When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
Author: Sonia McLaughlin
I'm a Brazilian American girl living in Austin, Texas aspiring to grow open minded to different cultures, new experiences, outside knowledge, and unfamiliar places in order to find a home outside of my comfort zone.
The last five years have been tremendous years for self-reflection, a cultivation of gratitude, and boundary pushing in a pursuit to grow spiritually. As I look back on the time that has led me to this moment, nestled in my long time hammock by the Colorado river in Austin, I feel emotionally overwhelmed. A sense of appreciation, gratitude, and pride mix together and fill me with a simple joy. It is captivating, but a significant factor that comes from these feelings is understanding how I got here.
I come from a bi-cultural family of the upper middle-class tier. My father hails from a line of east coast Irish Catholics and my mother from a family of Brazilian Italians. My mother connected with a long lost relative in the United States through snail mail and quite directly, proposed she come pay a visit. So, months later, my mother immigrated from Brazil to Pleasanton, California in 1987 where she would study for a business certificate from Berkeley in California, work at McDonald’s to afford the lifestyle and have the opportunity to train her English language skills. She had no anticipation that she would meet and marry my father who was visiting Pleasanton for work travel at the time. It’s amazing, from different sides of the world, they managed to find each other by way of their relatives having immigrated to the U.S. at completely different times at opposite ends of the earth. The likelihood that they would attend a Halloween Party in a sleepy town, seems like a million to one. However, they met and though my mother was not falling for my father’s charm at first. He got her.
Aside from having immigrant families and enjoying the wearing of costumes, my parents have something else in common. They each unfortunately came from broken homes. Raised amidst divorces and financial complications that usually follow, my mother and father suffered from feelings of insecurity. I’ve heard dozens of times from my father that him and mom wanted to give my brother and I a childhood that they did not have. One that was light, optimistic, adventurous and full of love.
So, they worked hard and they even though retired today, continue to do so. Starting out as a secretary in Brazil and climbing her way up at the bottom in the U.S., my mother demonstrated her relentless determination to achieve a successful career in marketing. She missed many sit down dinners, but now when I look back I do not lament on the dinners that she missed, but am proud of her for being a Latin woman who bought food for the table. My father worked full time as well, usually as a project manager for various tech companies. Yet, I know him best as taking on the project at home as the family rock, peacemaker, and listener. These two make an awesome team. With hard work, discipline, vision, and love for each other, they planned and executed their lives together with Eric and I riding in the back seat. They made sure we got into good schools, rode tandem bikes with us almost every week, gave us the space to have our own bedrooms, cut a salad for us for every dinner, purchased Christmas gifts that always littered the tree, and they penny pinched so my brother and I could go to college without worrying about student loans. It would be impossible to count all their contributions. In my parents embracing arms, I have received so much love, care, and comfort which has given me the confidence to try almost anything once. It is in the influence of their love, that gas given me the courage to adventure.
Every now and then I am shocked at how many years it has taken me to realize what a privilege it is to have the family I do. I choose to use the word “privilege” because to have such a blessing is certainly not considered a right.
When I return to the river, I am different, a woman with more gratitude to uncover. Today, I am grateful that I was taught to swim.
We kept it chaotically organized, we cooked there when the lodge served sandwiches, we gathered under citronella candlelight, we used it as a barbershop, and before we left it for an adventure, we presented John Denver’s picture with a kiss. The place that became one of the most unique, special, and sometimes most frustrating places I’ve come to love. It is spoken of as “The Trip House”. The building is one of the oldest on the Birch Trail Camp for Girls property. There are painted paddles on the ceiling from previous staff, names from the past scribbled on the walls, car seats from mystery vehicles, camping recipes collected over the years, words of the wise from past trippers, and large topographic maps on display. My favorite, however, is the hovering white board that offers a canvas for insight to be shared from whomever feels compelled to hold and press the pen.
It’s the place where all the magic happens and where all the pixie dust is stored. Yes, all. The Trip House equipment sits cold and silent through the winters in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, patiently awaiting to return to life in the summer. Tents, maps, sat phones, stakes, tarps, pots, the best camping nonstick pan ever, coolers, life vests, Duluth Packs, and much more are organized and maintained within its walls. Used for the reputable canoe, hiking, and backpacking getaways that camp has offered since 1959. It is amazing to me how longstanding some of the gear is. Some of the Duluth Packs are from 1970 and still managing to carry Dutch ovens, repel water, and have their straps pulled. The food barrels have stuck around a while as well, Big Lady, Thing One, Thing Two, and Juanita. They’ve endured countless late-night hangings from black bears. However, the canoes, named after The Simpsons characters, deserve the most recognition. They have been stuck, dumped, dropped, and dragged across boulders along the Namekagon River for decades. Stacked next to the trip house after each arrival, the canoes return with stories and scars that add to their character year after year. The Trip House has many wrinkles of time spent in the summer sun to proudly own.
The Trip House is where you would find the Trip Leaders when they weren’t on trip. Sure, it is where we coordinated the logistics and the gear. It is where we worked. Yet, there is also a quality about the atmosphere that attracted us to spend our free time too. It was our house. In the middle of the woods. Garage doors give it a natural light, the smell of wood fire emulated from out back, and a plaque overhangs the front door that reads “May the Peace of the Wilderness be With You.” The Trip House is poetry, an old friend, and a warm heart like entering a manifested childhood memory. When it rained, we were beckoned to it for shelter. When it poured, we gathered in it for support. The campers sensed the Trip House’s significance too. They are drawn to it, like moths to a lantern, they lingered and surrounded it until we locked the doors and hid the key. The stories of past trips echo from the walls of the trip house through the trees of their tiers. Maples, Lindens, and Tamaracks whisper to one another the oral histories of the Boundary Water Wilderness, Isle Royale, and the Apostle Islands. Nearby, in their bunks they dreamed for their own unique experiences one day. The Trip House makes those trip dreams come true. Then, the voyagers’ names are engraved next to those of the past and they are remarked upon forever. It wasn’t only the Trip Leaders’s house. Yet, a house of memories and dreams for all to enjoy. All.
