Solo Camping

I think I might be a grown-up. I know how this sounds. Of course by all standards, I am a grown-up. I live apart from my parents and pay my bills and brush my teeth and get dressed in the morning unassisted. I don’t know that these are qualifiers for grown-up-hood actually because five year olds too know how to get dressed and brush their teeth, but they can’t buy whiskey and move cross country whenever they feel like it, so I stand by my declaration.

Anyway, this occurred to me last night as I was walking to the bathroom at the campground I was staying at. By myself. I kept giggling like I was a kid who had in fact snuck out of my parents house to do something illicit. I did do this once as a youngster, with my best friend Katee Peach—that really was my childhood best friend’s name, isn’t that perfect?—this is what Bad Mary Janes we were. We snuck out around midnight, drove to Meijer—a nicer version of Wal-Mart, but not as classy as Target, for those not in the know—bought bulk candy and sat in the furniture section feeling smug, rocking on faux leather office chairs until our eyes got heavy and we inevitably just drove home.

I told myself when I moved to yet another new place by myself, that I was going to attempt to do things alone, things that I would have previously never considered doing alone. One of those things was go camping. In my mind going camping alone, seemed rather lame. Who would I chat with and snuggle and eat s’mores with? Turns out the s’mores thing was hardly a problem. I made it my mission to eat enough s’mores to account for two people being there. I know, I had to take one for the team on that one.

I had decided to ease into camping by myself, I wouldn’t venture into the Wyoming wilds alone, alone. First I would start with a campground and I opted for Buffalo Bill State Park on the reservoir. Not too shabby canyon and water views, accompanied by the secure feeling of collective campers, and a distinct lack of grizzlies seemed wise.

I brought my childhood stuffed giraffe that I still cart around the country when I am in between snuggle partners as she makes a good fill in. Lula didn’t disappoint. She didn’t fight me when I put her worn orange cotton ears tightly underneath my neck. She also didn’t object to my constant position switching in the night to get comfortable on my stack of about 9 folded blankets.

I can’t say I deserved a high-five for setting up my tent because it is new technology and basically idiot-proof. I am pretty sure I could have Mary Poppins’d that shit, and sang a song to my tent and it would’ve risen. Also God love a Coleman, because the beaut held up to insane and persistent Wyoming winds all. night. long. I kept checking the corners which I had weighed down with rocks, because my campsite was pure rubble and I could not get the stakes in.

But the tent and Lula held through the onslaught.

I had made a fire, no prob, because duh I was a Girl Scout. Although, okay I love to throw that out there, but I think I actually was a Brownie and never graduated past Brownie. But I did sew something once, so, I am pretty sure I still get the honor.

I drank peach beers and smiled dreamily at my blazing fire, the sun dipping down behind Cody canyons and felt like I was figuring it out. At least I hoped I was. I wanted to start in on my laundry list of worries because that is my usual pastime, but I refused. I told myself I would simply enjoy the pure pleasure of being alive and able to camp on my own in the West. Turns out this wasn’t a hard feat.

I kept laughing and it wasn’t from the peach beers, though to be fair, two did make me tingle a bit. I sincerely felt in awe of doing an activity that seems like it should be a two person activity, and making it fit one. My bed, happily high from the obscene amounts of stacked and folded blankets only took up a small space in my five-person tent. But I liked my miniature living room, with dimly lit lantern, Wall Drug cowboy satchel filled with books, my styrofoam cooler brought purely to protect the chocolate and brews, and then there was me and Lula.

I always say that I have the worst night’s sleep on record when I go camping, and I surely did. I was up every half hour it seemed with howling winds that shook every seam in my tent relentlessly. I wondered if the wind would pick us all up: me, the tent and Lula and cart us off to Oz. I dreamt about packing up the tent multiple times, but each time I woke up and heard the wind and rain, I snuggled deeper into my blankets and prayed. I didn’t pray for protection against a wayward tree crushing me, but for God to not let my new Coleman get destroyed after only one use.

I had fallen asleep wearing pants, a long sleeve shirt, doubled with a thick sweater and wool socks. I awoke sweaty and to the sounds of squawking birds. The tent was now still and my body ached as I wearily peeled off socks and multiple layers of my clothes. I whipped off the mounds of blankets and unzipped the tent flap to a cool breeze and bright morning sun. I gulped in the fresh air and wondered about coffee. I also wondered if I could shoot the squawking birds without incident.

