Let’s talk about geotagging

But first, I invite you to check your current opinions (read: ego) on geotagging. Just shelve ‘em for a moment, hit the pause button, give yourself 10 minutes of reading and considering before you interject with a “well, actually…” Here’s the thing about this post: you aren’t going to leave with a solid answer of to geotag or not to geotag.

So what is geotagging? According to our friends at Wikipedia,

Geotagging or GeoTagging, is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media such as a geotagged photograph or video, websites, SMS messages, QR Codes[1] or RSS feeds and is a form of geospatial metadata. This data usually consists of latitude and longitude coordinates, though they can also include altitude, bearing, distance, accuracy data, and place names, and perhaps a time stamp.

For our purposes, we’re mainly talking about the geotag feature on Instagram (and social media at large). According to SproutSocial, “an Instagram [geotag]  is the specific location, down to the latitude and longitude, of where you’ve stored your Instagram content. Geolocations are gathered from the physical location of your mobile device, which allows users to store or tag their content to those coordinates.” Geotags are a way to gain visibility amongst like-minded community, a way to give mountains back their Indigenous names, a little digital log of the places you’ve been from restaurants and cities to trailheads and summits.

The idea of imbalance between public lands and visitors isn’t new–rewind to the 1940s and you’ll see reference to the same idea of “rapid growth in the number of Americans hitting the trail” (source). If you’re reading this, you’re probably an outdoorist, so you get it. The great outdoors are, well, great, so it’s no surprise that more and more people want to get out there.

Here’s the thing, more than 500 million people visit public lands annually (source), with over 330 million visits to national park sites in 2017 (source)–and blaming Instagram and geotagging for an influx of people at trailheads isn’t going to solve the accompanying issues of overuse. To blame a geotag is to eschew the deeper, critical issues our lands are facing right now. To say “Instagram is ruining the outdoors” is to water down our current environmental crisis with cheap sentiments of bitterness and old guard. Is social media playing a role in the current issues we’re facing? Absolutely. But it’s just one teat on an udder full of problems that need solutions (like the crisis happening at climbing crags across the country).

Further, I wondered: do we have any data or research that indicates geotagging and social media as the root of all outdoor evil? The short answer is: no. There is a distinct lack of science behind all of this, though I did find a few studies that surprised me.

Here are the results from a hiker survey conducted by the Adirondack Council, asking folks on the trail “why did you decide to hike today?” Note the least popular response:

Hmm….

The debate around geotagging has reached every corner of the internet from National Geographic to the New York Times. The Leave No Trace center issued a new guidance specifically addressing social media. This is a topic that deserves nuance, as is seen within this Outside Magazine article that both cites Instagram as a reason folks fall to their death at Horseshoe Bend, and also recognizes that “the best way to protect public lands is to have advocates. Often the best advocates are the folks taking photos and sharing them on Facebook and Instagram.”

Either way, I wonder: why are we blaming Instagram solely for the popularization of the outdoors? It’s not just Instagram y’all. The outdoors are being promoted in film, guidebooks, through e-mail newsletters, by tourism groups, by motivational speakers, in commercials–it’s everywhere. Is it just easy for us to scapegoat Instagram instead of taking the energy to consider how big and complex this beast is?

During a coffee date with my dear friend Bri Madia, who is infamous for her strong stance against geotagging, she posed a question I hadn’t fully considered: “What I want to know is, why do people geotag?” So, naturally, I asked my community–on both sides of the aisle. First, I polled on Instagram stories, do you or don’t you geotag (including general/regional tags)? There was a fairly even split erring on the side of ‘do’ with 1107 vs. 825 ‘donts’.
*note, this is not intended to be deep scientific findings, just a pulse of my community, don’t get it twisted.

Why DO we geotag? (57%)

The overwhelming sentiment in the pro-tagging camp was around the idea of sharing the experiences we have with others. “To share with the community” and “to encourage, to inform, to let people know about the amazing places right in their backyard.” Folks from places like the southeast, Kansas and Texas expressed a desire to help their neighbors discover that they’ve got rad outdoor spaces they might not know existed (“Coming from Ohio, most Ohio folks have no idea how much great hiking there is!”). Some do it to provide updated imagery of trail conditions.

Karen Ramos (@naturechola) summed up the pro side eloquently:

“Because I don’t believe in using conservation as an excuse for exclusion.”

