The Mountain Speaks

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How powerful are mountains?  You might ask.

It can make you yearn for that long lost love

And yet fate won’t allow you to get anywhere to be with her

The fraction of a glimpse of that peak

Just makes you crumble until you fall down your feet

Did you hear that?

The avalanche right in front of you

It instills fear and joy at the same time

And yet you struggle to appreciate the now

So tell me

How many times must the rain fall down on you?

Before you dance in it?

How much more thunder do you need to hear

Blasting in your ear

Before you hear the mighty roar of life?

Don’t refrain from opening your senses

Not when you are walking those trails

Because any moment that you miss a sign

You miss the pathway to where you need to be

That summit is always waiting for you, you see

But you won’t get there ever

If you’re in a rush

It wants you to take slower steps

And touch every element that soothes your soul

And then, when you least expect it

You will be there

On top of the world

You already are

Before your eyes

The mountain speaks

OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Jessica of Bravely Wild

Self discovery goes hand in hand with hiking.  You may not even realize this is happening but it’s inevitable the more you immerse yourself in the outdoors.  Sometimes self-discovery can be frightening; however, if you stick with it, you’ll soon realize how wonderful the process is.  The latter rings true for our feature, Jessica.  With life’s twists and turns including the breakdowns of relationships, we gradually emerge to be the stronger and more adventurous versions of ourselves.  And when you least expect it, hiking may surprisingly turn out to be one of your passions in life.

I can totally relate to Jessica’s story as hiking crept into my life right after an important relationship came to an end.  The loss hit me hard and left me feeling confused.  But that painful moment led to taking small steps, literally on the trails and in real life.  The next thing I knew, I discovered this new kind of love for life and myself.  Jessica’s story takes me back to that moment in my life when I first encountered my love for hiking as part of my self-discovery.  What was once a bitter experience has now turned into a pivotal moment in my life that I will be eternally grateful for.  I hope by reading Jessica’s hiking story, you’ll feel that same gratitude towards all challenges, whether big or small, that enter your life.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice 

 Jessica Guth is from Naples, Florida.  She’s most definitely a busy bee!  A single mom of two, she works and attends school full-time.  Florida is where she hikes locally but she spends every 6-8 weeks to take a bigger backpacking/hiking trip elsewhere.  When not on the trails, Jessica loves to write, fly-fish, shoot archery and attend concerts.  She’s also learning the ins and outs of hunting small game.  Her love for the trails includes trail running which involves doing trail half marathons.

How did you discover hiking?

I first started hiking after I separated from my husband, about 2 years ago.  I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors. I was not in a healthy marriage and he discouraged me from doing things I loved. I would always ask him to go camping/hiking/do outdoors things, but he had no interest, so I never went. Once I separated from him, I did a lot of soul-searching – it was a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. During that journey, I discovered a lot of things about myself, including just how strong and adventurous I really am. Since this discovery and pursuance of my love of adventuring and hiking, I have greatly involved my 2 kids (ages 6 and 10) and they have developed a great love of it too.

What do you like the most about hiking?

Hiking brings me a sense of peace, self-awareness, and connection. I feel so very connected to myself, to whoever I’m hiking with, and to nature.

Below, Jessica talks about some of the places she’s hiked.  The photos definitely look amazing! Well, minus the alligator!

A local trail that I hiked in April 2016 was in Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Florida, which is just about 1.5 hours away from where I live. My daughter and I backpacked 13 miles over 2 days and spent the night in a secluded area. We had an alligator come join us around dinner time! He walked right up to our tent, and plopped himself down for over an hour!

 In September 2016, I took a trip to California. I took a ferry out to Santa Cruz Island which is part of Channel Islands National Park. I camped 2 nights on the Island and did a lot of hiking during those 2 days. We hiked to the highest point accessible to the public, called Montanon Peak. The views along our hikes were breathtaking! 

In April of 2016, I hiked up to Lava Lake near Big Sky, Montana. Armed with bear spray, I attempted this hike while I was quite sick with a bad cold. About 2 miles into it, I turned around and headed back because I was just not feeling good at all. 2 days later, still sick, but feeling better, I tackled that hike again. It’s an out-and-back trail that is 8 miles total. The last mile was interesting… It was fairly steep, the snow was about knee deep, and there were steep drop off’s on the side of the trail. I didn’t have snow shoes or hiking poles, so I had to very carefully take each step as to not slide off the side of the trail. I never thought the trail was going to end and it made me grouchy. When I was least expecting it, we came across an opening to the frozen lake – I could hear angels singing as I took in the view… All I could keep saying was “wow! 

 I’m going to add one more because I love the pictures from this hike. This hike was also near Big Sky, Montana and is called Storm Castle Peak. This was a beautiful 10 mile roundtrip hike. The views along the entire trail and at the top were stunning! At the peak, I lied down on a big rock to just take in the 360 degree views. 

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

I have learned to take the trail more traveled (or end up lost otherwise), and to connect with the people you come across on the trail, you might just get some trail magic from them like I have in the past. I have also learned that hiking is essential to my well-being.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

I really enjoy getting to share a hiking experience with someone else. When I hike with another, we generally don’t talk much, we just have a shared understanding of the specialness of what we’re doing.

Jessica shares with us the most memorable hiking experience for her to date, which I hope to experience myself one day!  Her photos from the trip look very magical indeed.

My most memorable hiking experience, so far, was hiking thru White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. It was like being on another planet. The hike to the campsite where I was camping for the night was only 2 miles long, and all through sand. The sand (it’s actually gypsum) is so buttery soft and cool that I hiked barefoot and didn’t even bring any shoes with me. That night, we hiked up to the top of a dune and had dinner as the sun was setting. And then later that night, the sky was so clear and the moon so full and bright – it was an experience I will vividly remember forever.

Jessica has some great advise for first time hikers:

Thoroughly enjoy it – enjoy the sounds, the smells, the feeling (inside and out) that you get from being on a trail. Also, be smart – be aware of your surroundings, carry some kind of self-defense (pepper spray?), and always tell someone your plan before you head out.

And here’s her favorite hiking gear:

I love my boots – Keen Marshall’s that I got brand new on eBay in an attempt to save money. My “P” Thing (a silicon funnel to aid woman in peeing while standing up) this allows me to pee without taking my backpack off and while standing up. It’s something I will never hike without because it is just so convenient! My Resq Link beacon – this is a lifesaver, literally. I won’t ever hike without this either, especially when I’m with my kids.

Jessica’s favorite hiking photos below depict wonderful memories for her that are quite personal to her.

It was so difficult to just choose 3! I love the picture above because I am genuinely happy. This picture was taken at a trailhead, right before trekking to the top of a mountain to spend the night. I was so happy to be there in that moment, starting off on a trekking adventure.

I love the picture above because, well isn’t it obvious – it’s my babies hiking! We were hiking on the Appalachian trail that day, on our way to a waterfall where we had lunch. This was such a beautiful and special day.

If you could only read my mind in the picture above… This was the devil’s backbone trail leading up to the summit of Mt. Baldy in California. It was the toughest hike I’ve ever done and I am wickedly proud of this picture because of that reason.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (which I will be doing in March and will be my first hiking trip outside of the US!), Storm King trail in Olympic National Park in Washington state, some 14’ers in Colorado, Mt. Whitney in California. I would love to hike in Norway and Iceland, and also do the Gibbon Experience in Laos. (This is just a sample of my never-ending bucket list!)

I asked Jessica about her toughest hiking experience and she notes that to be Mt. Baldy.

In September 2016, I hiked to the summit of Mt. Baldy, right outside of Los Angeles. This was a 15-mile, steep, grueling hike. The descent was tougher than the ascent because of the steepness and so much loose rock (I fell a few times!) We went the route of Devil’s Backbone trail and it definitely lived up to its name. We ended up taking a wrong trail to get back down the mountain, which made us lose elevation that we had already gained – that frustrated me, but I knew my only option was to just deal with it and put one foot in front of the other. It was both mentally and physically tough.

Have you run into any challenges personally as a “female” hiker?

