Guest post: My mom, Kathleen Ruland

And thou shalt in thy daughter see,
This picture, once, resembled thee.
— Ambrose Philips

I run an adventure-inspired group on Facebook, and one of the things I like to do is to feature one member in the group each week.  I genuinely believe in the power of community, and I cannot imagine a more positive, supportive community than a group of wilderness-loving adventurers.  My mom happens to be a member of this group, and this past week, I asked her to be the featured member.  I honestly didn't know what to expect from her answers, so when she sent them to me, I read them immediately - and found myself standing in my kitchen, with tears streaming down my face.  I was so struck by the vulnerability and the honesty of her answers that I knew I had to share them with more people than just our small group. 

Mom and I at Upper Ice Lake, Entiat Wilderness.

Mom and I at Upper Ice Lake, Entiat Wilderness.

My mom is a pretty tough woman.  Her very first backpacking trip was up and over Aasgard Pass into the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness during freezing temperatures in late October of 2008.  I still remember climbing over slick, frozen waterfalls on our ascent - and posing for an awkward "prom photo" at the top of Aasgard Pass.  She had never even carried a pack before before - little did she know that Aasgard Pass would likely be one of the EASIER backpacking trips that we would ever do together. 

So, without further adieu, I am so proud to have my mom as my first official "guest post" on my blog.

1.  Tell us a little bit about you and your hiking/outdoor interests.

My earliest childhood memories of happiness were always related to the outdoors.  I grew up in a military family and while neither of my parents were particularly interested in the outdoors,  there were four children and it wasn't unusual for us to get kicked out of the house in the morning and told not to come back until dinner.  So, by default I became an outdoor enthusiast. Fortunately, we were stationed in some beautiful locations, like Guam, California, New Mexico, and North Carolina.  These were wonderful locations to explore and learn about their unique flora and fauna. As a adult and young parent I knew that I wanted my kids to love the outdoors as much as I did. I would design all our family vacations around some hiking destination. I think, for the most part, my kids enjoyed these experiences.   I will admit that learning how to car camp with three young children included moments of sheer terror and utter frustration.  It took me several years of practice to build up to the epic adventure we had one summer while I was homeschooling.   We headed West for a 6 week odyssey that would take us to some of the most spectacular National Parks in the US.  Sporting a six person cabin tent we camped in some of the most dramatic locations imaginable.  My family and friends thought I was crazy, but for some reason I had absolutely no reservations about this trip: it would be a grand adventure and what I lacked in experience I made up for with enthusiasm. It must have worked because at the end of 6 weeks no one wanted to go home.  Since that time I have switched from being a car camper to a backpacker, thanks to my daughter, Anastasia's dumb confidence that her old mom could make it up Aasgard Pass with an enormous pack.  I guess you could say I'm officially a backpacking junkie. There is nothing I like better than setting up my tent at the end of a long day hiking, cooking a meal, and crawling into my tent at 7pm.  Thanks to my daughter's patience and confidence building style, I'm on my way to working through my list of, "must do hikes."  Two years ago I backpacked across Iceland for 11 days, and I completed the Wonderland Trail the same summer. Last year I backpacked rim to rim of the Grand Canyon in July, it was amazing!  I have been on countless backpacking trips with Anastasia and there are not words created to do justice to the beauty I have shared in the mountains with her.  Besides backpacking, I love to trail run.  Every morning at 5:15 am I hit the C&O Canal (near my house in Maryland) and run along the Potomac River and watch as the world wakes up to a new day.  Last week I thru hiked the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in PA, a 70 mile trail in south central PA.  I also spent a week in May hiking in Ireland and reached the summit of Mt. Brandon and Carauntooil, the highest peak in the country.  I'm not really a mountain climber but I do enjoy a challenge now and then.

Classic. 

Classic. 

Remember that part where my mom said that she wasn't a mountain climber?  Summit of Mt. Hinman, Alpine Lakes Wilderness. 

Remember that part where my mom said that she wasn't a mountain climber?  Summit of Mt. Hinman, Alpine Lakes Wilderness. 

My mom, Kathleen, on the Wonderland Trail. 

My mom, Kathleen, on the Wonderland Trail. 

2.  What is your favorite trail food?

My favorite trail food is Annie's Macaroni and Cheese with a packet of Wild Planet tuna thrown in.  Also, the Good to Go meals Thai Curry is the bomb!

3.  What is your favorite outdoor experience?

My favorite outdoor experience:  This is a tough one.  I have so many...all of them are shared with the people I love the most in the world, so there is a common theme there...although Iceland was pretty awesome.  I'd have to say I'm still flashing back to the whole LaBohn Lakes (Alpine Lakes Wilderness) experience.  The fact that I survived might have something to do with how it affected me.  I think for pure epic beauty, the Spider Meadows Buck Creek Loop is one of my favorites.  I don't just have one though...they are all special in their own way. Sorry!

Climbing Mt. Saint Helens.  Yep, still not a mountain climber. 

Climbing Mt. Saint Helens.  Yep, still not a mountain climber. 

4.  What have you learned from the mountains that has had a "ripple" effect into other areas of your life?

The mountains/wilderness has taught me to not go into anything half-hearted.   If you're going to do something in your life, love it and learn everything you can about it then do it with confidence and believe you can be successful.   I would never attempt an ultra trail run without preparing...learn the terrain, hike it,  become friends with it. Your mental attitude shapes your success in the mountains and in life. If you let a little rain and snow on a backpacking trip send you home with your tail between your legs, what will real challenges in life do to you?  The other very important thing I have learned from my outdoor experience is to be present in whatever you're doing.  That's easy to do in the mountains, it's just you and them. I can take that same sense of presence back to life and be present for the people in my life. Slow down, ignore that cell phone, really look at the people you are sharing your life with. This is love and it's as good as it gets folks.

Just a normal text from my dad letting me know that my mom won a 41 mile race.  No biggie. 

Just a normal text from my dad letting me know that my mom won a 41 mile race.  No biggie. 

