Solo Female Road Trip Q&A (with dog tips!)

Since my first 33 day cross-country solo trip after a bad break-up, traveling alone has been one of my favorite ways to adventure. I’ve slept in gas station rest stops, remote forest campsites,  cheap motels, KOAs off the highway–you name it, I’ve stayed there alone. Most recently, I hit the road to tick off my last 8 states on my quest to hitting all 50–my first solo trip with a dog in tow. You all had a lot of questions about traveling solo, so I wanted to create a resource to answer ’em all.

Before I dive into the nitty gritty of solo trips, dealing with anxiety + safety, finding places to stay, and more, I want to address my privilege as a solo female traveler. I am a queer Latinx, but I am totally white-and-straight-passing–and that creates an ability to travel with a level of inherent ease that is not a given for solo women of color. That said, if any non-white women have specific advice for solo travel for WOC, please leave a comment and I will add it to this guide as a resource.

The #1 question: How do you deal with safety?

I received this question in every iteration possible, especially in regards to overnight stays alone and hiking alone. There are many steps I take to prioritize safety when I travel, but the most important idea is: I always trust my gut. It doesn’t happen often, but when I get a bad feeling, I boogie, no questions asked. It doesn’t happen often, but if my gut tells me to go (which is very different from my general this-is-scary anxiety, which I’ll address later), I go. While Spaghetti and I were hiking on a paved path at Sleeping Bear Dunes, we heard a pop! pop! pop! in the near distance, and I remembered that it’s hunting season. We weren’t wearing any bright colors, and I felt uncomfortable, so we left.

I make a habit out of being hyper observant. At a trailhead, I scan all the cars in the parking lot and totally judge them based on bumper stickers, etc. On the trail, I keep mental notes on the folks I pass and sometimes tag along behind other groups to feel an added sense of security. In cities, I avoid dark streets, and prefer to be in my hotel at night. When I camp, I prefer to do so in places where I have cell service–or I’ll bring a satellite phone in case of emergency (most in case of car trouble vs. ‘safety’). Also when camping or sleeping in my car, I always have my car keys within reach and a clear path to the driver’s seat so I can hop in and speed off if I need to.

I turn on ‘Find My Friends’ on my iPhone and allow both parents and my partner to see where I am at all times. This makes them feel better, and it makes me feel better too. And when it comes to social media, I only post content that shares my location after I’ve left that place.

Get yourself some pepper spray. I also always carry a Buck knife my dad gave me many years ago on my first solo trip, and often sleep with it under my pillow. I chatted with a few women who have taken self-defense classes, and I highly recommend that path if you want to cultivate confidence in your ability to protect yourself. As for guns, yes, I did once consider getting one before my four-month solo road trip–but quickly realized that guns make me uncomfortable and I didn’t have confidence that I’d be able to use one to effectively defend myself.

Related: Whats the scariest part of traveling solo as a woman?

Men.

An uncomfortable subject to address because I am not asking to be harassed when I wear make up, nor is any woman who chooses to wear whatever she pleases, but: I also often don’t wear make-up while traveling alone. Men tend to see any solo female traveler as an invitation for suggestive comments, so I often find myself not presenting myself the way I want to be while traveling solo, purely in an attempt to deter men who apparently cannot control themselves in the presence of women. Men, do better so I can comfortably wear my eyeliner and leggings while traveling solo kthanks.

Do you decide where you’re going to stay ahead of time, or do you wing it?

Both. I spend a lot of time on Google Maps figuring out the drive times to various distances, scope out options for where to stay in each spot, then I’ll either settle on a destination for the day, or just start to wing it. I always try to keep it flexible so I can go with the flow depending on how tired I am, how much time I spend at pit stops, etc. Giving yourself options and knowing that you have ’em helps cultivate that solo traveler confidence.

What are you travel essentials?