Yes – At times, when I’m either hiking solo or with just my kids, I often get a little leary of people I come across. I think if I was a man, I would not get that feeling. I addressed these challenges by always being aware of my surroundings and hiking with a sense of confidence.

In overcoming challenges, Jessica shares her favorite quote when it comes to being on or off trails:

 I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m just telling you it’s going to be worth it.

                                                     -Art William

Jessica chronicles her adventures via her blog, Bravely Wild.  She launched this blog a little less than a year ago as an outlet for her self- discovery after her separation from her husband.  She’s a huge advocate for women and loves to write about different issues facing women.  Hence, the blog has evolved into a means for her to express her thoughts on various subjects and hiking tips to encourage and inspire others.

But the most important aspect of being a hiker for Jessica is to spend time every year, as a tradition, with her kids.  The three of them go for an 8-day camping/hiking trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia and the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee/North Carolina.  They hike every day (and on parts of the Appalachian Trail) while on their annual trip.  While recognizing that every hike she does is special, the ones that are the most special to her is when she gets to hike with her mother and daughter – that’s 3 generations of strong, powerful, badass women tackling the trails together!  As you can see, Jessica is so passionate about getting outside and encouraging others (especially women and children) to do the same.

You can follow Jessica via her blog Bravely Wild and her social media account via Facebook and Instagram.

Is the Classic Inca Trail Trek on your bucket list?  Check out the upcoming treks & adventure tours through BGT’s social enterprise, Peak Explorations. Also, read more about why you should trek the Classic Inca Trail HERE.

If you know of an outdoorsy woman who you think should be featured on the OUTDOOR WOMEN’S VOICES SERIES (yourself included), please see THIS LINK to find out how to be a part of it.

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

HIKER’S PARADISE: New Zealand

Welcome to HIKER’S PARADISE!

We’re glad you’re here!  This series is where you’ll find some of the best recommendations by guest writers for places in the world to live in if your passion has to do with spending time in the mountains.  Our featured hiker’s paradise is: 

NEW ZEALAND

by Birthe of Wandering the World

New Zealand is a country filled with stunning nature. From the bluest lakes to the biggest glaciers, New Zealand has them all. A road trip is a great way to see lots of amazing views, but to get to the real good parts you’ll have to hike.

New Zealand has tons of awesome hikes, most of them maintained by the Department of Conservation. Their website, along with the NZ Frenzy guidebook, is a great source to find the best hikes together with some practical information.

During our one month road trip through New Zealand we did a whole range of hikes throughout the entire country. The shortest were 5 minutes, the longest up to 6 hours. There are multi-day hikes as well, but we decided to skip those (for now!).

One of our favourite hikes is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park. This (very) popular 6 hour hike takes you up and down over volcanic terrain, along awesome views. You’ll pass Mount Doom (you have seen Lord of the Rings, right?), the Emerald Lakes, and Blue Lake. Prepare for steep climbs, strong winds and lots of hikers, but it’s still a must do hike!

Another awesome hike is the Hooker Valley Track in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The scenery during this 3 hour hike is just breathtaking. You’ll cross swing bridges and see Hooker Glacier, all against a Mount Cook backdrop.

The last hike we’ll describe has another glacier: the Rob Roy Glacier Track.  This 4 hour return track takes you through beech forest, along the turquoise coloured West Matukituki River, up to a viewpoint over the Rob Roy Glacier. The drive to the trailhead is almost as awesome as the hike itself, but do check the weather before you leave.

If you have a place that you wish to be featured, read THIS for submission guidelines.  

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Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

FREEDOMPRENEUR: Jacob of IntroverTravels

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  Truth be told, I tend to flip back and forth between the two.  I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing but being in between keeps life rather complex and interesting to say the least.  I ask you this question because for our feature on Freedompreneurs, I am ecstatic to introduce the person behind IntroverTravels.

As you may or may not know, in the world of entrepreneurship, there’s the inevitable truth that entrepreneurs must faced:

Define your niche.  

Jacob, the founder of IntroverTravels, exemplies exactly that notion.  The thing is it’s not just about creating anything unique because you must also consider the level of marketability of your idea.   So, one must think thoughtfully before deciding on a niche.  For Jacob, his company is focused on marketing tours and travels to introverts.  That’s as unique as you’ll ever get.  When I heard about his idea, I was intrigued and wanted to know more.

Brown Gal Trekker Meets Jacob

I met Jacob via his travel group page on Facebook.  Meeting Jacob was one of the amazing moments I’ve had thus far since I launched Brown Gal Trekker.  For one, Jacob’s  travel company resembles my own social enterprise, Peak Explorations in a lot of ways.  Although we have differences in terms of our target audience and the manner of traveling we do, I feel the differences are easily overshadowed by the significant amount of similarities we have in terms of our end goals and purpose for our respective enterprises.  Needless to say, meeting Jacob is almost akin to holding up a mirror and seeing myself in him.  In that, I find comfort, inspiration and reassurance that my version of living life, though unconventional, is rightfully the path I should be taking.  After all, there’s Jacob who’s doing the same thing!

Once, I had the lovely opportunity to speak with Jacob and talk about our respective projects and travel blogging.  It was insightful to chat with him as he’s super knowledgeable about the marketing side of the travel business.   Jacob didn’t hesitate to share his ideas and provide sound advise from someone like me who’s a novice in the arena.  From that conversation, I gathered that Jacob is by nature a kind person who is more than willing to help others.  It appeared evident to me that he finds value in being of service to others, be it his clients or fellow entrepreneurs in the travel business world.  Being a newbie at this, I was extremely pleased to learn that there are people like Jacob in this business who welcome the idea of collaboration and supporting one another.  In exchange for receiving advise from him, I was flattered that Jacob sough my insight on blogging.  I hope I equally paid him back with some useful ideas.  If not, then perhaps one day I can contribute to his website as a guest writer which I’m sure will happen at some point in time.  Soon after that conversation, the idea of Freedompreneurs series came up and Jacob quickly came to mind as a prime candidate for this series.  I’m very delighted to share with you Jacob’s journey thus far with his enterprise, IntroverTravels.

JACOB MAREK of  IntroverTravels

Jacob Marek grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Later on, he spent‭ ‬10‭ ‬years in Minneapolis,‭ ‬Minnesota and‭ ‬5‭ ‬years in Miami,‭ ‬Forida.‭  ‬Nowadays,‭ he spends much of the year traveling and living abroad as he gains on-the-ground experience in various destinations for his business which he’ll talk to us in detail about below.  Jacob deems himself as #Entreprenomad!  That’s close enough and a good reason for me to feature him on this series.

As a true nomad, Jacob is currently preparing to spend 3 months in Cuenca,‭ ‬Ecuador and another month in Cusco,‭ ‬Peru‭!  I can only imagine how busy his life is since in addition to traveling, he is building his travel business,‭ ‬IntroverTravels,‭ ‬and his travel marketing agency,‭ ‬45‭ ‬Degrees Marketing.

Running your own travel business requires so much dedication and so I’m excited for him to share with us his experience thus far. Here’s Jacob’s take on how it’s been like for him as an entrepreneur in pursuit of freedom via a nomadic lifestyle.

You recently launched your own travel company.‭ ‬Tell us about it.

I launched IntroverTravels this past summer‭ (‬2016‭).   ‬I design‭ ‬life-changing,‭ ‬nature-inspired travel experiences for introverts‭!‬ With an emphasis on great travel photography,‭ ‬we also have a professional photographer on the sidelines of our group trips,‭ ‬taking photos of and for our guests.

What inspired you to start your company‭?‬

I was inspired to launch IntroverTravels because,‭ ‬as an avid traveler myself,‭ ‬most travel experiences were designed implicitly for extroverts.‭ ‬I wasn‭’‬t comfortable with the way group trips were organized,‭ ‬nor the rushed-pace of most travel experiences.

What are your goals for your company‭?‬

My goals for IntroverTravels,‭ ‬ultimately,‭ ‬are to help introverts re-think the small-group travel experience.‭ ‬But I‭’‬m also passionate about creating custom travel experiences for individuals‭ ‬– whether it‭’‬s singles,‭ ‬couples,‭ ‬families,‭ ‬or groups of friends.

