Thursday, August 31, 2017

Currently: August

Currently living/working in: We are back to caretaking Fenton Ranch in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico and teaching kids (5th, 4th & 2nd graders) environmental education! The fall session of teaching will run through mid-October, while the caretaking role will be all winter. 

Current mood: Really excited to be settled down again for a bit and to get to teach these private school kiddos again. This is our 4th “semester” of teaching! There is just something we love about this job and this place that makes us want to keep returning. We’re meeting more and more wonderful people in this tiny community (I’m talking 25 houses, mostly seasonal) and it just keeps affirming our decision to stay on as long as we can.  
Why yes those are goats. Our friend/neighbor Jeff has 2 goats and we went hiking with them.

Currently excited about: Football season! Justin is the true fan and fantasy football expert, but there is just something I love about Sunday football watching. Now, with that being said, we still need to jimmy our old-school antenna to see if we can get NBC, ABC, FOX & CBS in order to watch at home. Last year, we were able to get FOX and a static-filled NBC is you sat on the east side of the cabin. So wishful thinking I know. If no stations come in, we will be relying on our neighbor friends for their cable and the pub that is 30 miles away with a crack through the single 13-inch TV screen.  

Currently not excited about: Mrs. Gibbles’ gifts. Just to recap, there’s this cat that adopted us here at Fenton last fall. We fell in love with her and took care of her all winter. We left her to fend for herself with other Fenton Ranch staff this summer while we traversed the country in a van. We reunited two weeks ago and she is ecstatic. We know this because she has brought us not 1, not 2, but TWENTY-FIVE mice, birds & chipmunks as welcome back gifts.  
She looks innocent, but is far from it.

Currently worried about: Logistics for making a few upcoming doctor appointments. We created these inconveniences by living 2 hours from the closest city … but that is the tradeoff we choose for the life we have. 

Currently thankful for: Pretty unique bear sighting! The day we returned to Fenton Ranch, a bear decided to visit our yard (YIKES!!). He actually broke our gate open to get to some birdseed I had out to fill the feeders (OOPS!), putting him just inches from our front door (DOUBLE YIKES!!) before we scared him off (PHEW!!). We are all for respecting wildlife and their space, so I understand this could have been an unsafe situation, but it was darn cool. 

Currently proud of: Updates to our website. Stay tuned … 

Currently regretting: Damn storage unit confusion. We moved one box to another and forgot to bring it to New Mexico, where we wanted it. 

Currently amazed by: We were in New Mexico for the solar eclipse. J thought it was “meh,” but I was pretty amazed by the event even if we weren’t in the path of totality. And the fact that it fell on my birthday! How memorable. 
Current confession: I have been avoiding talking about updates on my book. Maybe I'll talk about it next month. 

Current guilty pleasure: We have a few weddings coming up this year and are planning travel around them! We just finished planning out a fall trip to South Carolina.  

Currently reading: 80% done with The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan. I was really excited for this book because it’s a memoir about world travels and I sort of “know” the author through cyber connections. However, I’ve been a little disappointed. I LOVE Kim’s blog, but I don’t know, the book isn’t quite doing it for me. It is a quick and easy read, and maybe I’ll love it by the end.  

Currently watching on Netflix: Back to the Netflix DVD plan, so we get to watch 2 movies/week. We are still on the search for a TV series that is completely over and available via Netflix. We are currently watching “Freaks and Geeks” (it’s awesome). Future contenders are “Longmire” & “Bloodline.” Taking suggestions!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Birthday Reflections at 39

I turned 39 today at 3:37am EST. And while I truly stand by the fact that age is just a number, I have a hard time believing this will be my last year in my 30s! 
Birthdays are one of those days I’d rather just ignore and treat as another day,               but that does not happen in J’s family. 
We celebrated my birthday earlier this month before we left Denver. 

The last time I did a birthday reflection was when I turned 36, and I feel like I’ve lived a hundred lives since then. Heck, I lived a hundred lives this year alone: the writer, the educator, the caretaker, the road tripper, the motivational speaker, the caregiver, the secretary, the good wife, the bad wife, the homebody, the cat woman, the list goes on. 

But if there is one common theme and lesson I learned during my 38th year of life, it is this quote a friend said to me recently. 

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” 

As I age (cough), I hone my idea that nothing can equal that of an open mind and a patient heart. Sure it pays to prepare for the worst, but when everything goes against plans, it’s like a cold shower. Refreshing. Okay, maybe a little shocking. But that’s also when the real adventure begins. 

I continue to be surprised in life. Life doesn’t get easier and I am constantly humbled by that fact. 

And while I am not a big fan of birthdays, I am a big fan of celebrating life. We have one precious life and it should never be taken for granted. 

