September 28th, 2015

Literally. Yesterday I drove all the way across the width of Kansas from Colorado to Missouri. It was a long day of solo driving, just me, Mama the Llama, the Serial podcast, and corn. Lots and lots of corn.

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I drove away from Colorado with the Flatirons of Boulder in my rearview mirror and my heart in my stomach as I left behind the state I had grown to love over the last week or so. I traded in my grand majestic views for two lane interstates, the loss of beauty exchanged for ease and speed of transportation. Sometimes I think that places like Colorado have such wonderful single lane roads in order to force you to drive slower through all of the beautiful scenery, while places like Kansas and Nebraska offer speedy roadways so you can get the hell across them as fast as possible.

While I will admit, I actually didn’t hate Kansas like I thought I would, it was still a really long day of somewhat monotonous landscapes. It was still better than my old road trip nemesis Nebraska. There were at least some nice rolling hills across the state and every once and a while the sea of corn fields where swapped with some lovely fields of a red colored crop (possibly old corn?) that contrasted with the rolled hay bales resting like giant marshmallows across open fields in a rather photogenic manner. There were also some impressively large energy wind mills that almost seemed to be stirring the clouds like cotton candy as the gusty winds whipping across the open plains sent the clouds speeding across the horizon. My little prius did not care much for the high winds that kept jerking my car across the roadway like a toy.

But the journey, though long, went quickly with a few fun stops like the Kansas welcome center, the World’s Largest Easel, and the historic landmark of Brown vs Board.

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But mostly it was just me and wide empty expanses of road heading off into the flat horizon and my own thoughts. I had thought a lot about how this day would go, considered whether I would be able to make it all the way by myself or not. This was my big trial day where I was either going to be able to prove to myself that I was capable of so much more than I thought I was, or I would crash and burn. I will jump past the long anxious hours of ruminating about whether I could do it and tell you that I did. I made it in one piece and feeling fine.

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This might not seem like a big deal to most people but this was a huge deal for me. Time for some honest talk. For those of you who don’t know me and even for those who do know me but don’t know about this, here it is: I am sick. No, not sick in some horribly dramatic, I am terminal and will never recover sick, but not in a cough cough I just have a cold way either. I have been plagued by chronic pain, migraines, and unknown illnesses almost my entire life. I have some names to label my pain like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Fibromyalgia, and Alopecia Areata but even they do not encompass what is wrong with my body. The baseline is this: I am an adventurer in my mind and heart, but most of the time my body physcially disagrees with me. I cannot predict or know when I will feel bad (and usually what accompanies feeling bad is headaches, painful muscles, extreme and sudden fatigue, and nausea) so I live in a constant state of anxiety about whether I will feel well enough to do the things I want to do.

Most of the time, there is no physical or external symptom that others can see so it is hard for a lot of people to understand this fear and these feelings. I have an invisible illness that even I don’t fully understand. It is unseen yet dictates most of my every day decisions and actions. This is why this road trip means so much to me as a solo adventure. I am so constantly worried about being incapable or handicapped by my illness and this is my big middle finger to not feeling well. That might be strong, but I have a lot to prove to myself and each day at a time on this solitary adventure I am learning to trust in my own abilities and stretch my capabilities.

So to drive for ten hours by myself is a huge obstacle surrmounted that has lingered in the horizon for quite some time for me. Despite how flat Kansas is, it has seemed like Mount Everest to me. This long day was my veritable mountain to climb, just to show myself that I was capable of anything, no matter my illnesses, no matter my fears.

So driving across the Missouri River into Kansas City where I was staying the night with some incredibly generous and hospitable family friends was like crossing the finish line of my own personal race. I was tired, but it was a well earned exhaustion that was soul satisfying and only bodily tiring.

I had the great treat of trying out a local Kansas City BBQ joint called Gates where your ears are constantly ringing with the sing-songy cry of “How MAY I help YOU?” as you enter into the building. It was the perfect end of a long day filled with conversations with old family friends and good food. I was only stopping for a night and would then be continuing on to Madison, Wisconsin the following day. One step closer to Michigan, one step closer to my next major stop. I am almost halfway done with my trip now, Michigan is the next major stop and I will be there for about a month and then continue onward to the East. My mind is being pulled in a thousand directions towards memories of what I have seen and imaginings of what tomorrow will bring, but all of it boils down to the road, the pavement beneath my tires and the miles speeding past my eyes. I am right where I need to be.

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September 26th, 2015

Even though it has only been three days since I set off on my own to take this journey across the country, I have already started to notice things about myself as a solo traveler as well as how it feels to travel alone.

