That Time Columbia Sportswear Reunited the Omniten for Another Epic #TryingStuff Adventure

A little over two years ago, a crazy idea was born: What if Columbia Sportswear chose 10 strangers, all of whom were influential in the outdoor industry, and put them together to create an ambassador team who would test gear, build hype on social media, and embark on epic adventures? Would it work? It was a gamble, but they decided to give the #omniten project a go.

I was part of the inaugural omniten crew, and it proved to be one of the best experiences of my life. It began with that I thought was just a package sent to me with a pair of shoes to test out, and blossomed into a lifelong family cemented by an outrageous backpacking trip to Havasu Falls. Columbia Sportswear blindly threw ten strangers together (first at a huge media event in Sedona, then at the bottom of the Grand Canyon where we jumped off waterfalls all weekend), and ended up with the ultimate success: at the end of our trip, our eyes were teary as we hugged goodbye, and our connection has stayed strong ever since.The inaugural Omniten crew from Columbia Sportswear at Havasu Falls.

Now, I’m totally playing favorites, but I think my season’s crew yielded one of the best social experiments of all time. We’ve got a little mix of backcountry backpacker, vegan explorer, peak-bagging climber, coastal-life runner, cross-fit extraordinaire, snow-obsessed nomad, and homemade beer brewer blended with a hefty thirst for adventure – and somehow our unlikely ragtag group became a family. I’ve reunited with most of the original omniten during my yearlong trip, and they’ve been too good to me. Taking me hiking in Arizona, treating me to killer tacos in California, and even letting me housesit for a week in Colorado – these folks are some of my favorite people on the planet.

Heidi Henry and I celebrating after making it back to the rim of the Grand Canyon in one piece during our omniten trip to Havasu Falls.And now, Columbia Sportswear is bringing us all back together.

A few of our crew members have been fantasizing about the idea of a season-to-season challenge that brings all the omniten crews together (there was a lot of talk a la Road Rules vs. Real World Challenge) – and someone finally convinced Columbia Sportswear to turn that crazy concept into a reality. It started with a mysterious email requesting that we all block off a few days in January for an event now dubbed “the omnigames.” We didn’t know any details about the location, or the event – pure mystery.

Finally, Columbia Sportswear threw us a bone and sent another email with the coordinates 40.6443821 -111.49475970000003, which quickly led us to Park City, Utah. There will be a bit of snow sports (which means y’all will be treated to plenty of pictures of me falling in the snow), but with a large percentage of the omniten not being snow-folks, Columbia Sportswear is sure to mix things up. I’m nosy by nature, and did a ton of digging on what Park City has to offer for adventurers. There’s bobsledding, zip-lining, adventure courses (with a 65-foot free fall at the end, yee-haw!), cosmic curling, and more. Bring it on!

The omnigames are going to be epic.

As usual, I plan on taking everyone along for the ride via social media. I’m excited to finally meet the rest of the omniten crews, scope out some sweet new Columbia Sportswear gear, and play Olympic-style in Park City. Follow the #omniten and #omnigames hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for all the latest shenanigans.

Do you have any guesses about what the omnigames will entail? 
I want to hear your theories! 

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Review: Stonelick’s YOSE Crash Pads for Bouldering

Climbing at Moe's Valley in Utah with the Stonelick YOSE crash pad.One of the most profound and important pieces of climbing gear in my yearlong-trip arsenal is my crash pad. Tasked with keeping me from busting myself apart while popping from crimps and punting off boulders, crash pads are as vital to my bouldering as my trusty climbing shoes. Niko and I have three different crash pads provided to us by Stonelick for our yearlong trip, but my go-to pad is the Yose.

It all starts with the hinge-step system, Stonelick’s signature innovative technology. Eliminating any soft spots or creasing, the Tetris-style folding technique ensures that I have an even landing every time. Visiting new bouldering areas on a weekly basis means that I am constantly battling new elements, and frequently falling off problems, so having a crash pad set-up I can trust is crucial to helping me keep my confidence when I’m in try-hard mode. One of the most valuable things I’ve gained on this trip is confidence in topping out boulders, which I credit largely to having an awesome spotter (thanks, Niko!) and reliable crash pads.

Aside from being a generally primo landing zone, the Yose has a few features that set it apart from any other crash pad I’ve totted around a boulder field. The biggest item for me is the thickly padded waist belt. I’m a tiny gal, so when I hoist a big ‘ole crash pad full of gear on my back, it quickly becomes a top-heavy, unbalanced mess. Having a comfortable support system to help distribute and manage the weight of the pad helps me carry it around with ease – and Stonelick gets bonus points for making a waist strap system that actually accommodates my miniscule hips. But on a brutally honest note: I still totally knock myself over all the time bumping into trees and rocks. I’m the worst.

A crew of Stonelick crash pads out at Red Rocks in Las Vegas.

