Announcing a bittersweet shift from snowy Colorado mountaintops to humid Floridian flatlands

If you haven’t figured it out by now, my life is a constantly evolving adventure. It’s taken me from the shores of the Atlantic to the rocky cliffs of the Pacific, from lazy living in Tallahassee to a spontaneous move out to Denver, and on more whimsical outings that I can remember.

And along my journeys,
there is always an element of constant change.

As with many of my announcements, this may not come as a shock to those who chat with me frequently, but may come as a surprise to many of my readers. It is with a heavy, bittersweet heart that I announce:

I’m leaving Colorado next week.

But I just got here. After a very short six months of living, exploring, and adventuring in and around Denver, Colorado, I am packing up my meager belongings and preparing to return to the southeast.

But I just got here! I roughed out the frigid winter months, braved my first snow season, and here I am, gearing up to ditch the Rockies right before the spring sets in. The gorgeous warm months in Colorado are part of the reason I moved out here, and now I’m leaving before it even begins. Sigh.As my lady friend Gina Bégin discovered during her own unexpected move, part of being a full-time adventurer is rolling with the punches – whether you feel particularly fond towards those punches or not. A combination of losing some freelance markets while LivingSocial ‘rethinks’ their business strategy, and coming upon a project in South Florida that I feel truly passionate about influenced my decision to pack up and head ‘home.’

These next few weeks will be an absolutely whirlwind for me. In two short days, eight of my climbing buddies from Tallahassee will be visiting for their spring break – which means a lot of climbing, and not a lot of time to prepare for moving. If I survive the week, Niko and I will be driving from Denver to Florida on March 9th. I’ll then spend a few weeks in Tallahassee preparing for the annual Save the South competition at Tally Rock Gym before finally trekking down to Miami to unload my carload of junk.

So what comes next?

After my frantic move across the country, I’ll be alternating between bouts of working in Miami and traveling around the southeast for climbing. I’ve already got an April ladies’ trip in the works; a week or so of camping and climbing in Tennessee and Georgia, followed by a ‘writer’s retreat’ in Chattanooga while shacking up at The Crash Pad. Other than that, I plan on spending the rest of the year training for climbing.

And naturally, a few cross-country road trips for conferences, outdoor expos, and generally adventuring are also on the agenda – but you’ll just have to stay tuned for those.

Send good travel vibes, I’m certainly going to need them!

The day I became a skiing snow bunny at the top of Vail Mountain in Colorado

Note: Excuse the lack of my usual high-quality photos a la my Nikon D7000 – all of these photos were taken on an iPhone 4s due to the sketchy weather conditions on the mountain. Stay tuned for a slew of the usual photography during upcoming posts that explore Vail Village and more!

After an unpleasantly exhilarating drive into the mountains with whiteout snow conditions, a handful of hours spent snoozing on the plush pillows of the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, and a massive breakfast feast at The Little Diner, the time came for me to finally learn how to ski.

I think my favorite aspect of Vail is the accessibility of absolutely everything. The main mountain gondola, ticket area, and rental centers were situated amongst numerous restaurants and quaint shops sitting a short five-minute walk from my cozy hotel room. The more historic and happening Vail Village was settled a few minutes up the road, but all areas on this mountain are easily accessible via complimentary shuttle services.

I scoped out the crowd of eager early bird boarders and skiers before wandering around the square in search of what I needed to do to secure a beginner lesson and some sweet ski gear.

While being outfitted for my skis and boots in the warm rental facility, I bumped into another woman, Kelsey, who was also gearing up for the beginner course – instant friends, thanks to our common I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing perspectives.

My fellow snowy ski-mates included my comrade Kelsey from San Francisco, a Tampa chick who had never before seen snow, a friendly married couple, David and Michelle, a funny man named Jeffrey who had already taken a lesson the day before, and Karen, our fearless leader on the bunny slopes. We quickly lost Natalie from Tampa, as well as the female half of our married duo, but the remaining bunch stayed together for the remainder of the day.

Unlike my uncomfortable slope fumbling that I struggled with while snowboarding in Lake Tahoe, skiing came naturally and flowed like an activity I had know how to do all my life. After Karen taught us the fundamentals of our new winter hobby, the real lesson began on gently curved miniature slopes.

