Thick slabs of steak, creamy baked brie, and camp cuisine that spoiled my outdoor perspective

During my first few climbing trips, my campside cuisine consisted of canned soup and instant mashed potatoes. Soon, fellow campers enlightened me about the camping bliss that could be achieved by simply adding an avocado to my instant mashed potatoes. Eventually, my food bin felt like a culinary success filled with parmesan cheese, canned Indian dishes, black beans, and tortillas.

I felt pretty darn fancy. I even started carrying a few spices with me to add a little extra flavor to those wonderful instant potatoes.

My humble perspective on outdoor cooking was absolutely shattered during the Havasupai excursion with the OmniTen and Columbia Sportswear. Holy mother of delicious. Our trip was guided by the wonderful folks of Arizona Outback Adventures, who not only successfully herded our crew through the canyon to the Havasu Falls campground, but truly blew our socks off with the best camping cuisine I have ever tasted.

It started with a gander at the camp’s impressive kitchen set-up. Our guides have a semi-permanent area pitched throughout the entire season, and the kitchen area was fully stocked with multiple grills, preparing areas, giant cookware, and everything in between. The first thing our guide, Brian, whipped out was a giant box of grapes – “well that’s a nice snack,” I thought to myself.

I was delighted by the prospect of popping a few plump grapes into my mouth to refresh my parched body after a 10-mile hike in the desert, but it didn’t stop there. Rather than tossing a bowl of grapes on the table, we were presented with multiple platters – of baked brie sprinkled with nuts and cranberries, assorted crackers, and a fanning spread of cheeses.

Wait, this was just the ‘starter’ course?

Judging by the appetizers we were served before dinner, I had a feeling things were about to get outrageous – and they did. For dinner, we feasted on the thickest steak and asparagus stalks that have ever entered my belly. The meat was complimented by a healthy helping of quinoa cooked with veggies, plus fantastic grilled mushrooms. I was a very happy camper at this point.

After a night of deep sleep, I woke up excited for a new day of exploring waterfalls and travertine tunnels – but first, breakfast. I stumbled out of my tent to find artfully plated platters of fresh fruit waiting to be devoured; and devour I did.

Our crisp and cool morning bites soon gave way to the main attraction: a sprawling cornucopia of scrambled eggs, grilled sausage, cheesy potatoes, and more. In an effort to accommodate our vegan companion, the crew even whipped up a batch of veggie sausage patties and vegan pancakes.

When it came time for our final dinner together before the 10-mile hike back out of the canyon, Arizona Outback Adventures once again outdid themselves with an Asian meal fit for royalty. Having experienced their culinary masterwork the night before, we were all curious about what we would be treated to as we watched the chefs get down to business.

To begin, they fattened us up with huge piles of edamame, and then continued the superior snackage with veggie pot stickers while they got to work on our main course.

Dinner left me wishing I could live at this camp forever. We were wowed with thick strips of Mongolian beef with sauce-smothered broccoli, grilled tofu and shrimp, white rice, and a colorful vegetable stirfry. Like I said, this was not your average campside meal. 

I think the entire Columbia Sportswear and OmniTen team will join me in extending an enormous amount of gratitude towards Brian, Jenn, Chris, and Sheldon for creating a truly unbelievable outdoor experience. While I will likely never again feast on two-inch thick steaks while camping, I am grateful for this amazing opportunity to partake in an adventure that was entirely catered and guided.

Sigh, now it’s back to instant mashed potatoes and corned beef hash out of a can – not that I can really complain; corned beef hash is the best way to start a long day of adventuring.

Vortex yoga on Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona during Columbia Sportswear’s 2013 Preview event

On a scorching Sedona morning, I found myself perched on a little patch of dusty rock, cross-legged amid a collection of fellow females as we passed tiny bottles of frankincense and rose oil around our circle.

As we dabbed little drops of oil on our foreheads, a soft yet authoritative voice instructed us to affirm ourselves, to mull on our emotions, and to let it all go with deep, releasing breathes.

 Welcome to my vortex yoga experience on Bell Rock.

