Forged of fire and ice
Iceland had never been on my bucket list, but when I first pitched Kara on a trip around Europe, she countered with Iceland. We knew almost nothing about it, except that it was fairly off the grid in terms of tourist destinations, which was enough for us both to be sold. We planned our itinerary 4 days before we left, with our only specifications being that we got some sort of backpacking trip in and that we see a volcano. What a trip we were in for!
We spent the first three days in Reykjavík, the capital. We rented bikes and pedaled around town, lounged in hotpots, impressed our Airbnb host with a 15 minute swim in the shockingly cold Atlantic (9 degree Celsius or 48 degree Fahrenheit), had the most amazing lobster soup of our entire lives and then got the heck out of dodge.
We spent a day hitchhiking our way North to explore the fjords and set out on our backpacking trip. From the notes -
“The beauty here is unreal. The sea swells in as far as it dares and the mountains rise up to meet it. Of course it is dark for two whole months out of the year here - what other forces could have forged such boldness?”
From the little town of Ísafjörður we caught a ferry to Hornstrandir, an island that had been abandoned since the 1950’s, that was renown for it’s epic backpacking. We waved goodbye to the two 15 year-olds who had dropped us off in a dingy, then pulled out our topographical map to asses the situation. It was 6pm - we had 8 miles to hike and one 2100 foot mountain pass to cross. Thank you 24 hours of daylight.
The first hiccup we encountered came about 30 minutes into the trip and took the form of a 60 degree wall of snow. I stood there, dumbfounded as Kara proceeded to plan our route, directly up the mountain of snow. She gave a short safety talk, “Kick, step, kick. Don’t look down. If we slide, unclip the bag and go feet first (ha!).” A moment before she took her first step onto the ice, I asked her if she was sure this was a good idea. Without a moment of hesitation and with the sincerity of a child, she answered with “What?”
This is the kind of leader I hope to one day become - no matter what internal fears and doubts I may be struggling with, resolutely the lead onward with no outward signs of fear. Fortunately I have Kara to do so in the face of snow and ice.
We made it up the first snow field and two more just like it with no problems. Descended down into a valley and arrived at our first campsite, a grassy knoll alongside a desolate fjord at 11:30pm.
The next morning we spent two hours skirting the sea, heading for a pass directly on the other side of the valley. We promptly lost the trail within the first 30 minutes and spent the rest of the morning searching for a stick or pile of cairns that would indicate we were headed in the right direction. We finally gave up and headed straight up the mountain at about the spot we thought we should find the trail (Kara’s choice, not mine).
From my notes - “Arrived at the top and man I have never been so happy to see a pile of rocks!”
We continued cairn hunting till our stone clusters led us directly to the base of a daunting mountain pass. At the very top we could see a row of wooden sticks, indicating that this was indeed the way up. The pass was at least 800 feet high and covered in snow except for the very top, which was all exposed rock. We could see one other set of footprints in the snow, so we followed those. The first 600 feet of snow climbing wasn’t so bad - kick, step, kick. Don’t look down. The we got to a rock slide area that was more scrambling than anything, still at a 60% grade. Upon looking down we could see that our footprints marched directly between two frozen alpine lakes, which we hadn’t seen at all when we were walking across the snow. Scary.
Once the rockslide area ended, we still had another 100 feet of straight vertical climbing. The holds weren’t bad, but it was terrifying to have the 50 lb packs strapped to our backs and know that one misstep or fall would assuredly lead to death via head smashing on rocks then a long tumble down the steep snowbank, then a potential punch through ice into frozen lakes. In retrospect, we probably should have turned around at this point, but the ferry was picking us up on the other side of the island in two days, so we really had no other option than to keep going.
We ended up making it over this pass and another, equally terrifying one just fine. Sore, tired and muddy, we put ourselves to bed rather early upon reaching ‘camp’ (random spot along the mountain with a gorgeous view of the sea).