I want to do a dedicated post on my must-have road trip essentials, but briefly:

  • A paper map. Technology will fail you, so I always road trip with my trusty road atlas.
  • My use-less-plastic kit: a giant Hydroflask water bottle, a Hydroflask growler that is always full of water for back up, reusable utensils + straw, a tupperwear for leftovers when eating out, and a few different sized zip-lock bags that I wash + reuse.
  • My go-to Ursa Major skin care kit: their balm, face wash, and wipes for when I can’t wash my face.
  • My ‘tech’ kit where I keep: all my device cables + plugs, my Garmin watch, a collection of Goal Zero mini chargers, etc.
  • An iPhone tri-pod so I can take selfies. No shame.
  • Blankets, all the blankets. And a full-size pillow.
  • Whatever creature comforts will make you feel more comfortable and confident on the road. It’s a road trip, so you don’t have to pack light. If it makes you feel better, bring it.

How do you keep entertained on long rides? How do you stay awake?

I love driving solo–I used to want to be a semi-truck driver. As long as there’s light out, I can drive forever. I listen to podcasts, livestream my local NPR station from home, jam to the trashy Miami music I don’t usually get to listen to, and use the time to reflect.

I find that once I hit a groove of driving, the time flies quickly. I also stop whenever I want to, and try to break up long stretches with short hikes. When I stop for gas or to pee, I always do a little lap around the car doing knee-highs and shaking my arms above my head like a wild person to keep the blood flowing.

As for staying awake: I have realized that I don’t do well driving at night, primarily because I’m night-blind and can’t see super well in the dark. So, I don’t drive at night. The beauty of solo travel is, you’re running on your own agenda, so you can stop whenever you want. When I get tired on the road, I stop.

How do you stay organized?

I don’t. The chaos tends to spread quickly on a road trip, so I use a pitstop a day to reel it in and clean up the mess. I use a lot of Topo Designs travel bags in various sizes and try to have a place where everything belongs.

what’s the hardest part of traveling solo?

It’s expensive. Traveling with a partner means  gas is split, park entry fees are split, hotel rooms are split, everything is a bit more affordable. When I’m solo, all the costs are mine to bear. Since I stayed in hotels each night of this trip due to the snow and winter conditions, I made peace with the reality that it was going to be way more expensive than my usual camping + dirtbaggin’ trips.

Do you get lonely? How do you get over missing your partner? 

Solo travel is lonely, but I love it for that. I am an introvert, and thrive on alone time. Lean into that idea, and fully embrace the spirit of solitude. Knowing that it’s for a finite amount of time really helps me dig into the rad feeling of being alone. As for missing my partner, I of course miss him, but he travels so frequently that we’re both used to be apart. Plus, time spent apart and focusing on our independent pursuits only strengthens the relationship.

Let’s talk about dogs + solo travel

To be honest, traveling with Spaghetti doesn’t make me feel significantly more safe than just purely traveling alone. She’s a 25 lb. muppet with a soft bark and a tendency to get really scared, so it’s not like she’s going to attack anyone. She does provide excellent company and make me feel less alone.

Solo travel with a dog is harder than I expected, especially during this most recent winter trip. All outdoor seating is closed for the season, so there wasn’t a single restaurant I could eat at with her. Instead, I ate most of my meals in the car or in our hotel rooms. And since we weren’t camping, I had to find dog friendly lodging each night. Pro tip: Motel 6 allows dogs and doesn’t charge an extra fee for ’em! 

When I had to leave Spaghetti in the car (never for more than 30 minutes on this trip), I made sure all food was packed away. The one time I didn’t, she stole a slice of pizza. She has separation anxiety we’re still working on, so having to stay with her all the time did impact my ability to do a lot of things. And traveling with a dog completely changed my relationship with National Parks. They’re inherently not-dog-friendly (for good reason), so I found myself spending less time in them.

And lastly, my favorite reader question: Have you had to pee in a water bottle yet? 

