Everything You Need to Know About Bear Safety

We scoured the internet near and far. The result: Your ultimate guide to bear safety in the outdoors. Everything you need to know about preparing and handling yourself in bear country. 

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Two Monumental Reasons To Fight: Grand-Staircase Escalante & Bears Ears

The 1906 Antiquities Act is under attack by the Trump administration. Help protect what's ours. What do the monuments mean to you?

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Trail Etiquette 101: How to Share Like a Big Kid

Learn how to share the trail with hikers, bikers, horses, and off-road vehicles. By following these simple rules of etiquette we can all enjoy the trails peacefully.

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What Can We Do to Promote Diversity in the Wild?

How can we promote diversity in the outdoors? Recent studies reveal several reasons the outdoors aren't enjoyed by minority families. We suggest possible solutions for moving forward.

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Our Liebster Award: We Want to Thank the Academy...

The Germans. They gave us beer, gummy bears, and America's favorite pastime, the television. In case you haven’t noticed, their language has also crept into American culture, like a stray cat that becomes a permanent fixture in your life. Words like pretzel, wanderlust, gesundheit, and my personal favorite, Schadenfreude.

There’s another borrowed German word used in the blogging world. Liebster. It means, “dearest” or “beloved.”

via GIPHY

A Liebster Award is an online award given to bloggers, from bloggers. It’s nice to be appreciated for your work. What better way to say “thank you” than to follow up by appreciating other bloggers you feel deserve recognition?

Here’s how it works:

  • A blogger selects some blogs they think are the bomb (yes, people still say that).
  • They nominate those blogs for the Liebster.
  • They ask the nominee some questions, so we can get to know them better. It’s like a digital first date, sans roses.
  • The Liebster nominee accepts the award. Usually.
  • The Liebster winner answers the questions, revealing their deepest secrets to everyone.
  • They, in turn, select some blogs they think are the bomb, and pose their own set of questions.

Of course, we’re happy to accept this award.

The Modern Outdoors is nominated by Meg from Adventures of Fox in the Forest. This foxy little minx has a case of wanderlust like I have a case of chocolate lust. She’s traveled all over the world and lived to tell the stories. More than that, she’s an adventure seeker. Anyone can hop a plane to Thailand and sit in their hotel the entire time. But not Meg. She goes to the places where insects can kill you and scales the most terrifying mountain she can find. That’s my girl.

Thanks, Meg. We heart you too!

 

Here are the questions Foxy Fox asks. Unfortunately, no roses. But that’s okay. I prefer unbroken eye contact anyway.

1. What inspires you the most to get out and explore? Novelty. I get bored doing the same thing, so it doesn’t take long before I’m itching to see a new place or hike a new trail.

2. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life what dish would it be? That’s easy. Mac and cheese. You know how most kids love this dish and say they want to eat it forever? Yeah. I just never grew out of that phase.

3. What’s your favorite season and why? Autumn. Most of the places I’ve lived flourish in the Autumn. Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, now Utah. All these places come alive when the leaves turn vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and red.

Portland in Autumn, Japanese Maple - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Portland in Autumn, Japanese Maple - ©️ Nicole Atkins

4. You’re in the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen – describe it for us then tell us where it’s at. It could be anywhere. There’s a glacial lake the color of azure blue, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. All I hear is the beating of my own heart. And maybe a pika calling out. Damn those things are cute.

5. What was a time when you missed home the most? Recently. It’s not a perfect place. But when I see the entire city stand up for what I believe is right, in a time when many places become idle, I smile. I’m proud to be from a community of strong-minded people who continue to fight for progress.

6. What is your dream destination? Everywhere! But at the top of my list right now are Patagonia, and Iceland (which I’ll be seeing later this year).

7. Sunsets or sunrises? Why? Definitely sunsets. I’m rarely up early enough for a sunrise.

Sunset in Hawaii, Ho'okipa Beach Park - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Sunset in Hawaii, Ho'okipa Beach Park - ©️ Nicole Atkins

8. What has been your most embarrassing moment or mishap on the road, trail, or traveling? One time I forgot my ID at the airport. I learned that morning you can’t take a snow globe onto a plane, but apparently, you can get on without ID.

9. If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting out as a traveler or an outdoors enthusiast what would it be? Make mistakes. They’re your most valuable tool for learning. Humility is underrated. It gives us an opportunity to be better, through the power of embracing our fallibility.

10. What are your plans for 2017? To see more, to do more, to listen more. To feel more, to say more, to be more.

 

The blogs Modern Outdoors would like to nominate are very dear to us, for their own unique reasons.

We love My Way North because it speaks to the organized, inclusive part of our desires. It has everything from trip planning and reports, to gear reviews, to quick tips, to photo porn. All organized on a neat, easy to navigate site that doesn’t make you want to throw your mouse at the wall. My OCD feels happy when I read articles on MWN. They’re well-written posts, accompanied by beautiful photos, and clearly, come from an experienced outdoorsman.

We love Claire’s Wanderings because it appeals to the artist in us. Claire is an avid adventurer who brings her creative spirit on her expeditions. She paints the exquisite landscapes she visits. She shares images of the paintings on her blog with thought-provoking insights. These paintings are nothing to scoff at. I can barely draw a proper stick figure, and Claire throws together a painting of a beautiful mountainscape.

We love Arizona Day Hiker for one simple reason. We love authenticity. It’s so rare these days to see authentic work on the web. Jason, the brain behind ADH, knows who he is and if you don’t like it, you can go kick rocks. You’re probably doing that somewhere anyway. And, who he is happens to be a complete bad ass (whether he admits it or not). His posts are a balanced mix of adventure, philosophy, humor, and guest posts.

Here are my first date questions for you. First base, here I come!

1. What’s one risk you haven’t yet had the courage to take?

2. What’s your favorite outdoor-themed book or film?

3. What’s your guilty pleasure?

4. What/who inspires you?

5. What made you smile today?

6. When would you go if you had a time machine, and why?

7. What’s the coolest/strangest/most interesting thing you’ve learned this week?

8. What’s your best piece of advice?

9. If the world was about to end, how would you spend your last 24 hours?

10. If you were guaranteed the right answer to just one question, what question would you ask?

 

Thanks again to Meg for this honor. Now excuse me while I volksmarch with my schnauzer, to the Biergarten, so I can enjoy a wiener schnitzel and strudel, washed down with a stein of hefeweizen.

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How to Avoid Being Obnoxious on the Slopes

Winter is the season for bums. Wait, let me rephrase that. Winter is the time for ski (and snowboard) bums to shine! Yep, that’s better.

Skiing and snowboarding are popular winter sports for a reason. They’re fun. And they’re great sources of exercise for your lethargic winter muscles. Mountain resorts offer a playground for athletes of all skill levels.

