St. John, U.S Virgin Islands: The Ultimate Getaway

I was sort of on a mission.

Turtles! 

After all, my claim to their relevance in my life has to do with being a “turtle” in the Mayan calendar.  That I learned ages ago on my very first trip to the lovely country called, Guatemala.   This is a secret obsession that erupts to the surface whenever I’m near beaches claimed to have the sweet and gentle creatures.

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Anyway, on a practical level, this trip was to avoid the evil cold winter time in DC.  Two of my friends and I ventured out and indulged in some “glamping.”  I did not come up with that idea.  I was all for the mosquito bites and deet perfume 24/7.  In the end, it was a good decision due to the fact that the campground, Cinnamon Bay, was buggy indeed.  Lovely location – Cinnamon Bay beach.  We certainly felt special enough that we had some Bollywood shots taken in and out of the water.  That’s what happens when one of the people you travel with has a …paparazzi tendency 🙂

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So what did we humans accomplish on this trip?  Nothing.  Just lazed around but I’m  proud to say I ran at least once. That included running up steep trails and checking out a bit of the ruins left in the island.  A lot of our time was also spent snorkeling.  Well, we did that each day actually.  You can’t blame us.  Didn’t I say there were turtles?  Yes, and I luckily got to swim with them, stalk them, almost petted them but surely caught them on my waterproof Fujifilm XP camera. The place to do all these is in Maho Bay.  Besides snorkeling, we did kayak to a nearby island.  We were the only ones there so we managed to feel like stranded tourists, albeit not starving, as we had some tuna, nuts and crackers to eat.

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All in all, Cinnamon Bay campground is a decent base for wandering in the northern part of the island.  To get around would require having your own car.  We didn’t rent one.  Public taxis came around but depending on the time, they can be scarce and hard to catch.  So, car rental is a must if you wish to roam around the island.  But for the popular areas like Trunk Bay, Cinammon Bay and Maho Bay, one can manage without.

I do want to air out one thing about St. John.  I am a bit saddened by the fact that people in the island are being outnumbered by tourists.  Many Americans are moving there with the intent to retire.  When we went to the city center, there was a lack of local restaurants.  We ate at one that appears to be the only one left as most of the local joints were being pushed out by American -owned establishments.  Wait, that just sounded like my NE neighborhood in DC… hmm… See, not only is the island being overtaken by foreign retirees, but also by the good old cruise ship people.  They were everywhere, left and right.  But I must say the locals remain friendly despite the tourist take over although they have openly aired out their concern for the future generations of the island locals.  The unfortunate  side effect of the commercialism is the tendency of most locals to leave the island and move to the bigger island of St. Thomas.  St. John is a beautiful island, no doubt but it has become too commercialized.  With commercialism, comes higher costs.  Indeed, it wasn’t a cheap place to visit.  Meals at restaurants average $20 a pop.

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Ah, St. John!  I was in love with it once but never again.  The first time I went there years ago I only had a day to visit but the place left a good impression in my backpacker mind- that I wanted to go back there and…(surprise, surprise) retire.  Well, that’s all changed as the future appears to paint an uber commercialized St. John.  That leaves backpackers like me with having to look for another low key island to consider as future home.  Oh, well, and so it goes.  Nonetheless, thank you, St. John, for the turtles.  It reconnected me back to the importance of patiently enjoying the moment and taking things slow, just like my turtle spirit.

Some practical tips:

  1. If you visit St. John around winter time (Dec-Feb), chances are you may score a great deal on flights. coming from U.S.
  2. There is a public transport on the island but at times you’ll have to wait a while.  If you can afford the extra expense, opt for a car rental especially if you’re staying for only a few days.
  3. St. John is hilly so keep that in mind if you decide to do more walking like we did.  You may try to do some hitchhiking as it’s safe enough since most people are tourists.
  4. Where we stayed at, Cinnamon Bay, is the cheapest place available on the island.  We originally intended to stay in the tents but as it turns out mosquitoes are common.   So, we were glad to have opted for the more luxurious rustic cabins.  You can’t beat the location with a view of the water.
  5. There are grocery stores in the island but you’ll need to pay tons.  I suggest you bring with you in your check in luggage some provisions as the cabin has what you need to cook your own meals.

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Kaila & Wyatt

One is never too old to hike.  But then, can one ever be “too young” to hike? 