Your company provides travels to the outdoors as well.‭ ‬Can you describe the kind of outdoor related trips that your company offers‭?‬

Sure‭! ‬All of our trips are inspired by nature‭; ‬personally,‭ ‬my favorite style of travel is the African safari‭! ‬But I‭’‬m also extremely excited to help plan trekking experiences in places like Patagonia or New Zealand,‭ ‬exploring Easter Island by bicycle,‭ ‬witnessing the aurorae in Iceland,‭ ‬or wildlife viewing in the Galapagos‭ ‬– just to name a few‭!

At Easter Island.
Rapa Nui National Park, Easter Island.

What makes your company unique‭?‬

IntroverTravels is unique in that we are the first company to make ones personality type the focus in the trip.‭ ‬My style of travel is unique because I prefer to plan using a‭ ‬2:1‭ ‬ratio of relaxation and mind-blowing experience‭!‬ I also love beautiful travel photography‭ ‬– and I know many others want to have some incredible photos,‭ ‬too‭ ‬– so I include a professional photographer in all of our group trips,‭ ‬taking candid photos of our guests and stunning nature portraits.

I love the idea of having a professional photographer to take shots of places I trek or visit.  After all, the next best thing is having photographs after experiencing the place first hand.  I proceeded to ask him further about this “niche” that he has chosen and how it came about.   ‬

‬The idea actually came to me while I was on a solo hiking trip in Capitol Reef‭ ‬National Park in Southern Utah.‭ ‬I was trying to think of why this particular trip seemed so life-changing,‭ ‬and I realized that it was the combination of raw nature,‭ ‬expansive space,‭ ‬solitude,‭ ‬and moving at a comfortable pace with enough vigorous hiking and relaxing appreciation of solitude.‭ ‬So the idea was born to incorporate those elements into the trips that I plan.

As you can see, Jacob shares the same passion in terms of his love for nature and hiking.  He’s confessed to being a hiker as well.

Are you a hiker yourself‭?‬

Yes‭! ‬I love to go on moderate to moderately-difficult day hikes.

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date‭?

Aside from the trip mentioned above to Capitol Reef,‭ ‬my most memorable hiking experience was in Grand Teton National Park.‭ ‬Hiking is one of my favorite activities to do with my brother,‭ ‬who is an even bigger nature nerd than me‭! ‬We decided to hike up to‭ ‬10,000‭ ‬feet on the Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes Trail.‭ ‬When we reached the top,‭ ‬we were just a few hundred yards from a glacier‭ (‬in late-Summer‭) ‬and got that vertigo-induced rush of adrenaline.‭ ‬When we came across a quail,‭ ‬sitting silently in a bush,‭ ‬we stopped for a few minutes‭ ‬– in absolute silence‭ ‬– appreciating the cold,‭ ‬crisp air and the sound of nothing but wind blowing between the granite peaks.‭ ‬Transcendent‭!

What do you like the most about hiking‭?‬

My favorite part of hiking is the feeling of‭ ‬connection to nature.‭ ‬I enjoy taking the time to actually experience nature‭ ‬– whether it‭’‬s smelling the juniper or listening to a chorus of birds or dipping my feet in a cold mountain creek.‭ ‬As Oscar Wilde once wrote,‭ “‬It seems to me that we all look at Nature too much,‭ ‬and live with her too little.‭”

So, I was curious to ask Jacob one thing – whether he enjoys hiking solo or with others more.  After all, as an introvert, the idea of a group outing can be tricky.   Here’s his response:

It depends‭; ‬I would say,‭ ‬counterintuitively as an introvert,‭ ‬that I enjoy hiking with others more.‭ ‬First,‭ ‬it‭’‬s a safety issue‭ ‬– I prefer to have‭ ‬someone with me should something go wrong.‭ ‬But I also enjoy experiencing a life-changing hike with someone else who can comprehend the enormity of what we just hiked.‭ ‬That said,‭ ‬I do enjoy a solo hike very much as a way to escape the normal busy-ness of the Real World and clear my mind for deeper thinking.

What are some lessons you‭’‬ve learned from hiking‭?‬

I‭’‬ve learned that I‭’‬m good at decision-making and that when you remove the stimuli of our daily lives in the city‭ ‬– and get in the middle of nowhere‭ ‬– your brain can have the space to think of your life,‭ ‬and where you fit in,‭ ‬in a very meaningful way.

At Great Smoky Mountains.

What advise would you give to those new to hiking‭?‬

I would encourage people to do their research before hiking‭; ‬always have a plan of where you‭’‬ll be hiking,‭ ‬bring along the right supplies‭ (‬shoes,‭ ‬bear spray,‭ ‬rain gear,‭ ‬etc.‭) ‬and to always bring more water than you think you‭’‬ll need‭!

Jacob shares with us some of his favorite hiking photos.

Zion Observation Point

Devil’s Tower Prayer Bundle

Machu Picchu via Inca Trail

What treks/trips do you have on your bucket list‭?‬

I have so many hikes on my to-do list‭! ‬Near the top,‭ ‬I would list Glacier National Park,‭ ‬New Zealand,‭ ‬and several different areas in Patagonia.

What would you say are some of the challenges that arise as an introvert when you‭’‬re traveling or trekking?

The biggest problem I come across as an introvert hiker is the issue of crowds.‭ ‬Especially at the most popular national parks,‭ ‬some trails can be incredibly crowded.‭ ‬To avoid this,‭ ‬I try to travel during the shoulder season‭ (‬I typically avoid the low season if the weather is particularly inclement‭) ‬as well as hike more difficult trails.‭ ‬Typically,‭ ‬the higher the difficulty,‭ ‬the fewer people attempt the trail.

In that respect, I wouldn’t advise Jacob to hit the trails in China’s  National Parks. Personally, when I ventured there solo I was quite overwhelmed by the massive size of the crowds.  I think that’s when I realized how introverted I can be.  

At Yellowstone’s Artist Point.

On that note, I moved on to ask Jacob about his pursuit towards this dream of living a nomadic life.  You obviously veered away from the regular‭ ‬9‭ ‬to‭ ‬5‭ ‬job.‭ ‬Can you describe the process that led you to have the lifestyle you now have‭?

I‭’‬ve always had the motivation to have my own business‭ ‬and escape Corporate America.‭ ‬After a few years in financial marketing,‭ ‬and several years in travel and tourism marketing before that,‭ ‬I knew that I needed to open my own business.‭ ‬In order to live more affordably and build my business,‭ ‬I left Miami in order to travel throughout the year building my business.‭ ‬Traveling abroad works so well because it is more affordable than living in an expensive city like Miami and it allows me to gain on-the-ground experience in destinations to better sell them to‭ ‬my clients‭!‬

I have heard plenty from travelers about Jacob’s notion on living cheaply abroad.  There’s certainly truth to that.  If research is done properly, one can execute such a cheaper kind of lifestyle successfully, which leads me to ask Jacob as to his definition of “freedom.”

For me,‭ ‬freedom is the ability to make the choices that make me the happiest and that help me achieve my own goals.‭ ‬I love that technology now allows so many of us to build our businesses and pursue our passions online and earn a living from anywhere in the world‭ (‬with wifi‭!)‬.

At Zion National Park.

‬How do you see yourself accomplishing your own definition of freedom as you noted above‭?‬

I see myself building IntroverTravels,‭ ‬at least for the first few years,‭ ‬while on the road traveling to various destinations.‭

What advise would you give to someone who is thinking about leaving their‭ ‬9‭ ‬to‭ ‬5‭ ‬job to pursue their passion‭?‬

I would say to build up a nest egg and have realistic expectations‭; ‬most businesses take at least a few years to get off the ground to a point of self-sustaining profitability,‭ ‬so be sure to plan for your cash flow.‭ ‬But once you‭’‬ve done that‭ ‬– just do it‭!‬ As they say,‭ “‬If you take the leap,‭ ‬you‭’‬ll learn to fly.‭”‬

As an end note, I asked Jacob to name 3‭ ‬things that are the most important in terms of pursuing one’s dreams.‭

‬For me,‭ ‬the most important things are courage,‭ ‬passion,‭ ‬and persistence.

