Being A Vegetarian Abroad

Plenty of people have diet restrictions these days, whether it’s a no-meat diet, gluten free, or no carbs not-now-not-ever.  I have been a vegetarian on and off again for 11 years.  The brief times times that I added meat back into my diet were because A) I eat really poorly at first and it was a contributing factor to a hospital stay I had in 2008 and B) I studied abroad in a non-veggie friendly country.  Now that said, when I was studying in Botswana one of my fellow American classmates was a vegetarian and stayed that way.  There are a lot of factors that go into the why of why people restrict their diet and I don’t want to go into all that here.  I am lucky enough to be able to eat freely if I choose and I have no major allergies, so I was able to add meat back into my diet with minimal fuss.  When I left Africa and landed in Germany I immediately- and with great relief- left off eating animals again.  Now I have reached a comfortable point where I occasionally eat fish (that’s called being a pescatarian) but eat healthy and well all the time.

That’s me at home in Colorado.  But abroad?  How feasible is it to be a vegetarian abroad?  When I was 18 I travelled around China with a group of students from my high school.  We had been invited on the whirlwind trip by two nearly-retired teachers who liked to bring students of fabulous trips around the world every summer.  I was able to stipulate ahead of time that I was a veggie person and so I didn’t have too much trouble eating whenever we went to a restaurant as a group.  My friend and I ventured to a grocery store across the street from our hotel in Beijing and did some exploratory shopping.  I think we came away with a bag of Hawaiian rolls, brightly colored candy, and a strangely shaped fruit that we later learned was dragon fruit.  However, if we were left to our own devices for a meal or if we were at some kind of cultural touristy type event there was inevitably some awkward situations.  Like the time we were in Shangai and a restaurant proudly served up a traditional city favorite: steamed chicken feet.  Or the Peking Duck (complete with it’s head, just like in A Christmas Story) we had in Beijing.  I ate a lot of fried eggplant in sauce on that trip.

In Ireland I had a little more trouble finding satisfying meat-free meals, but perhaps that’s because I just wasn’t very good at knowing what to order, or because I was still relatively unwilling to eat cooked vegetables.  Irish breakfasts feature sausage, black pudding, bacon- all that salty, fatty goodness, but they also serve eggs, potatoes, and fruit.  Lunch and dinner were a different story.

People always want to say, “But sometimes it would be rude not to try the food!” That is true to a certain extent.  I attended a funeral in Botswana with my host family and understood almost nothing of what was going on (my Setswana was basic at best). I spent the five hours I was there sitting in a plastic chair in the shade, watching a group of men skin, quarter, and hang cow meat in a tree to dry in the sun.  At some point some of the liver, which had been prepared inside, was passed around and each funeral-goer put some on their plate.  I had never had liver, and certainly never liver from animal I had see whole recently.  There was not a question though: when the large serving bowl was passed to me, I took a piece from it.  I found the taste bland, the texture terrible, and the sight disconcerting, but I still ate it.  That was probably the only I time I risked actually offending someone by refusing a meat dish.  People, as it turns out, generally want to be friendly towards their guests and with their friends, no matter how foreign the person is.  If you say, “No thank you, I do not eat meat,” they respect that.  World War Three is not going to start because you don’t want  a steak, so get over yourself.

I choose to eat meat in Botswana, but not elsewhere.  It made sense for me.  It made sense for the time, the place, and the circumstances.  I think that’s all you can do in any situation.

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The Colorado Trail

Life has been pretty stressful lately- I’ve been searching and searching for a new apartment, and the place where I work was bought out by a corporation, which means the transition has been less than smooth- etc, etc, life, blah blah blah.  Anyway, it seemed like the perfect time for an escape into the wilderness.