Like any brand, Columbia Sportswear used their Spring 2013 Gear Preview event to showcase their new designs and products – but unlike most brands, they required us to truly put their gear to the test. After wining and dining their audience of editors, journalists, gear junkies, and adventurers, Columbia sent our big group out on a variety of activities. We were able to choose between mountain biking, intense hiking, and vortex yoga.

Intrigued by this undeniably funky video demonstration vortex yoga in Sedona, I immediately opted to spend my ‘activity day’ out on Bell Rock practicing my downward dog.

Our group ended up being comprised solely of ladies, which made for a wonderful and intimate experience. Our instructor, Johanna, guided us along the trail towards Bell Rock as she pointed out the area’s distinct flora and desert features. After walking for a bit, we paused to gather in an energy circle for some initial breathing exercises beneath the shade of a tree – and at that moment, the spiritual journey of the vortex experience truly began.

I’m not a hokey gal – but the heightened sense of energy found at the vortex was undeniable. During the meditative portion of our afternoon, we gathered under another shady area, and plopped down on the rocks and dirt to enjoy a few breathing techniques and thoughtful moments that challenged us to overcome the usually buzzing in our brains in favor of a quieter and more reflective mentality. In my opinion, the time we spent thinking, releasing, and feeling was when the energy of the vortex was most noticeable.

Admittedly, when we finally began our yoga session upon the sprawling red boulders on Bell Rock, my spiritual bliss was overcome by my incessant need to document my adventures. Fellow OmniTen member Heidi and I ended up so occupied by our quest to obtain good photos and GoPro footage that we ultimately lost some of the spiritual flow during yoga.

Still, I had a wonderful morning hiking through the desert terrain with the ladies, learning a little bit about my body’s natural energies, and practicing my yoga poses while gazing out at the gorgeous Sedona landscape. I left feeling calmer, uplifted, and at peace with my mental chatter. Even Heidi agreed that she felt the effects of the vortex (coupled with Johanna’s excellent spiritual guidance) – and for a gal with the nickname “Banana Buzzbomb,” that’s quite a statement.

If you are ever in the Sedona area, and feel keen on getting in touch with your spiritual side, I would highly suggest taking a vortex yoga tour Yoga Life with Johanna and her assistant
A former New Yorker, she offers the perfect balance between an enlightened hippie and, well, normal everyday lady. She offered us great information about our chakras and energy flows, made sure every member of our group was comfortable, and yet still helped us push our physical and mental limits.
Our group was on a strict time limit, which caused us to have to be slightly more ‘aware’ during our meditative and yoga sessions — I can only imagine how much more fun would have been had if we had been with Johanna for the entire day. 

Want more vortex yoga fun? Check out Heidi’s post “Calm & Cool Yoga in Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero” on BananaBuzzBomb.com!

How to capture the experience of a lifetime in a single 20 second exposure photograph

There was no shortage of documentation during my trip to the Havasu Falls area with Columbia Sportswear and the OmniTen team. We shot heaps of footage with our GoPros, tweeted any time we had cell service, blogged during any downtime, and took thousands of photos with our respective cameras.

But nothing compares to this:

Photo by: Will Rochfort
http://WMRjr.com

I get goosebumps just looking at this beautiful snapshot – it perfectly captures the essence of our trip, the teamwork employed during our collective adventure, the eager spirit I encountered in every single person I traveled through Arizona with, and the beautiful family that is the OmniTen crew.

This photo was captured by the wonderful Will Rochfort during a late evening hike down to Havasu Falls from our campsite. It took us eight takes to get the shot just right, and the light sources were all headlamps – which felt appropriate, if you ask me. We got a little wet and dirty in the process, but that seems to have been the theme of our Havasu adventure.

We began the journey to Arizona with Columbia Sportswear as a group of total strangers. I only knew my nine OmniTen counterparts by the faces I had inspected on their various social media profiles. We had exchanged plentiful tweets, and a Facebook page was created to foster interactivity – but I didn’t know these people. It was mildly terrifying to board the airplane heading towards the Phoenix airport, knowing that I wouldn’t be greeted by a single familiar face.

And yet, now I can’t imagine my life without these people. We are a funky bunch – a vegan triathlete from Ohio, a handsome face who loves showtunes, a peak-bagging wonder from San Jose, a climbing couple with an unassuming charm; we’re weird. I would have never grouped us together, and yet, we were somehow bound through our OmniTen connection – and it worked.