Yes, many times. Ladies, I prefer to pee into something like a large yogurt container because my aim is not very good. You can also get a device like the She-Wee to pee with, but I get fussy about the idea of needing a penis-mimicking device to complete a function my vagina is perfectly capable of handling on its own, so I pee into yogurt containers instead, ha!

Have more questions? Want to share your own advice for traveling solo? Leave ’em in the comments!

Follow, like, share, spread the love!

Celebrate National Get Outdoors Day

One of my favorite things that I like to celebrate every day is getting outdoors. In the spirit of equity for all holidays, we only get one official National Get Outdoors Day, tomorrow on June 9th – if you’re like me though, you never need an excuse to enjoy the world outside.

My perennial dedication to the pursuit of being outside is made exponentially easier by my new hometown’s proximity to outdoor recreation. Access to the outdoors is why I moved to Salt Lake City–though the ability to go from city-to-trail is achievable almost anywhere, whether you have an hour or an entire day to get out there.

On a weekday jammed with meetings, my local go-to is the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. There are trailheads peppered all along the foothills running north to south in the Salt Lake area, and I can be standing with my Hi-Tec boots in the dirt within ten minutes of locking my front door. Hiking, trail running, mountain biking, picnicking, finding a rock to take a nap on–these close to home trails offer it all.

While I adore the mountains and foothills, my truest love is the desert. And this is only a 2.5 hour drive from my front door (totally day-trip worthy):

Close-to-home overnights and day trips can be as simple as your afternoon neighborhood hikes. Just toss a pad + sleeping bag in your car, load up on snacks, and fill a pack with essentials like water and sunscreen. Armed with three pairs of Hi-Tec Altitude and Wild-Fire boots, two dogs, and a cooler full of La Croix and cheese sticks, this is what 36 hours of adventure looks like in Southern Utah:

We rendezvoused at the start of a dirt road system, caravanned out to a canyon campground, and claimed our site. Then we laced up our waterproof Hi-Tec boots, and hiked along the canyon rim until the sunset. After a taco dinner, we tucked ourselves into our respective vehicles, zonked out, and awoke to a glittery sunrise. With a half day to explore before heading back to the city, we used a map to find the nearest accessible stream, and mucked through the water and mud until our skin was burnt and our souls felt full. It was a quick, simple trip that was just what I needed before diving into another busy workweek.

Tips for getting making the most of YOUR National Get Outdoors Day:

  • Think local. You don’t have to plan an epic expedition to enjoy a day outdoors. Walk your dog to a neighborhood park, find your nearest rail trail and explore by bike, lace up your running shoes and see how far you can go from your front door. Adventure is what you make of it.
  • Don’t forget the summer essentials. If I could implore upon you to only have two things in your summertime adventure pack, it would be: sunscreen and water.
  • Spread the love. Invite your roommate, ask your neighbor if you can take their dog out for a jaunt, and call your sister. The best part of the outdoors is sharing it with others.
  • Dress accordingly. Along with sunscreen, appropriate gear is a must. Here in Utah, summers are notorious for unexpected afternoon storms. Pack a shell, and choose your footwear wisely. I’ve been rocking the Hi-Tec Altitude Lite II Mid I waterproof boots.

Are you heading out to celebrate National Get Outdoors Day tomorrow? I’d love to hear about your adventures, whether you’re just sun bathing in your backyard or planning a dawn patrol mountain summit. No matter how you get out there, make time for fresh air and sunshine. Happy day, outdoorists!

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Hi-Tec®, but as always, words, photos, opinions, and undying love for the desert are my own.

Follow, like, share, spread the love!

Outdoorist Guide to Bend, Oregon

Before I visited Bend, I daydreamed about it. A magical little mountain town, with beckoning views of snow-capped peaks jutting out of the high desert. I thought it might be something like Boulder, CO–before it became the crowded bubble. I imagined camping out in the National Forest, puttering into town for breakfast, and spending my days exploring in the woods.

