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.
Today we should be heading into camp at Consultation Lake, below Trail Camp.
Instead we are on the road to Joshua Tree. I looked into Langley, San Jacinto, Mt. Baldy and San Gorgonio but to be honest, I didn’t want to deal with those that needed permits, driving to trailheads, storing the camper again…it’s all just too much to do in a short amount of time. I feel like I’m cheating myself because I don’t want to put the work into arranging things but…I just spent 4-6 months researching and arranging things for Whitney and I dont WANT to do it again for something else I haven’t had time to study and mentally prepare for. So, National Parks it is. It makes me happy to be able to explore new parks and if that’s what I think I need right now, then that’s what I’m giving myself.
I am just seeing reports now that Whitney Portal “may be reopening very soon.” We left Lone Pine 3 hours ago and started heading south to begin the long drive home. I am annoyed because at this point, if they do open it back up, we are now on a time crunch. Apparently they will be honoring all permits affected by the fire (you can use in a 7 day grace period) – we wouldn’t have the time to drive BACK north, repack, re-store the camper, do our three day plan even in 2 days, and get home in a reasonable amount of time.
This whole situation has been a horrendous joke and very stressful. First the rain and storms, to the fire, to finally leaving Lone Pine today after contemplating staying one more night and deciding against it…it’s like, taunting us.
If the trail reopens today after we have already left, I will be livid. So many people saying it would be weeks before it opened again, and now this?
I’m so sorry for the raw negativity you’re picking up from me the last couple days. I’m angry. This has been really hard. I’m trying my best to keep my head up. This has still been an incredible experience regardless and I’m not going to let this ruin that for me.
I cried A LOT today. The trail officially reopened at 6pm. By then we were driving back from Joshua Tree.
It was beautiful.
We then drove back to our campground in hands down, the craziest storm I’ve ever experienced. The locals didn’t know what to do. We stopped at a Del Taco for dinner and the rain came and came.
When we left there, the streets were so flooded and the rain was still so torrential we saw a large truck stall out in an almost flash flood like situation trying to cross an intersection. It was like a river.
We drove around that spot and made it onto the highway, but it was white out rain. We could see NOTHING. We found out later the wind gusts were up to 60mph. Debris flew across in front of us, cars swaying, our own car shaking. I was terrified.
Turkey stopped at a gas station as it began to taper off and he said the guy working there said it never rains, let alone like that.
We are apparently bringing bad weather with us everywhere we go.
See you soon, Flagstaff.
(Tuesday, July 10th)
Last night we stayed in a motel. We actually aren’t far from where our camper is being stored, but we were both mentally and physically exhausted (we had been up since 5:30am, hiked almost 10 miles, gained 2,550ft in elevation and hadn’t eaten real food yet!) so we pulled into the first motel we found; Motel Mt. Whitney. Then we ate at the Mt. Whitney Cafe. We are surrounded by all things Whitney.After coming down from Onion Valley, all that sounded good was comfort food, a shower and a place to rest without having to set it all up first.
Tonight we drove out to the Alabama Hills and explored the desert scenery, played at Mobius Arch, and watched helicopters and smoke drift around the area.We were supposed to be on the trail early today. We’d be staying at Outpost Camp.
We decided to head out tomorrow. We’ve been in Lone Pine for 48 hours waiting for a change and it’s not looking like anything will unfortunately.
(Monday, July 9th)
Today made up for yesterday’s emotionally taxing day after accepting the weather reports. Easily one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever taken.
The 4.5 mile trail (one way) in all honesty was not very difficult, but the altitude made it exhausting. I had to break every 10 minutes or so. A quick stop to catch my breath and some water made it no problem. The last quarter mile however, when I could see the pass high above me, while I was many switchbacks below was the hardest part for me. I had to stop, eat some Energy Bites and give myself a pep talk to make the final push.We did it. It was hard but so much fun. And it was so rewarding and beautiful! We met a PCTer named “Snake” at the pass. He is hiking the trail to raise awareness for diabetes. His son is Type 1. You can find his blog here (www.hikingforacure.com). Snake is the kind of guy who makes you smile immediately upon talking to him. He has kind eyes, a great attitude and a solid appreciation for all things. I am so happy we got to chat with him! I wish we had taken a photo together.
On the way down, I flew. (Hey, I am a very fast hiker if I’m not going up. Lol.) I was way ahead of Turkey, so I stopped to wait for him and let him know I was going to refill my water at one of the lakes. It was here we talked to the JMT hiker coming back on trail from his resupply and found out about the fire. (You can catch up on that situation here.)
From that moment on all I could think about was getting official information about the fire. Now that he mentioned it, we could see smoke billowing in toward us. It was getting hazy.
I did not even think about the descent. Before I knew it we were at the parking lot trying to make a decision. Should we drive down to get service? Should we just wait and see what happens in the morning? We are supposed to be on the Whitney Trail in like 15 hours. My persistent inner voice kept telling me I needed to know.
Coming down the mountain we saw a lot of smoke.
My phone picked up service about 2 miles down so I went to the first place I thought of; the Mt. Whitney Facebook group. There it was. Portal Road closed and beginning evacuation. In the short time JMT guy picked up his resupply to now, they began evacuating. This is not good. This is bad.
Turkey and I made the decision to leave Onion Valley campground. At least if we did that, and stayed in town we could keep track of the reports and see what we were going to do. Plus, what if the fire ended up coming closer to us?
Something doesn’t want us on that damn mountain.
Rain, wind, fire. The elements are against us.
(Sunday, July 8th – we had no cell service at Onion Valley Campground.)
