Ultimate Outdoorist Gift Guide

The ultimate holiday gift guide for outdoorists and advocates.

Oh hello, gift giving season. Our Christmas tree is twinkling, the first ornament has been hung, and I am itching to start filling the base with treats for friends and family. I love the holidays.

Looking for the perfect thing to please the outdoorists in your life? You could just head to that “gifts for $15 and under” section of semi-worthless junk at Target–or you could fill your Christmas shopping list with thoughtful presents for people who deserve something more than a cheaply made enamel camp mug with a mustache on it.

The following list is full of my favorite products, worthy causes, and unconventional ways to give this season. Do good for the holidays.

Spoiler alert: This list goes beyond gear. Yes, I love a good sleeping bag–but I love doing good, taking care of myself, and taking care of the planet even more. And the holiday season is about more than just “stuff,” right?

Put Your Money Where Your Activism Is

Let’s be honest, most of us don’t need any more *things*–and sometimes, folks can be downright difficult to shop for (I’m pointing at my very picky, very particular boyfriend right now). The best gift you can give is putting your cash towards a good cause. Whether it’s a single-time donation, a sustaining contribution, or an annual membership, donate in your giftee’s name. Here are my top causes this season:

  • The Bears Ears Education Center Kickstarter. As the area sees skyrocketing recreation visitors, it’s our job as the folks who are making it so popular to provide educational resources to make sure visitors are good stewards to the land with a proper understanding of the areas history. This project does all of that. Proud to be a small part of this. Give. Them. Your. Money.
  • For the climate wonk: Protect Our Winters! Make a donation, or shop at their rad digital store. I love the work that POW is doing, and so should you.
  • For climbers: Make someone a member of American Alpine Club +/or Access Fund. Or, think locally, and make them a member of their local climbing coalition.
  • Because public land is native land: Folks keep asking me where the best place to send their money to support the ongoing fight for Bears Ears, and I think donating directly to the legal battle is an important cause. My dad asked where he should donate, and Len from Natives Outdoors said Native American Rights Fund is really leading the charge, so, NARF it is.

Small Acts of Eco-Friendly Lifestyle Changes

Outdoor advocacy is about more than just being pro-public lands. It reaches into the way we live our lives–and it begs us to be more conscious about our every day choices that can deeply affect our planet. Here are a few of the items I always have in within reach:

  • Never use plastic utensils again, go bamboo. I use my To-Go Ware Bamboo Travel Utensils set religiously. This set travels easily, cleans easily, and provides a palpable sense of self-satisfaction every time you ditch single-use ware.
  • Every human needs a reusable tote. I have about 20, but my favorite is the Cotopaxi Iba Tote. A) Sweet colors. B) Little pocket. C) Quality construction. D) Versatile use from groceries to road trip catch-all bag.
  • Reusable drinkware is the future. And by future, I mean now. I live for my teal Hydro Flask 22 oz stainless steel tumbler (with a ‘Do Good’ sticker slapped on it, of course). And coffeeshops usually fill up the whole thing for the price of a small coffee. If you want something with a tighter close, check out the 32 oz. bottle. Bonus: the gift recipient will think of you every morning when they refill their coffee!
  • For the straw lover: Simply Strawsnon-profit collection helps you keep plastic out of our oceans, and donates a percentage of each sale to organizations like Protect Our Winters.

Self-care, My Favorite Kind of Gift

Self-care is one of the greatest gifts you can give to outdoor advocates who spend their days calling reps, organizing community rallies, and fighting to protect the places they play. In the last year, I have found myself constantly emerging from the other side of intense politically-driven work sessions feeling exhausted. Bubble baths are my bff, acupuncture is my new go-to, and small self-love moments like face masks and chocolate croissants are what keep me charging. My picks:

  • Literally anything from Ursa Major. Naturally derived ingredients, all cruelty-free, smells like heaven, hip packaging, and my favorite skin care brand. These gift sets make it easy to find the perfect package. My go-to products are the face balm and 3-minute mask. Want 15% off your order? Use the code MORNINGFRESH, valid until 12/31/17. 
  • The Teva Ember Moc (bonus points for the velvet). Treat yo feet. Weird lookin’? Yes. Fuzzy comfy nest for your winter feet? Also yes. This gift idea doubles as a killer camp shoe + a comforting footwear for those “I’m staying up until 4 AM working on a public lands project” nights.
  • If you’re in SLC, check out The Little Wellness Place. It’s where I go for acupuncture, and has truly changed my life for the better. Gift someone an hourlong session, and they’ll thank you profusely.
  • Sweat it out. I recently did a monthlong Class Pass, and I loved it. This is a great gift for someone trying to find their personal fitness groove, or for someone who just moved to a new city and needs to test out the local way to get active. Yoga, spinning, boxing, cardio, it’s all there. Bonus points if you get yourself one too, because workouts are way better with a bud.