My visions were spot on. Bend is a hub for outdoorists seeking recreation, good eats (and beer, if you’re into that), and good people. My trip to Mt. Bachelor with Harman Kardon was my first winter visit to Bend, and it only made me fall deeper in love. If you, too, are looking to fall for Bend, here’s a guide to what to do, where to eat, and *some* of the best secrets:

Getting to Bend

While I’m always a fan of a road trip, you’ve got options when it comes to getting to Bend. The nearest airport is the tiny Redmond Municipal Airport. It’s about a 30 minute drive to town, and there is Uber available! You can also fly into PDX in Portland, and take a short 3 hour road trip to Bend. If you’re sticking to the city, you could get away without a rental car, but I’d highly recommend a vehicle if you’re looking to get after it on public lands.

If you’re making a road trip out of your journey to Bend, I collaborated with Harman Kardon to make a Spotify playlist for you. It’s embedded below, too! 

Where to Play Outside

Pick a direction, drive for a bit, and you’ll find yourself on public land. To the west, you’ll find Deschutes and Willamette National Forests. To the east is Ochoco National Forest. A bit to the north, you’ll hit Mt. Hood National Forest and its namesake peak. If you’re here to ski, you’ll beeline towards Mt. Bachelor–which has both great resort + backcountry skiing nearby. (You can read about my experiences learning how to backcountry ski in Bend here.) In the summertime, peak bagging is a must. I hiked the South Sister solo a few summers ago, and at the time it was my biggest day in the mountains. Climbers must visit Smith Rock, oh wow. The views were incredible, the trail was beautiful, and my legs were very tired the next day. I’m dying to get back in the summer to visit the Lava Lands, the interpretive visitor center of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. The volcanic landscape around Bend is truly special.

In town, Pilot Butte is a great park with a spiral trail (check it out on Google Maps) and beautiful views of the city. You can drive to the top in the summertime, but I’d recommend parking at the bottom and earning your view with a brisk uphill jaunt.

Other nearby outdoor hotspots:

Where to Eat

The only thing more important than the outdoors in my life is food. I’ll be honest, Bend isn’t the most impressive foodie spot (yet), but it does have a number of can’t miss gems. For breakfast, you must try an ocean roll from The Sparrow Bakery. It’s like a non-iced cinnamon bun but instead of cinnamon it’s cardamom and it’s my favorite thing to eat in Bend, period. My favorite restaurant in town is Wild Rose–it’s delicious Northern Thai food, and one of the best tom kha soups I’ve ever had. Spork is a close second, and has one of those ‘worldly’ menus that offers a dish for every craving. If they’ve got the elote special that day, order it. For a quick on-the-go lunch, I love Cafe Yumm.

Coffeeshops are in abundance in Bend. I’m a big fan of Looney Bean, Crow’s Feet Commons, Backporch, and Thump. Crow’s Feet Commons gets bonus points for being on the river and having little snacks in mason jars, while Looney Bean gets my vote for delicious pastries.

If you’re into beer, Bend is the place for you. With over twenty breweries, it has the highest micro-brewery per capita in the US–and the nickname “Beer City USA.” I don’t drink anymore, so my recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt, but a few stand-outs include: 10 Barrel, Crux, and Atlas Cider Co. Bonus for us non-drinkers: many breweries have kombucha on tap too!

Where to Stay

There are tons of lodging and camping options in and around Bend. I’m going to keep my camp spots under wraps, but if you do a little poking around on public lands, you’ll find excellent dispersed camping. If you’re on a budget but want a bed to sleep in, check out Sonoma Lodge. I stayed there for a few nights during my solo trip two summers ago, and the family who runs it were so hospitable and kind.

If you want to stay closer to the mountains, and are traveling with a group or want to splurge on some stunning cabins, check out Sunriver. It’s where we stayed during our trip to Subaru WinterFest with Harman Kardon, and our ‘cabin’ was fantastic. It had all the trimmings of a cozy log cabin, but with 5 bedrooms, a hot tub, toasty fireplace flanked by cozy couches, and a paved trail that runs throughout the entire area.

