Grab Your Fears By The Horns

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Face your fears and be rewarded. I must confess: I am a worrier. As much as I love the wild, I fear it. As much as I long to push my limits, I worry that I will push too far. When I am out getting my adventure on, I am constantly considering every possible way that I might die or be brutally maimed. It's a constant battle for me. I am far from fearless.

But, that is one thing that I appreciate most about the wild - that it makes you embrace your fears, and sometimes even conquer them. Being afraid is a part of adventure. It's a part of discovering yourself and what you are capable of, and learning to push through fear is a valuable lesson that can be applied in every aspect of life.

When I'm in the backcountry, miles from civilization, I am afraid of many things. I'm afraid of bears, falling off a cliff, and getting struck by lightning. But I've learned that you just have to push through, grab your fears by the horns, and hang on tight. You'll be in for one hell of a ride if you do! And when you look your fears right in their glowing red eyes, you might just see that you are bigger than them and that they aren't so scary after all.

Backcountry Initiation

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301071_2158820181857_2917232_n My first taste of the backcountry involved a lot of sweat, a lot of apprehension, and a pack that weighed over a quarter of my body weight. I had done a bit of hiking, but nothing involving a backpack or more than a few miles, and certainly nothing that involved sleeping out in the middle of nowhere. My husband and I had researched a wilderness area called Horseshoe Basin. 12 miles round trip and promising excellent scenery, we figured this would be a great way to initiate me into the world of backpacking. We packed up only the necessities, working hard to eliminate excess weight. We analyzed maps and read up on forums and decided that limiting the amount of water we carried was the best way to cut weight. The area we were going to be hiking in had plenty of streams, and water sources would be abundant. After all was said and done, my pack weighed 30 lbs, and on my barely 100 lb, inexperienced frame, it felt at least five times heavier than it actually was.

My husband and I headed East of the Cascades to Okanogan County. The trail head was at the end of a very long, very windy, very unmaintained “road” near the top of a small mountain. We set out as the sun was just making it’s first appearance over the mountain tops. The air was still chilly and with our packs strapped on tight, we plunged into a thick forested area through which the path wound for what seemed like hours. It was about a mile in that the heat started to scorch us. The sun inched higher and higher into the clear blue sky above the tree tops. The trail broke out of the trees and opened up onto alpine meadows, blooming with colorful wild flowers and tall grasses. It was breathtaking. It was hot.

The straps of my pack began to feel like they were cutting into my shoulders and my hips. My husband plowed on ahead, his stride sure and strong. He didn’t seem to be suffering like I was, although this wasn’t his first rodeo. He was an avid outdoors-man and he was no stranger to the backcountry, or to hauling a heavy load on his back. I felt myself growing weaker by the moment. The alpine meadows gave way to a burned down forest. A wild fire had torn through the mountains not many months before and dead, blackened trees lay scattered for miles in every direction. At least in the alpine meadows I had had the beauty of the flowers and the sweeping view to motivate me. Now, in this barren graveyard of skeleton trees I felt defeated.

I threw down my pack and booked it to a large boulder just off the trail - the only thing remotely close to a shady place to rest. I crouched beside the boulder, rubbing my shoulders, panting, and on the verge of tears. I realized with sinking certainty, that I had been defeated. I did not have what it took to be an adventurer. I had daydreamed that I would embark on my first backcountry quest with undiscovered, unharnessed, unshakeable strength. Now, as I huddled pathetically by a large rock in the middle of an unbelievably hot, desolate wasteland, the acknowledgment of my inexperience and weakness was nausea inducing.

My husband, upon realizing that I was no longer behind him, circled back and found me in my sorry state. With a gentle smile, he asked what was wrong. I told him that I was not cut out for the wild. My pack was too heavy, it was too hot, and my legs felt like jello. I told him that I could not go on and that we should turn back. My husband would have none of it. He gave me the bottle of water that we brought with us, and I drank deeply, sucking down the warm liquid that offered little to no relief from my suffering. I handed the bottle back to him, wiping my mouth with the back of my sweaty hand. My husband stowed the bottle and held out his hand to me. “Let’s go,” he said, confidently. He hauled me to my feet and helped me ease back into the straps of my pack.