PS: I totally qualify edible treats as acts of self-love/self-care. Bring someone a pizza. Nothing says “I value you as a human and think you’re great” like a fresh-outta-the-oven pizza. Or donuts. Or tacos. Or homemade pie.

Support Your Local Economy + Artists

I could happily receive nothing but gifts from the local SLC farmers market for the rest of eternity. The markets, shops, and artisans in your town are the best resource for close-to-home gifts. Head to the farmers market for seasonal jams, handmade jewelry, bath bombs, even fresh food if you’re giving your gift promptly. Here in SLC, we have a pop-up called Salt & Honey, where all the craftsfolk from around the county set up mini vendor booths all in one incredible space. It’s only open for a few weeks, and I could spend my entire bank account in there–and when your support your local economy, everyone wins.

Because the east coast doesn’t get enough love: check out the map + outdoor prints, puzzles, and postcards from We Are Brainstorm. They donate a percentage of sales to organizations that are relevant to each corresponding piece in their collections, like Friends of Acadia, the National Park FoundationPCT Association, Access Fund, and the Society for Science.

And here are some of my favorite female artists (and overall humans) from around the west:

Ditch the Screen for a Good ‘Ole Paperback

Yeah, I said it, go read a book. Despite having a degree in creative writing, I am admittedly terrible at putting down ‘work reads’ and picking up books. So, let’s all change that. These are a few of my favorite things I’ve been reading, and all the authors are lovely colleagues in the industry who you can feel good about supporting.

Phew, that oughta last you for Christmas, birthdays, and all other gift-giving holidays. But if it didn’t: the folks at Cotopaxi came up with their own gift guide, here, which features a few of my favorite new items from their collection, including the Kusa Bomber Jacket. And if my guide isn’t quite cutting it, Paulina at Little Grunts also put together a gift guide for outdoor advocates.

Am I missing anything? Did you totally score as a gift-giver from reading this guide? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. +1000 if you send me a photo of someone opening their gift, I’m such a sucker for the holiday spirit. 

And when all else fails, get ’em an annual national parks pass.

Note: There are a few affiliate links scattered around in here, because, why not. 

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Homemade Winter Squash Soup Recipe

Winter is here, and with it comes the season of soup. I love soup like I love an oversized scarf. It’s cozy, it’s warming, and if you do it right, it’s totally healthy and pretty much totally acceptable to eat in mass quantities.

I recently attended a winter hibernation workshop (yes, seriously, it was incredible), and my acupuncturist, Amanda Valenti, made a pumpkin soup that knocked my socks off. According to Amanda and the wisdom of Chinese medicine, this soup is good for you in many ways: it moistens the lungs and large intestine, improves digestion, warms hands and feet during winter season. Also: it’s flippin’ delicious.

I modified the recipe a bit, added a box of organic pumpkin soup to increase the volume and ensure plentiful leftovers, and went a little wild with the toppings. I highly encourage getting weird with the toppings. I even added a dollop of lentils and peas once. We’ve been slurping on this soup ever since, and you oughta make yourself a batch:

Homemade Winter Squash Soup Ingredients

  • 1 bag of organic chopped butternut squash from the produce section, or a regular ‘ole whole butter nut squash, peeled.
    Note: Making this at camp, or cooking in a rush? I recently tried Straight From The Root pre-cooked organic vegetables, and they’re the jam. If you’re feeling crazy, toss in a few of their roasted carrots too.
  • 1 onion diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 piece of peeled fresh ginger (about 1.5 inches), minced
  • A dash of cinnamon, or a few cloves.
  • 1 box (32 oz) of organic vegetable broth
  • 1 box (32 oz) of organic pumpkin soup
  • 2 tablespoons oil (we use sunflower)
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional toppings: sunflower + pumpkin seeds, crispy kale, sunflower seed sprouts (pictured), freshly chopped cilantro, a splash of crema, whatever floats your boat.

Soup Makin’ Directions

  1. Peel ginger. Chop garlic, onion, and ginger.
  2. Combine butternut squash, cinnamon/clove, and vegetable broth in a pot. Bring the mixture to a bubbly boil, then simmer on low for 20 minutes (10 minutes if you’re only using pre-cooked squash from The Root).
  3. Toss in the onion, garlic, and ginger. Continue simmering until the onions are squishy.
  4. If you had cloves, remove them.
  5. Combine mixture, almond milk, and box of pumpkin soup using a hand mixer, Vitamix, however you blend things.
  6. Top with crunchy, crisp, refreshing edible hipster decor. Enjoy.

