New Poem: “American Bison”

Bison rut, Lamar Valley

Photo by Yellowstone National Park

Hello, everyone! Long time no see. It’s been a little crazy here starting a new semester and a new job, but I promise I’ve been up to things. The lovely online poetry mag Muse /A Journal just came out with their gorgeous fifth issue, and my poem “American Bison” (hmmm, wonder what it could be about?) is up alongside some other stunning work.

Check out my new poem here!

Love to all.

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So You’re Planning a Roadtrip

Though it’s easy to make traveling purely about the destination (because we get excited about new places!), if you have the time to commit to a roadtrip, it’s an ideal way to refocus your travel around the act of traveling itself- that is, the journey. The way roads wind through landscapes, the roadside vegetation, the climate, the people-watching- these are all things I love about roadtripping. And as someone who’s made their way across the country via automobile a few times, I like to think I know what I’m talking about.

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Driving through Banff National Park in Canada

I’m planning a few roadtrips for this summer too- one from Wyoming to New Mexico, another from New Mexico to North Carolina, and then one from North Carolina back to Wyoming. Mapping out potential routes is almost more fun for me than the actual trip itself, but looking at Google Maps got me thinking: what advice do I have to aspiring roadtrippers? (I know you’re out there!) So below I have some advice organized by stages of the planning process, and then at the end I’ve included my abridged packing list to spark some wanderlust-y ideas for you!

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Southern Wyoming sagebrush prairie

Planning a Roadtrip:

  • Map out your route, starting with the quickest way between your start and end points. Are there nearby cities, national parks, historical sites, or other places you may want to stop that aren’t on this most direct route? If you’re planning on making your way quickly, try not to plan a day of driving longer than 8 hours. Though that doesn’t sound like a lot, when you throw in eating and bathroom breaks (and sightseeing!), that’s absolutely a full day. If you’ll be trading shifts behind the wheel with a partner or friend, you can of course do longer days, but even then be mindful of how cranky several full days of sitting can make your body feel. Also try to avoid large cities around rush hour– that is, unless you love traffic.
  • Get AAA! Or figure out if your car insurance company or car manufacturer offers roadside assistance. These programs are lifesavers should your car break down. In addition, AAA members get discounts at campgrounds and hotels all over the country. To note, if you’re roadtripping with a friend, only one of you needs to have AAA because they’ll provide roadside assistance to their members even if that member is a passenger in someone else’s car- of course speaking from personal experience.
  • Try to make reservations ahead of time, if possible. During the summer especially many campgrounds (both private and public) book up months in advance! Websites like reserveamerica.com allow you to search for campgrounds and pay online. If you’re considering a private campground, check for reviews on websites like yelp first to ensure the amenities you want are available, like potable water, toilets, or showers. KOA campgrounds aren’t the most scenic, but they often have laundry facilities and other conveniences available. For any campground, try to arrive before nightfall since it can be practically impossible to find your campsite in the dark. If you lean more toward hotels, consider setting up an account with a website like hotels.com, which gives you 1 free night at member hotels for every 9 nights you book through them. If you don’t want to shell out for hotels but still aren’t psyched on camping, check out websites like airbnb and couchsurfing, which allow you to stay with locals and within the bounds of your budget. If you’re bringing along a furry friend, you’ll need to check whether all the places you plan to stay are pet-friendly. Certain hotel chains are pet-friendly, but typically charge extra fees for the service.
  • If you’ll be traveling through or spending time in wilderness areas where predators like bears or mountain lions live, educate yourself about how to behave in these animals’ territories and what to do should you encounter a bear or mountain lion. For example, if you’ll be backpacking through grizzly bear country, buy some bear spray and learn how to use it. Being in bear country also affects the way you store any scented goods like food or lotions- here is a good list of tips for traveling in grizzly bear country.
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Driving through Big Sur on the California coast

Right Before You Leave:

  • Call your credit card company/ies to let them know when and where you’ll be traveling. I forgot to do this once, and when I tried to buy breakfast at a cafe in San Francisco the first morning I was there, my card kept getting declined. After a brief call to my credit card company I was able to use my card again, but only after I was a little annoyed and thoroughly embarrassed. Communicating your plans ahead of time will ensure your card works throughout your trip.
  • Get a phone charger for your car so you aren’t reliant on electricity, which is great if you’re planning on camping. This way your phone can charge while you drive!
  • Bring physical maps with you, whether you buy a road atlas or just print out copies of your directions from Google Maps. There will likely be many instances in which you won’t have cell phone service or LTE/4G to help you navigate.
  • Get a simple first aid kit outfitted with things like bandages, antibiotic ointment, alcohol swabs, tweezers, gauze, medical tape, and painkillers. You can find a complete kit like this at a drugstore or a store like Target or Walmart. You might also consider adding small packets of antihistamine medication (in case you struggle with allergies on your trip) or caffeine pills (if you get tired behind the wheel)- you can get these smaller packets at most gas stations. Obviously stock up on any medication you use regularly and bring that along, too.
  • Consider buying or borrowing jumper cables, a small jack, a spare tire, and a headlamp or flashlight. These items will seriously help you out should you encounter any car trouble.
  • While we’re on the subject of your car, schedule an oil change and get any timely maintenance your car may need BEFORE you leave, such as tire rotations/new tires, new belts, new brake pads, fluid flushes, etc. Your car can’t take care of you if you’re not taking care of it!
  • Make a fun playlist! Not only does this keep you excited about your trip, it will also prevent you from messing with your phone or iPod while you drive. Bonus: if you select songs to which you can sing along, this will keep you from getting sleepy behind the wheel (speaking from personal experience here, obviously). You can also utilize driving time to catch up on great podcasts or audiobooks.
  • Stock up on yummy snacks that won’t require refrigeration and won’t melt in the backseat like nuts, dried fruit, M&Ms, pretzels, veggie chips, granola, protein bars, jerky, little cups of fruit or applesauce, etc.
  • Tell someone you trust your entire itinerary in as much detail as you can provide including where you’ll be when, the route you’re taking, how to contact you, and where you’re planning to spend each night. Provide them with your car’s make and model in addition to your license plate information if they don’t already have it. If something happens and you aren’t where you planned on being, this person will not only know, but will be able to provide authorities with crucial information about your plans. Also tell this person where/when you anticipate not having cell phone coverage, if applicable.
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Bears Ears National Monument in Utah

On the Trip:

  • OMG you’re doing it! Take all the photos! Fill up your journal with tales of your adventure! Eat all the food! Stop at all the cool, weird, beautiful places!
  • Be mindful of possible delays on your trip like road construction, traffic, weather, and accidents. Many roads in more mountainous or remote areas close seasonally, so check the Department of Transportation’s websites for each state you’ll be traveling through for relevant information, especially if you’re traveling in the winter or spring. Additionally, if you’ll be driving anywhere at 5,000 feet above sea level or higher, no matter the time of year, bring a big coat and a warm hat. High deserts, prairies, and alpine areas and campgrounds can get below freezing temperatures even in the summer.
  • Some basic ground rules: don’t text and drive– use a friend, voice recognition software, or just pull over if you need to. In this vein, please don’t drink and drive either. Consider only drinking when you’re set up for the evening, or when you’ve arranged alternate transportation (e.g. walking, public transit, taxi, or designated driver).
  • Give yourself time to eat and move. Though it can be tempting to drive all day and eat fast food in the car, try to take a break for lunch, maybe eating at a non-chain restaurant. Websites like yelp and tripadvisor can guide you toward unique eateries. Take regular breaks not just to use the bathroom, but to walk and stretch. Our necks and shoulders can get particularly tight in the car- here are some useful stretches you can practice on your trip.
  • Only access sensitive information on secure WiFi. In other words, avoid checking your bank account balance or your email on public, non-password protected WiFi networks, like those at restaurants.
  • Trust your gut. If something seems off, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to pack up and leave because the guy in the next campsite is acting creepy, or to change your plans entirely when the motel or diner feels off. You’re not obligated to chat with or help someone if you feel unsafe or if you don’t have the time. This is your trip! You don’t owe anyone anything except to keep yourself safe.
  • Keep in touch with your trusted person! Tell them at regular intervals where you are and how you’re doing. Use a payphone or a landline if necessary. Send them amazing photos and make them jealous!
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Salt Lake City, Utah