Our third and final day of the backpacking trip led us over our final mountain pass (Kara has a thing for going UP). Grey clouds chased us the whole way over and mood was somber until we reached the very top. From my notes - “This pass was the easiest of all to climb in that we were on a trail, with no visible snow, and only rocks to trek up. We almost celebrated until we arrived at the top to find the entire other side covered in snow. The was our first steep trek down the snow and like all the other ones, turned out not to be so bad once we started moving.” At one point, Kara slipped on the ice and started sledding down on her butt & pack, which we quickly realized was superior to walking gingerly along the snow. Upon reaching the bottom, we hiked down into Hesteyri (our destination) and saw our first humans in three days. From my notes -
“I’m not sure I’ll ever experience another backpacking trip quite as awesome/terrifying/intense/remote/gorgeous as this one. I’ll probably be okay with that.”
After being ferried back to Ísafjörður (saw a whale!) we took our first shower in six days, caught a bus -> ferry -> bus back down to Reykjavík where we rented a car and proceeded to drive south along the Ring Road.
Southeast Iceland is heartbreakingly beautiful - vast expanses of desolate, hardened lava, verdant green horse farms, tumbling waterfalls, ash-streaked glaciers, volcanoes covered in snow and capped by ominous clouds, lazy, traversing grey rivers, and the sea, always the sea, alongside us.
I think my favorite stop was Jökulsárlón. We pulled over on the side of the road for several hours to watch icebergs of all sizes, shapes and transparencies creak and roll.
From my notes - “Here they are, having existed for the last several thousand years, shoving and jostling one another in a race to the sea, where they’ll be pounded by waves and wind until, inevitably, they’ll melt into nothingness. What stoic structures.”
We hiked 12 miles to another glacier lagoon in Snæfellsjökull National Park, scampered up several waterfalls, soaked in the hotpot of every town we camped in, made friends with a family biking the Ring Road, stuffed ourselves on buttery lobster soup, celebrated the longest day of the year in a campground filled with entirely too many raucous ‘college’ (high school-aged) students, hitchhiked 10 miles into Þórsmörk to climb the tallest peak we could find, snorkeled along tectonic plates and fell asleep every night in a new campground to the sound of sheep bleating, shotguns, dirt bikes and children kicking soccer balls.
From my notes- “We set off on some random trail and about halfway up realized we were climbing the tallest peak around. But it didn’t even bother me! It’s taken me 23 years to appreciate hiking for hiking’s sake, but I’m so glad I finally got there. Makes me think that a lot of life is probably like this - you fight and fight against something only to end up liking it. That plus the old “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey’ thing. I like getting to the top, but that’s not what I love about hiking. And even though there are painful and scary moments, I still love it. Trying to remember this lesson for every day life…”
After 14 days and less than $1500 later, our time in Iceland was up. It was one of the most glorious countries I’ve been fortunate enough to adventure in; if I’m really lucky, one day I’ll find my way back.
A word to the wise - If you do end up in Iceland during the 24 hours of daylight period and intend on spending ten nights in your tent, buy the damn $8 eyeshades. It’s the one thing we regret being too cheap on.
Land of the midnight sun
Norway was an especially amazing trip because of who I traveled with. My mom turned 55 this year and her best friend, Lynda turned 60. They were planning an adventure of their own, but upon hearing that I was headed to Norway, decided to join me there. Lynda’s daughter, Hayley, has been one of my best friends since kindergarten so she joined us too, making it the ultimate girls' trip.
“Descended upon a land of green, tree-covered hillsides, red barns and deep blue lakes reflecting the cloudy skies. I’m already in love.”
Norway lives up to it’s reputation in every way imaginable - tall, tan, beautiful blondes exercising everywhere, stunning views at every turn, gorgeous countryside and gouging prices. After spending the last 10 nights in a tent & subsisting mostly off Cliff Bars, peanut butter & hot dogs, being able to sleep in a real bed and eat real food (sort of…) was a real luxury.
We spent our first 3 days in Oslo, visiting museums and wandering around the city. From there we flew to the Lofoten Islands, where we got our first taste of the Norwegian fjords and beaches. We stayed in a cabin on the water that was literally out of a postcard. We went on night hikes to deserted beaches and swim in the Atlantic underneath the midnight sun. We took paddle boated ourselves around our little island and stayed up late talking and talking.