If you are a hiker or a backpacker you have probably heard of some of the national scenic trails like the Pacific Crest Trail (or PCT) or the Appalachian Trail (AT), or even the Continental Divide Trail.  Colorado is home to another long distance trail (although it is not a national scenic trail) called- you guessed it- the Colorado Trail, or CT.  This long path leads from Denver west to Durango and leads hikers over some impressive country.  It usually takes about a month to complete the 486 miles.  This is a baby nubbin of a trail milewise, compared to the PCT’s 2,659 miles, but you will pass through mountains, canyons, prairies, and national forests.  It is the best of Colorado.  I decided to take my first backpacking trip along section 3 of the CT, which according to the guidebook, was lovely and shaded and had great camping.  Sold!  Thanks to overtime pay and REI’s anniversary sale I had purchased myself an Osprey Aura 50 AG pack, so I loaded this [complicated] pack with tent, sleeping bag, a spare set of cold weather clothes, guidebook, and food for myself and Dog.  My roommate helped me pack, which was incredibly helpful since looking at my pile of items and looking at my pack, it seemed impossible that it would all fit.  But fit it did!  Then I remembered that I needed to pack water…If you have seen the movie ‘Wild’ think of the part in which Cheryl attempts to put her monster backpack on for the first time in the hotel room.  Yeah, it was a little like that.


The trailhead was about an hour southwest of where I live.  That means an hour of driving through rainy, misty mountains.  It was stunning.  My GPS was basically worthless when it came to finding the exact parking lot out there that I needed, but luckily the guidebook had directions.  It was chilly as I left the trailhead, and the sky was threatening rain, but I stayed dry and worked up plenty of body heat as I walked to stay warm.  The sun did come out intermittently, but the distant hills and mountain remained pleasantly misty looking.  As we walked, Dog and I passed clumps of huge boulders that formed mini-mountainscapes. Some of them offered stunning views of distant peaks.  The landscape switched between forests, to hills covered in felled trees, to rocky outcropping, and back again.  The trail cross crossed a small stream which gave Dog opportunities to hydrate.  There were plenty of mountain bikers and we passed several other backpackers.  Each time I saw a campsite set up I was tempted to stop and chat with the people there, but shyness won out and we kept on.  It was comforting to see them there, though.  There were several other trails, and even an abandoned Jeep road that crossed the CT, so every time I saw a little triangular CT trailmarker I felt a huge sense of relief.  Plus, finding those little buggers was something of a game.


According to the guidebook there would be good camping about five or so miles out near a water source.  That was my goal.  I walked for what felt like miles, and as the sunlight became more golden and the shadows grew longer I decided that if I didn’t find the campground by 6 pm then I would look for the closest available place to set up camp.  The idea that I got to pick my own site for the night was intoxicating.  Did I want to sleep at the base of a huge rock formation?  How about at the crest of a forested hill?  Or at the base of some trees near the stream?  Along the trail you can pretty much camp wherever, but there are definitely places that other hikers have used time and time again.  Why carve out something new when there were already established spots?  Just after six pm I heard water and I came around a bend in the trail to find my old friend the stream gurgling merrily  away around some huge fir trees.  A piece of flat land at the base of these, well covered in leaves and needles,  looked like a well-used sit.  There was even a campfire ring made out of rocks and some logs pulled together for seating.  It was just off trail and would provide water for Dog, leaving my two water bottles for me to drink from.  Perfect.  What I didn’t know at the time was that if I had kept going maybe five minutes more I would have reached the camping spot that my guidebook had described.  Instead I shrugged off my pack and in the evening light I made camp.  It was absolutely beautiful- Pike National Forest knows how to deliver- and I was glad to finally rest.  Dog of course was ready to play fetch with all the available sticks and logs. Two backpackers passed the way I had come and I waved to them cheerfully.  Then I was alone.


It hailed.  Dog and I huddled inside the tent.  When it stopped we peaked back outside for a bit.  I was pretty tired by then, so we made an early night of it.  Or tried to.  I read a book by the light from my headlamp and huddled inside my sleeping bag.  It was inaugural trip of my Marmot Trestles 15 bag which I had bought a few months back.  That bag kept me warm and toasty all night long, so shout out to Marmot!  If you read an earlier post of mine about camping back in March you might remember my difficulties in keeping warm at night.  This particular night, way out in the forest, it was cold and damp.  My tent kept me dry, and the sleeping bag was wonderful, but the air was the kind of cold that gets down into your bones and starts a slow shiver that you just can’t stop.  Dog was immune to the cold, but she did snuggle with me, which definitely helped to keep me warm.  I would link to a site where you can get one of her too…but you can’t, so instead just adopt a dog of your own from a shelter!  *That’s my official plug for this post.