5. What's your favorite piece of gear?

I'm a shoeaholic (if that's a thing). I love my Altra trail running shoes...The Lone Peaks, The Superiors, and the King Mt.  Your feet being happy is very important. Besides that, I love my new Jet Boil Flash and my Big Agnes Tent Fly Creek Ultra Light 2 person.

Her 2nd backpacking trip ever to Gothic Basin was also her first time camping on snow.  And my first time being pummelled with a rock by my mother.  (no daughters were hurt in the taking of this photo)

Her 2nd backpacking trip ever to Gothic Basin was also her first time camping on snow.  And my first time being pummelled with a rock by my mother.  (no daughters were hurt in the taking of this photo)

6.  What is your absolute passion in life?  What lights you up when you talk about it?

Ranked above my love for the outdoors is my love for my husband and three amazing daughters. They have helped me grow and accomplish things I never dreamed I would.  Years ago I read a poem that I printed up and carried around in my wallet.  It says so beautifully what I feel:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with, what seizes you imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read, whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love, stay in love,

and it will decide everything.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, Sj

7. Do you have any dream trips that you would like to take?

I have so many....I would love to backpack around New Zealand. I would like to hike the 100 mile Wilderness in Maine and finally climb Mt. Katahdin. Every time I pick up a Backpacker Magazine I see a hike to add to my list. So, I'm going to have to live to be 110 in order to get this all done.  Oh!  I'm looking forward to my backpacking trip in the Sawtooths (Idaho) with Anastasia and Aaron this year...my number ONE dream.

From our FIRST ever backpacking trip together.  The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

From our FIRST ever backpacking trip together.  The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

8.  Through the lens of your own life, if you could give one piece of advice to others, what would it be?

I guess I've already given my advice, which is to be present in whatever it is you're doing.  Don't short change your life experiences by always looking to the next best thing....that thing that is right in front of you might just be the best and if it's not, it is in your power to make it the best.

Hope this isn't too corny but it's all I've got.  And hey, I'm corny.

One one of our many trips together with less than spectacular weather - Warm Lake, Conrad Basin (Goat Rocks Wilderness).

One one of our many trips together with less than spectacular weather - Warm Lake, Conrad Basin (Goat Rocks Wilderness).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To climb, you must first see.

I think I will be able to, in the end, rise above the clouds and climb the stairs to Heaven, and I will look down on my beautiful life.
— Yayoi Kusama

Every single climb that you will ever complete in your life is fueled by the most powerful substance known on this planet.  No, I'm not talking about the three extra-strength 5-hour energy bottles that you just drank in an effort to give yourself 15 hours of continuous energy (it doesn't work, by the way).  The "substance" that I'm talking about is your thought.  Your ideas.  The visions that you create while you are lying in bed at night, dreaming about who you want to be.  The flash of inspiration that you got in the car on the way home.  The glimpse of a photograph of a beautiful location that made your brain think, "I want to go there".  The entire world can be changed, your entire life can be changed, with one simple thought.  

I want to be more.

I want to do more.

I want to go there.

I want to climb that.

I want to change this.  

Every single thing that you have ever accomplished in your life is a result of deliberately thinking that you wanted that "thing" to happen, and then taking definite steps of action to make it so.  When you decided to eat lunch today, you visualized what you wanted to eat, and then you went through the steps to make it happen: you took the specific food that you wanted out of the fridge, chopped it up, sauteed it with some spices, and ate it.  You can't have a vague wish (i.e. "I want something to eat") and just expect food to magically appear, hovering in front of your face (although that would be nice).  You have to see it in order for it to happen.  

Mountains are no different.  You can't put a wishy-washy thought out to the universe like, "I'd love to climb a mountain", and expect a mountain to come find you and scoop you up.  You need to decide, with definite purpose, that you want to climb a mountain.  You need to pick which mountain you want to climb, and then you need to take a step towards figuring out what you need to do to make that happen.  

Here's the thing:  When I started mountain climbing, I had ABSOLUTELY NO FREAKING CLUE ON THE EARTH what I was doing.  I didn't know what I didn't know.  But I knew how to take one step - I knew how to ask other people what I needed to bring.  I knew that I needed to find somebody more experienced to help me.  Knowing that I needed to bring toilet paper with me on my first climb might have been helpful (in retrospect, this was very obvious), but all I really had to do was take the steps that I knew how to do.  In my case, I needed to rent crampons and an ice axe and learn some basic skills.  I found a more experienced climber, who helped me ascend my first major peak, but really, it all started with a vision.  I had seen Mt. Baker when I first moved to WA, and it was so big that I thought it was a cloud.  Having lived on the East Coast my entire life, I didn't know that mountains could look so... glacier-y.  That very first time that I saw Mt. Baker, I envisioned myself on the summit.  I remember thinking, "What would it take for me to get there?"  I never let that vision go.  I saw it and believed it was real.  Two years later, I was standing on the summit of Mt. Baker in my ridiculously dorky mountaineering attire.  I had turned a thought into a very real moment in my life - a moment that I will never forget.  

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I'm going to get real and vulnerable with you for a minute:  There are many parts of my life where I have felt like a complete and utter failure.  I grew up as the oldest of three girls, and I fell into the trap of, "needing to be perfect".  All.  The.  Time.  I pushed myself HARD to be the best at everything.  Anything less than the best was completely unacceptable.  Up until a few years ago, if you had asked me what my greatest fear in life was, I would have told you that it was, "being a disappointment."  OUCH.  How can anybody possibly live with those expectations?  I held myself to such a stupidly high standard that any failure was seen, in my own eyes, as being a catastrophic disappointment.  I hid my feelings, disguised my shortcomings and maintained such a facade of strength and awesomeness that nobody had a clue that I was secretly living a life of self-loathing, fear, and lack of confidence.  