After 3 days on lovely Lofoten, we flew to Bergen, another Norwegian city. I’ve never seen an American city even close to this beautiful, what with it’s forests, rivers and parks at every corner. We spent a day traveling up one of the fjords via ferry and marveled at the tiny towns sprinkled along the water. How did anyone ever decide to settle in such remote locations? What do they do for entertainment?
Learning how to function in a group setting was a bit challenging, especially after having spent the last two weeks with Kara, who is very similar to me in terms of priorities, sleep/wake/eat needs, etc. Our eating schedules were all kinds of off, which posed a few problems for me due to the fact that I have the metabolism of a fireant and the will-power of a small child. There were afternoons where I’d be so hungry that I’d literally have to lay around so as not to get light-headed (pathetic, I know). But the forced lesson on calming down and going with the group flow was a good one for me.
From Bergen we drove to Jostedal, one of Norway’s most beautiful national parks. Their tunnels are a true testament to their engineering brilliance in that they go miles and miles underground through mountains and oceans. The single lane roads hugging cliffsides were terrifying to drive along. The locals had no problem tearing down them, wish I could say the same for myself. We arrived at Jostedal safe and sound though, whereupon we rented a cabin that Prince William had stayed in (according to our camp host).
From the notes -
“There is nothing more wonderful in the world than being clean, cozy and loved. I have the luxury of all three, plus a gorgeous view and the sound of the river to boot.”
We hiked along ice blue rivers, flower-filled fields, on a colossal glacier that creaked and groaned under our crampons and up several rocky valleys for the views. My mom says it’s so easy to feel insignificant here in the midst of Nature’s grandeur and she’s right. It’s a good reminder.
My favorite day in Norway came in the form of a 15 km descent from Merdol to Flam on rented mountain bikes. From my notes -
“Aside from the soft whirr of my hub, the only other sounds I could hear were the gentle rush of the river and an occasional bird call. With the sun shining, the air was warm enough to ride in just a t-shirt, even with the breeze coming off the water. And the water! My god, the colors - turquoise blue, glacier ice pools, frothing white rapids and sea green shallows all with sunlight cascading off the surface. For a few minutes I felt completely at peace - the kind that people talk about when they die and are bathed in a warm light and everything (I think). If there is some sort of personalized heaven that we can look forward to, mine will be one dirt single track descending through all the seasons and places and people that I’ve loved, with plenty of lookouts and rest stops and food breaks. Today’s ride was a kind of preview for that.”
If you ever find yourself in Norway, do the dang tourist thing and take the tram up to Merdol from Flam. Rent a mountain bike. Experience pure, unadulterated joy.
Becoming comfortable with uncertainty
In July of 2012, I made the decision to move to the Bay Area. While I had grown up in California’s Central Valley, I never understood the meaning of ‘home’ until I moved to Colorado. So the idea of moving not only to a heavily populated, heavily trafficked area, but also one that I was never particularly fond of in the first place was more than a little unnerving. However, when I got a call from my younger brother saying that he had found out he was about to have a kid of his own, was terrified, and it’d be great to have me closer, there was no hesitation when I said I'd move back. A few weeks before the call, I had begun toying with the idea of one day moving to San Francisco to experience the tech scene and city life in general. I figured this was the Universe’s way of giving me a giant shove in that direction.
Leaving Colorado was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Saying goodbye to the mountains, to the people, to my favorite trails, the seasons - as dramatic as it sounds, it felt like a piece of my heart was dying. Which isn’t to say I wasn’t excited about going, because I was. But it was still painful.
Through a series of fortuitous events, I ended up finding a job with a small startup in Mountain View building a product to make it easier for family members to connect with each other. I thought it was pretty perfect given my whole reason for moving back to California was family. They gave me the title of Head of Business Development (I was the only non-engineer or designer on the seven person team) and pretty much let me do whatever I thought was necessary to bring the product to market.