In the cold and the dark my fear of bears began to grow.  I had asked my roommates what to do about the food in my pack since I obviously had no car to stow it in.  They told me that they usually just risked it.  They also mentioned tying the food in a bag up in a tree, which I was aware of but had never tried.  In my impatience to be gone I did not borrow any rope from them to do this, which was extremely foolish on my part, and now I was torturing myself with imagined scenarios of a bear nosing it’s way into my tent, being spooked by dog, and killing us on the spot.  It was spring, the bears were out, and they were hungry.  I had seen a “Warning!  Bear country!” Sign at the trailhead.  I was going to become a cautionary backcountry tale, I just knew it.  The fear was so great that I was basically lost it and froze, too afraid to hear something like shuffling paws, but too afraid to try and block out the sounds for fear I would miss my only opportunity to escape.  I could only hear the sound of the stream nearby and the wind in the branches.  At one point I even took Dog with me out into the dark night to try and tie up a stuff sack with my food.  I tramped awkwardly into the thick trees in an absolute panic, but as I gazed around I reasoned that if I didn’t do the thing properly I would probably just end up leading bears and who know what else right into my camp.  I ran back to my tent with a very confused Dog and decided that if a bear should find us the best course of action would be to throw the food bag out the backside of my tent and take Dog and run out the front, which was facing the trail.  Not a very good plan, but a plan nonetheless.  Let me just say that I have rarely been as terrified in my life as I was when I was in that tent worrying about bears (not to mention mountain lions).

With the aid of Harry Potter being read by Jim Dale on my phone I did eventually fall asleep.  I woke up to birdsong and early morning sun shining through the branches above me.  The stream continued it’s merry journey past the trail, but it sounded a lot better in daylight and accompanied by bird song.  Dog and I had breakfast and played for a bit.  A backpacker we had passed the day before stopped by camp on his way back up the trail.  He told us that the campsite I had looked for was close by.  He also told me that this had been a trial run for his thru-hike of the entire trail that he was planning on doing it in August.  I wished him a safe trip.  I felt a lot better by then and I relaxed, enjoying the beauty of the morning and experience of being out in the wilderness.

I packed up camp- it took my several tries to roll up tent and sleeping bag so that they would fit in my pack- and we began the trek out.  The sun was out this time, but it wasn’t actually that hot.  Since I had layered up in a long sleeved SmartWool shirt and thick flannel, however, I was soon too warm.  When Dog and I stopped for a mid morning snack I casually changed into a short sleeved t-shirt.  That’s the beauty of the trail- there’s not really anyone around.

We made good time back to the trailhead.  My body was unused to hauling heavy pack, so my shoulders and thighs were aching, but I felt basically sound.  It was with great relief that I stepped out of the pack when we (finally!) reached my car however.  We took some time to hydrate and then it was time to say goodbye to the Colorado Trail.  The trailhead was bustling with activity, compared to the ghost town it had been when we arrived the day before.  We hadn’t driven far before we saw a middle-aged man in biking gear by the side of the road with his thumb up.  I have never picked up a hitchhiker before.  In fact, it is fairly taboo to stop for one, especially if you are a female.  But I had Dog in the car (an excellent judge of character, by the way) and the man was clearly trying to get to the trailhead for some mountain biking.  So I stopped and learned that his name was Dan, his wife wad given birth to his son Wilder just 10 days ago, and then he had walked down the hill to his house, only to learn that he had left his keys in his truck, which was parked not far from the trailhead, just inside the boundaries of Pike National Forest.  I dropped him off at his vehicle and we waved goodbye.  I hadn’t even fully turned my car around to head away when he called out.  “Wait!  Do you want a cold beer for your trouble?”