When the last day of camp finally raised its bittersweet head, I made sure to spend as much time in the Trip House as possible. It would go through three seasons before the doors would be unlocked for more outdoor adventure. I pictured the house enveloped in orange, red, and brown birch trees. Leaves gently landing on the roof and rolling off, reminding me of a game of roof ball. I closed my eyes and saw it covered in snow, hardly recognizable, but a delight to visualize. Icy, yet still a feeling of warmth. Reminded of Sigurd Olson, I envisioned what it would be like to witness the snow slowly melt. I wondered if there would be pussy willows to signal the coming of spring. I wandered my eyes across every detail of the Trip House as I did the very first day. As though, I would absorb some of its magic to carry with me where ever I go. I believe I did. I still am. I can imagine that, if Peter Pan were to have ever given Never land a formal goodbye, it would have a comparable sentiment. There was a comfort in saying goodbye. I didn’t shed as many tears as I thought I would. I knew our memories would live on, through the Trip House. It would stay the same and I would go back to Texas to enrich my home as the Trip House enriched my heart.
When arriving in Chicago, I met up with a great friend of mine, Sydney. She got us a place to stay in Wicker Park, a safe neighborhood with a lot of Puerto Rican influence. We slept in an old complex building with blue doors, corroded brick walls, and years of rust. It reminded me a lot of “Hey Arnold”, a Nickelodeon show I watched growing up. I pictured animals running out the door every day we opened it to explore the city.
It appeared to become a reoccurring ritual of ours to get coffee in the morning. A coffee shop called Dark Matter in particular. The place, besides having a clever name, is small but not to be underestimated. Pretty sure I had the best cortado of my life several times there. I’m not sure how the coffee is made differently, but I guess that’s part of the magic.
We took the metro to Navy Pier, where we heard of a spot Sydney could rent a bicycle. The place is called Bobby’s Bike Hike. After she got a bike to use at an affordable cost, we went over to my friend’s brother’s house to pick up mine that I had shipped through Bike Flight. Kenny was super cool and kept my bike for a few days until I got there. Sydney and I assembled it in front of his apartment building in Northern Chicago near Wrigley Field. Then, we rode down the bike path from Foster Beach along Lake Michigan towards downtown. This is a must if you are cycling in Chicago. The bike path is safe, well built, and the view is gorgeous. Oh yeah, we also got a Chicago dog at Budacki’s before riding down the path and those were DELICIOUS.
Chicago streets can be a bit intimidating. We rode on Milwaukee Avenue to downtown on a Sunday and that was pure anxiety. It seems as though everyone in the city is bustling around that area whether its shopping, eating, socializing, or all of the above. Super hip area for sure, but for biking, I would avoid it. Especially on the weekend and especially especially because of the six way intersection at North and Milwaukee.
I’d also like to mention that the time of year we visited directly influenced our experience in Chicago. Spring is gorgeous in many states. Yet, Chicago has it’s very own. Tulips sprouted from the parks, the flower beds of apartment complexes, and even from the cracks in the pavement. The flowers are everywhere and in various colors that you wouldn’t know existed.
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You can also tell that the tulips directly affect the locals. I haven’t experienced a winter in comparison to a winter in Chicago, but I can imagine that I would be in a better mood with sunshine and flowers springing about myself. People were friendly, humming, barbecuing and celebrating the Spring season. This house in our neighborhood even had a seasonal tree in their front yard.
I could also definitely tell what time of year it was when I visited the bike shop. Ciclo Urbano is right down the street of where our Airbnb was. There were tons of folks gathered getting their bicycles tuned up for cycling weather. It reminded me of Yellow Bike Project in Austin. Many cyclists that knew each other, lots of old bike parts, and character splattered all over the walls depicting the neighborhoods’ eclectic culture. They fixed my brakes before I began my bike tour and even gave me some tips on routes I should take heading up north to Milwaukee. Great service and super friendly bunch.
Of course, when visiting Chicago, you gotta visit the big ol’ bean in Millennium Park. You can’t cycle around the park unfortunately, but it’s not terrible to walk your bike through either. There is a great amphitheater, tulips bordering tulips, and the bean reflects the city back at you like a fun house mirror. It’s pretty neat.
So, we went bike camping in December. You’d think camping in December is not possible, but Texas has a mild winter. I will say though that three days prior to the ride, it snowed. It was the most snowfall we had since 2004. It was a gosh darn miracle. It didn’t happen again. Thank god.
We left from my house December 9th around 11:00am. The temperature was mid 50s with sunny sun shine. We, meaning, Emily, Johanna, and myself. It was a smaller group than the previous camping trip, but it was awesome to have a ladies only ride. The route pictured above was developed by yours truly. I came up with it spur of the moment, with a bottle of wine and the strong dislike of biking FM 969. Sure, it would be about an hour quicker and 10 miles shorter, but dangerous. Cars swish by on farmer market roads like speed limits don’t exist. I also always seem to do everything the hard way. I drove the route alone the night before we left to make sure it was all good. It was and I convinced the other ladies that this route would be best.
The route is a million times better than FM 969. I am not biased in saying that. We hardly had any hot wheel vehicle action near us while taking these rural roads. Also, it was flat with occasional hills. A lot of the time we were able to ride side by side and actually talk to each other while en-route. A rare thing cycling. The fall color was super beautiful too and we saw some leftover snow sloshed on the sides of the road. We made frequent stops, probably about three where we ate each others snacks and talked about snacks. After Sayersville, we started to get onto some gravel via FM 157. My bike, a Fairdale Weekender with 29ers, was able to handle the gravel really well. I didn’t have any issues with it. We went through cow pastures and actually went straight through a herd of cows. they were crowded in the dirt road looking at us like we were a bunch a freaks. Emily and I were up front and a little skeptical of how to approach them.
They completely mooved out of our way. Once we got close enough to them, they scattered, but not without a lot of judgmental looks and some bucking. Fortunately, we got through the gravel and cow pastures level. Power up. Arriving in Bastrop, we went through a road dedicated for free roaming chickens, up a crazy hill, and then arrived at Bastrop State Park Headquarters. I got a flat somewhere in between there. It was interesting though, because I could I still ride with the flat. All of the weight from my bags were overloading on the back tire so much that the front tire being flat didn’t have much effect. Never the less, I still patched it for the ride home the next day.