I hope Jacob’s insights have helped you get a better sense of how an alternate world in which one chooses to live an unconventional life looks like.  We all have various ways of defining freedom in our lives.  There’s no one right way to define and live it.  For Jacob, it’s rather clear which way he needs to go by following that deepest desire of his to live a life on the road while sharing the same passion with others through his company.  I admire his audacity to take that leap as I know for a fact it is one of the most intimidating steps one can ever take in life.  After all, jumping into the abyss of a world full of uncertainties and unknowns to leave a life that’s so familiar and stable is almost a deliberate way of challenging ourselves to embrace the authentic version of who we are.  It’s not a small feat. No, not at all.

To follow Jacob’s travels and know more about his current and future projects, see IntroverTravels .  You can also follow him via Instagram, Facebook page and Facebook group page.

If you wish to be featured or know of someone who should be, let Brown Gal know & email her at bgtrekker@peakexplorations.com

If you enjoyed this post, then read more about the Inca Trail and Easter Island.

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An Open Letter From The Girl Behind Brown Gal Trekker

Dear Reader,

This can easily be a 2016 in review note but it’s not.  It’s just that my alter ego, Brown Gal Trekker, has taken over much of the time recently and I finally feel compelled to comment and express my views as “me.”

Hi, I’m Marinel, the girl behind Brown Gal Trekker.

If you have been following my blog, you may get a sense how preoccupied my life has been with writing and marketing via social media.  First off, I apologize to my Facebook friends who have to witness the crazy amounts of social media networking from my end via Facebook.  I’m sure you’re devoid of enjoyment seeing me clog up your feed.  Trust me, I do feel a bit old for such things.

Brown Gal’s mission and pursuits have taken over the spotlight.  I had taken a back seat and witnessed every move she’s made to push forward with her agenda – one that constitutes inspiring others (albeit at times preachy) to hike up mountains, promote diversity, women, solo hiking/traveling and offbeat topics such as blood types, aging and menstrual flow.

The blog launched in September of 2016 and since then I’ve seen the possibilities emerge for someone like Brown Gal Trekker who all these years held doubts about her place in the world of outdoors and traveling.  Sure, no doubt, she’s been traveling for almost two decades and spending time in the outdoors half that amount of time.  But, Brown Gal Trekker had doubts about how she fit in all these for the simple fact that she is a conundrum in many ways.  She’s a world traveler who happens to be obsessed with mountain trekking.  That’s quite expansive in terms of coverage.  While many travel bloggers talk about spending days in Rome, she’ll only talk about Rome as a stopover to get to the Dolomites.  While most outdoors bloggers have a specific niche and location for their hiking adventures, Brown Gal Trekker tends to cast a wider net and trek all over the world.  She has no loyalty to a specific trekking region or country for that matter.  So, that begs the question, where does Brown Gal Trekker fit in?

I was afraid for her to be honest.  

Afraid for her to be disappointed to find out that the world may not be welcoming of her eccentricities.  The fact that she talks about places that no one has heard of such as Zhangjiajie, Yading, Ausangate or Prokletije.  The fact that she wants to talk more about the meaning of life as it relates to the experiences on the mountain trails than talking about the logistics of the trek itself.  The fact that she constantly needs innovative ideas pouring out of her senses to tell a story about an adventure she’s had in popular places like the Inca Trail or Kilimanjaro.  Darn it! Why can’t she just relay the story like everyone else?  Why be so difficult?

Hence, I wondered – is there room for someone who doesn’t follow the crowd?

I watched my alter ego go at it, every moment she gets outside her 9 to 5 job.  I watched her unleash her poetic side and bravely write a heartfelt piece about being a girl who treks but feeling misunderstood oftentimes for her passion and yearning to find other women who can relate.  I watched her agonize at her lawyer job for feeling out of place among a herd of ambitious lawyers who all aspire to become judges when she could care less about being the next one in line.  I watched her in deep thoughts as she debated in her mind the nuances of gaining wisdom from formal education versus traveling and feeling more in tune with the latter.  I watched her criticize traveling for its imperfections knowing she’s so imperfect herself.  I watched her feel overjoyed from the fact that despite reluctantly opening up through her writing, that level of vulnerability actually led to some like-minded humans out there to reply back to her and say, “Hey, we hear you!”  Truthfully, these were some amazing forms of validation to be had.  Naturally, Brown Gal Trekker experienced immense feeling of appreciation from it.

Then, at some point, she faced the realization as to the significant amount of work involved to follow such a unique path.  

Her building an empire via Peak Explorations in which she gets to share with others the experience of mountain trekking requires enormous amount of effort and time, after all – one that goes beyond what she initially thought. There were also issues along the way from the usual hurdles of launching a business to learning how to accept that her specific niche of marketing trekking tours can be the riskiest thing she’ll ever get herself into.  Not to mention the sense of isolation inherent in the world of trekking business as a female founder where men dominate the field almost entirely.   “What can you  (who’s a woman and a person of color) contribute differently of value with your enterprise?”  This was the question Brown Gal Trekker had to constantly deal with from the business world which is how the external world demands in a subtle manner that she prove herself to those who don’t totally embrace her being a person of color and a female in a entrepreneurial capacity.  So, why do it?

Based on all of that, fear pops up every so often, uninvited nonetheless.  I’ve seen her tell fear to take a hike verbally and in writing.  She trudges on and I continue to watch to see how much she can handle the pressures, the rejections, and challenges that came by along the way.  One thing that seems to instill fervor in her determination to succeed is this sense of freedom that she firmly believes she’ll acquire at the end of it all.  For the sake of freedom, she’s learned expeditiously to be unwavering and decisive.  I get exhausted just watching her trudge on the uphills of her endeavors; and yet at awe at every second that she’s still at it with no end in sight.

But so many wonderful things happened in the 3 months Brown Gal Trekker has been in existence.  

She’s now connected with leading entities in the outdoors and is thrilled to work side by side with them in various projects such as this one in the past and this one that is currently underway.  She’s more inspired than ever by fellow bloggers who she met along the way to continue assuming the role of an advocate for women, for those seeking freedom by becoming their own boss and inclusiveness in the world of mountain trekking or in the media.  She’s strengthened her relationship with local trek operators globally to market trekking tours of great value to avid mountain trekkers.  She discovered her allies outnumber the critics.  As such, she forges ahead without a single ounce of energy wasted on those who doubt her dreams.   She learned to trust that when one’s intentions are pure, the world conspires to lead you to the right door way and even unlock closed doors as needed to pave the way to your goals.

As Brown Gal Trekker and I venture into 2017, I anticipate more challenges and setbacks for her to endure.  2016 was just the start -the warm up and the prep for the big year coming up.  For one, there’s Brown Gal’s determination to bring a group of American hikers to Pakistan to trek up to K2 base camp to be amazed by nature’s beauty in that part of the world despite the hurdles of obtaining visas and the constant need to monitor safety.  It’ll also be a curious endeavor to lead a group to trek in Pakistan as a female because the country is male dominated in many aspects of life.  But, I can assure you, at least for now, the negotiations and dealings are going well with utmost respect emanating from both ends.  This rare pursuit is all being done as part of the mission of her social enterprise, Peak Explorations.  On a lighter note, alongside all these challenges are more innovative ideas, treks, collaborations, friendships, partnerships, growth and abundance in the work she does, both with her blog and social enterprise.

In closing, I had a ridiculously busy and yet magical year with Brown Gal Trekker.  Despite the confusion that greeted her in the beginning, I believe that she managed to carve her own space amidst the vast landscape of the blogging world.

In it, she effectively found her own voice, and to her that, in and of itself, is success.

Somewhere between the world of travelers and the hiking world, you’ll find Brown Gal Trekker.  She hovers over both worlds the same way she did at the very start of this journey except at this juncture she’s fully learned to embrace the uniqueness of her purpose of bridging the gap between the two worlds.   She realized that both worlds have welcomed her ideas with open arms, be it conventional or otherwise.  For that, she’s eternally grateful.  Finding her voice is akin to finding a sense of eternal belonging, and in her mind, no longer would there be a moment in which she would succumb to the senseless allure of self-doubt.

