Ode to Freeze-dried Suppers

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If you've been in the backcountry over night, you know what I'm talking about when I say that there are few things that taste as good as a re-hydrated meal eaten right out of the bag in the middle of nowhere after a long day of hiking. Dehydrated meals are a must for any true backpacker. And boy, do we love them. Here are the top reasons why freeze-dried meals are the shizz:

1. There is no better way to pack in the calories needed for long days of trekking it through the wild.

2. They provide you with a hot meal at the end of a long day. Think how nice a warm pouch of Chili Mac would be after a 12 mile hike, eaten as the sun starts setting over the mountains and that cool night air starts to creep in. You can't beat it. Hot meal. A must.

3. Some of them actually taste really good. Try these meals from Mountain House: Chicken a la King, Lasagna with Meat Sauce, Beef Stroganoff, Chili Mac with Beef, or Mac and Cheese. Steer clear of the 'Breakfast' options...just my advice.

4. Easy clean up when you eat right out of the bag! No bowls required. Just rinse the bag out when you're done, roll it up small, and stuff it in your pack. No muss no fuss.

5. They fill you up. No really. You wont be hungry after downing a Mountain House Entree pouch.

Freeze-dried suppers are a life saver on a cool, wilderness night. That's why we, the adventurers, the explorers, the backcountry men [and women], love them so.

Rocks, Ice, and Fog: First Hike of 2014

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photo 2 My husband, Ben, and I spent our New Year's Eve a little differently than most 25 year olds probably did. We had an early dinner at my parents' house and then headed back home where we proceeded to spend the evening packing feverishly for our first adventure photo 1of the new year. We meticulously laid out our gear, inspecting it with great care. Ben's new Kuiu [www.kuiu.com] pack was filled with water, Cliff bars, and extra layers for us to throw on if needed. Our hiking boots were set out side by side. We had the New York New Year's Eve coverage playing on my laptop in the background and at 12am Eastern time (9pm for us), we watched the ball drop, shared a New Year's kiss and then called it a night.

We awoke early before the sun. While other people were in bed, recovering from the night's festivities, we filled our thermoses with hot coffee, grabbed some protein bars, loaded up the truck and hit the road with our little dog, Gunner, heading East. There wasn't much snow on the pass as we made our way through the mountains. But towards the top we noticed a thin sheen of black ice shimmering ever so slightly in the emerging sunlight. A sneaky, deadly thing, black ice.

We pulled off at the top of the pass into a deserted parking lot. No black ice there - instead, it was covered in a thick, obvious layer of ice, coated in a fine blanket of frost. The truck skidded over it's surface as we came to a stop. We wanted to let Gunner out for a break from the car ride. Ben, Gunner, and I each took our turn wiping out on the ice as we tried to walk around a bit to stretch our legs. Laughing, we all piled back into the truck and proceeded on...

East for Adventure!

We stopped for a quick breakfast before heading into the Swakane valley near Chelan. Winding our way back into the valley, we passed through mountains that rose up majestically on either side of the windy dirt road. The tops of the mountains disappeared into the dense fog that blanketed the valley high over head, allowing only a pale, filtered light through from the sun.

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Finally, we saw a place on the south side of the valley where the mountain split and a type of ravine offered access deep into the mountains. We parked the truck, checked our gear, and let Gunner loose, letting him lead the way. The ravine was rocky, icy, and foggy. We picked our way carefully over the ground, climbing up higher and higher. Our hiking boots skidded on the loose rocks that would have been hazardous on their own, even had they not been covered in slick ice and snow.

There was no view from the top other than the sides of the mountains that rose up around us, but those were awe inspiring enough. As we paused for a breather somewhere near the top, surrounded by quiet and stillness and crisp air, we couldn't think of a better way to start a new year, together, just the two of us in this peaceful place. We breathed in the mountain air, took in the uninterrupted silence, and basked in the ice cold breeze. We watched Gunner sniffing around, exploring his surroundings, equally as entranced with the place as we were.