The main thing I have noticed is how exhausting it is to travel alone. However, it is more than just the obvious answer (since I am alone I do not have anyone to split the burden of effort/work put into travel like driving, purchasing things, making plans, etc) that is behind this exhaustion. It is the feeling of being in the world, but not of it; feeling like people are talking at you and not with you essentially, but it is the city, the places, and the people all figuratively talking at you while you have no in into the conversation to allow you to actually take part. When you have someone to do things with it feels like no matter what happens in the day, at least you have one another for entertainment/enjoyment. However, when you are alone it is just you confronting the world so even normal everyday things like getting a cup of coffee at a cafe becomes a battle to engage with strangers, act friendly, and act as if everything is normal when everything is new, different, and strange. At least for an introvert like myself, it is hard for me to deal with small talk and polite smiles, which results in me wanting to have as little contact with people around me as possible despite the fact that I am lonely and really do want to be around people and make friends. Every day events become exhausting because I no longer have the buffer or the comfort of my friends or family to ease my interactions with the world around me, it is just me and the rest of humanity clamouring towards me with an overload of information and sensory input that I just do not have the current capacity to handle. As a result, I have found that when I travel alone I wind up avoiding people and try to remain alone rather than branch out and make new friends.

In some ways this is hard for a road trip like this because it is hard to go so long without really talking to anyone, but it also results in me seeking out nature instead of humanity, which leads me to some truly amazing places in pursuit of natural solitude. I may be anti-social or maybe just really overly introverted, but either way I have realized my own tendencies towards self isolation, but I have not yet decided whether I like or dislike these tendencies. To be determined…

Today was one of those days where these reflections were extremely apparent because for the first time I didn’t spend my entire day out in the wilderness. Instead, I dedicated today to exploring Boulder and learning the streets as well as the happenings of this bustling town.

… But I had to fit a hike in there somewhere. The iconic backdrop of the city are the Flatirons, a series of giant rock slates slanting towards the sun and rising high above the cityscape of Boulder. I decided to check out these wonderful mountains with a hike in Chautauqua Park.

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I hiked a series of loop trails on the adjacent mesas that provide sweeping views of the mountain range as well as the city of Boulder down below them. I hiked through Ponderosas and up steep hills lined with breezy grasses and rocky trails up to the top of the mesas.

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There was an astonishing array of landscapes on the four miles of trails I traversed which made for an interesting and ever evolving experience of the nature in Boulder.

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I managed to only get lost once and then some how actually helped some other girls who were visiting the park for the first time as well find their way after getting lost. I suppose that is one good thing to say for getting lost, you can advise others not to follow your trail. But when I finally finished my hike I had a firm grasp on the baseline trails around the Flatirons.

After my healthy dose of nature I was ready for some city experiences. Luckily I was in Boulder for one of my favorite things to do in any city that I visit, farmers’ market. Boulder Farmers’ Market was a fantastic way to ease into high density human interaction after having spent so much time alone for three days straight. Everyone was so friendly, talkative, and helpful at the market even though I was slightly lost and aimless amongst the crowds.

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The market was huge so I wandered up and down the stands for quite some time before going in for some conversations, samples, and small purchases. My first stop, naturally, was at a local bakery’s stand where I got an amazing almond croissant to eat as I wandered around with big hungry and fascinated eyes.

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I visited two produce stands where I bought some tomatoes and carrots for the road tomorrow. One had a stunning array of colorful turnips, beats, and carrots while the other had a beautiful selection of green veggies like kale, swiss chard, and many other delectable items. IMG_9539

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The second stand had an incredibly sociable and kind staff, which led to an encounter in which my inner introvert ran away screaming while I was left laughing awkwardly on the outside looking for the nearest and socially acceptable place to go hide. It was a stupidly simple interaction that caught me totally off guard and unsure of how to respond it went like this:

Me: What a beautiful stand!

Farmers’ Market Man: Look at how beautiful you stand.

He didn’t break eye contact, I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or a genuine compliment so I just awkwardly laughed as the rest of his coworkers began to laugh too and then I slunk away into a corner and died a little. Awkward muffin time.

So naturally I went and spent some time smelling flowers at a stand clear on the other side of the market that was full of Dahlias and sunflowers (two of my favorite flowers).

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Finally I rounded out my time at the market with some fresh tamales from the Amaizing Corn Tortilla stand. Get it, aMAIZing. May or may not have been the only reason I decided to try them out, but you will never know. IMG_9530

Then I wandered down the incredibly popular Pearl Street Mall, which is a long expanse of street closed to cars and filled with shops and plenty of street performers. Everything from bango players, clowns with balloons, mimes, and performers balancing on rollers while hold fire could be found on the couple of blocks that make up the Pearl Street Mall.

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For the rest of the day I jumped from coffee shop to coffee shop writing postcards and working over delicious cups of coffee from Boxcar Coffee, Ozo and the Laughing Goat again. The mochas at Ozo are to die for, I may have to go back before I leave early tomorrow morning for one for the road.