I am proud to say that I only fell a total of three times during my entire day – if you don’t count two incidents where my unstoppable speed caused me to just kind of sit on the snow to slow down. Where snowboarding left me feeling anxious and uneasy, skiing was a snow sport I could actually excel in. Picking up speed wasn’t a harrowing rush of adrenaline, turning was a fluid, controlled process, and by the end of the day, I had learned how to come to a safe stop on my own accord.

There’s really only one thing I can say:

I love skiing.

The weather conditions weren’t exactly ideal on this day, with gusty wind that left me flabbergasted as Karen bellowed instructions to “keep your eyes where you want to go,” while the gray snowy winds were entirely destroying any visibility in front of me. Regardless of the iffy mountain conditions, our group had a fantastic day learning the ropes and putting our newfound skills to the test.

Plus, occasional periods of particularly ugly bouts of weather offered an ideal excuse for our crew to take a break and warm our fingertips in the dining hall area.

By the end of the day, I was skiing laps down the big beginner slope and sharing the lift back to the top with my fellow skiers Jeffrey and David over and over again. Kelsey was a bit shaken after a high-speed crash into a crowd of us waiting at the bottom of the bunny slope conveyor belts, but she eventually braved a run down the beginner terrain as well – largely because I kept motivating her with the promise of free drinks if she stayed with me all day.

At 3:30, Karen reminded us that our long lesson was finally over, and our group rode the gondola back down to the Vail courtyard area. We bid our farewells, and then Kelsey and I returned our rental gear before indulging in those highly anticipated libations.

We shared tequila and whiskey shots at Garfinkles, a casual dive bar conveniently sitting right next to the slopes. Her boyfriend and his cohorts had gotten a hefty head start on the drinking, so Kelsey and I worked to catch up. We exchanged battle stories of our respective days, downed wine and mai tais, and although I can’t quite recall all the details, I remember there was a lot of boisterous laughter being exchanged.Effectively hammered (that high elevation will get ya), I returned to the hotel room where my parents were waiting to head out to dinner. We journeyed to Moe’s BBQ, which happened to be featuring a live banjo band. The funky music combined with extra tall 24 oz. Pabst Blue Ribbons, and savory bites of saucy ribs provided the perfect way to top off an extraordinary day.

I’m telling you: If you ever find yourself taking a lesson at Vail –

Ask for Karen!

She was the best instructor, and I honestly give her full credit for my success as a novice skier. Her gentle demeanor combined with a relentless motivation helped to develop my skills and foster my confidence on the mountain. Our group planned to reconnect the next day for a second lesson, but my toes once again bailed out on the cold, and with painfully swollen feet, I was unable to make it back for another early morning session.

Karen, if you’re reading this – thank you a thousand times!
I had a phenomenal experience braving the brutal weather with you
and our little crew, and am already eager to get back on the slopes.

Starting a day of skiing in Vail, Colorado with a big breakfast from The Little Diner

The trek from Denver to Vail was a harrowing experience packed with white-out snow conditions, icy roads, and the thrill of reuniting with my parents to explore the wintry Colorado mountains. We arrived at the Vail Marriott Mountain Lodge a bit around midnight, and quickly crashed into plush beds.

In the morning, we woke at the crack of dawn to make an early breakfast at The Little Diner, which had attracted my attention with rave Yelp reviews and claims that it offered reasonable prices – a miracle in this expensive ski town. Arriving shortly after the tiny eatery opened, we easily snagged seats along the U-shaped counter, which offers space for less than two dozen hungry patrons at a time. The cozy, open atmosphere of this little shop reminded me of my favorite Cuban eatery in Miami, Ruben’s. The menu offers a variety of early morning grub, from traditional breakfast skillets to sweet and savory crepes. The small cooking space is situated in the middle of the counter area, so you get a meal and an entertaining experience at the same time. My bar stool sat next to the grill, and as soon as I laid my eyes on huge chunks of sizzling hash browns, I knew I had to try them.

As usual, I ordered the traditional breakfast platter with wheat toast, scrambled eggs (with cheese, of course), homemade hash browns, and extra crispy bacon. My father opted for the chunky french toast – another dish that was prepared right under my nose, and smelled delicious. Always the elegant one of the group, my mother was keen on sinking her teeth into a spinach, mushroom, and egg crepe.

Everything tasted outrageous. Not one for fancy plates and food that looks more artistic than edible, I can always appreciate a home-style helping of hearty grub. I surprised myself by demolishing the entire platter, even though I was stuffed full about halfway through. I regret not snagging a bite of the thick french toast that was sitting just inches away from me at the counter, but I definitely enjoyed a small sampling of the healthy crepe my mother ate.