When you pack a lot of people into one area, there’s going to be some chaos. Call me a dreamer, but I believe we can all share the mountain, have a great time, and not leave wanting to kick someone’s ass.

By following some basic etiquette, we can all make the mountain a harmonious place to play.

The Parking Lot

  1. Pay attention to the parking lot attendant. Of course, you’re excited to get going. So is everyone else. Follow the attendant's directions so you can park as fast as possible. Remember that there are cars on both sides of you, close-in. So don’t leave your car door open while you’re getting ready. Close the door so the person parking next to you can park closer. This applies when you and arrive and leave.
  2. Don’t blast your music while you’re driving through the parking lot, or getting ready. Your loyalty to Hanson is admirable. But don’t expect everyone else to be as enthusiastic about your MMMBop love fest.
  3. Double check to make sure your gear is in good repair before you hit those slopes. You may need those brakes or leashes in case something unforeseen happens.
  4. Be aware of cars in the parking lot when you’re walking to the slopes. You know, look both ways and all that jazz.

The Ticket Line

  1. Only select the people who are purchasing tickets to stand in line. The rest of your posse can make snow angels or take sips on the hidden flask. This helps keep the line shorter and more organized. If you insist on continuing to listen to MMMBop, Reggae, or any other music, make use of your earbuds. Besides, rocking out to music nobody can hear is a great conversation starter.
  2. When you get your ticket, take a moment to review the code of conduct. This is important.  You can find it on the back of your ticket/pass. This one thing can save you from being “that dick on the mountain.” You’re welcome.
  3. Don’t litter. These newfangled tech jackets all have pockets that hold things. You can even put your wrappers in them. Keep our mountains beautiful.

The Lift Line

  1. Be mindful of where you put your gear on. Stay out of the way of other downhill skiers/snowboarders. This will avoid unnecessary accidents or confusion for people who are trying to get in line.
  2. Have your pass out and ready to show the attendant. Read and follow any signs you see. Don’t cut in front of others. Be aware of the difficulty of the terrain the lift is accessing before you get on. And know how to ski/snowboard that difficulty.
  3. Pay attention to the lift attendants. Listen to what they say. Don’t wait until you’re about to get on the lift to ask them questions. You have 6-8 seconds to ask a question (in a noisy line), you probably won’t get the answer you want. Better to ask ahead of time.
  4. Don’t swing or bounce in the chair. Read the signs on the towers. Don’t throw anything from the chair, don’t flail, and don’t jump from the chair. If you’re riding with a stranger, be courteous. Basically, be mature.

Skiing / Snowboarding

  1. Read any signs. There may be places they don’t want people to gather. Make sure you’re out of the way of other skiers/snowboarders. If someone needs help, help them.
  2. Follow the code. It’s your responsibility to know and follow them. It’s the best way to avoid accidents. Be aware of other skiers/snowboarders. Stay visible. Stay in control, and keep your equipment under control.
  3. If a skier is injured, make an X with their skis to alert others. If it’s a snowboarder, try to stand the snowboard up in the snow. Whoever reports the accident should go to the nearest lift or ski patrol shack with the appropriate information.
  4. This one is the most important - HAVE FUN!

 

Did we miss anything? What would you add to the list? Tell us in the comments.

* This post was proudly written with the help of guest contributor The Hotstepper (the lyrical gangster).

 

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Snowshoeing Basics: Everything You Need To Get Started

The snow is falling and the pow is piling up. Lots of people are out shredding it on their skis and snowboards.

Old-Fashioned Snowshoes - ©️ Ian

Old-Fashioned Snowshoes - ©️ Ian

Which is great! They're both fun ways to work those underused winter muscles. But there's another way to enjoy those beautiful alabaster flakes of glory.  

In the past few years, snowshoeing has become popular again. 

Now you can hike in all the seasons!

Never snowshoed?

My friend, do not fret; you’re not alone. Skiing and snowboarding still take the front stage of winter sports. A lot of people don’t know much about snowshoeing. You’re missing out on a fun time, but the good news is, it’s probably the easiest (and least expensive) snow sport to start.

Why snowshoe?

Because it’s awesome! Also, it’s inexpensive, it’s great exercise, and it reduces stress. 

If you just want to try it, you can rent snowshoes at your local outfitter for next-to-nothing. Renting is usually a good idea before buying a pair. 

Buying Snowshoes

If you like it and want to buy a pair, there are a few things to consider. Gone are the days of the classic woven snowshoes (though you can still find them once in a while). Today's snowshoes are all tech and functionality.

Snowshoe Sizing Guide - ©️ Redfeather Snowshoes

Snowshoe Sizing Guide - ©️ Redfeather Snowshoes

Snowshoe sizes are measured in length. The length you buy depends on weight (your body + gear). Each brand has their own sizing table.

Depending on your variety of snowshoeing, you’ll want to get the right type of footwear.

Recreational Snowshoes –Most beginners stick to a flat/rolling terrain. Basic, entry-level snowshoes (with easy bindings) are perfect for this. They’re generally wider for better flotation and are the least expensive option.

Backcountry Snowshoes – These are for multi-day or longer day trips. They have better binding systems and include crampons. Most of these snowshoes also have flip-up clips on the back that help with climbing hills.

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes - ©️ Nicole Atkins

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Racing Snowshoes – If you’re a speed junky (and why wouldn’t you be), these snowshoes are for you! They’re light, sleek, and tapered. Get out there speed demon, and kick up some snow!

 

Preparation

All right, you’ve got your snowshoes, and you’re ready to go tear up a good time. Whoa, hold on now. This isn’t some afternoon picnic in the city park while you frolic about the blooming tulips. You want to make sure you’re prepared.

The first thing to do is make sure you’re properly dressed. You wouldn’t go to the opera in a flannel and jeans would you? 

I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed this, but snow is cold. Make sure you layer. Wear waterproof boots and wool socks. Consider gaiters to keep the snow at bay if you’re going to be out there for a long time. Hat, gloves, and maybe hand warmers if you’re more sensitive to cold temps. And who doesn’t look cool in sunglasses?

Carrying Board on Snowshoes - ©️ Luke Mislinski

Carrying Board on Snowshoes - ©️ Luke Mislinski

Bring poles, with snow baskets. Snowshoe poles, ski poles, trekking poles, or large sticks that you can shove snow baskets onto. It doesn’t matter. Plus, they double as a mediocre weapon should you need it.

Bring food and plenty of water. You’ll dehydrate in the cold faster than you would in warmer temps, so make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Hot cocoa is awesome. I like to reward myself with an ice-cold microbrew. Followed by more water, of course.

Check the weather. The weather can make or break your experience, so know before you go. Educate yourself about avalanches. I cannot stress this enough. Take a course, and check for warnings.

Find a trail or area to snowshoe (duh). You can snowshoe on an established trail. But, if you can navigate, one of the benefits of snowshoeing is being able to go wherever you want.