I also took a drive around a section of Boulder right next to the university dubbed The Hill where all the college students roam in hordes. I was somewhat appalled by their conduct and quickly left after driving through blocks of street covered in shattered beer bottle glass, red plastic cups covering frat front lawns, and drunk students literally face planting in the middle of the street in front of moving traffic. I got out of there fast when droves of drunk students began wandering the streets, possibly after a football game got out? I hope it was an event, because if this was an every day occurrence, I would be genuinely concerned for this school.

After another long day alone I returned to my hostel for some more alone time because, ironically, after so much time alone, what I really wanted and needed was to be even more alone. So I set up my hammock on the river after slacklining alone for a little bit. That is how I finished my day. That is how I finished my time in Colorado. Tomorrow morning I leave this wonderful state to continue eastward.

I find it funny that in many ways I am doing Jack Kerouac’s journey backwards, moving west to east instead of the other way around. I am so glad that I decided to pick that book up from City Lights back in San Francisco before I left my beloved Bay because never have I read a book more applicable to my current state of being. I too have found myself exclaiming to the wild and dark night

“‘And here I am in Colorado! …Damn! Damn! Damn! I’m making it!'”

And now that I am leaving Colorado, I too am passing the center dividing line both in the continent and in my life, except the reverse of Kerouac’s, where his east is my west.

“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”

Funny how the world works out and the road rolls on, I wonder where my future will find me.

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September 26th, 2015

I woke up bright and early this morning with only one thing on my mind: hiking Rocky Mountain National Park. I had visited the park once before but did not get to actually hike into the park anywhere and have always felt the need to go back and redeem my lost time in the park. Today was the day I finally realized that dream.

I made a quick pit stop on my way out of Boulder towards Estes Park to do the most important thing I do every day… get coffee. I have heard there are many great places to grab a cup of coffee in Boulder and I decided to try out the Laughing Goat on Pearl Street. I enjoyed it quite a bit, the interior was cozy and work oriented while also being hip, modern, and welcoming. I ordered a Venetian Creme that was sweet and delicious. I also grabbed a croissant for a later day hiking treat.

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It has been about six years since I last stepped foot in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. In many ways, my last trip to this place was the beginning of my life as a road tripper, but not quite in the way you might expect. Last time I was here all I wanted to do was leave. I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible with as few stops in between as we could manage. I was not a road tripper, not yet. But looking back on the squandered opportunities I had passed by in such a hurry to get no where made me re-evaluate my priorities and the things that meant the most to me. I had to go back, I had to do it again and after that I never stopped. So here I am, back again and ready to do this the right way.

I pulled into Estes as the sun was rising over the lake that held the reflections of the mountains surrounding it. I bypassed Estes for the time being and made a bee-line into the park where I had a hike in mind. I decided to hike out to Emerald Lake, which is a trail that stops by a total of four alpine lakes. The final lake lay at an altitude of almost two miles above sea level, but I had my eyes on the prize and didn’t plan on stopping until I could put my feet into the cold clear emerald waters of that final lake.

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I packed everything I had (including Mama the Llama and my croissant my the Laughing Goat) and hopped on a park and ride that would take me to the first of the four lakes, the incredibly popular Bear Lake.

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Bear Lake was just the tip of the iceberg as far as beauty goes for the day and its still waters made a perfectly wonderful start to the adventure ahead.

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The path from Bear Lake lead upward into a Gorge with a glacier at its end, but everything from my point of view was all sunshine. The weather was splendid, perfectly warm but with a breeze that rustled the aspen leaves causing them to cascade gentle down from the sky onto the trail. The sky was a deep blue and you could feel the thinness of the air crisply in your lungs.

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I made my way between trees and boulders, over rocks and fallen autumn leaves, and found myself standing on what felt like the top of the world. It was enough to make my heart scream at the top of my lungs; it is a moment like this that makes you feel truly alive.

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After hiking with a smile from ear to ear on my face up the mountain side I arrived at the second lake of the day, Nymph Lake. Covered in lily pads and much smaller than the first, this lake definitely felt like little forest nymphs were hiding under the lily pads waiting for all of the hikers to leave before leaping from their hiding places to skip and dance across the still lake surface.

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From Nymph Lake the climb continued and the air was getting thinner and thinner resulting in a harder and harder ascent for me and my sea level lungs. But every gasping breath was well worth the effort because every step I took revealed an even more beautiful sight than the last.

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I repeatedly crossed over a stream that rushed by me from the third (and my personal favorite) lake of the day, Dream Lake. Just like Nymph Lake, the name accurately embodied the lake to come, it was dream-like in its natural splendor. I couldn’t help but think with every step that I took that people all over the world look at postcards or pictures of the places I have been lucky enough to step foot in and dream of someday visiting them, some with more realistic intentions of realizing these dreams than others, but still, I was there in this fairy tale place, a place of postcards and magazine covers as if it was my own backyard to play around in for the day. How lucky am I to have seen the things I have seen, to have done the things I am doing.