Folks cited Instagram as a resource they used when they were first exploring public lands and planning trips, and use geotagging as a way to pay it forward. Heck, I just searched Placencia, Belize geotags last night to vibe out my trip in a few weeks. While Instagram provides a pinpoint on a map to a place that’s been geotagged, I wonder how many people simply drive straight there vs. how many use that as a starting point to begin their research on a place. I found no conclusive data on this topic, despite many strong opinions.

Many people also ‘fessed up to doing it for self-serving purposes, to remember the places they had visited, to get more likes, or “to brag about the hard hikes I accomplished.” An interesting note is that many folks acknowledged having small platforms or private accounts where their tags had less visibility.

Why DON’T we geotag? (43%)

I’ll start with the legitimate responses–and this one I personally identify with: “because I don’t need internet strangers knowing where I am.” I had this conversation again and again with women in my community. I travel solo often, and usually haunt the same spots because they are safe and comfortable for me. So, I don’t geotag those areas, and if someone asks me about it, I’m honest about that. As Bri Madia puts it, “I grew up in a time when you didn’t tell strangers on the internet where you were. I’ll recommend guidebooks, map apps, and resources but I’m not going to draw you a map on how to find me in the middle of nowhere.” I personally have had a number of creepy run-ins with folks who ‘found me’ via Instagram, so I’m careful about sharing my location (I don’t post IG stories until I’ve left a location now).

There are the other, more dire instances where geotagging is undeniably harmful too–like when it can endanger rhinos being sought by poachers. I also spoke to a woman in Big Cypress, Florida who cited orchid poaching as an issue perpetuated by geotagging. A number of scientists and ecologists chimed in with similar thoughts about needing to protect certain flora, fauna, and archeological sites.

From there, the responses devolve. The anti-geotagging responses echoed ideas of “to keep it a secret, not everyone deserves to know,” and “can’t trust the general public with wild, untouched places.” There was also “I want to keep my special places secret,” and my favorite for honesty, “I hate people.”

Folks, if you are “protecting places from people who don’t deserve to go there,” you are engaging in something called gatekeeping. (Please see Melanin Basecamp’s #1 reason why they are pro-geotagging.) Gatekeeping is a self-appointed decision on who does or doesn’t have the right to access information, community, or identity. And I pose this question to you: what exactly qualifies you as the person who gets to decide who is or isn’t deserving of ‘your’ outdoor spaces? At what point did you graduate from average outdoorsy person to almighty keeper of nature? Did you forget that there’s no such thing as “pristine, untouched wilderness” because as my friend Dr. Len Necefer reminds us: Indigenous people have been moving across, living on, cultivating, and celebrating that land way before settlers forcibly removed Native people from it and declared it wild.

Gatekeeping isn’t cool. It isn’t okay, and if you’re feeling a little uncomfortable because you realized maybe you’re being a gatekeeper–I invite you to consider changing your mindset around how you “protect” the places you love. I don’t always tag the specific locations I’m in, often opting for the general park or forest name–but I will always engage in a conversation and share my resources if someone DMs me about a place. The outdoors is not mine to keep (nor is it yours).

Aside from the exclusionary bullshit behind being anti-geotagging, my number one qualm with folks who gripe about Instagram ruining the outdoors is a lack of solutions for the problem. A lot of “get off my lawn” and not enough “here’s what I think we can do to make it better.” Scroll down to the 4th point in Melanin Basecamp’s recent geotagging article, and bam, solutions. Whether you’re for or against geotagging, we can all agree that there is a massive influx of people getting outdoors, and we lack the infrastructure to accommodate the boom.

Do I think everyone deserves access to the outdoors? Hell yes. Do I also believe that once we hit carrying capacities for trails and ecosystems, we need to start implementing permitting systems and quotas? Absolutely. Back to that study from the Adirondack Council, dive into page 2 and you’ll see that hikers largely support management intervention, trail closures, etc.

After all of this, my thoughts on geotagging evolved and I realized: the problem isn’t that geotagging provides too much information, it’s that geotagging doesn’t provide enough. My original sentiments erred on the side of “geotagging shortcuts the educational aspect of learning about a place” – so what if geotagging supplemented that? What if, at the top of public lands geotag pages was a quick wiki-style bite of information that could offer information about whether a spot is illegal to access, if there are sensitive cryptobiotic soils not to step on, whether an area is prone to flash floods or avalanches, if there’s an archeological site it’s illegal to disturb, a warning not to crush the wildflowers. What if the users aren’t the problem, but the system of geotagging itself is what’s broken?