How to Snowshoe

Some people say, “if you can walk, you can snowshoe.” Well… not exactly. It’s more like, “if you can waddle, you can snowshoe.” But, honestly, who can’t waddle?

So, spread ‘em, and get to snowshoein’!

Walking in snowshoes is pretty easy. You’ll have to widen your gait a little bit. Walking on even terrain is pretty straightforward. Just waddle, and step forward.

Running in Snowshoes - ©️ Luke Mislinski

Running in Snowshoes - ©️ Luke Mislinski

Walking downhill is basically the opposite. Imagine that. Bend your knees, leaning your weight back. This time, step down heel-first, keeping your weight balanced throughout your foot. Make sure your poles are out in front of you, firmly planted. Sometimes, going down at an angle can ease the traverse if the hill is steep.

If you need to backup, you’re screwed. Ha, just kidding. Generally speaking, though, you’ll want to turn around. Backing up in snowshoes is tricky.

The most important thing is to have fun.

Note: If you’re snowshoeing in an area with ski tracks, don't snowshoe over the ski tracks. Snowshoe outside of the tracks. 

 

What’s  your favorite thing about snowshoeing? Tell us in the comments.

 

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5 Unusual Snow Activities to Keep You Delighted

What is it about winter that brings out the best in people? It must be the festive ambience of the holidays. Families getting together to sing and be merry. Strangers shoving each other for that $100 flat screen. Resolving to eat more veggies, just like we did the past five winters; but dammit, this year! Depending on where you are, you might be surrounded by white fluff.

Winter Wonderland - ©️ Andrea Koerner

Winter Wonderland - ©️ Andrea Koerner

No no, I’m not talking about Aunt Betty’s five Pomeranians. I’m talking about the cold stuff. The beautiful, alabaster, powdery substance that falls from the heavens. The stuff that gives you a natural high.

That’s right, kiddies. Snow! Why, it’s the only reason any of us leave our house when it’s colder than an eskimo's scrotum, no?

Snow Woman - ©️ Max Sang

Snow Woman - ©️ Max Sang

Of course, we all love to engage in the usual snowlympic events. Who doesn’t love to make snow angels? Or devils; nobody is judging you here. We’d all be remiss to go a snow day without building a three-tier snowperson. Or dog, or alien, or featureless blob. Whatever jingles your bells.

But what if you’ve made your angel and built your snow ma'am, and still have daylight to burn? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a list of 5 things you can do with snow that will provide hours of entertainment and keep you outdoors.

 

Ice Bar - ©️ Morgan

Ice Bar - ©️ Morgan

1. Build a snow cave. 

Shovel that baby good. Make sure it’s nice and deep. When you’re done, set up a bar. The ice is already there and most liquors don’t freeze. In fact, while you’re at it, make a sign. Start an adult “lemonade stand.” Prepare to be the most popular person in the neighborhood.

 

 

 

Snow Igloo - ©️ akaitori

Snow Igloo - ©️ akaitori

2. Build a fancy snow igloo.

Rent that thing out to passersby. You’ve already got the shovel handy. A Brooklyn man did it and listed his on AirBnB. If that doesn’t work out, surely you have extra cardboard from your bar sign. Listen, you’re providing a premium service. How many people do you know that can whip up an igloo?

 

 

 

Snow Cooler - ©️ velo_city

Snow Cooler - ©️ velo_city

3. Keep your beer cold.

This is a necessity, no matter where you are. On a casual walk in the city? Grab a handful of snow and wrap your beer in it (hopefully with gloves). On a winter snowshoe hike? Reward yourself with an ice-cold brew. Just dig a hole, insert your beverage, and drink up. Nature’s koozie.

 

 

LARPing with Icicles - ©️ Jeff Boyd

LARPing with Icicles - ©️ Jeff Boyd

4. LARPing with icicles.

Live Action Role-Playing is a popular game in some circles. You can be whomever you want for a few hours. (Don’t knock it 'til you try it.) Snap off a few icicles and wield them as weapons. Instant overlord status. But please, be careful. I don’t want to see you on the evening news unless it’s for your awesome cave bar.

 

Snow Hookah - ©️ Justin Valas

Snow Hookah - ©️ Justin Valas

5. Put it in your hookah/bong. 

You can put snow in your hookah (or bong if you live in a state where it’s legal). The result is a smooth, refreshing hit. You may want to test a few methods of just snow or snow with water. Trial by error. If you try enough times, it won’t even matter anymore.

There you have it. Your Modern Outdoors list of snow activities. Go whoop it up all over Mother Nature’s frigid blanket. Have the time of your life. Be sure to report back and tell us about your antics and excitement.

 

Did we miss anything? What’s your favorite winter activity?

 

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How To Safely Hike in the Dark

Autumn is upon us and the days are getting shorter. You know what that means. Hot cocoa, marshmallows, and hot cocoa with marshmallows.

What better place to enjoy your hot cocoa than in the brisk darkness of the wilderness?

Damn right! But when night creeps up on you sooner than expected, you'll be wise to take precautions to ensure you make it home safe.

About this time a few years ago, in Glacier NP, I miscalculated how long it would take me to get back to camp. As a consequence, I found myself staring down a hungry bear in the darkness of the forest. I was just yards away from the false safety of my tent when I heard a rustling sound in the bushes. I turned and before I knew it, was face-to-face with a grizzly three times my size, with only 5 or 6 feet separating us.

Eyes glowing yellow in the moonlight, it turned toward me, but remained where it was, sizing me up. This was the most intense staring contest I’d ever been in. Seconds felt like minutes. Hand on my bear spray, I remained as still as I could, wondering if the bear could hear my beating heart.

All of the skills I learned over the years were rushing through my mind, as I plotted my possible escape. At the same time, I was slowly resigning and thinking, “there are worse ways to die.” All of this probably happened in a matter of seconds, but it felt like hours.

Then, like a cacophony of knights, a pack of coyotes started wailing off in the distance. My adversary seemed to take this as a sign of distraction, and just trotted off like it was nothing.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little offended. What, I’m not delicious enough for you? A pack of howling coyotes miles away is enough for you to just scoff at my savory offering?

Pfff, whatever, bear. Whatever.

 

Hiking and backpacking at night don’t have to be scary or treacherous. The darkness of the nighttime provides an unmatched serenity you can enjoy. Getting past the fear of the unknown is itself a courageous reward. It also makes room for an added layer of exploration with heightened senses. Sort of like being (partially) blindfolded. You’re relying on all your senses and will pick up on things you wouldn’t usually notice.

Same world. Different world.

Desert in Moonlight -  Thomas Shellberg

Desert in Moonlight -  Thomas Shellberg

Trekking in the moonlight is cool because the it casts interesting shadows, offering a unique perspective on your surroundings. If the moon is bright enough you may not need a headlamp, allowing you to see the night landscape with a broader view. 