Emily and I both went for hammock camping on this trip. It got down to about 33 degrees at night though and made it very difficult to get comfortable enough to sleep. I did not have an insulation pad between the hammock and my sleeping bag. My feet were cold and my back was super cold even with all the layers of clothing I applied. I woke up several times in the night with an insufferable impulse to sleep in the heated bathroom. I eventually flailed out of my hammock and opened up an emergency blanket which crinkled and crunched SO loudly. Afraid to wake up Emily, I sprinted to the bathroom to warm up before proceeding with my sleeping arrangement. It was frigid and eventually opted for the emergency tent that Johanna and Clarence set up in case one of us would begin hypothermia. Basically, Emily and I played chicken in our hammocks and I lost.
I read up on what to do next time to stay warmer when I got home. An insulation pad is crucial if you don’t have another human’s body heat to warm you up in a hammock. Also, more socks and possibly another bag to sleep in. I would do all of these things before sharing a hammock. No one wants to share their hammock. Yet, in all seriousness, if two people are freezing in hammocks, they should probably cuddle each other. As long as you aren’t a crinkly nuisance. < me.
Since I got panniers back around this time last year, I have been obsessed with the idea of bike camping. Car camping is easy fun and I got a taste of back country camping recently as well, but there is a wholesomeness about bike camping that doesn’t compare to the two. Probably because a vehicle isn’t required in the slightest.
After this passed summer, I decided that I want to bike tour on the west coast in the spring of 2018. I’ve been doing tons of research, making some purchases, and ultimately I’ve been planning bike camping trips with friends in the Austin area to get some hands on experience. Also, it’s fun!
In October we biked out to Krause Springs for the weekend starting from the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf about 8:00am. We had a solid group of six people riding together. I and a good friend of mine, Johanna, drove the route the previous weekend to see what we were getting ourselves into. I’m thankful we had done that because it really gives peace of mind to see how sketchy roads are before riding them. If you are planning rides yourself and coming up with alternative routes, I would recommend you take advantage of a vehicle and test out the route that you are aiming to ride. People were telling us that riding out on 71 is asking for trouble. On the other hand, if you want to bike camp in Spicewood without tacking on more elevation and a ton more miles, that’s what you got to do. It’s totally possible and we weren’t the only crazy cyclists on the road that day.
The ride itself is hilly. Many ups and downs, figuratively and literally. It’s a quiet game when you’re pedaling on the shoulder of a highway. Your body is focused on continuing to pedal, but your mind wanders in between. I remember at more than one point I started imitating Amber’s breath when I rode alongside her for a few stretches. It’s easy to lose good form when you’re riding long distances. You hunch your shoulders, you breathe through your mouth, and you got a frown on your face cause the sun is in it. We kept each other in check. I found myself making adjustments to my posture every couple of miles. We were single file, one after the other, and keeping the pace up no matter what. We probably looked like a row of ducks. This probably sounds miserable but, the heat wasn’t killer. We left early enough. Johanna and I had also planned to stop at specific places every 10 miles that we saw when driving. We paused at the Hill Country Galleria, The Paleface Grocery, and the last stop was a fire station on the remaining stretch off of Paleface Ranch Road. I have to mention that there was a glistening stud of a fireman training without a shirt on when we rolled up. So, yeah, some good scenes besides the trolling hills that passed us on the ride.
When, we finally got to Krause, it was about 1:00pm. We paid our camp fees and the folks at the front lounging in rocking chairs gave us flags to tie on our bikes. They commended us on our ride and we even got one free entry (yaaaaa suppp). After picking out a campsite, setting up, and changing into our swim stuff, we jumped into the water. I can’t even begin to describe how incredibly refreshing it was to get into cold water after riding. Jumping in felt like a fire had been put out all over my body. I felt awakened, refreshed, and alive. Yet, It felt like a lucid dream. One of the most rewarding physical and maybe even spiritual experiences of my life.
Of course, we also did some exploring and walked around the grounds with our bare feet. The roots of the great Cypress trees in Krause Springs protrude, entangle, and gnarl the earth below and above the water like infinite snakes. It can be uncomfortable on naked feet. Usually, I justify wearing my Chacos for this particular reason, but I was feeling like a super hippy in this moment. The sticks and stones could never hurt me. I found Quentin laying in the sun on a slab of rock when I came out of the water. Seeing him so still and unaware of my even being there, I played copy cat. Resting my cheek, stomach, forearms, inflamed quadriceps, and the tips of my toes on the warm flat rock, I dozed into an actual dream.
That night in Krause Springs we told stories, drank beers that a friend brought up from town, listened to music, and circled around a fire like some Wiccans. The temperature was warm, the night was filled with stars, echoed with laughs, and the trees still towered over us in a silhouette. I slept peacefully in my hammock. Not a single complaint.
Next morning, we took our time. Coffee, breakfast (haaa just more snacks), and another swim. Krause was vacant in the morning and this is rare. Typically the main entrance of the water is littered with folks but, at this hour (about 10am) there was no one. Even the waterfall didn’t have a soul underneath it. Pretty dope.
Then, we left about 11:30 and rode the 31 miles of hilly roads in the 90 degree weather. The morning swim was worth it but, fuck, it was hot. It took a little over four hours to get back to our meet up spot cause we were tired and also had a flat tire in the group to patch. It was definitely a bonding experience for us. I didn’t wanna see any of those people for at least a few weeks.
(Ian, Quentin, Myself, Amber, Johanna, Anna, and Alicia)
(Teamwork with Amber’s flat)
Thanks for reading y’all. I hope this gives you the gall to ride your bike far far away and set up camp. PEACE.
This year has had some ups and down. Things haven’t gone exactly my way no matter how hard I’ve tried to control them. A wise friend always reminds me though, that’s just the way life is, you can’t control everything. I struggle with this. This kind of leads me into a habit of over planning. Thus, when it came close for me to go to Colorado, I tried to plan out the entire week. When I say “try” I mean I actually wrote down the days of the week that I’d be there and wrote ideas down for what I could do day by day. I think this behavior comes from my absolute need to enjoy every inch of an experience as much as possible. So much so that prior to even experiencing the thing I am looking forward to I am shaken by planning anxiety. I am working on this flaw. Emma, my friend living in Vail, same friend who is always reminding me to not be a control freak, said “dude, just get here.” I knew she was right. So, I went with it.
