I’m so excited to share news! This weekend, I will embark on my first wilderness volunteer project with the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation. It’s a week-long backpacking and backcountry camping trip in the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. Myself and a couple other volunteers, and our crew leader, will hike 22 miles to Danaher Mountain and fight invasive plant species.
The map of my travels from Denver, Colorado to Ovando, Montana where I will meet the rest of my group’s volunteers, caravan to the trailhead and set off on our 22 mile hike to Danaher Mountain in the Bob.
I practically exploded with happiness when I told Mike about this trip. Then he looked at me deadpan, and said, “But why?” Next, I called my mom with the news, giddy all over again. She asked too, “Is there an ulterior motive for this?” The people closest to me wanted an answer to the same question. Why do I want to drive 1,700 miles round trip to spend a week in the woods pulling weeds?
Well, I’m not about to list three, five, or even ten reasons why I decided to become a wilderness volunteer, or why you should too. Nope, not this post, because my reasons are bigger than numbers and lists. In fact, call it a cop-out, but I’m going to let Edward Abbey answer this one:
“But love of the wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need–if only we had eyes to see.”
What Does the ‘Wilderness’ Mean?
Scroll through Instagram, Pinterest, or Tumblr, and you’re easily overwhelmed with images #wildernessculture, #wildermind, #wildernesssociety. But what does the wilderness really mean?
These are honest questions behind my motivation to become a wilderness volunteer. I think, probably more than ever, we want to be uncomfortable, insecure, even a little scared. Our lives are often planned, controlled, even predictable. The wilderness seems like it can be our last refuge, even though by definition, the wilderness isn’t meant for us.
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” — The Wilderness Act of 1964
How to Become a Wilderness Volunteer
Maybe your reason is to recenter, to give back, to learn, to challenge yourself–what the heck, you don’t need a reason! Here’s how to register for a volunteer project with the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation. There a million other ways to volunteer, not just in Montana! You don’t have to go away for a week either, if that’s not your calling. The BMWF welcomes volunteers for a weekend, and many other organizations need help just for a day.
For now, if you’re really in need of inspiration, just watch this incredible, short film, “Being Here: An Ode to the Wild Places” by Hilary Oliver.
I’ll be back in about ten days, and can’t wait to tell you guys all about my first experience as a wilderness volunteer in The Bob!
Almost every outdoor sport has their own food culture. Climbers, for example, rip an avocado open with–you guessed it–a rock and squeeze the green spread onto a slice of bread. Then, they often add the contents of a tuna can, pull a pepper or paprika shaker from a rope bag, and sprinkle some on before folding it in half and eating it like some strange but satisfying taco. There’s maybe a bag of roasted peas or edamame, squished almond-butter-and-honey sandwiches, or a tupperware of watermelon passed around the crag, from one chalked hand to the next.
I love all the foods, but the river rats bring outdoor cooking to another level. River rafters eat like kings. If you’re lucky enough to be a part of 30-person permit group, congratulations. You’re the lucky participant in an incredible cook-off, where each rafter tries to out-do the other with his or her assigned meal.
Campfire grilled steak, roasted potatoes and onions, and kale salad for dinner on the Platte River.
This past weekend, Mike and I went on our first river-rafting trip of the season with his parents, who didn’t hold back any of their fantastic foodie maneuvers. We had more breakfast choices than breakfasts to eat. One of my favorites were these protein packed Everything Breakfast Cookies.
I call them the “everything” cookies because you could not possibly pack anything else into them! I love these breakfast cookies for three reasons:
Customizable. So you can substitute, take out, or add any of the ingredients to make them slightly less “everything.”
Packable. Toss them in your Pelican case or pack for river breakfast, but don’t deny their fuel power on the trail or at the crag, on a bike ride, or after yoga, any time of day.
Protein. Little sugar. Fills you up without the full-meal bloat right before you strap on a harness or power through some rapids.
In the rafting spirit, this recipe makes 80 breakfast cookies, so share with your buds! Or, if you want to eat one a day for six weeks–no joke–freeze a dozen in gallon-size ziplock bags and eat as needed. Make sure you open the ziplock bag though as you thaw, otherwise the moisture will gather inside and turn the cookies to mush.
Of course, you can always cut this recipe down to a third for a normal serving size–but who wants twelve cookies when you could have eighty?
If you think this Cranberry Butternut Squash Bread looks like something you want to try, here’s the recipe.
Where will you take your Everything Breakfast Cookies? If you make these and change them up, I’d love to hear how you made them your own. Of course, be sure to tell us which adventure they fueled you for!
Hope you guys like eating cookies for breakfast–I will be for a while.