So here’s to the last of my fourth decade! 
What is it about birthdays?? Even Google recognizes it!

Friday, August 18, 2017

National Park 42/59: Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Over the years, we've spent A LOT of time in Colorado, but only I had been to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. And in our quest to visit all 59 of the national parks, it doesn't count until we've been there together!

We finally visited it together last weekend, making it number 42.

We were returning to work at Fenton Ranch in New Mexico (teaching and caretaking) and decided to include a detour to see the park on our drive.
There are 2 entrances and I had previously been to the north entrance (less visited), so we explored the south side.

There are less than 5 miles of established trails on the south side, and we made sure to do them all. The Oak Flat Loop and Warner Point trails give you the best views of the deep and sheer canyon walls. Early settlers found the canyon to be foreboding given how dark and narrow it was. Back in the early 1900s when they finally surveyed the canyon via the Gunnison River, the expedition took 9 days to travel 33 miles!!

And while you can follow one of the unmaintained trails to get to the bottom, we took the easy way to see the Gunnison River. We drove down, down, down the 16% grade to get to the East Portal. This historic community developed because the surrounding areas of western Colorado needed a more reliable water source. However, to bridge the Gunnison River to the people and land, they needed to dig a tunnel through the mountain. While the East Portal community eventually dissolved, the tunnel thrived. Completed in 1909, this 5.8-mile long by 12-foot high tunnel still delivers river water for irrigation today.

The canyon is not the only sight to be seen while in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It is known for its stargazing and is labeled as one of the "International Dark Sky Parks." We camped on a clear night and the park even had a volunteer astronomer set up with his telescope. In addition to viewing 15,000+ stars and the Milky Way, he showed us Saturn and Jupiter through the telescope! 

We are hoping to hit one more National Park before the end of 2017, but we are certainly pleased with how many we've hit this summer alone. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Summer 2017 Speaking Tour Road Trip Statistics

Dates: May 1- July 25

Distance Traveled: 14,240 miles 
   *12,328 miles on the Superfeet Van 
   *1,912 miles on our own car
***Our friend Alexis put together this REALLY AWESOME video of the Superfeet van. Check it out on our YouTube channel. Gracias Alexis!***

Longest Drive: 922 miles on 7/23/17 from Moorehead, MN to Denver, CO

Number of Days: 116 days 
   *roughly 100 days in the van

States Driven Through: 31

Presentations: 31
   *Favorite Presentation: Hopkinton Town Library in New Hampshire, mostly because we knew more than half the audience and hadn’t seen some of these people in several years! In fact, there were only 9 events where we didn’t know at least 1 person in the audience. And of the gear companies that sponsored the tour, all but 2 companies had representatives come out to watch.

Friends Visited: Approximately 140+
I certainly DID NOT get a picture of everyone we stayed with and everyone we visited/stayed with. But I sure did try. And even if we didn't see YOU on this trip, I'm sure we'll get you on another trip. Or another trip. Or another trip. 
Miles Hiked: 150.2 miles (each)
   *Favorite Day Hike: Chaos Crags in Lassen Volcanic National Park
   *Favorite Backpacking Trip: Channel Islands National Park from one end of the island to the other (Prisoners Cove to Scorpion Cove)

High Points Attempted: 4
High Points Achieved: 3.5

National Parks: 11 (9 were ones we hadn't been to before)
   *Favorite NP from this trip: Channel Islands NP

National Monuments:

Most expensive diesel gas price paid: $3.09/gallon

Number of times the gas warning light went on: 4 nerve-wracking times

Number of breakdowns/flat tires/speeding tickets/accidents: ZERO

Nights sleeping inside/outside friends’ or families’ houses (we sometimes slept in the van in someone's driveway): 36
Simply put, this tour would not have been what it was without our friends and families opening their homes. Thank you for all of your modern conveniences, comfy beds, flushing/non-public toilets, full-pressure hot showers, fresh towels, non-coin operated washing machines, full-size sink, dishwasher, unlimited electricity, unlimited Internet ... I feel like I am forgetting something ... oh, companionship!!!

Nights sleeping in the van at rest areas: 12 
    *Best kept secret: The wayside on Route 6 along the Wilson River between Portland and Tillamook in Oregon

Nights sleeping in a Walmart parking lot: 10
    *Best Walmart on this trip: Houghton, MI. We found quite a few Walmarts this trip that were tucked back and off the main road, including this one. We also found a bunch of Walmarts that apparently DO NOT allow overnight parking and can make for an unpleasant 2AM wakeup call (SLC, I'm looking at you). 

Nights sleeping in an RV Park/Campground: 5
     *Best Campground: Wheeler Peak Campground in Great Basin National Park 

Nights sleeping at a trailhead in van: 3
     *Best trailhead campsite: Ross Dam Trail in North Cascades NP (this was actually our very first night in the van!)