Of course I did.  The whole drive home that beer sat in the backseat cup holder like a Medal of Honor.  I had completed my first backpacking trip, all on my own.  I had hauled all my gear out into the wilderness, set up camp, and then packed it up to haul it back without incident.  I had seen sights of immeasurable beauty on the way.  I had tested my own endurance and come out on top.  And I had chosen to be kind to a total stranger and been rewarded with good conversation and a free beer.  I have many things to learn (like how to hide food from bears) but I had made it.  So that’s the story of my first backpacking trip along the Colorado Trail through Pike National Forest.


If you want to learn more about the Colorado Trail follow This link.

Adventure Clothes

When I look at my clothes I see what I did, where I was, and who I was with when I wore them.  The shirts and dresses, pants, skirts, and bandannas are more than just cut and sewn pieces of cotton, silk, modal, polyester, lace: they are things that happened while I was wearing them and the people I was with.
When I travel (and this is not just me, I’m sure!) I oh-so-carefully select my clothes. This shirt and this pair of pants for this occasion, and a this pair of shoes in case it rains, and this dress to look stunning in. The problem is, I end up with a mountain of potential pieces and not enough room in my luggage. I sit and go through the pile: the maybe’s, the probably not’s, and the definitely yes’s. It can be hard to let go. Impracticality often wins. Spring? I’d like to believe I can wear my lace pineapple dress and not worry about cold or rain.
I have at least one dress that I love, but which I am not willing to wear because the last time I wore it was such a special and important night. Instead, I will admire it on it’s pretty floral hanger and think about that summer party. Again, I’m sure I am not alone in this.
At the end of last summer I went to San Francisco and I challenged myself to bring only one thing to wear. I found a pretty and versatile dress from Postmark (a la Anthropologie). I wore it faithfully for a couple of days and then decided that I really wouldn’t mind a pair of pants and a shirt, so I went to the Mission and scoured a couple of kitschy-chic thrift shops until I walked away with a pair of skinny jeans and a flannel shirt. Perfect. Those items are still in my closet and now I think of all my San Francisco adventures that happened when I wore them (abandoned racquet ball court in Golden Gate Park, anyone?). While I love my clothes, I think this might be an ideal way to deal with the stress of trying to decided which of my clothes make the cut. It’s wonderfully freeing! Just be sure to bring more than one pair of underwear, since no one wants to thrift that.
I am packing again and I pretty much have my selections laid out. I’m taking a break to type this, and even though I’m lounging in shorts and a t-shirt, I threw on a pretty pair of Seychelles heels that have been sitting in my closet all winter long. It’s time these beauties saw daylight.

Where To Next?

If you are the type of person who travels often then you probably know the excitement of “Where to next…?”  Some lucky folks simply watch ticket prices to exotic locals and purchase the ones that are a steal.  “A trip to Thailand?  Sounds great!”  While I wish I was the kind of person who could whip out my credit card and buy myself a plane ticket to Southeast Asia or the Sahara or whoever, my funds are more limited.  Most of my travel is within the continental US.  Now, that said, this is a HUGE country with just about every biome represented, and each region has it’s own unique flavor and personality.  I didn’t really appreciate the vastness and diversity of my own country until I lived a different country.

Visiting a famous local in Tacoma, WA with my awesome west coast relatives.

Now it’s May, I already have had one glorious adventure this year, but I am thinking ahead.  Where to next indeed.  Sometimes I am attracted to a place because of it’s famed attractions, like the French Quarter in New Orleans, or the mountains in Durango.  Other times I want to see the people who live there, like visiting family in Washington or Minnesota.  I go to San Francisco as frequently as possible because I’m madly in love with the city (and it helps to have an old friend there).  

Representing my friend’s bike polo team in the most favorite city, San Francisco

This summer I’m feeling Tennessee.  I have not spent much time in the east or south of this country, so it would be exciting to explore the local culture there.  I have a cousin that I would love to spend time with.  It seems perfect.  So now, time to watch those ticket prices!

Exploring northern Minnesota

Are Photos Making It Hard to Enjoy Travel?