Crack climbing, in general, is uncomfortable. In fact, when I first learned, I was told, “If it hurts, you’re doing it right,” but Vedauwoo climbing is particularly unforgiving. The granite is sharp and jagged, formed by tightly-packed, hard crystals that feel as though you’re cheese grating your skin and stoning your limbs…
It’s not all a suffer-fest, I swear!
+PINI’ve climbed this area more than a few times now, and each time it’s a new challenge for my mind and body. There’re a few different ways to mitigate the pain of Vedauwoo climbing with the right preparation, gear, and positive attitude.
1. Wear Long Sleeves & Pants
Wearing long sleeves and pants is part of the Woo’s seemingly cheeky way of subverting typical climbing protocol. Leave those cute tank and bra tops at home, and prepare to sweat through some layers, because protecting your body in Vedauwoo climbing is all about covering exposed skin. This is because the Woo is off-width country where using your entire body to squeeze into a chimney, inch-worm up crevices, or wedge knees, elbows, forearms and shoulders are often all part of the jamming jive. I’m often shoulder deep in a crack, and grateful for sleeves that soften the scraping.
I have one kind of climbing shoe, and I use it for everything: sport, trad, bouldering, slab, whatever. This is mainly because I’m poor, and shoes are expensive, but if you plan to crack climb a lot and it’s your calling, you might want to consider investing in a shoe that keeps the challenges of trad in mind. My strong crack-addict friends have been loving the Anasazi Moccasym Climbing Shoe because it’s the slipper of crack climbing–easy to pull on and off, and slim to slide into cracks. You could also check out a high-top shoe like La Sportiva TC Pro which offers great ankle protection against the skinning and bone bruising capabilities of granite–Evolv Astroman do a similar service. If you’ve got some pocket change, this is a good investment.
OH Woo, and your glorious, wild west weather, how you throw climbers for a frigging loop. I can’t think of a Vedauwoo climbing trip that didn’t involve unexpected conditions. One minute, it’s sunny, the sky a cerulean blue, the wildflower meadows do a little jig in the breeze, and the next minute, dark clouds bloom out of the plains and dump buckets of rain, even hale. Luckily, these storms pass almost as quickly as they arrive, and they are incredible to witness. They don’t call this area Thunder Basin for nothing, folks. Stuff a winter hat and a warm layer in your pack. Keep an extra pair of socks and a shirt in your car–you’ll be happy to have a dry set waiting for you in the car if you get soaked. And if you don’t bring anything else, bring a rain jacket!
A typical storm retreating from the road beside a cerulean Vedauwoo sky.
4. Tape Up!
Unless you’re out to prove something, you’ll make tape gloves for a couple of reasons. Most of all, tape gloves provide structural support for your tendons, joints, and muscles, and protect your knuckles and wrists against meat-grinding. Tape gloves can also prevent bleeding. Blood on holds, gross!
My friend, Alex, tapes his shirt-sleeve hems to his gloves to better protect his wrists. I’ve seen some climbers put a layer of duct tape on the backs of their hands, over their tape gloves, for added protection. You can even shave the backs of your hands so that the tape has a better grip to your skin and doesn’t slip off once you start sweating. Though this isn’t the way I make my gloves, here’s a great how-to method from Climbing Magazine. Like any gear, there’re debates on tape as well. Metolius makes climbing tape, but good ‘ole athletic tape works too–Outdoor Gear Lab did a review on top ranked climbing tape.
Taping up and referencing the guidebook before giving Beer Crack (V3) another go.
5. Embrace the Pain
Finally, in the words of a dedicated Vedauwoo climber: “Embrace. The more you engage, the more you adapt.” Vedauwoo climbing, like most climbing, is mental. Approach the area with a playful, open, and willing mindset. Grades are subjective–don’t let them get you down! Have fun, laugh through the mishaps, put on a good try face, and if you’re lucky, you’ll go home muddy, challenged, and smelling like rain-soaked sage.
There was no way that my second cross-country move in less than 9 months would not be a road trip. You might remember that in August of 2015, I packed up and cast off from Colorado to move to Houston, Texas. Everyone thought I was nuts. Everyone said I’d hate it. The best part about taking risks is not proving other people wrong; it’s proving yourself wrong. If I had guessed what my reason would be for leaving Houston, after having lived there for less than a year, I probably would’ve said confidently that I couldn’t live in a city of over 2 million people, hundreds of miles away from the outdoors, but I did, and I didn’t expect to fall in love with my East End neighborhood community, or to make the best of friends there. After making the decision to move back to Colorado, the final week leading up to my departure was surreal and bittersweet.
