Shit Makes Great Fertilizer

I’ve always been one to make impulsive and spontaneous decisions, especially when shit hits the fan. Escapism is something I’m good at — it has lead me to some great things and sometimes a few too many drinks.

Shit lead me to study abroad in Italy for a year and adopt a cat. Shit has lead me to make impulsive 3 hours drives to visit my best friend in Wyoming for 2 hours (and drive back). Shit has lead me to go on long hikes alone. Shit has made me take spontaneous trips across the U.S. to visit close friends. Shit has made me drive home for the night to see my parents. Shit has made me fall in love and back out. Shit has made me drink so I can fall asleep, but shit has also helped me be motivated to create emotion filled art.

This past school year, I wasn’t accepted into the BFA program at CU Boulder. It isn’t all that different from the degree I’m currently getting, it is just more catered to the arts and would allow me to get into grad school easier. Overall, not a big deal but still kind of shit. I’ll still get my degree and if I want to pursue art, I‘ll persevere without it. But at the time of my rejection, it felt like the end of the world. The escapist in me kicked in and I decided I would hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

I called my dad the day I started doing research. The conversation went something like this:

“Dad, I figured out what I’m going to do after I graduate.”

“Oh good, you are finally realizing you’ll be financially independent and need to make money.”

“-well no–I’m going on a hike.”

 I could hear his eyes roll over the phone.
I don’t think he really believed me. I don’t think I really believed me. But I’m a strong believer in putting things out into the universe and by merely saying something, it can make it happen.

So I applied for a permit and started telling people. My immediate family, close friends, my boss, my regulars at my job, random tinder dates, and in a short amount of time I had told enough people that I was going to be held accountable for what I said.

A few weeks later I received an email that my permit application was approved! I now have an official start date, but it was still five months away. I closed my eyes, took a quick nap – now my start date is eight weeks away.

At night I dream of the trail, but in the morning the fear sets in. I wake up and remember the jarring comments of multiple people telling me I won’t complete it, that my start date is too late, the desert is going to be too hot, that it’s dangerous and stupid for me to go alone. Then, the concrete responsibility of finishing my degree and making enough money to make this feasible. I remember how short of time I have for the hike and how many miles I have to complete every day. I am overwhelmed.

But then I remember how stubborn I am. All the people doubting me and belittling my capabilities don’t know how headstrong I am. I remember that I’m doing this for myself –not for anyone else or their approval. This trip is not about getting to the Canadian border. It’s about doing something for myself.

It’s about taking time in nature to find myself. It’s about giving myself the time to think about what I want and what I need from this life. To be independent and do something big and scary without someone holding my hand along the way. To show myself that uncertainty is okay.

This is for me to prove to myself, – that I, am enough – and shit makes great fertilizer.

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Tour du Mont Blanc: Day 2

The first day of our mother-daughter trek was one for the books, little did we know things could get even more interesting than hitch hiking in France.

Day two was said to be the hardest by many other hikers. Partially because your body is still getting used to long days of physical effort, partially because it was covered in snow, and partially because it was just freaking hard. It was a 12 mile day of 4318ft of elevation gain, 3048ft of elevation loss, and 8 hours of hiking from Les Contamines to Les Chapieux. It was mentally and physically challenging, and I’m not sure i’ve ever cried and screamed profanities so much in one day in my entire life.

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The day started out picturesque, it was sunny and we were ready to redeem ourselves from the day before. We were engulfed in green, crossing over rushing water and stumbling upon the most charming cows that walked straight out of a children’s book, cowbell and all.

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Looking back at Les Contamines

Blisters were already forming and we had yet to reach the hardest part of our day. In front of us was the Col du Bonhomme. The Col of the Man. Col not even being the top, only the saddle between two peaks. Walking straight up a mountain that was ‘made for a man’, is hard enough, but when its covered in snow it is incredibly more strenuous. Good thing we had invested in some crampons specifically for this trip.

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Tiny dots (people) leading the way to Col du Bonhomme

We followed the beaten path of footprints from our fellow hikers in front of us. I can’t say I was thinking of much while hiking. I was overwhelmed of what was in front of me, but not hopeless. As I followed the path I was counting my footsteps to ten. Honestly this was a reoccurring theme of the trip, counting steps. Lord knew that if I could count to ten and take ten steps, I could surely take ten more.

As excruciating as it was, as I reached the top I was greeted by iridescent rainbow clouds and instantaneously forgot about all the sweat it took for me to get there. We took a quick stop to catch our breath at the top in an obscure little hut before we set of for the La Croix du Bonhomme, the ‘real’ top. Only one more hour of the proclaimed hardest day, and the rest was all downhill from there. Literally.