Since sites like Instagram have become a mainstay for social media the popularity of snapping and sharing the “perfect” photo from your travels has exploded.  I can’t tell you how many shots I see that are this: a pretty girl wearing a maxi dress and sun hat, back turned to the camera, standing in front of a mosaic wall.  It sometimes feels like you are not a “real” traveler unless you have been photographed standing in front of some kind of wall in Southeast Asia or somewhere in the Middle East.  That said, I think any person who has the chance and the ability to travel somewhere wonderfully different than their homeland is lucky and I would jump at the chance to take a boat around Ha Long Bay or see the hot air balloons rise into the air at dawn in Cappadocia.  The oddball girl in me, the one who has never been quite on-trend, and the one who would rather by riding in the hot air balloon than watching it, rebels against falling into the same old pattern as everyone else.

I love posting my latest photos on IG.  I also love digging up old memories (Ireland 2006?  Hell yeah, I rocked that Guinness sweatshirt in the mossy old castle we visited!) and posting them.  I have been wondering lately though, is my eagerness to capture the perfect picture on my trip stopping me from just experiencing the moment?  I have caught myself watching things- once in a lifetime moments- through my camera lens rather than just watching them.  I do end up with pictures I am proud of.   Does that make the moments any less special?

Some people would say yes and complain about selfie sticks, Instagram filters, blah blah blah.  These are the ones that hate “selfies” and ridicule the people who take them.  I find that I don’t side with them on the whole.  As a frequent solo traveler I often use my Nikon’s self timer to take a picture of myself.  After all, I want to be in at least some of my travel photos.  

On the whole, I think it comes down to a delicate balance between taking the time to smell the proverbial roses (or the fresh mountain air at dawn, or rich aroma of roasted coffee beans at a small cafe, or the exotic spices in a marketplace, etc), and being comfortable with pulling out your camera to try and capture a beautiful moment on your journey.  I, for one, love my camera, and I don’t plan on putting it away any time soon.

A photo I took myself of myself at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, CA. No regrets.
Tent selfie taken on my latest solo camping trip. You wouldn’t believe the number of up-close-nose photos I took while playing around with the camera.
A goofy photo that has turned out to be one of my favorites from my time in Botswana.

Thoughts On An Early Morning Hike in the Mountains

Dog and I went camping again yesterday in the mountains (where else?).  I am normally and early riser anyway, but especially when I am camping and haven’t slept too well anyway.  I am excited to see the morning after a long night in the tent.  I was much warmer on this trip (thanks to a better sleeping bag, kindly lent by my roommate), and extra blankets.  Dog was perfectly comfortable, sans blanket.  Still, when I woke up and saw sun creeping across the sky and heard the birds chirping away in the cheerful morning chatter I was glad.  The air outside the tent was coooooold and I regretted my decision to leave my blanket nest, but Dog was ready to go so I didn’t have much of a choice.  April in the city of Denver is much warmer than April in mountains, and the air had a special spring chill.  Refreshing and sweet, but cold.   Anyway, I layered up, and after a hasty breakfast Dog and I set off on the trail.  Here are some reflections on early morning hiking.


1) You will meet a whole different set of birds.  I WISH I WISH I WISH I hadn’t left my new Rocky Mountain Bird identification book at home, but I could tell even without it that the birds I was seeing and hearing in the morning were different from the ones I encountered in the day and evening.  For one thing, the woodpeckers- a species different from the kind I was used to in Wisco- were voracious, and their pecking echoed all around the forest.  Dog and I had a good time watching all the early morning birds swoop around and call to one another.

This woodpecker was attacking the phone poll.

2) If you prefer the trail to yourself, you’ll have it.  I did see two trail runners go past, but apart from that we had what felt like the whole mountain to ourselves.  Most of the other campers were still asleep, and the day trippers weren’t in the park yet.  The stunning views of Panorama Point were OURS, muahahaha.  I also felt less inhibited about sitting down in sunny patches to catch my breath or to snag a snack.

A blurry goofy picture of me playing around with the self timer on my camera near Panorama Point.

