Breck’s First Test Drive

After an unbelievably hectic few weeks to end my summer, my new home was just livable enough for a three-month trial run, and I was ready to move the heck in and get back “home” to Colorado.  I’d be back at my parents’ in early December for the Christmas season and to finish the van build, and I had my to do list organized and ready to go for when that time came.  But for now, mountains and friends were all I could think about.

The time since I decided to sell my Jeep in June and bought my van in July was incredibly chaotic (have I mentioned that yet?).  I was high-strung with the stress of balancing work, life and the van build.  Having to drive the van back and forth between North Carolina and Kentucky for a few weeks each time for work made life unsettled and uncomfortable, as I was sleeping a hammock strung in the van over my Rubbermaids and van supplies while stealth parked in a hotel parking lot or crashing at friends’ places, all of my belongings for that trip disorganized and sliding around the back of the otherwise empty van.  And working on the van every minute I wasn’t doing my real job work was exhausting and took a toll on my body.  Needless to say, apart from being excited out of my mind to get back to adventuring out west, having a mostly comfortable and constant place to “live” in, or at least sleep in, was an incredibly attractive concept to me.  It had been a while.

As I shoved the last of my items into the van at 10pm the night before I left my parents’, there was still much to be organized and figured out, but the plan was to not plan and just do it on the fly, much like this entire project.  I spent the first week back in Kentucky for work, sleeping in the hot AF temperatures in my office’s parking lot on Main Street (much better in the van vs. the Jeep at least) and showering at the climbing gym I belonged to there.  Through a few coworker friends, word got out about what I was up to when I bought the van, so at this point, everybody knew that I was sleeping in the parking lot.  Generally, everyone thought what I was doing was really awesome, but coming into work in the morning and having everybody there know that I had just walked in from sleeping in my vehicle in the parking lot was still pretty uncomfortable.  Just something else to get used to with this whole van thing, I guess.

Overall, there was a much bigger mental jump into this lifestyle than I expected.  I thought I had been preparing for a lot of it, but I was very unprepared for a lot of it as well.  My electric wasn’t fully hooked up until the end of that first week, and so my roof vent fan could open but couldn’t turn on, leading to some very hot nights.  So my routine for my first few nights in the van was this: Eat out or get take out (more on this in the next paragraph), shower at the gym, go pee in my office and hope I wouldn’t have to again until after I was ready for work the next morning, change into my PJs, brush my teeth and do any dishes I had in a small bucket because I didn’t have a sink yet, probably do some reading and then lay on top of my blankets and sweat my butt off for a while, until I took the rest of my water and soaked my t-shirt in it, and then fell asleep slightly cooler than before.  In the morning, I would wipe down with either a wet washcloth or a wet wipe, and then change and get ready for the day.  I’d rinse the small bucket of toothpaste and water somewhere discreetly in the parking lot, grab my backpack and walk into the office and try to act like I’m a normal functioning adult for 8-10 hours…  except for the 20 minutes I would sneak out to take a nap in the van around 2pm each day (possibly the best van perk of them all).  It took some small adjustments, but the week went smoothly.

sep2

One of my first cozy nights in Breck.

So the eating out thing: I think I was just too mentally exhausted to think about more new things that I had to.  As simple as the task sounds, the idea of learning to use my new camping stove and to plan and cook in the van, in stealth mode, in downtown Lexington was just exhausting and seemingly impossible to me at the time.  I really had to ease into things, and that was something that could largely be avoided for a little while, whether I had the money to eat out everyday or not.  Apart from my ease into cooking in the van, there were other things that I had to take my time with as well, and I would like to take time at this point in the blog post to give a hearty shout-out and THANK YOU to everybody that helped me out these first few months in my rolling home.  To everybody that let me crash on their couch/air mattress/spare bedroom, I needed the break and return to normalcy some nights more than I wanted to admit.  To my friends that let me park in their driveway or outside of their homes/apartments for a night or more, this might have been the biggest help of all.  Stealth camping in downtown Denver for multiple weeks at a time was stressful, and having a safe space where I didn’t have to worry too much about where to park and getting “the knock” in the middle of the night (or anything worse) was a huge relief.  And to everybody that let me shower in their home, thank you thank you thank you.  My newest motto for van living is “Never pass up a free shower”, and I greatly appreciate everybody that offered one to me, because I was almost certainly going to take you up on the offer if it came.  So if you either fit into one of the above categories or just offered your support in kind words to me – I truly could not have done this without you all.  In all honesty, if I didn’t have such a great network of friends in Colorado, I would have been downright miserable on a lot of this first trip.  I was second-guessing myself enough on that trip, especially in my first few weeks out there, and every little bit of help and support that I received helped me to get through.  But now I am finally settled into life on the road, I’m reenergized and eager to get back out there next spring.  And all of you helped to make that happen.