We made our way back down the ravine, through the frost coated grasses of the valley, and back to the truck. We drove back over the mountains in bliss, laughing and recounting the beautiful day that we had had and the amazing new adventure that had kicked off 2014. A successful exploration that set the tone for the rest of the year to come - one full of adventure, pushing our limits, and grabbing life by the horns; and most importantly we started the year off together, doing what we love with the one we love...and with our little dog too.

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A New Christmas Tradition: A Handsaw, The Mountains, And A Box Of Raisins

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IMG_1743 Finding the perfect Christmas tree in the wild is surprisingly difficult. I assumed my husband and I would hike into the mountains, find a picture perfect tree, cut it down, and be on our way. We decided that, being avid outdoors people like we are, we would start a new tradition of cutting down our own Christmas tree each year in the wild. We headed to the mountains, parked our truck, and took off up into the wild, our little dog leading the way.

The air was crisp, the sun was bright, the mountains were idyllic. We enjoyed the scenery as we trekked farther into the wilderness. We didn't worry too much about avidly looking for a tree. We figured we would focus on that on the way back down. We snapped pictures, had a brief *almost* run in with a wild animal, and sat in silence listening to the sound of the wind blowing through the mountains [my favorite sound in the whole world].IMG_1705

"We'll grab one on our way back to the truck," we said. Well, let me tell you...it was not that simple!

We ended up making it all the way back down to the truck without seeing anything even close to being Christmas tree material. By this time we were starving and tired from our long hike. I grabbed a box of raisins from the truck and we set out again, back up into the woods. As we munched on raisins, our search became desperate. We scoured the mountainsides. When we did find a tree that looked as though it may good from a distance, as we got up closer to it, we would see that it was dying or had a weird growth coming out of it, or was too tall.

Finally, as the sun began to sink low on the horizon and as our box of raisins got emptier and emptier, we spotted it... the perfect Christmas tree. A bit Charlie-Brownish, a bit tall...but perfect nonetheless. We were elated. We sawed it down by the light of the setting sun and high-tailed it to the truck.

We topped our adventure off with a nice dinner in town, glowing at the already fond memory of our first tree-cutting experience. This is definitely our new Cohen Family tradition.

...And we'll always make sure to have a box of raisins on hand for all of our future Christmas tree hunts!

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Why It's Good to Get Off the Trail!

Image Trekking it up a well-beaten path, brushing shoulders with an endless stream of hiking-stick-wielders and finally making it to the top of the trail, only to be lost in a crowd doesn't do much for me as far as getting my zen on. It's hard to be one with the wild and revel in the sweet rawness of nature when there are multiple groups of hikers munching on picnic lunches at the top of the mountain.

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Popular trails can be beautiful. They can offer a very fulfilling and rewarding experience, and often time the destination is spectacular - that is why they are so popular, after all! But I've developed a deep curiosity for what lies beyond the beaten path. I think about how many hundreds, even thousands of hikers have walked the busy trails and paths.  I wonder then in comparison how many people have seen what lies over the ridge off to the left, or if anyone has made it to the top of the far, snow-capped mountain off in the distance. Those are the places that draw me in. That is what I crave; that solitude in nature and to see places that not everyone has been to and not everyone could make it to.

To get off the trail is a whole new type of adventure...one that you are in control of! You don't know where the path will take you because there is no path. You determine where you end up and how you get there. It's a thrill and it is a great way to really separate yourself from the craziness of the crowds.

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It can be harder to find the path less traveled sometimes, or to know where to even begin blazing your own trail. Take time to do some research. My husband, Ben, and I use Google Maps to find large areas of wilderness without a trail  or road running through it. We'll drive back into the area as far as we can and then ditch the car and take off on foot for miles and miles, creating our own experience in the back country, away from the crowds and headed for new, untainted destinations.