Another great crash pad amenity offered by the Yose is a dual-flap adjustable closure that makes my closed crash pad a perfect slotted vestibule for stuffing in my gear, snacks, extra layers, and camera gear. I never have to worry about stuff falling out while I’m hopping around in search of climbs. During the entire nine months I’ve spent lugging my gear around in my Yose thus far, I have yet to drop a single item while tromping from boulder to boulder.

With features like a ballistic cover, reinforced corners, and a hardy, multi-layer foam interior, the construction of Stonelick pads is something that has always made this brand stand out from the crowd in my opinion. Spotting one out at a climbing area is somewhat of a rarity, so it’s always great when climbers fall on my Stonelick pads and compliment their superb structure and durability. Bonus points: These beautiful pads are made in the USA – which I love.

Climbing Ripple (V2) at Rocktown in Georgia with a Stonelick crash pad.Stonelick crash pads, made in the USA!

What Would I Change? Honestly, there isn’t much I would tinker with if I was to “rebuild” the Yose. The only thing I don’t love about the crash pad is the metal hooks used to close up the pad, but I really don’t mind ’em too much. I’d make the metal hooks a bit fatter/thicker so they’re easier to maneuver, but the current system works perfectly fine in terms of keeping my crash pad shut.  

Bottom line: I won’t lie, Stonelick crash pads can cost a tad more than other options, but the extra dollars are totally worth the investment. After nine solid months of a non-stop climbing trip, my Yose is still in excellent condition, and the quality foam has proven itself time and time again. I’ve frayed a few corners with my overuse, and have begun to pull a few stitching out from daily use, but I am truly impressed that the Yose has been able to keep up with my bouldering adventures. From what I figure, Niko and I have put in the amount of climbing days in nine months that most folks clock in a few years, so these pads will last you a long, long time.

Even better? The two folks behind Stonelick, Arone and Diana, are downright awesome people who love climbing, and have a deep passion for what they’re doing. I love supporting Stonelick because I know who is making my pads, and can climb with confidence knowing they were built with love by folks who get out there and beat up their gear as much as I do.

Want to get your hands on a sweet Stonelick Yose crash pad?
You can grab one on the Stonelick online store for $279.
Be sure to tell ‘em I sent ya!

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The Ugly Truth About Long-Term Travel – The Grass Really is Always Greener on the Other Side

When people find out that I’ve been living in a big yellow van, traveling the country to climb for seven months with my handsome boyfriend, they always have the same reaction: “Wow, your life is perfect. I wish I could do that so bad, *insert grumbling comment about how much it sucks to have a job and a house*

My response? “The grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side, trust me.”

Niko sits proudly atop our new yellow home.Don’t get me wrong: I’m living the dream.

I get to wake up (most days) surrounded by thickets of trees, powdery red dirt, hauntingly steep canyons, commanding collections of the country’s finest boulders, and more fresh air than my lungs can possibly ingest. Those days, when I’m climbing all afternoon, cooking hot meals at camp, and snuggling up in my sleeping bag in the confines of my van are absolutely the best.

But life on the road isn’t all carefree camping and successful sends – even though that’s what most folks see and would like to believe. Most folks don’t think about the moments of long-term travel when your van won’t start in the middle of nowhere; those moments where most of your loved ones are cozied up in an air-conditioned house, and you’re sweating in your sleep at a crowded interstate truck stop.

How about the times when you realize you don’t have enough money left to do anything other than put gas in your tank and cheap food in your belly? Or when it’s raining for three days straight, but you have nowhere to go but sit in your van? Or worse, when you get sick? Have you ever been sick in a van? It ain’t pretty. Picture all the misery of food poisoning, all the fluids being spilled from all ends of your body, and you’re just curled up in a hot van. (It happened to me in Vegas, it sucked. A lot.)

Every single moment of my adventure across America has blessed me with life lessons and unforgettable experiences that will continue to shape me for the rest of my life, but I just have to set the record straight: this is NOT some sort of romantic journey full of sunshine and forest fantasy. This is still real life, and sometimes, it sucks.

Sometimes, you just want things like a house where you can spend the whole day loafing on a couch, a kitchen to bake cupcakes in, a shower whenever you crave one, and a desk to get some damn work done with a steady internet connection. Some days I find myself longing for the comforts of a steady lifestyle, a paycheck, and a properly sized closet (My boot collection takes up about half of my van storage, it’s out of control).

But then again, after a few weeks of house-sitting and staying at friends’ houses in Colorado – I’m itching to get away from all the concrete, away from the succubus of the internet, and away from this damn couch I can’t will myself to get off of. I’m sick of sitting inside all day, I long for hours of endless driving through farm land, and I am so over the stagnant routine of just being ‘around’.

And you know why? Because the grass is ALWAYS greener…

So keep adventuring, keep enjoying life as you have it, and for heaven’s sake, don’t complain to dirtbags about how horrible your air-conditioned, financially-secure life is. Adventure is always out there, so make it your own. And if you really want to “live the dream” like me, quit your job already! Just remember what I warned you about when you’re broke, dirty, and longing for a couch.