So after I got out to Colorado, I had no choice but to start cooking in the van, or else I’d have no money for gas into the mountains or anything else.  I spent the first two weeks driving around Denver, staying inside/outside of friends’ houses and working at Union Station and some other coffee shops.  It was a busy few weeks and I was hardly in the van to be honest.  I spent a lot more time in Denver than I expected to on this trip (the extrovert in my really took over), and stealth parking/camping there as much as I did was not exciting, and also kind of taxing.  My very first day in Colorado, I parked the van outside of my best friend’s house and we took her Jeep to tent camp off of a 4×4 road up near Winter Park.  Upon returning to her house then next afternoon, her neighbor came out to yell at me for camping outside of his house while we were unloading my stuff from her car into my van, and wouldn’t listen when I tried to explain that that wasn’t the case at all.  Needless to say, I felt super uncomfortable city camping for the following weeks, and was extra cautious.  I had originally assumed that Denver would be a pretty safe space for being in my van, but now was worried about being judged or upsetting people.  The fear of being judged was a huge mental obstacle that took me weeks to get over.

After my birthday at the end of the month, I took off for a two-week mountain trip.  I last-minute changed my itinerary (another perk of living in your home) after seeing a billion photos on Instagram of the aspens changing down in the Aspen area, and headed out on a Friday afternoon to mountain bike with my good friend, Teresa, in Eagle and then make my way there.  I then spent my time over those two weeks hiking in Aspen, coworking in Crested Butte, visiting friends in Fruita and Salida and mountain biking in all of the above places, as well as Moab.  Apart from taking quite a few literally jaw-dropping scenic drives, I watched the sunrise at my favorite camping spot in Aspen, got the van stuck in some sand while boondocking in Moab, showered under the stars in the pitch black night in the Fruita desert and slept in a Walmart parking lot for the first time.  Those two weeks were the closest glimpse I felt that I had to what my #vanlife adventures will look like next year as I work my way up the west coast alone.  There were some hardships of course, but overall, it was incredible.

I snuck back out to the desert a few more times during the month of October to go mountain biking quite a bit, and hid at my uncle’s in south Denver for half a week as well when I started to crash from all of the traveling.  My time out west ended with a women’s #vanlife meeting in Taos, NM at the end of October, which deserves its own blog post, before I headed back to Kentucky for the month of November and then home for the holidays.  I learned a lot about #vanlifing,  got a lot more comfortable with the uncertainty of the lifestyle and how people perceived it and changed my to do list quite a bit for finishing the build.  Living in an MVP version of my van was a REALLY great thing to do to make sure that my van build plans fit my needs.  Things I thought I definitely needed aren’t even on my to do list anymore, and some things that were lower on my to do list are now top priorities.

20181005_140618

I spent more time in the desert than the mountains on this trip, which was unexpected, but wonderful as my love for the desert grew even more.

In conclusion…

One of my biggest findings this trip was how surprisingly difficult it is to just live simply in this world.  It’s MUCH easier to just go along with society today and pay lots of money for luxuries and things.  The most basic things are hard and take up lots of time, like finding a place to shower that week or use the bathroom, planning only one-pot meals, washing dishes without running water, being alone a lot… Some people are starting to spread the awareness of this on social media, but #vanlife sucks most of the time.  Truly.  It’s definitely not for everyone, and probably not for most.  But for those few that can and want to embark on this lifestyle, all of the small, incredible moments you have with the van: the perfect campsite, having everything you need all of the time, the mobility, the connection with nature, the freedom… those things make it all worth it.  One hundred percent.