By the end of our trip, we all shed tears at the thought of departing from each other’s company. There are some bonds so unique that one simply can’t bear the thought of letting them go. How many people do you hike 10 miles out of the Grand Canyon with, urging each other onward, and sharing a hidden nook for potty purposes? I don’t know about you, but taking a poop in the middle of the desert in front of someone you’ve only known for five days seems like a pretty big sign of true friendship. (You know who you are, and I’d gladly pop a squat with you any time!)

To my OmniTen friends, you light up my life. Thank you for the most humbling, inspiring, uplifting, and downright HOT adventure. We will meet again, and now we’ve got a challenge to make the next adventure even more memorable than the first. I love you all.

Five Reasons I’m Counting the Days to Overland Expo in Flagstaff, AZ

A few months ago, I began getting involved with a mysterious event called “Overland Expo.” A true novice in the art of overlanding, I was exposed to an event and industry that gave a proper title to the art of what I love to do – traveling the world by vehicle. Sometimes by car, occasionally on my bike, and often by foot. This event is a showcase and gathering of the overlanding community, a wild group of adventurers dedicated to getting out there and experiencing it all.

So why am does my agenda now include a little countdown to the May 18-20th event in Flagstaff? Here are a few reasons, in no particular order:

1. The Adventure of Getting to Flagstaff

While I’ll be in Flagstaff for about full three days, my journey to and from Overland Expo will span across about 9-10 days of road trip travel. I’ll be making the trek solo, and am really looking forward to embarking on another one-woman adventure. To break up the trip a bit, I plan on spending a night in Houston, Texas, to visit a great lady climber friend who recently moved out there from Tallahassee.

Aside from spending time with an old friend, I can’t wait to for a few days spent lonesome in my car. Speaking of cars, this road trip will be extra exciting because I am switching cars with my wonderful sister – which means I get to drive a hybrid Honda Civic across the country. All that gas money I’ll save will inevitably be spent in coffee shops, local breweries, and probably a few pieces of new gear I won’t be able to resist at the expo.

2. Classes, Expert Panels, and Workshops

Don’t even bother reading my hype about the schedule at Overland Expo – check it out for yourself. It delivers a nearly overwhelming amount of enticing events that will keep any adventurer engaged throughout the entire weekend.

My favorite picks? Out of nearly 100 classes, I’m most looking forward to classes like “One-Pan Cooking and Provisioning (no fridge)” with Ara Gureghian, a workshop for cooking healthy meals on the road, a collection of photography and writing sessions, “Keeping Healthy and Happy on the Road,” and the survival for couples course.

3. The Adventure Travel Film Festival

Presented by Austin Vince and Lois Pryce, this edition of the festival is the fourth annual event celebrating an international community of folks who live for the thrill of getting out there. I cannot wait to get educated on the history of adventure, the inspiring stories of those who trek out into the world, and the thrilling experiences they endure and enjoy on the road. Enticing titles like “Above and Beyond Dream,” “Paddle to Seattle,” and “Salt and Gold” are only adding to the hype.

4. Meeting My Fellow Adventurers

Lately, I’ve been internally comparing Overland Expo to an adventurer’s version of Bonnaroo – minus all the substance abuse, ruckus, and dirty bathrooms. In my mind, this gathering is the ultimate meet-up for people who are like me.

Adding to the excitement, I’m going to finally meet a few of the wonderful outdoor people I’ve connected with through Twitter. While co-hosting the #ATQA Adventure Travel Question & Answer chat, I’ve joyously watched as some of my favorite friends have won our weekly giveaway – a day pass to the event. Getting the opportunity to connect with people like Dave Creech (who runs an amazing blog you can check out here) is something I’m really looking forward to taking full advantage of – especially since there have been many promises of whiskey and cigars!

5. Daily Yoga Sessions in the Morning

Does this directly have anything to do with wild outdoor adventures? Arguably not – but I am absolutely smitten on the idea of waking up in the hot abyss of Flagstaff, and starting each day with a refreshing yoga session. I’m no yogi, but I have recently begun embracing yoga as the ultimate way to stretch, warm-up, cool-down, and generally improved my flexibility for my climbing. Even aside from my training efforts on the rock, yoga has been a reviving way to get my blood flowing every day.