At the time, I used the mountains as an escape, albeit an unhealthy escape.  I neglected my already-crumbling relationship, family drama and my disgust with myself by, "running off" to to the mountains - because it was the only place that I felt powerful.  The mountains taught me how to overcome fears, how to be OK with imperfection, how to take a dream and make it a reality.  The mountains taught me how to be still - how to take a moment to simply breathe and to savor life.  The mountains kept me going for a few years, until even the awe-inspiring power of the greatest mountain in existence was not enough to soothe my growing discomfort with my life.  As the mountains had raised me up, they also broke me down.  I had the absolutely incredible opportunity to travel to the Himalayas in 2011.  While the 18 days that I spent trekking through Bhutan were some of the most incredible days of my life, the depth of the pain that I felt in my soul was agonizing.  Simultaneously, I came home to a relationship that was falling apart and I found out that I was losing my job as a Park Ranger.  I looked at my life and wondered, "How did I get here... and why do I feel like this?"  I could no longer maintain the bada$$ charade.  The earth rumbled inside me, and it call came crashing down.  

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Mountains represent some of the most awe-inspiring and impressive forces in nature.  Imagine the force needed to push actual continents of land together so that, over time, they rise up into mountains that reach thousands of feet into the air.  Imagine the heat and energy of the liquid magma that bubbles from the core of our planet to build massive volcanoes.  These are the most powerful, energetic events on earth - and yet, they were not strong enough to help me anymore.  To push forward, I needed to find something even stronger than the strongest thing that the world has ever known - I needed to find that power within myself.

I stopped hiking.  For six months, I barely hiked or climbed a mountain.  I lamented, I felt lost.  Without the mountains as a crutch, I had to face reality for the first time in my life.  I didn't know who I was without the wilderness, but I had a feeling that if I could find that person, she would come back even stronger.  I started taking steps - slowly at first, but still moving forward.  

Climbing a mountain starts with an idea.  You see yourself on the summit - you visualize yourself standing there, feeling the breeze and the sun on your face.  You believe that it is real.  And then, you do the second most important thing of all - you take one step.  And then you take another step.  And then you take another step.  When you climb a mountain, you must first see yourself on the summit, but you can't possibly imagine the route to get there.  You might have a good idea of where you are going, but until you are actually moving, you can't see all of the steps that it is going to take for you to get there.  Sometimes, the trail is obscured, sometimes the summit is socked in and you can't see anything, but you can always see the next step.  If you try to imagine every single step at the same time, you'll be paralyzed by fear and you'll never move.  Mountains are not climbed in a leap - they are climbed one, tiny, manageable step at a time.  

Hold your vision of where you want to go, what you want to do, who you want to be in your heart.  Take a step.  Take another step.  When the summit is obscured, it doesn't mean that you won't get there.  Pause, take a breath.  Look for the next step.  Take it.  Some steps are much scarier than others, because some steps have more exposure - a greater risk of a fall.  Often times, these steps are terrifying to look at, but when we reflect on our climb, they don't seem as scary - in fact, they end up being our favorite parts of the story.  Fear will cause you to hesitate and over think the next step.  Get out of your head and feel your way through the moment.  

When you start any climb, particularly if you've pounded three 5-hour-energy drinks (seriously, don't do that), you are going to start with massive amounts of enthusiasm and energy.  As the day wears on, you're going to start to feel tired - your feet will hurt, your back will get sore.  Your brain will start telling you things like, "It's not worth it", or "Just go home, what the heck are you doing here anyway?", or, "You don't deserve this", or "You aren't strong enough."  In those moments, you must dig deep and FUEL yourself.  On a mountain, we use those moments to grab a snack and give ourselves that extra energy to push harder.  In life, we must fuel ourselves with the things that revive our spirits and reconnect us with our creative flow and our deeper purpose.  If you find yourself feeling discouraged with your progress, uninspired or, in general, unmotivated to continue with your mission - fight for yourself.  You are worth it.  Your dreams are not silly or ridiculous.  You are a wonderful creature with unique gifts and you were put on this planet for a specific reason.  You have the power to change the world and to accomplish absolutely anything that you desire.  Meditate.  Do some yoga.  Dance to some really loud, ridiculous music (confession: I'm a closet Britney Spears fan).  Do a hard workout.  Pray.  FUEL your mind so that you can get back in the game.  See yourself accomplishing the specific goal that you desire.  See yourself on the summit.  Feel it.  Breathe in that mountain air, and know that the summit is sitting there, waiting for YOU.  

Disclaimer:  I'm not there yet.  I never will be, and here's why...when you climb a mountain and stand on the summit, it's pretty exhilarating.  But, when you look around... what do you see?  Yep, more mountains.  There are always more mountains to climb.  I don't mean this to sound discouraging, because climbing mountains is pretty much my favorite thing to do.  It's really, REALLY exciting once you realize the limitless nature of the awesomeness that you can produce in this world.  You will always have changing and different visions and goals for yourself.  Each time you set out on that climb, the mountains make you stronger - a little less hesitant, a little less fearful.  You have to take that strength, internalize it, and use it to push harder to the next level, whatever it might be for you.  

If you're feeling stuck in any area of your life, sit down and write your vision for what you want to do.  Be ridiculously specific.  If you can't see the specific summit in your mind, you can't climb it.  Then, take ONE STEP.  Don't drown yourself with, "I don't know how to do this", or you'll never even start.  Nobody knows how to do something that they've never done before.  Just like I didn't know to bring toilet paper on my first climbing trip - now, you better believe it, I've never ever forgotten toilet paper ever again.  Just take one step.  That's it.  When you feel your energy draining, fuel your brain.  Keep your energy high, and know that you are stronger than all of the mountains that have ever existed on this planet.  You are the mountain - the only thing you ever truly have to summit in life, is yourself.    

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Fourteen Days in the Land of the Thunder Dragon

The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.
— Louis L’Amour

Author's note:  I had the incredible opportunity to travel to the country of Bhutan in 2012.  On that trip, I completed the Laya/Gasa trek - a 138 mile trek through some of the most pristine and remote areas of the Himalayas.  This story was originally written for my previous blog, but the adventure bears a re-sharing.  