Knowing her, she never started her pursuits of becoming a blogger and a founder of a social enterprise just for the sake of fame or popularity.  She values privacy; hence, it took her years to decide to make her blog public which is in all honesty a reflection of her own inner journey to fully accept and love her authentic self.  From the start, Brown Gal only wanted to pursue blogging and her enterprise for the purpose of leaving a positive impact in the world, which is the same idealism that she holds in her role as a public servant on her day job.  After all, Peak Explorations was born out of her passion for trekking in the mountains, at the urging of local operators who she met along the way to promote local tourism and due to the need to create treks to encourage solo travelers to take their passion on mountain trails outside of the U.S.

To her, these were the underlying motivations from the start.  Likewise, Brown Gal would have easily dropped the idea of blogging if there was no gap or need for her to fill and serve a purpose for, and instead pursue a different dream such as starting a hostel or anything to that effect.   She adamantly opposes filling the role of a carbon copy.  If others have touched upon a topic, then she would rather not write anything that will merely be a repetition of the same idea devoid of any sense of creativity.  As a promise to herself, she will not write for the sake of producing content as quality over quantity has been her mantra.

In the three months of actively writing, Brown Gal Trekker quickly learned to adapt the best way she could to the ultimate shift – from being guarded to accepting the beautiful connections she has developed out of allowing herself to be raw and and vulnerable.  So far, she feels no regrets about such a personal decision and the manner in which she has learned to write and share her hiking or travel stories as unapologetically herself.

As for me, I’m in it for the ride.  I’m still doing the 9 to 5 job to support my alter ego but frankly I can’t wait for Brown Gal Trekker to  get to where she needs to be so I can take a back seat forever and simply be Brown Gal Trekker’s alter ego.  Until then, I will continue to encourage her to take the much deserved break as called upon by her spirit to meditate and enjoy life apart from her being Brown Gal Trekker.

If you managed to read up to this point, thanks.  I figured you also realized by now that this was essentially a year in review of the Brown Gal Trekker blog  (more 3 months in review, to be exact), if only in disguise.

Sincerely,

Marinel

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HIKER’S PARADISE: South Africa

Welcome to HIKER’S PARADISE!

We’re glad you’re here!  This series is where you’ll find some of the best recommendations for places in the world to live in if your passion has to do with spending time in the mountains.  Our featured hiker’s paradise is: 

SOUTH AFRICA

by Kristen of Border Free Travels

I’m positive living in South Africa would suffice any hikers appetite for the outdoors after exploring there myself for an entire month. Using Cape Town as a base, you’re surrounded by steep landscapes with vast rewarding views after traversing to the top.

Hikers would never get bored when being based in Cape Town for two reasons: the city itself has so many ways to explore hiking up and down Table Mountain (I loved Skeleton Gorge), and it’s a short drive from weekend trips to surrounding areas with other versatile treks along the Garden Route and throughout Wine County.

Source: www.tablemountaintrekstours.com

Storms River Mouth in Tsitsikamma National Park is a scenic trek along the Garden Route coast. Don’t be fooled by its flat beginnings. Once you cross the over the bridge, take the Viewpoint Trail, a straight and challenging shot up to the top.

And only an hour or so drive from Cape Town CBD (central business district), stay a weekend in wine country in Paarl and enjoy the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve overlooking the Vineyards below. This route offers a variety from easy going to heart throbbing trails. 

Source: www.paarlonline.com

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Aging Well: The Perks of Traveling

You know the deal.  We’re not going to be in our 20s forever.  Not even in our 30s.  Once you hit 40s, the nagging feeling of “aging” starts to enter front stage.  Fear not.  Aging has its perks.  Presumably, we learn from our mistakes and we know better what we want in life.  This is especially true if for the past decades you managed to spread your wings and throw yourself into countless adventures.

For travelers, traveling can bring us so many different lessons, experiences, and moments. Of course, it also expands our circle of friends and our views of the world. But, when you get enough time on the road or trail by yourself, you get to treat yourself to daydreaming, fantasizing, self-introspection, and most importantly, pondering life’s toughest questions. As one gets older, the meaning behind traveling evolves and we are gifted some level of wisdom every step of the way.  Accordingly, everyone of us holds a unique view on traveling based on our experiences, both on and off the road.

Here are some of the ideas, epiphanies and lessons that came by my way in a very random order over the years I’ve been traveling and trekking up mountains, and by the time I have reached the lovely age of “40.”  Luckily, the list will keep growing as time goes by, which I find to be the most valuable natural side effect of “aging.”  It turns out that aging as one continues to travel and hike up mountains will only become more enlightening from hereon.   Hence,

We should embrace the process and love every minute of it.

1. Once upon a time my goal was to get married.  Now, my goal is to be happy. I raised the standard.

2. I’d rather see you rise and shine when you’re most afraid than when you are at your bravest moment.

3. Our lives are defined by moments, not people.  That’s why you should never take people’s words or actions personally.  Neither should you get 100% attached to someone.

4. It’s good to know if you’re afraid of love.  It’s better to know the reason why.

5. Love is blind oftentimes; self-love is there to give you eyesight.

heart
Heart rock on the trail to Mt. Whitney.

6. I’d rather be imperfect and be loved as opposed to being perfect without love.

7. Never lose two things when you get into a new romance: yourself and your friends, as they will save you when your new romance ends.

8. I don’t go for the fastest, the highest or the hardest.  I go where my heart is moved the most for it’s how we felt at the moment, not what we accomplished, that will live with us for the rest of our lives.

9. We can make a choice to turn our lives into an adventure.  The starting point is to find the inspiration to do so.

10. We are all waiting for something or someone.  Don’t let the waiting period drag you down.  It’s the suffering that makes the prize much sweeter.

11. There is no better gift to your romantic partner than loving yourself first.

12. The more you master letting go and saying goodbye, the easier it is to open your heart to others and experience each moment with a fellow human wholeheartedly.  So, don’t fear saying goodbye even if it requires shedding tears and feeling enormous pain.

13. People come and go as you turn the chapters of your life.  Staying permanently is merely an option so be grateful if some do stick around.

14. We attract what we put out there.  Hence, keep your soul beautiful.

15. Ego is the worse motivation for any endeavor.

16. A fellow human is a tool for personal growth.  Use him to learn but never force him to be someone he’s not.

17. Find a partner who complements and inspires you; not one that simply fills the void.  Filling the void is your job, not his/hers.

18. A person’s character is the cornerstone of real beauty.

19. Happiness comes easy when you remind yourself of the good things you have in life.

20. Living is a privilege, not an entitlement.

21. Find “your” peeps and never let them go.

22. I don’t aim for perfection; I’d rather aim to learn.

23. Get rid of expectations as best as you can so you can see more of what a person is truly made of.

24. My spirit died once, but never again.

25. Some humans enter our lives temporarily to show a reflection of ourselves at that very moment in time.   Don’t ever pass up that opportunity to glance at the mirror to see how your soul is doing.

26. The biggest experiment is yourself.  You dissect it, analyze it, mold it, change it and in the end hopefully you come up with a better theory of what you’re about.

27. It’s relevant in life to learn to respect boundaries, be it physical or emotional in nature for oftentimes lack of boundary can ruin significant personal ties.

28. I would prefer to be alone than feel lonely with a significant other.

29. What we believe, we achieve.

30. Don’t base my courage on the amount and frequency of my tears; but rather pay attention to the number of times I keep moving forward and making something magical out of an experience that is so extraordinarily painful.

31. I haven’t given up on love.  It’s just that a goodhearted man who has found true love with himself is a rare kind of soul.

32. You don’t dive into a relationship to change each other.  You enter a relationship because all the work has already been done by both parties to be the best versions of themselves.

33. Indeed, my parents taught me significant life lessons, both good and bad, but I take it from here how I define my own happiness.

34. We long for adventures because they fill our soul with meaning through lessons we learn along the way.

35. There is no such thing as a “goodbye.” Any ending is part of the flow of life so there is always something gained, not lost.

36. Self actualization happens faster when you’re unattached to anything or anyone; hence, the more reason to appreciate solitude and singlehood.