Further, if used well, geotagging can be a tool to promote advocacy and spread information. If you do choose to geotag, I believe the onus is on you to provide resources and education. When tagging a spot in Moab (whether you tag Grandstaff Trailhead or just Moab), include a quick blurb about how delicate cryptobiotic soil is and why it’s important to stay on the trail. Offer a quick ‘and remember to practice Leave No Trace!’ or remind folks “this spot is 30 miles down a dirt road with no access to water, and you have to carry your poo out!” You hold the power to spread advocacy, and you have the power to use an Instagram post to spark positive stewardship amongst your community.

Instagram and geotagging are what you make it. Are there “influencers” out there who make a profit off public lands without stewarding them, or taking any action to give back to the places they benefit from? Absolutely. Who has the power to support that or demand that they do better? You do. (Oh yes, this idea of the ethics of being an outdoor professional/influencer is a topic I plan on traveling down the rabbit hole of in the future…)

And folks, I do truly understand that there are some places that are so special, so spiritual, so personally sacred that we (read: our egos, and that’s okay) truly can’t bear the thought of sharing the location with the internet–so, don’t post pictures of them online. If it’s truly about the sanctity of the place, and not about your ego, don’t post it.

In a report by the Center for Western Priorities, the group concludes a study on public lands visitation by saying “Policymakers should steer clear of policies that limit public access to U.S. public lands. Instead, America’s elected officials should look for ways to maintain and expand outdoor opportunities by boosting budgets for land management agencies and guaranteeing permanent funding for conservation and public lands access. Hundreds of millions of visitors each year depend on it.” Replace ‘policymakers’ with ‘Instagrammers–and social media haters’ and you’ve got my feelings on this whole debate summed up.

Note: This post intends to act as a starting point for this conversation, and despite behind long as heck, isn’t exhaustive. Please add your resources, your thoughts, data you know about, etc. in the comments and keep it going. My hope is that this post will require many updates and revisions as we dive deeper into the topic as a community. 

Cover image by Dayne Tompkin on Unsplash.

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Advocacy Toolkit: Vote The Outdoors in 2018

If I could urge people to take just one action for outdoor advocacy in 2018, it would be to vote. In the last year, we’ve witnessed the dismantling of national monuments, erasure and denial of our planet’s climate change crisis, attacks on our public lands, and please-don’t-get-me-started-on-how-we’re-treating-our-fellow-humans-these-days.

This is a call to arms.  Your ballot is your greatest weapon in the fight for justice and representation in our government.

So, how do you get educated on the issues that matter most, and figure out which candidates will best represent your outdoor values in Congress? These resources will help empower you to vote, vote, vote the outdoors:

  • OIA’s Voters Guide 2018: In my opinion, this is the ultimate resource for outdoor voters this election. The team at OIA put together an extensive guide that covers: explanations on specific voter issues, endorsements of candidates in key races, a Congressional scorecard (see below), toolkits to help you spread the word, and more. It’s a true voter hub.
  • OIA Congressional Scorecard: A breakdown every incumbent candidate based on how they voted on issues like climate change, LWCF, wildfire funding, public lands, and more. Each candidate receives a letter grade–unsurprisingly, both Utah reps got an F. Did I mention how important it is to vote?!
  • Protect Our Winters Voter Guidebook: In addition to incumbent candidates, POW has breakdowns on every candidate on issues like climate, energy and environment. This interactive tool will help you create a ballot guide that you can print out and bring to the polls with you.
  • Vote.Org: Need to update registration? Go to Vote.org. Can’t vote in person? Vote.org can help. Don’t know where your polling place is? Vote.org does.

 

Specific state + ballot initiative resources:

  • Colorado: Check out this state-wide voter guide from Elevation Outdoors. It has all the amendments, propositions, candidate info, and more. 10/10

*Note: If you have additional state + local resources, please send them my way! I will be updating this through the election.