Are you as obsessed with this soup as I am? Send your undying gratitude (and requests for acupuncture appointments) to Amanda at The Little Wellness Place, and follow her IG! If you’re local to SLC, come check out one of their monthly workshops + events with me! Otherwise, slurp away and stay warm.

Disclosure: This is a totally un-sponsored post. I’m just low-key obsessed with Amanda, her cooking skills, her acupuncture magic, and all of the wonderful women at Little Wellness Place.

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FAQ: Outdoor Industry Career Advice

“How did you get started?” “How can I do what you do outside all the time?” “How do you make money?” I get asked these questions on a daily basis, and I wanted to answer them here today:

There is no secret pathway to success. I studied creative writing at Florida State University, got a gig writing office supply product descriptions at $10 a pop, and decided on a whim to pour my entire life savings into a yearlong climbing-van trip. I borrowed $14,000 from my dad, bought a Sprinter van, did a pretty mediocre job of building it out, and hit the road.

I fell in love with the outdoors during those 365 days spent living on public lands and ‘finding myself’ at the crags and in the desert, and after a rough break-up post-trip, I moved to Denver. Broke and desperate, I found a listing for a part-time social media job with the Outdoor Industry Association. I got the job working 10 hours/week, and it quickly became my deepest passion. I hustled to make it full-time, stayed in-house for a year, pitched my bosses to let me travel full-time for another year as a work project, then went to pursue freelancing.

I am sponsored by Cotopaxi, asked to host workshops + panels, contribute my writing to small publications, get flown to beautiful places for media projects. That’s the glamorous bit I am often asked about. But those getting-paid-to-hike moments are only made possible by the year I spent sitting in a cubicle at OIA. Working hard, being humbled, failing, succeeding, learning, crying on my commute home (turns out I don’t thrive in traditional work environments). As for my sponsor? I met the Cotopaxi team during a work tradeshow, and brands only know who I am through my loud mouth about issues I discovered through my work with OIA.

There’s not a day I wake up and don’t think “damn, I am grateful for this.” But for every shot of me summiting a mountain on a Tuesday, there’s also a shot of me in a bathrobe, cranking out spreadsheets with soup crusted on my upper lip (literally right now, and this bathrobe doesn’t exactly smell fresh). I work weekends and late nights; I spend road trips searching for wi-fi so I can hop on conference calls. It’s a dream, it’s a slog, it’s hard, it’s exactly what I want to be doing with my life.

So how can you “do what I do?You can’t. You shouldn’t want to. You should find that problem that makes you tick, and put every ounce of your energy into building solutions for it. For me, it’s protecting public lands and building a better outdoor community. For you, it could be designing sustainable outdoor gear, perfecting camp granola recipes–whatever it is, make it yours, work hard + relentless, tell your story. The world is listening.

Here are a few steps you can start taking today to find your path:

  • Don’t be afraid to start small. My first job in the outdoor industry was a 10-hours/week part-time “we’re mostly testing this out” job. So for three hours, three days a week, I did the best damn job I could possibly do in the office. Get a job at your local REI, volunteer for an organization you’d love to run one day, start your blog and write in it every week–even if your mom is the only one reading it right now.
  • Get involved with, and support, organizations that align with that you want to do. Want to build a career around climbing? Join the American Alpine Club and Access Fund, get involved with crag clean-up days with your local climbing coalition, attend community workshops + fundraisers. Start following these orgs on social media, engage with them, and start building relationships with them. I’ve learned that community connections are immeasurably valuable for getting your foot in the door.
  • Find your skills and focus on them. Here’s a little secret: the days of making a living off an Instagram full of pretty outdoor photos full of free gear were a quick blip on the radar–that is not a real path to forge. The folks “making it” are those who are doing big things, taking action, and merely using social media as a platform to amplify a bigger message. It’s not just about being good with a camera anymore. Where can you add value? Are you a great event organizer? Do you have a knack for e-mail campaigns? Do you love public speaking? Focus on the skills that set you apart from the rest of the pack.
  • Keep at it, for a long time. My success didn’t happen overnight, or within a year, or within a few years. I started this blog in 2009. I didn’t get a real outdoor industry job until 2014, and most people in the industry didn’t have a clue who I was until this year. It’s a long, hard, uphill hike. If you’re adding value to the space, and truly dedicated, you’ll make it. Just. Keep. At. It.

Oh, and how do I make money? I am asked this a lot, and luckily for you, I’m not shy about talking finances. I don’t make a lot of money. Last year, I brought in like $25,000 (before taxes). The outdoor industry isn’t a get-rich-quick space, especially for freelancers. I have a contract with Cotopaxi, I pick up freelance projects with brands, I write when I can, I occasionally collaborate with brands for sponsored content, and I very proudly work on OIA’s social media. Freelancing is a constant hustle. You never stop looking for work, stressing about taxes, and wondering where the hell you’re going to get health insurance from.