When ditching the trail, make sure you are prepared. Always bring enough food, water, and shelter, and make sure you've got yourself a good dose of flexibility, because when you get off the beaten path, you never know what might happen or what you might find...and that's the fun in it!

5 Ways the Backcountry is Good For You

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Image There is always a moment when I first set out on a trail that will lead me winding and twisting for days back into the backcountry. It's like all the stress of the hustle and bustle of life releases in one giant cleansing breath. I feel lighter. Free. Back to my roots. Backpacking has become a huge hobby of mine and not just for the break from work and the city. Here are five ways that being out in the backcountry, away from society and all creature comforts is GOOD for you!

1. Clear your mind. Get away from the chaos and constant over-stimulation and just be, bra.

2. Breathe in the fresh, clean, pure air of the wild. It's good for your mind, body, and soul.

3. It makes you have to rough it a bit. In this day and age of everything being readily available and easy to obtain, having to work for your food, shelter, and - to an extent - your very survival is a GOOD thing. Get your hands dirty! You wont regret it.

4. Backcountry adventurin' is great exercise! Carrying a huge backpack full of gear on your back for 12 miles a day is a workout like no other. AND you are usually  in some of the most stunning landscapes out there so that's a bonus: amazing view while working out. I'd take that over the gym any day.

5. In the backcountry, you have to step outside of your comfort zone. You might find yourself in some less than ideal situations: a rain storm, a ripped tent, an encounter with a bear... it is GOOD to face your fears and to tackle whatever the wild might throw your way. It gives you the opportunity to surprise even yourself and to do something that you did not even know you were capable of.

So get outside! Breathe in the fresh air! Surprise yourself! The backcountry awaits you!

Five Ways to Get Outside - No Excuses!

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420104_10200816078676086_1002214786_n I am all about getting outside, doing something adventurous, trying new things, staying active, and pushing my limits. I think everyone should! The world is such a big, beautiful place just waiting to be explored. There is so much out there in nature that we can (and should!) take advantage of.

Now, I know some people who are used to watching tv on the weekends and going to the nearest mall for entertainment might not know quite where to start when it comes to getting outside and enjoying the great outdoors. Six years ago I wouldn't have known where to start either. Outdoor activities seemed fairly unattainable and, frankly, undesirable. Too much work, dirt, and risk. However, over the past few years I have learned that getting outside is not only GOOD for a person's mind, body, and soul, but it can be easy and oh-so-fun!

So, for those of you who just need some ideas of where to start, here you go. Five ways to get outside and enjoy the bountiful playground of the wild!

1. Go hiking! Such great exercise, AND you get to breathe in the fresh air of the great outdoors. Get away from the hustle and bustle of the malls and the crowds; get off your couch; grab a friend, or go alone... There are so many trails out there. Just Google hiking trails in your area and I guarantee you will find some great options, regardless of your skill level. Whether it's a short little walk through the woods, a 5 mile trek up a mountain, or a 3 day backpacking trip in the back country, getting moving and exploring in the great outdoors will do you good.  I would argue that there is hardly anything better for you than getting out into nature, walking through a forest or up a mountain, connecting with the wild, breathing in the pure air, and getting some exercise. Plus, making it to the end of a trail is such a rewarding experience! You will be proud of yourself AND the view from the top is almost ALWAYS worth the sweat.

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2. Ride a bike! If you don't have one, rent one! Pick your desired level of intensity and gogogo! Go for a nice, level ride on a paved path, or pick a mountain and charge it. Get out there, test your limits. Put the pedal to the metal!

3. SUP! Stand Up Paddleboarding is one of my new favorite things to do. It is an excellent source of exercise for your whole body, AND it allows you to get out on the water anywhere there is a body of water near by. There is something so relaxing and grounding about being out on the water on a paddleboard. Whether you are catching waves in the ocean, or cutting across a glassy lake, you will get a good work out AND get outside. You can paddleboard all year round too. Just bundle up in the winter time and hit the lake. I love being out on the water on a clear, calm, winter day. You can rent paddleboards all over the place. Again, just Google SUP rentals in your area. My board is from Perfect Wave Surf Shop [www.perfectwave.com].