Once you’ve dug in and become an empowered voter, you’ll be moved to start taking action now beyond just bubbling in your ballot. There is so much you can do to support voters and help others make their voices heard. These are some of the ways you can take action this election season:

  • Empower your friends, family and colleagues to vote too. Help your roommate register to vote, translate ballots and voter issues for your abuela or your neighbors, put Vote.org in your instagram bio and remind the people you love regularly to get activated. Offer to drive folks to the polls on election day.
  • Join me + OIA on Oct 15th to pledge to #VoteTheOutdoors. Post on your social media channels on 10/15 with a message that says “I pledge to #VoteTheOutdoors this election–will you?” For the full toolkit and activation, join the Outdoor Advocate Network on Facebook and you’ll get access to a suite of social media posts + graphics I designed to get the word out. (Or just use the graphic here.)
  • Donate to your local candidates. Whether you have $5 or $50 to give, your local candidates need your support to win these races. If you can’t donate money, donate your time and energy. Round up your friends and help canvas neighborhoods. My parents in Miami hosted a dinner party meet-and-greet to support a local candidate. If you’re a graphic designer or have talents you can serve with, offer your services. – And if you’re looking for someone to support, may I suggest Shireen Ghorbani in Utah’s 3rd congressional district?
  • Keep talking about outdoor politics and the importance of voting. Post on social media, bring it up around the dinner table, invite friends over for a voter education party. Flex your voice, and make it heard often.

Listen, I get it: I’ve ‘forgotten’ to vote too. I’ve missed the registration deadlines, been traveling on voting day, whatever excuse is in the book for not voting, I’ve used it. But with this political climate, I will never miss an opportunity to make my voice heard through voting again. If you travel frequently or work a job that doesn’t allow you to get to a polling place on election day, remember that you can vote by mail. 

Not registered yet, or need to check your voter status? Here are the registration deadlines for all 50 states. Some states even let you register on election day (which they all should).

This isn’t about Democrats, or Republicans. This is about using our vote to protect the outdoors and voting for what’s fair and just for our fellow humans in this country. Political culture has become a beastly, embarrassing mess in so many ways, and I truly, deeply believe that if we make our voices heard, we can restore civility, community, and hope for America. I believe in my country, because I believe in the good people who live here. Justice will prevail, friends, if we just vote.

 

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Outdoorist Guide to Glacier National Park

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

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

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

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

A (Very) Brief Guide to Glacier National Park:

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

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

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

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

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Bahia Honda: Camping in the Florida Keys

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

Photo: Pat (@outsidethebun) and Spark Brand

Photo: Pat (@outsidethebun) and Spark Brand

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

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

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

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

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

Camping at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trail Running Florida: The Overseas Highway Heritage Trail

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

“Left!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That time we went to Moab on a Monday.

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

3/20

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

View of Castleton Tower in Moab, UT.

3/21

Good morning, Moab.

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

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

Later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Celebrating 27 – City to Creek to Camp to Climb

The week approaching my 27th birthday was, frankly, a bit humdrum. I had been so busy with ‘life‘ and work that I hardly even registered it was my birthday week until someone else pointed it out. “Oh well, 27 isn’t a big deal–let’s just go with the flow on this one,” I figured, and decided to not sign myself up for any crazy climbing birthday challenges or big trips. We had a fly-fishing clinic scheduled as a work outing on my actual birthday, and that was groovy enough for me.

Every outdoorist should have an ‘adventure bug out bag’. You know, that one pack that always has your outside playtime essentials ready to go at a moments notice. In my evrgrn Kickback pack, you’ll find a Hydro Flask, my trusty notebook + pen, my Nikon D7000, an extra scarf–because autumn is upon us, chapstick, and a spare $20 in case I find a taco stand in the middle of the woods. You never know.

Photo: Mehri Russo

Photo: Mehri Russo

As it turns out, I’m a much better photographer than I am fisherman. The time I spent along Boulder Creek with a rod in my hand primarily consisted of me trying to perfect the flick of my wrist and then spending 10 minutes untangling the line. I did catch something though: a rock. The lack of freshly caught fish for dinner didn’t deter me though–I tossed my pack into the car, hauled from Boulder to Denver, and caught up with some of my favorite people for a latin feast at Cuba Cuba.