Speechless.  It's not a word that my fellow Bhutan trekkers would have used to describe me on our 14 day trek through the Himalayas.  In fact, after only mildly tolerating my park ranger stories and innuendos to my secret handgun hiding spots, I'm sure that most of them are probably wondering if it is physically possible for me to keep my mouth shut for longer than 20 seconds.  And yet, as I try to find the words to describe my (our) experience in Bhutan, I find myself ... speechless.  The stark white of the computer screen glares back at me and my eyes close in frustration.  I'm taken back to our first few moments on the trek - walking through rice fields, straining our necks to catch just a tiny glimpse of a huge mountain, waiting anxiously for the first sight of our pack ponies and inhaling the deep aroma of curried potatoes and tea on the side of the trail.  Those first few miles, our minds were blank slates - but each new day and each new moment of the trek would soon begin to etch new memories onto the templates of our co-mingled lives.

First entry in my, "little red book".

First entry in my, "little red book".

Rice fields on day one of our trek.

Rice fields on day one of our trek.

Prior to my trip when I told my friends that I was going to Bhutan, the two most common questions were, "Where the heck is Bhutan?", and , "How much is that going to cost?".  Bhutan is a tiny country located in Southeast Asia - below China and above India.  As far as price is concerned - how can I possibly put a price tag on a trip whose value was found in falling asleep to the sound of yak bells (and barking dogs), listening to the laughter of school children in a village 80 miles from nowhere, and waking up each day with the sole purpose of walking through the Himalayas?  I anticipated my trip to Bhutan for nearly a year - researching everything that I could find about the small, magical kingdom.  And yet, even with all of my research, when I arrived in Bhutan on a bright sunny day in October, I found myself completely unprepared for the way that the important things in the country would affect me for the next several weeks :  the people, the mountains, the simplistic way of life, and the sheer volume of the happiness that I would experience. 

Monk in the Paro Dzong

Monk in the Paro Dzong

Nylie La - our first big pass of the trek.

Nylie La - our first big pass of the trek.

Life on our trek might not have been easy at all times, but it was certainly simple compared to my busy life in the states.  As our guide Phil Ershler said each night after describing the route for the next day, "Let's wake up tomorrow, pack our things, eat breakfast and go for a walk."  Except that our "walks" were far from ordinary,  with the vastness of the Himalayas stretching out in all directions.  Our days began at 6AM with a wake up call from our Bhutanese staff, who would present us with tea and washing water.  Breakfast consisted of porridge, horrific attempts to pour honey directly out of the honey jar ("Use a spoon and twirl it!!!"), eggs and pancakes.  After hoisting our day packs, we would walk.  As our feet danced over rocks and dirt, our lungs burned with the effort of hiking at high altitude, but our eyes were insatiable for the views that surrounded us in all directions.  Mountains, yaks, villages, rivers - up and down, traversing, descending, ascending ... anxious to round the next corner, because we knew that the view would always take our breath away more than the altitude ever could.

Jomolhari at sunrise from camp.

Jomolhari at sunrise from camp.

Just another day of hiking in the Himalayas....Jichu Drake in background.

Just another day of hiking in the Himalayas....Jichu Drake in background.

It was a cool morning on the 7th day of the trek, and we had gained 500 feet of steep elevation from the small village of Chebisa - a village where we watched young girls collect yak dung for fuel, a village where we played hide and seek with a few toddlers, a village where I actually prayed for my water filter to work as I pumped water from a creek next to a pile of horse poop.  We stopped for a break, and Phil Ershler, our guide and master of literary timing, recited a poignant quote from the legendary northwest climber Fred Beckey, "We become what we behold, but the view is not the same for the man who pays for beauty in the currency of toil." Indeed, as I looked around, it was hard not to gasp - the drama of the Himalayan mountains is astounding.   The precipitous ridges and glaciated slopes of Jomolhari, Jichu Drake and countless other peaks slice through the sky with an intimidating presence and tiny, hand built houses and villages sit quietly in their looming shadows.  However, as we pressed onward, day after day, it became acutely apparent that the rewards of our toil were not only in the views that we saw, but also with the people we met, the homes we entered and the laughter we shared.

Phil Ershler leads the way from Chebisa Village.

Phil Ershler leads the way from Chebisa Village.

Jichu Drake

Jichu Drake

There are so many moments on our trip that I wish I could capture - even in recollection, I find myself doubled over in hysterics (albeit, it is much easier to breathe down here at sea level).  Whether it was an intense competition to guess the nightly soup flavor and/or the number of veggie chunks found in aforementioned soup, or a game of hearts in which Phil Ershler was attempting to "shoot the moon" for the 19th time, the laughter never ceased.  There was a "tiger" in Laya, numerous incidents whereby various members of the trek collapsed tables and/or chairs (and sometimes both simultaneously), and, of course, the constant companionship of our canine friends "Blackie" and "Scarface".  I will never forget Vic's "Mark the time!" command at the start of each day or the finger-numbing excitement of setting up 9 tents in the snow in Laya in a record-breaking 10 minutes (Mountain Hardwear would be proud!).  Volleyball with monklettes.  Entering a ceremony room in the Gasa Dzong in which women were not permitted and making an entire room of monks laugh.  Deb's extreme horseback riding down near-vertical rocks.  I could fill an entire book with anecdotes from our experience together, but the bottom line is that, even when the days were long and strenuous, we had fun.

Timing is everything, when it comes to the pee pee tent.

Timing is everything, when it comes to the pee pee tent.

Our campsite in the village of Laya.

Our campsite in the village of Laya.

Girl in Laya Village.

Girl in Laya Village.

Is this ever really a good idea?  Ok, wait ... don't answer that question.

Is this ever really a good idea?  Ok, wait ... don't answer that question.

