Unpacking from a trip always seems to be the hardest part of any time away for me.
I unzip my suitcase and the scent of dirty socks mixed with a little sweat and long faded sunscreen hits me. Snippets of a forever memorable adventure flash before me and the reality of it being over, all smushed and wrinkled in a battered suitcase stings a little.
Each time I come home from the west; I feel a little less complete. Parts of me are slowly being left behind and I’m not sure what else but relocating there will take to put me back together. Scattered pieces of Jen; all over Southern California, Utah and Arizona. Like lost treasures.
Heart. Soul. Energy.
Check, check, check. There’s nothing like waking under the desert moon and sun with no rain fly on your tent. (Things you don’t get to do in the Midwest: Exhibit A.) The Superstition Mountains looming behind me. You never feel alone in the desert. A thousand cacti and rocks and small lizard eyes on you at all times. And flies.
The desert seems to breathe at night. The wind kicked my tent around, both nudging me awake and lulling me to sleep; feeding my dreams with visions of sandstorms.
But the sunrise is the real treat. The sky is made of watercolor splashes of fire and smoke.
There is nothing better than a slow, easy morning. Savoring coffee; embracing the silence and lighting a lone fall inspired candle stirs my desire for the months to come. The transition into September has been a breath of (although still very hot) fresh air.
August was a rough and emotional month. A lot of loss; a lot of stress. I welcome a new season with open arms.
These are the last two weeks of my full time schedule in my salon and then the change will happen. My work days shorter; the remainder spent focusing on my writing and achieving my goals for Gear Forward.
I have been almost over-inspired lately and I have not been in nature at all. When it’s this hot it isn’t enjoyable to me. I pay for being stuck inside all summer by being in pain and discomfort when I first hit the trail when the weather begins to cooperate. That’s ok. I have stories to tell. I can’t decide if I should share them here or hold on to them for something else.
In two weeks from Thursday I take off on an Arizona mountain adventure and I am beyond ready. I need some time to disconnect and think hard about where to begin to focus my energy when I get back. Notes will be taken!
I hope all is well and great! I will be back with more soon.
-Even More Walking
-Flip Flop Flippin’
-Flip Flop Flippin’ 2
-Flip Flop Flipped
I must say, one of the most exciting and rewarding things about working for Gear Forward (outside of seeing the joy on the kids faces of course!) is getting to partner up with wonderful companies; big and small.
One of our newest relationships is Hart Outdoor. Hart makes spectacular first aid kits that come in multiple sizes for different types of outdoor adventures.
I received the Multi-Day kit and found many things about it that I preferred compared to most wilderness first aid kits.
First, I would say the overall size is surprising for how much is packed inside. Second, Scott and I agreed – the way the compartments are labeled make for easy location and resupply when your kit needs replenishing. Finding what you need quickly is very simple.Another thing that I personally like, is the addition of a Wilderness First Aid manual. From bites, stings and burns to Altitude Sickness and blisters…breaks, sprains and bruising; this little manual makes identifying an injury easy – as well as having clear instructions on how to handle each event until emergency services can reach you.Hart Outdoor First Aid Kit is an REI exclusive brand. You can find them in store or order online.
Don’t miss the REI Labor Day Sale where you can catch the Hart Outdoor First Aid Kits for up to 40% off!
I’m sitting here thinking and brainstorming and it’s just so crazy how excited I am. I won’t have the time until September to do many of the things I have in mind. I have a plethora of ideas I am scribbling down.
I booked a trip yesterday morning with M to go to Arizona and backpack around the Superstition Mountains. It’ll be my first official week off in September and the start of my new part-time schedule. The first part of the week I will be spending cleaning my house, organizing some Gear Forward duties, finishing some articles for Epic Social, and then packing for a desert backpacking trip for the second part of the week.
I think this will be a great kickoff to center myself, relax and hopefully come out inspired. I haven’t traveled with M in so long! It will be so nice to have this time with one of my oldest friends and share some laughs.
I am currently suffering the “time is going far too slow” curse. I don’t WANT summer to be over but I’m ready for the next 6 weeks to pass so I can start laying out my ideas and settling into a new routine! In the meantime, I am taking some short online courses to better and enhance my writing.
Just popping in here quickly as I’m trying to discipline myself into sharing here more often in between the adventuring! I hope everyone has a nice Wednesday. Happy August!
Let’s be real. Everyone searches for a way to make things easier.
I get tagged in tons of “camping hacks” articles. While some of the ideas are really creative, a lot of them can be a reach. One hack I see a lot that actually makes sense includes different homemade fire starters. Now, if you’re a “craft night” person, those are likely perfect for you! Myself, however…I tend to be more of a last-minute-weekend-trip, “grab and go” from the gear shelf kinda gal.
This past May, I successfully learned how to start a fire in a series of emergency drills during LHX. Our instructors were fantastic – but when it comes to a real-life situation, you don’t know how you would react. If I were truly in a position that required me to use those skills – would I be able to recall all of them? Could I think clearly in below-freezing weather or remain calm if I were injured?