Finally, here’s my abridged roadtrip packing list for this summer:

  • Journal + pens
  • Approximately 50 books
  • Cell phone equipped with some audiobooks + earbuds
  • Laptop + charger
  • Wallet
  • Sunglasses (maybe 2 pairs since I seem to always lose 1 on every trip)
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Deodorant
  • Face/body wipes (I like Burt’s Bees and these Yuni shower sheets)
  • Scentless lotion
  • Dry shampoo (these two are my favorites)
  • Hairbrush/comb
  • Extra ponytail holders
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toothpaste & toothbrush
  • Travel towel (like this one)
  • Toilet paper
  • Sandals for driving (wearing close-toed shoes in the car? ugh!)
  • Hiking boots + wool socks
  • Rain jacket
  • Warm jacket
  • Swimsuit
  • Comfy driving clothes (aka NOT JEANS)
  • Travel yoga mat (I have this Manduka one that folds up into a little square)
  • Camera + battery charger
  • Headlamp + extra battery
  • Sleeping bag + sleeping pad
  • Pillow
  • Swiss army knife or multi-tool
  • Camp kitchen like this one (including stove, gas canister, eating utensils, etc.)
  • Sponge + biodegradable soap
  • Paper towels
  • A few plastic shopping bags to serve as trash bags
  • Water bottles + Camelbak bladder
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Wide open roads in Wyoming

What does your ideal roadtrip look like? And what would you add to my tips or packing list? Let me know! Happy travels.

Love to all.

Ode to Snow

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Brighton Ski Resort, Utah

Winter is a time for contemplation. Everything takes a little longer to do. Food must be warmed, layers must be compiled and worn, windshields and sidewalks must be scraped and shoveled of ice and snow.

Whether you are in the midst of knee-deep snow yourself or whether you only dream of it, I invite you to listen to my new snowy playlist on Spotify while indulging in some wintry reading (sources cited) and photography (all by me) below. Enjoy.

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Laramie, Wyoming

“Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.” -From Mark Strand’s “Lines for Winter”

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Southern Wyoming

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.'” -Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

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American Fork, Utah

“Everything is flowing — going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches… While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood… in Nature’s warm heart.” -John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra 

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Steamboat Springs, Colorado

“One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land…” -From Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man”

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Centennial, Wyoming

“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city.” -Truman Capote
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Steamboat Ski Resort, Colorado

“A few feathery flakes are scattered widely through the air, and hover downward with uncertain flight, now almost alighting on the earth, now whirled again aloft into remote regions of the atmosphere.” -Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

Love and warm wishes to all from the wintry American West.

Rest & Relaxation + Nature

I love it when people visit us in Laramie, Wyoming. I love to show them our little house (on the prairie? almost), our fun frontier town, the mountains that surround us, the stark and undeniable beauty of the West.

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My parents waving from the pedestrian bridge to the oncoming trains that run right by downtown Laramie, just in the distance

Most of my family came to visit me this summer after a long roadtrip or flight/s. We explored Laramie as well as Fort Collins, Colorado (since that’s where I’ll spend much time next year). Thankfully the weather stayed sunny and warm for most of their visit, unlike the last time.

We went back to Vedauwoo (pronounced VEE-dah-VOO) for a little hike on the Turtle Rock Trail. My mom was impressed by how lush everything was. Most of Wyoming in the summer is like dried herbs on a cracker crisp- sagebrush, dust, sun, wind. But because the granite in Vedauwoo leads the rainfall into certain pooled areas, through June and July many wildflowers bloom in the shade of lovely aspen groves.

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Libby took this photo of my dad on the Turtle Rock Trail through quivering aspen leaves

The granite at Vedauwoo is unique for its roughness (local climbers don’t call it “Bleed-auwoo” for nothing) in addition to its unusual shapes. The Sherman Granite is thought to be 1.4 billion years old.

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Sam and Boone enjoying the hike through sagebrush and wildflowers

I kindly allowed Sam to struggle with walk Boone the whole hike. They both seemed to enjoy it.

Matt and I also took everyone on a more intense trail in Medicine Bow National Forest which we’ve dubbed “the ridge hike.” We originally scouted out the trailhead via online maps of the area, but it was very difficult to spot from the dirt road you take to get there. The trail eventually emerges the further you walk up the very steep hill and into the woods, and is occasionally marked by helpful cairns.