Advertisements

Solo Backpacking as a Female

As an advocate for not letting my gender get in my way of traveling and being in the outdoors alone, I had it on my 2018 bucket list to take my first solo backpacking trip this year.

Last July 4th was my first solo camping trip to Bears Ears National Monument (such an amazing place!), so it was only fitting that this July 4th was a similar venture.  I just did a one-nighter at White Rocks in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park on the Kentucky/Virginia state line and wanted to share my experience and how I made myself feel safe being alone in the woods.  Because, let’s be honest, you should absolutely not let being a woman hold you back from doing anything in the outdoors, but you should still consider the risks and take the right precautions (as anybody should, no matter your gender).

20180704_081548

The White Rocks overlook in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

First of all, I had an amazing time.  Staying overnight in the woods completely by myself felt very empowering after I safely made it out.  Add in the fact that I actually got a good night’s sleep and didn’t lay in my tent scared to death all night, and I thought I was pretty badass. 😂

Here are a few things that I did that I thought were worth sharing:

I told people where I was going.  My good friend in Lexington knew where I was camping, what trail I was taking and about when I should be back to my car so I could let him know that I was safe.  I also thought that backcountry camping in a National Park Service area would be safer, as I had to go get a permit from the visitor center, so the park rangers knew where I was and that I was alone as well.  Just make sure that somebody knows about your plans, so in case something happens, they’ll notice that you’re missing and about where you would be.

I had a few tools (weapons) handy.  Largely, it was to make me feel better, but I carried a whistle with me at all times, even around camp.  I also had a hatchet, partially for self-defense and partially for chopping wood if needed.  Pro-tip: The hatchet ended up just being useless extra weight and straight up wasn’t going to help at all if I’m being completely honest with myself.  A pocket knife would have been a decent, light tool to have with me instead.  Finally, I had bear spray to use if I came up any bears / axe murderers while on my hike.  This was almost always within reach for me as well and was probably the best “self-defense tool” that I carried with me.

I was super aware the entire time.  Except when I was sleeping.  And I slept damn well that night (I might be a little proud of this…).  But hiking up to the campsite, I was consistently paying attention to my surroundings and noting landmarks on the trail for the hike back out.  Same thing around my campsite that night.  A deer did come to visit me and almost gave me a heart attack as I was convinced it was a bear for a split second, so I was definitely on pretty high alert after that.

I’m not saying that what I did was perfect and safe and fool-proof, but I do feel like I was well-prepared, aware and ready for an adventure like this!  This experience was a big leap and sign that I am improving with this whole “camp in the dark by yourself” thing.  Trust me – if I can do it, you can do it, too!

It’s All Mental

I always knew and preached that you are in charge of your own happiness.  Nobody can go to that thing with you?  Then go by yourself, instead of sitting home and pouting about it.  Want to try something a little scary, but worried about all of the things that could go wrong?  Take a deep breath, say Screw it, I’m doing this and go.  Is there a dream that you want to chase, but your family and friends are doubting you, and that is making you doubt yourself?  Nobody can make you happy but yourself.  You have to decide if this thing is worth it, if it will help you reach your aspirations, your goals, your dreams.

This year specifically, I’m really learning that you can shut out those doubts in your head and you can do anything that you set your mind to.  A lot of it boils down to self-confidence for me, especially with more physical activities.  Traveling solo has really given me a boost in this area each time I take a trip, and after five weeks of traveling this past December and January, I am very aware of how much those weeks changed me, yet again, even more.

Self-confidence is a funny thing, though.  I feel like I have lots of it in some areas, and not nearly enough in others.  Leaving the country for weeks on end by myself doesn’t bother me or worry me hardly at all, but it took me way longer to learn how to snowboard than it should have, and I can 100% say that self-confidence (and a little bit of fear) was the issue there.

