Earth Day Everyday
Earth Day, what does it mean to you? I know Earth Day (and month) already happened this year but appreciating nature is so important to me that I didn’t want to rush posting about it. After all, we should “adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience” as Emerson so wisely said. Earth Day has only been around for 50 years but the wonderful planet that we grace with our presence has been around for oh so much longer. And it’s beyond amazing. That’s why I believe that it shouldn’t be just a day or a month, but every day of our lives that we stop to appreciate and do what we can to help our Mother that we’ve done so much damage to over the years. It’s not too late.
If one thing about this shelter in place has taught me is how much people NEED nature in their lives. Those that can still go out are beyond grateful and sharing photos like crazy, those that cannot are either soaking up those photos or resentful because their restrictions may be stricter where they live or circumstances prevent them from going out in general. It’s become heated. Hiking, which at first was acceptable immediately became a banned activity in high traffic areas because people sent home and to be within just the confines of their homes realized that they NEEDED nature, they WANTED nature and that desire is REAL.
Seeing the struggle of people wanting to get out there and explore nature got me thinking about my powerful connection to the outdoors, what it means to me, and how I got there. I didn’t always have a strong pull to nature, however. Although I grew up in the country and played outside every chance I could get when I was young, I moved to Los Angeles when I was 18 to pursue a career in Fashion Design. The furthest anyone could get from being a lover of the outdoors, I was more concerned with building my stiletto collection and partying than going out in nature. Luckily Los Angeles is a city that actually has a LOT of nature in and around it so it wasn’t long before I was hiking all the trails I could find and starting to explore places other than Las Vegas to travel to when given the chance. My life was slowly beginning to change for the better even though I had no clue at the time.
Near the end of my years in the Fashion Industry, I met my past partner, Andre, who changed my world in many ways. I had already been a fan of hiking before I met him, Runyon Canyon became one of my almost daily excursions after all, but I had never been exposed to more of the outdoors world as I know it today. For my 28th Birthday, he planned a trip for us to go to Yosemite National Park and go on the first backpacking trip in my life. I had no clue what to pack, wear, etc… I borrowed most of my gear from him and I’m sure my pack was heavier than necessary for just an overnight. We started out at Glacier Point and went along the Panorama Trail to Little Yosemite Valley and then just back the same way the next day. Nothing super extravagant, but it was the stepping stone of changing my life. My eyes opened up after that trip. Where else could I go and what else could I see carrying all that I needed on my back?
Andre also introduced me to Canyoneering. I have always had a pretty intense fear of heights. I didn’t realize where I got it from until my parents came out to Yosemite and wouldn’t even walk to the barriers at Glacier Point. The first time that he took me out canyoneering we started hiking up the trail and I got a glimpse of the waterfalls that we would be rappelling from later that day and I just started balling. I was terrified!! It looked like a vertical rock face and I imagined myself teetering on the edge, shaking and being terrified for hours, potentially even falling over, tumbling to my death. I still went. And I was so damn proud of myself after. I believe that’s where I really started to get intrigued by activities that challenged my fears in the outdoors. I saw the reward of how much pride and accomplishment one can feel after a day where they truly push themselves past their fears. I was hooked on this feeling and wanted to share it with others.
The next step in my challenging my fears was taking courses in Canyoneering. By understanding the mechanisms and how everything actually worked I believed my fears would be dulled a bit. It worked. I took several courses and ran quite a few canyons with friends. I had found a new sport that opened up beautiful places in the world that were previously inaccessible. I was finally starting to feel more comfortable with being at the top of a waterfall, rock face, etc… and it felt great!
I thought my fear of heights was being tamed to a mere quiver, then I started rock climbing. The challenge of going from canyoneering to climbing is that with canyoneering I was rappelling down from a high height and somewhat quickly making my way closer to the ground and with climbing it was a slow ascent, bringing myself higher and higher from the ground. I had to challenge my fears all over again. The first time that I went climbing was a kind of joke looking back on it. I was paralyzed. I barely went anywhere and I even had to be convinced to go that far. If I had belayed for myself I would’ve thought that this chic wouldn’t have a place for climbing in her future. But I did. And I do. I love climbing and have been at it for 8 years now, have even started lead climbing, and despite the fear of heights, have climbed up a 1500ft. wall in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada in a day. I’m stoked of what I’ve accomplished in this sport so far, and can’t wait to see where/what I climb in the future. The possibilities are endless….