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Parents enjoying a break from hiking while the kids take selfies and contemplate life

We refer to this trail as a ridge hike because, at several points, you get an almost 360º view- from the Rockies down in Colorado to the Snowy Range west of Laramie, and out toward Nebraska to the east.

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In the distance, Sam, Libby, and Boone enjoy the eastern view

It’s also a fairly exposed hike, with few trees to cover you, despite being in a national forest. You wouldn’t want to be up there if a storm rolled in.

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Introspective Ben on the right

After living in Wyoming for 3 years, I still can’t get enough of its beauty. I am continually surprised by the openness, the almost silence, the skies, and- let’s be honest- the wind. I am afraid I’m now used to the practically empty trails (I’m told this is not the case in Colorado). I believe we saw one other person the entire couple hours we were hiking.

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Even Boone, a Kansas native, prefers Wyoming hikes

Each year Laramie celebrates Wyoming’s anniversary of statehood, July 10th, 1890, with a week-long series of events it calls “Jubilee Days.” There are concerts, a parade, a carnival, a local beer festival, and- you guessed it- multiple rodeos.

I hadn’t been to a rodeo since I moved here but, what with everyone visiting, it seemed like as good a time as any to experience the cowboy side of this state. I took my folks to the ranch rodeo which, unlike your typical rodeo, isn’t full of professional bull riders and events like barrel racing, but is instead made up of local ranch cowhands (both men and women).

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Almost got ’em!

They were all trying to do the same thing within a six-minute period: rope steers, get one into a fenced-in pen, and another into a trailer behind a shiny new truck which was provided somewhat riskily by a local car dealership. The announcer jokingly asked if there was anybody left in the town of Walden- a small ranching town in nearby northern Colorado- that day, and dozens of people in the audience whooped and cheered.

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Got ’em this time

At the beginning of each round, one participant had to stand without her or his horse on the side of the ring opposite the rest of their teammates and horses. When the timer began, another teammate on their horse had to gallop across the ring, pick up the horse-less cowhand, and they both had to ride back across the ring so the first person could get their horse. Most of the horses were okay with having two adults on their backs for that short of a period of time, but one horse wasn’t so sure. The audience began to giggle as the horse refused to go forward. Then, very slowly, the horse stepped forward in lurches, eventually bucking its way across the ring, making for a very bumpy ride for the cowboy sitting on his haunches, and uproarious laughter from the crowd.

Though the roping was of course entertaining and impressive to watch, my family was slightly traumatized by the treatment of the cattle. Sometimes the poor animals ran face-first into the metal fencing at high speeds, which resulted in nosebleeds. Despite their black fur, you could still easily see the red blood dripping from their nostrils as they fled from the horses.

After Margaret, my older sister, flew up to join us, we drove down to Fort Collins for the fourth of July.

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Old Town of Fort Collins on the 4th of July. Photo by Libby.

We walked around downtown and Colorado State’s campus, ate burgers and sandwiches at Choice City Butcher & Deli, and tried local beers at Funkwerks Brewery, which specializes in refreshing sours, saisons, and Belgian ales.

The next day everyone but Margaret departed, so we began packing the car for a trip to Ten Sleep Canyon, a rock climbing destination in the western part of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. It’s about a 5.5-hour drive, though a pleasant one, from Laramie. We were able to reserve a nice campsite (nice meaning with a picnic table and near a well-maintained pit toilet) at Leigh Creek Campground, which is at the bottom of the canyon on the banks of Tensleep Creek, for the first two nights of our trip. Though we’d never seen any poison ivy in the canyon before, the plants seemed to really enjoy living right by the creek. I’m actually surprised none of us ended up with any rashes. Anyway, after setting up camp, we went CLIMBING!

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Margaret on her FIRST EVER outdoor top-rope rock climb!

Ten Sleep is known for long, sustained, and really fun limestone sport climbing routes. This is kind of the opposite of what Margaret was used to climbing- short, powerful boulder problems. At first it was hard for her to get to the top of several climbs, even though she was strong enough to do every move of the route separately, but by the end of the trip she easily got to the top of a 100-foot climb. I hope we successfully convinced her that roped climbing is SO FUN!