/endrant

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A Comprehensive Guide to Climbing Shoes

A Guide to the Best Climbing ShoesIf you really want to get to know your climbing shoes, take them on a yearlong climbing trip – at least, that’s what Niko and I did. From splitter cracks in Indian Creek to overhung bouldering at Joe’s Valley, we’ve tested our climbing shoes on gritty sandstone, polished granite, greasy limestone, and everything in between.

After wearing through countless pairs of climbing shoes and borrowing shoes from the friends we’ve met at crags along our adventures, we’ve tested and reviewed the best models to help you achieve a send. I’ve always been a believer in the philosophy that shoes don’t make a send, the climber does – but after doing things like trying to send a slab in my super downturned shoes, I’ve changed my tune. Wearing the right climbing shoe can be essential to a successful climb.

We based these climbing shoe reviews on our personal experiences with each shoe, the overall feedback we received from folks out at crags across the country, and our time spent helping climbers choose shoes while Niko worked at Tallahassee Rock Gym.

Overall Best Climbing Shoe | Anasazi, Five Ten

Best Overall Climbing Shoe: Five Ten's AnasaziIf there is one shoe that I have never heard a single negative remark about, it’s the Five Ten Anasazi. Whether you’re a beginner flailing on V2s or a lifelong crusher battling a V13 project, the Anasazi is a reliable shoe that can accomplish nearly any task thrown its way. This velcro shoe features Stealth Onyx Rubber and stiff sole, making them ideal for fancy footwork on tiny holds. Anasazis are known best for their incredible edging abilities, and superior handling on technical climbs – and they are comfortable to boot.

The true test for the Anasazi came for Niko and I during our trip to Squamish. This Canadian wonderland is one of the only world‐class destinations where you can get a taste of bouldering, trad, and sport climbing all in a single day – and no other shoe is as well‐rounded as the Anasazi for tagging along each of these excursions. Heel hooking on an overhung boulder? No problem. Smearing up a slab? Sure thing! Jamming into a crack? Perfect. And that is why the Five Ten Anasazi is the best overall shoe for any climbing adventure.

Pros: Comfortable, reliable, and functional for any style of climbing.
Cons: None. Seriously. I’d love to hear from anyone who has any downsides about these shoes.

Aggressive Bouldering | Testarossas, La Sportiva

Our favorite aggressive climbing shoe: La Sportiva Testarossas.When deciding on the best shoe for bouldering, Niko and I had a lot of contenders to consider. There was the ever‐popular La Sportiva Solution, my beloved Katanas, the Five Ten Dragons, and the Team 5.10s. Admittedly, I still have little girl dreams about my first pair of Dragons, but there is one shoe that has earned the title of the best pick for aggressive climbs: La Sportiva Testarossas.

These shoes feature bi‐lateral stretch technology. (Read: it combines non‐stretching Lorica with stretchable leather in a strategic way to help them break in perfectly in all the right places.) It also boasts sticky Vibram rubber, which achieves a balance of gummy comfort and reliable stiffness. Furthermore, these are one of the most durable shoes I’ve owned. I’ve had mine for well over a year, and they are still in great condition.

Niko and I both have a pair, and these shoes are usually the first things we reach for during a bouldering session. I bought mine used, so they were already broken in. Niko has purchased two pairs over the past year, and he experiences the same thing that I love about the Testarossas: their unbelievable form‐fitting suction effect. You slide these shoes on, and suddenly, they become your foot – a taloned, rubbery, perfectly downturned extension of your body.

Pros: Impressive downturn, form‐fitting, durable.
Cons: Expensive. At $175 a pair, these shoes are definitely an investment.

Crack / Trad: Moccasyms, Five Ten (and super/mini)

Best crack and trad climbing shoe: Moccasyms by Five Ten.Entering the world of crack climbing was a whole new experience that I got thrown into head first when I went to Indian Creek for the first time. The first thing you’ll learn about climbing crack (or any trad, really), is that you are going to need some comfortable shoes. Anything downturned is an automatic no‐go. Our praises for the Moccasyms aren’t just for the popular red slippers that notoriously stain your toes a bloody hue; we also have big love for the Supermocc (which is unfortunately no longer made), and I have two pairs of Mini Mocs, because yes, I totally fit into children’s climbing shoes.

What makes the Moccasyms stand out as a superb crack shoe is their comfortable slipper style. Laces or velcro may not seem like a problematic choice for crack shoes, but it won’t take long before the laces are frayed, and velcro straps start getting snagged and undone in jams.  Moccasyms don’t fall apart, work with your feet as you contort into tight jams, and provide your toes with comfortable security on the rock.

Pros: Comfortable for jamming, Stealth C4 rubber, great smearing.
Cons: They turn your feet red, not the best for heel hooking.