I’m not going to get into how my flight was or give a comparison contrast of the Austin Airport versus the Denver International Airport. They are literally a means to an end. I will say though that the shuttle which leads passengers from the airport into downtown Denver is pretty bad ass and affordable at $9 a ride. We definitely need a system like this in Austin. When I did get the Union Station, the very last stop, It was around 10:30pm. My friend Erin who used to live in Austin but has been living in Denver for several years now, called me an Uber and I met up with her at a dive bar called “Barricudas”. My Uber driver was eccentric, a middle aged dude wearing a full fledged suit. He waved his non-driving hand in the car as he told me about how Denver is similar to Austin. Now, I was fresh off the plane, but I found that really hard to believe. Especially since the comparison he was making was particularly on the music scene. He did, however, tell me some very good insight about drinking my first night. Denver is 5,280ft (one mile) above sea level and this can affect ones booze tolerance. So, I made sure to drink a lot of water and beer. Erin, James, and I sang various songs on the kareoke stage. James is Erin’s boyfriend, a dry comedian. He’s funny. Eric Meckel, Jeremy’s roommate in Minturn, came and met up with us as well. He did not sing karaoke. WHAT A WUSS. He did kindly give me a ride the next afternoon to Vail though. This was conveniently unplanned.
The drive to Vail was scenic to say the least. The territory in Colorado almost completely contrasts that of Texas. Every horizon has mountains, each valley is a lush paint palette of green hues, and the creeks actually flow with water as we passed over them. We drove I-70 all the way to Avon, where Emma is living. It was great to embrace her after what felt like a whole era of my life that I hadn’t seen her. That night we went to some folk’s apartment where we BBQED, made cocktails, and played cards against humanity. They were all truly genuine and inviting.
The next day Emma put her Juiceland skills on and made me a delicious smoothie after we ran some errands together and before I drove Eric’s Van to Beaver Creek. What a great dude for letting me borrow his other car. I met up with Jeremy and he gave me a ski lift pass to get up to the Royal Elk Trail that eventually led to Beaver Lake. I wanted to keep the first day of hiking light since I was adjusting to a new elevation once again (Vail sits at about 8,000 ft high). It was a five to six mile hike round trip to get to the lake and then back down to the village. It was perfect!
When I got down from the hike, I met up with Jeremy again and we chilled in his bike cave for minute where he works on the mountain bikes that get rented to tourists. We shot the shit then made plans to go climbing. I’m not much of a climber. Actually, I’m not a climber. I’ve had an irrational fear of heights pretty much my whole life. Yet, sometimes I trick myself into believing I don’t so that I try new things. Plus, vacation kind of brings out a more risky and adventurous side to me. I drove myself, Jeremy, and Vestale to a spot called “Roof Rock”. They assured me it was a great place for beginners and it has an excellent view. They weren’t wrong! The evening ended a delicious burger and a beer in Minturn at Magustos, a spot Emma was working at. It was actually her last night of work when we went! I met some other new friend folks and made plans to hike the next day with Jeremy and Eric’s roommate, Elliot, who so luckily for me was free the next day!
Elliot recommended that we do a hike which would lead us up to the Tuhare Lakes. I had never heard of it and was actually suggesting we do a different hike, one called Booth Lake. Once I learned that he had been living in the area for over five years though, I figured It would be wise to listen. We didn’t set out in his jeep until about 10:00am. I wanted to go earlier but, I managed to get locked out of Emma’s apartment and that delayed us some. In my defense, within the first few days of arriving it appeared that n one locked their doors! People would literally just come in to the Minturn house all the time without warning. Small town stuff, ya know? I didn’t. So, I kind of just assumed that Emma’s door would be open when I tried to get in to change for the hike. My bad, she lives in Avon, 10 min away where people do lock their doors. Haha.
The drive to the Holy Cross wilderness was super cool. It also felt really exclusive since there was literally no way that the van I was driving was going to make it up the rocky unpaved cliff hangers that we drove up. We got to the Fall Creek Pass Trail-head to begin our hike which is accessible at Half Moon Campground. We were anticipating to spend at least seven hours hiking the 12 mile round-trip trail. Hiking is probably one of my favorite ways of getting to know someone. I feel like you really get a sense of someone’s character. You tend to coordinate with each other on hikes. Directions, water breaks, pictures, comfort, and even on whether or not something is edible. Which, for this hike, the subject of edibility came up often. Elliot had some previous experience picking King Bolete mushrooms on the trail when he would do the hike for work. He shared a lot of his insight with me and he filled our bags with mushroom. I eventually had to cut him off. (He doesn’t even like mushrooms).
The hike to the first lake, Lake Constantine, and then later towards the Tuhare lakes was absolutely beautiful. Everything was so vast and appeared to have no limits. The mountains enveloped us. The sky disappeared behind them, the left over snow rested in the middle like sand traps on a golf course and the lakes melted between them. I even thought to myself if a dinosaur had appeared it would be fitting. The area was untouched by man. Of course, I wanted to take as many pictures as possible, but I found myself in a new situation. It was difficult to convey the same beauty that I experienced through the limits of a photograph. The accidental grace of the natural silence, the seemliness of infinity, and the feelings of humility could not be translated. But really, I had never heard such silence as I did in the mountains of the Holy Cross. It was as if when Elliot and I weren’t speaking, we were deaf. Nothing was echoed when we stood before the lakes. There seemed to be an agreement that no living being would dare interrupt.
elephant’shead growing in the upper most of the Holy Cross Wilderness
I was pretty exhausted when we got back to the car. I also staggered a bit behind Elliot the last hour because my ankle was hurting. He told me later that he thought he may have had to carry me. This made me laugh. I didn’t tell him this but, I would never, no way, ask a man to carry me down a mountain.
This is what I meant by mentioning earlier that people really get to know each other on hikes. There are times you feel like your stomping all the way to the top with a skip to my loo kinda tude. Then, there are moments when you’re tired, you get rained on, drag your feet, and even lose your footing. You may even stumble and trip! It’s true. Sometimes the mountains can make you feel defeated. Hiking shows me that there are literally ups and downs in life. We gotta take the good with the bad. My ankle stopped hurting though. Probably, because my stomach was doing the talking in the end. We drooled about all the things we would eat when we got back into town. After a quick trip to the grocery store, Elliot and I manifested a pizza for dinner. My half had the mushrooms on top. What a reward it was. That night, I slept deep.