Camping is slightly like heartache following love. You wonder why you bother, yet secretly are up for all the thrills all over again.

I debated whether I had the energy to pack up without caffeine first, but I swallowed some stale water from my Nalgene bottle and ate three squares of a Hershey’s bar and determined that would have to suffice.

As I tried to stuff the tent back in the bag that never seems big enough to hold what came out so easily, I thought, hey, I did it. I camped alone.

The Camp Hosts from Georgia who were making their morning rounds around the campground called out, “leaving already?”

“Yeah I was just here for one night. Now I am going hiking.”

“Be safe,” the man said.

I nodded, feeling sweaty from the effort of shoving the tent into its too small bag.

And just like that I was off in search of the largest coffee I could find and a hike that would quench my never-ending thirst for more adventure. Alone or otherwise.

Forever West

I have loved my time in the West so immensely, that I naturally wanted to do a salute to my experience here. I am mostly at a loss for words as to how to tell you of my deep and abiding love for this place and so without the words for it, I have instead rounded up some (errr a lot) of my favorite photos from my time spent here in the mountains.

I hope you sense the love.

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Bear Aware… And Other Concerns

I went hiking yesterday.
By myself.
I think bears were about.
And they probably would’ve liked to eat me, given the chance.

I contemplated bringing an old and probably very dull hatchet I bought for a friend—in order to encourage him to pursue dreams of becoming a lumberjack, but he left before I could gift it to him—I decided against the hatchet because I have a penchant for rock climbing and suddenly had horrific flashes of me not only falling to my death but severing my head in the process. The hatchet stayed home.

I arrived at my hiking destination, one I had been eyeballing for some time. Not only for its inescapable beauty, but its challenging qualities: namely a never-ending field of hills, atop of hills. I started out around 4pm, feeling charged on the idea of tackling this beast. I had asked a friend to come with me, but he changed his mind and not one to be deterred I opted to hike alone and informed my sister where I would be in case I did indeed fall off a cliff or got mauled by a bear.

Let me interject with the bear fixation here. Not only are there indeed bears in Wyoming, but I had recently been to Yellowstone where there were rumored to be Grizzly sightings. Also this particular spot I wanted to hike was an area in which I myself had spotted a black bear climbing along the tree line.

Furthermore, that morning at work I had been perusing a fishing regulations magazine in my downtime and saw an ad for bear spray with a particularly gruesome photo of a man who had been attacked by a bear. That image was now being replayed with every step I took toward that tree line and up the never-ending hill, to my point of interest which was naturally the tip top.

I also have read several cautionary signs in Wyoming that proclaim: Be Bear Aware!

So as I walked I repeated to myself, bear aware, bear aware, be bear aware.

This might have actually been a hindrance rather than a help because by the time I had ascended the first hill to make my way down into a valley to climb the second larger hill, I was almost petrified with the notion of being attacked by a bear. I had come upon a river I had no idea existed in between the two hills. It was nestled down a steep ravine. By this point I had mapped my route up to the highest point and wanted to be there, bad. So seeing the wild drop down to a river I could hear but couldn’t see, along with the fact that it slipped into forest, heightened my bear aware fever. But the thing about me is when I want something, I get slight tunnel vision over it and have to have it. In this case I wanted to be at the top of that hill. I hadn’t accounted for ravines and rivers, but my mind was already made up. So though I was pulsing with a slight paranoia over being mauled by wildlife I worked my way down the ravine anyway.

When I heard a tussle in the bushes nearby, I froze in crazed irrational fear, thinking, this is it; I was bear aware and it did me no good. Except it was just a deer. I continued down to the river. It wasn’t all that wide or fast flowing and there were ample rocks dotting the stream for me to climb across. I did come face to face with an imposing amount of scratchy brush, but I plowed through anyway, bolstered by fear-laced endorphins.

When I reached the other side, I could no longer see the golden hill that I wanted to climb. I only saw forest and rocks. I hustled up the other side, making my way over another tiny stream and was faced with a craggy rock wall. I breathed a sigh of relief as I shimmied up, getting scuffed and scratched while I huffed and puffed trying to outclimb the bears that were surely lurking and watching me in the forest behind.