For the first two months I lived with my aunt and ten year-old cousin in their one bedroom apartment in San Mateo, then I found a place in downtown Palo Alto, half a mile from Stanford and 5 blocks from the Caltrain. My roommate became one of my best friends and we spent weekends riding on some of the best dirt I’ve ever encountered.
Sometimes it was all very exciting - heading into the city for meetings and events, sprinting to the Caltrain station so as not to miss the 8:15am train, making new friends and meeting them out and about for drinks and dancing, teaching myself how to play guitar, exploring the various redwood groves, day trips to the beach, riding my bike along the deserted streets of Palo Alto for 5:30am morning swim practice, wandering Stanford’s gorgeous campus, a trip to Tahoe with 17 startup founders, playing with my new nephew, falling in love, etc.
Sometimes I was furious at myself for having left Colorado - an hour of sitting in traffic just to get 15 miles, my leisurely morning hikes now replaced with a 5:30am spin class complete with blaring techno music, the CalTrain forever running behind schedule due to people committing suicide on the tracks, and a job with so much ambiguity that I would wake up terrified at 3am wondering if tomorrow would finally be the day I was ‘found out’ for not knowing what the hell I was doing. Underneath it all was a pervasive sense of loneliness, like I didn’t really belong with all these peoples and cars and in restaurants and bars. I figured this was all part of the growing pains that come with being in a new place, so I tried not to let it get me down too much.
All in all, life was going along pretty smoothly, until one day it wasn’t. Within the same week, the co-founder who had hired me unexpectedly left the company, was being deported back to England, and my kid brother was admitted to rehab for Heroin. I alternated between feeling completely numb, to rage seething from fingertips to deep sadness. I’ve never been so unable to control my emotions or my life. I kept coming back to the fact that here I had moved out to California to support my brother and he had gone and done this to me. To his family. To his son. It was a dark February.
Addiction is one of those lurking shadows that shoots out from under the bed and claws at your ankles in the dark. It flips your world upside-down and causes you to question everything you believed in, were working towards. My family has been very lucky in that my brother’s addiction has actually helped us heal from old wounds we hadn’t realized we’d inflicted on on another, grow closer, and learn how to set healthy boundaries. But it’s a battle my brother has to fight every day for the rest of his life and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Eventually my family began the healing process and things at work calmed down. I woke up one day and realized I was completely happy. Which is how I knew it was okay for me to come home.
My eight months in California taught me that I can be happy almost anywhere, which is comforting when I think about how vast the future is and how many unknowns lie within it. But it also taught me that life is short and changes too quickly to not be in a place that you love, surrounded by people you like and admire. For me that place is Colorado and it’s here that I intend on building a future and a family.
On suffering and joy
In the words of a fellow rider - “Mountain biking taught me how to suffer.” But I'll add that is also taught me about joy. There are no words for how insanely wonderful it feels to tear down dirt single track into a grove of yellowing autumn aspens, leaves fluttering in the wind. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to flying. There are also no words for how soul-crushing it is to discover a grueling ascent lies ahead of you on hour five of a supposed hour-long little jaunt, completely out of food, water, on your third flat of the ride, with tears streaming down your face and hear “I know you think that stopping to rest is going to make you feel better, but we really just need to get back to the car” (thank you, Joey Schusler).
At the end of the day, that sense of ecstasy just can’t be beat. I’ve experienced more beauty in the four years that I’ve been mountain biking than the rest of my 19 years combined. So this is my tribute to all that is good in the world of dirt, rubber, chafing shammies, empty camelbacks, cliff bars by the pound, perfectly-constructed berms, scars that will never heal, getting sideways, mud baths, unexpected snow flurries, heart-stopping beauty, and every time I've heard (or yelled) “Dude! Did you see me hit that line?!”
I can't wait to see where tomorrow's trail takes us.
