Tag Archives: hiking

How to Settle

I’m not good at dating. I’m impatient and I’m bad at bullshit. If I had things my way, I’d skip straight past infatuation and dive right into the staying-home-in-sweatpants stage of the relationship. I want to settle.

The key word is want. I want to settle, but I’m just not sure I’m made for it.

I’m on the road again and it makes me feel like myself for the first time in months. Traveling is my drug and I never want to give it up.

#drinkingourwaytoDenver begins at Sierra Nevada Brewery

#drinkingourwaytoDenver begins at Sierra Nevada Brewery

I’d like to formally apologize for the seeming rootlessness of my life as documented via Instagram and Facebook. I do have a job and a home (of sorts) and sometimes responsibilities. It’s just that sometimes those responsibilities involve forsaking all other responsibilities in the name of travel.

On Thursday last, I and a boy band from Colorado took the world’s smallest commercial airplane from San Francisco to Chico, CA where Kristen collected me from Chico’s one-room airport and we headed straight for the Sierra Nevada Brewery to brainstorm possible road trip hashtags. #DrinkingourwaytoDenver was born over a brewery tour and the fact that we both enjoy a nice adult beverage (or two or three or five) at the end of a day.

On Friday, after ignoring several alarms and one shattered rear window later (Papa Dufour’s, not our’s), we hit the road. Some highlights of the long drive through NorCal, Nevada, and a portion of Utah include history lessons (Louisiana was purchased from France and the Alamo is a must-see in San Antonio), chats about nipples, and some very enthusiastic singing of the ‘America the Beautiful’ at the sight of some purple mountains majesty.

Nevada

Those are some real, live purple mountains majesty. Ignore the fact that this picture seems to be taken out the driver’s side window while moving at high speeds.

By Friday night, we were in Park City, UT at Kristen’s uncle’s house. On a whim, I texted a friend from Montana who I knew spent winters in Utah working for Deer Valley. In a surprise turn of events, even though it was out of season, she was living there and we met Saturday morning for breakfast.

Later, as Kris drove me to the airport in Denver, I reflected on how grateful I was to have friends who travel. It’d been two years since I’d last seen Mel but it was like I’d only left Montana the day before (which sometimes it still feels like). In high school or college, you have friends based on proximity–class, extracurriculars, history–but as you get older and get to choose who you keep in your life and who you lose touch with, you realize that distance is irrelevant. If it’s meant to last, it’ll last. So seeing Mel, who from her tattoos to her kick ass, take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools attitude, inspired me all summer, after two years with all of my new tattoos and kick ass, take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools attitude I’ve been slowly and surely developing felt like coming full circle.

aspens in Utah

Hiking on a mountain in Utah. “Are these aspens?” “I don’t know but I still have reception; why don’t we look it up?” Conclusion: these are, in fact, aspens. 

If you didn’t know, I’m casually afraid of heights. I quantify my fear with ‘casually’ because it’s not something that gets brought up within the first five minutes (or sometimes the first five years) within meeting me. It’s something that I myself often forget, right up until I’m standing at the top of a turf-covered hill in shorts and sawed-off skis with my PE teacher holding a fire hose shouting, “Just go already!” And then I think, “Oh, right, I HATE heights.”

So as Kristen and I get on the ski lift to take us to the top of the mountain for our hike on Saturday, I mention, oh so casually, “By the way, I hate heights.”

What this really means is that she has to start talking me through the whole getting-off-the-lift process five minutes before we arrive because it bears repeating (“What do you mean I just stand up? What if I can’t? What do you mean I just walk off? What if I don’t? What if it knocks me over? What if I stand up too soon? What if I die?”) and it takes some convincing to get me to let go of the bar so that we can raise it in preparation for our descent.

And Kristen, the sweetheart, doesn’t even tell me to shut up (as I totally would’ve if I was in her situation) when, as she tries to convince me that the ski lift will slow down for me to step off the ski lift without having to jump and roll, as one would exit a moving vehicle, the ski lift fails to slow down and I start to, with a slowly increasing volume insist, “It’s not slowing down, Kristen, it’s not going to slow down. Kristen, it’s not slowing down. Oh God, Kristen, look, it isn’t slowing down. It isn’t going to slow down.”

Spoiler alert: it does slow down, we get off, the ski lift operator keeps from laughing until we’ve safely exited the platform, and then Kristen and I hike back down the mountain.

Utah, Ualright

Utah, Ualright. (See what I did there?!)

Over breakfast, Mel casually mentions that she has an extra room in her house for rent and she’d love to recommend me for a job at the resort where she works in the winters. Her offer sticks in my mind all through our hike, all along the drive through the rest of Utah and into Denver, on my flight to Texas, as I’m sitting here in my hometown’s public library writing this blog post.

And why shouldn’t I give up five months of my life to live in Utah and figure out how to function in snow? I stayed home from another year teaching abroad to give this whole “settling down” thing a try and, so far, it’s limped along with mixed reviews.