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4. Bouldering! What is bouldering, you might ask? Well, it is a form of rock climbing that does not use ropes or harnesses. Raw, baby. Just you, gripping a rock wall with your bare hands. Talk about extreme. This is a great way to test yourself and push yourself to new limits. Conquer your fear! I'm terrified of heights, but hey, what better way to get over that than to climb a rock wall with no safety net? Best part about it: no gear required! Worst part about it: no gear required!

5. Go fishing! Fishing is a huge passion of mine. I am a fly fisher-woman myself, but there are all different kinds of fishing that you can learn. Whether you hit the nearest lake with a spinning reel and some PowerBait, or go squid jigging off a pier in the ocean, you are bound to have a great time, especially if you bring a buddy along. But seriously, try fly fishing...it's the best.

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So, no excuses! There are so many things to try and so many ways to get yourself outside! Go! Have the adventures that you have been yearning for! Make them happen! Push yourself, conquer your fears, and make yourself proud!

Backcountry Beauty

923169_10200729333027499_843181314_n I  do a lot of backpacking, hiking, and camping. My husband and I trek it out into the wild for days at a time and let me tell you, it took me awhile to get the hang of roughing it. I love my creature comforts and eating healthy, and I definitely still want to look somewhat cute around my husband. Anyone who has gone backpacking knows that eating healthy and staying pretty in the backcountry isn't very easy to do.  It was just a matter of time before I had to figure out some ways to incorporate my beauty and health essentials into my packing list without adding a ton of extra weight to my pack.

Here are nine keys to backcountry beauty:

  1. Bring some great cleansing wipes (baby wipes will do!). I like the Yes to Cucumbers facial clothes [yestocarrots.com]. Nothing feels better at the end of a long day of hiking than giving your face (and body!) a good wipe down. I like feeling and smelling fresh and my skin definitely appreciates the cleaning. Throw a small pack of cleansing wipes in your pack and it wont add much weight or bulk to your load. Your face will thank you for it and your tent-mate will appreciate the clean smell!
  2. Throw a little tube of moisturizer and some chapstick in your bag. My skin dries out SO easily so bringing a moisturizing lotion along is a must. Plus, nothing looks prettier than dewy, moisturized skin and lips. I usually just keep a travel-sized tube of Aveeno or St. Ives in all of my packs and bags so that I always have one handy.  I like a nice tinted chapstick like the cherry or strawberry flavored ones. They add a bit of color. You will feel better too if you keep your skin healthy and lubed up.
  3. DRINK A LOT OF WATER!!! Hydration = beauty AND health. Get used to peeing in the bushes...it's gonna happen.
  4. Bring healthy snacks. Mountain House Meals and Clif Bars are backpacking essentials and they can be oh-so-tasty and necessary after a long day of trekking it in the backcountry. Carbs and calories are important!! But eating all that can really do a number on your skin AND your stomach.  Prepare some baggies of dried fruit and nuts to bring along. If you have extra room at ALL, bring some carrot sticks or apples. Any healthy, whole foods that you can fit and carry, BRING THEM. Trust me, your skin and stomach will thank you after five days in the wilderness. You will look and feel A LOT better if you can manage to eat some whole foods along the way.
  5. Get more sleep than you think you need.  We all know that it's hard to get a really great night's sleep while camping. Take a nap during the day if you can. Try to fit in some shut-eye whenever the opportunity arises. You will feel better and you will give your body a chance to rejuvenate itself. AND you will help stave off those dark bags under your eyes.
  6. Wear sunscreen!! Protect that skin! I burn so easily and let me tell you - NOTHING can ruin a backpacking trip faster than a bad sunburn. Plus, the lobster look isn't very cute.
  7. Bring a travel-sized toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss...and use them!
  8. French braid your hair. No muss, no fuss. It will keep your hair from getting tangled AND you'll have pretty waves when you take it out.
  9. SMILE! Nothing is more beautiful than someone having the time of her life!