What to Jam Out to

Whether I’m summiting the South Sister, learning how to ski at Cinder Cone, cruising downtown, or road tripping around Oregon, I need good jams. The folks at Harman Kardon asked me to put together a playlist for my winter trip to Bend since we spent the week in a Subaru equipped with their premium audio system, so I gathered some of my go-to hype songs to get me pumped for outdoor adventures–and you can listen to it here:

Don’t have a good sound system? No worries. During my first trip to Bend, I was living in a janky van with blown out speakers, so I had to rely on portable solutions like the Harman Kardon Traveler speaker. Whatever system you’ve got to keep the beats flowin’, roll with it.

It’s hard to capture the magic of Bend in just 1000 words, so I’m inevitably missing a few must-dos. What voids do you see on this list? Got a Bend trail you thing should be on this list? Have you discovered a coffeeshop I absolutely must visit during my next trip? Let me know in the comments! 

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Harman Kardon, but as always, all thoughts, opinions, and words are my own. Especially my food recommendations, because you know I don’t mess around when it comes to good eats. 

Follow, like, share, spread the love!

Learning to ski (human-powered) in Oregon at Subaru WinterFest

Editor’s note: Today on the blog, a first–a guest post, by my partner Brody Leven. As you know from my escapades on IG stories, he’s teaching me how to ski entirely by human power, and it’s been one of the best experiences of our relationship. He shared his perspective on it all, and I hope you love reading it as much as I did:

My girlfriend Katie doesn’t know how to ski. I ski most days, for work or pleasure or the combination that is my career.

My girlfriend Katie is from Miami. I’m from Ohio, which is actually a much better place to be a skier, because there is snow.

My girlfriend Katie hates the cold, cold fingers, cold toes, cold nose, being cold. So do I. It doesn’t matter how much one likes skiing; the cold still sucks.

“I’ve never seen a skier date a non-skier,” an Instagram follower messaged me, a response to my attempt to teach Katie to ski. When one’s identity is so inextricably tied to a single activity as mine is to skiing, it’s understandable why a successful relationship may seemingly warrant a partner interested in the same activity. And Katie had no interest in starting to ski.

Or so I thought.

After all the time we’ve spent together, I’d never asked Katie if she wanted to learn. I ignorantly assumed that if she wanted to ski, she’d ask. When our friend Caroline invited her on a lesson one day, I was amazed that she accepted. She wanted to learn but had been too timid to ask.

Katie isn’t learning to ski in the traditional way. By avoiding the crowds and lodges and lift lines, she’s choosing an unconventional way of learning to ski in today’s snow culture. Katie is learning to ski while learning to earn her turns. She’s climbing the hills that she is skiing down, using the power of her legs and whatever she ate for breakfast, which is usually spaghetti. This means that each turn isn’t wasted but cherished, because it takes hours for a run to be climbed and only minutes for it to be skied (unless you don’t know how to ski—then it takes almost as long to descend as to climb).

All of my skiing is leg-powered these days, but it hasn’t always been this way. I learned to ski at my local ski hill in Ohio, making thousands of lift-services laps over thousands of evenings. It’s 210 feet tall, and I was able to ski top-to-bottom in mere seconds. It allowed me to perfect my turns: rising into the traverse and sinking into the apex; orienting my upper body downhill; pole planting before each initiation. The chairlift rides were cold, but it was the only type of skiing I knew. Climbing up to ski down wasn’t even in my imagination.

Katie and I met at a very different stage in my skiing. These days, I climb everything that I ski. I spend the majority of my days walking uphill just to savor a few special, solitary moments on the way down. It also means that I spend most of my days away from her, returning with powder in every crease of clothing and a smile on my face. She wanted in on the action.

