Monthly Archives: April 2017

End of a Journey, but the Adventure Continues

Thorang La Pass, new elevation high point for me along the Annapurna Circuit.

Thorang La Pass, new elevation high point for me along the Annapurna Circuit.

I’ve now been back in the United States for two weeks since my six month world travels ended and no surprise, things have been busy. Catching up with friends and family, cleaning house, doing ‘adult’ things (stupid taxes and bills), playing with the kitty and generally adventuring whenever I can, it’s a rough life. People keep asking if it is hard to ‘reintegrate’ into the US and if I miss living on the road, and the answer is easily, no. It’s good to be home, now that doesn’t mean that my adventuring is done by a long shot, just changing pace. The #Funployment will continue through the summer, with lots of road trips and a few flights in the works, but keeping Boulder as a home base for all the fun. A few of the potential trips are a visit to the Guadalupe Mountains, canyoneering in the Utah desert, maybe a few weeks in Belize (anyone?), some exploration and maybe a volcano or two in the PNW and some big plans in Glacier National Park. <- So if you want in on the fun, ping me and let’s plan something epic!

Ambling through the dark narrows of Buckskin Gulch. Adventure is not too far from home. April 2017.

Ambling through the dark narrows of Buckskin Gulch. Adventure is not too far from home. April 2017.

Kaytlyn and Ely running into Ding Canyon. The Utah desert holds so many wonderful treasures. April 2017.

Kaytlyn and Ely running into Ding Canyon. The Utah desert holds so many wonderful treasures. April 2017.

But back to this whole traveling out of a backpack for six months deal. The first few days back at home were a bit odd, not waking up in a new location every few days, speaking English all the time, the familiarity of home and the city around. Part of me will definitely miss waking up each day to a new adventure, but part of me is excited to be home as well. I’ve learned a lot in the past six months, but I don’t feel like I’m a different person, just an evolving one. Normally I’d pull on thoughts from my journals for all this rambling, but being that I’ve had 90% of my journal writing stolen, I’m only left with my memories, which I guess is the more important thing. I started this journey with no idea where I was heading or why, only that I had a plane ticket to Thailand and eventually I wanted to make it to Nepal and Patagonia, filling in the gaps along the way. It’s such a different feeling living the adventure day to day and just seeing where life takes you, and it’s made me realize that while planning is a great way to maximize what you see in a location, are you really seeing what matters most? Anyone can hop on a tour and take the postcard shot or follow the guidebook directions, but what really makes a trip special are those unexpected moments where you get to experience the real culture, not the tourism, where you get to meet the real people, not the facade put on for foreigners. I think anyone who travels is guilty of rushing to the iconic site or the stereotypical experience that we’re told we’re supposed to have, but we need to remember that the journey of getting anywhere is a big part of traveling.

Temples of Ankor in Cambodia.

Temples of Ankor in Cambodia.


Steve watching sunrise on Annapurna from South Basecamp.

Now to say my travels went smoothly would be a lie. There were numerous transportation mishaps, a few mis-schedules, I was robbed twice (losing ALL my ID, credit cards, cell phone and SD card once), got sick a few times and did numerous stupid things along the way. So is life, make mistakes and learn from them (hopefully). But of course the negative happenings and mishaps were a minor part of what was a fantastic journey. I met so many wonderful people from all over the world (made some new friends), saw countless amazing sights, had innumerable new experiences and had my eyes opened a few times to new ways of thinking. I’ve definitely been bitten by the travel bug, but I don’t really have the desire to sell off all my worldly belongs and hit the road permanently for years to come.

Chatting with some of my students in Shishaghat, Nepal.

Chatting with some of my students in Shishaghat, Nepal. Photo by Zahariz.

Enjoying sunrise over Bagan with new friends.

Enjoying sunrise over Bagan with new friends.

While I love the unknown that comes with traveling new places, visiting new cultures and meeting new people, I’m also a little bit of a creature of habit. I like my group runs with friends, Mondays at Southern Sun, playing with my kitty, climbing Colorado’s 14ers, and having more than 3 changes of clothes to wear on a weekly basis. But mostly, I just love where I live. I love Boulder (for its good and bad), I love the Rocky Mountains, I love my friends and I love the lifestyle my home affords me, so being home is a pretty darn good thing. Though it doesn’t hurt that Colorado is a great launching off point for all kinds of far flung adventures; I can drive to Moab in 6h, the Tetons in 8h, fly to the West coast in 2.5h, Mexico in 4.5h, Colombia in 10h, meaning that adventure is never more than a day away. Even after traveling my list of places to go and things to see is pretty large. As anyone who has traveled will tell you, each time you travel and check off a bucket list item, you add another half-dozen (or more) to the list, its one of those good problems to have. So I look forward to continuing to check off bucket list items and adding many more. For now I’ll enjoy running, climbing and skiing at home in Colorado for a little bit, but just until that next adventure presents itself and the wanderlust grows so great that it needs to be heeded. Thanks to all who shared travels and experiences with me and to the Pro-Leisure Tour for making this all possible.