And we carried on. With every step, my body ached more, and the sun beat down harder. But then, gradually, something amazing happened. I realized that despite my discomfort, I was pushing on, keeping up with my husband, and feeling more and more capable by the minute. The landscape changed again and we began winding in between tall cliffs and more alpine meadows. Patches of snow appeared sporadically in the shadowy  places. The heat became more bearable and I didn’t mind the burning in my shoulders and hips so much. I realized that my body was very capable of doing this. I had only to push through my mental barriers to release the adventurer strength within me. I was backpacking! I breathed in the fresh, mountain air and looked around me as I walked, drinking in the beauty of the backcountry - so remote and so unlike any place I had ever been.

Finally, we wound down the side of a cliff, came around a corner, and there it was: our destination. A beautiful valley lay before us, and on the opposite side, a grassy mountainside rose up into a bright blue sky. My husband and I smiled at each other. We trekked across the valley and up the other mountainside, where we found a relatively flat bank with a killer view. We set up camp, built our own water filtration system out of t-shirts, gravel, grass, and some charcoal that my husband had grabbed from the burned out forest we passed through earlier. The water that we filtered was the cleanest tasting water I had ever had the pleasure of guzzling.

That night we sat on the mountainside and watched the sunset together. The last blazing light of the day lit the wildflowers around us on fire so that they glowed in a supernatural way. It was so quiet. So still. The air was so crisp. The sun finally slipped behind a distant peak. It was a brand new world that I was in. In that moment, the backcountry welcomed me with open arms as one of it’s own. I fell in love on that mountainside, both with my husband all over again for believing in the strength that I had inside of me, even when I didn’t, and with the backcountry and all it stood for and all it had to offer. The wild places wove their way into my soul and I’ve never looked back.

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Backcountry Beauty

923169_10200729333027499_843181314_n I  do a lot of backpacking, hiking, and camping. My husband and I trek it out into the wild for days at a time and let me tell you, it took me awhile to get the hang of roughing it. I love my creature comforts and eating healthy, and I definitely still want to look somewhat cute around my husband. Anyone who has gone backpacking knows that eating healthy and staying pretty in the backcountry isn't very easy to do.  It was just a matter of time before I had to figure out some ways to incorporate my beauty and health essentials into my packing list without adding a ton of extra weight to my pack.

Here are nine keys to backcountry beauty:

  1. Bring some great cleansing wipes (baby wipes will do!). I like the Yes to Cucumbers facial clothes [yestocarrots.com]. Nothing feels better at the end of a long day of hiking than giving your face (and body!) a good wipe down. I like feeling and smelling fresh and my skin definitely appreciates the cleaning. Throw a small pack of cleansing wipes in your pack and it wont add much weight or bulk to your load. Your face will thank you for it and your tent-mate will appreciate the clean smell!
  2. Throw a little tube of moisturizer and some chapstick in your bag. My skin dries out SO easily so bringing a moisturizing lotion along is a must. Plus, nothing looks prettier than dewy, moisturized skin and lips. I usually just keep a travel-sized tube of Aveeno or St. Ives in all of my packs and bags so that I always have one handy.  I like a nice tinted chapstick like the cherry or strawberry flavored ones. They add a bit of color. You will feel better too if you keep your skin healthy and lubed up.
  3. DRINK A LOT OF WATER!!! Hydration = beauty AND health. Get used to peeing in the bushes...it's gonna happen.
  4. Bring healthy snacks. Mountain House Meals and Clif Bars are backpacking essentials and they can be oh-so-tasty and necessary after a long day of trekking it in the backcountry. Carbs and calories are important!! But eating all that can really do a number on your skin AND your stomach.  Prepare some baggies of dried fruit and nuts to bring along. If you have extra room at ALL, bring some carrot sticks or apples. Any healthy, whole foods that you can fit and carry, BRING THEM. Trust me, your skin and stomach will thank you after five days in the wilderness. You will look and feel A LOT better if you can manage to eat some whole foods along the way.
  5. Get more sleep than you think you need.  We all know that it's hard to get a really great night's sleep while camping. Take a nap during the day if you can. Try to fit in some shut-eye whenever the opportunity arises. You will feel better and you will give your body a chance to rejuvenate itself. AND you will help stave off those dark bags under your eyes.
  6. Wear sunscreen!! Protect that skin! I burn so easily and let me tell you - NOTHING can ruin a backpacking trip faster than a bad sunburn. Plus, the lobster look isn't very cute.
  7. Bring a travel-sized toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss...and use them!
  8. French braid your hair. No muss, no fuss. It will keep your hair from getting tangled AND you'll have pretty waves when you take it out.
  9. SMILE! Nothing is more beautiful than someone having the time of her life!