Exploring the Natural World
Since discovering that there are so many amazing places out there in the world to see I started making adventure a priority and road-trips the regular. It was not a far drive to explore Zion National Park, go rafting on the Kern River, introduce my parents to their first National Park via Sequoia, or for a bigger stretch hop on a flight to Maui, exploring the island and hoping to canyoneer while I was there. Adventure and the outdoors became something I craved and started chasing after. I was addicted to having my jaw drop at the spectacular scenery, the recharging feeling of being out in nature all day, and learning all the lessons that were being taught along the way about the outdoors and myself.
How High? Real High!
Since being introduced to all of these outdoor principles, the outdoors became more of a central part of my life. Instead of just working to party on the weekend, I started to create outdoors goals for myself, like hiking to the highest point in the continental U.S., Mt. Whitney. This was one of the first major goals I set for myself in the outdoors and I was stoked when I accomplished it! I researched. I hiked many miles. I trained. I acclimatized. I hiked 22 miles and gained over 6,100 ft. in elevation to reach the top of Mt. Whitney at 14,505 ft. elevation in a day! I had done it and I was beyond elated!
Shortly after hiking to the top of Mt. Whitney I took a road trip to Wyoming, where I was to start my month-long NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) Course in Outdoor Education with the disciplines of Backpacking and Rock Climbing. My dissatisfaction with my job in the Fashion Industry was showing so I was let go and had a bit of time to think about what I really wanted to do with my life. I knew that Fashion wasn’t it. I decided to write my passions down and the majority of them were centered around the outdoors. I typed into Google one afternoon “hiking jobs” and was pleasantly surprised. I could actually hike for a living, what, what??!! It was a hard decision, changing careers, taking a steep pay cut, stepping out of that comfort zone that I had built for myself, and entirely altering my life for the future but it just seemed so right. I had to do it. As Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I was ready for my new leash on life to begin. The Fashion Industry was already a faint memory when I finally got rid of the apartment that I lived in West Hollywood for 7 years in and the many material things that I had acquired over the years there. It was time to embrace the outdoors fully and the philosophy that all you need is less.
The Move to Brazil
Taking that NOLS course was one of the best decisions I ever made. I learned so much about the outdoors, the industry, and myself along the month-long course in the Wind River Range. I came out super stoked and ready to work in the outdoors, but first I was going to move to Brazil. Andre Is Brazilian and when I met him he told me of how he was planning on moving back to Brazil for some bit. I took it as an opportunity to live in another country, especially with someone who is a native and could show me around. I had received my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate as well before I left the states anticipating that teaching English would be the easiest way that I could actually make an income in Brazil. I was able to help out with a couple of outdoor companies while I was there, Outbox Treinamento and Graxaim, but I did mainly teach English. I was lucky, however, to connect with a husband and wife team that loved rock climbing and the outdoors and also had an English School and wanted to incorporate the outdoors as much as possible in the teaching. I had found my match.
I lived for a little over a year in the South of Brazil in a place called Florianopolis on an island that had 42 beaches, one being only a 2-minute walk from our front door. The town we lived in, Barra da Lagoa, is a fisherman’s village where we lived right on the canal and I could jump in the water at any point, get fresh fish for super cheap, eat acai bowls every day and make salads with avocados the size of watermelons. I was living the dream.
The Start of Working in the Outdoors
When returning to the states from Brazil I really dove into working in the Outdoors Industry and also started my many cross country treks. I’ve taken 8 to be exact. I was working in California and New Hampshire in different parts of the year and I was stoked on the outdoors and the new vagabond lifestyle I was beginning. In California, I started working with a boarding school based out of Santa Barbara that did trips all over Cali including the Sierras, Morro Bay, Joshua Tree, and Pinnacles National Park. I also started working for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in New Hampshire for their Teen Wilderness Adventures program and initiated a 3-year relationship with that program, the White Mountains, and the people that live there. The Whites challenged me as a hiker and helped me grow as an instructor across the summers (and one Spring) that I worked there. The AMC Community became one of the most beloved that I have had in the industry so far and that organization and the people I met while working there will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Traveling to Norway
At the end of my last summer working in New Hampshire my friend got married in Sweden, prompting a trip to neighboring Norway. My besty and I got to explore some major cities like Oslo and Bergen, but the real treat was the Pinterest famous Trolltunga and backpacking in Jotunheimen National Park (even though I did get terribly almost not make it out of the tent in time to barf sick).