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Another hour of counting to ten. Thats all we had left. It was too late to turn back so we set forward, hiking on the side of a mountain in snow up to our knees at some points. If I had a dime for every time I counted to ten, surely I would have enough money that I could pay a helicopter to get dropped off at the top rather than walk up the side of a mountain. But boy, was it rewarding to reach the top.

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Many hikers sat at the top of the La Croix du Bonhomme to catch their breath and take in the view. We briefly enjoyed the scenery and ate a celebratory Toblerone before heading down the other side of the mountain, taking refuge from the wind. There was just as much snow on this side of the mountain but that didn’t bother us one bit. We were so thrilled to have accomplished the hardest part of the day and we were practically sprinting down the other side. My only thought was getting down and eating a hot dinner.

It quickly went from running to sliding down the mountain on our butts as we passed other hikers. I’ve never had so much fun sledding without a sled in my entire life. Why the other hikers didn’t follow our lead? Not sure. We were letting our inner child free and it was a blast.

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We were in such a hurry to get down the mountain that when the snow finally turned in to dirt, my mom still hadn’t taken her crampons off yet. We were moving at lightning speed practically racing along the edge of cliffs to the bottom. At one point behind me I heard my mom make an exclamatory yelp as she stumbled on rocks, fighting for traction with crampons still on her feet. I turned around whilst walking and warned my mom not to do that, took two more steps and suddenly my feet were in the air and my ass was on the ground and I knew instantly that our ten day excursion might be over, because I had just broken my wrist.

My mom, the angel she is, was instantly at my side feeding me ibuprofen and packing my wrist in ice as it hung in a makeshift sling. This is where the crying and a plethora of profanities began. Why me, why now, why here. It was only day two! I was infuriated, dismayed and defeated. But more than anything pissed off because I had only wanted a hot dinner.

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Although we could see the bottom it was still a long three hours of crying and yelling. I was throwing a full blown, adult temper tantrum in disbelief that there was no way my mom would let us continue our trek after this casualty. She was already talking about how relaxing it would be to spend the rest of our Europe trip at a spa. I was disappointed that this could be it, that the last 8 days of hiking might have to wait until next time I was back in Europe AND I might have to eat dinner in a hospital. Ugh. When we finally got to Les Chapieux the only thing on my mind was still the horror of having to eat dinner in a hospital, so I scarfed down the fastest meal as Frenchmen came to the rescue again, this time not in a truck but in an ambulance. The EMT’s were skeptical it was broken because of the lack of swelling which made me second guess shedding all those tears when I was in desperate need of staying hydrated, but I was nearly positive. So we got in the ambulance and rode 30 minutes to the nearest town.

We arrived in this dinky little town right as the hospital was closing. A quick x-ray revealed yes it was indeed broken. The doctor mumbled hardly two words to me as a nurse came in and started setting a cast that went from my hand all the way to mid bicep. Seemed like a little bit of overkill for a broken wrist. We stayed in a hotel for the night and I’m sure I fell asleep arguing that I could finish the hike with one arm.

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Tour du Mont Blanc

My year abroad in Florence Italy was coming to an end and I would soon have to return to the states and obtain realistic responsibilities and commitments that any functional member of society holds. It was bittersweet and I knew I wanted to end my time in Europe with a bang. The dreamer in me wanted to spend the whole summer backpacking Europe, and not the kind of backpacking that most people do in Europe; ya know, hop-on-a-train-with-a-backpack-and-go-from-one-country-to-another. I literally wanted to strap on my hiking boots and walk from Italy to Denmark. Maybe a trip for future me. What I did end up hiking I’m not sure if I really even chose, or if it chose me. One day it was just there, on my wall. Well matter of factly one of my good high school friends put it on my wall. Well my Facebook feed. Same difference.

National Geographic “These 10 Hiking Trails Will Blow Your Mind”, it might as well have been a BuzzFeed article or quiz. If I didn’t have a time or location restriction, I wouldn’t have been able to choose one. The Tour Du Mont Blanc was second on the list, and the only one in Europe. Boom, that was it. That was how I was going to end my time in Europe. 110 miles, 10 days, 3 countries, and about 32,800ft worth of elevation change.

Worrisome parents surely imagined every possibility of how things could go wrong without a companion by my side, so my mom flew out to join me for her first backpacking trip ever. Certainly my ambition comes from her. The only stipulation to her joining my trek was that it was mine, she was just along for the ride and would follow my plans (or lack of).

I purchased a book on the TMB, a sort of trail guide, and did a few google searches and mainly just looked at how beautiful the trek was, and that was it. My planning was finished. We would meet in Chamonix, stay the night and start early the next morning. Seemed flawless. I would just read the book as we needed it and follow the yellow signs that were usually visible.