Dream Lake was rimmed with driftwood caught on the shores. The water was such a shocking emerald color it made me particularly dubious that the next and final lake, Emerald Lake, could possibly be closer to the color emerald than the waters of Dream Lake. Underneath the clear waters swam speckled rainbow trout that occasionally disturbed the still surface by pecking at bugs sitting on the water. The fish were everywhere, slowly drifting through the clear waters undisturbed and unafraid of the people surrounding the lake.

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I pushed on from Dream Lake knowing that the end goal was not too far off (albeit up the steepest portion of the trail yet).

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After befriending a young hiker ( a ten year old girl who followed me up the trail as her parents and brother lagged behind), we ascended the final portion of the trail. I felt light headed and a little faint by the end of the climb because we were almost two miles above sea level at this point and the affect was staggering. At least I had my little hiker buddy to keep me motivated and moving despite not feeling super well.

I rounded the final corner and there it was, Emerald Lake, the fourth and final stop on the hike. The waters were indeed emerald and beautifully pristine. Some hikers had stopped to eat lunch at the lake and were being casually attacked by a horde of chipmunks who were literally crawling on the backs of the hikers to steal crumbs. One chipmunk even tried to take a bite out of Mama the Llama until I chased it away.

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The driftwood surrounding the lake was a massive accumulation of bone white tree trunks scattered on the rocky shoreline. With some difficulty, I made my way down to the water’s edge over the boneyard of driftwood and took a break with my bare feet in the glacial waters.

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With the finish line crossed I made a decision that made the rest of my day perfect. I decided to return to Dream Lake since it was my favorite of the day and eat my lunch there instead of Emerald Lake. It was the best decision of the day. So I hiked back down to Dream Lake and found a perfect hammock spot on a rocky out cropping into the lake and set myself up with my croissant from the Laughing Goat in Boulder and my book. It was marvelous.

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I sat there for several hours just basking in the sun and soaking in everything. It was truly glorious but I wound up getting pretty sunburned since I was so much closer to the sun up in the Rocky Mountains than normal.

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After I was too warm to continue resting in my hammock I packed up and descended the mountain back to the first Lake where I took the shuttle back to my car so I could continue on my journey around the park. I decided to drive the Trail Ridge Road and go up to the Alpine Visitor Center that was over two miles above sea level. I stopped a few times along the road to marvel at the Autumn colors and take views of the valleys below the towering mountains I now stood atop.

I even managed to get photobombed by a chipmunk at the Rainbow Curve.

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At the top where the Alpine Visitor Center sat I walked around the fragile Alpine Tundra environment that stretched across the ridge. I was above the tree line so there were only rocks and tiny shrubbery dotting the horizon line. The road going up there was slightly terrifying because there were no guard rails despite being precarious perched on a road with no shoulder and gigantic drops on either side. IMG_9455 IMG_9454

The air was getting a little too thin for my sea level lungs though, which became my general thought of the day, and with my head swimming and seemingly floating on my shoulders, I decided it was time to return to a somewhat bearable elevation. Dropping back down to the valley I took some time to look at the colors and was rewarded with a bonus sighting, a small elk family consisting of a Bull, a doe and an adorable little baby. IMG_5385 IMG_5414

The baby was eating while the parents were settling down to rest in the field and he was quite the photogenic little guy. IMG_5408

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I left them be and exited the park exhausted but satisfied. I wandered slowly on sore feet through Estes Park and stopped to get some Nepalese food outside in the warm autumn air next to the river. It was a pleasant way to end a long but wonderful day and my drive back to Boulder was filled with thoughts and images of everything I had seen and experienced in the park. I could have stayed forever, but there was always more to see and time would not wait for me, not today at least.

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September 24th, 2015

With the sun rising over the mountains on one side and the open horizon on the other, I drove away from Durango, my brother, and the comfort of knowability to begin my first day totally alone on the road. It is never easy saying goodbye to the ones you love, even if it is just temporary. I have loved getting to explore the city my brother now calls home with him and meet some really amazing people that he has in his life. I really feel that a part of my heart belongs to Colorado and my brother is a huge part of that feeling. So I drove away in the dark, the first light of sunrise peeking through the rugged mountain tops, knowing that I was leaving a piece of my heart behind me.

But the road is open, the way is long, and I have many miles to travel before I find more places to leave pieces of my heart in as I move forward.

The end destination for the day, Boulder, Colorado. Another Colorado city that has a lot of meaning to my family; it is where my parents met and fell in love after adventuring and working together for some time. I have visited Boulder once in the past but for a very brief time, so needless to say I am excited to get to dig deeper into what Boulder has to offer. But first, the nine hours of driving in between Durango and Boulder that I completed by myself today.