Don’t let the title or cramped quarters of The Little Diner fool you; this restaurant packs big flavor and breakfast satisfaction into generous portions that will leave you struggling to clean your plate. Being early birds, we were amongst the first handful of people to arrive at the joint, but by the time we left, the diner was jam-packed with eager snow bunnies waiting to load up on savory goodness before hitting the slopes. I wouldn’t have asked for a better way to start my first day of skiing in Vail, Colorado.

Getting stoked on the wintry Vail spirit?
Stay tuned for updates on my very first ski lesson, exploring Vail Village, and more!

The first climbing trip of 2012; wintry adventures at Stone Fort, Rocktown, and beyond

I confess: I’m wretched at embracing the moment and writing about my adventures right as or after they happen. I tend to let photos mull in my memory card, and have the awful habit of posting pictures on social media sites before I actually make proper use of them.

I hereby vow to never let more than 72 hours pass before blogging about an experience.

But first I have to clear out my vault of outdoor photos, adventure stories, and memories of all the tasty eats I’ve devoured along the way. Our first tick off the list of adventures to be discussed? My New Years climbing trip to Georgia and Tennessee.

The trip commenced with a late start on New Years Eve as Niko, Max, and I crammed into my beau’s small pick-up truck, and then barreled down rural back-roads towards the Georgia state line. Max quickly passed out in the backseat, so Niko and I shared a quiet New Years kiss – and in what I call an omen of good couple’s travel for 2012, the clock struck midnight just as we were passing over long bridge on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia.

The trip began in a rather wet manner, with a day of rain on the agenda. We left our lodgings in LaFayette, Georgia, in hopes that the hour trek out to the Chattanooga, Tennessee area would welcome us with some sunshine – but it didn’t. After a few hours spent killing time around town, we decided to brave the weather and drove out to Soddy Daisy.Miraculously, the sun came out for a few hours, so we drove out to a newly established, and very locally guarded, crag called Pep Boys. With locals who specifically asked that the location of this climbing spot be kept secret, I can’t quite divulge the whereabouts of this gorgeous destination – but let me tell you, it was enchanting.

The climbs were all still dripping from the morning storms, but I was pleased to wander around the trails and scramble up large hueco formations in my sneakers. Two beautiful cave areas sat divided by a gushing brook, and their magnificence alone was enough to make me determined to revisit this spot during a drier day.After declaring Pep Boys a bust due to climbs that were all sitting out of the sun, and therefore would take hours to dry, we retreated back up the mountain towards a favorite spot of mine, Stone Fort (Little Rock City). This crag sits directly on the Mont Lake Golf Course, making for a unique collision of dirty climber folk, and refined country clubbers.

We had much more success at this climbing spot, and I spent my day challenging myself on old classics, watching the boys defeat burly new discoveries like The Blacksmith, a surprising V9 that John crushed early in the afternoon.

Revisiting Super Mario (V4) was a frustrating affair for me. This problem holds a special place in my heart, because it was the first ‘real’ problem I ever witnessed outdoors. During my very first outdoor climbing trip in 2009, I sat transfixed in front of this iconic boulder as I watched climbers years beyond my skills easily traverse the route and top out over the bulging rock. I have been determined to send it ever since, but my return visits to Little Rock City have been few and far between.

Most recently, over summer perhaps, I had almost finished the problem – save for one tricky move. However, this return trip was a harsh wake-up call about the repercussions of my little climbing hiatus that began when I moved out to Denver; my strength and skills were totally trashed. I could hardly even get as far as I once had, let alone make any progress. I’ll admit, it was slightly frustrating to watch everyone else easily send Super Mario, but more importantly, it served to light a fire under my ass about getting back in shape. Satisfied with salvaging an otherwise rained-out day, we celebrated our trip with a visit to Lupi’s Pizza in Chattanooga before heading back to Georgia for the evening. At this point, I began obsessed over the morning’s weather forecasts; the Rocktown area was threatened with even more rain, and worse, below-freezing temperatures and gusting winds up to 30 mph. Yikes.

The day began relatively pleasant, albeit undeniably frigid. We felt our climbing inspiration surge as we spotted a few famous climbers in the gas station at the base of the Rocktown mountain.