And finally I was at the swaying field of gold that ascended right up into Wyoming’s crisp autumn sky. I was overjoyed and felt relieved, like I had escaped sudden death. But climbing this hill was its own version of death, because it was so arduous that I had to break and breathe about every fifteen steps while sweat gushed off of my face and I guzzled water and muttered profanities—my favorite way to deal with challenges. I pushed on, noting at this point my tenacity, simply to get to the top of a hill. I heard sounds that seemed to be rattley and hissy like a snake. The golden reeds were as tall as my waist and God only knew what lurked in there. The sun blazed down on my uncovered shoulders and still I was very much bear aware, looking warily into the forests to my right, while I heaved my girth upwards and upwards.

I got to the last peak, which was where the field was stacked with slate-like rocks. I was beyond spent at this point, shaking and sweating. When I went to reach for one of the rocks to climb, not only did it slip out of place and go careening down the hillside, but my arms gave way. I asked myself the question I often ask myself when doing something perhaps overly adventurous, and that is: Would Mom like this idea?

Nope.

I begrudgingly moved down the rocks a ways until I found a safer way up and when I hoisted myself up over the edge onto another field, I let out a euphoric yoop and got maybe a little bit teary. This field flowed downward into a deep valley going down the other side of the mountain with tremendous views of the valley, the highway and endless amounts of pines. I sat and stared for awhile. Maybe I did a few fist pumps. I can’t rightly recall in my state of exhaustion.

Then I scanned the hills, contemplating my way down. The way I came seemed a bad choice, so I outlined a different way down the mountain which admittedly was closer to the treeline and forest where I had spotted the bear months ago, but seemed less rocky. The only problem with this side as far as I could see were the cows grazing in the valley below. But I surmised that I could maybe bypass the cows, yet stay in the field far enough away from hungry bears. I started down feeling almost giddy with how easy it was going. Until I got to a dip in the hillside and saw the vast amount of cows and what looked to be another steep ravine. I know cows are just cows, but there were a lot of them, several with their babies and these are Wyoming cows, which is to say: behemoth and probably fearless.

I really didn’t want to be eaten by a bear, but if I was going to go out in an adventuresome blaze of glory, the bear attack would be the way to go. I was less enthused about coming to an end by cow. I inched away from the few cows who had heard my movement and were now eyeing me or running away. This placed me in a little cove of Aspens and closer still to the dense forest of pines I had been trying to avoid. Again I heard rustling and froze. I heard a growl.

My heart ratched up 17.5 notches while I seriously contemplated my life if a bear were to take off all my limbs. Again it was only more deer. I moved more swiftly down the next ravine only to find that the river I had crossed earlier with ease, was now about 3 times wider and deeper on this side of the hill. Also it was missing the convenient rock steps I had utilized prior. I was stricken. It was nearing 7 o’clock, which meant I had about an hour left of daylight as the sun was already sinking on the horizon. I had very little energy to go back up the mountain and around. Also I was now all but convinced a bear had smelled the sugar in my bloodstream and wanted me for dessert. I also was also in a mild upheaval over the cow situation as well.

I gazed at the deep and terribly murky river with floating logs covered in algae. I was almost as scared of deep seaweed filled water as I was of being taken down by a bear. I walked along the riverbed for a bit mulling over my options and trying to find a way across. I got to an area where the river was less wide and considerably less deep.

I knew what I had to do. I looked down and it was as if God was already one step ahead of me, helping me along. There was an old rusted sign that was long enough to be used as a sort of walking stick. I stuck it into the river to test the riverbed’s bottom, seeing if it was deep mud that I might sink into. It was firm sand. I took a deep breath, quelled my fears and trudged in. The water was chilly but I hardly noticed as I sunk up to my thighs while moving across trying not to lose my balance in what I had already dubbed in my mind as the Cow Shit River. I hadn’t actually seen any cow shit, but given the proximity of the beasts, I could only assume this wasn’t the freshest river in the Big Horns.

Once I made it to the other side, I used my rusty sign to help me up this last hill, which albeit small in comparison to what I had just done, was still a feat, as I was now beyond exhausted and soaked up to my underwear. My shoes were filled with river sludge and all I wanted was to be back at my car where surely no bears or cows were hanging out.