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Me belaying Matt in the Lake Point area of Ten Sleep Canyon, WY. Photo by Margaret.

The approach trail to the Lake Point area, which crossed over a small CCC-built dam above Meadowlark Lake, was stunning.

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Boone on the trail toward Meadowlark Lake, through sagebrush and wildflowers, with the Big Horn Mountains in the distance

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Matt and Boone at Meadowlark Lake in the Bighorn National Forest

On our second full day in the Big Horns (our third day climbing), we decided to take a break and go for a hike instead. I’d only ever been climbing in this part of Wyoming, so I was excited to see more of the area.

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Margaret in front of a small waterfall just off the Lost Twin Lakes Trail

Matt decided on the Lost Twin Lakes Trail, just the portion that would take us to Mirror Lake, which was about 7 miles round-trip. We started at the West Tensleep trailhead, which is adjacent to a campground and picnic area at West Ten Sleep Lake.

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At two points, the trail crosses creeks in lush meadows surrounded by lodgepole pine

We didn’t start hiking until midday because we had to change our campsite to an area higher in the canyon that didn’t require reservations, but the skies were clear and the trail was practically empty. We passed a few people in the first mile, and then ran into two more on our way back, but that was it.

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Margaret and Matt on the Lost Twin Lakes Trail

Our hike was very quiet and peaceful, except for our run-in with a marmot. He stood on his hind legs atop a rock pile and chirped loudly to alert his fellow critters that we were entering their territory.

It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to spot Mirror Lake from the trail; it was somewhat hidden behind a low-lying area of pine trees. At first we weren’t sure that was the right way since there wasn’t a distinct trail down to the shore, so we kept walking for another half mile or so. We never once saw the lake again, so we turned around and walked toward the lake through the trees, away from the trail.

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Margaret at Mirror Lake

Here we drank water, ate a few Clif bars, swatted away a few mosquitoes, and basked in the cool air coming off the lake’s surface. Then we headed back for the car and to our new campsite for dinner.

There was another day of climbing and camping, and an evening of visiting the town of Ten Sleep as well as the Ten Sleep Brewing Company to escape a brief thunderstorm in the canyon. This microbrewery opened almost three years ago, and their beer is really terrific. In the summer, dirtbag climbers drive up in their dusty rigs to pay for a shower and a beer, which they drink under strings of lights and stars at outdoor picnic tables. I honestly cannot recommend this place enough. Should you find yourself in this part of western heaven, get thee to the brewery.

After driving back to Laramie, Margaret and I showered and went out for dinner in downtown Laramie during the height of the Jubilee Days festivities. Streets were blocked off for live music, dancing, drinking, and the carnival. We walked around for people-watching purposes, but were too tired to join in.

The next morning we met up with several friends to show Margaret the bouldering in Vedauwoo. Before this, she’d asked us why we don’t just go to Vedauwoo every day to climb, why we bother driving to places like Ten Sleep. After trying it herself, I think she understood why.

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Our friend Bart Cubrich on “Bombay Hooker,” a crazy-looking and very hard V6 boulder problem in Vedauwoo

Not to say that Vedauwoo’s climbing and bouldering are bad- they certainly aren’t. They’re just- well, different. They take some getting used to, both mentally and physically. Callouses help. Physical callouses. Although if you’ve built up some mental callouses, those could quite possibly help here too.

We especially enjoyed the start to “The Hatchet,” another V6, which was seemingly made for campusing, meaning only your hands are on the rock while your feet dangle beneath you. Yes, we do these things for fun.

After a quick shopping experience in downtown Laramie, I took Margaret to the Denver airport for her flight back to North Carolina. This past week has mostly consisted of me sitting inside at work and putting off cleaning and organizing our kitchen. It’s hard to be productive inside when the weather where you live is only this good for four months a year. Live on, Wyoming summer! Live on!

Love to all.