And I might also be pretty excited to wrangle Dave and my boss J into joining me for some yoga – purely to giggle at them when they try the downward down. (Fellas, as much as I’d love to laugh at you, I will also be so impressed if you end up whooping my rear end in yoga!)

Bonus Hype – check out this 2012 event preview video!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hhml-cObSWU&feature=player_embedded]

If you haven’t snagged your pass to Overland Expo, the clock is ticking! Click here to check out event packages, and don’t forget to join us Wednesdays at 5:00 (PM, EST) for the #ATQA Adventure Travel chat for your chance to win a free pass.

I’ll see you all in Flagstaff!

An adventurous road-tripper’s top 10 travel moments of 2011

What travel blog would be complete without a year-end review of the best travel experiences from 2011? As I begin to daydream of all the amazing adventures that 2012 has waiting around the corner, I can’t help but reflect on the outrageous and memorable times I had on the road this year. Every moment spent road tripping across America is held dearly, but these ten moments stick out above the rest.

10. Escaping for a week of relaxation in the mountains around Hendersonville, North Carolina

My seven-week September solo trip deserves a big mention, but the leg of my adventure that deserves the biggest accolades is the week I spent lounging around Hendersonville, North Carolina. My ex-girlfriend’s mother invited me to stay at her charming country home, and I spent the week sampling the area’s best cuisine, picking apples at an orchard, dancing the night away at a climbing buddy’s wedding in Flat Rock, and exploring the mountainous region of Brevard.

My solo trip commenced with a rough patch of personal heartache, so this miniature escape truly assisted in establishing up the positive vibes that I carried throughout the remainder of my travels.

9. Celebrating my 23rd birthday boating on Lake Dillon in Frisco, Colorado

My solo trip ended just days before my 23rd birthday, and in true girly fashion, I was determined to make my celebration one to remember. Having freshly transplanted myself and my belongings to Denver, Colorado, I wanted to capitalize on my new surroundings. After browsing potential ideas like a pedal-yourself beer wagon, we settled on renting a pontoon boat on Lake Dillon. The drive out to Frisco was absolutely gorgeous, as was the entire day of mountainside boating. I discovered my new favorite whiskey, vanilla-infused Phillips Union, and our crew downed countless cans of beer while we cruised around the frigid lake.

Having been raised boating on the warm waters in Miami, this Colorado lake experience introduced me to a whole new style of waterfront fun – no sandy beaches around, this day was all about mountain peaks and snow forest landscapes.

8. A wild hike up a muddy cliffside during a rainy day at Boulder Canyon in Colorado

This was one of those totally unplanned, totally unpredicted experiences that taught me the value of relinquishing control and embracing the idea of getting very, very dirty. On our way to what we thought was a sport climbing area, a group of cohorts and I scrambled up a steep, chossy cliff that led to frequent falling rock calls, one very bloody knee, and more dirt caked underneath my fingernails that I could ever imagine – but it was too much fun.

I was skeptical about the messy scramble at first, since I was carrying my beloved Nikon camera and equipment in my pack, but after a sprinkle of rain turned our dirty hike into slushy chaos, all bets were off. I returned to the car slathered in mud, and spent the evening picking sticky burrs out of my hair – but again, too much fun.

7. Watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon in Arizona

As the final ‘big’ stop on my post-graduation road trip with Niko in May, we made a pit stop at Grand Canyon National Park – but our original intentions didn’t involve a sunrise. Niko had been dying to see the sunset, so we raced our way along barren roads to catch the sun before it dipped beyond the rim of the canyon. Literally missing the sunset by three minutes, we decided to spend the night in the nearby tourist town so we could watch the sunrise.

After spending a very uncomfortable night sleeping in a hotel parking lot, Niko roused me from my catatonic state and we returned to the park. This time we made sure to arrive well before the sun, and were pleasantly surprised to find the area was nearly deserted – I guess the 5 AM wakeup call for the sunrise is reserved for only the most diehard adventurers. I was cranky and cold, but I ended up with one of my favorite Niko photos of all time.