 

The last night of the trek was particularly memorable for me.  Unable to sleep, I sat in the cook tent watching Raj and his crew prepare lunch - our final lunch - for the next day.  I sat on the dirt (or was it yak dung?) in silence as Kelzang rolled balls of dough into flat circles and then filled them with cheese before folding the dough and pressing the edges delicately with a fork.  Kinley held tightly packed bundles of spinach and sliced the green leaves thinly into a bowl.  Tenzin fried the cheese pastries in oil and kept watch over a pot of steaming potatoes.  As I watched, I was struck by the simplicity and beauty of the scene unfolding before me - as well as the realization that this phase of our adventure was drawing to a close.  A few tears streamed down my face, and as Tenzin noticed my tears, he asked why I was sad.  Struggling to explain, I stammered, "I'm sad for it to end."  I don't know if they fully grasped the reason for my tears, but they determined that the best way to cheer me up was to hold a horse feed bag lifting contest.  I laughed as they took turns struggling to lift two giant 50kg bags of horse feed, and then, to be a good sport, I lifted one bag.

Final campsite in Gasa.

Final campsite in Gasa.

As the trekking group became accustomed, I never travelled anywhere without my small red journal - jotting down notes, writing about our journey and keeping tabs on inappropriate Bhutanese verbiage.  I share with you now my last entry from our trek, written after our bus ride from Gasa to Thimphu :

We ate lunch near a river - I sat and ate the spinach that I had watched Kinley prepare the night before, and the cheese pastries that Kelzang had carefully rolled.  When I had watched those items being prepared, it seemed as though the meal would never become a reality - we wouldn't have to say goodbye ... the next day would just be another day on the trek ... except it wasn't.  Here we were, eating Raj's final meal ... and the memory of its simple creation so vivid in my mind that I could almost hear the knife slicing through the crisp stalks of spinach.

We continued on the bus ride, where dirt turned to poor quality pavement, which turned to asphalt as we reached Punakha.  The air was thick with heat and oxygen.  We headed up and over a windy pass from Punakha and started towards Thimphu, where the lights of the city and the noises seemed blinding and loud compared to the glow of the moon and stars and the distant ringing of yak bells.

I laid in my bed in the hotel.  I used a toilet that flushed.  I took a shower and washed away 14 days of the most wonderful grime ever.  We ate dinner in a building without worrying about the table collapsing.  We agreed that Raj's food tasted better than the hotel food.  We didn't step on yak dung walking around.  And yet, as I laid in my hotel bed - I longed for the tent.  I would have given anything for another day ... but does the adventure really ever end? 

Waving goodbye ... Tashi delek!

Waving goodbye ... Tashi delek!

As a group, we shared a unique and special experience together during our 14 days trekking in Bhutan.  Husbands and wives, a father and a daughter, and solo travellers - united in friendship by the 150 miles we travelled together on foot (and by horse).  Our journeythrough Bhutan was as special as the mountains which mesmerized us, it was as special as the people that cared for us and it was as special as the memories that we now hold close in our hearts.  It is impossible for me to capture the joy that I felt - the joy that we felt - on our trek, and so my only hope is that in reading this, you can recall  your own experience, and find comfort in the fact that there are 15 other travellers whose eyes turn skyward when dreaming about sunrise on Jichu Drake ... 15 travellers whose ears perk up at the distant sound of a ringing bell ... 15 travellers whose lives are similarly enriched with the happiness and innocence of a special place called Bhutan.

As I write this now, I glance across the room and I notice my little red journal lying open on a table.  There are always more pages to fill. 

Our team, in front of the Punakha Dzong. 

Our team, in front of the Punakha Dzong. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meal Plan for Mountain Climbers and Hikers!

Carbohydrates from the Latin, carbo which means “yummy” and hydrates which means “cinnamon bun,” are not something I can eliminate or even drastically cut back on.
— Celia Rivenbark

For those of you who have followed my blog for some time, you know that I have struggled with significant health issues for many years - dominated by horrible fatigue and an inability to build lean muscle.  Over the past few years, I have "evolved" my nutrition significantly - I am constantly "upgrading" my own personal quest for optimal health and performance.  About 10 years ago, I was consuming a diet that I like to call, "Pasta with a side of bread."  I had zero energy, could barely function most days, and I found myself using sick leave at work so that I could nap in my car - yah, probably not good.  

Fast forward a few years, and I transitioned into a grain-free diet - similar to a "paleo" or "primal" lifestyle.  At the time, this made a huge difference in my wellbeing, but gradually the fatigue crept back into my life - apparently you are not getting all the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to thrive by eating chicken and apple sausage 5x per day (go figure!?).  At this point, I was diagnosed with having a thyroid issue (I now take armour thyroid + synthroid every single day), while simultaneously adding a vitamin/mineral rich smoothie + multi vitamin into my diet in order to help with my energy levels.  

While eating, "paleo" taught me a lot of things about, "real food" - it did not teach me that eating 100g of fat per day was not ideal for my personal athletic performance and physique.  There is a tendency in the "paleo community" to suggest that eating unlimited quantities of bacon is ideal for every single person, and that was simply not the case for me (although, I gave it the good 'ole college try!).  Gradually, I gained about 10lbs of weight, and I could not figure out how to shed it.  Meanwhile, with each tablespoon of butter that I was dumping into my coffee 2x per day, I was terrified of eating grains and fruits and any carbs whatsoever - because the entire world had basically taught me that carbohydrates are the devil.  

Over the past few months I have, again, "upgraded" my nutrition system.  I've focused more on counting my macronutrient intake (i.e. carbohydrates/protein/fat).  I've nearly TRIPLED my carbohydrate intake, and I've cut my fat intake in 1/2.  I've been able to shed the 10lbs that had slowly crept on, and maintain all of my lean muscle mass - which is great, because I worked really hard to build that.  Best of all, the increased carbohydrates are fueling my hiking and mountain climbing like never before - I am enjoying increased clarity of mind and more sustained energy.  

Moral of the story: figure out what works for you.  Just because one group of people says that carbs are evil, doesn't mean that they won't work for you body.  I know that there are a lot of people who completely thrive on a very high fat (like "keto") diet.  There are other people who love avoiding grains.  Listen to your body and figure out what works for you, and don't be afraid to try something, just because somebody else said that it doesn't work for them!  

This is what my "normal" day looks like: (clockwise from upper left) sweet potato frittata with lite havarti cheese and two pieces of whole grain toast, spaghetti squash and veggie bowl with turkey bacon and two rice cakes with banana and PB2 (powdered peanut butter), salsa verde turkey burger with homemade sweet potato fries, and berries with fat-free greek yogurt for desert!