Horsepersonship

Matt and I recently completed a Horsemanship Level 1 course through the University of Wyoming’s Outdoor Program. When I first suggested signing up back in January, Matt replied that the correct, gender-neutral terminology for the course title really should be “horse-person-ship,” which I do not dispute. The course included six Sunday afternoons, March-May, for three hours each session at the local Sodergreen Ranch, which is about a 35-minute drive from Laramie, toward Cheyenne (east-bound, for you non-Wyomingites).

I am lucky in that, before taking this course, I already had a few experiences riding horses, but I didn’t know anything about how to catch, bridle, saddle, or groom one. Armed with curiosity and my grandfather’s cowboy boots, which seemed too nice to muddy up (but oh well), I drove up the dirt road driveway of Sodergreen Ranch with Matt in the passenger seat. There were about 20 students in our class, all college-aged, and some international students too.

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Matt opening the gate at snowy Sodergreen Ranch, and the horses in the distance

For the first two class meetings we only rode the horses bareback, without any saddle. I think this was supposed to get us used to the movement of the horse and to strengthen our legs, but Matt and I later realized it had primarily resulted in some uncomfortable sores on our behinds. Obviously we were excited to graduate to the saddle.

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Riding bareback in the outdoor ring

We both chose to learn on an English saddle over the Western one. The English saddle is pretty bare-bones, consisting of a blanket, a little flap of felt and leather which forms the saddle itself, and the stirrups for your feet. A Western saddle is designed for long treks and work like roping cattle, so it’s made almost entirely of leather and is formed to be more comfortable for the rider. It also has a horn in front of the rider for hanging equipment like ropes and bags, and for holding onto when your horse bucks (just kidding, Mom!). The stirrups on a Western saddle are bigger and include more leather, which lines the body of the horse and protects it and the rider from thorns and cacti and such. The reins are also different; for Western, the reins are held with one hand (traditionally so the other hand could be free to do things like rope cattle), but in the English style, each side of the reins is held with the corresponding hand. You’ll encounter Western saddles at rodeos, on ranches, in Clint Eastwood movies, and on horseback trail rides since they are easy and comfortable for the rider. You’ll see English saddles in Europe, obviously, and at certain competitive horse shows and events like dressage.

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Matt riding English saddle in the indoor arena

Each class began with discussion and sometimes demonstration in the indoor arena. Thank goodness for that shelter- we often heard wind and snow pelting against the sides of the building. We were then paired up and assigned a horse, whom we had to fetch from a nearby fenced-in field where they (and the occasional donkey or mule) were snacking on hay. To get a halter on a naked horse, which is necessary in order to walk the horse back to where you can put on their saddle, you approach from the horse’s left side and hug their neck with the unbuckled halter in your hand. From there you can slip the halter around the horse’s neck and over their nose. Attached to the halter is a short rope, which we used to walk the horse back to the indoor arena.

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This is Hal being haltered by my partner

Once there, we tied the ropes using a quick-release knot through metal rings which were mounted on the arena walls. We then brushed the horses and cleaned any mud and rocks out from their hooves. Believe me- picking up an uncooperative horse’s dinner plate-sized hoof can be challenging. After grooming, we put on the horse’s bridle, which is like the halter but made of leather and has reins attached. We then slid on the saddle blanket, the saddle, and stirrups, walked the horse around a little, and then tightened the cinch on the saddle (basically the belt that runs underneath the horse which keeps the saddle attached).

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Tiffany was not pleased with my cleaning her hooves. She was ready to roll.

If I remember correctly, there was only one Sunday with nice enough weather that we got to ride in the outdoor ring; every other time we rode around the indoor arena in a big circle, one after another, trying not to cut corners.

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This is representative of the weather at the ranch most of the time

Each horse was distinctive in both appearance and personality. There was Janey, a chestnut, who was known to kick at anything within three feet of her backside. And Alder, whose coat was silvery, was half draft horse (think of the Clydesdales in the Budweiser commercials), so he was a head taller than all the other horses, at least. Fred was an old show horse whose bridle sparkled from rhinestones and had one blue eye encircled by white hair and one brown eye encircled by brown hair. Tiffany, the horse I rode on the last day of class, was eager to go at every portion of the class. When we practiced trotting, she got so excited watching the horses in front of her trot that, before it was our turn, I had to walk her around in little circles so she didn’t run into the horse in front of me (especially if that horse happened to be Janey).

