Backcountry Initiation

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301071_2158820181857_2917232_n My first taste of the backcountry involved a lot of sweat, a lot of apprehension, and a pack that weighed over a quarter of my body weight. I had done a bit of hiking, but nothing involving a backpack or more than a few miles, and certainly nothing that involved sleeping out in the middle of nowhere. My husband and I had researched a wilderness area called Horseshoe Basin. 12 miles round trip and promising excellent scenery, we figured this would be a great way to initiate me into the world of backpacking. We packed up only the necessities, working hard to eliminate excess weight. We analyzed maps and read up on forums and decided that limiting the amount of water we carried was the best way to cut weight. The area we were going to be hiking in had plenty of streams, and water sources would be abundant. After all was said and done, my pack weighed 30 lbs, and on my barely 100 lb, inexperienced frame, it felt at least five times heavier than it actually was.

My husband and I headed East of the Cascades to Okanogan County. The trail head was at the end of a very long, very windy, very unmaintained “road” near the top of a small mountain. We set out as the sun was just making it’s first appearance over the mountain tops. The air was still chilly and with our packs strapped on tight, we plunged into a thick forested area through which the path wound for what seemed like hours. It was about a mile in that the heat started to scorch us. The sun inched higher and higher into the clear blue sky above the tree tops. The trail broke out of the trees and opened up onto alpine meadows, blooming with colorful wild flowers and tall grasses. It was breathtaking. It was hot.

The straps of my pack began to feel like they were cutting into my shoulders and my hips. My husband plowed on ahead, his stride sure and strong. He didn’t seem to be suffering like I was, although this wasn’t his first rodeo. He was an avid outdoors-man and he was no stranger to the backcountry, or to hauling a heavy load on his back. I felt myself growing weaker by the moment. The alpine meadows gave way to a burned down forest. A wild fire had torn through the mountains not many months before and dead, blackened trees lay scattered for miles in every direction. At least in the alpine meadows I had had the beauty of the flowers and the sweeping view to motivate me. Now, in this barren graveyard of skeleton trees I felt defeated.

I threw down my pack and booked it to a large boulder just off the trail - the only thing remotely close to a shady place to rest. I crouched beside the boulder, rubbing my shoulders, panting, and on the verge of tears. I realized with sinking certainty, that I had been defeated. I did not have what it took to be an adventurer. I had daydreamed that I would embark on my first backcountry quest with undiscovered, unharnessed, unshakeable strength. Now, as I huddled pathetically by a large rock in the middle of an unbelievably hot, desolate wasteland, the acknowledgment of my inexperience and weakness was nausea inducing.

My husband, upon realizing that I was no longer behind him, circled back and found me in my sorry state. With a gentle smile, he asked what was wrong. I told him that I was not cut out for the wild. My pack was too heavy, it was too hot, and my legs felt like jello. I told him that I could not go on and that we should turn back. My husband would have none of it. He gave me the bottle of water that we brought with us, and I drank deeply, sucking down the warm liquid that offered little to no relief from my suffering. I handed the bottle back to him, wiping my mouth with the back of my sweaty hand. My husband stowed the bottle and held out his hand to me. “Let’s go,” he said, confidently. He hauled me to my feet and helped me ease back into the straps of my pack.

And we carried on. With every step, my body ached more, and the sun beat down harder. But then, gradually, something amazing happened. I realized that despite my discomfort, I was pushing on, keeping up with my husband, and feeling more and more capable by the minute. The landscape changed again and we began winding in between tall cliffs and more alpine meadows. Patches of snow appeared sporadically in the shadowy  places. The heat became more bearable and I didn’t mind the burning in my shoulders and hips so much. I realized that my body was very capable of doing this. I had only to push through my mental barriers to release the adventurer strength within me. I was backpacking! I breathed in the fresh, mountain air and looked around me as I walked, drinking in the beauty of the backcountry - so remote and so unlike any place I had ever been.

Finally, we wound down the side of a cliff, came around a corner, and there it was: our destination. A beautiful valley lay before us, and on the opposite side, a grassy mountainside rose up into a bright blue sky. My husband and I smiled at each other. We trekked across the valley and up the other mountainside, where we found a relatively flat bank with a killer view. We set up camp, built our own water filtration system out of t-shirts, gravel, grass, and some charcoal that my husband had grabbed from the burned out forest we passed through earlier. The water that we filtered was the cleanest tasting water I had ever had the pleasure of guzzling.

That night we sat on the mountainside and watched the sunset together. The last blazing light of the day lit the wildflowers around us on fire so that they glowed in a supernatural way. It was so quiet. So still. The air was so crisp. The sun finally slipped behind a distant peak. It was a brand new world that I was in. In that moment, the backcountry welcomed me with open arms as one of it’s own. I fell in love on that mountainside, both with my husband all over again for believing in the strength that I had inside of me, even when I didn’t, and with the backcountry and all it stood for and all it had to offer. The wild places wove their way into my soul and I’ve never looked back.