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We started early that foggy morning, and we were being passed by so many people! Trail runners, hikers of all ages, some even in their 60’s. Everyone had on small day packs while my mom and I were lugging up all of our camping gear, and probably one too many changes of outfits. It was a  very foggy and somewhat discouraging five brutal hours till we reached the top of the mountain where we split the most delicious, bone-filled can of sardines. Anything tastes good when you’re exhausted.

We were basically sprinting down the other side of the mountain in the rain, just happy to be going downhill. Down a road we went, and maybe if I had read the book we wouldn’t have missed the turn off to the trail that would lead us to our next location. Oops. My bad. But my trip, right? We had probably made it three miles down the road and had no option except to turn around and find the trail. My mom wasn’t happy. It was raining, we were tired, and still had at least six more hours of hiking to get to our campsite.

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The blessing in disguise was being on a road. I hitch hiked for the very first time with my mom, in France, in the rain. I couldn’t tell you what the gentlemen who let us ride in the back of his truck looked like, but for the story, he was the hottest frenchman I ever did see.

The rest of the day went seamlessly, we made it just in time to set up our tent in the last few minutes of daylight left and enjoyed a hot dinner shared amongst all of the other hikers. We exchanged our trials and tribunes of the day, everyone laughed at the silly, lost american girls, and then we crawled in to our sopping wet tent and passed out in all of fifteen seconds. But this was only day one. Everyday of our 10 day trek would hold its own challenges, each one drastically different from the one before.

The First Venture

It feels like yesterday I was sitting in IHOP with my boyfriend at the time. It was the summer of 2014 and we were both itching to go somewhere. With only a few days off from work and beautiful weather surrounding us, we were frantically looking for something to do nearby. I was set on finding a dreamy, isolated area where we could hang out for our few days of freedom. The idea was spontaneous, random, and everything I could ever dream of; backpacking.

I had never been backpacking before and had to acquire gear quickly. (Thanks REI). Living in Colorado and having the most wonderful playground literally in my backyard, you would think I would have obtained more hiking gear, but I had to start fresh. I ran to the nearest REI and spoke to all the experts who helped me pick out gear needed for my trip. Hiking boots, a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, jet boil, flint fire starter, compass, freeze dried food, cool headlight with multiple color settings. Its hard not to buy all the cool extra things when wandering around with excitement in cool outdoor stores, but by the time I left I felt ready; except we had yet to chose a destination.

We had planned to meet at our local library where internet is free and there were private rooms where we could organize. Google is a handy tool when you have no clue what you’re doing. I think we started by searching ‘best backpacking in Colorado’. I had no clue what we were looking for, everything looked wonderful. I was honestly looking for places that had the coolest pictures and was a reasonable distance away. Rocky Mountain National Park, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Snowmass, and Maroon Bells were all locations that had popped up. We surely couldn’t chose solely off of pictures, so we started to look in to more details about these places. The milage of the hike, was it round trip, were there water sources nearby, how much foot traffic was there. It all came down to the least amount of foot traffic, and the ability to have a campfire.

Indian Peaks Wilderness on the Granby side of the continental divide was the most isolated place we could find with the possibility of a campfire, and thats how we decided. It was hard to find any specific trails in the region we chose, but we knew we had to stop at the Forest Service to buy a backcountry permit, so we figured we would plan out further details there.

With our bags packed we left early in the morning so we could reach the station as they were opening. In order to reach the Forest Service building by 8am, we had to drive three hours through heavy fog. I’m pretty sure I played Jack Johnson the whole way there as he slept. The park ranger was helpful in providing a map and showing us his favorite trail. It was a nine mile hike in to Stone Lake, where he promised the fishing would be plentiful and we would be isolated, and thats all it took to convince us to go there.

So we started on our journey. We found the trail head with ease, put on our packs, locked the car and headed up the mountain. Within the first 20 minutes I already felt in over my head. The trail was a steep incline with switchbacks as far as the eye could see. I was not physically prepared for this. I was embarrassed with my panting and already doubting if I would be able to make it all the way to the lake. I was stopping every few steps, trying to hide that I needed to take a breather by pointing out ‘cool trees’ and ‘interesting bugs’ that may or may not have actually been there.

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Fortunately the trail started to level out a couple miles in, and my faith was restored. We continued across cool make shift bridges with walking sticks we made out of dead tree limbs, met some park service workers cleaning up the trail (with some awesome llamas by their side), and made our way to the peak of our trail. (Cool fact, IPW is trying to remain as natural as possible, so the park service doesn’t use anything electric in the park. No motorized vehicles, chainsaws, etc. Hence the llama and two man crosscut saw) Unfortunately I lost my really cool walking stick whilst peeing off the side of the trail, because people were coming and I had to quickly cover my toosh.