37. Timing is everything. Patience will you get you there.

38. The complexity of life is at times finding value in simplicity.

39. The challenge of being human is gaining insight beyond the physicality of ourselves and our surroundings so we can discover the power we have as creators.

40. Traveling is timeless, be it in the physical, emotional and mental sense.  Even with limited physical capacity in my old age, I will easily revisit the places I’ve been through so-called memories just to find myself falling in love with them all over again.

For more inspiration, read Top Motivational Travel Quotes That Will Fuel Your Wanderlust!

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Sarah D. Tiedemann

Often, as hikers, we hit the trails to clear our minds, to connect, or to reflect on our daily lives.  We also hike to create stronger bonds and lasting memories with friends, families and pets.  Our hiking experiences fall under any of the above categories.  Today’s feature is about creating memories with people that matter the most and cherishing the memories of those who are no longer with us.   Either way, hiking is about love for the activity itself, for those around us and for ourselves.  I’m honored to be touched by Sarah’s hiking life. I hope she touches your life the same way by reading her story.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Sarah D. Tiedemann is from Trenton, NJ.  Off the trails, she works as a paralegal, writes on the side and enjoys hibernating for the winter.  Sarah spends time in North Jersey and Adirondacks for her hiking adventures.  In addition to hiking, she enjoys crocheting and crafting.  Sarah’s love for hiking started at the age of 17.  Let’s hear more from Sarah directly about her hiking life.  Enjoy!

Sarah’s discovery of hiking appears to be inspired by the location she was in at the age of 17.

I moved from New Jersey to Hawai’i when I was 17. The beauty of Hawai’i encouraged me to get on my feet. There was so much to see and I wanted to see it all.

What do you like the most about hiking?

The quietness. I’m an over-thinker and being outdoors quiets my nagging, obnoxious inner voice.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

Though I can appreciate the merits of hiking solo, I’m in the “strength in numbers” camp. I’m a scaredy cat and it feels safer for me to hike in a group. I typically hike with my husband and we mostly have a “together but separate” experience. At first, we’re abuzz with excitement and conversation, then we slowly quiet down and it becomes a more intrapersonal experience.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

The biggest lessons I’ve learned were about myself. I’m much stronger, tenacious, and more capable than I give myself credit for. I’ve learned to appreciate what I can accomplish and to not be so hard on myself.

Sarah shares with us three places that she’s hiked accompanied by photos.

Mt. Marcy, Adirondack Mountains, New York: This was my husband and my first high mileage hike and we were total noobs. It’s pretty funny to go back to the pictures from that day and look at what we were wearing and what “gear” we had. Aside from my bloody blisters that soaked through  to the other side of my boots, it was a great trip!

 Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawai’i: I was totally sure I was 100% prepared for this hike. It often makes lists that detail the world’s “most dangerous hikes”. I didn’t take that lightly- I was prepping   physically and mentally for months beforehand. We ended up taking a wrong turn at a trail junction (in retrospect, it was totally obvious) and long story short, we hiked back to the trailhead in the dark, rather than spending 3 nights at a secluded beach.


Sun Fish Pond, Worthington State Forest, New Jersey: My husband’s family has been hiking this  trail for decades. It’s their “power spot” and where we spread my father in law’s ashes. It’s the perfect hike for a quick jaunt in the woods.

What advice would you give to women who are new to hiking?

There are certainly things that are different for women when it comes to hiking, but I think a general rule for those who are just starting out would be to plan for the worst and hope for the best. A lot of times, feeling apprehension is a normal reaction to something we’re inexperienced in. The best remedy for that is both physical and mental preparation.

Sarah takes us to her view on hiking as a female and any challenges that it entails.  Curiously enough, the challenge doesn’t come from the outside. 

Honestly, the biggest challenges I’ve run into have been self imposed and internal. Whether it be a big scramble or a feat of upper body strength- I consistently question my ability as a woman. And, every time I question myself, I pull myself up by the bootstraps and make it happen.

Any gear recommendation?

Smartwool base layers. They are absolutely amazing in any weather. You stay warm, dry, and comfortable.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Kalalau Trail 2.0- We’ve got to get back and finish what we started. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I had originally gone to school for anthropology before life got in the way, so now it’s just a fun hobby.

For the most memorable hiking experience, here’s one of hers.

Cascade Mountain in the Adirondack Mountains of New York in the winter. I was terrified to hike in the winter- I was imagining all the things that could go wrong, and coupled with the cold, I was sure it would be a disastrous experience. We prepped to the gills and I was pleasantly surprised- that was the best hike I had ever taken. It was a perfect winter’s day- sunny, still, with plenty of snow on the ground. The stillness of the woods was incredible. We’d hiked the same trail in the summer and it wasn’t an easy one. Blanketed in snow, it brought you up the mountain on an easy slope. It was not what I was expecting at all!

Check out below Sarah’s favorite hiking photos.  Favorite doesn’t always mean the “best” shots from a photographer’s standpoint.  At times, it means the photos that depict the most meaningful memories in our lives.   I tend to agree with that as some of the most important photos in my own life remain tuck away for now.   Photos exude their own power of allowing us to relive moments, whether it’s a feeling of joy or sadness.  Sarah’s candidness in sharing her personal stories behind each photo is certainly appreciated.

This is a candid shot of my husband and I dancing upon our summit of Algonquin Peak in the Adirondack Mountains. It was such an incredible day that I think back on fondly. My sister-in-law was with us on the trip, so she made sure to take some photos of us without us knowing. It was a nice treat to look through them!

This is my father in law on our last hike together to Sun Fish Pond before he passed. He just exudes happiness in this photo. It means a lot to us!

This was from a trip to Yosemite when my husband proposed – that speaks for itself

Sarah graciously shared her toughest hike yet that was closely intertwined with her life off the trails.  At times, that happens.  Our lives on the trails coincide with some moments in our lives off trails.  Usually, nature provides the comfort or extra layer of meaning that we seek.

There were countless hikes wherein I had to push myself both physically and mentally, but the one that stands out the most is the hike we took to spread my father in law’s ashes at Sun Fish Pond. He died as a result of a work accident- he was still young and vibrant. The whole family, ranging in age from 20-70 made the trip up there to say goodbye. Coincidentally, my husband’s uncle had died years before and his father still had his ashes. We spread both of their ashes at the top.

Dad’s death felt final and real that day. It was a surreal experience, but we did it to honor him and his wishes. It was something we had to do and that made it a little easier to handle. We haven’t been able to get back up there since.  It’s far too painful- but we hope to be able to make the trek in the future.

To get her through daily challenges or any moments of fear on the trails, Sarah reminds herself of these two quotes, the latter of which re-energizes her spirit:

“Everything is true just as it is. Why dislike it? Why hate it?”

“When plans fail, blaze new trails.”

Sarah’s philosophy has led her to expand on her own creativity.  On an outdoor-related project, Sarah recently wrote a book about hiking and the outdoors for those who experience fear and anxiety when adventuring outside.  The book is called, Traveling with Baggage: A Guide for the Hesitant Hiker.  She notes that the book was written partly based on her experience growing up in the city where opportunities to get outside were scant.  It’s also based on Sarah’s experience of venturing out for the first time.   Sarah adds the book also has a  specific section that addresses how to be prepared mentally and physically as a female hiker.  Make sure to check it out on Amazon. You can also follow Sarah via her website: www.sarahdtiedemann.com

Thanks to Sarah for sharing her hiking life and personal journeys.  Her feature is a great reminder to never take anything for granted, be it on or off the trails.  Hiking is one of the most effective ways to create and maintain bonds with people, however short lived any hiking moment may be.

For more hiking stories & inspiration, read Why I’m Not That Superficially Hot Gal on the Trail.
 

To prepare for your first solo adventure, see 8 Ways to Mentally Prepare for Your First Solo Adventure.  

Is the Classic Inca Trail Trek on your bucket list?  Check out the upcoming treks & adventure tours through BGT’s social enterprise, Peak Explorations.

If you know of an outdoorsy woman who you think should be featured on the OUTDOOR WOMEN’S VOICES SERIES (yourself included), please see THIS LINK to find out how to be a part of it.

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HIKER’S PARADISE: Austria

Welcome to HIKER’S PARADISE!