To leave Durango you have to go over Wolf Creek Pass, a mountain range that climbs steadily to heights of even thinner air than Durango (which was hard enough on my wimpy sea level conditioned lungs). The colors were spectacular and the river that followed along the road after the summit was wondrously beautiful.

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I took about a two hour detour to visit a National Park that I made the mistake of skipping once many years ago and refused to make the same mistake twice. Great Sand Dunes National Park is a natural wonderland of sand, mountains, and colorful trees. I can never pass by a national park, even if it is quite far out of my way. So Mama the Llama and I settled in for a long drive and went to check out the park that lays claim to the highest sand dunes in North America.

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Before we hit the dunes though, we went and explored a small side trail that wove uphill through colorful aspens and alongside a fast moving creek. It was quite a nice spot even though it had nothing to do with the sand dunes that give the park its name.

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I hiked out from the main parking lot across trickling remants of a river and a wide expanse of flat sand to reach the base of the dunes. I must have been quite a sight to the other people out there who were decked out with walking sticks and proper hiking gear, while I was walking bare foot and in a dress. One man asked me where my high heels were as I climbed up the side of a gigantic sand dune.

But I didn’t mind, I was out there, I was doing it, and that was all that mattered to me. Deserts have always struck me strangely since I am not a terribly big fan of the sun or anything hot in particular, yet I have always deeply enjoyed going to desert parks. Death Valley is one of my all time favorite National Parks and here again, I found myself loving the desert sands of this entirely new national park.

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I hiked to a vantage point on a ridge of one particularly long sand dune and sat down to eat my lunch. This didn’t go as perfectly as I had imagined it as I was working my way up the ridge because I was being sand blasted the entire time. I think I ate more sand than I did sandwich. But it was a magnificent view and to watch the sand shifting under the powerful winds right before my eyes was awe inspiring. The way that the sand blows in high flying eddies feels like the entire world is vibrating and moving with exuberant life. I always have to bury my feet in the sand when I watch the world move beneath my feet because when they are buried you can feel your own pulse in your feet, but it feels like the heartbeat of the Earth beating in tune with your own.

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Mama had a bit of a hard time at the park and actually took quite a tumble down a sand dune because the wind was so incredibly strong that she couldn’t stay grounded even with her feet entirely buried in the sand. IMG_9247

Covered in sand, we both returned down the dunes as the wind whirled around in pirouettes. On the way down some very nice women actually let me borrow a sled to slide down one of the sand dunes, which was wonderfully exhilarating except for the tumble I took at the end. But still, it made me laugh and it made me feel alive. I waved my goodbye to the friendly group of women and Mama, PriPri and I left the Great Sand Dunes National Park receding in the rearview mirror. IMG_9260

The rest of the drive was a confusing mixture of flat nothing and bounding mountain passes covered in colorful trees . There was such an amazing array of autumn colors that I kept stopping all the time to take pictures because I was so awe-struck after rounding every corner by the new landscape that lay before me.

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I even did some off roading down a National Forest side road that provided some amazing aspen forest views. IMG_9283

No matter where I went, it was breathtakingly beautiful. I have never in my life seen sights like these and I cannot believe I am lucky enough to be able to take my time driving through all of it so I can soak it all in on my own time and at my own pace. IMG_9288

The most beautiful array of fall colors was at an overlook by Kenosha Pass. The entire mountainside was covered in a kaleidoscope of colors, like a chameleon caught between hues, the trees were somewhere between deep orange reds and fleeting green that could be completely gone tomorrow.

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After the astonishing natural beauty of this day of driving, I also have to throw in some kitschy weird things too; namely, a weird Coney Island hot dog stand that is shaped like a giant hot dog. Yeah, there are some pretty random and strange things to see out on the open road…

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Finally I cleared all of the mountains and descended into Denver. I didn’t stop in Denver proper, but I did take a quick trip to the Red Rock Amphitheater.

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After many a stop light and countless rush hour traffic jams, I made it to my hostel in Boulder where I am currently crashing and burning because I am so exhausted. It will be interesting to meet my roommates and see what sort of people they are, but I already like the hostel complex, which comes complete with a slack line yard that I am dying to try out and a wonderful river running directly through the complex. I can’t wait to see it in day light.

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Most importantly (at least to me), I did it. I made it. I completed my first solo day with no great tragedies, no misadventures, scary happenings. I was fine. If I can do one day I can do many more. This was almost like a trail for myself, I needed to prove to myself that I could actually do this, not just talk about doing it, but actually succeed in doing it. And here I am, all in one piece, a little tired, but ready for more adventure tomorrow. I cannot wait to see what adventure the newly risen sun will bring with it tomorrow.