When InstaFire messaged me to try out their product, I was happy to! InstaFire was featured on SharkTank and is safe for both indoor or outdoor use. One package can start 4 fires. It’s all natural and eco-friendly as well as lightweight which makes it perfect for backpacking. Everyone loves convenience, and InstaFire truly delivers.
We took the product on the road with us on our 2-week trip and had great success! Unfortunately, a lot of places we camped out west did not permit campfires due to dry conditions and extreme heat. The few places we were able to enjoy a fire though, we had one up and going very quickly. I would say in under 2 minutes, and our fires burned long and hot.
I will definitely carry this with me in the backcountry. I feel that in combination with my learned skills, InstaFire is kind of like insurance. I have definitely tried many other fire starters with success…but the packaging, the material, and weight of this product is a win for me with the type of outdoor activities I partake in!
This week I made a pretty major life change decision.
There are a few things that brought me to this place. Let’s recap!
I am a major believer that all things happen for a reason. I am about timing. I am about trusting my gut.
After having a couple weeks to reflect on our Mt. Whitney fail (not on our part, but just the overall not happening aspect) I have come to the realization that we were just not meant to be there. The mountain will always be where we left it. Yes, it was severely devastating but…
I believe there was something greater manifesting in that time and it presented itself only a couple days after we left California. No, it’s not quite an epic mountain summit; it is something a little beyond a physical achievement.
Maybe not physically or mentally…but on a greater plane. I’m not great with change (obviously) and I think I am meant to learn from that experience and grow and push myself.
I never posted real updates after day 11 on our trip because honestly, I was in a bad way. I wasn’t feeling excited or inspired anymore. I was let down and exhausted. We drove to Williams, AZ on day 12 and do you know what we did?
We popped the camper, bought a bunch of junk food, watched movies and laid around for an entire day. I ate my feelings and had a pity party and I needed it. The long drives, the strenuous hikes and the early mornings finally caught up to us and after 2 weeks of go, go, go…we vegged hard. It was a great distraction from the disappointment.
The next day, I got a FaceTime call from Scott at Gear Forward. I looked and felt like a disaster but I answered anyway. He let me know he was sorry about our change of plans but quickly voiced that he hoped he could halfway make up for it.
He proceeded to overwhelm me with some feels and then followed up with an offer to be on staff at Gear Forward. Did ya read that?! I am no longer an Ambassador. I am an employee. I cannot express my excitement and gratitude for this opportunity. It’s going to be a growing and learning experience, but I am ready to embrace it.
I have never stepped out of my comfort zone like this…my job of 15 years is all I know.
7 days ago I made the decision to step down from my full-time, 55+ hours per week job in my hair studio to go part-time. To be honest; it felt right. I didn’t think twice.
I am OVER the 12 hour workday. I can’t do it anymore. My back aches, I don’t sleep well and my brain is fogged. I am burnt out. No amount of money is worth my mental and physical health. This girl is done standing on her tired feet all day long. I’m sick of getting home at 8 or 9pm every night and never seeing Turkey until Saturday afternoons when he finally gets off from his 6 day a week job.
Which also brings me to this; I am jumping in to the world of freelance writing. It’s something I have always wanted to do and well, I’m just going to do it. Why not? I speak out about making life count and only having one go and while I mean well by those thoughts, I never truly follow them.
I’m sticking to my guns and getting more out of my life from here on out than just working the grind. I’m mixing it up. I am READY. Starting mid-September I plan to put my blog back on a weekly schedule (what do you like to see/read?!) as well as weekly Epic Social content!
So, that’s my news! I have said since January 1st that Gear Forward was going to have a big year. After LHX I began to shift my thoughts on a career change. Many ideas and doors were opened up on that trip. (But that’s a post for another day.)
Wish me well, friends! I am SO happy.
Hey friends! I made my first IGTV vlog episode.
I always feel like I don’t translate well on a screen due to general awkwardness and being that talking is hard to do sometimes (lol), but I think it’s a really fun way to get to know or see someone outside of only reading their words. Check it out!
If you’re a camping snob, you can pass this post up! I have no shame in RV, van or camper life. I love it as much as I do tent camping in the backcountry. They’re both completely different experiences and I enjoy them all around.If you follow us on Instagram, you may have noticed that we stayed in quite a few KOAs along the way on our cross country roadtrip. There are a few reasons why, which I am happy to share as we had pretty great experiences at each one.
KOA was founded in 1962 in Billings, Montana. The founder decided to start creating a system of campgrounds throughout North America and then began to franchise them. There are now over 500 locations across the US and Canada!
Each KOA is privately owned and operated (mostly by families) but we did come across a couple that gave temporary job opportunities to men and women traveling from outside the US and actually witnessed the super friendly owner in Estes Park speaking with two girls from Macedonia about job applications! I thought that was very cool.
I am usually absolutely all about camping in and supporting state and National parks. Alas we were traveling during busy summer vacation season in July (and the week of the 4th at that!) so nearly all of the state and National parks had already been booked far in advance. But with the KOA app and membership, we could book sites very easily from the road – plus access a map with those nearest to us, which was very convenient for us in our circumstances.