The clouds that have been threatening rain all afternoon are finally starting to crack, with the first few drops of rain splattering the windshield as we pull the truck over. The sun has just set, and the pinks and yellows that were so brilliant just a moment ago are quickly fading. Kara and I hurry to stash the bikes & the food bin underneath the truck, frantically pulling the tailgate closed just as the skies unleash. Within minutes, the sky is pitch black and the rain is so loud upon the truck roof that we can barely hear each other over the din. We’re cozy in sleeping bags, laughing at our luck. Lightning strikes so loud and so close that the whole hillside is illuminated and we both clamp our hands over our ears, screaming. We are parked five miles up an abandoned dirt road somewhere in Montana. A gas station attendant told us about an old Boy Scout camp that we could spend the night at, but we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because we never found the camp. We eventually fall asleep as the pounding rain subsides. Somewhere around 4am we wake to the sound of a man muttering “It just don’t look right, Willis, it just don’t look right.” My blood freezes.
“Hello,” he shouts. “This is the Montana Forest Service, is everything alright?” I’m running through scenarios in my mind - do we both respond, in which case he’d know there were two girls out here alone, or does one of us stay silent so he thinks maybe it’s a couple and one of us has a gun?
Kara calls back “We’re fine, we’re just camping here, we didn’t want to get caught out in the storm.”
“Oh, okay,” he says. “I saw the truck and was worried. You be careful out here,” and with that, he and his dog get back in their truck and drive off.
Welcome to Montana.
From the notes:
“Huckleberry pie, my goodness.”
Day two of the trip brought us to the gates of Glacier National Park, camped alongside the Flathead River. After a beer and dinner of cottage cheese and chips, it was decided that we should swim across the river. We hopped in a quarter of a mile upstream, intending a leisurely float down to camp. Instead we were shocked to find our arms almost unable to churn through the freezing cold water, the current rushing us several hundred yards past camp. Won’t make that mistake again. Fell asleep to the sound of a distant train whistling over the river’s rapids.
Day three - Woke up to the sun rising over the Flathead and struck out for Glacier. Two hours, six miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain later, we found ourselves standing atop Mt. Brown’s lookout station. We brought bear bells, but we feel like fools wearing them. However, the fear of startling a grizzly outweighs a fashion faux pas, so (at least for now) they stay.
From the notes -
“Minor meltdowns before dinner and the mosquitoes are FIERCE. At least we have huckleberry pie.”
Day four - Day breaks as we meander along Going to the Sun road to the top of Logan’s pass.
Kara’s training for an upcoming marathon, so she jogged the high line trail, while I hiked along behind her. The trail hugs the mountainside, with views spanning the entire valley. There were so many foreign, yet gorgeous flowers that I took it upon myself to give them all new names - starbursts, sun downers, georgia o’keefe’s, tinkerbells, harpies, etc. Kara collected me on her return and we both jogged the 3 miles back to the car, to the consternation of all that we passed along the narrower regions of the trail.
We drove down the other side of the pass and over to Grinnel Glacier, hoping to get in another killer hike. Unfortunately, the trail was closed due to recent grizzly activity. Hiked around a lake covered in deep, 6 foot tall foliage and I nearly jumped off the trail several times due to a squirrel scampering across the trail. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been that scared in the wilderness.
A grizzly bear loped across the road on our way into Canada. It’s hump was the height of the truck hood (4 and a half feet) and it’s claws looked something fierce. Incredible to see, but not an animal I’d like to run into any time soon.
From the notes -
Sore, sore, sore.
We look like grannies and could probably do with a walker or two.”
Day five - Awoke from our camp spot behind a village store to the sounds of cars rushing along the highway. Drove the short distance into the Canadian side of Glacier National Park, Waterton, and parked alongside Waterton Lake. Today we intend on hiking the Crypt Lake Trail, which has been billed “Canada’s Best Day Hike,” by our trusty guide book. We are ferried across the lake to the base of the trail and then set loose with around 30 other people. We immediately hoof it to the front and continue on at a fairly brisk pace for the remaining 6 miles and 2300 feet of elevation gain. Gorgeous 400 foot waterfalls and views of the valley below the entire way, with a sketchy cable crossing/tunnel crawl at the very top. Crypt Lake has large chunks of ice still floating in it, but that doesn’t deter us from taking a quick dip. Thunderheads are beginning to build, so we hurry back across the exposed cable section and under the safety of some trees just as the rain begins to fall. We link up with a retired teacher from Maryland whose just seen a black bear on the trail and hike the rest of the way down with him. My legs shake the whole way down due to soreness, which Kara thinks is just hilarious.