Got more questions? Leave ’em in the comments, and I’ll add them to this post!

This blog post was originally an Instagram caption, which you can find here.

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Updates from the Trail: September

Hi outdoorists, greetings from Salt Lake City–I’m finally home for a few weeks before hitting the road for my birthday desert trek, and wanted to update you on all things adventure, advocacy, podcasts, and projects. The end of summer feels oh-so-tangible with snowy peaks visible through my window. Farewell, summer. Hello, cold.

The end of my favorite season for living was marked with a collection of satisfying moments that leave me content with the reality of putting all my shorts and swimsuits back into the basement. I climbed the Grand Teton in a day, spoke (twice) at the No Man’s Land Film Festival about my advocacy career and environmentalism, went backpacking in the Uintas for the first time, watched the total solar eclipse from a corn field in Kentucky, escaped to a tiny cabin on the Olympic peninsula for a girls’ weekend, rode a bike 40 miles up and down Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, scrambled up Mount Superior, summited the Pfeifferhorn, and climbed enough tall, exposed multi-pitch climbs until they stopped feeling so damn scary.

For me, now this is the season for slowing down. I still don’t really know how to ski, so when winter comes, I burrow into a bit of a hibernation. Winter is for writing, hot tea, slow hikes through the snow, writing handwritten letters, adopting pumpkins. It’s important to change your pace with the seasons. Outdoor folks are constantly go-go-go, trying hard and sending hard and pushing hard. Give yourself some space to mellow out and recharge. Doesn’t have to be winter for you, but it is for me. Just find time to reflect, process, rest.

The real reason I’m updating you is to share a few exciting projects that have dropped in the last few days. There is too much good stuff to bombard you with on Instagram stories, so I’m rounding them up here for you:

  • My Guide to Outdoor Advocacy with RANGE Magazine was released digitally. The full title is a mouthful of goodness: “Outdoor Advocacy Toolkit: A Guide to Getting Active in the Fight to Protect the Places Where We Play” – I mean, doesn’t that just make you want to do a “heck yeah!” fist pump in the air? This is a great resource to share with folks who want to get involved with the fight for public lands but don’t know where to start. And Christine Mitchell Adams did an incredible job with the illustration.
  • The Outdoor Biz Podcast interviewed me about my career, tips for people looking to break into the outdoor industry, my vision for the Outdoor Advocate Network, and how I see social media as a valuable tool for doing good in the outdoors. Listen here.
  • Photographer Kyle Meck and I teamed up for a project in the Wasatch to highlight the story of science and the outdoors and how we can measure the health of our ecosystems by counting bugs in streams. It was my favorite storytelling assignment of the summer, and I am super grateful to Teva for supporting it. You can read it here.
  • I wrote a piece for Cotopaxi about how to eat healthy while on the road. Spoiler alert: it really isn’t that hard and you have no excuse for shoveling crappy food in your pie hole when you’re on a road trip.

Much more to come, my friends. I’m going to try to do these updates monthly–there’s always so much to catch up on and share and get stoked about. As always, thank you for following along on the journey, and see you out there.

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Outdoorist Guide to Glacier National Park

I spent a week in Glacier National Park–my first time there–and just, whoa. Montana has a reputation for being one of the last wild frontiers, and this parcel of public land is a true testament to that. My experience felt particularly charmed. It was a multi-sport trip, rewarded with huckleberry treats, and made even more special by my boyfriend’s park ranger sister, who knew everything about the area.

We backpacked out to Cracker Lake in Many Glacier, where we spilled ourselves over easy trails and windy ridges and past a grizzly mama + her cub to camp lakeside below a cirque. When we woke up–in a storm–we were greeted with a rainbow that stretched from one end of the lake to the other. We rode bikes up Going to the Sun Road before it opened up to cars, and I slowly pedaled my way through my longest and hardest ride ever. We paddled on Lake Macdonald–which the natives called “The Place Where They Dance”, which is a much more suitable name if you ask me–and camped + paddled at Tally Lake (not in the park). We hiked trails. While Brody and his sister rode Going to the Sun Road again, I explored creekside wonderlands and lounged next to gushing rivers while writing poems in my notebook. I became a Glacier Junior Ranger. We drank huckleberry lemonade and huckleberry iced tea and huckleberry soda. I ate a lot of cinnamon rolls. I said hello to grizzlies, black bears, beavers, caterpillars, mountain goats, songbirds, and one black slug.

Glacier National Park was so enchanting, we extended our trip.