I hardly climbed at all on this last day, largely because I could hardly warm my fingers up enough to even take my gloves off. The crew gathered around Sherman Photo Roof (V7) to watch Libbi work what has become her favorite project. In true Niko fashion, without even warming up, Niko surveyed the tricky route, said “this looks pretty cool,” tossed on his shoes, and flashed the problem as if he had climbed it a million times.

Eventually, our big group splintered off as we split up to focus on various problems throughout Rocktown. At this point, the wind began to really pick up, and the frosty gusts of humid Georgia air transformed from mildly unpleasant to unbearably frigid. Niko and I tromped around the crag in search of our remaining party members before retreating to the car, where we hid from the cold and stuffed our faces with Cheez-its while chatting with a group of Florida climbing friends we bumped into.

Eventually, our group convened in the parking area, and thus concluded our adventures to Georgia and Tennessee. Half of the clan continued on to Atlanta for an evening training session at Stone Summit, while our car gladly sped off back towards Tallahassee.

While my climbing was admittedly pathetic during this trip, it was a great way to motivate my New Years resolution to be crushing first V5s, then V6-7 by the end of the year. My move to Colorado saw an unacceptably long break in my climbing, and returning to my home rock gym in Florida was a huge eye-opener, mercilessly reminding me how much strength I had lost during my climbing hiatus.

You’ll all be pleased to know that since returning to Denver after this revealing trip, I invested in a rock gym membership at the climbing wall near my house, and have been consistently climbing ever since – I even sent my first V5.

Taking a bite out of healthy, convenient fare from Fresh Fit Meals in Denver

Through a stroke of good luck, I recently won a $25 gift certificate to try Fresh Fit Meals, a Denver-based healthy food facility that cooks up convenient and wholesome meals for the on-the-go eater. Since I love to promote great local businesses, I figured I’d share my experience sampling Fresh Fit Meals.
Bon appetite! 

I’ll be the first one to admit that these pre-packaged, microwave-friendly meals don’t exactly look like a divine edible intervention – until you take a bite. Don’t let the fuss-free appearance of these meals fool you; every bite is jam-packed with flavor and spice. A bit peppery, spicy enough to require a refill on my water, and every once in a while I get a nice hint of celery.

As soon as I arrived home from Emerald City Smoothie with my aromatic package, I couldn’t resist digging into one of the containers. My first victim was the “NOLA Dirty Rice.” Looking back at it, I think this was my favorite dish. The turkey was piled generously on top of a bed of savory rice, sprinkled with peas and carrots. I could seriously nosh on this meal every single day.

The “Get Yo Mac On” dish immediately caught my eye, but I was skeptical about the brown grain macaroni; try as I might, I just can’t seem to get on good terms with non-white pastas. Fresh Fit Meals knocked the ball out of the park with this mac. The pasta was perfectly done, and didn’t have that unpleasant grainy taste most “healthy” pastas have. Once again, the ground turkey was the star of the dish, perfectly seasoned with a great kick of flavor.

Could I have added a handful of cheese to my mac? Of course. Am I also a shameless glutton? Yes. I reasoned with myself that it would be a travesty to ruin such a healthy meal with heaps of cheese, so I sliced up some fresh avocado and tossed it into the mix – a perfect idea.

The next day, I dug into the “Sweet Potato Bird” as a late afternoon meal. The thickly sliced turkey looked a bit dry out of the fridge, but as soon as I was done heating it up, the meat was dripping with juice. This dish didn’t quite have the spicy kick of the other two samplings, but it offered a perfect balance of tender turkey meat, earthy rice, and creamy sweet potatoes. Another thumbs up, though this meal wasn’t quite as dazzling as the first two.

My final samplings were the turkey and eggs breakfast tacos. I had a moment of dread when I realized that the tortillas were of the corn variety (I’m a flour snob), but after heating up my meal I was delighted to find that these were some of the best corn tortillas I’ve ever had. Once again, the turkey was perfectly seasoned and kept me coming back for more, but I was a little iffy about the eggs. I’m very fussy about my meat products, so it was a bad move on my part to wait four days to eat the eggs – oops. The tacos also came with a small side of salsa that added a great little burst of flavor to each bite.

I would highly recommend grabbing a few of these pre-made meals to keep you going throughout the week without having to worry about cooking lunch. It was great to be able to pick a dish, pop it in the microwave, and have a healthy, tasty meal at my disposal without having to fuss around in the kitchen. They were ideal for post-climbing dinners when I returned from the rock gym burnt out, famished, and lacking the energy to get down in the kitchen.