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September 23rd, 2015

It has been a long final day here in Durango that started out horribly and got better as it went along, which is normally the opposite of what happens. Normally as the day progresses it deteriorates into a nervous mess of unpacked bags, future travel plans, and unfinished business. However, this time the day began at 2am in the bathroom with food poisoning. After spending a few lovely hours wrapped around the toilet throwing up everything I had in me, I finally got a few precious hours of sleep (on the day I was supposed to be able to sleep in) only to wake up a short time later to try to start the day.

After recovering somewhat and rehydrating I decided that the best remedy was a calm walk along the Animas River and some fresh air.

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My dad and I meandered along the river next to the railroad tracks for quite some time savoring the thin crisp Colorado air that he would be leaving later in the day.

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Clouds hung in the distance looming with thunder held close to its chest, ready to out pour rain on the mountains of Durango. The ominous clouds began to gather and we out ran the clouds to the airport to drop my dad off at the tiny Durango airport. It was a bittersweet moment watching him walk away behind the security screen feeling so happy that he was able to accompany me on the first leg of my long journey, but also deeply saddened that he couldn’t continue with me any farther. It was a strange moment as I walked away knowing that the next part of my journey was beginning, but this part I would have to do alone.

Now the solo trip truly begins. I leave early in the morning for Boulder, CO where I will be staying for a few nights by myself to finish my adventure in Colorado, a state that I have come to love dearly. I am nervous, excited, and not sure what to expect in the days that lie ahead on the beginning of this truly solo adventure.

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September 22nd, 2015

The rain against the window pane sounds like chimes in the wind; a sound I have not heard for quite some time in California where the land is dry as old bones being bleached in the sun. Soothing and persistent the rain falls here in Durango as I sit in a coffee shop called the Steam Bean in the historic downtown of Durango. The crowd has slowly multiplied as the sidewalks become drenched in water and the awnings drip continuously. I have missed this. Rain, no matter where I am, always makes me feel instantly like I am home. Maybe it is the smell of the earth that rises when the rain falls, petrichor, that rattles around in my brain like a phone call from a friend you have talked to in ages. Maybe it is the feeling of being unabashedly alive as the cold water hits your face and stings with the freshness of new life springing from dry soil. I am not sure, I have never known why or how the rain can make any place feel like home, all I know is that it does. So I sit in this cafe full of college students studying, businessmen working, women chatting of chai lattes, a woman in black making jewelry, and a group of weary backpackers joyously reunited after a month on a backcountry trail and feel like I have always been here.

Before the rain there was a cloudy morning out on the trail. We began our day, after Gabe finished class, with a hike up Animas City Mountain. We climbed up the switchbacks in a very different sort of setting than the previous hikes that were enveloped in the branching arms of colorful aspens. This trail was more arid with cacti, bare twisting trees growing out of boulders, and small but colorful wildflowers.

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Amongst the scenery we found a hidden gem that we almost passed by: a face in the low lying forest skillfully carved into a tree stump.

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We then continued on along the trail and made it to the viewpoint that overlooked the entire city of Durango and the Animas River snaking out of town towards the surrounding mountains.

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We sat on the edge of the mountain enjoying the view and reveling in the beauty that this amazing town has to afford.

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This is my brother’s city, his home and I am so grateful that I have been able to see it through his eyes and experience the things he has grown to love about his new home. It has been almost a week since I left California and soon I will be moving on from Durango to continue on my way. I have only been here a short while and I wish it didn’t have to end, but there is still so much to see and do.

But for now, I am here, right here with the rain on the window even though my mind is already a thousand miles away. Being present is something I have always struggled with and now is when it means the most to be in the moment and I won’t let this experience pass me by. Here I am, I am Here.

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September 21st, 2015

Today was a slow day of learning how to live life like a local rather than a tourist. One of the few luxuries of a road trip is taking as much time as you want to explore the places you learn to love. Durango is such a surprising town that really impressed and captivated me. Since my little brother had class today at Fort Lewis College my dad and I decided to explore the cafes in town. We worked for several hours at The Steaming Bean, an adorable cafe full of hip young 20 somethings and brick walls covered in vibrant art. I spent the time writing in my journal and on some postcards I had gathered on the way over to Colorado. It was a great chance to relax and do something normal in a new place.

We also wandered around the residential streets in town and found blocks lined with trees with little gnome homes built at their bases. It was charming and one of many little things that consistently surprises me about Durango.

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Today was the first time I was able to get some alone time and I took advantage of my solo time to go on a hike while my brother and dad took a bike ride together. Hiking is one of the fastest ways to the true heart of a place, especially in places like Colorado where adventure and the outdoors are the life blood of the state.

I drove outside of Durango to the San Juan National Forest and picked up the Colorado Trail at Junction Creek. It felt great to put on my hiking boots and head out alone into the woods not knowing what I would find. The trail was framed by autumn colors and wove through a canyon next to a crystal clear river.