In the morning, I was sore. Very sore and stiff. I was in desperate need of stretching. I suggested to Emma we soak in some hot springs that she had told me about before. So, she drove us over to Glenwood Springs where we would quench our thirsts for a scalding hot bath. I ate half a weed cookie from Denver, stretched, and dipped into all the different temperatures of pools. OH MY HOLY CROSS, it felt amazing. We didn’t stay very long though. There were a lot of families hanging around and the cafe was not only pricey but had everyone and their mom in line. Quite literally. It seems when you live in a mountain town and you have parents that come to visit and aren’t much into hiking, you take them to a hot spring. I would take my parents there too.
Sunday, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was about a four hour drive and we left kind of later than we anticipated but I didn’t mind. It felt great to not be a hurry. We drove through the whole park to get a view of it before going to Bear Lake where we planned to do a short 4 mile hike to Lake Haiyaha. Rocky Mountain National Park proved to be even more limitless than the hike I had done in the Holy Cross. Everyone knew it too. It was PACKED. People everywhere. They were stopping in the middle of the road to take pictures of elk and posing in front of overlooks. In my head I was thinking “Jesus, what a bunch of tourists!”. Then, almost immediately after the thought, I reminded myself that we’re all tourists here.
This whole time by the way, while we were driving, I was trying to keep in contact with Erin. She had been texting me and expressing on and off about meeting up with us in the park. When we left the car at the Bear Lake lot and started the hike my phone actually rang. I thought there wasn’t any service, but I picked up and it was Erin saying she was close. We set a meeting at Lake Haiyaha, and hung up. Then, like a little over an hour later, Emma and I are hanging out under a tree and someone comes up behind her and says “Hey freaks”. It was Erin! So naturally, we asked the nearest bystander to take our photo in front of the beautiful lake of Haiya-haaaaa. I had doubts that we would find her but I’m glad we did!
Emma and I on a rock above Lake Haiyaha
Emma’s Photo of the Rockies
Emma’s Photo of Lake Haiyaha
It was a long day in the Rockies and we got back pretty late. We (Erin, myself and Emma) also messed up. We left when it started raining but forgot to tell Eric and Jeremy that we wouldn’t be driving back with them. WHOOPS! So, they kind of freaked out for the hours that I didn’t have any service. Note to self: If plans change and there is a chance that someone might think you’re in danger or alone, leave a note or tell a ranger. Always. Thankfully everyone was safe. We all met up at the Minturn house later on after a sleepy ride back.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park rests near the southern most border of New Mexico and Texas and is about an eight hour drive from Austin, TX. I told Adam I wanted to go there for Thanksgiving break months prior and we were actually supposed to go in May but there were forest fires that stretched 9,000 acres that prevented people from visiting. This time though we planned to leave the Wednesday before Thanksgiving after work to arrive in the park about 3am.
Well, the campsites are first come first serve at the main camping site of Pine Springs. When we arrived it was looking pretty full and we even saw someone sleeping on the sidewalk near the campsites cause he probably arrived late also. Luckily enough for us, we found an unoccupied spot! It was pretty visible too too so I’m not sure how no one had noticed it, but I guess it was to our advantage! So, we set up our tent and fell asleep shortly afterwards. Next morning, on Thanksgiving day, we got our butts out of our sleeping bags and headed to the visitor’s center to get a back country pass where many other folks were standing around. We had to wait an hour longer because we didn’t realize that Guadalupe Mountains is on Mountain time which is one hour behind Central time (we could have slept longer). BUT, it’s good we got there cause when we formed a line, we got up to the very front.
We got our back country permit after listening to the rangers tell us the rules of camping in the wilderness. Then we set off to gather our stuff into the car and hike to the infamous Guadalupe Peak (the highest point in Texas). We gave our camp site away to a nice German dude and then packed our day packs before heading to the trail. CRAZILY enough, when we are going were going through the parking lot I heard someone say “Is that Sonia?!” and after a “What?” I realized that my long time high school friend Brianna from Austin was also getting ready to the do the same hike coincidentally at the same time! The hike was tough, we made it to the top in about 2.5 hours over the course of 4 miles going straight up. The peak, at 8,750 feet has an incredible view of the salt basin, the flat land all around and the other mountains that surrounded it. We were higher than eagle shit. When we got there we ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I had put together in Adam’s kitchen the evening before. They were simple but completely satisfying after the work we put into to get to the top. Then, it just seemed fitting to then ask myself and Adam what we were thankful for. Honestly, I am just immensely grateful that we get to do things like this and I couldn’t help but thing about the native americans peacefully protesting in South Dakota to keep their land pure and protected like the Guadalupe Mountains National Park is. If we can preserve this park because of its beauty, historical significance to natives, and its uniqueness I don’t see why we can’t do the same for Lakota and Sioux tribes…
After enjoying the tippy top of Texas we eventually had to come down to Pine Springs, where we originally planned to reconvene and put together our backpacking packs to then hike to Pine Top camp ground. Well, that did NOT work out because by the time we made it down the peak it was getting dark, it took us 2 hours to get down and my knees were giving up in the last stretch. We were a little worried about not having a spot to camp at since we had given ours away but we just went back to where we had camped before and hungout with the German guy, Hamet, that we had previously given up our campsite too. The three of us shared the primitive space along with beers, stories, and soup. He was good company. Friday The next morning when we were making breakfast it was COLD like 29 degrees or something. So cold that while we were siting at the bench it started SNOWING on us. Little micro snow flakes fell all around us. this made us a bit nervous about spending the night in the mountains where we heard it would get down to 20 degrees and have winds of 50mph speed. However, we thought “Eh, let’s just check it out”. I carried 1.5 gallons of water, extra clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food, and a camping pot up the other mountain adjacent to Guadalupe peak. It was heavy but manageable. Along the way up, we saw an older man hiking with a day pack and pistol in his pants. I was shocked to see someone with a gun in a National Park because I thought it was illegal but I guess you are allowed to carry one if you are in the wilderness. According to Adam, some parts of the park are technically “wilderness”. Interesting. We also told silly jokes to keep up morale as we climbed up and one of them went like this…
“What do you call a pine tree along the trail of the Guadalupe mountains?” “What?” Silence. “What do you call it Sonia?” “Not sure, it’s a cliff hanger.”
The scenery changed immensely as we got to Pine Top camp ground and even the weather. It got significantly colder by the time we up into the mountains and it even rained a little bit which worried me but Adam didn’t seem threatened by it so that made me feel better about our situation.