That evening we camp in our first real campground of the trip and are sickened to have to pay $23. We are back along the river again, so at least we’ve got that going for us.
Day six - Realized that perhaps sleeping with our head near the open tailgate in bear country may not be such a good idea… Drove the hour into Banff - “Money everywhere!” We find a farmers market, buy a blueberry pie and meet a local who tells us about an off the map bike trail and a great bar. We spend the afternoon drinking a pitcher of red ale at the Legion and admiring the river nearby. Too much ice cream and Backpacker’s Pasta Primavera made for an early-to-bed/we-may-be-sick evening. From the notes -
“Too much of a resort town to really get into Banff.”
Day seven - Ignored the alarm completely and didn’t get moving until 10. Kara needed a good run, so I biked and she ran along the bike path leading to the edge of town. We followed an old fire road into the forest and didn’t see a soul. At this point, we were too tired, dirty and slightly discouraged to find the singletrack the local had told us about the day before, so we visited the hot springs instead. Best $7.00 we have ever spent! Took our first real shower in 7 days and lounged in the warm water. From the notes -
“It’s wonderful to feel like human beings again.”
Packed ourselves the standard dinner dinner of bean and cheese wraps, oranges and a chocolate bar and hiked around Lake Louise. Admired the lake, couple-watched and listened to the magpies chatter for a good hour. We wandered into a talk about grizzlies and learned that there are only 71 in the park. They eat around 200,000 berries a day, which is the equivalent of 75 Big Macs! Good land.
Spent the night in an overflow campsite along the highway (free!).
Day eight - Woke up to the sound of RV’s and trucks pulling out of the campsite around 7:30. After a delicious breakfast of Fluffnutter wraps, we headed back to Lake Louise. We set out into the backcountry with some vague idea of where we were going, but after about 20 minutes of hiking our bikes through swampy, possibly bear-filled meadows, headed back. Found a ranger who explained where the real trail to Lake Moraine was located. He suggested we bike up the road 6 km so as to miss the ‘nasty’ rocks and roots going up and just enjoy the downhill section. Ha!
Two exhausted hours later, we reached the part of the trail where we could have just turn in had we taken the road considerably worse for the wear, but happy. We arrived at Lake Moraine an hour later and celebrated with a snickers bar. Rented a canoe and paddled across the lake, drifting and taking it all in. So much beauty.
We opted to take the road back, as it was getting on 6 o’clock and made it back to the car in 20 minutes. Purely ridiculous.
For dinner we drove up to the base of an old ski lodge and watched the sun set over the mountains and glaciers. Pasta and blueberry pie! There was only one other soul in the parking lot, a 17 year-old boy named Crestin who we told about the free overflow camping. Visited with him for a few hours and learned that he had driven up to Canada to climb the Bugaboos and was then working his way down to the tip of South America. What a trip!
Day nine -
“It’s a killing field in here. 7pm and the mosquitoes are going wild, so we’re holed up in the back of the truck. We love camping, but damn these bugs are bad.”
This morning we hiked 13 miles in another record-setting three hours. What a glorious hike it was! We made it up to Mosquito Creek with our new friend Crestin by about nine and set off into the woods. The trail was mudded out, so there was plenty of rock hopping and sliding involved. But it opened into a gorgeous alpine meadow filled with Indian paintbrushes, buttercups, purple and yellow daisies and lorax-looking soft plants. We ate lunch by a creek and scrambled up the largest hill we could find to get a view of the valley surrounded by glaciers and mountains. On the way down we saw a bear paw print in the mud and possible lynx tracks (yikes!). Jumped in the river and laid out until we turned a bit pink.
After the hike, we drove a few miles to Bow Lake where we made tea with steamed milk and honey. Quite fancy for a band of traveling kids. We wished Crestin good luck on his adventures and set off in search of our next campsite.