Sometimes when you don't share a language, it doesn't matter. Making friends in Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Sometimes when you don’t share a language, it doesn’t matter. Making friends in Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Marveling at the Torres, in Torres del Paine Parque Nacional.

Marveling at the Torres, in Torres del Paine Parque Nacional.

Sunrise over Paine Grande town, pinch me, because this can't be real....

Sunrise over Paine Grande town, pinch me, because this can’t be real….

Lastly just a few take homes from things I’ve learned along the way.

The most important thing I learned was there is never a ‘perfect’ time for anything, and if an opportunity presents itself sometimes you just need to leap full in and figure the rest out later.

When I first left I didn’t think I could actually live out of an 11-12kg backpack for six months, but turns out you really don’t need a whole lot for life on the road, and I could have gotten by with less (ping me if you want specifics).

Having never traveled Asia the language barriers made me nervous, but in the end many people spoke English and even those that didn’t were eager to help out. Hand gestures are surprisingly useful, and I learned a lot of Spanish along the way.

Sometimes you just need to trust that things will work out. Countless times I was on a bus or in a taxi going somewhere, never knowing exactly what was going on, or where we were, but it always worked out in the end.

Learning the local language (even a few phrases) can go a long way.

Say Yes to new experiences, new foods and new ideas.

Not every location is right for every person. The big city party scenes of SE Asia weren’t my thing, but the small towns offered so many wonderful experiences that were more my style. It’s ok if you don’t want to booze it up every night with the 20-somethings, be you.

Most people are wonderful (locals and travelers); friendly, kind, helpful and mean you no harm, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of your situation as there are a few rotten eggs out there.

When something bad happens it’s no use crying over spilled milk, clean it up and get on living and enjoying the present and future. Losing my SD card sucked, but once it was gone there was nothing I could do but go make new memories.

Lastly, it’s ok if you don’t have a definitive plan for your life. Life is too short to be locked into one single mindset/path, be open to evolution and change.

Embracing the Unexpected

First views of the mountains reflecting in Lago Pehoè.

In my first blog after I quit my job I wrote about how I wasn’t sure what I expected out of my long term travels. Maybe some adventure, cultural enlightenment, new friends, but more that I’d just take the journey in stride, one day at a time. In my previous life as a working stiff, travels had always been very well planned out, because you don’t want to waste a day when you only have a few weeks. This is what really separates long term travel from it’s shorter counterparts (for me), the freedom and flexibility one has to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. In a 2-3 week trip one can visit all the beautiful places I’ve seen (obviously not in one trip), and meet lots of amazing locals and travelers, but what if an opportunity arose mid-travel? You probably couldn’t/wouldn’t change your entire trip to do something completely unplanned.

Don’t feel bad I didn’t get to backpack the loop, I got in two pretty nice long runs.

The volunteer crew at Erratic Rock before heading out. Photo courtesy of the @TDPLegacyFund

After being shut out of the multi-day trekking options in Torres del Paine, I did some long day runs (see earlier blog), returning to Puerto Natales each night to relax at Erratic Rock. One night while sitting and having a glass of wine I overheard the hostel staff Bill and Jess talking about a volunteer trail building opportunity that they were helping to organize in Torres del Paine the first week of March. For those of you who know me well, you know I have a passion for giving back to the parks and trail systems that so many of us heavily use, and sometimes neglect and abuse. I’ve even taken several courses on trail design, maintenance and construction, along with how to lead volunteer groups in such settings (Thanks Boulder Country Parks & Open space!). So with all that in mind I couldn’t pass up the possibility of joining the group and proceeded to beg my way into the team. Thanks to the folks at the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund I was now part of the team of volunteers, and I’d be back in Puerto Natales the first week of March to head into the park for a full week of camping and trail building.

The team enjoys the catamaran ride across the lake.

The sea of tents at Paine Grande town.