Best First Shoe | Defy, Evolv

Best climbing shoe for beginners: Evolv Defys.While climbing is known for its community of broke dirtbags, getting started in this sport can be a pretty expensive investment. Between a rock gym membership, chalk bag, harness, and new shoes, novice climbers can end up spending a pretty penny. When it comes to choosing your first shoe, some climbers feel pressured to dive straight into the deep end, but we always advise beginners to invest in a pair of Evolv Defys. Costing less than $100, these shoes are the perfect choice for someone who wants to get into rock climbing but can’t commit to expensive equipment.

My first pair of climbing shoes were Evolvs, and they really took a beating. When you start getting into the lifestyle, it consumes you – I was climbing nearly every single day. While learning new techniques, how to hold your body, and how to use your feet to climb efficiently, you are bound to abuse your climbing shoes. The Defy is a comfortable shoe that helps you get used to the tight‐fitting style of climbing shoes while providing beginners with the perfect stepping stone from rental shoes to style‐specific footwear. We sell more Evolv Defys at Tallahassee Rock Gym than any other shoe.

Pros: Affordable, comfortable, and excellent for beginners.
Cons: Not particularly appealing for anyone besides new climbers.

Lady Beta | Katana, La Sportiva

Best climbing shoe for the ladies? La Sportiva Katanas!It didn’t quite make the cut for the best bouldering shoe, but the La Sportiva Katanas deserve a huge shout‐out for being one of the best shoes for women. They were my first pair of “big girl” shoes once I started getting serious about climbing four years ago, and I have loved them ever since. I was inspired to purchase them by an older lady friend who swore by them, and have since convinced numerous women to join the Katana party –and they all love ‘em.

The lace‐up Katanas feature Vibram XS grip, lasting downturn, and soft yet firm heel cups. They strike a unique balance between being an aggressive, performance specific shoe and all‐around option. I keep my old pair around as my warm‐up casual shoe, and my new Katanas join me for every bouldering and sport climbing adventure I embark on. I still remember flailing on the heel hook intensive Kill By Numbers (V5) at Joe’s Valley, until I put on my Katanas and got the send!

Pros: Great downturn, precise heel hooking, break in very well.
Cons: Expensive.

 There you have it – a guide to the best climbing shoes for any lifestyle. Whether you’re into taping up and jamming your body into cracks, smearing your way up a slab, or pebble pushin’ on a boulder, there’s a climbing shoe designed specifically to help you crush. Climbing on a budget? No worries – check The Clymb for deals on climbing shoes (and gear)! We’ve seen huge discounts on brands like Five Ten, Evolv, Scarpa, and more. What’s your favorite climbing shoe, and why? 

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Mixing Love and the Dangers of the Outdoors | the risk is worth it.

Today’s post was going to be about training for my return to climbing in the southeast, but those plans got derailed when I read about the tragic passing of Steph Davis’ husband Mario Richard during a BASE jump accident in Italy – my mind was overcome with heavier things, and thoughts about what it means to combine love and extreme sports.

For Mario and Steph, their relationship was bound by their love of BASE jumping. For Niko and I, it’s all about climbing. Each activity is unique, but they both share the same inherent dangers we subject ourselves to each time we decided to head outdoors for adventure. Every day is a risk when you live a life filled with daring leaps, long pitches, tall climbs, and ever-changing conditions.

The news about Mario instantly made me think about all the times I’ve worried about Niko’s safety while climbing. I remember when he bagged his first big trad summit, Cathedral Peak in Yosemite. I stayed at camp in Tuolumne Meadows while Niko and his crew journeyed towards the summit, and my standard girlfriend worrying turned into genuine concern as I watched threatening storm clouds roll over the mountains. I grimaced every time I heard a vicious strike of thunder, and spent the next few hours pacing in the rain, waiting for the sound of his return.

As he always is, Niko was totally fine, and returned to camp with grand tales of his experience on Cathedral Peak. Yes, they got rained on, and endured a hailstorm during the final pitch of the climb, but the only thing that mattered was the fact that he was back, safe and sound.

Luckily for Niko, I’m nowhere near as daring as he is, so I doubt he worries about me very much – but there is still always a certain dose of danger one has to consume when a loved one engages in any extreme activity. But what can we really do about it? Should I tuck Niko away in a little safety bubble to make sure he doesn’t do things like break a toe in Indian Creek or take a massive fall off a highball? I can’t, and I wouldn’t. Climbing makes our relationship what it is. We live to climb, and we love each other so deeply because we’re connected through climbing.
At the summit overlooking Lake Catherine in Alta, Utah. (Photo by Teton Sports)

There is always going to be that risk, but for me, it’s always going to be worth it. The memories Steph will have of her husband will be moments that most couples will never experience. Their time together was spent living life to the absolute fullest, no matter what – and that’s exactly how I intend to spend my time with Niko.

Live freely, adventure often, love wildly, and don’t worry about tomorrow – because if tomorrow doesn’t come, you’ll forever have the thoughts of everything you did do together.