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Little Slice of Heaven

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Everyone needs a quiet place to escape to. A place that makes you relax just thinking about it. That is what is so great about cabins. They are your own little slice of heaven that you can run off to in order to get away from it all. They are a safe haven that you can go to for a peaceful weekend away from the grind; a springboard for adventure.

Whether you like to hole up inside with a good book and shut the whole world out, or use it as a base camp for exploration, cabins are what it's all about.

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.

Why I Fly Fish

"With My Silken Line and delicate hook, I wander in a myriad of ripples And find freedom."

Emperor Li Yu, 6th Century

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I get a wide array of responses when people find out that I am a fly fisherwoman. I have had other women tell me that I am an inspiration. I have been told that I motivate other women to get outside, try new things, and seek out adventure. On the other hand, I have been told that I am weird for getting into fly fishing. A lot of women don't get the appeal of the sport, or of the great outdoors at all for that matter. To them, my behavior is deviant; strange even.

I can't really explain why fly fishing has captured me the way that it has. At best, I can try to put into words what draws me to it and what thrills me about it. It has something to do with the art and the science of it; of being outdoors in some of the most beautiful places that are inaccessible to those who are not willing to get their feet wet. It is the feel of a rod, swaying gracefully with every forward and backward motion of my forearm, and the elegant curve of line arching overhead. It's something about how it requires me to read the various movements of the river, and how it forces me to think like a fish, targeting it with a precise and calculated deception. It has to do with the feel of the river flowing against my legs and the cool chill of the water, emanating through my waders. It's the firm, slick rocks under foot that I must carefully maneuver over in my deliberate trek upstream. It's the way my muscles ache and my palms burn at the end of a long day on the river. And of course...it is the sudden tightening of the line that comes simultaneously with the shattering eruption of a trout breaking the surface from somewhere deep below and grabbing hold of that fly that I placed ever-so intentionally overhead for him.

Fly fishing is a muscle burning, life changing, soul rejuvenating, gut wrenching, exhilarating, freedom finding, beautiful sport. I'm hooked.

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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Morning Rituals

1385809_10201658465775237_1778717570_n How you start your day is important. What you do, see, feel, hear, smell, or taste first thing in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. Sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to get out of that warm bed in the morning, especially during the winter time when those blankets feel extra cozy and the house feels extra chilly.

It's important to make a conscious decision about how you are going to start each day. You can choose to fill your morning with happy, positive thoughts and rituals. There are little things that you can do in the early hours, when you are fresh out of dream-land and your mind is a clean slate. Here are a few ways to make waking up a little easier:

1. Try making one of your favorite songs your alarm. Waking up to something that makes you happy will get your morning off to a great start.

2. Instead of jumping on facebook first thing in the morning, try meditating on everything that you have to be thankful for. Focusing on the positive things in your life is a great habit to get into.  Look for the good in the day ahead.

3. Prepare for your day the night before. Pack your lunch, get your clothes all laid out, and make sure you have all the ingredients ready for a good breakfast. Prepping the night before will save you from unnecessary stress in the morning.

4. Coffee. Just knowing there is hot coffee waiting for you is good motivation to slip out of that warm bed.

And my last bit of advice...

5. Try very hard, whenever possible, to wake up in the mountains...preferably in time to watch the sunrise. With coffee.

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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3 Ways to Keep Up Your Summertime Momentum!

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It's easy to fall into a gloomy funk once the warm, adventure conducive days of summer begin to fade away. How is an outdoor enthusiast supposed to survive an icey, cold winter, deprived of camping, hiking, or backcountry adventure?

Well, the answer is that you don't have to, my friend! Outdoor exploration is possible in the cold winter months. You have to be a bit more hardcore, but snowy adventures can be the most magical and can make for some of the best stories.

Not everyone is into the idea of camping or backpacking in the snow. I don't blame you. It's cold. But there are other ways that you can get your nature-boost in the wild during the winter without sleeping on icy ground.