If you’re lucky enough to be far from any city lights, the stars will blow your mind. If you're really lucky, you'll be able to see the Milky Way shining bright like an astronomical angel in the sky. 

Sounds great, right?

It is. 

It’s even better if you’re not constantly worrying about whether you’re going to make it out alive. So here are some basic tips to make sure your amazing night trek is the best experience you can have:

Headlamp by Night - ©️ Teddy Kelley

Headlamp by Night - ©️ Teddy Kelley

Bring a headlamp, or flashlight (or both). And bring extra batteries (and know how to change them, in case you have to do so in the dark). Being able to see is pretty fundamental to night hiking.

Bring some type of navigation. GPS, map & compass, etc. Knowing how to get around is important. Even more so at night when you have fewer landmarks and clever tools at your disposal.

Start slow and familiar. Short hikes first, close to home. Make sure you like it (you will), then go hog wild thousands of miles away.

Bringing a hiking partner isn't a bad idea. Someone to calm you when you see strange things (like a tree stump suddenly resembling a forest creature). It's also someone to share their hot cocoa and marshmallows with you.

Bring extra clothing, food, and water. When it gets dark, it gets cold. Fast. Waterproof clothing is useful for dew or rain. You’ll probably get hungry (as most people do when they’re trekking), so food is a necessity.

And water… duh. Let the other person carry the cocoa.

Bonus: Grab a camera. You can get some badass pictures at night. Star trails, the Milky Way, moonlight pictures, long-exposure shots of landmarks. Taking pictures of familiar landscapes at night allows you to see them in a new and fun way.

Milky Way - ©️ Jakub Gorajek

Milky Way - ©️ Jakub Gorajek

 

So go! Frolic in the glowing moonlight (safely). And if you see that bear, tell him I'm so totally over it.

 

What’s your favorite night trekking experience? Tell us in the comments.

 

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How To Have Sex in the Outdoors

Sex is great. We all love sex…. Right? Okay, most of us love sex.

That said, there’s a time and a place for the lust and thrust. 7 feet shy of that group of unsuspecting boy scouts over there might not be the best choice.

I’m sure we’ve all been there. You’re trekking through the woods, whistling the latest Jason Mraz tune to yourself, enjoying the sights. Suddenly, what’s this? A used pair of boy short panties hanging from a tree, swaying carefree in the breeze. Oh, and that’s not all. The panties’ friendly companion, Used Condom, in a lifeless heap on the ground below.

A familiar scenario to all, no doubt. Or maybe that was just me.

Surely this scene is in violation of the Leave No Trace principles. Tsk, tsk. Not to mention, there’s a poor woman out there suffering from unnecessary chafing. 

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Having sex in the outdoors can be an exciting, gratifying bonding experience between two (or three, or four) people. With a little forethought you can have your cake, eat it too, and still maintain the consideration of your fellow outdoors folk.

The Mating Game - ©️ Roger Smith

The Mating Game - ©️ Roger Smith

So, here are some Do's and Don'ts for feeding the rapture, responsibly:

DO consider investing in a 2-person sleeping bag (or quilt). I mean, trying to shove two people into a mummy bag is fine if you’re both small enough to join a circus. But most people will have more fun with a little space to roll and romp.

DO wear comfortable or easy-access clothing. Skirts, shorts, and softer fabrics. Help bring velcro back in style! The easier it is to take off, the faster you can get down to business. 

DO be respectful of your neighbors if you’re in close vicinity of others, in your tent. Turn off your lantern. You might not realize it but that light illuminates... everything. And, as difficult as it may be, try to be quiet. The family of four next to you might not be thrilled to hit the slumber at the sound of your orgasmic lullaby. 

DO bring a blanket if you plan on doing the horizontal hula, unless you like foreign objects lodged in random crevices. If you don't have a blanket, you can do the vertical tango against a tree or large bush. Again, watch out for objects aiming for your crevices.

Kissing in the Rain -  Jordan Deja

Kissing in the Rain -  Jordan Deja

DON’T be so quick to avoid bad weather. Sex in the rain is sensual. Sex in the hail, maybe not. But rain, yeah buddy. Sex under the stars can also be romantic.

DON’T have sex anywhere near trails, junctions, open spaces, outlooks, points of interests, or bodies of water. Make sure you’re well hidden (in a tent, bushes, or trees, which also help muffle sounds). Pick a spot where you can see someone coming before they see you. Getting arrested is a surefire mood killer.

DON’T leave anything behind. Pack it out! Our little friend the latex condom can take weeks to decompose. Go on, pull up a quick mental image of a cute little bear cub finding it and…. That’s it, you’ve got the idea. Pack it out.

 

Happy humping! :-)

 

Is there anything you would add to this list? Let us know in the comments.

 

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Stop and Smell the Passionflowers

It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not referring to the anticipated return of Game of Thrones. I’m talking about the time people start gearing up for thru-hikes and brewfests. As much as I’d love to talk about brewfests, that’s a different blog.

Every year, people inevitably ask me one of these questions: “Have you thru-hiked any of the long distance trails?” “Which trail do you want to thru-hike first?” “If you could thru-hike just one trail, which one would it be?”

In-N-Out Burger - ©️ Nicole Atkins

In-N-Out Burger - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Apparently, the direct path from southernmost to northernmost In-N-Out isn’t an acceptable answer. Whatever.

And every year, people stare at me in shock when my response is a casual lack of interest for the thru-hike. It seems every backpacker should be a thru-hiker. I must have missed that day at the Super Secret Annual Backpacker’s Meeting. Most likely I slept in, from staying up to watch Game of Thrones.

I have nothing against the thru-hike. I definitely see the appeal and have a yacht-load of respect for people who do it. It’s a difficult feat to be proud of, on a physical, mental, and emotional level. These are people who make sacrifices so they can enjoy the splendors of the outdoors, in raw form. Awesome.

Kanye Loves Kanye - ©️ Jen Lewis

Kanye Loves Kanye - ©️ Jen Lewis

But if I were to hike thousands of miles in one fell swoop, it would take me longer than it would take Kanye to stop obsessing over himself. That’s a very long time.

You get my point.

It’s not because I don’t like the idea of thru-hiking, or because I can’t make daily mileage. But rather than speed hiking my way through my voyage, I prefer to stop and smell the passionflowers. Then take pictures of them. (I’m not lugging around 20 pounds of camera gear for nothing.)

I mean, sure. I can stop once in a while, get a quick whiff, and push through, barely glimpsing the immense beauty around me. I’d much rather take my time to sniff that bad boy long enough to clog my sinuses for a week. Everything in life is a trade-off.

Passionflower - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Passionflower - ©️ Nicole Atkins

I can also rush through life, failing to appreciate simple pleasures like a stranger’s smile or double ply toilet paper. I’d rather take the time to revel in the moments that remind me how fortunate I am to be living, so I can wipe my ass in comfort.