Nights in our tent: 6
     *Best backcountry campsite: Del Norte Backcountry Campground in Channel Islands

Nights in a hotel/rental condo/cabin/B&B: 16
     *Best paid accommodation: Government Camp condo we rented with Bobby & Tammy for Mt. Hood climbing in Oregon

Wildlife Spottings:
Bear, Whales, Moose, Bald Eagles, Owls

Radio, iTunes Library, Podcasts or Books on Tape? 
For this trip, we actually listened to the radio a lot. We only remembered to bring one of our iPods with us until we had the other 2 sent to us. Plus, often we were relying on my phone for navigation, especially on the shorter trips, so radio made the most sense.  

Card Game of Choice: Sushi Go

Concerts: 3 (U2, Dead & Company, Redwings Roots Festival)

Theater shows: Beatles Love in Vegas

Favorite Road Snack: Hummus (particularly carmelized onion flavor) and tortilla chips/cucumbers

Favorite Fast Food: Chick-fil-A 
    *Unfortunately, we ate more Chick-fil-A this summer than I'd like to admit. It was highly convenient that it’s open until 10pm because we almost always finished cleaning up from presentations and packing the car by 9:01pm when most other fast food establishments were closed for the night!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Outdoor Retailer

Our summer nationwide speaking tour truly culminated when we turned the Sprinter van back over to Superfeet, which conveniently happened while we were at Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City.

Outdoor Retailer. Let me take this opportunity to write an ode to OR.
When people ask us what this semi-annual trade show is all about, we have a hard time explaining it. Simply put, it is the opportunity for 1000+ outdoor gear exhibitors to showcase their newest products, some of which won't even hit the market until the following summer. Everyone who works within the outdoor industry comes out--manufacturers, retail store buyers, PR reps, media, non profits ...

Organized chaos is a better way to describe it.
The first time J & I attended OR was in the summer of 2013. We were on a nationwide speaking tour for Backpacker Magazine and our role at OR was to meet with the brands supporting the tour and just be there. We basically walked around aimlessly with smiles created equally from confusion and admiration.

At OR, there's always a lot of tech talk, gear envy, schmoozing at daily happy hours and pure exhaustion. If you are an introvert, wear uncomfortable shoes and don't drink water, you'll likely drown in the sea of flannel.

I don't remember much from our first show, but I do remember drooling and pinching ourselves a lot. How did we get to be so lucky to be among all these outdoor enthusiasts and geek out over all the gear?

We've gotten a much better handle on things since that first show and now we go with more of a purpose. Under Backpacker's media tags, we are walking the floor to see what jumps out that potentially can be tested for the magazine. Now that Justin is the category manager for knives and multitools, he had meetings set up pretty much from beginning to end. We haven't been able to master the strategy of scheduling appointments according to the floor plan, so we each walk a freakin lot. The showroom floor something like 50,000 square feet, so J & I estimate we inevitably walk at least 6-10 miles everyday.
Appointments or no appointments, because brands are either looking to snag orders from retailers or good press from media, our press tags get a lot of attention.
At OR, I feel a comforting happiness to be among so many like-minded people. And not just the shared camaraderie, but these are some of our personal idols and heroes. This time around, I got to chat with Jennifer Pharr Davis, while Justin got to shake hands with Conrad Anker.
 Starstruck? Just a little.
I also thoroughly enjoyed getting to catch a few minutes of the presentations this year from all-stars like Conrad, Alex Honnold, Cedar Wright (all big climbers) and Bethany Hamilton (surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack). Our Backpacker friend, Heather, was on a women's panel and it was lovely to see the spotlight on so many powerful females in the outdoor industry. 

You just never know what you are going to get with OR. There are so many pleasant surprises. This year, I saw a small flyer announcing that Keenfest would include a performance by the "Head and the Heart" for just 3,000 people. If you didn't know, this is a band who sells out venues with 10,000 people. We ended up with a front and center spot, all because of our OR pass!
This year's show was the last time it will be hosted in Salt Lake City. Instead, the show will take place in Denver for the foreseeable future. OR's been around for 30 years, and 22 of them have been in SLC. However, the outdoor industry decided to look for other options after Utah expressed a strong stand about how to treat public lands. OR brings in roughly $45 million/year to the city, and the industry just couldn't see pouring that kind of money into a place that didn't support their core values and playground. It was a bittersweet departure, but ultimately, the industry's commitment to public lands weighed out its loyalty. Nearly 3,000 people (including us) marched to Utah's state capitol building to show our support for public lands and to say a heartfelt goodbye to Salt Lake City.

As draining as OR is, we love it and am so grateful every chance we get to go.