I can’t imagine what Steph is enduring right now, and my heart breaks to think of one of my role models grieving for sure a loss. But I don’t worry for a second that she’ll be regretting a moment of her time with Mario – they lived their relationship as it should be: every moment was an experience, and every second was spent doing what they loved. Make sure you do the same.

* Thanks to Teton Sports for the shot of Niko and I from our hike out in Alta, Utah. 
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Backpacking the Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park

Here’s a little secret: I am not a backpacker. I have little to no experience backpacking, and my only overnight hiking trip was the Columbia Sportswear sponsored Omniten trip to Havasu Falls where all my water, food, and camping supplies was hiked in for me, cooked for me, and hiked back out for me.

I believe the term for backpackers like me is “total noob.”

The start of the Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park.Niko has had his sights set on the Olympic Peninsula since the beginning of our trip, and his goal was to do a 3-day hiking trip from the forest to the coast. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any trails that accomplished that, but we got a great consolation prize with the Hoh River Trail. The trail leads up to Mt. Olympus, while winding through meadows, lush rainforest terrain, riverside beaches, and everything in between.

We were joined for the hike by our buddy Mcgoo, who had been traveling with us for a few weeks starting in San Francisco. Our little crew of three was absolutely scrambling to prepare, unsure of what we would be facing, and planned to camp with two people sleeping in a one-man tent, and another up in a hammock. Folks, this should be an indication to you that things are about to get interesting.

The trek began on a rainy morning, but only after we got stuck with a dead car battery on the side of the road we were boondocked on – the first shenanigan of many. We finally arrived at the trail head, filled up our hydration packs, and set off down the paved portion of the Hoh River Trail.

By the time the pavement turned into muddy mush, I was already exhausted. I have a perpetual issue with packs: my body is simply too tiny to ever properly hold a pack. The straps don’t get tight enough, so I spent the entire hike carrying the weight of my pack on my shoulders. A mile in, and I was ready for a break.A much needed rest area along the Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park.

We splashed along the soaked path past a small waterfall, over countless wooden bridges, and beyond the point where most tourists make it. As the day drew on, I quickly realized that there was no way I’d be able to carry myself up the 4,000 foot elevation gain and relentless switchbacks planned for the second day’s hiking. This was going to get ugly.

I carried on (did I have any other choice?) up 10 miles of deep mud pits that led us through some of the most incredible forest scenery I’ve ever witnessed. We paused to pet banana slugs, argued about appropriate times to take breaks, refreshed our hot skin with splashes of river water, and clapped our way through the thickets in hopes of scaring off any lurking bears. It was one of the most arduous experiences, but every sluggish step was worth it.Mcgoo and I on the Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park.Misty hiking along the Hoh River Trail.

Our final resting spot was Lewis Meadows, where we set up camp for the evening after meeting a Canadian couple who was planning to summit Mt. Olympus the next day. Soaked from the rain, caked with mud, and aching from swollen feet, we gladly ate an uncooked dinner and promptly passed out. But the day wasn’t over.

Our camp set up at Lewis Meadows on the Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park.At some point long after the sun had set, I awoke to Niko rustling from his hammock. Smooshed next to Mcgoo in our too-tiny tent, I peered up from my sleeping bag to see Niko poking his head into the tent.

“I’m really scared, guys. I farted in my hammock, and realized that I basically smell like a giant sausage hanging from the trees. What if I wake up to a bear nudging me from under the hammock? I’m coming in the tent.”

I laughed, because this idea of fright was so foreign to me. I was too sore to worry about getting mauled by a bear, but apparently I was alone in that sentiment. Mcgoo quickly chimed in:

“Dude, I have been trembling in my sleeping bag for hours. I’ve literally been praying for that we just make it to the morning.” – A pretty strong statement from a devout atheist.

At this point, my laughter became uncontrollable. Maybe it was the exhaustion, but I’ve never giggled harder. I couldn’t stop laughing as Niko crammed himself into the tent and the boys squashed me between their terror-filled bodies. Two grown men feared for their lives while my damsel self felt no distress. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

The next morning, I “awoke” after an evening of little rest. With no sleeping pad, and forced into a tiny space with two large men, my body lay sideways the entire night, perched on a tender hip and half-asleep shoulder. I was miserable.

I could hardly contain my excitement when the group agreed that a combination of really wet socks and hiking boots plus a strong desire not to spend another cramped night in bear country meant we’d ought to ditch our plan to continue onwards and just head back to the trailhead. Frankly, I wouldn’t have made it much farther. Hiking with a full pack is immensely more difficult than I was prepared for.Niko and I trucking over a log bridge on the way out from our Hoh River Trail hike.

Despite being sore beyond description, the hike back out was far more enjoyable and manageable than the path into Lewis Meadows. About halfway through, we decided to split up and finish the hike solo. Niko ended up getting back to the van an entire hour before me, and Mcgoo held up the rear arriving back at the trailhead about 40 minutes after I did. Traveling at our own pace was a fantastic decision that allowed us to each focus on our own journey rather than focusing on speeding up or slowing down to maintain the pack.