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I hiked to where two rivers met and found autumn at the crossroad waiting for me.

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After hiking for some time I made camp and sat on the river’s edge and read my book. Listening to the river running by as it cascaded over a series of small waterfalls I sat with my feet dangling over the water as rainbow trout swam underneath me.

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Sitting in silence out in the woods is one of the most peaceful experiences and I treasure that time dearly. Hiking in Colorado is such a lovely (and surprisingly different) experience than hiking in California. The people in the woods are so incredibly friendly, everyone says hello and always are happy to help out with spotting cool things or sharing wise advice on the trails. The silence out in the woods or out on any trail is so much more complete than anywhere else I have ever visited except Yellowstone in the winter. Even the back country trails in California are filled with noises and people who refuse to acknowledge your existence. It is so different here and amiable, it feels like we are an unspoken community rather than individuals inhabiting the same space. It is hard not to love every second of being out on the trails in Colorado, it makes me never want to leave.

The only time my peace was (happily) intruded upon was when my brother and dad rolled down the same trail I was on and stopped to say hello and check out the fish swimming in the river below us.

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It was a peaceful day and a much needed one at that to recenter everything that is important to me. When so much is in flux and changing around you it is easy to get caught in the riptide of life, and a good hike out in the forest along a river is the best remedy for reorienting yourself against the pull of the strong currents of the world.

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September 20th, 2015

Five days after being on the road we finally decided to get away and get off the main road for some back country driving. Gabe took us out to a place called Spud Lake in the mountains behind Durango.

Trusting that our Subaru would get us through, we took to the unpaved rocky mountain road (pun somewhat intended). We drove slowly through extremely rocky terrain spotted with pot holes on a path lined with aspens. Yellow leaves falling from the tall white trees fluttered down from above like butterflies dancing in the wind, littering the roadway with the colors of autumn.

After an arduous journey up this winding back country road we found a lily pad filled lake where we picked up a hiking path that led up to the mountainous lake.

Hiking through the aspen forests we found hidden messages and little surprises everywhere. My favorites were a smiley face tree and a lovely little reminder to Live, Laugh, and Love no matter where you find yourself.

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After hiking for about a mile we came upon the lake that filled a small basin between the surrounding mountains. The water was still, the trees changing color, and small fish biting at the surface of the lake.

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After going non-stop for almost a week it was about time to slow down and take a break. So I found a spot, set up the hammock, and started a new book. But I let Mama the Llama try out the view first.

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Reading Kerouac’s On the Road at this point in my life is beyond applicable and I don’t think I could have found a better spot to sit back, relax, and read.

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We stayed in this pristine spot for a couple of hours of hammocking, book reading, hiking along the lake shore, and unsuccessful fly fishing.

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Begrudgingly we left Spud Lake to return to Durango, but the best part of it all was that in either location everything was equally wonderful, albeit beautiful in different ways. Even on the short drive back we found a weird natural geyser just on the side of the highway. Yes, that is its natural, unenhanced color. It was a truly bizarre little roadside attraction and is a great example of how incredible the scenery is in Colorado.

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I have been loving Colorado and cannot believe the natural wonders that are hiding down empty dirt roads and behind curtains of aspens. There is something about seeing every car splashed with mud or covered in the red dust of off-road driving and the people here who are so friendly and welcoming. The air is full of adventure and some new exploration awaits around every bend or switchback in the road. I am just happy to get to take part in the culture of exploration and adventure that thrives in this Colorado community.

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September 19th, 2015

This is my Californian confession: I have never experienced a true fall. I have never had the pleasure of being in a location that truly changes with the seasons. This is both a blessing and a curse; I have been lucky enough to live in a moderate, sunny climate for my entire life, but that also means I have never seen the trees transform into pillars of fleeting color.

I will admit, one of the many reasons that I decided to take this trip was to travel in the fall and see the fall leaves change as I moved across the country one state at a time. Colorado is the first (hopefully of many) states to come where the once green rolling hills become a sea of vibrant yellows and oranges.

My desperate pursuit of fall leaves has now begun and the first thing on my mind (and my to do list) in Colorado is to hunt down some gorgeous color anywhere I can find it. I am not going to lie, I was a little disappointed that Durango itself doesn’t have much color yet so we decided to take a little tour of the mountains surrounding Durango.

We gave little PriPri a break from driving and jumped into my brother’s Subaru in search of fall leaves and mountain towns tucked away between towering peaks.

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And of course Mama the Llama came along to keep a sharp eye out for great fall colors.

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Our little mountain drive first took us to Telluride; a small but charmingly upscale ski resort town nestled in a basin amongst walls of jutting mountains.

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We wandered around the quaint little streets that fell somewhere between an Old Western town and an affluent playground for nature lovers. Wandering around the streets and between adorable (and extremely expensive) little homes we decided a new vantage point was necessary to take in the view of fall colors that I so desperately wanted to see.