This is what my "normal" day looks like: (clockwise from upper left) sweet potato frittata with lite havarti cheese and two pieces of whole grain toast, spaghetti squash and veggie bowl with turkey bacon and two rice cakes with banana and PB2 (powdered peanut butter), salsa verde turkey burger with homemade sweet potato fries, and berries with fat-free greek yogurt for desert!

I moderate a small Facebook group called, "Toward the Mountain Top Inch By Inch".  Last week I shared this meal plan with the group, and I wanted to share it here as well, in the hopes that you could use it as a good foundation to design your own plan to fuel your hikes!  

Feel free to download these images and print them or save them to your phone for a reference!

I've adapted a few of the recipes from some of my favorite food bloggers.  Here are the original links to their recipes in order to give them proper credit:

PaleOMG (pad thai spaghetti squash casserole)

Melissa Joulwan's Well Fed (chocolate chili)

Pinch of Yum (creamy cauliflower sauce) 

SkinnyTaste (zucchini soup)

Let me know if you try this, and/or if you have any feedback or constructive criticism.  I am always open to suggestions or ideas on how I can improve!

Keep on adventuring!

Planning your backpacking trip Vol. 1

It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.
— Leonardo da Vinci

Taking action can be really difficult, especially when getting started feels completely overwhelming.  When I started this blog many years ago based on the concept of, "Toward the mountain top inch by inch", I didn't quite realize that it was this exact issue that I was really tapping into.

How many times have you had an idea to do something and then, very quickly, you talked yourself out of it?  Your brain convinced you that you didn't have the knowledge or skills - or that maybe you weren't deserving of that idea.  Perhaps, your brain politely informed you that "other people" have already done that idea, thereby, making it virtually pointless for you to try.

Think about that for a second.  Think about how different the world would be right now if visionaries tossed away all of their ideas due to negative self-talk?  Not good, right?

I am 100% convinced that the same principles apply with learning a new skill like backpacking.  It's easy to get completely overwhelmed and just STOP.  I know this, because I have been in those hiking boots before - I have felt what it feels like to have NO FREAKING CLUE what I am doing.  I have suffered as a result of forgetting sunglasses, toilet paper and appropriate SPF sunscreen on a mountain.  Getting started in something, even a new hobby (particularly when it requires thousands of dollars worth of gear), can be tough.  

Undeniable proof that I had no clue what I was doing on my first backpacking trip.  Just say no to superfluous gaiter usage.  

Undeniable proof that I had no clue what I was doing on my first backpacking trip.  Just say no to superfluous gaiter usage.  

So, what's the secret to turning your mountaineering/backpacking dreams and ambitions into reality?  It's pretty simple, and it comes back to the concept of, "inch by inch".  The next time that you feel a yearning for that trip or come up with an idea to do something or go somewhere - immediately take action.  Now, I'm not talking about throwing your gear in the car and making haste towards the trailhead with no preparation - I'm talking about taking a small step in the right direction.  Maybe you have a personal goal of climbing Mt. Adams - the next time that thought creeps into your mind and starts nagging you, don't suppress it!  Go online and search for trip reports of a Mt. Adams climb... visit the Forest Service Website for Gifford Pinchot National Forest ... reach out to a more experienced climber.  Just don't let the thought percolate and disappear - ACT on it, even if it is in some tiny, miniscule way.  You don't need to know everything RIGHT NOW - but all of those tiny steps, over a period of time, will add up into something pretty incredible.  

As a backpacking instructor, I remember being told that I had a 4-hour block of time in which to teach a backpacking 101 class.  I remember thinking, "How on EARTH can I possibly fill 4 hours of time?!".  After teaching my very first class 6 years ago, my only thought was, "How on EARTH can I possibly teach backpacking in ONLY 4 hours???".  The truth is, I can't - learning how to backpack is a lifetime process that is constantly evolving and changing - I still learn new techniques and skills with each experience in the wilderness.  But, I have been able to "break down" a trip into a somewhat simple process in order to explain the basic concepts to my class.  I like to think of a backpacking trip like this:

Over the course of the next few weeks I'm planning to share my basic outlines of each segment of these sections.  Once you have the basic framework of how to visualize/plan a trip, we can get into more specifics about gear - keeping in mind that this process works very well for me, but might not work for everybody - so feel free to modify it and take what works best into your own planning/prep style.  

With that being said, here are the absolute PRE-PRE-PRE basics that go into planning every trip that I take.  This is extremely basic information, but, if overlooked, can have a massive impact on the success of your trip and your enjoyment level.  

In my next post, I'll take you through the process that I use to research/decide on a feasible plan, and what information that I bring with me so that I can give myself the best possible chance for an incredible, safe experience in the wilderness.

Do you have any dream backpacking trips "percolating" in your mind right now?  What small action step can you take TODAY to inch yourself closer to your goal of making that trip a reality?  

Keep climbing!

 

 

 

 

I have a good excuse.

I've been absent from writing for a few days, but I promise, it's for a good reason.   

You see, when you like to write about adventures... that means you actually have to go off and have them... which means zero cell service and internet access (which I LOVE!!).

So here's my latest excuse:

Aaron and I at Druid Arch. 

Aaron and I at Druid Arch. 

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Aaron and I just finished a four day trip through the Needles in Canyonlands.  I had never been to Canyonlands, so I had no idea what to expect - but WOW.  Mind. Blown.  We saw almost zero people (which may or may not have been on account of the sub-freezing temperatures) and had such an incredible time exploring - it truly is a natural playground for adults who still act like kids and like to climb around on rocks with a semi-realistic chance of falling. 

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I'll share details about our trip and our route soon - needless to say, we WILL be coming back.  The Maze area of the Canyonlands is calling my name, but the 4WD road leading to the Maze and my Honda Fit might have a few discrepancies to figure out before that time. 

Can't wait to share more - until then, keep climbing!