After a five day stint in Ushuaia and a little over a week playing around on the trails of El Chalten and El Calafate I caught a bus back to Puerto Natales for a few nights at Erratic Rock before heading into the park to work. It was kind of like hanging out with the family, and I even got put to work by Bill a little bit, always happy to help out. Friday March 3rd much of the crew met up and made some last minute arrangements before heading out. The group was comprised of several of us gringos from the States, a couple Chileans from up north, a few local guides, a traveler from France and a whole bunch of the local Guarda Parques (park service). On Saturday afternoon we loaded into several vehicles and drove the back road into Torres del Paine. Those of us non-locals marveled at the views of the mountains reflecting off a dead calm Lago Pehoè, how did we get so lucky? We then transferred all our gear from the vehicles onto the catamaran at Pudeto and set off on the 30min journey across the lago to Rifugio Paine Grande, our home for the next week. We were treated to beautiful views as we slowly motored across the Lago. Saturday was spent setting up camp and getting to know our colleagues as we dined in the rifugio, fancy living.

Day one of trail work, the team getting acclimated.

Relaxing back in camp after a successful day.

Work began on Sunday with John (ex-US forest service ranger) from Oregon heading up the trail design and organizing the team. I’d take a secondary role alongside Legacy Fund leader Emily helping organize the teams of workers and answering questions about trail design and trying to translate to the Spanish speakers when possible (my Spanish is still pretty rough, but getting better). We built waterbars, cut bushes, cleared calafate (damn thorny bastards) and dug new trail thread from 9-5 each day. For those of you who haven’t done this it’s a heck of a cross training workout. We then spent our afternoons unwinding in Paine Grande town, multi lingual chatting, playing games and drinking beer/wine. It was such a wonderful mix of personalities and people from all backgrounds, and while we slaved away all day, we had plenty of fun in the process.

The Milky Way stretching over Lago Pehoe. Not sure why it won’t rotate.

Sunrise on Paine Grande town from the catamaran dock.

Digging new trail, with some nice views.

We had to trim a shit ton of brush and stubborn calafate.

Torres del Paine (and Patagonia ) is known for unstable weather, and after three days of hard work in misty conditions Wednesday looked terrible (3-4cm of rain). We decided a day of rest would do us all good, so we kicked back, wrote in journals, played games and just enjoyed each other’s company, because boy did it rain, just nice and steady all day. When I awoke Thursday morning the rain was tapering off, but I found a lake around my tent, and that several of my neighbors were less fortunate and their tents were IN the lake. We made a mild effort to dry some things out, and moved tents out of the lagoon before heading out to inspect how our handy work on the trails had held up to the rain.

Working away on both sides of the outlet of Lago Skottsburg.eventually there will be a bridge here.

Afternoon break to enjoy the views.

Relaxing in the dining hall as the rain fell.

Lago Rifugio, my tent sat front and center on the hill, while four others sat in the puddle to the right.

Obstacle #1 was crossing the shin deep river that had appeared between us and the guard shack. Thursday we split into two groups, one building boardwalk over a marshy section, while Emily and I took team #2 back to keep cutting new trail. Obstacle #2 came in the form of our usual river crossing, formerly on stones, but now fully submerged. Many of us resorted to damp feet, then it was back to cutting, weeding and digging. Though our group was slowly dwindling, those that were left made for a fun crew, as we got to know each other even better. Friday dawned our last day of digging in the dirt, after bidding John (our fearless leader) farewell, we finished up some last sections and called it a successful week. We’d dug more than 1km of hard fought new trail and built 37 waterbars.

Crossing the river at peak flow .

How pretty is this newly cut trail? Our final segment of the week.

Before and after construction #1.

Before and after shot of some new trail #2.

The last thing in the agenda was a night of celebration with all our new friends as a full moon rose into clear skies illuminating the mountains, lakes and fields. It was fitting that our final morning dawned clear, as the sun’s rays slowly melted their way down Paine Grande and into camp. Sadly this is where we had to bid many of the Guarda Parques farewell, while the rest of us headed back to Puerto Natales before eventually going our respective ways. Simply getting to work in the park for the week was an absolute treat in its own right, but getting to meet and share the experience with such a wonderfully diverse group of people made it just magical. Our Spanglish games in Paine Grande town, dance parties on the trail, plenty of poor translations (many by me), realizing you pitched your tent in a stream bed and quiet mornings with friends watching the sun rise over the the magical land of Torres del Paine. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the week, and am so glad I decided to say “screw the plan, I’m doing this”, when the opportunity arose. While most people won’t have this flexibility while traveling I’d implore you not to be afraid to say yes to the unexpected, and let life be fluid, because who knows what opportunity might come your way, and when it might happen. A life of experiences and memories is much better than one filled with “What IFs”.

Enjoying some vino and pisco by moonlight.

Taking in one last sunrise.

One last boat ride out of the park with some new friends.

Goodbye for now, but not forever.