In this post, I’m going to attempt to cover my entire trip from Space City, Houston, Texas to my new home in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado!
Cross-Country Move | Leaving Houston, Texas
I couldn’t leave Houston without visiting some of my favorite spots like the Alabama IceHouse. The outdoor picnic style bar is an iconic Houstonian tradition.
My friends threw me the sweetest moving-away party. On a humid night, we drank lime margaritas in coffee mugs–the only cups not packed in boxes yet–and Colorado’s New Belgium Citradelic beer. Corey made a cake in my favorite color (green!), brought pistachio almond ice-cream, lit candles, and led everyone in “Happy Colorado to you!”
First Stop: Marfa, Texas
The first stop on my drive back to Colorado was Marfa, Texas. Famous for its art and aliens, Marfa is a strangely picturesque town with a national cult following. I pulled into town around 5pm, unfortunately, closing time for the art galleries, but not too late to order a radish salad served in the shape of a desert flower at The Capri, or catch a young woman’s stand-up comedy act whose bold bits were about rape and daddy issues at the Lost Horse Saloon.
On my way out of town, I stopped to view the infamous Marfa Lights. In 2004, it was concluded that the blinking colored lights in the clear, bright, expansive night sky are most likely atmospheric reflections of automobile headlights traveling on U.S. highway 67. Part of me likes to think that the lights are still unexplained, evidence of UFOs, and of things beyond our scientific explanations because that’s just more fun. But part of me also thinks that seeing the shimmering lights of people like myself traveling across the country, in the sky, is also pretty amazing.
Second Stop: Big Bend National Park
At the beginning of 2016, I made a bucket list. On that list was to explore Big Bend National Park, and even though it was a four hour detour, I was determined to see it. I only had about 3 hours to spare, which is just not enough time to do any real exploring, but I did manage to do more than a drive-by tour. I drove straight through the Chihuahua Desert at sunrise, and headed for the Chisos Mountains where I parked, jumped out, and did a three-mile run in my Converse sneakers and my overalls to the top of Lost Mine Trail. I’m so happy I got to see this landscape from a panoramic height, but the next time I’m here, I plan to see it by rafting the Rio Grande!
I took a break to visit some friends in Las Cruces, New Mexico where I decided to dye my hair blue, because if you’re not going to dye your hair blue on a cross-country move then when else are you going to do it?
Blue hair, don’t care, and my adventure kitty by my side, we continued to drive north through New Mexico with the mountains in the near distance, and finally, arrived home.
Check out this super dorky video of me insanely excited as Kinley and I cross the Colorado state border.
I definitely didn’t expect that the reason for leaving Houston would actually be the reason I moved there in the first place. I believe in following what you love no matter where it takes you, that almost no decision is irreversible, and that trying new things is never a mistake.
This makes my third cross-country move in 4 years so I’m hoping to sit still for a bit before my next one–but you never know!
I’m so excited to finally introduce you to TreeLines, my new website for sharing life’s adventures in the outdoors and between the lines. If you hung out with me on Ellipsis: Backcountry and Books, you can still find all of those adventures here, on TreeLines, in each of the website’s main categories: life, story, adventure, in the sidebar.
Out with the Old Blog, in with the New Website
While I’m stoked to move forward with a new design and name, I’m so grateful for how much I’ve learned from Ellipsis in the last year. Creating a new website is chaotic and I definitely underestimated just how much time it would take, but so much has changed, both online and off, and it feels so good! I’ve left Houston and moved back to Colorado, to Denver, the Mile High City, dropped out of an incredible PhD program (yeah, you heard that right), and have started new career ventures, and set new goals. So I guess TreeLines has come at just the right time to capture all the new places and experiences to explore in Colorado and beyond.
I use the word “adventure” a lot, but I don’t think adventure has to be far away, expensive, epic, dangerous, or badass–adventure is in the stuff of the every day. Maybe it is summiting above the treeline, but maybe it’s in the lines of your favorite book.
Soon, TreeLines will feature additional updates to the site, like a gallery to showcase life’s stories through photography. For now, I hope you’ll explore the new website, revisit your favorite Ellipsis adventures like hiking Mt. Bierstadt, the Colorado 14er, or my favorite “How to Poop on a River Rafting Trip.”
I’d love to hear what you think about the new website! Got a comment on the design, the navigation, anything, and I’m all ears. Just go ahead and leave a comment on this post, or drop me a line via the “Get in Touch” button.
Thanks for sticking around guys, and I’ll see ya soon!
All images in this blog are taken by Mandi Susan, unless stated otherwise. Feel free to repost or share images for non-commercial purposes, but please make sure to link back to this website and its original post.