When we tent camp (and offseason camp in the winter when it’s less packed) – it’ll be all about the state parks! We only became KOA members in March when we bought our camper. It’s a $30/year rewards card membership that gets you 10% off your daily rate, plus points toward discounted or free future stays, coupons and other deals.Our first time staying in a KOA was Memorial Day Weekend in Terre Haute, Indiana.
So far each experience has been very different, from the grounds to the sites, but the quality of the campground and staff have been quite consistent and outstanding. I would say that while the prices seem to be a little higher and vary more depending on location than a typical campground – it’s a price I’m willing to pay for the amenities while traveling.– When we are driving a long distance, a tidy bathroom, private clean showers and laundry are a must. Now, I am not afraid of, too proud for or a stranger to a dank vault toilet with a broken hand sanitizer dispenser hanging off the wall, or tons of dead flies and spiderwebs when I open a creaky door to a rustic privy. But, when I’m paying $35/night or more at a camping “resort”, I do expect a nice bathroom! And KOA delivers.
– A majority of “KOA Kampgrounds” have stellar camp stores with location-specific souvenirs, easy to grill food, ice, and one even had a bar. Again, a plus after long days of driving. If this is just a weekend trip it does seem a little extra! When we pulled into our spot for the night and decided that hotdogs and chips will suffice for dinner, we could just walk up to the store and there it was.– WiFi, which we happily used at night after dinner to upload photos or stream Netflix while lying in bed after driving or hiking all day.
– They’re pet-friendly and have dog runs or even large dog parks.– Some had operating kitchens, where you could get a coffee, a hot breakfast or even order a pizza for dinner.
– Most had a pool and/or hot tubs, which was great on warm lazy days.This pool at the Palm Springs/Joshua Tree location was fed by natural hot springs!
– If you reserved your stay online, check-in is a breeze and I love that they give you the option to have your receipt emailed to you.
For a road weary traveler, a KOA is a welcome place; that little yellow logo on a highway sign is like a sanctuary. You know what to expect and all of the things you may need are likely onsite.
I will say, like any RV campground – you’re very close to your neighbor. It is wildly different than backcountry camping and if you know to expect that, it’ll be fine. We know that when we “camp” like this it’s bound to be more populated than if we spend a weekend on the Ozark Trail.
The Sam’s Town KOA in Las Vegas location was like camping in a parking lot. It got packed by evening!
Besides, with a camper as unique as ours we get a lot of questions and comments, and it’s fun to talk to people from ALL over. We had camp neighbors in Arizona from Switzerland and a couple next to us when we stayed in Colorado that were from Germany.
We have traveled in so many ways. Flying, renting a vehicle, trains, fancy hotels, janky motels, strangers couches, condos, AirBnB…I have to say that this trip has been the most memorable. We had our own vehicle available to us and got to live in our cozy home away from home in a different place nightly or every other night…
I can’t wait to do it again.
Not only does Lone Pine, California hold the tallest mountain in the lower 48; it also contains tons of western film history. In 1920, the Alabama Hills were the location for a silent film called “The Roundup.” Soon, other production companies discovered the beautiful location and eventually over 400 films, 100+ TV episodes and many commercials have been shot there.When I was growing up, I used to spend many, many nights at my grandparents’ house. I spent the nights up too late eating cashews and popcorn with my grandpa watching John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood shoot ‘em ups and counting all of the books in his extensive Louis L’Amour library.
My tattoo sleeve is heavily Western inspired, with an old camping lantern, horseshoes and cowboy boots. And one day, when I climb that mountain, Mt. Whitney is going on there too, completing the pieces. I realized that although Whitney didn’t work out, I was standing in a place I appreciated and connected to more than I ever could have thought.
A small restaurant, Totem Cafe, where we grabbed lunch had classic Western film stars signatures scrawled and carved into the walls. The place we stored our RV (Boulder Creek) had paraphernalia and history books to purchase. Every business and building was like a living and functioning museum. It felt like stepping back in time. To be in a place that connected me back to parts of my childhood that are tied permanently into my adult life; it was all very unexpectedly cathartic.
In the time we spent in Lone Pine, it became apparent that this was it. Maybe not exactly there, but near there – is where we will ultimately end up in the next 5-10 years. The west side of the US has always been special to us. We have loved Utah and Arizona and have been back to those areas over 4 times the last year and a half – two years.
But the tugging nostalgia I felt, the epic views of those majestic mountains, the laid back, easy feelin’ atmosphere…it’s where we want to be.
Everywhere we have visited the last few years, have been for fun of course…but we have also been low key searching for where we belong.
The PNW? Northern Arizona? Virginia near the AT? The pristine Upper Peninsula in Michigan?
No, it’s the Eastern Sierra. Highway 395. Somewhere out there. We found it. Or…it found us.
The long drive back to Illinois was filled with excited thoughts and “what if’s” and big dreams. California dreams. We may not have had our adventure the way we wanted it, but that just means the real one is yet to begin.
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