When I got home, my padrino (that’s godfather in spanish) reached out that he too was planning a trip out to Glacier, and asked if I had any advice. I ended up sending him a pretty long e-mail, and realized that maybe my readers would benefit from all the beta too. So, here you go:

A (Very) Brief Guide to Glacier National Park:

  • First of all, you have to drive up Going To The Sun Road. I rode my bike up it (40 miles total, about 3500 feet of elevation gains) this weekend while it was still closed to cars, and it was amazing. They say you should plan 2-3 hours to drive the road.

  • Want to learn more about the native history of the land we now call Glacier National Park? (You should.) This site has a great dive into the original names and historical significance of many places in the park.
  • If you drive Going To The Sun Road and start from West Glacier, you’ll end up in St. Mary, and then you should go check out Many Glacier as well. We went backpacking to Cracker Lake (6 miles each way) and saw a grizzly + her cub right by camp.
  • If you spend a lot of time in the backcountry, consider getting a can of bear spray. You can rent them from the ranger stations now. If you don’t get spray, just make sure to travel in groups and make lots of noise when you come around blind corners. If you see a bear, keep a big distance and make lots of noise to scare it off. We saw 7 bears and had no problems with ’em.

  • Definitely plan to rent kayaks and paddle on Lake MacDonald. The MacDonald lodge is beautiful too, not sure how expensive it is to stay there though. There’s a historic boat that does sunset tours of the lake from the lodge. Note: If you bring your own watercraft, you’ll have to get it inspected by rangers before putting it in the water. It only takes a few minutes, but make sure your kayak/canoe/whatever is clean and free of any leaves or debris.
  • If you need to camp, anywhere in the park is stunning, but Fish Creek seemed to be pretty prime. There’s also a campground near Avalanche that was right on the water and I saw lots of friendly deer wandering through when I spent a few hours there.
  • Eat huckleberry everything. There’s huckleberry pie, huckleberry ice cream, and really delicious huckleberry lemonade that’s not to be missed. You can get huckleberry ice cream in the park and eat it at the lake right at Apgar Village.
  • This is a great article with a list of things to do in Glacier. The Red Bus tours are legendary and historic. We didn’t take one since my boyfriend’s sister is a park ranger there (talk about the ultimate hook up!) but they seem like a blast if you’re into tours.
  • You’re right by Canada, so consider bringing passports if you guys want to visit the Canadian side of the park.
  • If you want to do some shopping and soak up a bit of the local culture, downtown Whitefish (only like 30 minutes away) is a cool little town with great local stores and lots of walking around to do.
  • I loved coffee + baked goods from Montana Coffee Traders in Columbia Falls, which is the closest town to West Glacier. If you’re there in time for breakfast, Uptown Hearth is an awesome community kitchen restaurant. The breakfast pudding is to die for.

Got questions about Glacier National Park or adventuring around Montana? Leave ’em in the comments!

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Guide to Public Lands Advocacy at Outdoor Retailer

Twice a year, I turn into a weird beast version of myself. My calendar is a color-coded event apocalypse where every afternoon and evening is quadruple booked. My inbox? Insanity. I do ridiculous things like think about my outfits in advance. It’s Outdoor Retailer week, and for some strange reason, I love it. This is the last of the tradeshows in Salt Lake City–I’ve already cried once, whatever. There’s a heavy layer of ‘the public lands issue’ settled over the Salt Palace. I’m way into that, because it means the entire industry is gathered under one roof to marinate on the topic for a week.

This OR Show is all about public lands advocacy. And that’s kinda my jam.

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You, too, are stoked on public lands advocacy and want to get involved. How do I know this? Y’all have asked me a bazillion times in the last few weeks. Way jazzed on that, too. I’ve got a lot going on, my rad colleagues have a lot going on, and I figured I ought to just bring it all together in a quick guide to help you get activated around public lands and outdoor advocacy at Utah’s final Outdoor Retailer. Check it:

– Come to the RANGE Magazine issue launch at 4:30 on Wednesday (7/26) at the Ranger Station. The theme is “activate + organize” and I wrote a guide to outdoor advocacy that’ll be in the latest issue and heaps of rad industry folks have work in there too.

– Watch to my panel on outdoor advocacy and social media at 10:00 AM on Thursday (7/27). I’m moderating. Kenji Haroutunian, Caroline Gleich, Len Necefer from NativesOutdoors, Brody Leven (heeeey), and Land Tawney of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers are my panelists. Potential highlights include: conversations between my lifelong vegetarian boyfriend and the king of the hunting and fishing industry, asking Len about calling the industry out when we do things like appropriate, and me inevitably falling off my stool because I’m awkward in public. I’ll try to livestream this for anyone who isn’t attending OR! 

– Because you can never have enough panels, come to the When Women Lead discussion at 2:30, at The Camp, hosted by Wild Women’s Project and Coalition Snow.