Now here is the thing I realized on this hike, which I gotta say was a doozy, and also maybe one of my favorites, simply for the death factors. Okay, okay, I didn’t actually come close to death, but my hyped up overly-imaginative writer’s brain thought otherwise.

The thing is: I am a pretty determined person. When I want something bad enough I make it happen. I remember when I first moved to Virginia, I discovered this beautiful winery that I decided I had to work at. They weren’t hiring because it was winter but they told me to come back the first of May. I was there resume in hand on the first of May and ended up getting the job.

But for some reason when it comes to my writing, the thing I love most, have wanted the most and think about constantly, I don’t give it rock climbing, heaving through fields and prickers, warding off bears, tearing up my skin and hair through Wyoming’s wild terrain and crossing cow shit rivers persistence. I give it a small nudge at best. So why, I was curious, when I wanted to get to the top of a mountain, was I willing to risk life and limb, convinced of bear growling and all, simply to meet my goal? Do I want to get to the top of a hill more than I want to make something of myself as a writer? No. I don’t think that’s it.

I know I am unafraid of the tangible challenge of tackling hills and all their surprise encounters. But for some reason the writing world and all its challenges, including agents, and query letters seems to scare me more than bear attacks. What is wrong with me? I am willing to get eaten by a bear, but I am not willing to submit my work to a bloody magazine…

There is something smelly in the water here and it isn’t the cow shit. It is my logic. It is all kinds of skewed and makes no sense to me. But I’ll tell ya this. The dawning of this epiphany has led me to believe that if I can tackle mountains and bears in Wyoming (alright I know! I didn’t literally tackle a bear, but I was willing…sorta) then maybe I should send someone out there in the universe my stuff and ya know see what happens.

Maybe nothing happens. Or maybe I face mass rejection. But at least I will be moving forward in my fear and accomplishing something. Instead of sitting pretty on my fear like I have been doing. I am taking one from my own experience and am going to become bear aware in the arena of writing. Agents and freelance contracts cannot possibly be more frightening than a wild bear. Just sayin.

Ms. Adventure

I am sitting in the bar sipping a mojito whilst writing. Okay I actually despise when people start out their stories with either what people are wearing, eating or drinking. I mean, really who cares—unless you’re Ernest Hemingway—what does your drink have to do with the price of rice in China? But because it is summer, because I have my bathing suit on underneath my clothes in prep for an impending swimming session and because I am atop a mountain I felt like it could be said. Also it most certainly feels very Hemingway-esque, as I have never written in a bar before. Much less while drinking. So salud Hemingway. This one’s for you.

This is all to say that mountain life suits me. I don’t know that it could suit me forever, as I miss great big bodies of water, but maybe I will find myself someplace where the mountains meet the sea and then I will marry the sea and the mountains can be my mistress.

I went on this hike yesterday with this fella I enjoy, let’s call him Francis, or France for short-ish. Francis has become my new hiking counterpart. Nearly every day after work we go find some undiscovered part of the mountain to traverse and explore. Yesterday’s hike was Black Mountain Lookout. Perched atop mounds of rock 9,500 feet in the air stood an old fire tower lookout. That was our destination. There is a forest road that goes up most of the mountain and then you take a trail the last mile upwards. Unfortunately, or fortunately for my cellulite, the forest road was washed out by a river and so we had to park the car at the base of the mountain. Well. We were already atop a mountain, so not the literal base as that would be a hike for a much fitter gal. But anyhow, we were heading higher into the mountains.

When Kirst and I first accepted this job we were told it was atop a mountain, but maybe we didn’t really believe it as we were slightly dumbfounded when we drove up the side of a mountain to get to our new lodgings. But when we saw how far the mountain stretched, peaks this way and that, it seemed the mountaintop was never-ending. I told Kirst how the mountains seemed to go on and on, even when on top. She confessed that she too was perplexed by this and when she considered living on a mountaintop she thought it would be more like living at the top of a jagged point. I asked her if she meant like where the Grinch lived—in a cave on a high, high snow-capped peak—and she said, “yes, just like that. I thought where we lived would be just like the Grinch.”

Where we live is nothing like where the Grinch lives. Though there is a Grinchy-Grinch on our mountain, but I won’t mention names, she just likes to scowl a whole bunch and snap orders at people. But that’s the only similarity.

I digress of course.