So, bundle up! Here are 3 ways to keep up your summer time momentum all the way through the coldest of months:

  1. Lace up your boots, throw on an extra layer of wool socks, and hike! Don't let a little snow stop you. One of my husband's and my favorite hikes was an entirely new experience when we did it in the snow. The hike winds up a steep, switch-back path to the top of a mountain. At the top, there is a beautiful lake, surrounded by jagged peaks. When we did the hike in January, the way up the mountain was completely empty. No other hikers dared to attempt the snowy, icy climb. When we made it to the top, the lake had been transformed from when we had seen it last during the summer months. It was magical, and it became a fond, special memory for us. [I'm not like most bloggers...I'll let you in on a secret: if you live in Washington, check out Lake Serene off of Highway 2 for a beautiful, challenging day hike.]
  2. Snowshoe... cover snowy ground in a fun, efficient way. Explore a new silent, snowy world, blanketed in white. Snowshoeing is great exercise and it is such a good way to wander over otherwise tricky to traverse, snow drift covered land.
  3. Sled...and I don't mean that little old wooden thing from when you were a kid. I'm talking about snowmobiles, which are often referred to as sleds by those who are in the know. And now you know. You can rent sleds at many different resorts and shops during the winter time. They are an excellent way to get a fix when you have the need for speed. You can also cover a lot more ground than you can on foot or on snowshoes. My husband was a snowmobile guide one winter. We took sleds out together for the first time a few years back and it was such an incredible rush! There is so much power in those machines and you can glide over the snow and charge up icy mountains like it's nothing. I highly recommend giving it a try. You'll be hooked.

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Don't let the shorter days and cooler temps keep you huddling, defeated indoors. Try something new! Go have a chilly adventure and breathe in the cool, fresh air! It will thrill you!

The Tonic of Wildness

“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

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That's it...that is what it is. That is the thing about nature; about the great outdoors. You can never fully comprehend or understand it all. There is always something new and wondrous about it. There is always a new discovery to be made and a brand new experience to be had in the wild.

As we grow older, time goes by faster and faster. I am twenty-five years old and I can honestly say that 2013 has been the fastest year of my life. Research shows that as we grow older, we are less likely to experience new things...things that scare us and amaze us and push us outside of our comfort zone. THAT is why time goes by faster the older we get.

The key to slowing down time is to do something new. So...do something that scares you, or that amazes you.  Do something that pushes you outside of YOUR comfort zone. I turn to nature for my remedy. It is mysterious and unfamiliar. You will always have new experiences in nature. Often times you will be forced to step outside of your comfort zone, even if it is just going without makeup for a few days or sleeping in a tent or climbing to the top of a steep hill to experience an incredible view.

Get your daily dose of the unknown...of the unfathomable. Don't let life pass you by!

Drink up the "tonic of wildness"!

East for Adventure

553849_10201658433294425_1674086271_n I associate heading East with adventure. I grew up in Western Washington, and aside from a brief stint on the southern Californian coast, that is where I have lived my whole life. Western Washington has beauty and plenty of places to explore, but for me East of the mountains is where true adventure awaits.

My parents and I used to take drives over the mountains to get hamburgers at the little mountain burger stand together. The first time my dad and I fly fished together was on the Yakima river in Eastern Washington. Some of the best backpacking trips and hikes that my husband, Ben, and I have been on have been East of the Cascades. Our family cabin lies to the East, in Montana. I associate "East" with so many good memories.

There is something about cresting the Cascade mountains. The clouds clear up, the trees become more spread out allowing for some great, uninhibited hiking, and the sun is usually shining. Descending on the East side, hills covered in sage brush and pines beckon to me, daring me to take off into them for a day or a week. The rivers flow by the highway, begging for me to cast a fly into their rapids.

To the East is adventure; the unknown; rugged terrain that one can wander through for days. Wild animals roam freely, uninhibited by large crowds or overpopulation encroaching on their country. The East holds an enchantment over me. Whenever I think about going over the mountains I feel an excitement building up inside. Anything is possible.  Anything might happen.

Mountain Peaks and Salty Seas

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Balance is an important thing in life. Sometimes people can take the concept of balance to an unhealthy extreme, but that's a topic for another day. The balance that I want to talk about is the kind that involves terrain. When it comes to getting out there and exploring the great outdoors and all that it has to offer, don't limit yourself!

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I think that we all need a healthy serving of mountains, and a side of tropical beach. These two types of terrain are polar opposites in most ways. But both are good for you, both physically and mentally.

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        The mountains are jagged, mysterious, challenging...they allow you solitude and the chance to prove your abilities to yourself. You can conquer new heights, scale new cliff sides, and lose yourself (voluntarily, of course) in the cool forests. Mountain air is clear, crisp, and enlightening. You can listen to the cry of an eagle echoing through canyons, and watch an elk making it's way through a wide open field. You can wander for hours or days, uncovering new sights that will take your breath away.

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Tropical beaches give you something else. They allow you to feel the sand between your toes. You can submerge yourself in the turquoise waters of the ocean and explore underwater caverns. You can swim with colorful schools of exotic fish, test your nerves in a shark cage, and watch the sun set into the ocean while sipping fresh coconut milk. Salt water does the body and mind good, and nothing beats floating, spread eagle in the sea with the sun beaming down on your smiling face.