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Becoming a Park Ranger.

The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.
— Louis L'Amour

Last week I shared a story about how I accidentally ended up moving to Washington State, and about the importance of following your dreams.  Fulfillment is no joke - without it, we humans tend to struggle.  Personally, I know that finding fulfillment in my life is absolute a critical piece of everything that I do.  Unless I feel like I'm somehow contributing to the greater good or helping to serve others in some small way, I find myself feeling lost.  

Maybe it's just me, but when I have my mind set on a goal,  I find myself constantly needing a reminder that the journey is part of the process.  When I'm hiking or climbing, I readily accept that this is true - I know that each part of a trip, each individual step, is mandatory in order to complete the journey as a whole.  For some reason, that concept is much harder for me to grasp in the non-hiking world.  I find myself wanting immediate results or change or insta-progress ... and that just isn't how things work.  Each goal, each accomplishment, each event in our lives is shaped by all of the various steps that we took to reach those points.  You can't have one without the other - an "event" without the journey simply lacks the fulfillment that we crave as humans.  

Yes, I was a violin playing ranger.  

Yes, I was a violin playing ranger.  

Sharing my park ranger story last week made me think a lot harder about that process that I went through over a decade ago, when I decided that I wanted to become a ranger.  It was really the first time in my life that I had a career goal and something that I wanted so badly that I could literally feel it in my soul.  

In my natural habitat.  

In my natural habitat.  

And so, I present episode #2 in, "Anastasia doesn't take a shower and films a video" - and, as a bonus, I get choked up and I cry in this one.  But hey, I'm not afraid to admit that I have emotions (at least one of them), and I'm really proud to share my story and I hope it can inspire you to embrace whatever part of the journey you are on in your own life.  

Whatever you want for yourself in your own life - absolutely, never ever stop climbing and dreaming!  If you find yourself becoming frustrated with the process, just remember that someday you will look back and those moments of frustration will be the ones that make you the most proud.  

Weekly workouts + Valentine's Tabata

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.
— Charles Schulz

Happy Valentine's Day!  I'm actually writing this the day before, so technically it isn't Valentine's Day yet.  I'm actually not a huge Valentine's fan - I'm sure that comes as a shock to most of you - ha!  But seriously, I think it is sort of a silly holiday, BUT if you like Valentine's Day, I say go for it - every person is different!  A few years back, Aaron surprised me and bought me a bottle of wine and some chocolates for Valentine's Day, which was 100% unexpected, and I have to admit - I really liked that - but it had nothing to do with Valentine's Day at all.  I liked it because it was wine and chocolate, and a gift from the most handsome man I've ever seen.   

I'm doing a program right now where I count my macros - i.e. I consume a specific amount of carbs/proteins/fats per day.  I've absolutely LOVED doing this, and have noticed a huge increase in my performance.  The best part about this plan is that 1x per week, I have a "refeed day" - this is a day where I eat MASS QUANTITIES of carbs in order to boost leptin production in my body - leptin is the chemical which helps to regulate the metabolism in your body.  So, staying at a set macro level for 6 days out of the week causes leptin levels to slowly decrease... but having a refeed day (i.e. controlled overeating) boosts those levels up and gives a "jolt" to the metabolism.  It also means that I can go to sushi with Aaron!  My refeed day falls on Tuesday every week, and I was so sad to see that Tuesday is also Valentine's Day, which means that EVERYBODY ELSE is also going to be going out on "date night".  DAGNABBIT VALENTINE'S DAY - WHY ARE YOU MESSING WITH MY REFEED DAY?!?  

Ok, rant over.  I'm excited to dress up 1x this week and spend time with my husband, even if it does fall on Valentine's Day - I promise, we'll be the only people out on a date night because of a refeed day.  

How was your week?  Good workouts?  Inconsistent workouts?  Here was my week in workouts:

2/6 - intentional rest day - wahoo!

2/7 - 1 hour strength bootcamp at the gym consisting of:

50 reverse curls

50 push ups

  • 30 step ups onto bench (each leg) holding 25lbs
  • 100 tricep kickbacks (I used 10lbs each arm)
  • 50 overhead tricep extensions (heavy weight - I used one 20lb weight)
  • 100 tricep dips with heavy weight on lap (I put 40lbs on my lap)
  • 50 chest press w/ heavy weights (I used 20lb dumbbells)
  • 50 chest fly with medium weights (I used 12's)
  • 100 glute lifts each leg with 1 heavy dumbbell behind knees (I used 20lb)
  • 100 reverse curls
  • 100 crunches
  • 100 twists with 20lb medicine ball
  • 50 bicep curls (10lb weights)
  • 50 hammer curls (10lb weights)
  • 100 body weight squats (all the way to sitting position while straddling a bench)

2/8

  • 45 minute circuit where I forgot to jot down each exercise that I did, but it consisted of 13 different exercises @ 1min 20 seconds each - two times total.

2/9 - boot camp

  • 20 back and forth sprints
  • wood choppers (i.e. wood chopping motion with the one handle weight machine) 1.5 min each side
  • squat with a straight arm press on weight machine (3 min)
  • lunge with bicep curl - each leg 1.5 min
  • ball throw with static lunge - each leg 1.5 min
  • one arm press with static lunge - each leg 1.5 min
  • 75 goblet squats with 25lbs
  • 75 squat pulses with 25lbs
  • 75 lunges each side w/25lbs
  • 100 toe touch with cross 
  • 100 bicycle crunches
  • cardio series: 30 air jacks + 30 high knees/20 air jacks + 20 high knees/10 air jacks + 10 high knees/5 air jacks + 5 high knees ... repeat 5x

2/10 - cardio/core circuit 1 min 20 sec per exercise - 2 rounds total:

  • butt kickers
  • 4 front kicks/2 jumping jacks
  • standing sprint on spin bike
  • plank hold with one arm row w/ resistance band 
  • jump rope
  • reverse curl
  • line hops (for approx 20ft distance) and sprint back to start
  • crunch with medicine ball pass under knees
  • decline sit up with 20lb ball
  • step up split jumps with 7lb dumbbells in each hand
  • side hop with side kick
  • plank ups with diagonal alternating toe/arm reach
  • burpees on bosu ball

2/11 - rest day, basically did nothing

2/12 - 6.5 hour snowshoe climb of Dirty Harry's Peak ... 3200' gain, very slow going snowshoe hike due to mass quantities of downed trees, etc...