So our hike. We parked at the base and got out in order to scale the flowing rapids that took out the entire road—okay I kid, they weren’t rapids and the whole road wasn’t taken out, it was more a babbling brook that ever so inconveniently crossed the road because it could. And Mother Nature does what she wants anyway, so we were happy enough to oblige her.

The forest road up didn’t feel too taxing though naturally the moment I started exerting myself I was perspiring. We came upon the trailhead feeling good. Feeling strong and capable. Maybe even a little cocky. Then we went further into the forest and up. And up. And up. And where was this fire tower? Wasn’t a mile supposed to be easy? Not a mile straight up a mountain apparently. Okay to be fair we weren’t going straight up. We were on switchbacks, but it didn’t feel much better. I felt hot liquid pooling down my face and instead of making the natural and logical conclusion that I was sweating profusely—my usual M.O.—I panicked and thought I was bleeding from the skull. I touched the liquid and inspected my fingers. Nope, not blood, definitely just copious amounts of sweat.

We went left and went right. Climbed higher and then a little higher still. We made the assumption we were close. But with every turn, we only saw more forest and more rocks. Then through a break in the trees we saw the tower. You would think the heavens parted and I burst into euphoric bouts of symphony but when I saw how high up the tower still seemed to be the only word that came to mind was, “fuck!”

I turned to France who looked startled and I apologized for my profanity. And we trudged on. Switchback after switchback. He asked me if I needed a break as I huffed and puffed. I felt I could use a break to keel over on a rock lounge, but feeling a little pissed and determined, I declined the offer of rest and insisted we keep on keeping on until the top.

Soon we were near the summit and it required a little rock climbing. Or to be fair to rock climbers everywhere, rock finagling. But when we came around the last of several bends, all we saw was an outhouse—well and stunning 360 degree views of pine laden mountaintops in every direction—but the fire tower seemed to be out of reach, perched atop a pile of jagged grey rocks. Now, if it weren’t for the jaw-dropping views in every direction I would’ve let out a stream of F-bombs for my frustration at all that and still not being able to set foot on the fire tower.

We climbed some rocks and I sat attempting to enjoy the view, but itching to get to the fire tower. Francis surmised that maybe this was as far as we could get. I fumed. Not so. I would sooner break my neck rock climbing to the tower than admitting defeat after all that. So as he began to work his way back down the rocks I lingered and inched toward the towering rocks to my left. He caught me and issued warnings about how if I broke my leg he’d have to give me a piggy back ride all the way back down the mountain. I don’t think he was as worried about carrying my heft down an entire mountain of switchbacks as much as his worry about me breaking my neck instead of a leg and then having a corpse on his hands.

I had a hard time heeding his warnings though and told him I needed to suss out the situation and see if I could indeed climb the rocks. I climbed a few and then looked at the straight wall of imposing rock looming large and daunting in front of me. I wanted to do it. I wanted to get to the fire tower. And most times in my life I was willing to risk life and limb for adventure but I glanced sideways at my fall if I lost my footing—which would be precarious at best—and it would definitely result in my being maimed or worse. I lingered a beat longer while I could feel my pal’s tension behind me. And then I turned around and said, “fine. I won’t risk breaking my neck. But we are getting to that fire tower.”

He agreed and then moments later he discovered a rock path right up and around the seemingly impossible rock faces. And just like that we were up and on our way to the tower. And in a few breaths we were there. I could not rightly fathom that people actually lived up here in order to keep watch for forest fires. Now this was the exact top of the mountain. The tip-top. The pinnacle. Where the Grinch would probably reside because no one would want to make that trek to bother him. I was speechless. Or maybe I was breathless. Who could even tell?

And then I needed to lie down. Not exactly from sheer exhaustion, but perhaps because I had convinced myself there would be a hammock at the top, and I was dismayed to find there was not. After a spell of enjoying the mountain vistas on the deck of the fire tower, we made the trek down. Maybe it was the exertion. Or maybe it’s the fact that I always want to blaze new paths, but I kept finding myself off trail. Suddenly I was in the midst of a gorge of rocks looking about for a safe way down and I glanced behind me and Francis smiled and asked where I was going.

“Is this not the trail?” I asked.

“No.”

Oh. How weird.

I accidentally went off-trail three more times while Francis patiently waited for me to re-route myself.