6. Pitching my tent at Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park

This campground, located inside Yosemite Valley, is one of the most legendary watering holes for famous climbers. It was inspiring to camp at the same spot that housed icons like Lynne Hill and Ron Kauk – Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia even used to sell homemade gear from the camp’s parking lot.

Everything from waking up at 6:00 in the morning to queue in line for camp registration to the rusty bear-proof food lockers and name tags we had to tie on our tents for the ranger check-ins combined to create this inspiring air of climbing confidence and community vibes that spread throughout the grounds. I woke up in the morning pumped to climb some Yosemite granite.

5. My first sport climb at Sandrock in Alabama

An avid climber from the moment my fingertips first grazed the plastic holds at Tallahassee Rock Gym, it was a damn shame that I had never sport climbed until August 2011. Two years into my climbing obsession, I finally embarked on a sport climbing trip to a beautiful crag called Sandrock near Steele, Alabama.

The exhilaration of clipping into the anchors at the top of my first lead was only rivaled by the experience of sleeping out beneath the stars atop the rock formations at the mountain summit, and waking up to explosive hues of sunrise. It was one of the moments that cemented my adoration for the outdoors and living in nature – although the chiggers that infested my bellybutton on this trip weren’t the best reminder of why I love living in nature.

4. Getting a taste of desert life in Moab, Utah

Anyone who has asked me about my travels in 2011 has heard an earful about my infatuation with Moab. Niko and I spent a week living in the desert in May, when we came to visit our two buddies who spent the summer working as river guides in Moab. I became enthralled with the lifestyle of these dirty, leather-skinned desert people.

Over the course of a very short week, I photographed beautiful roadside climbs at Potash, hiked through Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park, ate sandy campfire food alongside my fellow tent-dwellers at the Lazy Lizard Hostel, and met some of the most amazing people I have ever encountered while traveling – Josephine, Paul, Chelsey, and Mike, I’m talkin’ to you.

Seriously, you must visit Moab. It is my most highly recommended destination.

3. A weekend at Still Mountain Retreat in Willits, California

After weeks of vagabonding throughout Moab and Yosemite, Niko and I readily accepted an invitation to join some friends for a relaxing weekend retreat at family cabins tucked high in the mountains near Willits, California. The entire weekend was a fantastic blur of great homemade food, excursions into the woods and nearby waterfall, and peaceful time spent in great company.

Niko and I stayed in a small cabin with an attic-like entrance to the second-story sleeping area – which inspired notions of simple living and small spaces.  It was so refreshing to experience this place tucked away from civilization, where all that mattered was when the next shuffleboard tournament would take place.

2. Driving into the mountains on I-25 on my way to Denver, Colorado

My September solo trip concluded with a final haul down to Miami to load up my hatchback with my belongings before returning to Denver to move-in. The push back to Colorado from Florida was grueling with a jam-packed car, but as I finally hit the Rockies after driving through hours of flatlands, I was overwhelmed by the most intense feeling of pure joy I have ever felt. My music was blasted at full volume, all windows were rolled down, and I literally burst out with ecstatic squeals as I wound my way through the beautiful mountains that would soon become home.

1. Camping solo for the first time at Lake Barkley State Park in Cadiz, Kentucky

Of all my travels throughout 2011, there is one experience that shines above the rest. My first night spent camping solo was a huge milestone for me as an independent traveler. While I spent seven weeks on a solo road trip, the first night of successfully pitching my tent, building a fire, and surviving the wilderness through daybreak was easily my biggest accomplishment.

My evening was spent at Lake Barkley State Park, a tranquil slice of outdoors paradise sitting near the town of Cadiz in rural Kentucky. Family and fans of my adventures had been dreading this day since the beginning of my trip, but I approached the evening with a calm attitude and wound up having a great night tending to my fire and basking in the peace of solitude. My first experience camping solo left me with overwhelming sentiments that I can handle anything my travels throw my way – and I don’t need anyone’s help to do it.

What are your top travel moments from 2011?
If you’ve got a link to your own blog post, I’d love for you to share it below in the comments section! You can also tweet pics and links to @themorningfresh, or share your experiences on The Morning Fresh Facebook page.