Time to Go Solo
After years of guiding others in the mountains, I decided it was finally time to start taking trips by myself. These trips are a chance to recharge, rejuvenate, and reconnect with nature on a personal level, which is sometimes hard to do when you’re responsible for a grip of people in the backcountry. I started to make it a yearly tradition to do at least one personal backpack trip a year, but some years I’ve done many more. My first solo trip was along the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite for my birthday and since then I’ve done trips in the actual Grand Canyon, the Superstition Mountains, the North Rim and Red Peak Pass loop in Yosemite, the Lost Coast Trail, and the Trans-Catalina Trail to name a few.
Working Where it all Started
A few years ago I decided to stay on the West Coast year-round so I applied for some jobs that I wanted in sunny California. On top of the jobs I already had and loved with Outdoor Adventures by Boojum and Naturalists at Large, I was fired up to get a job with Lasting Adventures that guides in Yosemite National Park, the very first place I went backpacking. It felt like a natural fit and like I was coming home again. Lasting Adventures definitely has that great community vibe that I so adored while working for the AMC and the guides I work with absolutely feel like family. With them, I have taken people out all over Yosemite, ranging in ages from 11 to 76, and in lengths of trips from day hikes to 13-day High Country Adventures, getting to intimately know and love even more the place that sparked my intrigue into this whole outdoors paradise.
Mark Twain famously said “find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life” and I couldn’t agree more. I feel like I have found my true calling. Yes, I get to see magnificent vistas and landscapes and go places that are on people’s bucket lists for work, but there are still hardships. There are days when the weather tests my will, my gear, and my morale. There are days when kids test my will, my strength, and my enthusiasm. But despite all these tests, I couldn’t be happier doing what I do. I get to show people of all ages the beauty of the outdoors, learning even more about the delicate balance of the ecosystems along the way. I get to see the wonder in the eyes of kids and adults when they see a marmot for the first time. I get to see the gleaming eyes of individuals who pushed themselves beyond what they thought possible to get to a summit, past their fears on a rock wall, or even past the point of pain carrying all that they needed to their next backcountry campsite. I’ve seen kids that started out timid and shy, grow into amazing leaders. I’ve seen kids who at the beginning of the week in Joshua Tree were homesick then after scrambling on rocks, chasing lizards, playing barrel cacti, and exploring caves, in the end, never wanted to leave. I’ve received letters from kids I had on courses years ago telling me how getting out there and exposing themselves to the elements and all the things we weathered on a course helped them to do so many more things in life that wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t pushed themselves to do the course in the first place and not given up throughout the hardships. I am rewarded every day that I do my job and it’s all because of Nature.
When I think about what nature means to me I think it goes beyond definitions, but it’s more of a feeling. The feel of the crunch of leaves and twigs under my feet. The feel of the sun baking on the apex of my body and giving me the Vitamin D that I need daily. The feel of the welcome breeze coming to greet me just when I think the sun is too much. The feel of the inviting distraction when birds sing their melodious hymn, making me forget my thoughts about the outside world. The feel of the burn of my thighs on an uphill slog to get to the top of a mountain, ridge-line, waterfall, or pass. The feel of awe at the vistas of mountains, fields, and jaw-dropping flowers along the way. There is also the feeling of fear and doubt, but after challenging those fears, the feeling of pride, and delight. I feel there is no better teacher of all life skills than Mother Nature herself and when I’m out in nature is when I feel truly alive.
How do I stop praising the love of my life? The thing is, I don’t have to. Every day that I’m alive I will shout from the mountaintops my love of nature and if you hear me, shout back. We will all raise our voices in a harmonious yelp to nature, letting everyone know that Earth Day is really every day.
The rushing thrust of water down the canyon rim
Puffy cloud ships slowly dancing in the sky
Drinking in the sunshine like a fine wine
This is my time
Pine needles rustling in the wind
Cones scattered like potpourri
Granite above, below, and beyond
This is my time
Taking in the fresh mountain air
Feeling the earth under me
Without a care
This is my time
The taste of my backcountry mocha coating my insides
The faint bird sounding an alarm
The sight of cemented snowpack far in the distance
This is my time
To be alive
And I feel divine….