– Join me, Hilary, The Wilderness Society and the storytellers community for a pre-march sign making rally at the Public Lands Action Center at 3:30 on 7/27. We’ll have supplies to put your march calls-to-action on cardboard–what’s a march without witty signs making a statement about our cause?–and The Wilderness Society will be on deck to chat about getting involved with advocacy. RANGE magazine is hosting one in the Venture Out pavilions too! There’s a Facebook event page here.  Also, if you have cardboard, I want it for our recycled sign making supplies, holla at me. 

MARCH WITH US. If you haven’t heard about the march for public lands yet, sheesh. At 4:30, we’re marching from the Public Lands Action Center rally–because obviously you’ll be there with me–through the Salt Palace, past downtown, all the way to Utah Capitol. We’ll hoist our signs, make a loud statement, gather on the lawn of the Capitol, and listen to powerful speakers during a rally about, well, our public lands. If you’re on social media, holla at #MarchForPublicLands.

– Attend the annual social media lunch on 7/28 at noon. I’m co-hosting with OIA, and we’re launching the Outdoor Advocate Network. It’s a powerful collective of the industry’s most impactful voices that want to do something about our industry’s biggest issues, and we’re going to empower you, and you def want to be involved. And free lunch, obvi–for the first 50 people. We’ll be networking after the event until 2:00, so come say hi even if you miss the actual lunch part. RSVP here (or if you want to get an update after the event if you can’t make it).

–I am mega stoked on this workshop: “(re)defining women in the outdoors.” It’s a little late on Friday, 3:30-4:30, at The Camp, but I think it’s going to be a good one. Read: “This interactive session is geared toward female and non-cis gender industry professionals who are excited to examine our (diverse) values and a develop a new vision for women in the outdoor industry.” Yaaaas. 

– Bonus points for early birds: If you’re into getting up before 8:00 AM, you should attend the breakfasts. At this year’s OIA Industry Breakfast, which basically kicks off the entire tradeshow, speakers include Alex Honnold, Cedar Wright, and the queen herself, Sally Jewell. I mean seriously, hello. I always cry during these breakfasts because I’m so moved by the energy (and also it’s so early in the morning and I’m extra vulnerable). Conservation Alliance is hosting one the next day, which you can learn about here.

– If you’re in town early: Go to Outsiders Ball! Totally qualifies as outdoor advocacy-related in my book because it’s a giant, wonderful fundraiser that supports Outdoor Foundation, which works to get youth out into nature. Party on, outdoorists. Then, go enjoy free drinks and at the official after party/climbing fundraiser for the American Alpine Club at Bodega.

See you all in SLC next week, my friends!

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Bahia Honda: Camping in the Florida Keys

The journey from Miami to the Keys will forever be one of my favorite road trips. My little car, windows down, skipping across tiny islands like a river rock hopping across flat water. Salty air rustling my hair into a knotted mess, sunshine warming my skin, and the temptation of Cuban espresso from roadside cafes dotting the highway. The drive feels like an old friend now, but I’ve always cruised straight through to Key West with minimal stops along the way. Until now.

Photo: Pat (@outsidethebun) and Spark Brand

Photo: Pat (@outsidethebun) and Spark Brand

Bahia Honda is a state park perched along mile marker 37. A mellow entry gate hides the stretches of coastal camping sitting on over 500 acres of island–and that doesn’t count the offshore island where you can snorkel and hunt for seashells. Despite living only a few hours from Bahia Honda for nearly two decades, I had never taken the left turn into the park–I didn’t even know it existed. Cue the squeals and smiling-so-hard-my-face-hurt as we drove under a bridge, past beachgoers, and all the way to the very last campsite at the park.

Camping at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys. Camping at Bahia Honda State Park in Florida.

Did I mention this campsite was sitting directly on the water, tucked away in a perfect mess of mangroves, limestone, and washed up sea grass? Because, it was. It still is, if you want to go see it yourself. Campsite 80, trust me.

I camp, a lot. There was that one time I spent a year living on public lands, and last summer I spent four months traveling solo while camping nearly every night on public lands–but I’ve never spent an evening snoozing with the shoreline nearly within arm’s reach. It was one of those life scenes that made me seriously reconsider how I ever moved away from the ocean.

Setting up my tent was difficult to focus on–snapping poles together suddenly felt laborious when a sun-kissed jetty was begging to be explored a few yards away. With a rocky limestone landing, tent stakes were useless. Tip: Keep your tent weighed down by tucking your heavy packs, water bottles, or even rocks into the corners. Florida gets breezy, and no one wants to watch their tent get blown out to sea.

Camping at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.

