don’t miss Big Bird (our yellow Subaru Baja) at all. He was good to us, but it was time to part ways. We were able to sell him in just a few days in Colorado (in case you didn’t know, Colorado is the Subaru capital of the world). Hopefully the new owner takes him on as many adventures (and more). 

Current guilty pleasure: I finally caved and upgraded our Verizon cell phone plan to include more data. We’ve been living on 500 MB since 2014 or so (don’t forget we share a phone). However, the last few months, we’ve had to purchase more gigs to get by. Knowing how much time we spend on the road, I figured it was inevitable.  

Currently reading: “No Shortcuts to the Top” by Ed Viesturs (with David Roberts). I’m still on the same book as last month. I’d like to think I read more when living in the van, but not just yet. 

Currently watching on Netflix: Nope. Nada. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


We took our new-to-us Roadtrek on its first 4,000-mile test trip from Colorado to the East Coast (specifically Virginia and New Jersey) and back to Colorado. 
You know, just a little spin around America.

We had a few purposes, mainly to visit our family, friends and Virginia storage unit. 
But we also wanted to see how things were running and how easy the living was. 

At least 5 times a day during our drive, we’d be asking each other, “What’s that sound? What’s that smell?” (Actually, the latter is a very common question in our life. And usually the answer is: that smell is Justin. But I digress.)

When we pulled into our trusted mechanic’s lot, we had a list of 15 items for him to check. 

“For a 95, this is the cleanest engine I’ve ever seen,” he said. We beamed with pride about our good purchase. 

Thankfully, we only need 4 tires and front brakes. 

But everything else about the RV is a little trial and error. We literally bought the vehicle, threw a bunch of stuff in it we thought we’d need, and hit the road. We learn as we go, that’s just how we roll. But, if there is a Roadtrek class out there, somebody please inform us. Who knew a fridge could be so complicated? 

J spent a lot of time working on the interior while we visiting my parents’ house in New Jersey (pictures coming soon). He just dusted off the ancient tools in my dad’s workshop, then promptly called the neighbor to borrow some 21st century versions. 

Overall, we love our new home and the road trip was really pretty awesome, albeit quick. We saw tons of family and friends (not everyone—sorry!!). My sister and her kids even came down from Connecticut to New Jersey for a weekend rendezvous at my parents’ tiny house. I often wonder how my family of 4 shared a 1-bath house growing up. But this past weekend, we proved its feasibility when 7 of us somehow crammed in there without giving my dad a heart attack. 

One thing is for sure, everyone LOVED the van (name still TBD … great suggestions so far, but keep them coming!). 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Van Life: Home Is Where You Park It

Exciting news folks!!!!!!

We said goodbye to Big Bird (our beloved yellow Subaru Baja) last week and welcomed a 1995 Chevy G30 Roadtrek Popular 210 into our family!

Ever since we have been spoiled by a decked out Sprinter van thanks to our Backpacker job in 2013, we have been sold on the idea of living in a van. J has casually searched for RVs and converted vans during the past 2 years, but this summer, we decided it was time to get serious.

We have a contract job lined up for later this summer (more on that another post), so the van will serve as our adventure mobile and partial home in the meantime. It will also be extremely useful when we launch another speaking tour next year.

We van shopped like it was our job, driving all over Colorado and looking at about a dozen. We hemmed and hawed about price, age and size. For 2 people who are anti-commitment and have a hard time deciding what to eat for dinner, it was amazing we found a winner.

We really loved everything about this one. It has a very clean interior with a lot of upgrades and added features. Of course, we plan to personalize it as much as we can (interior tour, coming soon), but everything happened so quickly and we hit the road as soon as the keys were in our hand.

Sure, it is a 1995, so there are blast-from-the-past features, but that just adds some character. The 210 model means it is 21 feet and is rarer among the Roadtreks. A beast to drive, but the extra feet are welcome when we are cozied inside. Mechanically, there are minor issues, but our maiden voyage across the US has given us the confidence it will perform well.
And now, we need your help in naming our new home on wheels. Leave a comment here on the blog, on Instagram, or Facebook with a name suggestion and if we pick yours, we will send you a prize!!!!