We took a lot of breaks and didn’t get to Mescalero Campground in the back country until almost dark, we definitely hustled the last couple of miles to make sure we got there with enough light. Beautiful hike to the spot though, Adam is right when he says its worth going into the back country, it was like we were in a different park when we passed Pine Top.
There were pine needles sprinkled all over the soft dirt, tall pine trees reaching up around us, and the air was cool and crisp. It really didn’t feel or look like Texas. Adam took this cute picture to the left of different colored leaves spurting from the pine needled wilderness floors. It makes me think of how diverse Texas is. Proven through the array of state and national parks. We were pretty exhausted by the time we got to our campsite at Mescalero, Adam cooked while I journaled inside the tent. It was shivering cold but no snow thank goodness. We ate a pretty humble meal that night consisting of sausage and pita (our diet pretty much all day) before going to sleep. Yet, it was delicious cause when you’re camping and hiking simple food always tastes 100 times better than normal.
Saturday Early morning, but we took it easy. I was feeling pretty good, got a bit of a stretch and I slept hard the night before. So hard in fact, I had some insanely vivid dreams. One being that the world was ending and the Aztec Empire of Teotihuacan was rising over Mexico city from the sand and this pink/purple pastel hair colored couple had been the ones responsible for it. All the indigenous that were sacrificed were coming back from the dead and spearing all of the citizens of Mexico with conquistador lineage. It was nuts. I should have written it down in more detail but you know how quickly you forget the details to dreams.
It made me think about the Native Americans that lived in mountains hundreds of years before, or maybe it wasn’t even that long ago because I know that a friend of mine, Joshua Tree, is Mescalero Apache and that we were close to his tribes reservation. The campsite we slept at is named after the Mescalero Natives. According to a guide book I read for the park, the Mescalero used to dig deep pits in the mountains where they would burn a species of agave plant to make the alcoholic drink of mezcal. I think the tribes that lived in Oaxaca, Mexico before the Spanish conquest would also burn agave to make mezcal. Maybe my dream wasn’t really that random….
We gathered up and then set out again after having MORE sausage and pita for breakfast and both drawing in my journal. We also had some instant coffee and took a view pictures of us and the view that we had of dog canyon. The morning air was pretty chilly but we enjoyed eachother’s company, the scenery, and the quiet all around us. Seriously though, the quiet of the mountains is so loud that you can’t hear any thoughts in your mind that would otherwise be racing. It’s powerful and humbling.
After hiking back south the way we came, we veered over onto the Juniper Trail before taking the Bowl Trail down on the way to Hunter’s Peak! Hunter’s peak is 8,365ft up. Also, a really crazy awesome view of the land below. From the point we could see Guadalupe Peak which had an intense cloud blanketing it. We were thinking “Dang you probably can’t see anything up there.” It looked surreal. We got out kicks taking pics and then proceeded the Bowl Trail until it was time to descend Bear Canyon which is not a canyon you want to fuck with. It took us an unbelievably long time to get down, very steep, I couldn’t even fathom having to go up it. None the less, we continued to tell silly jokes to each other until we made it down and took the Frijole trail back to Pine Springs. We stopped a few times to check out the mountain goats that were peering at us from the side of the cliff next to Bear Canyon. As we were coming back we made it just in time to catch the sun setting which was perfect because I hadn’t been able to get a good sunset view in the trip yet. It was a spectacular sight to end the trip.
Purple: Thursdays hike 8 miles total
Red: Fridays hike 7 miles total
Green: Saturdays hike 9 miles
Some friends that I didn’t even really know very well were all planning a trip to Big Bend together back in May of 2014. I only heard the National Park while working at Whole Earth Provision from my co-workers. I heard that it was quiet, magical, ghostly, and hot as hell. Big Bend National Park rests on the border of Mexico and Texas, south east of the ghost town, Terlingua. The park is enormous, mapping everything about thirty miles from any other location inside and around the park. Huge and pretty intimidating, it’s the least visited National Park in the United States and a book was even written about the deaths that took place within its boundaries, “Death in Big Bend.” I had to go there.
There were five of us when we started the trip. Hah, just kidding there were five of us at the end of the trip as well. No one died and we didn’t help anyone cross the border, I swear. Anyways, we all met at Gerald’s house on Holly St. in Austin Texas late in the night before leaving at like 4:00am for our nine hour drive. I rode with Gerald in his truck while Erin drove her car with Nicole and Emma. Every time I almost fell into sleep, Gerald would shout some song lyrics along with the CD to keep me awake, it was a long long drive. I think on the first day we met up with Gerald’s aunt, who lives out near Terlingua. She was an interesting lady and also very talented cause she had paintings of hers hanging from the walls of her house, beautiful painting of Terlingua scenery. She also explained to us the story behind the closing of the famous bat bar we wanted to visit, called “La Kiva”. (here is an article for more backstory, https://www.outsideonline.com/1922521/murder-terlingua-texas). She was really nice and talkative lady. Generous too, because she even hooked our group up with her out of town friend’s container home.
We made our way short way over to the container home, dropped off our stuff, got some rest, and then hit an annual border festival party that we had heard about along the Rio Grande River.
It was one of the coolest things I had experienced. There was beer being served on the American side, enchiladas on the Mexican side, and dozens of people swimming in the brown river inbetween crossing freely (within 100ft). It was burning hot though, so after drinking a cold beer we all jumped into the dirty river to swim and relieve ourselves from the heat. When we crossed over to the other side with bare feet over jagged rocks, the Mexican families laughed at our struggle and we responded by laughing at ourselves. It was a good time.
After the party, we came back to our little container home where we made more food, a fire, and chilled the rest of the night. I remember Erin and I setting up our sleeping bags on the roof that night cause of the stars being so remarkable. However, it didn’t work out so well cause of the desert wind that was SO forceful we could hardly stay in our sleeping bags. I think I got enough sleep though because I am pretty sure we had a lot of activity the next day in the park before hitting up the Starlight Lounge for burgers and mariachi music.
We didn’t stay the whole time in the container home though, we wanted to also sleep in the Chisos Basin inside of the mountainous walls of Big Bend National Park. So, we got our things and hiked one mile to our campsite to set up and eat some food before hitting the Window Trail at sunset. This hike was probably my most favorite to date.