Matt and I are planning on signing up for a Level 2 class for the summer- maybe we’ll learn to gallop! In the meantime I am working on mentally preparing Matt for buying me a horse in the future. Until then I’ll just have to keep riding other people’s horses.

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My friend Makaiya took this photo during our trail ride in Estes Park, Colorado, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park

Keep adventuring and trying new things! Love to all.

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The end.

Valentine’s Day Excursion

On some winter days in Laramie, you just feel like this:

Abe, longing for summer

Abe, longing for summer

So that’s why I take advantage of the warmer winter days we are given. On Valentine’s Day this year, Matt had to be in Colorado for a portion of the avalanche safety course he was taking through the University of Wyoming, so I defiantly set off with (aka was kindly invited by) climbers and UWyo students Andrew and Phil to climb at Guernsey State Park. Normally climbing in February at Guernsey wouldn’t be an option, but due to the relatively warm weather we’ve had as of late, the drive was snow-free and being outside, so long as it was in the sun, was comfortable. Phil wrote about this trip among other excursions on his climbing blog, which you can read here.

The view of Guernsey Reservoir from our climbing spot

The view of Guernsey Reservoir from our climbing spot

Guernsey State Park features Guernsey Reservoir, and attracts many boaters, fishers, swimmers, campers, and picnickers during the summer months. Matt and I actually drove through the park on our move out to Laramie from North Carolina, as it lies just west of Nebraska and north of Cheyenne, though still in southeastern Wyoming. As I recall, we simply stretched our legs, found some bolts in a sandstone cliff (indicators of the existence of sport climbing routes), avoided cacti and rattlesnakes, remarked on how it was a little hot, and got going again.

The relatively short cliffs at Guernsey can be both sandstone and limestone, depending on where you are in the park. The area in which we climbed, which I believe is officially named the Red Clove Wall, was mostly sandstone with a little band of limestone at the top of some of the climbing routes. Cliff swallows have built their nests along the less climbed areas of the rock walls. These bird nests resemble giant wasps’ nests, assembled with mud in a corner of a cliff face with a sizable hole for entry and exit – you can see pictures of their nests in Yellowstone National Park here.

The approach, with Guernsey Reservoir in the distance

The approach, with Guernsey Reservoir in the distance

We seemed to be the only people enjoying the park on Valentine’s Day, so the climbing area was nice and quiet, and we had our pick of routes. There isn’t a guidebook for the area; a guidebook is a book containing helpful and essential information on climbing areas such as any rules that may exist (for example, Rocky Mountain National Park doesn’t allow dogs), how to get there (driving and hiking), where to park, how difficult certain routes are, their location, how much sun they get and what time of year or day is optimal for climbing them, what gear certain routes require, etc. Without a guidebook, we relied on Andrew’s expertise, which he gleaned from a previous trip to the area. We climbed several moderate routes, maybe some 5.9s and 5.10s, and then got on some harder routes, 5.11 to possible 5.12.

Some of the first bolts, rather than having a hanger through which to clip your quickdraw, consisted of a bolt and a couple of rusty chain links. This resulted in some sketchy happenings…

Yeah, don't fall on that.

Yeah, don’t fall on that.

For reference, this is what a quickdraw through a normal bolt and hanger looks like:

From theartoflifeandclimbing.com

From theartoflifeandclimbing.com

Though the rock itself was not great quality and the climbing required constant awareness of the possibility of loose rock (yay for helmets!), all the routes we did were actually quite fun, not to mention scenic.

Phil taking a little rest while leading

Phil taking a little rest while leading a route

Andrew being too strong for his own good

Andrew being too strong for his own good while pulling a roof

Phil on the same route, chalking up his hands before pulling the roof move

Phil on the same route, chalking up his hands before pulling the roof move

We ate some CLIF bars and trail mix, got a little lost trying to find the car, stepped on some cacti (no? just me?), and drove back home to Laramie, all the while remaining vigilant for road obstacles such as pronghorn and deer.

The moral of the story: climbing > boyfriends. Okay, okay – I’m only slightly kidding.

Phil, thinking about how awesome climbing is, and how much dating sucks

Phil, thinking about how awesome climbing is, and how much dating sucks

Love to all!