Our next feature, Kaila, found inspiration from hiking through making a choice to live a healthy lifestyle and discovered hiking in her adult life.  However, joining Kaila, is her 4 year old son, Wyatt, who started hiking at 8 months!  Of course, not literally as he was too young to walk then but his parents have exposed him to the outdoors from that very young age.   So, are you ever too young to love the outdoors?  According to Wyatt, no.

Before officially meeting Kaila and Wyatt, my first encounter with Wyatt was through reading a Huffington Post article on him.  Wyatt aims to hike Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia’s Borneo – the  youngest to do so.  I personally did a solo hike of Mt. Kinabalu years back and it’s a strenuous trail not to be taken lightly as it goes as high as over 13,000 feet.  Luckily, it appears his parents are mindful of his safety and deems that to be the number one priority.  Wyatt’s pursuit of hiking and just being in the outdoors is certainly inspiring for the young and old alike.  Also, it’s a testament to the fact that having kids should not halt our passion for the outdoors as adults, especially for women.  After all, it’s the healthiest way to raise a young person.   So, I’m rather excited to hear from both Kaila and Wyatt about how hiking has been instrumental in their lives.  In addition, their hiking stories take us to the Philippines and Asia (for now).  In case you do wonder if there are trails to trek in that part of the world, the answer is yes, most definitely!  It’s not the easiest terrain either with frequent muddy conditions and steep climbs.  Nonetheless, it’s a heavenly place for any avid hiker.

Outdoor  Woman’s Voice

Kaila (& Wyatt)

Kaila Sharlene de los Reyes – Bedural was born in Santa Cruz, Manila and grew up in Quiapo, Manila.  She is currently residing in San Pedro, a city in the province of Laguna.  Kaila is a freelance web developer, web designer, SEO specialist, and marketer.   Kaila started hiking in 2011.  She hikes in nearby mountains and around Batangas, Laguna and Rizal as time allows.  She also has ventured into the Cordillera mountains in Benguet and explored some of the peaks in Mindanao.  When off trails, Kaily loves collecting banknotes of the countries she has visited and old Philippine banknotes.

How did you discover hiking?

I saw the hiking photos of my officemates and I suddenly feel envious with them. I didn’t tell anyone that I wanted to join but I suddenly got invited by one of them, so I immediately said yes!  After that, I didn’t join them anymore and I just searched for groups and events on facebook where I could join and I eventually became a solo hiker.

What do you like the most about hiking?

I was born and grew up in a city so I seldom experience being with nature during my childhood and teenage days. When hiking, I loved how I can see different views of nature. Also, there’s an overwhelming joy once you reach the top of the mountain. Next, it helped me have a healthy lifestyle. Our family is prone to being obese. In fact, I’ve been overweight since I was a child. But because of hiking, I’ve lost a lot of weight. However, in 2015 when I became too busy with work and we seldom went hiking, I gained back some pounds again. Third, hiking helps me relieved some stress, especially when spending the night camping in the mountain. Fourth, hiking is our major family bonding.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more? 

When I didn’t have my own family yet, I enjoyed hiking solo. Hiking with big groups delayed the itinerary and I want to follow my own pace. If spending the night in the mountains, sometimes it’s too noisy at the campsite if there are too many people. So without a doubt, I loved hiking alone. However, it changed when I’ve got a husband and a baby. Hiking as a family is the most enjoyable thing for me now. I no longer care about my own pacing because we enjoyed every step with our Wyatt.

Kaila shares with us 3 places locally and abroad that she and Wyatt have hiked. 

Fansipan in Sapa Town Lao Cai, Vietnam is our first ever hike outside the Philippines. It is called the “Roof of Indochina”. It was winter season (December) when we went there and although there’s no snow, the climate is really cold especially at the top. But we’re prepared and equipped with proper gears so we didn’t worry about the cold weather.