1) The contest will end on Sunday, July 31 at midnight.
2) The contest is open to U.S. residents only (for shipping purposes).
3) Feel free to suggest multiple names using all the social media!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Backpacking Wyoming: Wind River Range

This past weekend, we explored the highly acclaimed Wind River Range in Bridger National Forest in Wyoming. We hijacked a pre-planned trip with J's sis, Jamie, and her wifey, Rachel.
The short story is that we backpacked 40 miles in 3 days and every mile and every minute lived up to its reputation.
But I don't do short stories. I do long and detailed.

Day 1
Mileage: 12 miles
Elevation Gain: 2560 feet
Elevation Loss: 1063 feet

We started from the Elkhart Park Trailhead at 8,920 feet on the Pole Creek Trail. The first few miles traverses timberline terrain, then morphs into glacier-carved landscape and remote lake basins.
The hike was beautiful and uneventful, except for a passing thunderstorm along the exposed 1.4 mile Seneca Lake. To be safe, rather than sorry, we ducked into the boulder field for protection.

Our destination for the evening was Little Seneca Lake at 10,400 feet. We slept on a peninsula on the west end of the lake. There are tons of social trails leading you to pre-existing campsites, some a little too close to water, but all with rock chairs and dinner views.

Day 2
Mileage: 12 miles
Elevation Gain: 1601 feet
Elevation Loss: 1810 feet

The forecast remained blue sky and toothy for day 2. We planned an easy day with our backpacks ... we dropped them and set up camp at Island Lake 2 miles beyond Little Seneca Lake. Island Lake has a 360-degree panorama where bold granite spires surround the crystal clear lake and wildflower meadows.
Photo courtesy of Rachel (DocDoc)
Then, we day hiked the additional 5 miles to Ticomb Basin, sort of the end of the line before you get into more technical climbing in the Wind River Range. This is one of the approach options for Gannett Peak, the high point of Wyoming. It's 13,809 feet and entails crossing glaciers, snow climbing and technical rock scrambling. We'll save that for another day (gulp).

Titcomb Basin is a chain of lakes and getting to the last one at 10,598 feet gets you closest to the grandeur peaks of Fremont, Henderson and the Buttress. The weather was turning a little bit, but we pushed on. It was definitely the most dramatic part of the whole trip.

Day 3
Mileage: 16 miles
Elevation Gain: 1918 feet
Elevation Loss: 3065 feet

Knowing a cold front was pushing in, we made a group decision to hoof it all the way back to the trailhead. It should only be a 14-mile pilgrimage, but J & I got turned around on the trail when separated from the girls. A minor setback, but a message made of sticks on the trail from Rachel reunited the group within an hour.

The Pole Creek Trail is a very popular trail in the Wind River Range and is heavily used by climbers, anglers and backpackers, but we lucked out with minimal crowds. In fact, we saw the most people when we were on our way out Sunday.
Also, despite warnings of being in bear (black bear and grizzly) territory, we saw no tracks or poop. Aside from a plethora of curious marmots and one mama and baby moose, the wildlife was scant.

I have been hearing about the Wind River Range for years and am so glad to have experienced it. The terrain definitely reminds me of other places we've been in Washington and Oregon, but it did not disappoint at all. There are tons of trails and I'm sure we'll be back. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Te Araroa Book Progress Volume 1

My month-long writer residency at Elsewhere Studios wrapped up what seems to be ages ago (May 30) and once again I thought I'd give you a long overdue post with some quick and dirty stats. While my book is currently collecting dust, I made major progress during my "artist in residence" program at at Elsewhere Studios in Paonia, Colorado.
In my 24 days living in the "Gingerbread House," I typed a whopping 24,505 words, which translates to 72 pages (Word, double space, Times, 12pt)! Typically, I wrote 1,000 words a day, working for about 5 hours give or take. Amazingly, I only had 3 days of writer's block (and only consumed 17 ounces of chocolate the whole month).
I seriously don't know how people wrote books on typewriters ... without the Internet. Gasp! 

Two of my 3 "roommates" were writers, so we really capitalized on our skills and participated in a few community events. Not only did we host the regular open houses and read our work at Elsewhere, there was open mic night, a writer's group, a radio reading and a workshop teaching others about writing.
The 3 Elsewhere writer residents participated in the radio show, "One Woman's Perspective" on the local "mountain-grown" radio station (KVNF). We each read an excerpt. 