“Where are you goin, Ms. Adventure?” he would ask. I chuckled and then turned myself around. I did not know where I was going; it just seemed right. Hmmm. Isn’t that a grand metaphor for life though? I mostly don’t know where I am going, but it seems right. And somehow despite rocky terrain and many, many missteps, I always make it back down the mountain safely.

The Mountains, the Moose, the Men, Oh My!

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The West: where does a small-town Midwestern gal even begin? For starters I have been here in Wyoming for exactly one week and I am already so drunk on sheer adventure overload that starting at the beginning feels so long-gone.

Perhaps I could go backwards starting with seeing a cowboy lasso this afternoon. I wanted to faint upon seeing this, like an overwrought lady of yore. But I don’t think the cowboy would’ve understood. He maybe would’ve just assumed I wasn’t used to the elevation when in reality I am not used to so many manly men doing manly things like practicing rope handling and looking dashing while doing so.

Or yesterday how I went four-wheeling in a landscape that could only be described as some sort of decadent mix between Alaska and somewhere the Von Trapp children would roam. I hate to start describing Wyoming with references to other places as Wyoming stands alone in her splendor, but it’s the only comparison I can draw. I kept squealing, “holy buckets!” at a loss for any other explanation for my feelings upon seeing mountains and valleys and elk, that my four-wheeling companion, D2—a bearded outdoorsman who works at the lodge—chuckled and started saying holy buckets the rest of our 30-mile off-roading journey.

He let me drive on the way home and I drove us through a creek, nestled between two bluffs, made sure to hit every mud puddle as speedily as I could and the best part? We saw fourteen moose, one so close to our trail that I sincerely feared for my life as he casually eyed us, eyeing him. Those beasts are indeed massive and have a justifiably cocky look about them that bespeaks of their majesty in the forest.

Or there’s the fact that on our second day at the lodge the fellas taught Kirst and I poker and all initial ditzy doodling aside, we actually raked in the chips. Okay fine I did have a little help from the outdoor adventure guide who called me sweetheart during the game and would tap my leg multiple times when I needed to raise my bet, but still, I think I might need to go to Vegas. Just kidding, I would definitely need my pal to tap my leg for instructions and I think they frown upon that sort of thing in Vegas. In fact I’m sure I would probably be taken out back and have my kneecaps broken and be asked never to visit again. I digress, of course.

I definitely feel like I might be living in an old-timey Western movie. Especially when I meet old cowboys named Merle who kiss my hand upon meeting me. Or when I discovered that there are wild mustangs on the other side of the mountain where I reside. Simply knowing I was in the vicinity of wild mustangs nearly made me choke up with swells of gratitude for the beauty of life in the West. Or the fact that I have driven through what seems to be intense fog and suddenly I descend from the mountain and it clears and I see in my rearview mirror that it wasn’t fog at all, but indeed a mass of clouds I was just passing through.

The mountains, the moose, the mustangs, the men, the majesty, oh my! It’s easy to see why a gal could become overwrought with emotion and simply need to pass out. Or barf. As I pointed out to Kirst today about a man we met while hiking who later met up with us for coffee. His beard was dark and lush. His flannel was, well a flannel. And he laughed at our banter. When he left I turned to Kirst and said, “can we talk about how cute he is?!” Kirst responded, “He is so cute I could puke.” Amen, sister. Amen. The men here are so cute I too could just about vom. But I won’t, as that’s unladylike.

Anyhow. I want to wax more poetic. Always more poetic. But it is my first day off and I need to find more adventure. Wyoming would have hurt feelings if I didn’t. But here are some pictures from our first hike so you understand all this melodrama.

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I Get By With a Little Help…

Today was perfect. I got up for work at seven. Okay. Correction. My sister woke me up at seven because I am without a phone, therefore without an alarm clock and at the mercy of others (because I keep neglecting to just travel back to 1999 and buy an alarm clock) and waking up at seven was less than perfection but no matter. I laid in bed not fully letting myself fall back asleep but instead fantasizing about the sleep that I could no longer partake in for fifteen minutes. Then I proceeded to the couch where I sat for another fifteen minutes not accepting that I had to go to work. Then I remembered that there is really fresh and delicious coffee where I work and I perked up, got cute and hopped on my bicycle.

Where I got coffee and got to work.

