Tag Archives: Adventure

If I Could Go Back My Wedding Day, I’d Whisper This Into My Own Ear


Today is our ten-year anniversary. Taken as a whole, a decade seems to have blinked by. But taken in pieces, it has been a long, strange, wild ride. I almost lost John after just our first year of marriage. We fought back from his cancer and liver transplant together. We have climbed mountains together, rafted rivers, trekked through the Himalayas, sailed and surfed and skied and loved each other through worldly adventures and daily rituals.

July 16, 2005

July 16, 2005

When I look back at the woman I was ten years ago today, when I vowed to love and cherish my husband, I was a different person. I was younger, of course, full of optimism and the kind of blind faith that makes us want to cleave ourselves to another person for all of eternity, but I was also pretty naïve. While I thought on my wedding day that I was wise and mature and knew exactly what I wanted out of life, I also wasn’t fully formed yet. Back then I hadn’t been tested like I have now. I hadn’t yet watched my husband lying emaciated in a hospital bed wondering if he would ever wake up. I hadn’t yet held his hand while his mother took her last breath. I hadn’t yet cried in his arms in grief after losing my dad.

Call it an accumulation of experiences—the kind of self-awareness that comes from witnessing ourselves manage crises and joys, trials and triumphs. But when I look back at that bride, I want to treat her kindly, to pat her hand and tell her that while it might not be easy, it will be worth it.

If I could go back and whisper into the ear of that former self, I know what I would say. I would tell that blissful bride to accept each moment, to stop trying to orchestrate her life and simply be present for it. I would remind her to enjoy every moment with this man she was committing herself to. I would tell her that while life can’t be lived easily, it can be lived fully. I would tell her not to take everything so personally.

It is easy to look back at our former selves and access our growth. It is much harder to look ahead and imagine how we will be ten years from now. If I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that the next ten years probably won’t be as rosy as I’d like to think. Life always has a way of messing with your best intentions. But there’s one thing I do know. Whatever lies ahead for us we will face it together.

After ten years of marriage, I know that I’m lucky to have John as my husband. He challenges me to be the best version of myself (admittedly, this isn’t something I’m keen to appreciate all that often, but still). He’s strong when I’m weak. He’s even-keeled when I drop my basket. He pushes on towards camp when I want to set down my pack and lie, exhausted, on the hard ground.

Today I celebrate what we’ve accomplished and shared so far. Here’s to the next ten years.

El Avalanchisto: The Dirtbag Diaries


I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to assume that you, dear reader, are familiar with The Dirtbag Diaries. If not, then click on the link and go check it out for yourself. Created by Fitz Cahall and–as the legend goes–recorded in a closet in Seattle, The Dirtbag Diaries is a podcast for adventurers. Fitz covers the kinds of stories you’d want to hear over a campfire, the kinds of tales you hope to hear on a long road trip. He gathers up adventure into a 30-minute podcast, cinches it tight and delivers it to you in your ear. No campfire or road trip necessary.

I just came back from a long boat trip and I finally had a chance to catch up on podcasts. While motoring up the BC coast, my husband and I binge-listened to our favorites. El Avalanchisto, a recent episode from The Dirtbag Diaries, was played not once but three times. Just for good measure.

It’s a compelling story, and one that resonated with me for obvious reasons. Matt McKee decides to take a job forecasting avalanches for Minera Pimenton, a gold mine in the Chilean Andes. He thought it would be his dream job. Instead it turned into a nightmare: a den of avalanche paths, a mine full of workers who didn’t believe in avalanches and a country that looked for someone to blame if things went wrong.

What made me want to listen to this one over and over again was not the human nightmare, but the natural one. The tale was a familiar one to me. Avalanche paths going bigger that ever seen before, snow falling nonstop and filling in the previous slides, and the feeling that the world above you just wants to bury you–I know what that feels like.

Have a listen and see what you think. Click below to be taken to the podcast. Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 2.16.28 PM

Are You a Thrill Seeker?


Skydiving: pure transcendence

We all take risks. Whether schussing down a snowy couloir or speaking in front of a group, we  have all known the feeling of pushing our own envelope. Stepping into our fear can bring moments of great enlightenment. The thrilling edge between danger and suicide found in today’s surge of outdoor adventures has replaced religious asceticism as the way to transcendence.

Jumping out of airplanes and flying off cliffs is the new Nirvana.