The best part?
Our friends at Fresh Fit Meals are extending an offer to the readers of The Morning Fresh:

Get 10% off your order by using the code “themorningfresh10”
now through February 28th!

Be sure to check out Fresh Fit Meals online. Survey their sweeping menu of savory selections, give them a ‘like’ on their Facebook page, and connect with them via Twitter! Trust me, all it takes is one bite, and you’ll be hooked. Finally, an eating addiction that’s actually good for me!

A sandy walk up the Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley National Park

For my non-Twitter readers (wait, seriously, you don’t have a Twitter?), #FriFotos is a weekly themed collaborative hashtag where travelers contribute their best and favorite photos. This week’s theme is ‘sand,’ and while I’ve got thousands of pictures from the sandy beaches of my homestate, Florida, I thought it would be more exciting to share my brief recent experience at Death Valley National Park.

Niko and I made a short visit to Death Valley National Park on our way out of California. After weeks of San Francisco diners, mountain cabin retreats in Willits, and meeting the largest trees on earth at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, we jetted off towards Las Vegas for an evening of luxury – if you can count the Excalibur as luxurious. Niko had never been this far west before, so it was a treat to shuttle him around California, spewing out factoids and acting like I was a seasoned west coast traveler.

We stopped by the first ranger station to ‘register’ our car using my annual National Parks pass, and picked up a map to scope out what natural attractions we could stop by on our way towards Las Vegas. The only thing that wasn’t miles out of the way were the Mesquite Dune Flats, so we navigated our way through the desert towards them.

You really can’t miss ‘em.


Niko will be proud to hear me finally admit that I was a total brat during our visit to the dunes. Hot, bothered, and suffering from a desperate case of the munchies, I was a huge downer while Niko happily tromped through the sand. He pleaded with me to take a picture standing in the dunes (the top photo), and I was a major wench about it, miserably dragging my sandaled feet across the piping hot sand and faking a smile – but hey, it turned out pretty well in the end.

While I was wallowing in a pity-party about my lack of snacks, Niko ignored my blues and went for a little romp in the dunes. It was undeniably anti-climactic, but he insisted on jumping off one of the dunes into the sand. His failed attempt at an epic moment definitely quelled my negativity a bit – even though he inevitably tracked heaps of sand into the car afterwards.

Next time we head through the west, I’d like to spend much more time exploring Death Valley National Park. During my first visit to Death Valley, I was driving across the country with my entire family after a year of living in San Jose, California. The hottest temperature we recorded was a sweltering 123 degrees, and naturally, our van’s air-conditioning died in the middle of the desert. Literally everything we owned melted, from my mother’s red lipstick to my stick of deodorant. It was an adventure to remember, and one I’d totally love to relive.

Watch ‘Sketchy’ Andy Lewis bring slack-lining to the mainstream during the Superbowl halftime show

I admit it, I totally watched the Superbowl. Originally, I was in it for the mango habañero hot wings, tequila shots, and my homemade guacamole – but then, the halftime show came on and I was riveted by an unexpected sight:

Sketchy Andy slacklined with Madonna during the halftime show?!

Image courtesy of the International Business Times.

While his feminine toga get-up and golden jewelry made me giggle a bit, I was stoked to see slacklining highlighted during such a huge national event. Along with climbing, this unique sport has been gaining recognition as folks begin to embrace the thrill and adventure of outdoor extreme sports. Andy’s performance was one of the most raved about portions of the halftime show – and let’s face it, with that sweet back-flip dismount, Sketchy Andy Lewis rocketed himself into immortality.

Were you too busy crushin’ granite or daydreaming about faraway crags to catch Andy Lewis slacklining during the Superbowl? Check out the video of the entire halftime show – naturally, I’d suggest you do yourself a favor and skip to the 4:00 mark to watch Sketchy Andy in all his splendor.

Pretty sweet gig, dude. Plus, according to the Sender Films blog, Andy is slated to tag along on Madonna’s latest tour with over 100 additionally booked performances. While I struggle with the idea of climbing and slacklining becoming more mainstream, it is undeniably badass to see such a humble sport highlighted during a major event like the Superbowl. Hats off to you, Sketchy Andy!

PS: To be fair to his true style, it must be know that Andy Lewis doesn’t always don a silky toga and golden necklace – check out this video of Sketchy Andy high-lining in the desert, base jumping off cliffs, and generally being the ultimate redheaded badass.