It boils down to passion. We all have different passions, even in the outdoors. Some of us focus on distance, some of us focus on strength, some of us on aesthetics.

I'm the person who has to pause and freak out over how amazing everything is. Hyperbole at its finest. I snap a few pictures lest I become senile and forget the majestic views I was privy to, and continue on my way.

Shoal Lake in the Gros Ventre Wilderness of Wyoming -  Nicole Atkins

Shoal Lake in the Gros Ventre Wilderness of Wyoming -  Nicole Atkins

Maybe I want to take a nap amongst wildflowers to let my muscles rest. Perhaps I enjoy watching insects engage in their strange mating rituals. Imagine if I did these things for thousands of miles.

I’ll stick to my weeks-long adventures and call it good. In the end, it’s a pragmatic decision.

That’s not to say thru-hikers don’t appreciate their journey. No doubt they do. If you’re in the middle of nowhere for months at a time, appreciating your journey is probably the only thing keeping you sane. All I'm saying is the thru-hike isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.

Katahdin at Sunrise - ©️ Jeffrey Stylos

Katahdin at Sunrise - ©️ Jeffrey Stylos

Enjoying our passions is what brings purpose to our journey. If your passion is hiking 15 to 20 miles a day through the wilderness for several months, more power to you. I look forward to living vicariously through your pain. I mean pleasure. Pleasure.

If your passion is in the journey and you like to stop and smell the flowers along the way, you know where to find me. Backpacking is awesome. It doesn't always need to be a three-month commitment. We can even enjoy some In-N-Out to reward ourselves afterward. What’s life without reward?

For the record, my one choice for a thru-hike would be the Great Divide Trail. If I had to choose. But I'd still prefer to section hike it. :-)    

 

What’s your favorite thru-hike?

 

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Respecting our National Parks: It's Up To Us

Last summer I lived a stone's throw away from two of our nation's most pristine national parks. Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. As you can imagine, I saw a lot of tourists. And I do mean a lot.

Envision driving down the highway on your way to town. Routine grocery run. The Cheerios need milk and the cat needs kibble.

The Open Road - ©️ Nicole Atkins

The Open Road - ©️ Nicole Atkins

But wait! You're in Wyoming, where the buffalo roam free to nosh in the meadow next to the highway. Pretty cool, right? Yeah! The driver in front you agrees, so they slam on their brakes to get a better look. That's right, coming to a complete stop right in the middle of the highway. With you behind them, cruising at a healthy 60mph. Look, I get it. Buffalo are badass. But dude, the highway!!

 

 

The way I see it, you've got three choices:

  1. Slam on your brakes, hoping you don't take out their rear bumper, and chill in your car with some Bob Marley. After all, not everyone gets to see this level of awesome on the daily.
  2. Keep driving, right into the ass end of their rental car. Let's hope they're responsible enough to opt in for the coverage.
  3. Slide open that sunroof, stand up on your seat, and let loose a mighty roar fierce enough to make the driver and the buffalo retreat in fear.

Anyone who has lived near a popular park knows how maddening groups of tourists can be. I hate to harp on Yellowstone, and it’s not their fault. But, some of the most appalling behavior I've seen was in that park. I often feel like a renegade park Ranger when I'm there.

Roadside Bison -  Nicole Atkins

Roadside Bison -  Nicole Atkins

I've stopped counting the times I told people to step away from the very large, very wild, very dangerous bison. My favorite has to be the woman who was inching her way closer to a nursing bison. The murderous look in Momma Bison's eyes should have been enough to deter her. I calmly asked this woman for her address so I could show up to her own house next time she was nursing her child. Maybe she just needed to know how it feels. A little empathy can go a long way.

Or the time a teenage girl was dangling her grimy feet in a geyser 3 feet from a sign telling her to stay out of it. I was kind enough to warn her she should expect her skin to decay in the next 2-3 weeks (hence the signs- for her safety). Was I lying? Damn right. Kids, sometimes we have to lie for the advancement of the greater good. Life is complicated.

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone - Nicole Atkins

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone - Nicole Atkins

I don't think I've seen a teenager run that fast, outside of school sports or a mall sale.

More importantly, though, none of the fifty or more people standing around said a single thing to her. Many of them just stood and gawked, shaking their head. They knew it was wrong, so why not mention it? I’m sure several of them would have been more tactful about it than I was.

Why people feel the need to profess their undying love by carving it into a tree or boulder is beyond me. I can only hope that Cletus returns to the park with his future wife who will inevitably ask who the hell Tammy Mae is.

Prez Obama Selfie - ©️ Buzzfeed

Prez Obama Selfie - ©️ Buzzfeed

And don't get me started on selfie sticks. It's like walking through an obstacle course the way you have to dodge those things. Sometimes I imagine cartwheeling my way through the park, collecting as many selfie sticks as I can. Each one earns me coins, which I can then trade for something useful, like a waffle cone maker or Laserdiscs.

I could go on with the ridiculous things I’ve seen tourists do. I don’t need to because others have done it for me. Several lists of one-star Yelp reviews for national parks have come out. Yellowstone itself has seen their fair share of silly questions from the tourism crowd.

Crowd of Tourists at Old Faithful - ©️ Yellowstone NPS

Crowd of Tourists at Old Faithful - ©️ Yellowstone NPS

Tourism is a tricky beast. We’ve all been a tourist. Individually, most tourists are congenial creatures who just want to enjoy the beauty and awe the national parks inspire. But pack them into crowds and they morph into a mysterious force that strikes confusion into the heart of the most seasoned sociologists.

I generally don’t make a habit of teasing tourists, but I need them to help me make a point. The national parks are for all of us to enjoy. While I poke fun at tourists my point is it’s important to speak up. If you see someone violating our shared space, or putting anyone in danger, say something. Look, I get it. We’ve all fallen victim to the bystander effect at some point.

But really, if you see someone jamming their leg into a geyser full of bacteria, put a stop to that nonsense.

Artist Paint Pots Geyser in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Artist Paint Pots Geyser in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

This way we can all keep being tourists at these amazing places that make our country unique. The longer we keep the parks pristine, the longer we can enjoy what they have to offer. It's up to all of us.

The good news is, Yellowstone is such a massive piece of land, it’s easy to get away from the crowds.  The backcountry is substantial. You can hang out with herds of buffalo when you tire of running with the herds of people. You should check it out sometime if you haven’t already.

Madison Valley in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Madison Valley in Yellowstone - ©️ Nicole Atkins

 

Do you have any memorable tourism stories during your outdoor adventures? Tell us about them! We love stories.

 

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Life in Death Valley: The Super Bloom

Cracked Desert Earth - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Cracked Desert Earth - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Anyone who has been to Death Valley in Eastern California knows it can be a harsh, fearful environment.