But–as when I wrapped up a summer in Montana, as when I contemplated a nannying gig in Italy or seven months teaching in France–I have to wonder where does it stop? If I keep saying yes to five months here and a summer there and another seven months somewhere new, at what point do I say no? Because when it’s Montana, Utah, France, Hawaii, why would I want to say no?

cloud shadows

“Do you ever think about cloud shadows and just how dang neat they are?” -an actual question asked by an actual person, i.e. me, quoted verbatim

I think, maybe like dating, I’m just not built for settling down. Some people are doctors and some are lawyers and some live in houses and some live out of their parents’ guest bedrooms in the middle months between seasonal jobs.

Maybe I’m asking for now, maybe I’m asking for future reference, but how do people do it? How do they settle? How do they silence that voice inside of them telling them that the next adventure is over that mountain, waiting in line with the taxis at a new airport, at the bottom of just one more beer at the next bar in an unexplored city’s downtown?

Because society needs travelers just as much as they need doctors and lawyers. Okay, maybe not just as much, but still, they’re pretty important. You need people to explore and to ask questions and to push boundaries and to boldly go where no human has gone before.

So maybe this is my part in the universe? Maybe this aversion to standing still is my lot in life and my cosmic purpose and all that jazz. Or maybe I’ll settle down tomorrow. Everything is uncertain but any and all suggestions and advice would be fully appreciated, from travelers and settlers alike.

beer in Denver

Cheers to the end of the road!

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13 Miles Later

Whenever I have to plan a trip that involves more than a one-way flight home, I get anxious. I’m like that hobbit (dwarf? Troll?) who doesn’t want to leave New Zealand (this might actually be an incorrect metaphor; I never saw the movie). A better metaphor is that my life aspiration is to be a crotchety old grandpa. I love that I get to travel as much as I do and have these awesome adventures, but I am also really looking forward to the day when I can settle down and yell at kids to keep off of my lawn and read things like Nanotechnology for Dummies ’cause I got nothin’ but time.

Sometimes, my mind gets the better of me. It’s like when you go grocery shopping on an empty stomach and your eyes are bigger than your belly and you land up spending $300 on candy and ham and fresh-baked bread, only I’m doing my grocery shopping on Skyscanner, Renfe, and Alsa. I’ll be tumblrin’ along when I’ll come across a post-card quality photo of fog on a lake in the mountain of northern Italy and think, ‘Man, it’d sure be swell if I could go there.’ Some shoddily down research and a Skype call home to Mama (“Ma, I’m going to Italy? I think? I mean, is that crazy?”) later and I have a 30 € plane ticket to Milan and I’m familiarizing myself with Trenitalia’s website.

And then, two days before I depart for Ireland or England or Italy or Portugal, I start to think about all of the work it’s going to take to get there–a bus to Almeria, a different bus to Malaga, a train to the airport, a plane to my destination country, another bus from that airport into the city, a metro from the bus stop to the hostel–and I think, ‘Wouldn’t it just be better if I stay home?’

(The answer is, obviously, of course not, but, for the sake of the story, let’s pretend like this is an actual struggle and I really am contemplating giving up a week in Dublin to just stay home.)

rocks

Cabo de Gata coastline.

So you guys know by now that I don’t run. Despite the language barrier at my new gimnasio, I’m sure to let my instructor know how I feel about the more bouncy of our activities in Bodypump, like running in place or jumping jacks, by either making a really gross face in the mirror or just by not doing it. I’m not about that up-and-down, lots of fast-paced movement life BUT, put me on a treadmill set to a high incline and a low speed, and I can walk for days. This weekend I got to put that theory to test.

I live in, undoubtedly, one of the prettiest parts of Spain. Situated along the Mediterranean coast, we’ve got mountains, we’ve got beaches, we’ve got Moorish culture; it’s sort of like the Florida of Europe for those of you well-versed in the American culture of geriatric snowbirds. Andalucía is divided into 8 provinces and I live in the province of Almeria in a pueblo at the easternmost part of the easternmost province. The south of the province abuts the Mediterranean and houses the capital of the province, Almeria City, as well as Cabo de Gata National Park (traveler tip: it is not Cabo de Gato National Park as a gato is a cat and a gata, whatever it is, is not that).

My friend Kristen, blogger/marketing/tech-and-travel-savvy guru that she is, found the blog of a fellow Southern Spain adventurer where he regales his audience with the tale of the hike through Cabo de Gata.

(Before we get too deep into this, I’d like to make it clear that Cabo de Gata refers to three things: it is a pueblo, it is a beach, and it is also the name of the national park. All clear? Story time re-commence.)

Anyways, Kristen finds this blog post and expresses interest in hiking along the majestic coastline of Andalucía. As her fellow auxiliars, always up for new experiences, particularly ones off the beaten path, we are likewise intrigued by this opportunity to do some recreational hiking.

“It’s 4 miles,” Kristen tells us. “Easy peasy.” (She might not have said ‘easy peasy.’ When I retell stories I like to use super-hip slang like ‘swell,’ ‘hella fresh,’ and ‘easy peasy’ for dramatic, storytelling effect. Sorry for putting out-of-date, cheesy words in your mouth, Kris.)