The next morning, I realized that a birthday weekend can’t just go to waste–so Mcgoo and I grabbed our packs, tossed our down comforter into the back of his Subaru, loaded up on cheese and kabob ingredients at Whole Foods, and headed towards the mountains. We ended up at West Magnolia Trailhead near Nederland, miraculously finding the perfect campsite at 3:00 PM on a Saturday. There were rolling mountain views, sprawling fields for Amble to plow through, and plenty of forest to explore. We played, relaxed by the fire, and I even got a jumpstart on my birthday resolution to start writing more snail mail. I’ll let the photos tell the story:

20151017-DSC_363920151017-DSC_367020151017-DSC_370720151018-DSC0358920151017-DSC_376520151017-DSC_377720151017-DSC_381520151017-DSC_3822 Continue reading

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Hit the Trails and Become a Weekday Warrior

I never thought I would become a weekend warrior. In fact, I spent years dedicated to a pursuit of a lifestyle where “weekend warrior” does not apply. But here I am, working 40 hours a week and regulating much of my outdoor time to the way-too-short weekend.

But I’ve realized something: spending time outside is integral to my happiness. Spending every single day sitting behind a desk cranking on deadlines or sitting behind a steering wheel in rush hour traffic is just not the key to a positive life. So why do we confine ourselves to outdoor adventures solely on days when we don’t have to go to work the next morning?

The outdoors are in reach any day of the week.IMG_0497

I’ll admit, I totally have it made. I work just a stone’s throw away from Boulder’s mountainous treasure trove of trails, forest roads, and open spaces. I leave the office every day at 4:00, so I decided to see if I could indeed squeeze adventure into my weekday grind.

Spoiler alert: It was a success.

The first experiment with post-workday outdoor pursuits was technically on a Sunday, but since I still had to wake up at 6:00 AM the next day, I’m counting it. My lady pal Laurie and I decided to hike out to Lake Isabelle to catch the sunset, and hit the road towards Brainard Lake Recreation Area around 4:30 PM.

I immediately realized one of the perks of getting outdoors on a “school night” – the trails are empty. Anyone we encountered on the hike out to the lake were all headed in the opposite direction, back to the parking lot. What kind of maniacs start a hike at dinner time?IMG_0500IMG_0401

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Climbing, camping, and coffee hour at Indian Creek

We first came to Indian creek on what can only be described as a whim. Jeremy, who we met in Joe’s Valley, egged us on for a few days about his yearning to make the short drive out to Moab to climb at Indian Creek. We easily relented, stuffed our crash pads into Vikki and Spenser’s trailer for the weekend, and caravanned to Indian Creek with newfound friends Jeremy and CP, Cox from Tallahassee Rock Gym, and Lauren, who I knew from Vertical Ventures in Tampa.

The original Indian Creek group gathering for a crew shot after climbing Wavy Gravy.

During my first two days at Indian Creek, I climbed a total of two routes (both on top-rope) – but I was totally exhausted after just two experiences shoving my body into perfectly formed sandstone cracks. I on-sighted Twin Cracks (5.9), and had a fantastic flail session on Wavy Gravy near the ultra-classic Scarface line. Niko continued to practice trad leading, and CP discovered that his hands are a perfect fit for lines that use a lot of number three cams.

CP crushing at Indian Creek in Utah.Me climbing Wavy Gravy in Indian Creek.We camped at Bridger Jack, and adopted a morning routine that involved a lazy “coffee hour.” With a small total of six cracks conquered during our weekend trip, we all decided to spend at least another week in Indian Creek to get the full experience. Niko and I returned to Joe’s Valley one last time to pick up our crash pads, then quickly resettled in Indian Creek – at a new campsite, which didn’t involve a heinous off-road scramble like the path to Bridger Jack.

The first night was rainy, and the next day’s forecast predicted an even higher chance of continuing storms. It didn’t look too promising, so we spent the morning slowly waking up and making coffee at camp.

The weather finally let up, so we decided to scope out the cliffs around Generic Crack to see if they had dried. They had indeed gotten some sun, and by 3:00, the Super Crack parking lot was starting to fill up with climbers.Niko hanging out beneath a climb at Indian Creek.Jeremy Rush killin' it in Indian Creek.

I stayed behind to catch up on writing for the day, and while I was lurking in the van I noticed – more than twice – non-climbers who were driving past, pumping the brakes, reversing into the parking lot, and pausing to admire the climbers while taking pictures and gawking through binoculars. It was a great little moment watching how intriguing climbing appears to be to the outside world – I wonder how unusual people think must we are, hanging onto the side of cracks along the scenic road to The Needles in Canyonlands National Park.