I left around two and immediately was called to nature. I got ahold of my hiking buddy, Dana who I can always, always count on to do just about anything outdoors and active with me. I put on my bathing suit under my hiking clothes as I had been broiling since my bike ride into work this morning. We went out to my favorite secluded beach and started weaving down the trails that ran parallel to my beloved Superior. Today the lake was glassy, with green undertones in the shallow waters and royal blue reflections out deep, with some fog dolloped on top for added mystique.

As we walked through the forest I couldn’t help but continue to inhale deeply. I’ve come to realize the smell of the forest, like the smell of the sea brings me more joy than I can hardly stand. I became so intoxicated with it, that I pointed out to my friend that they should bottle up the smell of the forest—the pine needles on cushy ground, the dense growth, the timber—and make all men wear it. But then I’d be in for a world of trouble, because it’s bad enough the flannel wearing, beard sporting men in this town, if they all smelled of the forest too, I don’t rightly know that I’d have a hold on myself. All bets would surely be off and I might become a wild thing.

As we walked along, though worries wanted to nag at me—I have a whole list of worries I can pick from on any given day: how will I pay all my bills, when can I see the whole wide world, why did my relationship end, how much weight do I need to lose, etc.—but today I forcibly reminded myself to be present. There was no use re-hashing what had been or wondering about what would be. All of that nonsense would detract from my walk with my friend, my walk with my forest, my walk with God.

After the hour-long hike, both uphill and down I was of course sweating where my body produces sweat, which is everywhere. I de-robed and slowly waded out into Superior, feeling her out, wondering if I would lose all feeling in my ankles and calves before forcing myself to submerge fully like I always do. No matter how frigid Lake Superior may be, if I go in past my ankles, I must dunk. It may be a Finnish thing, or perhaps it’s a crazy thing. Either way I stand by it.

I waded out to my chest. It was cold, sure. Numbing in a way, but not its usual electric shock of frigidity. The numbing chill felt welcome and therapeutic, like ice on achy muscles. I took a breath, plugged my nose and tipped back. I popped back up, smiled and dunked once more and just like that I was used to it.

I yelled to Dana that it felt amazing. She stuck a toe in and told me I was crazy and that it was freezing. So I frolicked around in it a bit and then met her at shore where I searched out unique rocks and eventually sat down on one in the lake, my toes still submerged to chat while I let the air dry me.

I found what looked to be a floating piece of newspaper and I plucked it out of the water inspecting it. Amused, Dana asked if I’d found a love letter while I read it over hoping that’s exactly what I’d found. It was just movie times that seemed burned around the edges, left over from a fire. I put it on the sand and told her I still held fast to hope that one day I’d find a love letter at sea. Or by my coffee maker. Or in my mailbox. I never lost hope it seemed. Though I knew at 28 the chances of finding anything other than bills or an Ulta catalog in my mailbox were slim to none, I always checked the mail with hopefulness that one day, one day maybe someone would have something soul-stirring to say to me.

We left the beach to go make our dinner which we agreed would be hearty steak and a slew of vegetables. Something about being out in nature pumping my legs just makes me want to eat like a man. And now that I knew how to cook a steak, I wasn’t holding back anymore. The entirety of my relationship with DC I would mention my cravings for steak (it’s been my favorite food since about five) and anytime I wanted him to make it for me for dinner, he would say we needed a grill and it was no good on the stove. I would acquiesce, disappointed and hold on until summer or he took me out for steak. But never would I simply attempt to just cook the damn steak on my own; I thought it was a mans job.

Malarky. It is now my job to cook a mean steak if I want to eat like a man, which admittedly sometimes I do. Back at Dana’s I cut up onions in thick chunks, sliced wedges of carrots and drizzled asparagus with olive oil topped with parmesan cheese. I sauteed mushrooms with fresh garlic. And I grilled up two steaks, seasoned to perfection and rare enough to moo (at least mine that is). As I put bites of steak topped with mushroom and onion in my mouth, then quickly scrambled for a bite of carrot and asparagus, only to wash it down with a pomegranate beer, I realized that food had never tasted so fine.

And I’d made it myself. After hiking the forest. After swimming in Superior. After getting up at seven to make ends meet. On my own. By myself. As God intended. For me to understand that I can and should be reliant on myself—with a whole lot of help in the way of forests and trees and steaks and girl friends thrown in from the Big Guy—but other than that, just me, learning how to forge ahead making my own way and my own steak.