Christmas Preparations

It’s been unseasonably warm for December here in Wyoming. We were almost afraid there wouldn’t be any snow to speak of in the mountains when the Snowy Range Ski Area opened.

Matt and I went up to the Snowies the weekend before last to get our Christmas tree, just like last year. We stopped by the ski lodge to pick up our passes, have my skis and Matt’s board waxed, and go up the lift and down the the slopes a couple times. The lodge has a little bar upstairs overlooking the slopes, and we had a draught beer from Sheep Mountain Brewery, basically a guy outside of Laramie who makes great beer in his oversized garage. I believe it was a red IPA – really delicious! The bearded man sitting next to us introduced himself as a foreign exchange student from Tasmania studying at the University of Wyoming. I drank a free additional pint of the red IPA because the bartender messed up a pour. You know, typical Laramie-area happenings.

A semi-frozen creek up in the Snowies

A semi-frozen creek up in the Snowies

I was pleased that I hadn’t completely forgotten how to ski and that neither of us fell while getting on or off the lift, which had proved more difficult than I had anticipated last year. It was warm enough that I hadn’t been dying to get off the lift by the time we reached the top of the mountain, and sunny too.

Sometimes, caught in a turn, the view obscured by pines, you forget that you’re not completely alone with the trees and the snow. You feel small and a part of something wide and deep and beautiful in the almost-silence of the wind and the sshhhh of your skis against the snow.

The road between Laramie and the ski area

The road between Laramie and the ski area

After skiing, we drove up the road a ways to find ourselves a tree. We walked by a family on snowshoes carrying their own tree on the snowed-in trail. If you stayed on the cross-country ski trail you didn’t need snowshoes, but we eventually had to wander off the trail to find our tree, as per Forest Service regulations. I believe the word “trudging” was invented to describe one’s slow, labored walk through over a foot of snow. If you’ve never had the good fortune of needing to trudge through so much snow that it’s a small miracle every time your boot reappears, whole – just imagine a small child so bored they’ve grown exasperated with the feeling, chin to the ceiling, eyes rolled up in their sockets, shoulders sagging, walking away from you. That, too, is a trudge.

Matt in the forest

Matt in the forest

To ease your sadness about severing forever a pine from its roots, the Forest Service informs you in their handy brochure, which accompanies the $10 permit for the tree cutting, that your act assists the growth of the surrounding trees, and thus the forest as a whole (I admit it would be better here if I quoted directly from the pamphlet but, after a ~30-second search through my recent mail, I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably threw it out). Harvesting the tree, then, is like giving the grove a haircut. Mowing the lawn. Holding two or three kids back a grade. You know, science: not everyone wins and gets to become a magnificent Christmas tree – just the pretty ones.

Got it!

Got it!

We picked a more suitably-sized tree for both the inside of the car and our house this year, though its much skinnier trunk repeatedly rebelled at our positioning it in the Christmas tree stand. It remains crooked but only if you look at it from either the perspective of the gas fireplace or the dusty corner behind the couch which likes to collect tumbleweeds of dog fur. From the front door it looks very nice. We only broke one ornament wrestling with it and the stand.

Christmas is fast approaching! I’ve already watched “Elf” once, and listened to probably 50 hours of Christmas music, so I’m prepared. I’ve wrapped all the presents, created plenty of online wishlists at various outlets in anticipation of the receipt of gift cards, and made at least one Christmas-related dessert item, though I have yet to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special, which I have on DVD – yes, it’s that important. I’m looking forward to seeing my family in North Carolina, but I’d gladly skip over the whole shuttle-to-the-airport/plane-from-one-airport-to-the-next thing if I could. I think this is a sign you’re officially an adult, when the prospect of traveling via plane exhausts you and causes you to go out and buy crystallized ginger and anti-nausea pills instead of giving you boundless, exuberant joy.

Unless the drive looks like this. JOY!

Unless the drive looks like this. JOY!

But after all that sitting and wondering which ridiculously expensive dry sandwich or stale burger to order and weaseling your way into public bathroom stalls only to find there is no toilet paper – after all that mess comes FAMILY. And old friends, and presents, and free food, and all those wonderful, wonderful things. This is why I love Christmas.

Happy holidays and safe travels, everyone!