Once we got camp settled, my old friend Alex and I cruised back to the front of the park to dig our toes into the sand for a little underwater exploration. For outdoorists who spend most adventures climbing up toward the sky, taking a dive beneath the sea’s surface is a refreshing perspective. I spend so much time going up, it felt healing to sink downward for a change. Tiny fish darted back and forth, tufts of sea plants tickled my legs, and my skin eagerly drank in all the salty satisfaction.

Camping at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.Camping at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.

As I crawled into my sleeping bag, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to snooze soundly with another warm body only inches away, but within moments, I zonked out. That night, I slept more deeply than I have in months. It was my first night in my new tent, and the first night I had slept in a tent with someone else next to me in over a year. The wind stirring leaves, water lapping against the shore, and buzzing bugs just on the other side of my tent wall were the perfect lullaby.

In the morning, I rose with the sun, but stayed curled up in my bag for a few hours to soak in my surroundings before it was time to take down camp. The easy location and accessible site made it simple to pack up the car, cook a quick breakfast, and then cruise back up the Keys toward home–with a pit stop for cafecitos and empanadas on the way, of course.

I could keep telling you about the bliss of seaside camping and going snorkeling before sleeping under the stars–but it’s better to show than tell, right? Check out the video produced by VISIT FLORIDA from the trip, and see for yourself:

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.

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Trail Running Florida: The Overseas Highway Heritage Trail

“North, or south?” Alex asked as we neared the end of the dirt road stretch. I took a deep gulp of humid air, trying to keep my breath while surveying the options ahead. We had just pulled over after finding a dirt road on Long Point Key. Our detour yielded stretches of dirt trails in multiple directions, but most abruptly ended in heaps of limestone or thickets of vine. We refocused on our true objective: running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail.

“Left!”

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

We ran in that direction for only a few hundred yards before being once again lured toward a new route – this time a mile-long detour off the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail and into Curry Hammock State Park. We waved to the rangers as we jogged past the entrance station, stopping only once we reached the lapping waterfront.

The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail is a multi-use path that runs the length of the Keys across islands and bridges until reaching its terminus at Key West. It officially begins at Mile Marker 106 in Key Largo, and ends at MM 0. The trail itself has been a work in progress for more than a decade as Florida slowly stitched together portions of existing bike paths to create a continuous, safe route for those who prefer to experience travel though the Keys at a human-powered pace.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

I didn’t find trail running until many years after I moved away from the Sunshine State. I used to live by a strict motto: “I ain’t running unless something is chasing me.” Somewhere between my native state and my new home in Utah, my anti-running resolve weakened and I kept finding myself lacing up shoes to hit the trails. Returning to my home state to bring together my native environment (read: humidity, sunshine, sea-level elevation, and salty air) with my newfound love for running was a treat.

I like running because it’s pure. You don’t need fancy gear or technical skills – it’s simply one foot in front of the other, until your legs feel like Jell-O. Left foot, right foot, repeat.

Trail Running on the Overseas Highway Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

With more than 100 miles of trail to choose from, you can make your experience on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail all your own. Here are some tips from my experience:

  • My favorite parts of the trail are the stretches between numerous smaller islands. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction you feel after running an island tip-to-tip, even if it’s less than a mile long.
  • Ultra runners can camp out at Bahia Honda State Park, then go big and run the trail’s final 32 miles from the park to Key West. Celebratory rumrunners, anyone?
  • Note: It is not advised to tackle the Seven Mile Bridge by foot. Heavy vehicle traffic and small shoulders make this portion of the trail less than appealing for the average runner. I would personally run it only if specifically attempting to complete the trail in its entirety. Plan your run around it or hitchhike your way across.

So, what gear do you need to run on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail?

  • Running shoes: The path is mostly paved and very well maintained throughout, so technical trail running shoes are not required.
  • Water (hydration pack or belt): Locals with a higher tolerance for South Florida’s hot, wet climate may be able to skip carrying water on shorter distances, but I found myself eager to hydrate often.
  • Sun protection: After just a single bridge crossing, I knew sunscreen would be at the top of my list for recommended gear. Many stretches of the trail provide little to no shade, so it’s key to come prepared with a liberal layer of sunscreen and I’d suggest a hat, too. If you’re bringing a hydration pack, toss in a tube of sunblock to reapply throughout the day.
  • Bathing suit: Okay, so this one you can leave in the car – I wore my bikini top as a sports bra – but the point is: be prepared to go for a dip after your run. Trust me, the après-run swim is almost as good as the actual running.
  • Bonus Points: If you’re running across a popular key, bring some cash for pit stops at Cuban sandwich shops and seafood joints.

All photos of me in this post taken by Alex Uribe. Thanks, Alex!

————– 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.

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That time we went to Moab on a Monday.

From my leather journal. (With new thoughts sprinkled in while I transcribe.) 