Have fun, backcountry beauties!

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100 lbs of Girl

My backpack weighs nearly half as much as I do. It's nearly as big as I am. It is stuffed to full capacity, strapped on tight. Inside are all the essentials: 0 degree Marmot [Marmot.com] sleeping bag, sleeping pad, first aid kit, tooth brush, headlamp, extra layers of clothing, and enough Mountain House meals and Clif Bars to keep me fueled for days. Everything else needed is strapped onto my husband, Ben's, back.  We're a team. We've got a system. 946927_10200729325867320_927794349_n

Ben laughed the first time we loaded up my Gregory backpack and cinched me into it. It's huge. I'm tiny. It's funny, really. I weigh a whopping 100 lbs. I'm little and blonde and most people wouldn't expect me to be able to rough it in the backcountry with a huge pack full of gear on my back. Ben ends up carrying more than I do, but that's alright - he's bigger and stronger than I am. I still pull my weight and I love breaking stereotypes. And the end result is always worth the struggle and sweat.

Backcountry Bliss!

Up Close and Personal

I hunch down in the tall, yellow grass - awestruck and giddy at my proximity to the hulking black creature which stands only a few yards in front of me. It’s large head looks furry and I imagine that it might be soft to the touch. It’s long tail swishes spontaneously at the endless swarm of flies buzzing around it’s body. The creature moves slowly but deliberately through the grass, over the uneven terrain, passing directly in front of me. With my Canon Rebel out and at the ready I watch until the perfect moment presents itself. The buffalo pauses a moment. It is facing ever so slightly away from me, waiting as if pondering something. A cool, breeze blows through the grass and the green sage brush that surrounds us. I raise the camera to my eye and focus the lens in...waiting...waiting... With no sense of urgency, the buffalo turns his massive head towards me. I see his great eye, filled with a deep intelligence and beauty, focus on me - a strange little being, crouching not far from him with my camera plastered to my face. 17759_10201274979148311_471044507_n

For a moment we stare at one another, me through my camera’s lens, him through deep, liquid brown pools. Each of us evaluates the other, weighing the danger that the other presents. I feel an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. I know that if this creature decides that I am a threat, it could turn on me and in a very short amount of time it could cover the distance between us and that would be it for me. I would not stand a chance. I am at its mercy.

The buffalo’s tail continues to swish back and forth. It’s eyes continue to size me up and down. I slowly rise up a bit from my crouch in an effort to get a better shot, refocusing my lens. The buffalo remains statue still. I slowly press my finger down on the button. The camera snaps a few pictures of the buffalo. I lower the camera slowly. The buffalo hasn’t moved and is still watching me. I hold my breath, waiting for what the creature’s reaction to my invasion of its privacy will be.

Then, with a grunt, the buffalo turns and quietly drifts away, over the plains and out of sight.

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