Overall, Elsewhere was an awesome experience, I am in love with residences and I am ecstatic with the headway I've made. This brings my book grand total to 33,620 words, or 106 pages. I believe I am 70% done with the "writing" portion of my book. I am hoping to do a little more writing this fall and winter to potentially finish the words on paper portion. Let's not talk about the revision process though. Baby steps.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Southwest Colorado Spring Adventures

I know the Denali and Alaska blog posts piqued a lot of interest here in May and June, but while Justin was off climbing mountains, I was not just sitting on my butt in Colorado. And while this is a belated post, I still wanted to share. Today we celebrate 'Murica and I sure do enjoy exploring our beautiful country.

My temporary stint as a writer-in-residence in Paonia introduced me to a new area to explore during a new season. Colorado's winter and spring danced together for the first few weeks of May, keeping access to certain forest roads and trailheads closed. But a ridiculously rainy spring soon turned into an explosion of wildflowers at the lower elevations under bluebird days--perfect for hiking. Even though my regular adventure partner was unavailable, I found a new one! Liz, one of the other writer residents at Elsewhere, was happy to go exploring.
Photo credit for all photos: Liz Cantrell

Like the Colorado I've come to love, this particular neck of the state is full of sharp, stunning contrasts, from the eternally snow-capped mountains to the flattop mesas to the deep canyons. The following three hikes did not disappoint on any of the above.

Dark Canyon Trail - Gunnison National Forest
Mileage: 4 miles out and back (The Dark Canyon Trail actually goes 13.8 miles, but we only did a short day hike)

Elevation Gain/Loss: The trailhead starts at roughly 6,800 feet and stays fairly flat for the first few miles. It isn't until mile 5 or so where you start to gain 2,000 feet of elevation.

Description: The trail follows the narrow canyon along Anthracite Creek, which was roaring like an unleashed animal. The spring snowmelt also created an abundance of waterfalls thundering down from the cliffs above. I would say spring is the perfect time to explore this canyon, although I found 2 ticks that hitched a ride from the oak bushes, so be mindful!

Duncan Trail - Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area
Mileage: 3 miles out and back

Elevation Change/Gain: 840 feet - The trailhead starts at 6,500 feet.

The first thing I should mention is that Peach Valley Road to access the trailhead is primitive and would be best with a high-clearance vehicle. My AWD Baja did a-okay for first part, but we parked and walked the last mile to be safe.

The trail snakes down amongst juniper trees through the pink and mauve canyon layers to the Gunnison River. The last .5 miles is a bit of hand-over-foot scramble with multiple options for the "trail." We went down one way, and up another.

One of Colorado's nicknames is "the mother of rivers" because of the state's 8,000 miles of rivers and streams. The Gunnison is the fifth largest tributary of the Colorado River.

Once again, a great choice for cooler spring temperatures as opposed to the summer heat. Plus, the rattlesnakes. We nearly stepped on a well-blended bugger if not for his warning rattle ... I can only imagine how many are out during summer.

North Vista Trail - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Mileage: 7 miles out and back

Elevation Change/Gain: 850 feet - The trailhead starts at the North Rim Visitor Center at roughly 7,700 feet.

With the National Park Service celebrating its centennial, there's bound to be bumper-to-bumper traffic in the most popular parks. But here's one of those places where the crowds do not flock. With only an average of 180,000 visitors during the past 10 years, we didn't even have to battle the masses for Memorial Day weekend.

We entered from the north rim of the park because it was closer to Paonia. The trail follows the rim of the canyon up to a high point on Green Mountain, with views playing peek-a-boo in between the bristlecone pine trees and wildflowers.

The Gunnison River appeared frothy in the Black Canyon, while in neighboring Gunnison Gorge it was more like a green ribbon. This is a very narrow section of the river, as this 2,500-foot canyon may be 1300 feet wide at the tip, it tapers to 40 feet at the bottom! Daylight only reaches the canyon floor 2,700 feet below for 33 minutes a day.

Another interesting observation we had in comparison to the Gunnison Gorge was that the rock faces did not have the same horizontal striation patterns. Instead, these walls were streaking downward, presumable from the snow and ice freezing and thawing.
All in all, I would say southwest Colorado, just like the rest of the state, has plenty to offer!