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I only got us lost a few times, but we finally made it to our campsite and boy was I relieved. Wearing brand new hiking boots for the first time on an 18 mile hike was an awful, extremely rookie mistake. We set up our tent as the sun set on us, and quickly tried to light a fire with all the wet wood surrounding us. (I ended up starting the fire after he struggled to, one small step for Emili, one large step for womankind).

We woke up the next morning to the most perfect, fairy tale lake that was all ours. I cooked our delicious freeze dried ‘Backpackers Pantry’ huevos rancheros and then set off to wander and go fishing – aka catch lunch. It didn’t take long to realize we could see the bottom of the ‘lake’, or rather pond, and that there was not a single fish to be seen. This would not have been a problem if we had accounted for no fish, but we only brought a few emergency freeze dried packs and counted on catching fish for our meals.

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We wandered around hungry, figuring we should ration the rest of our food for the next two days of our trip. I was dividing up bits and pieces of our trail mix making sure there was a good M&M to nut ratio left for the remaining days. We collected more wood to build fire for the night, and frolicked through the never-ending green.

The hunger started to set in and we began to notice all of the little critters – potential meals – darting around us. There were ground squirrels everywhere! If you’ve ever seen a ground squirrel, you know they’re not very big, a little bigger than a mouse. You would need multiple of them to make a meal for one person. We contemplated the idea of catching them to eat and I said I would be able to skin one if we caught it, although I had never caught an animal, let alone, killed, skinned, cooked and eaten one. But I had seen my uncle skin an animal before, and I dissected a cat in high school, and I watch animal planet on the regular, so I thought I would be capable of the challenge ahead.

We set up little traps everywhere, sparingly using a few nuts here and there from our trailmix. Whilst doing this we spotted an even better meal, a woodchuck perched upon a pile of rocks. We quickly grabbed some large sticks from our firewood stash and ran over to the pile of rocks as our dinner ran in to a hole in the pile. I stood on top of the rocks poking my stick down a hole as my partner in crime (aka attempted animal slaughter partner) stood at the other hole getting ready to pounce on the critter. You could say hunger may have drove us a little insane.

Fortunately, (because I don’t think I could actually kill, skin, cook and eat an animal) we did not catch any creatures. Although we were both hangry it was important that we saved our last freeze dried pack of food for energy for the next day’s hike out of paradise.

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The trip was exactly what I was looking for, and it was perfect – minus the lack of food and aching feet. We had a lake to ourselves for the three days we spent there, except for a few animal friends.

And this is where it all begins. My love for the outdoors had grown in a way I didn’t know it could. I had found a new way to escape all my responsibilities and commitments and the ability to lose and find myself in the wilderness, with a few lessons learned: Bring enough food whether there is fish available or not, and don’t wear brand new hiking boots. The tips of my big toes still don’t have full feeling from nerve damage. A forever reminder of my first backpacking trip.

The Beginning

Our society is a place that pushes us to conform to a mold. To go to school, to find success by living the life of a 9-5 job, always trying to reach the top of the social ladder, to build a family and raise more children to follow in our footsteps; but what happens when you don’t want to conform to these ideals? We were not born to work, pay bills, and die. We’re fortunate enough to live in a generation where more people are breaking from these standards and finding their own way to live; and isn’t part of living seeing the world? Connecting with nature and other humans? Finding yourself and what truly brings you happiness? This is where my journey starts. Success is not my drive in life, happiness is.

Happiness, such a broad term. As a college student in my final year, I can list many things that make me happy: Class being canceled, getting drinks with my friends to celebrate class being canceled which then leads to tacos. Finding matching socks. Being late for the bus, but still managing to catch it. Getting off work early. Clean laundry. Drinks to celebrate clean laundry. But when I really think about what truly brings me happiness, its connecting with other people, and where I find the best place to let go of social standards, fears, and find the ability to truly be free, is in the wilderness.

For example, only last month I went on a spring break backpacking trip with a club through my university. I applied for the trip over email and nervously waited to be accepted. It was Sunday night at 9:30pm when I received the email, “Pack your chacos mothafuckas, we’re going!!”. I was jumping for joy with a mop in my hand in the kitchen that I work in. A few minutes later it set in, I was going to Utah for a week with ten other people I had never met, and once again I was nervous. Long story short, the first day was a little awkward, but that was expected. By our third day we were gallivanting through the Escalante River splashing one another and playing in ‘quick sand’ (which is really not all that quick). There’s something about nature that can make ten best friends out of strangers

These sorts of trips and experiences are where I really find myself, and where I really want to be. Exploring, playing, connecting. With myself, new friends, and nature.