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Luckily Telluride is a ski resort with numerous ski lifts to the top of the mountains that loom over the town. We took a gondola all the way up (with me sitting wide eyed, slightly terrified, and astounded by the speed of the lift as well as the surrounding beauty) and saw a truly breathtaking view.

Breathtaking not only because of its astonishing beauty, but also the dramatic 2,000ft elevation climb we made to get to the top.

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Mama also liked the view.

Returning down the gondola (now squished between a man who refused to take part in the experience and a burly firefighter who stepped on my toes and wedged me uncomfortably between him and the taciturn stranger) we had our last few jaunts of exploration in Telluride before continuing onward through the mountains.

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Circumventing the tremendous mountains, we arrived at our next little mountain town, Ouray.

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Ouray is a mining town that has more of an old world charm than Telluride but lacks a lot of the sophistication that the previous city had. Honestly, I prefer the unpretentiousness of Ouray even though Telluride is astoundingly beautiful. Similarly nestled between peaks, Ouray actually had the most amazing fall colors surrounding it once we left the city on the extremely narrow and winding road that leads to Silverton from Ouray. While terrifying, this road held all of the beauty that my California mind had built up real fall color to be.

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I had known going into this road trip that I was probably romanticizing a little bit too much about how incredible and beautiful a real fall season would be, but today demonstrated that all my dreams were true.

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You may be asking yourself as you look at the last photo, is that river gold? and the answer is YES. The river near Ouray is indeed that rich of a gold color because of the contaminants in the water left over from the mining down in the nearby hills. Not good for life but great for photos. Sorry mother nature, I actually benefitted from your loss in this instance, thanks for taking one for the team.

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We got to explore some beautiful aspen groves as well. Aspens are one of my favorite types of trees so this truly was a treat for me!

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My pictures cannot do anywhere near justice to the amazing and varied colors of the mountainsides we drove along.

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All in all, I would declare today a successful mission. Three major scenic mountain towns knocked off the list and an incredible display of fall colors witnessed. The fall is just beginning and I cannot wait to see the transformation continue. As always, the mountains are calling and I must go, see you all tomorrow.

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September 18th, 2015

I have officially become that weird person wandering around with a little llama fluff ball sticking out of my purse. I have already had numerous conversations with strangers about it; it is a great conversation starter. The first conversation I had was with some very nice janitorial staff at a rest stop who were entirely baffled by Mama the Llama. They hesitantly followed me around the rest stop as I took pictures and finally came up and asked me what in the world it was that I was holding. I told him it was a llama, which then sparked a somewhat circular conversation in which he insistently question me about whether it was a real llama or not no matter how many times I told him no, it was most definitely not a real llama. Aside from the giggles and pointing whenever I am out and about taking pictures with my lovely sidekick it has been quite a lot of fun even if it is hard to remember to always take her with me places.

Today we left Page for Durango where I will be staying for almost a week with my little brother. I am happy to say that we made it safe and sound with little incident.

After a slow morning where our tour plans for Antelope Canyon fell through and a meandering look at the ever faithful Horseshoe Bend we headed out to Monument Valley.

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We took off from the straightforward route and fit in some adventuring time to visit this tribal park. Sitting right on the border between Utah and Arizona, this collection of monolithic rock formations of fiery red stone and sunset oranges always is a treat to stop for on a road trip.

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At Monument Valley we took a picnic break and then I made an ill-informed decision to try to drive just a short bit of the dirt road loop around the monuments. I learned today that PriPri is in no way, large or small, an off-roading vehicle. There were a few moments on that road (which I was doing by myself since my dad had the foresight to decide not to come with me) in which I really thought my car wasn’t going to make it. I survived and so did PriPri, although the car was definitely covered in red dust for quite some time afterwards.

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From Monument Valley we continued on a smaller road to cut over to Colorado above four corners where we encountered some really beautiful rock bluffs that towered over the road. Driving in the shadow of these red mountains is truly a humbling experience. It makes you wonder at the thunderous sound it would make to hear the mountains crumble and it is impossible not to feel small when underneath them.

There is an extreme beauty in this country that constantly confounds me. The fact that I can drive on these bumpy chewed up roads across this vast nation and be so close to so many incredible natural formations and feel as if it is perfectly normal for them to be there next to me is astounding. I never feel more humbled than on a road trip, especially when I go through the Utah, Arizona, and Colorado. I cannot put into words the incredible beauty that this country has to offer and my photos cannot do it justice either.

Now I am in Colorado, nestled between mountains in the little lively town of Durango. I will be adventuring, relaxing, and spending time with my brother here before I head out on the second part of my journey across the states that will take me to my next big stop in Northern Michigan.

I cannot wait to see what Colorado has in store for me.

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