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Balance is important when it comes to being an adventurer. To take advantage of nature and appreciate it in its' full capacity, I suggest making time for both mountain peaks AND salty seas. Trek up that treacherous terrain, stare up at that wide expanse of starry sky as wolves sing you a lullaby, bask in the quiet and the coolness and the unknown of the mountainous wilderness. And lay in the sand, soak up the Vitamin D (with a healthy coating of sunblock, of course), eat fresh, tropical fruit, dive in the sea...

Balance, brah! It's a beautiful world with so much to offer! Be sure to experience it all!

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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!

How I Got Skunked and Why I'm OK With It!

528275_10201658467615283_992572218_n This past weekend, my husband, Ben, and I sped over to the family cabin in Montana for four days of studying, relaxing, and - of course - fly fishing. We were hoping desperately to time it just right so that we hit the big October Caddis hatch. Unfortunately, the hatch didn't happen during our stay. Ben had a few great bites and even kept one on the line for a little bit of a fight. But me? I got royally skunked. The fish completely ignored every single thing I threw their way. I got nothin' - no bites, not even the faintest sign of aquatic life lurking somewhere in a distant deep pool...NOTHING. All I had to show for my time on the river was a huge new blister. I should have been discouraged. I should have been pissed. But you know what? I couldn't stop smiling a huge stupid grin the whole time I was out there. Yep, I got skunked this weekend, and here is why I am OK with it:

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Even though I wasn't catching any fish, I was having the time of my life! I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world on a blue ribbon trout fishery; my husband - the love of my life- was just up stream of me; aside from the sound of the rushing water in which I stood, submerged up to my waist, the world was silent around me. I was surrounded by mountains and Aspen trees. A soft wind blew gently through their leaves. Gorgeous blue birds flew over head. The sun beat down, its rays just warm enough to keep me a comfortable temperature, despite the frigid waters of the river pouring against my legs, clad in my Frogg Toggs waders [www.froggtoggs.com]. Yes, despite the lack of fishy conquests, I was content. More than content. I was happy. I was enjoying myself. I was breathing in the fresh, crisp, fall, Montana air. I was with my best friend, fishing in an extraordinary river that runs right by our family cabin...I realized how blessed I am.

See, that is the best part about fly fishing. It allows you to be present in the moment. It allows you to be with someone you love, and yet, alone in a sweet isolation - just you and the river; just the motion of your rod and the gentle, deliberate 'C' of your line, swooping overhead. It allows you to feel each rock beneath your booted feet (my boots are from Redington and I love them [www.redington.com]). Fly fishing brings you to some of the most breathtaking places, and lets you see them from a point of view that not many people get to experience - from the middle of a raging river or from a distant shore.

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As Ben and I clambered up the river bank, on the eve of our trip's end, we smiled at each other. We walked back up the dirt road towards the cabin. Blue birds flitted in the trees and the shadows grew longer as the sun sank lower and lower behind the mountains. Yep, we got skunked. But we still had a damn good time.

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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!

Up Close and Personal

I hunch down in the tall, yellow grass - awestruck and giddy at my proximity to the hulking black creature which stands only a few yards in front of me. It’s large head looks furry and I imagine that it might be soft to the touch. It’s long tail swishes spontaneously at the endless swarm of flies buzzing around it’s body. The creature moves slowly but deliberately through the grass, over the uneven terrain, passing directly in front of me. With my Canon Rebel out and at the ready I watch until the perfect moment presents itself. The buffalo pauses a moment. It is facing ever so slightly away from me, waiting as if pondering something. A cool, breeze blows through the grass and the green sage brush that surrounds us. I raise the camera to my eye and focus the lens in...waiting...waiting... With no sense of urgency, the buffalo turns his massive head towards me. I see his great eye, filled with a deep intelligence and beauty, focus on me - a strange little being, crouching not far from him with my camera plastered to my face. 17759_10201274979148311_471044507_n

For a moment we stare at one another, me through my camera’s lens, him through deep, liquid brown pools. Each of us evaluates the other, weighing the danger that the other presents. I feel an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. I know that if this creature decides that I am a threat, it could turn on me and in a very short amount of time it could cover the distance between us and that would be it for me. I would not stand a chance. I am at its mercy.

The buffalo’s tail continues to swish back and forth. It’s eyes continue to size me up and down. I slowly rise up a bit from my crouch in an effort to get a better shot, refocusing my lens. The buffalo remains statue still. I slowly press my finger down on the button. The camera snaps a few pictures of the buffalo. I lower the camera slowly. The buffalo hasn’t moved and is still watching me. I hold my breath, waiting for what the creature’s reaction to my invasion of its privacy will be.

Then, with a grunt, the buffalo turns and quietly drifts away, over the plains and out of sight.

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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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