Hiking by my lonesome allowed me to do something I hadn’t on the way in: slow down and look around. I’m always the slowest hiker on a trail, so I spend most of my time trying to catch up. Forging the path alone let me pause for moments like meeting a bushy fox as he sauntered over logs, getting startled by a herd of elk just off the trail, and washing my face with icy spring water. It was peaceful, invigorating, and reflective.One of many beautiful views enjoyed along the Hoh River Trail in the Olympic National Park.

In the end, we traveled about 21 miles over the course less than 30 hours. A laughable journey for many ambitious backpackers, but for me it was a triumph: I had survived my first overnight backcountry adventure with Niko – and I was ready for another. I definitely have a lot to learn about backpacking, but I’m excited to continue the journey.

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5 lessons learned from 5 months of traveling across America

Whoa, it’s July already – when did this happen? Sitting in a coffee shop overlooking the water in Seattle, Washington, it’s hard to believe that just a few months ago I was living in Tallahassee, Florida about to begin the crazy journey of living in my big yellow van for all of 2013 while traveling across America.

Best fortune cookie ever: "Your life is like a kaleidoscope."Yesterday marked the 5-month milestone of my van-dwelling adventure with Niko, and in that time I’ve learned an incredible amount of wisdom about life on the road, the condition of the American spirit, and the unbridled glory of the great outdoors. I could (and eventally will) fill an entire book with every bit of knowledge I’ve gained during this journey, but today, in honor of the five-month mark, I’ll share five of the most impactful things I’ve learned during the Simply Adventure trip thus far:

1. People are always inclined towards kindness.
Something that has really stuck with me during my travels is the fact that from ranger stations in national parks to crowded truck stop parking lots along the interstate, everyone we’ve encountered on this trip has been a good person. There was just a single instance in which we happened upon someone “bad,” but that individual was clearly on drugs – so I’ll call it a mulligan.

Folks just genuinely want to spread kindness. We’ve been welcomed into acquaintances homes, dinner parties have been thrown in our honor, lumberjacks have stopped on forest service roads to give the van a jumpstart, and the climbing community has been a constant source of new friendships, shared campfire meals, and invitations for adventure. If you approach people with a kind spirit, that kindness will nearly always be returned.

2. Small towns beat big cities, any day.
Almost every single day, Niko and I reaffirm something we’ve realized during our travels across the country: we belong back in the southeast, and we belong in a small town.

During stints of exploration that keep us in rural areas, we constantly find ourselves falling in love with little farm communities, shy mountain towns, and the hospitable charm that blankets them. The vibes are calm, air is breathable, there’s no traffic, and you can nearly always pick up fresh food from a local farmer. My kind of living.

Then we inevitably hit a big city, and are instantly overwhelmed. It’s like hitting an enormous wall: everything and everyone is so urgent, impatient, and anxious. It’s infectious too; I find myself constantly feeling rushed and uneasy when I’m in a big city. Where’s the enjoyment in life? And more importantly, where are all the cows and farms? I may have been raised in bustling Miami, but I am definitely a converted small town kinda gal.

3. Make-up is overrated, but feeling feminine is not.
Since the first day of our trip, my make-up bag has sat lonely in a drawer, only unleashed once in a blue moon (like when I flew to NYC for a wedding). I brought it along with the intention of continuing to wear make-up in an attempt to hold onto any shred of ladylikeness I could muster while living like a dirtbag – but I quickly realized I don’t need it. A sun-kissed complexion is easily the best “make-up” I’ve ever worn. Plus, going cosmetics-free has really helped keep my skin clear. I hardly have to wash my face anymore!

That said, maintaining my femininity has been a continual process that I’ve realized is essential to my personal wellbeing while living on the road. After a rut of sweatpants and unkempt hair, I found that while looks aren’t everything, it’s important to feel good about yourself. So I chopped my unmanageable hair into a cute crop, had my mother send me some skirts and sundresses from home, and started making an effort to make sure I felt pretty every day – even if I’m just sitting in a small town doing laundry. Focus on what makes you feel beautiful, even if you haven’t showered in a week.

4. You should always, always have a real map handy.
Yes, GPS technology is great – and yes, I use it on a daily basis to steer me towards that cheap taco joint recommended on Yelp – but when you’re spending quality time in the no-service zone, you can’t rely on your iPhone to get you where you need to go. Having a paper map is essential for the true road-tripper.

In addition to helping me find the nearest national forest area to camp in when Google Maps can’t get connected, my wrinkled old atlas is my favorite way to keep track of my journey. Every time we venture to a new place, I highlight our route – it’s inspiring to watch the map fill up with yellowed lines zigzagging across the country.

5. Travel is the ultimate method of testing a relationship.
If you’re dating someone, and are curious about whether it’s the “real deal,” you ought to do some extended traveling with that person. Sure, you’re compatible when it comes to picking movies for date-night, but how will your relationship fare when it’s 2:00 in the morning and you have no place to sleep? What about when your vehicle won’t start in the middle of the woods, and the nearest cell service went caput at least 10 miles back down the road?