Snowshoe selfie with Brenda. 

Snowshoe selfie with Brenda. 

Summit shot! 

Summit shot! 

Extreme snowshoeing

Extreme snowshoeing

Summit views - not too shabby! 

Summit views - not too shabby! 

2/13 - HIIT Circuit, 1 min 10 seconds per exercise (or combo of exercises) 3x total:

  • one arm bicep curl with weight machine while standing on one leg (opposite leg)
  • press jacks w/ 7lb dumbbells
  • 10 squats holding 25lb plate, followed by 10 tricep dips
  • 1 legged squats while holding TRX followed by small hop
  • hyperextension while holding small dumbbell or plank up
  • jump rope
  • lat pull down (I did 60lbs) or one arm row (I did 20lbs)
  • 10 curls/5 squats with resistance band (I used red band)
  • bicep curl into anterior shoulder raise (I used 10lbs)
  • split jumps on a step

And here's a Valentine's Tabata, because it's fun to put heart icons on things, NOT because I love Valentine's Day.  

Tuna mac n' cheese for backpacking!

Pasta with melted cheese is the one thing I could eat over and over again
— Yotam Ottolenghi

It's time for another incredibly easy "freezer bag" backpacking recipe.  This recipe (if you can even call it that), is so easy that you will wonder why you ever spent $15 on a pre-freeze dried backpacking meal.  The important part of this meal is purchasing the noodles that are designed to be prepared in the microwave - if you buy the noodles that are meant to be boiled, they will not rehydrate properly in your cozy.  You are more than welcome to carry along a small pot and boil your noodles, but I prefer these meals for the sake of simplicity.  

Eating dinner out of a food cozy during a thunder storm.  

Eating dinner out of a food cozy during a thunder storm.  

Yes, it does mean that you have to carry a few extra ounces of Ziploc bags (note: you MUST USE Ziploc Quart FREEZER bags for these meals - a normal, non-freezer bag will not work) - but chances are, you would be transporting your food in some sort of a bag anyway.  The key is DRINKING all of the liquid out of the bag when you are done consuming the food, so that you aren't inadvertently carrying extra ounces of weight.  

My other backpacking food advice is this - EXPERIMENT and find what works for you.  Some people LOVE to bring a small cookpot so that they can make their meals that way.  I prefer to carry a jetboil and limit my "cooking" to boiling water and pouring it into a bag.  Usually, I am so exhausted at the end of the day that pouring water into a bag is about the extent of my willingness to do anything that requires physical exertion.  That is my personal preference - but everybody has something that works for them.  This is definitely not the "be all/end all" option, but it works for me - and maybe it will be a great fit for you too!

Alternate options for this "recipe" - sub freeze dried chicken or beef (check PackitGourmet.com) for the tuna, or look in the "emergency preparedness" section of your local grocery store.  Salmon would be another good option - you can easily find packets of salmon at REI or on Amazon.  Get creative with it!

See you on the trails!

On chasing dreams and getting stuck.

A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?
— Albert Einstein

Sometimes I think that I must be completely nuts.  Maybe I am.  Honestly, I don't care.  When I was in college, there was an entire group of students that referred to me as, "weird girl".  When I found out about this, I asked them why - and they said it was because they couldn't, "figure me out".  They said that I liked to sit and read by myself in the dining hall and that I seemed mysterious.  I always found that comforting in a way - I felt proud of the fact that being "slightly different" made people uncomfortable.  

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about my own journey to get to the very place where I am right now.  I am so grateful for everything that I have experienced - the good, the bad and the ugly - along the way.  Most people don't know that I moved to Washington to be a park ranger in 2004 (note: I was laid off from this job in 2012), and even more people don't know that moving to Washington was a complete mistake.  How does one accidentally move to a state?  Funny you should ask, because I woke up this morning and decided to film a video telling that story.  Wow.  Who does that?  Who wakes up and decides to film a video?  Maybe I am "weird girl" afterall!

Before I share the video, I'm going to share a few photos that will help you appreciate this story more.

There I am on the far right (with the violin) at my first National Park Service volunteer "gig" - doing living history at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site.

There I am on the far right (with the violin) at my first National Park Service volunteer "gig" - doing living history at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site.

Looking proud in my previous career as a Park Ranger.  

Looking proud in my previous career as a Park Ranger.  

Shucking oysters back in my ranger days.  

Shucking oysters back in my ranger days.  

Have you ever woken up with a thought on your mind, and just had to share it with somebody else?  Well, that was how I felt this morning.  So, naturally, without applying any makeup whatsoever - I recorded exactly what I was thinking and feeling.  The jist of it is this: your personal dreams and desires are not silly or ridiculous, and they are worth fighting for ... but fighting for them is sometimes akin to getting out of a sleeping bag at 2am when you want to climb a mountain ... sure, you want to climb the mountain, but that sleeping bag is SO COMFORTABLE.  For years and years, I've said that the hardest part of any climb is just getting out of the sleeping bag - and that applies to life too.  Just getting started is the hard part - after that, it's just one foot in front of the other, over and over again.  Inch by inch.  Whether it's exercising, eating healthy, getting your dream job or making a necessary change in your life - the first few moments of getting out of that sleeping bag are excruciating.  But guess what?  The second you inhale that big gulp of cold air and look up and see billions upon billions of stars glittering down on you - you'll know it was worth it.  

Note to all my blog readers: I'm extremely uncomfortable filiming myself, and this is so far out of my comfort zone that I feel like I'm getting out of a sleeping bag every time somebody clicks on this blog.  Thank you for pushing me into a space where I can continue to grow!

Click on the image below to watch the video! 

Keep adventuring!  Hope to see you all on the trails very soon.