3) The freshness of the air and the sun coming up behind peaks and trees is unbeatable.  Yeah, I’m sure the air is always fresh up there, but something about the brisk temps and bird chatter just made the scent of the trees and chipper mountain streams fresher.  It was a joy just to breath.  Stopping to take great big lungfulls of air I was also in awe of the views of the sun rising from behind forested peaks.  It wasn’t dark when we set out from camp, but there was definitely a sharp contrast between the places on the trail where tendrils of sunlight had sneaked in and where it hadn’t.

The change of night to day.

4) The feeling of accomplishment when you saunter back into camp having completed a somewhat grueling hike while everyone else is just starting their day.  I took a one hour victory nap in my tent to celebrate.  So did Dog.

Cafe Life: Boulder, CO

I drove up to Boulder, CO today to do a little thrifting and hole up at a cafe.  I found Laughing Goat Cafe on Pearl Street and I’m enjoying the warm spring afternoon at a table outside with an IPA next to me.  This area is clearly geared towards tourists, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting little boutiques, cafes, and eateries here.  I stopped in nearby Red Letter Books (used books crammed floor to ceiling with only the barest hint of organization), found some comfy pants at Common Threads, and picked up a birthday gift for a friend at a boutique called Bliss.

But back to Laughing Goat-

It is very lively here, even though it’s a Monday afternoon and ostensibly most people are at work or school.  Inside the cafe most tables are full and everyone seems to be working on their laptops.  I guess I fit right in.  The vibe is cozy pub and their selection on coffees is impressive.  They keep two beers on tap (both are IPA), and have a long list of bakery and sandwiches.  I saw about half a dozen different kinds of kombucha in their refrigerator and my mouth fairly watered.  One was called ‘Rowdy Mermaid’ and I nearly bought it just based on the name.  The crowd looks to be mostly young professionals and students, but sitting nearby is a woman and two young girls practicing their reading.  

I’m not sure if this cafe could accurately be called a neighborhood spot, since Pearl Street is not exactly a neighborhood street, but there is an eclectic mix of clientele, as well as a variety of food and drink options that could keep just about anyone happy.  Boulder is a popular spot for visitors due to it’s reputation for ritzy mountain living.  Let’s just say Whole Foods is big here.  It’s a bit of a haul from Denver, but perfect for daytrips.  Plus, you can’t beat the thrifting options at Common Threads.  I like this cafe, and even though I don’t spend a whole heck of a lot of time in Boulder, I would come back again.  

How My Time in Botswana Helped Me Find Roller Derby

It’s kind of a cliche that travelling or doing a study abroad trip help you to “find yourself”.  Don’t get me wrong, they often do.  This post is not about some cathartic moment out in the African bush being surrounded by elephants and figuring life out.  (If you want to read about that, you better hope that my submission for a travel writing scholarship gets picked- then you can read allll about those kind of moments).  

This is about how my friend Diana came over to my dorm room and innocently asked if I wanted to watch a movie that she liked.  Since Diana is one of the coolest people on the planet I said sure.  The movie was Whip It and it’s all about a girl in rural Texas who stumbles across the sport of roller derby when it was in the beginning of it’s modern day incarnation in Austin.  The movie is directed by Drew Barrymore, who also acts in it, and also features some people you might not expect to see out on the track, like Kristen Wiig (my personal hero), Eve, and Ellen Page.  

Anyhow, if you’ve seen it you know: it makes roller derby look reeeaaalll glamorous.  And the sport it glamorous, to some degree, in a sweaty-dyed hair-tattoos-and-glitter kinda way.  Modern day flat track derby doesn’t look like Whip It much, apart from the relationships between skates.  That is dead on.  I didn’t know any of this when I watched the movie though, so I fell in love with this broken bones kind of excitement for the whole rest of my stay in Botswana.  When I returned to the states I brooded over my new-found roller derby love.  In Bots, there is no opportunity for derby, or even just roller skating.  Suddenly back in Madison, WI there was an established league and a rec league waiting with open doors.  

Ah, Bots
Diana, her sister Maria, and her wonderful mother

Shit, bluff called, now I needed to act.  So I spent a summer learning to roller skate around my neighborhood on $7 used roller skates.  In the fall I joined up with the Mad Wreckin Dolls who taught me how to actually skate, how to fall safely, how throw a hit (appropriately), and how to take one.  I learned how to block and how to jam and I was even voted MVP jammer, a feat which is still my crowning athletic achievement.  