Niko and I are far from perfect, and have plenty of learning still to do, but living together in a van for five months has solidified our relationship through rigorous tests, shared victories, and learning to simultaneous experience the adventure as individuals and as a couple. It’s a process, but I’ve never been so confident in a relationship. If we can handle this trip, we can handle anything.Niko and I (and our tape gloves) while climbing at Indian Creek in Utah.

It’s incredible to reflect upon my adventure thus far; to see how many miles I’ve traveled, the places I’ve seen, the food I’ve feasted on, and the people who helped shape it all. A series of unfortunate van repairs may have put the longevity of the Simply Adventure trip in jeopardy, but we continue onwards in our pursuit of living our ultimate dream of exploring the entire country. We’ve traveled from Florida to California, throughout the Midwest, and now up the Pacific Coast in search of meaningful encounters with the outdoors – and America has delivered. I look forward to whatever this beautiful continent has to throw our way as we drive deeper and deeper into the heart of the mountains, prairies, swamps, and seasides.

Thank you all for reading the stories, supporting the adventure, keeping my spirits high when I’m feeling low, and offering advice that has helped us along our path. Without you, I wouldn’t be doing this. This isn’t just my journey, it’s an experience to be shared – and I am forever indebted to those who have hopped aboard to join me for the ride.

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Chopping off all my hair in the name of adventure

This is what it looks like after two weeks of not washing my ahir.

Recently, I pushed myself to a new limit. It didn’t involve sending a new climbing grade, hiking to a higher elevation, or driving towards a new milestone – I reached my threshold of dirtbaggery.

I went two weeks without washing my hair – and it got ugly.

When I finally got a chance to rinse the dirt and debris out of my hair, I happened upon another issue: a massive knot that took over an hour to detangle. In between rageful bouts of batting at my tresses with a comb, I came to a conclusion: my locks needed to be chopped.

It wasn’t an easy idea to commit to. Since adopting my new adventurous lifestyle, I’ve struggled to hold onto my femininity. I don’t wear make-up anymore, rarely wear “cute” clothes, and certainly don’t resemble anything even remotely ladylike. My long hair is one of the last womanly things I have to hold onto – would cutting my long hair push me over the edge?

After much coaxing from Niko and our current travel mate, Mcgoo, I decided to take the plunge. I traveled across the country to New York City for a family wedding weekend, and while I was there, I discovered the Crops For Girls Salon around the Alphabet City neighborhood. Yelp reviews described an eccentric stylist with a passion for short ladies’ haircuts  – and without a second thought, I made an appointment to transform my hair.

Check out all my long hair - discarded on the floor at Crops For Girls Salon in NYC!You can read all about my experience at Crops For Girls Salon in my five-star Yelp review, but in short: it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. The stylist, Michael, began by chopping off my ponytail before he even shampooed my hair. As he snipped away, I felt more and more free with every shortened strand. When he finally finished, I almost wanted to ask him to keep going.

I expected (and hoped) to like my shorter hair, for practicality’s sake, but I wasn’t quite sure that I would love it as much as I do. I’m smitten with my shorter hair, the feeling of running my fingers through it, and the ease of just waking up in the morning, tossing it around, and carrying on with my day. There’s no fuss, there’s no brushing, there’s nothing on my head keeping me from enjoying my adventures.

My mother and sister gave me the best compliment on my new look: they told me that I finally looked like myself. They hadn’t known it while before I cut my hair, but once I did, they told me that this hair lets my inner personality shine on the outside. Who would have thought that all along, the hair I treasured as my so-called last evidence of femininity was actually holding my psychical self back from realizing how beautiful and free I could feel and be?
Hanging out with my new hair and some underwater creatures at Lost Rocks in California. If you’re an outdoorsy lady considering going for a short ‘do to simplify your lifestyle – do it.

There’s no denying the moments of reluctance when considering ditching long hair, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Inspired by beautiful short-haired women like Vikki from The RV Project and Heidi from BananaBuzzBomb, I took the leap, and it was worth it.

 

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Gear Review: Columbia Sportswear’s Powerdrain Cool hybrid shoes with Omni-Freeze Zero technology

After surviving my first backpacking trip up and down the Grand Canyon to Havasu Falls wearing only last year’s Powerdrain shoes from Columbia Sportswear last summer, I feel in love with the sneakers – and wore them to death.

By the time Columbia came out with their new generation of Powerdrains, my original pair had been through the ultimate test: three months as my sole go-to hiking shoes during life on the road. The only real visible wear were two holes – two soft spots on the toe area. Fittingly, this was one of the major improvements made to the new Powerdrain Cools, making me a very happy camper.