Have fun, backcountry beauties!

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100 lbs of Girl

My backpack weighs nearly half as much as I do. It's nearly as big as I am. It is stuffed to full capacity, strapped on tight. Inside are all the essentials: 0 degree Marmot [Marmot.com] sleeping bag, sleeping pad, first aid kit, tooth brush, headlamp, extra layers of clothing, and enough Mountain House meals and Clif Bars to keep me fueled for days. Everything else needed is strapped onto my husband, Ben's, back.  We're a team. We've got a system. 946927_10200729325867320_927794349_n

Ben laughed the first time we loaded up my Gregory backpack and cinched me into it. It's huge. I'm tiny. It's funny, really. I weigh a whopping 100 lbs. I'm little and blonde and most people wouldn't expect me to be able to rough it in the backcountry with a huge pack full of gear on my back. Ben ends up carrying more than I do, but that's alright - he's bigger and stronger than I am. I still pull my weight and I love breaking stereotypes. And the end result is always worth the struggle and sweat.

Backcountry Bliss!

With My Little Dog By My Side

581932_10200818003364202_1242076466_n It's a fact of life: dogs get into your heart in a way that most other things can't. They can be the very best of companions and the epitome of loyalty.  My little dog, Gunner, has followed my husband and I on hikes that left his poor paws worn raw (much to our shame and dismay - and much to Gunner's chagrin as we are now considering getting him some hiking booties). He truly would go anywhere with us. That is the definition of man's best friend.

To be up in the mountain wilderness and to watch your dog run free like the wild being that he is at heart is a spellbinding experience. Your sweet, household pet is transformed before you into a wild creature in his natural element. It's beautiful. It's frightening. The bliss in his face is apparent and melt-worthy.

When the adventure of the day is through, and you collapse onto your bed with your little pal, each of you wiped from a day of exploration, and getting back in touch with your primal roots, there is nothing like the undying love and devotion seen in your dog's eyes.  What is an adventurous life without a dog to share it with?

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Good Ol' John Muir

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"Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." John Muir

I like to think that this quote by John Muir sums up my thoughts about nature and the importance of getting back to one's native, primal roots.  We are creatures built for fresh air and great expanses of open country beckoning to be wandered in. It is crucial for us to find a place that is filled with nothing but uncluttered, crowd-free, slow-paced, wind-whispering solitude. Quiet.

I find myself becoming so overwhelmed, and at times I will admit underwhelmed, with the hustle and bustle of modern life in a society that values a job quickly done. I personally just don't buy into the hype - the so-called "beauty" of a busy city street lined with sky scrapers and spattered with chewed and discarded gum.  While some find that they are most at home in the grey, steel and concrete jungle, I find a part of myself that is repulsed by what has become the "norm". I tend to shy away from crowds and from things and places that I identify as being so far removed from the natural world in which I feel that I belong.

John Muir speaks truth. Not only was he a great naturalist and an advocate of the preservation of America's wilderness, but he was wise in his understanding of the essence of human need for open spaces and the wild country. I need to disconnect from society and from the pull of modern life at times. In fact, I may be so bold as to say that we ALL do.  There are weeks that I look ahead to the coming weekend with a giddy excitement like a child awaiting a much-anticipated gift from a beloved parent.  When the sun shoots its first rays of light over the horizon, I am ready with gear packed into the back of a black F-150, speeding towards the mountains and the chance to just simply BE in the great outdoors. I seek a place in which I may wander for days without encountering another human being. I search for a breathtaking view and the feel of a mountain breeze of fresh air blowing against my skin. An uncluttered landscape. Very few sounds to fill my consciousness.

Yep. John Muir had it so right.