Marvin Zuckerman, a psychology professor from University of Delaware, termed the phrase “sensation-seeker” for those that search for novelty and excitement. Chemicals in our brain govern our risk reward calculus. When we enjoy a thrill, our brains are flooded with dopamine, our own personal pleasure cocktail. Dopamine sits on our shoulder woohooing and heehawing while we walk the thin line of danger. Other chemicals, namely MAO monoamine oxidase, temper that enthusiasm. MAO gobbles up the dopamine sluicing through our brain, all the while whispering into our other ear, telling us to “watch out, this could be dangerous.”

Turns out, dopamine to MAO ratios differ in each of us. Risk-taking behavior is 60% determined by our genes, while the rest is shaped by our environment. Thrill seeking tends to run in the family. And yet, it too, can be learned.

I am fascinated by this slackline between risk and reward. As predicted by neuroscientists and psychologists, as I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for risk has diminished. Still, I score high on Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking Scale. This test was developed to determine factors in all risk-takers, only one of which is thrill-seeking and adventure. But as we grow older, we develop more MAO, and that whispery voice warning us of risk grows stronger.

Find out where you stand on the scale. Just click on the image below to go to the test. Were you surprised by the results?


Weekly High Five Report: Lance Mackey


Lance Mackey is a three-time Iditarod winner and a cancer survivor. He says that once you’ve battled the psychological ups and downs of cancer, 50° below is nothing. Bravo Lance!

31 Days of Adventure: Finding ways to change your perspective


Adventure can happen anywhere, any time. Even today. To remind us of the adventure in everything, Amy Christensen and Lydia Whitehead have created 31 Days of Adventure, in which every day in January, they send out a prompt to their subscribers reminding them of ways to find adventure.

So far, I have  Noticed the Little Things, Mapped out a New Route and Pulled out a $10 Word.

Thanks to 31 Days I’ve seen how easy it is to get stuck in a routine. Even living up in the mountains, where weather and snow conditions change constantly, I’m more aware now of how my routines separate my head from the rest of my body.

Every day can be an adventure

Standing in front of my locker each morning I don my equipment in the same order–first I punch in, then I attach my radio to my harness, then I turn my transceiver on and stick it in my pocket. I get my skis from their slot beside my locker and put them outside, then I put on my ski boots. I wait for the bathroom to be free so I can sneak in before the morning meeting.

I do this almost every day, and sometimes it feels like my body moves without my knowledge. 20 minutes later, I’m listening to the morning weather briefing and wondering where my head has been.

The daily prompts from 31 Days of Adventure keep my head in the game by breaking up my routine, opening up another perspective, allowing me to see my daily tasks in a slightly new way. Sometimes all it takes is a tiny shift in viewpoint to change my outlook. On Monday I wrote about how seeing my daily hike up The King from the eyes of my step-daughter changed my attitude and opened me up to joy and gratitude.

Check out Amy and Lydia’s 31 Days of Adventure. Sign up for the newsletter and get a prompt in your inbox for the next few weeks. And see if you don’t also open up in surprising ways.

Weekly High-Five Report: SheJumps Empowers Women to Get Outdoors


Claire Smallwood at Crystal Mountain, photo by Brian Stevenson

In the outdoor world, women far too often sit back while their male counterparts jump cliffs, climb granite walls and stomp gnarly lines. I’ve watched as women and girls doubt their own strength, take laps on the intermediate runs, belay for their boyfriends and watch as their husbands fly off to go heli-skiing while they stay home sure they could never meet the challenge. There’s a whole world of fun and adventure passing them by.

That’s where SheJumps comes in.

A non-profit organization started by professional skier Claire Smallwood, SheJumps “strives to increase female participation in outdoor activities by building upon a supportive community that inspires its members to reach their highest potential.”

SheJumps wants to empower women of all abilities and focuses on three stages of women in adventure.

  • Those are: 1) Elite female athletes looking for a network 2.) Already actives looking for a community 3.) And never-evers, girls and women who would otherwise never have the chance to experience the benefits of an active outdoor lifestyle.
  • For elite level female athletes, they are a voice and a place to give back. They work to recognize the “jumps” (i.e. risks) women have taken to follow their passions and the accomplishments of those who are an inspiration to others. They also offer a network for girls and women looking to get into the sports industry with intentions of elevating females in sport and mainstream media. With the goal of offering young girls real role models, these athletes are often times called upon to be “coaches” in events that support the development of all women involved.
  • For already active women, they have groups all over the country getting together for everything from day ski tours to overnight canyoneering adventures. They welcome you to develop your own group and post your outings on their “Jump In!” page.
  • For never-evers, they create activities and events that directly help those who might never otherwise have the chance to experience the benefits of challenging oneself in the outdoors.

With local clubs in several cities across the West, an online chat room, and the Jump In page, these Jumpers are showing women how to get involved in and give back to a growing community of outdoor adventurers.