A mid-March trip to Bend, Oregon for the Subaru WinterFest offered Katie her first chance to ski two consecutive days. With a soundtrack provided by Harman Kardon, we affixed directional climbing skins to the bottoms of our skis and walked up a hill near Mt. Bachelor. After removing the skins and attaching her heel to the ski binding, she hesitantly dropped into the steepest slope of her life. Not until that evening did she realize that the backcountry terrain on which she’s learning to ski would be black diamond (difficult) terrain in the ski area.

She skied through variable snow conditions and frequently fell at the end of her turn. Katie struggled to link two turns together, so I offered advice sparingly and at her request. At the bottom of our first run, she asked if she could bootpack back up the lower portion of it. She not only wanted to practice more turns, but to learn a different style of ascent. She buckled her skis to her backpack like a pro and we were soon making a few more turns before returning to our Subaru, some hot tea, and some calm music.

Katie’s ski equipment isn’t perfect for her, but she doesn’t complain about its deficiencies, only about her own. She always skis with a helmet and is generally receptive to my advice. Considering how much unsolicited advice she receives from her social media followers, suggesting it’s easier to learn at the ski resort, Katie’s staying stedfast. She doesn’t want to learn at the ski resort precisely because it’s easier. She wants to embrace the challenge. And I’m here to support her.

It hasn’t been hard getting her out on the snow. Like when I was learning to ski, Katie wants to ski all the time, even when it’s unreasonable. She arrived to Bend sick and exhausted, but all she wanted to do was ski. On our drive to the mountain each day, she blasted music on our 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, dancing in the passenger’s seat. The soundtrack was happy and uptempo, music I’d only heard her play on her best days, and definitely not when she was sick. But a sickness wasn’t going to keep her off her hand-me-down skis when there was free hot chocolate being served at the Subaru WinterFest outside the lodge and an evening full of activities before we’d retire to our cozy cabin’s hot tub and fireplace.

Because that relaxation is exactly what you need when you’re skiing black diamonds in the backcountry during your first week on snow. I guess I’m not a skier dating a non-skier after all, because Katie is more excited to go skiing than any other skier I know. And that’s just the kind of (ski) partner I want.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored blog post for Harman / Kardon, but as always, all thoughts, opinions, and words are my own. (Well, Brody’s.) 

Follow, like, share, spread the love!

Guide to Playing Outside + Eating in Salt Lake City, UT

“Hey Katie, I’m heading to SLC [this week/next summer/tomorrow] and was wondering if you had advice on good trails for [running/skiing/hiking], places to adventure that are near town, can’t-miss restaurants and coffee shops…”

I get this message multiple times a week–and I love it. Salt Lake City is one of the greatest cities in America–if you ask me at least–and I fell deeply, madly in love with it the summer before I moved here. Sharing my beloved city’s best brings me joy, and I figured I ought to just write all my SLC advice and recommendations down since it’s one of my most frequently asked topics.

Getting Outdoors in SLC

Access to the outdoors is part of the reason I moved to Salt Lake. I’m not going to tell you all of the best spots, because they’re getting super crowded and need a bit of a break from all the upticks in traffic–but if you do enough homework you’ll find ’em. They’re right there. Here’s what I will spill the beans about:

  • The Bonneville Shoreline Trail is over 100 miles of continuous trails running through the foothills. You can run to it right from downtown, or drive a bit near the hills and hop on.
  • Liberty Park is my favorite outdoor public space in the city. A big ‘ole running/biking/rollerblading/dog walking loop, tons of fields, a big pond, an aviary, tennis courts, picnic tables with chessboards built in, the works. In the summertime, there’s a farmers market on Friday evenings. If you’ve been to Denver, it’s basically the SLC equivalent to Wash Park.
  • The canyons. Essentially, there are three main canyon hubs for outdoor recreation in SLC: Millcreek, Big Cottonwood, and Little Cottonwood. The Cottonwoods are where you’ll find all the ski resorts and climbing areas. And each of these canyons has hiking trails, backcountry skiing, picnic spots, and scenic drives. Millcreek is the only place you can bring pups (and there’s a $3 entrance fee).
  • Antelope Island is an amazing spot to see the Great Lake, hang out with some bison, and get the best sunset photo you’ve ever taken.