As we walked it was as though we were chasing the sunlight as it crept down beneath the wide crack in the mountain’s basin where fresh water had poured out from however many years ago. We enjoyed being inside of the waterfall overlook for a while before beginning to head back and after the sun had completely diminished beyond the horizon. For some reason it didn’t strike us that we would be walking back on the window trail to our tents in the dark. We had maybe one headlamp with us. Yet, the moon was so full, it was as if a flash light were being shown on Big Bend from above. I’ll never forget how the basin appeared even more majestic under the glow of the moon. Though, even in the dark of the night you could see the heat of day rising from the mountains ridges through something which looked like steam or perhaps it was a mirage.
I was fully enjoying the scenery as it was under a new light of the moon through the trail back to camp. We all were. The hike back was more than just fun with many laughs, jokes, ooohs and awws. It was as though it were timeless. As though we were lost on an adventure of a lifetime through a wondrously deserted nature. but also inevitably feeling a sense of neverlasting which only made me more grateful.
Well, at one point we were actually and genuinely lost. I think we walked an extra couple of miles, maybe even more, trying to retrace our steps back to our campsite. The funny thing, we weren’t even afraid. The jokes continued and we laughed at our lack of wilderness capabilities. Though, when we did finally find our campsite in the brush beneath some trees, we crashed. No more words were exchanged and if there were, they were murmured under our tired breaths as we removed our socks and boots. The only sound left was the motion of the winds blowing into every direction of the basin. As I drifted into sleep, I imagined the basin whirling with wind like a tidepool.
This past weekend was fourth of July weekend. Usually, this is the day where I typically drink too much and get rowdy with fireworks, but this year I wanted to get out-of-town and chill out on a vacated beach with a select group of people. I had also seen a documentary at the University of Texas at Austin a few months ago on the National Parks of Texas, where they showed a segment on the National Seashore off the Gulf of Mexico, it looked amazing and thus the seed of camping desire settled into my brain and finally sprouted into action.
Our trip started Friday evening, in Adam’s blue Subaru, where Adam, Ian, and myself chatted for the 3.5 hour drive to the shore while snacking on delicious cherries. When we hit the beach, it was dark, the ocean could not be seen, but only heard as we drove alongside the wet sand to find a vacant spot to set up our camping headquarters. We sheltered about 6 miles down from when the pavement ended in the National Park. The wind coming from the ocean was powerful and made it less easy to pitch a tent but, it also provided a cool atmosphere which I was appreciative of none the less. Adam and I slept almost immediately to the soothing sounds of beach breezes and crashing waves. There was also a starry milky sky peering at us through the mesh of the tent ceiling and a warm feeling of having each other near as we fell into a dreamy slumber.
Waking up on the beach is something I suggest everyone experience. More often than not, beach visitors will stay in hotels blocks from the beach, having to walk to and from every trip, or even drive. Yet, waking on the beach skips all those steps of getting ready, eating a little breakfast, prepping a cooler, and packing a beach bag. Not to mention all the minutes you spend looking at your phone applications and waiting on others to get ready. On the beach, you wake when the sun does, and it gives you a feeling like you have been on the sand for years. Time becomes the sun’s position in the sky as it rises over the ocean before setting behind the dunes and your shadow is the dial. The lives you connect with are the ones that are around you, right there right then, whether it be with human or critter companions. Nothing else seems to exist.
Adam and I had awoken possibly about 8:00 am, when the sun was still weak but deceptively bright. Ian was walking behind the dunes near camp exploring the lit environment around us. We went at a sea snails pace, taking our time cooking and eating breakfast tacos before jumping into the refreshing sea. We spent hours going back and forth, taking naps in between, and drinking cold beers before and after. It was peaceful, quiet, and again, incredibly timeless. As if we were on the set of Castaway, but with plenty of resources and conversations. However, we didn’t chat consistently. There were moments of consensual silence between the three of us, as if we all heard and agreed to listen to the same particular ocean wave flowing through and onto the fine sand.
(Photo taken by Colter of Ian jumping around the sand dunes)
Saturday afternoon, after a long daze of swimming and laying, a caravan of friend’s of friends spotted us on the beach to join our small encampment. Two nice guys named Mark and Colter. It wasn’t too long after them that another car of ladies arrived to join us as well. Our encampment became a neighborhood, and the canopy that provided shade, drinks, and food became the center of our block party. We watched the sunset together, made dinner, and told ghost stories around a camp fire until the end of the night. We slept at what felt late, but in comparison to my usual bedtime, was actually pretty early. It makes sense though, because when you wake with the sun you also become accustomed to dozing with it shortly after descending.(Adrienne, Jessica, Ashley, Ian, Adam, Colter, and Mark lounging on the shore)
(home sweet encampment)
Sunday consisted of the same luxury. A routine of sleeping, eating, swimming, lounging, rinsing, and repeating became a ritual. The grains of sand that stuck to my body were finally embraced and I was used to my hair being in my face. I was also really enjoying not having to wear real clothes. I guess when you work Monday through Friday in an office it feels liberating to escape civilization for a few days. Fleeing to a place where you don’t have to wear pants and where holes in your favorite thrift clothes, feel like they have a purpose.
Another group of friends arrived about 4pm with more provisions. We original settlers of the blue Subaru didn’t need to leave the beach once because of the steady flow of friends arriving. They picked up on the ritual of chill real quick. There was another sunset, more cooking, and different stories to go with a resurrected fire. Though, it took us until the third night to notice that the yellow flowers that were along the dunes by the beach, were blooming each night as the sun set! I watched one bloom right before my eyes, making sure to not take my gaze from it until I was absolutely sure that it was opening.