Last night after 10pm…it was not great. We have really begun to follow the week’s weather reports for the Whitney trail, and every day is calling for rain and/or isolated thunderstorms. I was up all night tossing and turning thinking about lightning and how dangerous it was going to be up so high during “monsoonal” weather. We decided no matter what, we were going to get on the trail – rain or no rain, and see how we felt. I still cried a lot thinking that a summit was probably unlikely. It is so unsafe to be up above treeline in already unpredictable mountain weather, but with forecasted isolated thunderstorms?
After a crabby and restless night, we left our Lake Isabella campground in the morning. We only had about a 2 hour drive to get to Lone Pine. We were set to drop off our camper at Boulder Creek RV resort, pick up our Mt. Whitney permits and an extra bear canister, then head to Onion Valley where we planned to tent camp for 2 nights. We checked weather updates outside of the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center. Still the same. 20% rain Tuesday, 30% storms Wednesday and 40% storms plus wind gusts up to 25mph on Thursday; our summit day. Argh. It’s okay. It’s only Sunday. Maybe it will change some.
We left the small town below where it was 98 degrees. When we got to our campsite at 9,200ft…it was about 70! What a welcome change after the heat we had endured all week. On the way up we saw a HUGE lightning strike. (Edit: Based on the timing, this could have likely been the strike that started the fire.) We shortly after saw a helicopter fly overhead but assumed they were SAR.This is the first time we have ever camped anywhere with bear boxes, so that’s fun. We are making sure we keep a tidy and organized camp.
We both snoozed outside in our chairs for a little bit as the afternoon came on. It got a little chilly. We made a nice fire and some dinner (PLEASE, for the love of all things foodie, try Sasquatch Fuel meals!) The Vegan Beans & Rice was DELICIOUS. For dessert I made their Mango Sticky Rice. So, soooo tasty. This is one of the only backpacking meal companies I feel the rice fully softens appropriately! No crunchy rice.
We finally gave InstaFire a good shot and I will say, we had a big fire going in less than 2 minutes! Great product! We will be carrying this along for all camping and shorter backpacking trips in the future. If you’d like to try it – let me know!!Here’s a couple shots from our spot below. Those clouds were so fluffy!We are hiking up to Kearsarge Pass in the morning to continue to acclimate. It’s a trail I have been wanting to do for so long.
For months I have been looking forward to this date. 7/10. July 10th. Tuesday the 10th. 10 days before my 34th birthday. The day we enter the Mt. Whitney Trail to explore and summit the tallest mountain in the lower 48.
Today would begin the journey of a dream I have been chasing, researching and planning for 2 years.
Yesterday, as Turkey and I were descending from Kearsarge Pass (we were hiking the 11,760ft pass to acclimate) we ran into a JMT hiker and chatted with him for a bit. He was coming back up after a resupply. He asked if we were just day hiking or on the JMT. We told him we were planning to hit the Whitney trail tomorrow (today.)
He looked dumbstruck. “…Good luck!”
You see, Sunday we had been following weather reports and we were expecting monsoonal rain flow on the mountain. That devastated us, as we were certain a summit was off the table in isolated thunderstorms. But, we would still be able to get on the trail and camp for a few days even if it was in the rain.
“Yeah, I know the weather looks pretty awful…” I said.
“Oh no…you haven’t heard? The Portal is on fire. Like 2,000 acres around it are lit up and they haven’t been able to contain much of it. You could get on at Horseshoe Meadows but I think that adds on like 22 miles. That sucks you guys, I’m sorry.”
We thanked him for the info. We hadn’t had phone service for about 2 days. There’s no way we’d know. He let us know at that point, last he heard, Whitney Portal road was closed but people were still able to enter the trail. We kept our hopes up a little. I was so distracted by the information I didn’t even notice the 4.5 mile hike down. When we got back to the campground I had Turkey drive us down the mountain a little so we could get service and check.
Sunday, Whitney Portal was struck by lighting and caught on fire. A 2,500 acre fire is still growing. By now, the area has been fully evacuated and the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor’s Center tells us our permits are null. We excitedly picked them up on Sunday. The trail won’t reopen this week probably.It hasn’t really hit me yet, but I’m feeling a lot of things.
We drove here. From Illinois. We have already spent a week on the road with this day in our sight.
We won the permit lottery. An overnight lottery at that. On our first try ever. On the dates we wanted. That is SO rare.
We left our campsite yesterday in Onion Valley. We had one more night there but decided to bail because the smoke began to drift over and cause some allergy issues. It was making everything hazy. We woke up today in an outdated hotel instead.Today we’ll go back to where our camper is being stored. You can see Mt. Whitney from the parking lot. I don’t know if that’ll soften the blow, to see it. Or if it’ll just pour salt in the wound.
I feel so stupid. Crying off and on like I’m mourning the loss of a person. An experience. A once in a lifetime experience. I’m angry. I’m sad. And I feel like an idiot for that because it’s out of my control. People are risking their lives to contain this fire and I’m pouting because I can’t hike it. It’s not all about me.
I don’t know. This whole trip has really been amazing, and we have seen and done some incredible things. But Whitney was the icing on the cake. Supposed to be.
I try to always be positive, and everyone has been so encouraging and uplifting and I appreciate it so much. I am a huge believer in everything happening for a reason. It’s just a bitter pill to swallow.
I’ll be blogging later this week to catch up on the days I’ve missed. I’m sorry, we are just so, so bummed right now. I know we will be alright, and maybe this will actually be funny some day. But, ugh.
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