One thing that I have found to help is to actively work on changing my mindset – that’s where the Screw it, I’m doing this mindset comes in.  When I was boarding in Canada over New Year’s with a friend, I was still too scared to point my board straight down the mountain, which resulted in a lot of snow plowing down the runs very slowly instead.  I didn’t understand what my issue was, it looked so easy when I watched others board.  Then I went out to Colorado for a snowboarding trip in late January, and I said Screw it, I really need to suck it up and just give this a better shot.  I finally got over myself and those flashes of doubt in my mind, and I just did it.

IMG_0738_exported_79760652

Snowboarding at Copper Mountain, CO, USA

The same thing happened for me with indoor bouldering this winter, and mountain biking this spring.  The only thing holding me back is myself in these situations, and it’s because of the doubt that flashes in my mind milliseconds before I try something new.  Whether it is a turn down a steep mountain on a board, a new move ten feet up a bouldering wall or a jump down a mountain biking trail, I just have to walk myself through it in my mind and keep my confidence up.  It’s when I don’t actively push the doubts away that I stumble at what I’m doing and end up either bailing or falling.

 

It’s interesting how this self-confidence and Screw it, I’m doing this mentality has sort of inadvertently become a personal theme for me this year, and it’s exciting too.  My self confidence improves dramatically each time I conquer a new feat, whether that be with traveling somewhere new, camping by myself, or one of the more active examples above.  I like where I’m going with this whole mindset thing, and I’m excited to keep improving upon it each chance I get.

IMG952018021095122229

Keep climbing, guys!

2018 Bucket List

Every January, I make a bucket list of 12 items and make it my New Year’s resolution to check them all off by the end of the year.  This is something I have done since high school.  Some items are easier than others, and my past lists have included things like “Read at least six books”, “Pray more in depth once per week”, “Leave the country at least twice” and “Learn to like onions”.  My biggest item last year was to visit the last five US states I hadn’t been to yet, and I did! Not even kidding, that was probably my greatest personal accomplishment of 2017.  By mid-August, I visited my 50th state, which was Michigan.  Yeah, I don’t know how it ended up being my last state either.

20170818_114804

State #50 back in August 2017!!!!!

For being such a big “list person”, this bucket list always means a lot to me and I spend a decent amount of time putting it together each year, and I put in as much effort as I can to check each item off as well.

This year, I have a newfound freedom and a very new life situation that is low-key terrifying, yet it’s the biggest step towards having the lifestyle that I have been chasing for the past few years.  Not knowing where I’ll even be sleeping for half of the year made it a bit harder to make some concrete goals for myself, but I leaned on the things that are important to me right now and the areas that I want to push myself harder to grow in (spoiler alert: there’s a large travel and outdoors theme here).

20180120_093824.jpg

One month into the new year, I have tentative plans for quite a few of these list items already.  Some of them are ongoing throughout the year, so I’ll have to keep them in the front of my mind when planning my trips each month.  Tomorrow also starts the process for applying for this year’s hiking permits (Havasupai Falls, Mt Whitney, The Wave and some others are on my radar), so crossing my fingers that I can get a hold of something!  We shall see.

Hope this post and idea inspires somebody!  Cheers to a new year and new adventures, guys.

Asia-Pacific Packing List

I thought I’d share something more useful than just my thoughts this time… my packing list from when I backpacked Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii over the course of two months (the end of October until the end of December).  I had boiling hot and humid climates (hi, Koh Phangan) all the way down to snow and frosty mornings on New Zealand’s south island.