(Colter, Ashley, Kelsey, Adam, Ian, and Susie in the back, enjoying a sunset)
(Sunset scoping with Ian, Kelsey, Ashley, myself, and Colter)
Chile was my favorite country that I visited on my backpacking trip at the close of 2015. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly, the cities are lively, and the wine is cheaper than water. I arrived after spending three days in the Bolivian desert by van with eight other travelers crammed in together. Our 70 liter backpacks were rumbling on the roof of the car as we sped through the vast desert of Bolivia into Chile. I’m not sure why, but I expected there to be some kind of marker to distinguish between the two countries, maybe like a literal border line drawn into the sand or a change in scenery. Nope. The desert along the horizon was just more desert, flat, desolate, and surreal like a Dali painting. We were on our way to San Pedro de Atacama, a famous little town in Chile known for its hippy culture and beautiful deserts. While driving in the mini van, I spoke with a couple from England that had been traveling on the same route as me, exchanging experiences and laughing. Suddenly we stopped and parked in front of a small building, where we all waited in silence for further instructions. Then, we were asked to leave our stuff and come in with passports while dogs sniffed out our luggage for cocaine and coca leaves. They knew that we were coming from Bolivia and apparently Chileans doubt the Bolivian’s ability to enforce illegal drug possession. During my experience, I got many hints that the Bolivians and Chileans don’t get along very well. Later, I learned of the Chilean’s victory in the War of the Pacific against Peru and Bolivia in 1879. The war granted Chile it’s northern coastal territory, leaving the Peruvians and Bolivians bitter ever since. I can understand why.
After we got the okay, we ran our luggage through a security check like the ones at the airport and we were asked if we had any vegetables or drugs. Nope and Nope. This process took longer than I would have liked. Not to mention that during the whole encounter I desperately needed to pee and it probably made me seem antsy and more suspicious. Border Patrol did not have a bathroom for us and did not tell us where to go next. It was an unorganized endeavor, for sure, and I was confused but also very happy that I wasn’t fined for my peanut butter possession.
Photos of the desert between Bolivia and Chile
I walked for a few miles with all of my stuff on me, backpacking bag on my back and smaller day pack on my chest, along with my sweet black alpaca hat that I bought in Peru. Nope, scratch that. I left that hat in the car I took to the Border Patrol in Bolivia. Carlos, our guide for the three days in the Bolivian desert, was probably really stoked to inherit that hat. I pouted about it for a minute, but then forgot about it after the next, because I found ICE CREAM. With my delicious pistachio ice cream, I pressed on in the heat of the day, popping in and out of hostels trying to find an open bed. I finally found one at a quaint hostel called “Hostal Matty”. I dumped my things on the bed dripping in sweat from the heat and immediately took a shower. I hadn’t had one in days. When I got back to my room I met Caroline Leya, a beautiful blonde fair skinned babe from Chicago, who was talking in Spanish fluently to her Peruvian boyfriend in the bunk below her. We got to chatting like you usually do with traveling strangers and I told her that I was interested in riding horses through the desert the next day. Her eyes got wide in excitement and she said “Oh! I want to go with you! I love horses!” Then she told her boyfriend in Spanish that he would be hiking alone cause she was going to join me.
After more chatting with Caroline and her boyfriend (Whose name escapes me), we all went to lunch at the Cafe Esquina where we spoke in some Spanish and some English while eating our first Chilean meal. We were also able to book our horse back riding adventure for the next day in the same building! The travel agent was very friendly and recommended us to do the star gazing class that same night as well. This was absolutely amazing. Around 11:00pm the three of us took a shuttle to a cabin further out from the small town of San Pedro where we looked through telescopes to see the stars of Orions Belt. The Spanish Astrologists that lived there, explained the kinds of stars there are and the science behind their constellations. I had a space blanket wrapped around me, a glass of wine, and my curious eyes staring into the cold night sky. It was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen.
Photo from Google of Orion’s belt because my phone couldn’t take a good picture.
The next morning, Caroline and I woke up early to meet with our horse back riding guide and his loyal dog, Victoria, that would take us through the trails of the Valle de la Luna. His name is Robinson Eduardo Barraza Barraza and he was featured in a National Geographic photo showing the walls of sandstone in the Valle de la Luna. He has six horses, one including a calf named “Amanecer” which means “Sunrise” in English. He only speaks Spanish as fast he possibly can, has long curly hair, an “adult” sense of humor, and an appetite for beer like no other after riding in the desert for hours.
Photo of Robin with his horses featured in National Geographic
Caroline and I spent five hours in the Valle with Robin, laughing, galloping, and shooting pictures. The desert was just as beautiful as the stars I saw the night before, gorgeous.
It even looked as if the stars were in the sand, twinkling in the sunlight. I must admit though, I was nervous to ride horses, as I’ve never connected with a horse like I have with other animals. Horses are mysterious, tall, strong, and passive aggressive. Robin connected with his horses like I had never seen before. When he galloped the others galloped after him, when he wanted to communicate a command he was firm on the reigns, and when he showed affection the horses batted their adoring eye lashes in trust. Robin is a true animal lover and a “hombre del campo”, meaning “man from the country” as he would refer to himself to me. He grew up in Santiago, Chile, decided he didn’t like the city life and has been living in San Pedro de Atacama for 10 years. After the three of us rode horses for hours and hours, we stopped at a local restaurant that Robin recommended. When I stepped off my horse, my legs were jello, I could barely stand, and I was STARVING. We stuffed our selves up like it was our last meal and washed it down with cold Chilean beers. We had a blast. It was like Caroline and I had known each other for years, we were already talking about traveling together in the years to come. Robin was still filled with energy to hang out. However, Caroline and I were ready to rest for the remainder of the day. So we did, because after all, we were on vacation. I did go to a local bar that night though, Barros, with yet another English guy that was traveling on the same route with me. We had wine (duh) and listened to live music until the wine had made us drowsy enough for sleep. Robin was there also, smiling his big smile, talking about horses, and drinking many Mojitos.
Photos from Valle de la Luna horse ride
Caroline and her boyfriend left the next day. I was still exhausted but I wanted to go ride horses again. I went over to Robin’s house and we rode his horses over to the community pool across another stretch of desert. We galloped hard, the horses hooves beating the hard rock and sand under us. The sun was bright and I felt its heat on my skin that had been tanned from the previous day. I was also sore, but I didn’t give a fuck. I felt a love of horse back riding like no other in the days I spent in San Pedro de Atacama. That day though, before dark, I bought my overnight ticket to Iquique, Chile from the local bus station. After about three days I was ready to hit the beach.
I hugged Robin goodbye and walked onto the bus with all of my things. As the bus drove, I watched the sun set through the windows over the beautiful desert, taking back the twinkles in the sand and freeing them into the darkening sky where the stars were beginning to shine. As I dozed off into sleep I thought of Robin’s horse Amanecer galloping after me through the desert sunset as I rode on the back of his mother.