3/20

Note: Please excuse any bumps and inky bruises on this page; I’m driving. Well, Brody is driving. We just turned off the highway at Crescent Junction, on our way to Moab for the week. I don’t think either of us really know why we’re in my car heading south right now, but I’d like to think that part of it is just the magic. Like the purple and the orange glow of the sunset streaming through the haze of this passing dust storm.

View of Castleton Tower in Moab, UT.

3/21

Good morning, Moab.

Right now, I’m sitting on a rock somewhere up Long’s Canyon off Potash Road. My face and ears are covered in tiny little flies. It’s early, and I’m not in a rush. Brody made french toast with berries and maple syrup for Dakota and I when we woke up. My piece is kind of burnt, but I don’t like sweet breakfast anyways so it’s okay. I hardly slept last night. My sleeping pad deflated. I can’t wait to climb.

Brody makes french toast on the first morning of our trip to Moab.

Later.

I didn’t believe we were actually going to Moab until I pulled up to Brody’s downtown apartment with my rig full of gear. A never-gonna-happen whim had turned into an oh-I-should-pack overnight, so we left Salt Lake City on a Monday afternoon and pointed south to the desert–my happiest of places.

We met up with our soon-to-be new friend Dakota (Jones, you might know him if you’re a runner–he’s real fast and a rad human being), at a dimly-lit park just after sundown. On the first and second nights, we slept down Long’s Canyon. We started the trip climbing classics at Wallstreet on Potash Road, then returned to our camp spot for a lazy lunch. Once my belly was full of veggies and tortilla and weird beet dressing, we sailed the Pilot up a bumpy dirt road to Maverick’s Buttress. I had never climbed there before, but I think I’d certainly like to go back.

Climbing at Wallstreet on Potash Road outside of Moab, UT.Gear, everywhere. Okay, Brody pretty much always makes the food. I just eat it.Climbing at Maverick Buttress down Long's Canyon in Moab, UT.

On the last full day, we climbed the classic Kor-Ingall’s route up Castleton Tower. I stood on top of the proper summit first, and took my moment of solitude to soak in the overwhelming feeling of smallness. I’ve never felt so tiny. Unsurprisingly, I cried a little bit at the top before the boys scrambled up. It was one of those moments that just remind you how audacious it is to be alive on this earth.

What a gift that I get to exist on this planet and do things like climb up a sandstone tower on a Wednesday afternoon.

Brody and I somewhere on pitch three of the Kor-Ingalls route up Castleton Tower. Enjoying a peaceful moment at the top of Castleton Tower in Moab, UT.On the summit of Castleton Tower with Dakota Jones and Brody Leven.

[Insert things about love and stealing kisses between pitches and two sleeping bags in the rain. I can’t share every detail from my journal, you know.]

Thursday morning, I awoke during twilight to the sound of rain pattering on the roof of my rig. We slept with the hatch open to catch the breeze, and I jolted up sure that our feet would be soaked from the storm. I patted our sleeping bags, and while a little wet, it wasn’t enough to wake up and shut the door.

Later, I woke back up to sunrise pouring over the La Sals with mist rolling over the mountains and drips of sunshine filling the space between the peaks and my sleepy bones.

(The last three photos, from Castleton Tower, were all taken by Brody. Thanks Brody. I left my phone and camera behind for the climb, and I’m so glad I did.)

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Oh, hello there. It’s me, Katie.

Well. Hey, hi, hello. How are ya? It’s been…a while. 

The Mojave National Preserve on the way to Joshua Tree National Park in California.

I used to write to you more. This blog was full of love letters to the outdoors and to a wild life, and to you, my readers. Home to my favorite stories, a digital book in which to take notes of moments that moved me and adventures worth sharing. But sometimes, life moves at a pace so fast it’s all you can do to keep up.

So, the love letters stopped. I hit the road again, solo. I quit my job. I moved to Salt Lake City. I fell in love, hard. I slowed down, I sped up, I kept pushing forward. I traveled the west all summer, went to the Philippines in winter. In the past four weeks, I’ve been to Moab, Joshua Tree, Las Vegas, the Florida Keys, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and tomorrow, Cuba.

It feels like the right time to start writing those love letters again.

I hope maybe you’ll still read them. I haven’t been writing here, but I have taken to keeping a leather journal–back to writing love letters to my life by hand. I’ll share excerpts here, and photos from those moments, and thoughts as I reflect on it all.

Love, Katie.

PS: I know, the blog needs love. I need to hire a web designer to seriously help me out with bringing The Morning Fresh back to life. If you know anyone in SLC, holla! Until I stop traveling enough to sit down and spruce ‘er up, I hope you’ll read and overlook how god awful this site looks right now.

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