Day 10 - A day of trials. Kara says every trip has one and this was ours. We started the morning off with a quick (or so we thought) jaunt to Glacier Lake. 12 miles round-trip and a total of 300 feet of elevation gain - this should be cake. Somehow we missed the 1600 foot hill that lay between us and the lake, making this a three and a half hour hike and not the two that we anticipated. Mosquitoes ate us alive on the way back, causing us to break into a dead run while swatting at our backs and legs with an extra shirt. I counted 26 bites on Kara’s back upon our return to the truck. After a few bites of watery Backpacker’s eggs, we drove up to Jasper, stopping at the Columbian Icefields to see my first glacier. We scampered around the base of it and took some pictures before returning back to the truck, only to discover that the truck keys were nowhere to be found. We hike the mile back up to the glacier, searching for the lone truck key. Nada. The rain begins to fall and my ears tear up with the thought of having to pay for a tow truck so far from anywhere. Plus, the spare key fell off the truck a few months ago and I still haven’t gotten around to replacing it. What the hell are we going to do? A few minutes into the full-blown panic stage, Kara lopes up with the biggest grin on her face I’ve ever seen. She holds the key up triumphantly, it must have fallen out of her jacket pocket while we’re taking our picture. Whew.
We drive the hour into Jasper, but are too frazzled to really enjoy the town. We buy some fudge, the set off south in pursuit of Bellingham to visit my family.
Days 11 - 14 - A vacation from our vacation. The Pacific Northwest is one of my favorite places on Earth, so I was beyond excited to be able to share the beauty that is Bellingham, Washington with Kara. I’ve been going up there every year since I was a kid to visit family, but this is the first time I’d taken a trip there on my own. We stayed at my aunt’s house, which overlooks Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands. We slept in late, went for runs along the water, explored the forests behind Western State University, visited the bookstore, ate the best sushi I’ve ever had and visited with family. I don’t know what was more exciting, being able to take hot showers whenever we liked or not having to worry about our food getting broken into by bears. After four wonderful days, it was time to return home to Boulder. We slept on our back porch in sleeping bags for the next week, not quite ready to return to reality.
Spring Break 2011.
Specifications - had to be cheap and it had to be reachable via car. We toyed with the idea of booking it to the Grand Canyon, but ultimately decided we’d waste too much of our valuable week in the car, so Canyonlands it was. I’d been to Moab once before, but had never spent time in Utah outside of that.
Joey kicked open our front door the night before our departure yelling “road trip, road trip” and unpacking all the necessary road trip items - mountain tees for everyone, a slackline, frisbees, PBR, etc. The kid clearly has perfected the art of the road trip over the years.
We blasted off at 8am after fueling up on donuts and milk. Eight hours, several missed exits and one strange encounter with a white-coverall-wearing campsite manager later, we found ourselves in a campground right outside of Needles.
We spent the next few days hiking between the sandstone spires in Elephant Canyon, learning about the different types of lichen found on the stones (thanks Lydia), battling dust storms, playing cards, seeking out ruins and 3,000 year-old cave paintings, admiring the buttes, mesas and plateaus and generally not showering. There is something unsettling about desert beauty with its sparse and harsh.
One morning Lydia, Kara and I decided to hike to Confluence Overlook to see the convergence of the Green and Colorado rivers. By the end of the 11 mile hike, Kara was nothing more than a figure a mile up the trail jumping from rock to rock, I was zoned out planning business strategies in my head and Lydia was silently berating herself for her inability to hike faster.
We headed north to Island in the Sky, where we spent an entire afternoon staring at the cracked and fractured landscape 2,000 feet below us. I had recently read The Monkey Wrench Gang, the majority of which takes place in The Maze, so I spent a fair while imagining Hayduke outrunning _____.
On our final night in the desert, Joey, Kara and I hiked to Royal Arch in the dark, whereupon Kara and I promptly fell asleep for the next 2 hours while Joey took a 2 hour time-lapse of the Milky Way.