If you’re getting outside in SLC, please read up on Leave No Trace ethics and practice them diligently while you’re playing in our precious Wasatch Range. There has been so much growth in this community, and while I love seeing so many people getting outside, I hate to see my beloved landscapes getting trampled. Pack out all trash + dog poo, stay on the trails, don’t pick the wildflowers, and watch out for summertime afternoon thunderstorms. 

Where to Eat in SLC

  • Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurants: Surprisingly, SLC is a treasure trove of plant-based eateries. If you’ve ever watched my Instagram stories, you already know about Big O Doughnuts, a totally plant-based donut shop with flavors like churro cake and orange cardamom. Buds has the best vegan sandwiches (get the pesto ‘chicken’!) and outdoor seating. Boltcutter is what’s up for tacos + nachos, and has Monkey Wrench next door serving ‘anti-dairy’ ice cream. Other vegetarian + vegan-friendly spots include Vertical Diner for breakfast/brunch, Seasons for pasta and polenta dishes, and All Chay for the ‘shrimp’ omg.
  • More Restaurants: This list will not be extensive, because there’s just too much good food in SLC. For breakfast, head to Publik Kitchen, Roots Cafe, Blue Plate, or Eggs in The City. You will wait 30+ minutes at all of these places on a weekend morning, prepare accordingly. If you’re into ramen, check out Yoko. For the best Indian in town, make the quick drive out to Bombay House. I get nachos at Lone Star on a weekly basis in the summertime. Mazza and Laziz are your go-to for hipster Mediterranean food (try the labneh!) and Juanita’s is my pupusa spot. (For what it’s worth, these places all have good vegetarian food too.)
  • Coffeeshops: Literally pick any coffeeshop and you’ll be happy–there are so many cool spots to grab an espresso or hunker down to do some work. My favorites are Publik, Three Pines, Blue Copper, and Sugarhouse Coffee. If you just want to work, go to the downtown SLC Public Library.

 

Farmers Markets

I live for farmers market season. And here in SLC, you can get three in a weekend–in the summertime. On Fridays, head to Liberty Park for a farmers market with the most food truck choices. Saturdays are the best market of all, the downtown SLC farmers market at Pioneer Park. If you’re still in the market mood, Sundays are for the Park Silly craft + food market in Park City.

In the wintertime, the downtown market moves to the Rio Grande train station, on Saturdays.

Getting Active (Inside)

There are two climbing gyms in SLC, and a fierce divide between which gym is better: The Front and Momentum. I’m a member at The Front, and Brody is a member of Momentum. The Front 10/10 has the best ambiance and facilities, including a sauna, vastly better bouldering, comfy seating areas, an outdoor patio, and soon-to-be third floor cafe. Momentum has better sport climbing. So, priorities–I obviously chose the sauna.

For yogis, I can’t recommend Seek Studio enough. If you’re there in the summertime, drop in on a rooftop sunset session.

Other SLC Local Biz You Should Patronize

Stockist is where I go for expensive-but-worth-the-investment hipster clothing and planters. Cotopaxi is headquartered downtown, and their HQ sits right above a rad retail shop that you should pop into. For anything bicycle related, heat to Saturday Cycles. If you need pillows/towels/etc. check out Maewoven.

I’ll keep this list updated as I remember all of the magical Salt Lake City shops and trails and eateries I’m inevitably missing from this list–but it’s a start, and a lot more extensive than the usual recommendations I try to type out in DMs on Instagram.

What am I forgetting? Where’s your favorite spot in SLC? Holla in the comments!

Follow, like, share, spread the love!

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.

Follow, like, share, spread the love!

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.

Follow, like, share, spread the love!

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!

Follow, like, share, spread the love!

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.

Follow, like, share, spread the love!

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.

Follow, like, share, spread the love!