The Powerdrain Cool is a hybrid shoe that features the epic Omni-Freeze Zero sweat-activated cooling technology, which earned the Gear of the Year 2013 award from National Geographic Adventure. From the moment I unwrapped mine, they have been put through a gauntlet of outdoor tests, which they passed with flying colors.

Columbia Sportswear's Powerdrain Cool shoe with OmniFreeze Zero Technology.

On our first day together, I took my new purple shoes out for a trek up a chossy hillside where I was helping build a trail across a frigid creek crossing. I was immediately smug with the product when I watched the rest of my crew struggle to delicately balance from slippery rock to slippery rock while I just stomped right in and waded across. Omni-Grip “holds tight on any terrain”? Check.

As the product description promises, the Powerdrains moved seamlessly from the water crossing to the crumbly “trail.” I dug my way up a sandy wash, tromped across rocky piles, and admired the shoes as they collected a healthy layer of outdoor dirtiness. I’ve been wearing them nearly every day since, and they continue to perform.

This new version offers a few improvements over the old design – some of which I remember actually discussing with the head of design during my trip to Sedona last year, earning Columbia bonus points for really listening to user feedback. They beefed up the ankle padding at the back of the shoe, reinforced a few hot spots where the shoes often saw quick deterioration, and slimmed down the overall design for a sleeker (and for ladies, more feminine) look. Two thumbs up all around.Lounging in my ENO hammock at Joe's Valley.

The only issue with the new Powerdrain Cools has been a seemingly irreversible staining of the inner Omni-Freeze Zero lining due to my latest habit of spending weeks on end playing in red sanded deserts. Oops. I also made a slight mistake in wearing the Powerdrain Cool shoes while hiking in Great Sand Dunes National Park – the deep sand dunes kept relentlessly filling the drains in my shoes, leaving my feet surrounded by piles of sand. Double oops!

Want to get your hands on a pair of Columbia Sportswear’s Powerdrain Cool hybrid shoes? You can scoop all three colors on their official website, or you can head to a local retailer to get your hands on these versatile and reliable sneakers. I would highly recommend the Powerdrain Cools for folks who usually experience a variety of terrains during an adventure, or for someone who is into those wild mud races – I’ve heard nothing but good things from many users who wear them to those events.

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A rumbling upstream: Flash flood sweeps past my Indian Creek campsite

By the time we left the Super Crack parking lot, it had already begun to pour. This unusual desert rain had plagued us for two days now, and we rushed back to the campsite to make sure the van would still be able to trudge through the thick mud. We stayed huddled in the van with Jeremy for a bit before the storm eased up, then set about the usual evening musings in preparation for dinner and a fire. Seeing the desert landscape in a storm is a special treat at Indian Creek.

Earlier that day, Niko and I spent a few hours rummaging around a small creek running behind our campsite. It was charming, a six-foot wide stream no more than knee-deep, and often just barely skimming over rock beds. I’ve always been attracted to rivers and creeks, so I made plans to return and trek as far up the waterside as I could.

A result of the flash flood in Indian Creek.When we finally made it back to camp that evening, Jeremy decided to check out the creek while the rest of us began to chop onions and fire up our stoves. A few minutes later, we heard him shout.

While eyeing a path of stones so he could cross the little creek without getting his toes wet, Jeremy heard a deep rustling in the trees upstream. He thought our Australian companions were perhaps out exploring as well, but quickly realized otherwise as the rumbling sped towards him.

He thought it best to take a few large steps back from the water’s edge, just in time to watch a tall foaming wall of water gush up the once trickling stream, churning forward in a chaos of broken tree limbs and red mud. The flash flood raged past him, turning the once small stream with a clear view of the bottom into an angry, murky mass quadrupled in size.

We hurried down the wash, and stood astonished at the newly created scene. The little creek from this morning was now unrecognizable, and the rushing water created loud rapids that sped past small brush plants clinging to the remaining embankment. Floating logs frequently amped past, leaving crackling echoes in their wake as they crashed against stones in the flood.

I had never seen anything like it.The flash flood that swept through the wash just below our campsite at Indian Creek.

Our little crew stayed and admired the flood until the sun set and the wash began to grow too dark to navigate. When we returned the next morning, all that remained of the flash flood was a vast stretch of wet mud where the water had surged the previous night. The little stream now ran a cloudy red color. It was hard to believe that this was the same wash that had been gushing with violent water the night before. The creek was calm once again the morning after the flash flood.

By the time we left Indian Creek, the entire creek bed dried up, leaving nothing more than a few muddy patches of thigh deep quick sand and sad little puddles of stagnant water. During the past few months spent in the desert, I’ve heard a lot about the dangers of flash floods – but it has always centered around places like slot canyons. Experiencing the flood first hand was really eye-opening about how surprising and influential flash floods can be. For Jeremy, the landscape morphed in an instant, changing from docile and manageable to a volatile place where he easily could have been in harmed if he hadn’t taken those steps backwards from the water’s edge.

I guess that’s why you’re not supposed to set up camp or hike in dried up washes!

 

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