We’re glad you’re here!  This series is where you’ll find some of the best recommendations from GUEST WRITERS WORLDWIDE for places in the world to live in if your passion has to do with spending time in the mountains.  Our featured hiker’s paradise is: 

AUSTRIA

by Karolina of Trail Maden

Austria – a hiking and backpacking paradise for everyone who loves mountains and beautiful nature. It’s no wonder as the country is situated in the Alps and three quarters of the area are covered by mountains.

Three major Alpine ranges ( Central Eastern Alps, Northern Limestone Alps and Southern Limestone Alps ) as well as, part of the Carpathians lie within the Austrian borders which provides a variety of landscapes and hiking possibilities.

But it’s not only the geomorphological location that makes Austria the best place for hikers and mountain lovers. An extraordinary, highly maintained trail network, as well as, an abundance of all sorts of accommodation make this country especially hiker/backpacker friendly. The outstanding communication system makes getting to and from the trail extremely easy.  Adding Austrians’ exceptional friendliness and hospitality to the picture, Austria is one of the best places to live or to travel to as a hiker.

Austria is not big; however, choosing where to travel and which trail to take can be a challenge. Tyrol, Vorarlberg, Salzburg, Carinthia and Styria – all of those states provide an amazing amount of possibilities. Each state is different and which one you choose really depends on your preferences.

There is, however, one mountain range that runs through three of the above states called, High Tauern.  Four out of the six highest peaks in Austria, including the highest Grossglockner 3,798 meters, within this range, making it especially interesting and challenging.  High Tauern National Park, which stretches across the main chain, is Austria’s largest national park with an area of around 1,834 square kilometers (708 sq mi).

Among hundreds of trails, there are three that deserve special attention: Pasterze Glacier trail, Kreuzeck Höhenweg, Kaprun Dam trail.

Pasterze Glacier trail – Pasterze is the largest glacier in Easter Alps. This 4 hour long round-trip trek lets you witness the mighty glacier and admire the enormous summits that surround it. The trip starts at the Glockner House (2,121m) at the Großglockner High Alpine Road. The trail is relatively easy; however, it requires sure-footedness, as well as, good fitness as the last part that ascends to the funicular, is a little strenuous. This trip allows you to see the glacier up close and witness how climate change affects its existence.

Kaprun Dam trail – this short, 45 minute trip offers one of the best views. Kaprun dam is situated 2000 meters above sea level and offers unforgettable experiences. The round trip is fairly easy and leads from the dam to the Fürthermoaralm.  Along the trail, you get one-of-a-kind view at the Glocknergruppe, Steinernes Meer, Stauseen – an amazing feast for the eyes. This pleasant trail is suited for families with children.  From Fürthermoaralm, you can either take a bus or walk back.

Kreuzeck Höhenweg – the Kreuzeck group is the largest mountain group in Carinthia with lonely summits, small alpine lakes and extraordinary hiking possibilities. This high route starts at the cable car station Kreuzeck-Bahn at 1.196 meters. It’s alpine in character and it’s not especially difficult. However, any long day treks require good fitness and sure-footedness.  Five sections will take you through one of the most breathtaking landscapes in Alps. You will be able to experience Austrian mountain huts serving local specialties and the nature at its best.

Source: Creative Commons

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Michelle of Walking Two By Two

The blogging world is enormously filled with a mix of various adventure-seekers and travelers.  But from time to time, you make connections with people who share similar passions.  Michelle is one of the few who shares my affinity towards mountains, so much so, that she actually did a solo hike in Australia – a trek that earned her the recognition of being the first person and first female solo hiker to complete the long distance trail called, Lavender Federation Trail in Southern Australia.  She did this trek unsupported, which you’ll know more about as you read on.

What struck me about Michelle’s passion for the mountains is that in her world, trekking is an endless and timeless endeavor.  At any given age, we all can hike, even if it means just next door to where we live.  We can stop and start hiking whenever.  There’s no reason to feel afraid of starting over again after years of being absent from the trails due to various life circumstances including having kids, which was true in Michelle’s case.  It’s a thrill for me to share with you her story which I know resonates with many of us who love the mountain trails.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Michelle Ryan was born in Sydney New South Wales, Australia and grew up in sunny Perth Western Australia.   Off the trails, Michelle has had her own set of adventures such as working as an artist, prawn trawler, teacher, travel writer, and of course as a mother and a wife.  Currently, she dedicates her time to travel writing and developing her website, Walking Two By Two.

On the trails, Michelle loves long distance trails and has hiked in various parts of the world including Norway, Scotland and Italy.  She’s currently planning her 620 mile bush hike for Spring of 2017 so to follow her, make sure to check out her social media accounts at the bottom of this feature.  As you can see, and by her own admission, Michelle is a “hiking addict” who prefers wilderness trails as they afford her a sense of peace, harmony and freedom with nature.

When did you first start hiking?

I have always spent time growing up out in the bush as I grew up in an outer suburb of Perth, which is situated in hills of the Darling Range. We would always just explore and make our hidden forts and just spend hours doing so as long as we were home before dark.  My memory of my first short walks was with my Grandma. She would take us out behind where she lived and we would explore the bushland.  

As I got older I joined the Brownies (Girl scouts sort of) Girl Guides, Rangers and went on to do my Duke of Edinburgh where hiking was part of it. When I had kids, I didn’t do much for a while until the youngest was around 11 (2007) and I started heading back out for short trips like 1-2 nights which became 1-2 weeks.  My first hiking trip overseas was in Alaska in 2009 for 4 weeks! From there, I haven’t stopped!

What do you like the most about hiking?

I love the feeling it gives me – the sense of being free and strong; to have the world around you to be so quiet but at the same time so loud with life. The feeling it gives me when I look back on the day, week, month and see where I have come from and think, “WOW! I walked that with my own two feet!”  This makes me proud of myself. Then, there is the love of trekking in a foreign land and exploring it in a way most wouldn’t. You can really get the feel of a place and the culture when you are walking through it. You meet so many amazing people and sometimes they might not speak the same language as you but when you are on a journey like this it doesn’t matter and you tend to find a way to communicate.

Michelle shares with us 3 of her favorite trails.

Cape to Cape Western Australia

This trail is an 83 mile coastal bush/beach walk.  It starts at the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and ends south at the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. There are campgrounds along the way or you can arrange to get pick up from the trail and stay in accommodation. My parents live down there so it was a great way to visit and get a walk in. I have walked the length of this trail and many times more. The vistas are amazing as you get to see the incredible rugged cliffs and coastline of Western Australia (WA for short).  There’s also some beach walking and coastal bush involved.  It can be a challenging walk in some sections including a 6 ½ mile of soft sand walking on the last day, but worth it.

Lavender Federation Trail in South Australia

This is a little-known trail but a very beautiful one.  It’s around 131miles  but it since has been extended to 152 miles of country walking, mostly over farmlands. I was the first person (and female) to do a thru hike, unsupported (without vehicle support or bag transfer).  It starts in a small riverside town of Murray Bridge and meanders its way north through farmlands and wine country. I stayed in a mix of B&Bs, motels and private residences which require having to walk off the trail to get to any as you really don’t walk through towns.

The Great Ocean Walk in Victoria

This is a stunning trail I would recommend to any overseas hiker to do (or anyone for that matter).  It shows the best of the rugged southern coastline, rainforests, bushland and farmlands.  It is a 65 mile walk with campsites along the way though it is well set up for you to be picked up from the trail and taken to B&Bs along the way. There is plenty of wildlife including many koalas and wallabies to see and a lot of history especially along one stretch of beach called Wreck Beach (the name says it all).  

I was curious about Michelle’s preference in terms of solo versus group hiking. She noted that she enjoys solo for the following reasons:

I love solo as it grounds me.  It reminds me I’m strong and I can achieve this, plus I love alone time. I love time in my own thoughts. There was a time that this scared me but I now embrace it and I realized I actually like myself. I think I’m cool to hang out with.

I love that Michelle learned to appreciate herself more by hiking solo.  It’s liberating to get to a point when you don’t need to rely on anyone for company to enjoy the moment.  However, Michelle also enjoys sharing the activity of walking with others as it creates stronger bonds.