All of my gear fit in my 55L pack (I also had a small cooler bag that I carried my food in).  I am generally a very light packer, and I was extremely pleased with what I brought on my trip.  Without further ado, here is my packing list from fall 2015:

Gear

  • 55L backpack
  • Lifestraw water bottle (I was able to drink the water in Thailand with no issue)
  • Sea to Summit day pack (this is one of my FAVORITE things!!!)
  • Headlamp
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Sleeping bag
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Packing cubes for organization of clothes/undergarments
  • Small carabiner (for hanging things, they’re actually really great)
  • Blow up neck pillow (a lifesaver for long flights and bus rides)

Clothes

  • 1 pair of athletic shorts
  • Knee-length leggings
  • Full-length leggings
  • Hiking pants
  • Jeans
  • 2 pairs of hiking socks
  • 4 pairs of athletic socks
  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 3 t-shirts
  • 1 long-sleeved shirt
  • Patagonia better sweater (I legitimately wore this like 85% of my days in New Zealand)
  • Down jacket (super warm, super light and they pack down very small)
  • Rain jacket
  • Baseball hat
  • Beanie
  • Gloves
  • Ear band
  • Buff/bandana

Shoes

  • Birkenstocks (My favorite shoes in the worlddd, don’t get me started)
  • Sneakers
  • Hiking boots
  • Cheap flip flops for hostel showers

Toiletries

  • Ibuprofen
  • Pepto Bismol tablets
  • Small first aid kit
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Body soap
  • Razor
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Come
  • Deodorant
  • Lotion
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray

Miscellaneous

  • Kindle and charger
  • Phone and charger
  • Outlet adapter
  • Headphones
  • Wallet and passport
  • Silk undercover bra stash (way better than a money belt… I still use this all the time, it is a travel necessity for me!)
  • Sunglasses
  • 2 plastic shopping bags (these are always so clutch when you need them!)
  • 5 Ziploc bags
  • Combo lock for hostels

 

What I brought that I shouldn’t have:

  • Thermarest (it took up a lot of space and I didn’t use it nearly enough)

 

Final thoughts…

You will DEFINITELY not need as much stuff as you think.  And you will also accumulate more stuff along the way for sure.  Also, find hostel friends to split a washing machine with when it’s time to do laundry, that was a big money saver, since I barely had enough clothes for a full load anyways.  Happy traveling guys!

To all my badass ladies out there…

Living in Colorado for the past two years on and off has gotten me more and more into the outdoors.  The mountains have become my best friend.  The issue with that, though, is you don’t always have somebody to go with when you (frequently) want to wake up at 3am to climb a 14er.  Luckily, I am more than comfortable doing things on my own, thanks to my solo travels the past few years.

Over the 4th of July this summer, I did my first solo camping trip to Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.  I chose to do it alone as I had some reflecting to do, and my parents were not happy about me going it alone in the great outdoors as a girl.  Having full confidence in myself to be able to safely camp for a few nights alone (and my boyfriend’s confidence in me, too), I packed up my cooler full of food and Rubbermaid full of gear, hopped in my car and continued on my merry way, sending a few “I’m alive” texts to my mom each day.

20170703_074327

Bears Ears buttes from the south

Leading up to the trip, my parents tried to dissuade me from going.  After multiple failed attempts, my mom bluntly said in a conversation one day, “You can’t camp by yourself as a girl.  That’s just how it is.”.  Absolutely not.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, should hold you back from the outdoors because you are a female.  And nothing, absolutely nothing, can make me more mad than that statement did.  I was 100% going by myself after that.

Upon returning, I felt refreshed and really, truly proud of myself of all that I saw and accomplished over the holiday weekend.  That Bears Ears trip was probably my favorite adventure of 2017.  So no matter how you do it, the important thing is that you do it and you don’t let being a female hold you back.  Just use your common sense and good judgment to assess situations, as you would anywhere.  Heck, I slept with a whistle and hatchet next to me the first night alone in a tent, and moved to the car after a few hours because I’m an actual adult that is still actually afraid of the dark.  The next night, I was able to ditch the hatchet and stayed comfortably in my tent all night.  I’m working at my own pace up to what I know I can do, and I’m not letting any of the stereotypes against me being a girl stop me.

No matter how you get outside, just get outside.  REI is doing an incredible job this year to empower more women and girls to do just that, and are offering tons of women-focused classes to help women feel more confident in their outdoor skills.

Don’t be afraid to push yourself, don’t let anything hold you back and keep on being badass, ladies.