I grew up in the comfortable climate of the Pacific Northwest, where the temps seldom rise above the mid-80s. The first time I came to Death Valley it was an instant shock to my delicate system. I stepped out of my car into the blistering 126-degree heat and nearly choked on my own stifled breath.

The second time I visited the park, I was actually blown over by a gust of wind, right onto my ass. Granted, I weigh in at just over a Benjamin (100lbs). But that’s 85% Grade-A lean meat of Benji. I'd expect a little more stability from all the time I put into my training.

As you can imagine, I fell in love with this place with a quickness. Every girl loves a bad boy who can choke her and knock her down, but still astounds her with awe and makes her cry tears of joy. Am I right?

Look, it’s a complicated relationship.

Dante's View at Sunrise in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Dante's View at Sunrise in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes at Sunset - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes at Sunset - ©️ Nicole Atkins

My point is this place doesn’t mess around when it comes to weather. I'm sure the variety of climate conditions contribute to the spectacular sunrise and sunsets you’ll see in the area.

Death Valley is a strange and beautiful place. The lowest point in the park is 282 feet below sea level, and the highest point rises to over 11,000 feet.

You can imagine there are a variety of landscapes you might not expect from a desert environment. That’s what you get for making assumptions. Shame on you.

One special surprise the park gifts us is the colorful display of wildflowers that spring up each year between the months of February and June.

The splash of color against the muted backdrop of sand create an appealing contrast usually reserved for oil paintings.

Desert Gold Close-Up - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Desert Gold Close-Up - ©️ Nicole Atkins

 

Once in a rare while, when the conditions are just right, the park will experience a Super Bloom. The last two Super Blooms were in 1998 and 2005, so the park hasn’t seen an event like this in over a decade. El Nino brought heavy rain to the area this year, making the once harsh environment fertile for another Super Bloom. We all waited in anxious anticipation to see what would happen, and the Desert of Doom did not disappoint.

Washes usually spotted with Desert Gold wildflowers are now blanketed in sheets of yellow. Just looking at it makes you want to roll around like a feline stoned on catnip.

Desert Gold Super Bloom at Sunrise - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Desert Gold Super Bloom at Sunrise - ©️ Nicole Atkins

You can actually frolic in the flowers like a happy child, waving your arms about, singing tunes from The Sound of Music. You can do this in the hottest place on earth (and driest in North America). Talk about a rare and splendid opportunity.

And let’s be honest. When you’re in a field of wildflowers the only appropriate action is to frolic gaily.

Desert Gold Super Bloom - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Desert Gold Super Bloom - ©️ Nicole Atkins

The Super Bloom won’t last long. Most of the flowers will be gone by late June or July. While they’re here, the surplus of vibrant blossoms is awaiting your deserved admiration. So go, see history in the making. Walk through the Valley of Death and see for yourself there’s no evil to fear. It’s a veritable gangsters paradise right now. Ah yes, that’s where I’ve heard that line. ;-)

Check out some of the great hikes while you’re there. Death Valley boasts some fantastic canyons and sand dunes. There's even a massive volcanic crater.

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins 

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins 

Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley - ©️ Nicole Atkins

 

Have you been to Death Valley, or been fortunate enough to witness a Super Bloom? Tell us about it!

 

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The Chutes and Ladders of Life: Shortcuts to Change

The hands of the clock tick faster the older we get. The places around us never appear the same twice. This is more likely a result of change within ourselves, than our actual environment.

Those who know me well can attest to the fact that I don’t just welcome change, I seek it out. Change helps me grow and gain a more holistic perspective of the world. I’m always looking for new opportunities to expand my limited perspective. How? By engaging with those who have differing viewpoints, traveling to new places, or ingesting various forms of psychedelics. (Just kidding?)

Another way I like to seek change is by experiencing new things. One way to do this without too much risk is to visit the same place twice, under different conditions. It’s like a shortcut to a new experience. I’m not going to call it an “adventure hack” because I don’t like the word “hack.” To me, hacking life indicates you’re too lazy to put in the effort. A matter of rhetoric, really. We’ll call it a shortcut to excitement and adventure by way of subtle change.

Chutes and Ladders - ©️ Ben Husmann

Chutes and Ladders - ©️ Ben Husmann

The Chutes and Ladders of life, my friends. I always preferred the ladders, myself.

I recently moved to the fine state of Utah. I’ve always loved southern Utah but have never seen it in the winter. I’ve heard of the winter wonderland Zion transforms into and I've seen pictures of the snow-covered hoodoos of Bryce.

Map of Utah Road Trip - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Map of Utah Road Trip - ©️ Nicole Atkins

 

 

So, I took advantage of a long holiday weekend and planned a 1500-mile solo road trip.

My first stop was the Bonneville Salt Flats because it was on the way. Timed just right, I happened by this place as the blazing sun rose over the horizon. I’m not a big fan of salt. That’s a long story for another time. Seeing this place is the closest I’ve come to being near salt without cringing. I almost shed my own salty tear. Almost.

Bonneville Salt Flats at Sunrise - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Bonneville Salt Flats at Sunrise - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Zion National Park was my next stop. Zion has always been one of my favorite places. It evokes a sense of grandiosity that has a way of putting me in my in my place.

The contrast between the colored sandstone and the starkness of the snow bewitched me.

Snow Covering Zion's Valley Floor - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Snow Covering Zion's Valley Floor - ©️ Nicole Atkins

It took me three hours to get from one side of the park to the other. This time, it wasn’t due to traffic, because there wasn’t any (which was nice). It's the constant eyeball-busting beauty of the place, at every corner.

West Temple, Sundial, and Altar of Sacrifice in Zion - ©️ Nicole Atkins

West Temple, Sundial, and Altar of Sacrifice in Zion - ©️ Nicole Atkins

The new-yet-familiar feeling around me was comforting and exciting. And let me tell you, if you haven’t camped in sub-zero temps, you haven’t lived.

Next on my list was Bryce Canyon National Park, the best or worst place to lose a cow, depending on your personal convictions. Bryce shuts down most of their higher-level viewpoints in the winter but you can trek to them if you have time. Even better, you can snowshoe among the hoodoos.

Snow-Capped Amphitheater in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Snow-Capped Amphitheater in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

The starkest difference visiting Bryce in the winter is the absence of tourists. I didn’t see 30 people there. No need to yell at anyone for feeding Cheetos to the chipmunks (true story). The solitude was welcoming. It was just me, the rising phalluses that make up this wonderful place, and the wildlife.

The sun shining on the fresh snow gives the amphitheater a glow that’s unique to the winter months.

Snow-Capped Amphitheater Close-Up in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Snow-Capped Amphitheater Close-Up in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

My last major destination was Capitol Reef National Park. Most people drive right by it when they’re in Utah, which is unfortunate. It's one of my favorite parks in the state. The landscape definitely looks different in the winter.