Wreckers!
#12 S.P. Arrow
That’s me as a jammer

I stopped skating eventually as life got busy and I began to value my free time more.  I still skated outdoors for fun on my Frankenstein outdoor skates built from various pieces of other skates.  Now here I am Denver, CO and the siren song of the track is calling.  Today I purchased my new WFTDA insurance- something required for all skaters- and I have all my gear ready to go.  I start skating again on Thursday.  Here we go, game on, cheers to a new adventure.

I have Diana, Botswana, and Drew Barrymore to thank for it.

Solo Camping Is A Practice in Meditation

It’s gotta be about 30 degrees inside the tent and even though I’m swaddled inside blankets, a sleeping bag, sweatpants, a woolen shirt, a sweatshirt, thick socks, and a hat I’m too cold to sleep.  Dog is snuggled up by my feet and appears to be impervious to the cold.  I don’t know what time it is (there is no way I am reaching my arm out of my cocoon to check my phone) but outside the night is very very dark.  At this point I hear soft and deliberate footfalls outside my tent.  They stop near my head and I hear sniffing.  What the hell is that?  I locked all the food in a cooler in my car and was careful not to leave any wrappers in the tent with me.  Whatever it is it isn’t human, that’s for sure.  It is also sniffing around inches from my head, separated from me by just the thin wall of my tent.  Dog hasn’t noticed anything and is still asleep.  I can’t decide if this is good or bad.  The list of suspects for my visitor includes raccoon, squirrel, fox, deer, mountain lion, and bear.  The footsteps circle the tent and come back to sniff near my head again.  I am completely still and thinking irrationally what if it is trying to smell me?

Flash back to fourteen hours earlier and I am standing in the Denver flagship REI staring at a display labeled “Bear Protection”.  There are all kinds of air horns, sprays, bear-proof canisters, bells, and whistles.  Bears were never a big deal back in Wisconsin.  Out here though, I am knowingly camping in bear territory, and even though it’s still early spring I’m not sure if the bears are still hibernating or not.  What if one of them woke up early and is hungry?  I ended up leaving with just some small and necessary purchases (headlamp, camp soap, socks) but I was still thinking about wildlife as I drove away.

I borrowed a tent and a sleeping pad from my roommates and loaded up the car with gear, food, and the dog.  We were headed to Golden Gate Canyon which is not too far from Denver, but which feels remote due to it’s vastness.  There are a handful of year round tent sites up on Reverend’s Ridge which are available on a first come first served basis.  Since it was a Sunday I was hopeful that there would be a site available for us.  Up a 19% grade and through some dizzying switchbacks we drove before we got to Reverend’s Ridge.  We lucked out and got one of the last sites.  The whole area was in a forest of aspens with views of snowcapped mountain peaks visible between the trees.  The air was cool, crisp, and clean.  There was a fire ban in effect so most of the other campers were off hiking or taking in the sights instead of sitting around a campfire.  As soon as the tent was set up and the sleeping gear was inside Dog and I set off to find a trailhead.  Nearby was the Racoon Trail, which was deceptively listed as being only a little over two miles.  With the hike from the campsite, it was more than three and included grueling uphill climbs, stunning panoramic views, and tough rocky descents.  Since it was a looped trail it deposited us back at camp tired, exhilarated, and hungry.


Camp was a little busier as people got down to business eating dinner and cracking open beers.  Dog and I ate our dinner and then headed out to explore the area.  Most of the camping loops were closed for the season so the landscape was peaceful and populated mostly by noisy little birds.  The sun was beginning to set and Dog and I decided to do a little night time walking in the woods…mostly so that I could try out my new headlamp. The temperature was dropping, but I was feeling snug and smug in my warm clothes.  *Side note* I have felt plenty of disdain for girls who wear nothing but their identical outfits of Northface fleece, leggings, and Uggs/moccasins, but I wore my newly thrifted Northface pullover jacket and was nothing but impressed with the warmth and comfort.  I think I might live in it forever.