Bravo Claire and all SheJumpers out there. Way to aim high and take that leap towards a life of adventure and personal growth.

Now go check out their website and get ready to Jump in.

Weekly High-Five Report: Ultimate Road-Trippers


The ultimate road trip

Everyone loves a good road trip. I’ve spent weeks cruising the backroads of the PNW and Western States, searching for snaking roads that lead to free camping spots by the river, or overgrown forest service roads with room enough for a girl and her truck. I’ve spent moonless nights at trailheads, in the parking lot of a ferry terminal, and the day-use only lot of a climbing area.

But I never spent a night in a Walmart parking lot.

Amy and Bracken Christensen on the road

On November 7th, 2010, Amy and Bracken Christensen of www.theadVANture.com took off for the ultimate road trip. They outfitted their van with everything from a garage to a kitchen to a bedroom/living room and hit the road (and the trails and mountains and rocks) for a year.

That’s right. The newlyweds road-tripped for an entire year.

I first found Amy through her life-coaching blog Expand Outdoors, where she offers wisdom and strength for adventurous women. I knew, at first glance, that I had found a kindred spirit.

Last summer, when Amy and Bracken were traveling through Seattle, we met in person, and it was as if we’d known each other for years. I asked Amy about her immediate plans for the night.

“Oh, we’ll probably find a Walmart parking lot for the night.”

“Walmart?” I asked.

Amy explained that Walmart allowed cars to park overnight, many of their lots were lit and secure and in the morning they could freshen up in the bathroom inside.

The boathouse at sunrise

I asked her if they’d prefer to stay in our boat house. I didn’t want to downplay the awesomeness of a Walmart parking lot, but I figured they’d want to stay with us. Our boat house is actually the best part of our house–sitting on Lake Washington with a small apartment over the water. In the morning, they could see Mt. Rainier from the bed. Plus the shower rocks.

The couple accepted heartily. It was already dark, and finding a Walmart at 10pm in a big city wouldn’t be easy.

Plus, I got to see their van up close the next morning. With a hobbit house feel, the van contained tiny spaces and a-place-for-everything efficiency that only a year on the road can hone.

Last week Amy and Bracken completed their year-long road-trip. They traveled 23,000 miles, biking, hiking, running and climbing their way through the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park and everywhere in between.

This week a giant high-five goes out to Amy and Bracken Christensen for their adventurous spirit, willingness to explore the unknown and openly share their experience with the world. May the next 23,000 miles offer as much enlightenment.

The Season 2: Fitz Cahill and Bryan Smith Bring Another Round of Great Storytelling and Adventure


These days showcasing one’s adventures requires more than merely a rack of slides and a group of unsuspecting dinner guests. Epic adventures now come in multimedia productions, created by talented videographers, crack writers and talented athletes. I’ve written before about the need for more story in ski films, and the creators of The Season seemed to have read my mind.

The Season, a web television series about five adventure athletes that pushed the limits, is back for round 2, with new athletes, deeper stories and more distant climes. Ingeniously, creators Fitz Cahill, of Dirtbag Diaries and videographer Bryan Smith, are calling it The Season 2. Here’s the lowdown from their website:

An amputee climber sets his sights on becoming whole again by returning to Yosemite to realize a lifelong dream. A conservationist and angler searches for a fabled ghost run of wild steelhead on one of California’s most troubled rivers. One of the world’s best boulderers struggles to balance her career as a boulder with raising her daughter. From a burned forest, a vision of an incredible mountain bike trail emerges from the ashes into reality. In the wake of achieving an unthinkable goal, a ski mountaineer returns to the peak where he first met failure.

Here’s what they’ve dubbed their kick-ass trailer. I have to agree.

ARC’TERYX presents: The Season 2 from Fitz Cahall and Bryan Smith on Vimeo.

Their twelfth episode, featuring Greg Hill, is live. Check it out.

I want to hear from you guys on this. As a writer and adventurer myself, maybe I’m a little too obsessed with the need for more than just eye candy in our stories. But I believe that the stories we tell about our lives actually creates our reality. After a day on the slopes or the river or high on a remote mountain peak, it is the narrative we tell later that reshapes the adventure. If we come home and say the trip sucked–I didn’t make it to the summit, I swam the biggest rapid, the weather made it miserable–then it did. But if we tell the story in a different way, the reality changes as well. The weather socked in, but the views of the peak once the clouds opened up were amazing; we had to turn back before the summit, but the trip was worth it anyway. You get the idea. Our lives are shaped by the stories we tell. That’s why, when I read or watch a story well told, I’m transfixed.