Walking with others is a very different experience. I do a lot of big treks now with my husband (got him in hook, line, and sinker) and we are very different walkers but complement each other well. I love having the chance to experience these amazing trails with him and I think it has bought us closer. Not bad after 25 years of marriage!  

Also, we walk with friends and sometimes I arrange groups. These are fun as you get to spend some quality time with people and share their joy on the experience. We just got back from an overseas trip where my hubby and I walked Norway, then went straight to Scotland and met our old friends who are new to trekking and we walked the West Highland Way for 7 days.  It was fantastic! We got to have real time with them – something in this crazy fast paced world you don’t often get. And, yes, we are still very good friends.  In fact, we have been on more hiking trips since then.

As to lessons from hiking, here is Michelle’s take on it.

There’s so many!  It must be the best schooling in life one could get. I have learned to appreciate nature and its extreme beauty. Not to take life for granted and let it just pass you by.  Go out and soak it up; experience it in the best way you can. I have learned to be strong – not so much as physically (though it does help sometimes) but mentally.

You learn to rely on yourself and to make decisions for yourself (funny enough this is a hard one for most people) and to follow through with the decision you made.  Also, you learned not to give up easily and instead to push yourself mentally and physically.  I have learned so much more about the world than I ever learned in school.  And mostly, you learn to love life.

In terms of women who are new to hiking, what advise would you give?

Just give it a go. Don’t be afraid to try. Take it slow at first and do a few small walks and then move on from there but don’t walk and think about when you will finish.  Don’t think about the fact you have 12 ½ miles to walk.  The number in the end doesn’t really matter. Take that first step onto the trail, then stop, close your eyes and breath deeply, pulling in the nature… and blow out the world you just stepped out of, then start walking.  This, in a way, gives your body permission to let go of your normal busy life and have a moment in nature where there is peace. When you walk, stop often to look around at the scenery or even just a leaf on a plant. Sometimes it’s the small things that really gives pleasure. From there, the rest will evolve.

Her last statement just resonated with me as it’s so true!  When asked what her most memorable trek to date was, Michelle gave it her best answer as it was a struggle for her to name just one.  

Now this is so hard to answer. People ask me all the time this question. All the trails I have hiked have all been different and the experiences were different. I will say though the answer will probably be  the Alaska trip.  It’s because it took me around 18 months to save for and it was my  first overseas trekking experience.  

I got to hike a multi-day glacier trek with my friend and a guide, then went to Denali and did a multi-day trek with just my friend and did a multi-day kayak trek through the icebergs! For an Aussie girl from a state that is so hot, this was very different and really cool to do. This tested me in ways I have never been tested before. The trekking and camping on the glacier were just incredible with the wild openness and grandeur of it. The sounds of the ice moving were fascinating if not a bit daunting, and the wildlife! The bears! I have a few stories there but in a nutshell met a few and I loved them!

Michelle, no doubt, is a brave hiker with all her accolades on doing long distance hikes on her own but I was curious to know if she has experienced any challenges as a “female” hiker?

Not so many, I would have to say. I am very aware of my surroundings. As I hike long distances, I would quite often end up in a town and stop for a drink at a bar. This at times does raise a few eyebrows especially as I’m a middle-aged woman with a backpack on. I never really tell people what exactly I’m doing if I can avoid it so as not to create an opportunity to attract unwelcome attention.   As I have a website and Facebook, I tend not to tell where I am exactly if alone on long treks.  When I was doing the Lavender trail, due to its remoteness, I would hide behind a tree or in a ditch if a car came by or I would keep my head low (hat on), try to walk like a man and raise a hand without looking to let them know I know they are there.

Michelle  then gave good examples of her “toughest” treks ever – one that entails mental strength, while the other touches more on being strong physically.  I quite agree that some treks require more strength in one area versus the other.

Mentally, the toughest one would be the Lavender Federation Trail which I hiked solo.  It wasn’t my first solo as I did a trail in Portugal that was 420 miles long which at that time was the most challenging for me as I used it to help myself overcome severe anxiety and panic disorder.  So, why was the Lavender trail harder mentally?  It’s because it was one where I didn’t see a soul hiking.  It was just me and the cows.  Mentally, it was tough as there was no one to grab onto if an attach occurred.  In Portugal, I saw people all the tie, even though I didn’t know them.

Isolation and solitude combined together can be powerful to train your mind to overcome fears.  As to physical strength, Michelle shares the following treks that tested her the most.

My recent trek through Norway involved some tough sections and some outright dangerous ones that at some point I decided to abandon the trail.  That section had a landslide which had taken out the trail and it was very dangerous to cross.

Then, there was the Lakes district when walking the Coast to Coast in the UK. On top of one of the mountains, the weather turned for the worse and we couldn’t see past our noses or where the trail was. We had to negotiate our way down fast as the temperature dropped quickly.  We broke two pairs of hiking poles.  Though very tired, we were relieved that we made it out safely.

Another tough trek would be the Six-Foot track in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales Australia. The first day was quite physically demanding and to end the day we had to walk on a swing bridge (I hate swing bridges) that was very long and very, very narrow. It scared me out of my wits.

That bridge looks rather intimidating so I don’t blame her for feeling a bit freaked out by it.  To shift to a more pleasant tone, Michelle then shares what treks she still has on her bucket list.

I need more than a bucket.  I need a barrel! But I will say my top ones are Tour de Mont Blanc (Switzerland, Italy and France) which I will be doing in August or September of 2017; the Sunshine Coast Trail in Canada and the  Alpe-Adria (Alps to the Adriatic) Trail, which takes you through Austria, Slovenia, Italy and Croatia.

I’ve done the Tour de Mont Blanc and it is a great choice for any avid hiker.  The other two treks sound equally appealing.  Moving on, I was curious to know her favorite hiking gear to which she responded,

My backpack since when I’m on a trail it can be sometimes up to 4 weeks or even 6 weeks or longer and it is my everything!  It holds all that I own for that time.  When I wear it, it fits right. It triggers memories from other great moments in my life and each trip just adds more to the memory file.

Due to all these fun and amazing adventures, Michelle decided to start her own blog which evolved from a Facebook page that initially served to maintain connection with family and friends.  Michelle then took a travel writing course  that led her closer to the idea of blogging.  She fondly shares the backdrop for the name of her blog, which came out of the idea of a 4WD vehicle.  Akin to a 4 WD, getting around with two legs would mean 2×2.  Hence, the name Walking Two By Two, which she credits her husband for coming up with such a well thought out name.

On one final note, Michelle shares her future plans as to hiking and blogging:

Last year I wanted to really take the blogging to the next level and try to use my love of trekking to my advantage.  I want to make hiking my career and keep going as long as my body will allow.  I also want to inspire people to get out there and try and to feel some of what I feel.  My site is not only a blog of my journeys but it is also an information site so people can go on and learn about a trail and how to go about trekking it themselves.

I also have lots of “How to” sections to help people, especially the new ones wanting to give it a go, such as “How to choose the right backpack or boots”  or even “How to tie your laces.”  Yes, don’t laugh!  There are many ways to tie laces which can actually save you from blisters and sore feet.  I also send my stories off to many magazines and have sold a few (yay!).  I hope to sell a whole lot more.  I have in the past few months started doing presentations for functions.  I was asked to do one and then 3 more came up! I really love doing them.

Obviously, there are plenty of reasons to follow Michelle – from hiking tips/advise to all the treks she’s done which she documents in detail on her blog.  All the treks that have been mentioned in this feature can be found on her website so make sure to visit Walking Two By Two.   You can also find her on social media via her following accounts: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

In closing, Michelle shared her favorite quote on and off trails:

Each moment of the year has its own beauty –  a picture which was never seen before and which shall never be seen again.

                                                        -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Michelle explains the quote as her way of viewing each day as “a new picture and that each trail is new even if you have walked it a million times.  It is never the same.”

Thanks Michelle for the inspiration and sharing your hiking life with us!   It’s been an amazing experience to connect with an avid hiker from Australia.  I’m sure we all want to do our next trek there now.  After all, the Great Ocean Trail truly looks amazing!

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