Camping alone is a kind of meditation.  When you are out there with friends, a partner, or family members you play games, you cook meals together, there is often beer; all in all it is a rambunctious social event.  When solo, you are silent and thoughtful.  You fall into rhythm with the daylight, the cold and the warmth, the wind, and the animal sounds.


With no campfires allowed (I probably couldn’t have made a decent one on my own anyway) the campsites were all fairly dark.  Here and there larger groups had multiple lanterns or kept their car lights on.  I had Dog decked out like a Christmas tree between her light up red collar and green harness light.  For myself, I wore my headlamp.  I got Dog and I packed us up cozily inside the tent and spent some time reading.  It was the last time until daylight that I would feel comfortable.

Back to where I began.  I lay awake listening to the animal outside my tent and tried to think rationally.  This was difficult because I was sleep deprived, cold, and afraid.  The foot steps were too delicate to be a waddling raccoon, and too heavy to be a squirrel.  I doubted a bear could walk with that much grace either (phew).  The only things that I could think of as being an attractant (besides my tasty human self) was the dog water dish, which I had left outside.  In that case, perhaps my visitor was only thirsty?  A thirsty little fox even?  This was a comforting thought.  My visitor returned to circle and sniff three more times.  Later, I would look for footprints and find none.

The rest of the night was sleepless, but uneventful.  I was glad to see the run come up and decided to get out and hike around a bit to get the blood flowing and thaw.  Dog and I found a place to watch the sun come up.  It was dazzling and made up for the cold night.  I tried and failed to take a nice photo with Dog, so it’s just a picture of me.


As the sun came up the morning began to warm up too.  Dog and I returned to camp for some breakfast and I re-cocooned myself in the tent to read and wait for the air to warm up even more.  Around the camp people were beginning to stir.  My neighbors had left sometime in the night, but everyone else was making breakfast and sleeping, or packing up their sites.  We played a game of fetch and then decided to go on one last hike before heading out.

The last hike was on Mule Deer Trail, which proved to be just the right combination of hot and dry and steep to be utterly exhausting.  Instead of hiking along forest trails and dodging patches of snow we were exposed to the wind and sun (not quite strong) in a huge open meadow.  The trail skirted small streams and wound down and then up, up, and away into the foothills.  It seemed like rattlesnake country.  I was constantly dry mouthed and Dog was panting.  The sites were beautiful, but we needed to make it back to camp in time before our parks pass expired.  At the snail paced we were going, it was going to take a long time.  That hike took a lot out of me.  It might have been rewarding under different circumstances, but I was just tired and thirsty.  I was so happy when we finally made it back to the car.  Leaving a good campsite is always bittersweet.  We waved goodbye to our little spot and began the descent back down.  The temperature rose and the cheese its ran out.  Finally back at home I was sore and tired and so was Dog.  We both took long naps.

That was our adventure.  Next time I will bring more blankets.

The Travel Item You Should Never Be Without

I want to talk to you today about a travel item that can keep you warm, cool, safe from who-knows-what creepy crawlies, and is silky smooth.  It is THE SLEEPING BAG LINER.   Oh yes, those of you who have one probably just went “Yup, yup, yup that sucker is magic.”  I got mine when my mom took me to REI before I went to Africa.  We did a major haul (just think what those dividends would have been if we had been members…) and the liner was something of an afterthought.  Here Is the link to the kind that I have.

Claim 1: It keeps you warm.  It does; if your sleeping bag or blankets just aren’t cutting it by themselves then this handy addition will help keep in the heat.

Claim 2: It keeps you cool.  It does; if you are sleeping somewhere hot (like Africa) then you can sleep in just the liner, sans blankets and sans sleeping bag.

Claim 3: It will keep you safe from creepy crawlies.  When I went with a group of friends on a trip to Mozambique we stayed in a hostel our first and seconds nights and everyone woke up with weird bug bites EXCEPT ME.  I slept in just the liner and woke up with the same itch-free skin I went to bed with.

Claim 4: It is silky smooth.  It is; mine is made of silk.
*I don’t work for REI or the maker of this product, I am simply writing about a product I love.