Guest Post by J.C. (Travel-Safer)

I first met J.C. in a tiny camp store during my visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was one of those serendipitous encounters that led to some great conversations and a follow-up visit to Denver. J.C. is a guru on all things regarding safe travels. His website contains a wealth of information including country profiles, packing tips, and how to stay safe online.

This is his story.

 

Somewhere, Utah. Not far from Escalante.

It was dark. Pitch dark. So dark that watching the road in front of me as I walked was so disorienting that I stopped watching where I was going and looked up at the stars to keep from sitting down and taking a nap.

The three of us were five miles into our starlight walk and had already hiked 17+ miles that afternoon. This was the final test of a week-long survival course with the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS), and no one had any clue as to what time it was, or how many more miles until we reached the campsite.

The coyotes in the distance reminded us that we were not alone.

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Onward

So why would you subject yourself, much less PAY to put yourself through an experience like this?

  • Well – for one: I’m a MUCH lighter packer because I know what is necessary and eliminate that which I don’t need… Okay, well, I still pack a luxury item or two when I hit the road.
  • Secondly, you’ll know yourself on a much deeper level. You’ll find your limits and what you can actually
  • Maybe the biggest reason is the boost of confidence. After spending a week with minimal clothes, no tent, flashlights, electronics, backpack or lighter, I know that if I’m stranded overnight while hiking a 14er that not only will I survive, but I will know how to make the experience more tolerable.
  • Bonus reason: Having the added benefit of doing it in a supervised environment will keep you from doing the dumb things and put you on the path to success much quicker while minimizing the chance of injury.

Here in Colorado, we like to call this style of activity “Type 2 Fun”. It’s the sort of thing that you curse most of the way through, then start planning the next one as you drive home.

For me; however, there was a broader reason behind this “fun.” As a serial traveler and ever the curious type, I continually seek out ways to make myself a safer and better traveler. Not every option I look for is this extreme or results in losing ten pounds in a week. It can be as easy as keeping my CPR certification up to date, or sampling random martial arts like Krav Maga, Tae Kwon Do, and Systema and, of course, taking a language class here and there.

I’ve heard study abroad program directors remove self-defense classes from their pre-travel courses because “the goal of the course was not to train MMA fighters.” I found this incredibly short-sighted. If you plan on traveling solo, I highly recommend taking a CPR class and enrolling in self-defense at a local gym or martial arts facility. The result is the same: an increased sense of security and self-confidence. When traveling, whether abroad or here at home, the vast majority of crime is a crime of opportunity; meaning that criminals are going to go after the easiest target. Thus, if you look more confident, aware, and put together this may cause a potential attacker to look somewhere else.

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The Utah wilderness in all its glory

I close out this post with a challenge to you: Get outside your comfort zone; take a CPR class, learn a new language, sign up for a self-defense course, or maybe even a survival course in the woods. You’ll be a safer, more self-confident traveler and person.

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Rocky Mountain Moments

My rather impromptu Colorado visit landed me in Rocky Mountain National Park once again, a few days shy from a year after my first go-round. Back then, I trod eagerly through many sections of the park, exploring multiple lakes, ecosystems, and wildlife via a wide variety of hiking trails. As I once again stood within the alpine climate – 12,000 feet above sea level – I took deep breaths and let the happy memories of the previous year rush in.

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Two cuties in the Rockies (Kate and I)

Heading down the east side of the mountain range, my friend and I had one main agenda: hike trails with water. This turned out to be a rather easy goal, since so many streams, rivers, and waterfalls undulate throughout the park.

Day 1 was a hefty 8-mile hike to Fern Lake, passing by some gorgeous cascading rivers and a not-too-shabby waterfall on the way.

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Pretty and peaceful Fern Lake

Day 2, after more camping, boasted one of the best waterfalls in the park: Ouzel Falls. While only 5 miles round-trip, my poor feet were screaming to be let out of my hiking boots. A lazy summer in flip-flops had apparently spoiled them to laborious trekking.