Capitol Reef in Winter - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Capitol Reef in Winter - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Change is good. It’s restorative. A good step toward change is to find those valuable shortcuts. Something that’s familiar, that you can make subtle changes to. We don’t always have enough time in life to make big, dramatic leaps. We also don’t have enough time to avoid change altogether.

Don’t risk falling down those chutes and landing somewhere at the bottom. Climb the ladders. Be cunning, and proud. When you get to the top, you’ll know you put in the work without being frivolous. While you’re at it, play a game of Chutes and Ladders once in a while. It’s a great metaphor for life.

 

Have you ever had the pleasure of seeing a place you love in a different light? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

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Should You Backpack Alone?

One of our readers asks if it’s better to go backpacking solo, or with company. Getting down to the crux of the issue, it’s a matter of personal preference. Both scenarios have their pros and cons. I think most people should try each one on before deciding which they prefer.  

As with most things, it's a good idea to weigh the benefits of both scenarios before deciding which you want to try first. We can assume here that the benefit of the opposite scenario acts as a disadvantage to each.

Without further ado, here are 5 benefits of backpacking alone, and 5 benefits of backpacking with company.

Benefits of backpacking alone:

You can sit with your thoughts, uninterrupted. We’re all a work in progress (it’s okay to admit it). As such, we should afford ourselves moments of quiet reflection to just check-in. You know, incite our inner hippie and all that. Mindfulness meditation is good for you; science says so. What better place to take a chill pill than the warm embrace of Mother Nature’s bosom? Without companions urging you to hurry up, you can sit in peace as long as you damn well please.

Relaxing - ©️ Kris Doman

Relaxing - ©️ Kris Doman

It’s peaceful. There’s a tranquility to trekking solo that you won’t get when you’re with others. You’ll notice subtleties that you usually wouldn’t, since you're not distracted by conversation. The sound of the trees creaking in the breeze or the changing colors of the sky as the day blends into dusk. Enjoy these small gifts. Take them back with you as precious reminders of the time you spent exploring. You’ll need them back home when your three-year-old is screaming bloody murder inches from your face.

Cow Carcass in Capitol Reef - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Cow Carcass in Capitol Reef - ©️ Nicole Atkins

You can go where you want, when you want. You can leave whenever you want, since you aren’t working around anyone else’s schedule. Feel like checking out that rotting animal carcass over there?

Do it. There’s nobody around to tell you how creepy it is. Want to take a different trail, just because? Why not? You are your own guide.  Hike at whatever pace is comfortable for you

You’ll learn something about yourself. At some point during the trip, you’ll probably be forced out of your comfort zone. It could be as simple as digging a cathole and dropping in what remains of that bag of Doritos. Or it could be more serious, like deciding what to do when you see a bear sneaking up on you. The point is, you have to rely on yourself for safety and survival. You’d be amazed what you’re capable of in situations where your only option is to move forward or stay alive.

It’s easier to meet new people. Hikers and backpackers are generally a congenial crowd. They’re often quick to offer a smile, hello, friendly conversation, and a cold brewsky. In my experiences, other hikers are more likely to stop and chat if you’re solo. It also helps if you’re not scowling, staring at the ground, or wielding a hatchet. Just a helpful tip. It’s a great way to meet new friends or hiking companions. Especially if you’re backpacking locally or you’re new to the area.

Benefits of backpacking with company:

Hiking in a Group - ©️ Jason Conley

Hiking in a Group - ©️ Jason Conley

Companionship can ease boredom or loneliness. Having someone to talk to can be a valuable barrier to boredom, should it  happen to creep in. Companions can also abate fears during the night when sounds become amplified and mysterious.  Fair warning: you may risk scaring away hiking partners if the conversation becomes sinuous or overly lengthy. Or so I’m told.

You can share ideas. If you get lost, run out of food, find yourself in dire weather, or can’t agree on which Golden Girl is the best, having someone to bounce ideas off of can increase chances of survival (or agreement in an argument). Maybe someone else has a skill you haven’t learned, or knows something about the area you might not. More minds are usually better than one.

You can split gear and duties. This is especially useful for longer trips, or if there’s a discrepancy in size or ability of hikers. George carries the 4-person tent and sleep system. Jessica carries the food. Manuel carries the cooking supplies and first-aid. Katie carries the frisbee, lawn golf set, and beer. She’s obviously the most important person in this group. Setting up camp is faster, cooking can be easier, etc.

It can be safer. In the case of an accident, the injured person can be helped faster with someone to provide first-aid or get help. The more people, the better. Worse, if a terrifying honey badger comes along, much better to have two (or more) people there to fend it off. Make sure that evil creature doesn’t come back again.

Bonding by the Lake - ©️ James Marchment

Bonding by the Lake - ©️ James Marchment

Hiking and backpacking are great ways to bond. Being in the wilderness with only the companionship of who you’re with is a great way to build a bond with that person. Or want to kill them. Hopefully the former. You’re relying on each other for safety and support. Sharing an experience like that with someone can be pretty special. What happens in the wilderness stays in the wilderness. Except material things. Pack it in, pack it out.

 

There you have it. Both sides of this coin have advantages. Some people prefer to backpack solo, some prefer to trek with others, and some prefer to mix it up. Whatever you end up choosing, make sure you tell someone where you’re going and when you plan on returning. If you’re going solo, be especially mindful in your preparedness.

 

Do you prefer to hike with someone, or alone? Why? Tell us in the comments.

 

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Home is Where You Plant Your Boots: A Tribute to Utah

Apparently, I love to move.

It must be the process of packing everything I own, driving thousands of miles, and unpacking all those things again that excites me.

It could also be that there’s so much world out there to experience, even in our own backyard. I just have the wanderlust to experience it.

Welcome to Utah - ©️ Aram Kudurshian 

Welcome to Utah - ©️ Aram Kudurshian 

No, it’s definitely got to be the tediousness of carrying heavy boxes that gets me going.

Whatever the reason, I moved again. This time to the fine state of Utah. Therefore, this post is a tribute to Utah.

Shout out to Utah!

I’ve had a love affair with southern Utah since I first laid eyes on it. Birds were chirping somewhere in the distance. Lionel Richie’s “Hello” softly filling the air.

I knew it was mutual because the "Welcome to Utah" sign offered up a stylish wedding ring.

The contrast of the deep blue skies against the brilliant red sandstone is like nothing I’ve seen. In fact, I remember people accusing me of over saturating untouched photos. No, it really is that colorful.

Kolob Canyons in Zion - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Kolob Canyons in Zion - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Zion National Park is, by far, one of the most spectacular places I’ve visited. It’s a place that simultaneously reminds you of how important and insignificant you are.

The grandiosity of the massive canyon walls are astounding and humbling; the beauty unforgettable.

Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing - ©️ Nicole Atkins

If the National Parks were my children, Zion would be the obvious favorite. It’s a good thing I don’t have children.

Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. All places everyone should see in their life. If not for the views, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, climbing, stargazing, or other outdoor activities, then for the rich history. Your life isn’t complete until you’ve seen these places. They're even more beautiful in the winter.

Amphitheater in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Amphitheater in Bryce Canyon - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Fruita Valley in Capitol Reef - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Fruita Valley in Capitol Reef - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Turret Arch via  North Window in Arches - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Turret Arch via  North Window in Arches - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Utah loves its National Parks. And why shouldn’t it? In 2013, the federal government threw a temper tantrum and shut down. As a result, the National Parks closed. But Utah said, “screw you” and struck a deal to reopen their National Parks. Go Utah!

But wait, there’s more!

Utah isn’t just about Mother Nature’s slots and dried up valleys. Up north is a different scene. Just a few hours away are the Rockies. The Wasatch and Uinta Ranges offer even more opportunities for play. The Wasatch have some of the best skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing in the world. The Uintas have several peaks taller than 13,000ft. Who can resist such bountiful peaks?

Wasatch Winter - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Wasatch Winter - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Ruth Lake in Uintas - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Ruth Lake in Uintas - ©️ Nicole Atkins

That’s a lot of diversity. There’s no excuse for boredom in a place like Utah. What other state offers so much variety in one arbitrarily designated set of boundaries?

Utah’s nature is boundless, but it’s great for other reasons too. The people here are, overall, super friendly. A lot of people migrate to Utah for a good reason. Every time I visit, I meet people from one of the places I’ve lived before. In a coffee shop, on a hike, in the bathroom (don’t ask). 

I definitely look forward to planting my boots here for a while.

 

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What Does Adventure Mean to You?

What is "adventure"?

I look down and feel a sense of lightness like I could float away any second. The wind blows locks of hair into my face, and I squint to see through them. I see the crepuscular rays shining down upon the earth, like razor sharp reminders of how small we are, and I feel humbled.

I close my eyes and fill my lungs with the cold, crisp air. It's so quiet. I’m reminded that a few thousand feet below, millions of people hurry about their busy lives. 

Breathe.

Yellowstone Lake from Avalanche Peak - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Yellowstone Lake from Avalanche Peak - ©️ Nicole Atkins

I can feel my heart pumping hard in my chest, the excitement of standing on top of the world rhythmically beating, wanting to escape, and I smile.

I lean forward, knowing that one wrong move will end my life. This realization sends a rush through me. I back away, instead opting to sit with my feet dangling over the edge as I reflect on the world below.

This is a question I’ve asked myself many times and rarely do I come up with the same answer twice.

Is adventure taking risks? Does it require trying new things? Is it staring fear in the (proverbial) face and just going for it? This article asserts that the formula for adventure is novelty + courage. Maybe. By that logic, are those with a natural openness to new experiences more adventurous?

Further, is adventure an activity, or a characteristic of an activity? Is it an innate part of our personality? Can it be learned or harnessed? Is it a mental state that’s salient or dependent on context?

Adventure is something that I crave in my life, just as much as I crave profundity, awe, variety, and love. It’s the driving force of my motivation to keep searching for new, meaningful experiences. It's the hallmark of my most memorable stories.

Angel's Landing View - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Angel's Landing View - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Sometimes being adventurous is about taking risks and facing fears, but it doesn’t have to be. I can find adventure standing on the edge of a cliff, pebbles dropping beneath my feet.

I can find adventure frolicking through a golden meadow in the warm afternoon sun. For me, adventure is a state of mind. It’s salient. It’s something I decide to own when I go out into the world and do my thing (whatever that thing happens to be).

My adventure can be as grand as the terrifying newness of falling in love, or as simple as the first sip of a new craft beer I’ve never tried. Maybe I’m trying a new beer while sitting across the table from someone I’m falling in love with.

Whoa.

Adventure doesn’t even have to be one specific activity. I’ve lived entire years that I would consider an adventure and been in relationships with people that I would call adventurous.

And the greatest adventure of all? Life. The collective emotions, experiences, relationships, and lessons that make up this journey we call life. Up until the end, life will be the best damned adventure I’ve ever had.

 

What does adventure mean to you?

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Mother Nature’s Grasp: The Wild Ride of Life

Roller Coaster of Life - ©️ Jordi Payà

Roller Coaster of Life - ©️ Jordi Payà

Life is a roller coaster. For some of us, it’s an exciting ride with twists and turns that leave us overflowing with joy by the time we get off. For others, it’s a terrifying journey, where no attempt at salvation will protect you from what lies ahead, and you’re left puking all over yourself, and probably the people around you.

Most of us live somewhere in between. Life has a way of taking you through periods of excitement, and periods of terror. The problem is, you can’t just throw up your arms and ask to get off the ride.

Before this blog was born, I fell in love. For the first time in my life, I saw a future with someone. So much so that when he asked me to marry him I said, “yes.”

And then one day, not long after his proposal, he just walked out without offering any explanation. Poof. Just packed his things and left, refusing to ever speak to me again.

Life. It happens to the best of us.

When one endures an event like this, it rocks our foundation. I had a choice. I could let it ruin me, or I could learn and grow from it. With some effort and hard work, I chose the latter.

The first month was the hardest. I felt completely lost. I couldn’t find a moment of peace, no matter what I did, or where I was.

Until one day, I found myself standing in the woods, staring into the deep sapphire reflection of Crater Lake.

Crater Lake - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Crater Lake - ©️ Nicole Atkins

This was the first moment I’d had in the midst of this immense pain and chaos that I felt at peace.

I’ve always been a child of the wilderness, but it was at that moment that I became distinctly aware of how profound Mother Nature’s grasp on me is. She reached out, wrapped her comforting arms around me, and told me that everything was going to be all right.

Tree hugger - ©️ Rob Coleman

Tree hugger - ©️ Rob Coleman

Before I knew it, I was hugging her trees right back, splinters be damned.

From that moment, I made a promise to make my relationship with her more prominent in my life. It’s clearly one that is meaningful and reciprocal; it doesn’t get much healthier than that, does it?

For the next several months I took steps to building this relationship, even going so far as moving from my home city of Portland, Oregon to a cabin in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming, to explore a whole new area of wilderness. Out of the city and into the wild (though I don’t recommend this for everyone).

The intensity of comfort I experienced surrounded by nature surprised even myself. The support I had from the people in my life was nothing short of amazing. Even so, there’s no match for that feeling of deep connectedness one experiences being completely alone in the wilderness; the ultimate paradox that only Mother Nature can provide.

I’ll be getting back on that roller coaster now, ready and prepared for the next turn ahead.

 

Have you ever experienced a pivotal moment in the wilderness? I’d love to hear about it.

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