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Exploring Texas’ Best Outdoor Spots: Reimer’s Ranch, Pace Bend Park, and Hamilton Pool

After a short detour in Austin, we planned to meet our climbing buddy, Teresa, out at Reimer’s Ranch on a Friday morning – so Niko and I took a few rest days at Pace Bend Park during the week. This friendly slice of exceptional Texas landscape is a miniature peninsula that sits on a steep cliff line above the water. Folks kept referring to it as Lake Austin, but it looked much more like a river if you ask me.

When Teresa finally escaped Houston to join us for a weekend of climbing, we set off towards stunning, and short, sport climbing. The Reimer’s Ranch climbing crag is located about 30 minutes away from Pace Bend Park, but it’s the nearest campground to the climbing – and the drive isn’t bad. Another great aspect is that once you pay for your camping ($5/night) and day use ($10/day), your parks pass is valid for Pace Bend, Reimer’s Ranch, and Hamilton Pool.

After less than awesome bouldering at Bull Creek Run in Austin, I wasn’t expecting very much from the climbing at Milton Reimer’s Ranch Park – but I was instantly blown away. You pull up to a rather dry parking lot area, which is equipped with immaculate rest room facilities. A few yards down the trail, the scenery switches: suddenly, you’re knee-deep in what can only be described as Fern Gully. The approach to the crag takes you skipping along a little creek, which opens up into a lush area alive with ferns and thick tree trunks. I was in heaven.

Niko climbing at Reimer's Ranch park in Texas during the Simply Adventure trip.

The climbing compliments the dreamy surroundings with pleasurable routes, unbelievably well maintained bolts and anchors, and a great climbing community. The only foreseeable compliant is in regards to the length of the routes – most are only about 40 feet tall, with four or five bolts. As a big chicken when it comes to lead climbing, I was totally content with the short climbs.

Teresa throws for a jug at Reimer's Ranch in Texas.

We hopped on a number of routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.12a throughout the two days we were able to climb, and I had a blast on every line I touched, including a great 5.10 b/c/d (?) called Prototype – which I top-roped twice, “red-pointed” the second go, and really regret not leading.

The most memorable route was a 5.10a called Fat Chicks Trying To Look Sexy. It was Teresa’s unfinished project, so we both worked it until she snagged the red-point. We also gave a go at a sweet 5.12a Niko was working, named Yertle the Turtle. Neither of us ladies made it past the third bolt, but it was a nice challenge.

Most importantly, I took my first lead falls, ever. Yes, that’s right, I had never taken a fall while sport climbing before. I had a pretty good run of on-sighting every 5.10a (and below) I got my hands on, but the time came for me to put on my big girl panties and take a fall. And you know what? It ain’t so bad, y’all!

This is me, not taking a lead fall, but rather successfully climbing at Reimer's Ranch in Texas during the Simply Adventure trip.

The plan originally included three days of climbing, but our final day was rained out, so we packed up early on Saturday evening and finished our adventure with dinner at Emcee’s Eatery – which was good, but took way too long. Fortunately, I was pretty down to have some extra time hanging out with Teresa, so I didn’t mind the monstrous wait to get my spaghetti. (If you eat there, get the burgers, so good!)

This incredible cave at Hamilton Pool Park in Texas is mind-blowing. How does it not collapse?!If you’re ever in the Austin area, Riemer’s Ranch is a must. Right up the road, you’ll find Hamilton Pool, one of Texas’ magnificent wonders. Comprised of a looming cave that hovers over an emerald pool, this destination is a popular spot during the summertime. When we visited, the water was a balmy 53º, but I was filthy so I took a quick dip to rinse my oily hair anyways.

Once again, Texas surprised us with an unexpected adventure. We weren’t very fond of our few days spent in Austin, so it was especially pleasant to discover a rolling hill country with classic climbing just outside the city.

Extra Beta: We’d highly suggest paying a visit to Bump ‘n Grindz coffee shop. A hospitable man, Marco, who welcomes you into his café with open arms, runs the joint where you can fuel up on everything from homemade soup to gelato. The coffee is strong, the outlets are plentiful, and the wi-fi is free.

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