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Ouzel Falls

While my life has taken on a rather consistent rhythm now that I’m back home and off the road, I appreciate the fact that I can still have miniature adventures in the outdoors. Life’s too short to stay indoors. 🙂

“A pilgrim is a wanderer with a purpose.” – Peace Pilgrim

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A Mile High (and more) Once Again

I couldn’t resist fitting in one more outdoor trip before heading back into full time teaching. All 47 parks had been successfully checked off the list, but I jumped at the opportunity to revisit the Rockies. Re-branded as the Park Pilgrim*, I hopped on a plane sans Clarence, ready to have some rugged adventures with a Denverite friend.

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The Colorado River at Radium Springs (I had to scramble down to reach the natural “hot tub”)

First stop: a primitive hot spring located pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I took a hefty 2-mile hike down to an rocky outcropping where natural hot spring water mixes with the Colorado River. I was not aware that this was a popular stopping point for rafting trips until I heard jubilant shouting halfway down the mountainside. There were a few too many people for my liking, but it was fun watching people awkwardly cliff dive from 40 feet up.

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Pretty sunset during the drive to Timber Creek campsite

During my first go-round in Rocky Mountain National Park, I didn’t spend any time on the west side. Nestled neatly in between mountains, the gorgeous night sky made the cold camping experience worth it. I felt snug in my friend’s little tent, but I have to admit I pined for Clarence the teardrop trailer most of the night. Bugling elk lulled me into a fitful sleep; I awoke in the morning to a small herd gently chomping on foliage within 15 feet of my tent.

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Getting an early start to the day

And there was still more to come…

* Explorer of wild places and natural spaces

 

Petrified Forest Recap

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Length of Stay:

  • 3 days, 3 nights

High:

  • Painted Desert Inn lantern tour
  • Investigating an ancient petraglyph calendar which perfectly aligns with the summer solstice
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Nice landscape, nice sky!

Low:

  • Falling down a soft rock strata during one of my back country expedition

Favorite Hike:

  • Agate House
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Agate House – an ancient dwelling made from petrified wood

Favorite Treat:

  • Sopapilla (a Mexican deep-fried pastry)

Stony Wood and a Haunted Inn

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Petrified Forest national park is chock-full of fossilized wood. Based on the pictures I’d seen, I figured that there may be a couple of key places where one might be able to see this mineral-permeated organic matter. After all, how much “rock-wood” can actually be found in an arid desert-like environment?

Apparently a lot.

Thanks to plate tectonics, this area of Arizona used to be near the equator, resulting in a lush, rain forest environment. These trees got buried under layers of sediment, became saturated with minerals, and turned to stone. (This all took many, many years, of course). There are big chunks that can be found at the Long Log section, and smaller multi-colored pieces that are strewn all about the Crystal Forest.

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Crystal Forest

It’s pretty. It’s unique. It’s science!

I also had a chance to tour the Painted Desert Inn, an old traveler’s rest stop that now serves as a museum. In the spirit of Halloween, we took the entire tour in the dark. Using only glow sticks to light our way, the ranger told stories and tall tales about a myriad of suspicious and creepy behavior that happened in the old inn. Spoiler alert: someone actually did die there. We entered the basement through a locked door – a place where park visitor’s are only allowed to go once a year. The floor creaked and the dumbwaiter was super eerie.

Was it truly haunted? The park rangers and volunteers seem to think so.

Was it semi-historical and fun? You bet!

One Big Canyon

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“I hope you’re not scared of heights, cuz I’m going to assign you one of our tallest mules.”

“That’s fine. Will I be riding that one over there?”

“No, yours is in a separate corral. She needs to be isolated from the other mules.”

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Me on Cher, the “troublesome” mule

And that’s how my mule riding adventure at the Grand Canyon began (not the most comforting thought to be told you’ll be placing your life in the hands of an ornery animal who has social issues). Yet mule riding and the Grand Canyon go together like peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, and other food-related famous duos. How could I not ride on the back of one of these stubborn, sure-footed creatures overlooking one of the most famous canyons in the world?

My ride was fabulous. Cher ended up being a little bit of a handful, but didn’t launch me off the edge, so I was happy. Each turn along the trail brought another view of the canyon’s sheer expansiveness.

The Grand Canyon sure is big!