She pulls out a map and points to the bus stop in Cabo de Gata, then wiggles her finger along the coastline. It is, on the map, a hop, skip, and a jump from Cabo de Gata (the city) to Cabo de Gata (the beach) and then straight through Cabo de Gata (the park) to reach San Jose. We’re set to arrive in Cabo de Gata by noon and to reach San Jose by 3 or 4.

Kristen, Kellie, Colin, Macy, Sarah, and Laurel did an abbreviated version of this hike back in the fall when they traveled (and got lost; honestly, this should have been foreshadowing) from San Jose to Playa de Monsul. Their expertise covered the latter half of the journey and I myself had made the trek from Cabo de Gata (the town), along Cabo de Gata (the beach), and up to the Mirador de las Sirenas in a car with my parents when they visited in December. Together, we covered the first and last third of the journey with some vague notions of what the middle held for us.

I’ll spare you the gory details—the trekking along the beach, the first mountain with the one-lane road and the sheer drop on the other side of a barely-there guardrail, busting out I’ll Make a Man Out of You at the front of the pack with Kellie and Macy, some frolicking around the mirador (breathtaking views)—and cut straight to the Big Climb.

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This is the frolicking part of the journey.

cliff_FotorSTRAIGHT

Me, frolicking, on the far left about 2/3 up.

 

There are switchbacks up this mountain and, at the very top, a gap wide enough for a road to pass through and take us to the other side with the promised land of beaches and a downhill slope. We are maybe a quarter of the way up, all of us puzzling what those white specks on that cliff up there might be (MOUNTAIN GOATS!!) and why the hell is this taking so damn long, when Kristen does some fancy tippy-tapping on her iPhone and informs the group that this is not actually a 4-mile hike but a 12-mile hike. We have only gone 6 miles; we have another 7 to go.

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At the top of Realization Mountain.

Needless to say, we make it up the mountain. We make it down the mountain. We slay a dragon and fight some trolls and trek through a valley and see the same car full of attractive Spaniards that passed us on our first mountain (“Venga! Venga!”) and consider stopping to die on the side of the road. We make it to San Jose where our friend Christina, the dear, has been waiting for us since 3 p.m.—it is now 6:30—and has called the hostel where we’d planned on staying, which was closed for the winter, and gotten the proprietor to open it up for a group of 8 weary, foot-and-heart sore Americans and one kid from New Zealand (guys! I learned so much about New Zealand on this hike!).

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It eventually flattened out so that’s nice, I guess.

And it wouldn’t be an ex-pat backpacking trip if we didn’t find the nearest convenience store and stock up on the essentials like giant bottles of water, shampoo and conditioner for much-needed and not-anticipated showers, and an 8-pack of Heineken each.

Alas, our plans for debauchery and drinking were not to be. Sunburn and surprise 13-mile hikes strike again! After dinner in town, we pulled three extra mattresses into a 6-person room and barely made it through our first beer before drifting off like a pack of babes, all tuckered out by some sun and a few sips of beer.

hostel

Tuckered out babes.

At some point in my younger, formative years, I came up with this theory that, if you don’t move, if you hold your breath and do the right thing like go to work and study hard in school and stay at home on Saturday nights, nothing bad can happen to you. Routine is safe, change is scary, and normal is aspirational. I even went through a phase my sophomore year of college where I was literally too scared to leave my dorm room.

But bad things happen everywhere. They happen when you’re standing still and holding your breath, they happen when you’re walking down the street and when you’re exploring new countries. They happen to good people and bad people and scared people and brave people and people who definitely don’t deserve it. Bad things happen every day.

Sometimes the bad thing that happens is standing still and missing out on the potential to push yourself. Ever since that semester of Multiple Phone Calls Home a Day While Crying & Binge Watching Grey’s Anatomy While Knitting (lots of crying, all the Grey’s Anatomy), I push myself. I push myself past what is comfortable and what is familiar because bad things happen. And you can’t hide from that. But when you embrace it, when you charge on regardless, you find that it’s worth it. There is always another mountain. There are always another seven miles.

But there are eight other people on this mountain with me. At the end of the hike, we make it to the beach in San Jose to watch the sunset and collapse on a blanket that Kristen was wise enough to think of bringing. We all throw our goods into a pile in the middle—potato chips, tostadas, strawberries, cheese, oranges and apples and granola bars, chocolate chip cookies—and have a feast. We stay out until the sun is gone and the wind picks up and people are starting to complain of cold. We limp up to the hostel (after a pit stop for necessary goods) and we run around the empty hostel like kids left unsupervised for the first time. And we are happy.

Bad things happen. Good things happen, too. And good things can be scary. Staying still seems safe. If you stay still, nothing can happen, good or bad. I’d like to take my chances with normal, to stand still and enjoy life on a routine, but, at the end of the day, I’m more scared of what happens if I don’t get on that bus/train/plane/horse/scooter/bike/various other modes of transportation, than what happens if I do.

post trip

Post-trek, re-fueling exhaustion.

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