Next is Mt. Talomo traverse to Mt. Apo. It is known as Mindanao Megatraverse because of its tough trails. Mt. Apo is the highest mountain in the Philippines and potentially-active strato-volcano. There are a lot of trails to get there like the Kapatagan trail (easiest), Kidapawan trail (a little challenging) and a lot more. We did the Mt. Talomo-Apo traverse when we decided to hike Mt. Apo because it’s like hitting two birds in one stone. Before getting to Mt. Apo, you have to hike a series of mountain peaks so it’s hard. The usual itinerary for it is 4 days and 3 nights. But because we have a toddler with us, we extend the itinerary to 5 days and 4 nights

Third is Mt. Ulap Eco Trail. It is one of the most famous hiking trails in the Philippines because of its spectacular views. There are pine trees, grasslands, ridge, hanging bridge and you can also see burial caves. It is just near Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

Never underestimate the mountain. Be prepared always. Learn not only the basics of hiking but also the advanced skills. Have more patience.

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

Enjoy the trail and the nature in general. These are the things that no amount of money can buy. So we, as a family, invest on these experiences rather than gadgets and other unnecessary things in life.

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?

Every hike is memorable for us. But the most memorable perhaps is our Mt. Kitanglad traverse to Mt. Dulang-Dulang. It is also a tough hiking trail in the Philippines. And because we have a toddler with us, it is much harder than usual. The weather forecast in the place was sunny but we still experienced moderate to heavy rain in the middle of the trek. We couldn’t go back anymore because we’re too far already so we have no choice but to go. There are steep descents and ascents so we have to use ropes. There’s a part with big rock with cliffs on both sides. An existing rope is available but it’s too muddy making it slippery. Same goes with the rock. We couldn’t ask any help as well because the local guide already went ahead of us and there are no other hikers during that time. I wasn’t afraid for myself but for my husband and our little one. I went first and I managed to surpass that obstacle. While at the top, I kept praying to God and saints to protect both of them. Thankfully, nothing bad happened.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

We have lined up Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, then Lantau Peak and Dragon’s Back Trail in Hong Kong for 2017. Hopefully, more international climbs for 2018. Nothing specific yet because we’re just relying on promo fares and we’ll go whichever place I get the most affordable fare. Of course for the bucket list, we have the Himalayas – Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp; but that’s too expensive so not a priority.

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

When I was still a single woman, there are people who underestimated my capabilities as a female. I was turned down to join a hike simply because I was a newbie and a woman; they thought that I couldn’t do it. I felt so hurt so I decided to go on my own way and proved to them that I can do it just like them (men).

Wyatt

When did Wyatt start hiking?

He was only 8 months old when we brought him to our hiking activity.

How did he get started on hiking?

When we already knew that I was pregnant, we stopped all the outdoor activities until my CS wound was completely healed. We were on hiatus for about 1 year and 5 months. We really wanted to go back to what we used to do before and we really missed outdoor activities. We don’t have a nanny for Wyatt, and since there are only three of us in the house, we decided to go camping with our baby. Surprisingly, Wyatt showed interest being one with nature. He’s really happy with the trees, the environment, and the people we meet on the trail. The funny part is that he didn’t want us to stop walking. Yes, he didn’t want to rest. We had fun climbing together as a family so we decided to do it often when the schedule and budget permit. Aside from the fun that climbing brings, we noticed that Wyatt’s stamina is getting stronger and he was able to resist a lot of sickness. Unlike other kids, he seldom gets sick and never been hospitalized.

What trails has Wyatt hiked to date?

A lot. 43 mountains as of this writing. You can find his hiking log here: http://www.wyattmaktrav.com/climb-log/

What is the terrain like for these hikes?

Mountainous, grasslands, mossy forest, open fields, muddy trail, and river crossings.

How do you coordinate and plan his hikes?

Of course, extensive preparation has been done before we go on a climb. We consider the type of mountain whether it’s only a dayhike or a multi-day climb. We avoid mountains that are rocky and have limatiks (leeches). We choose mountains where baby Wyatt can walk/climb by himself in most parts. As a result, his legs are full of muscles even as a baby. There are more preparations in major climbs because we need to make sure that we won’t run out of supplies for the entire duration of the hike. Aside from the allotted food for the estimated days, we also have some buffer supplies (emergency food) just in case there are unexpected circumstances. We have to know the weather forecast on the location of the mountain, although we know that mountain has its own weather that we can’t control. In fact, we have scheduled climbs in the past that we aborted due to bad weather in the area. We’re also searching for some locals in the area who will assist us, especially for the logistics such as the transportation going to the jump-off and processing of permits so that our focus will be on our internal preparation – mostly for our baby.

As parents, how do you ensure his safety?

We carefully choose the trails that we will hike. As parents, we don’t want him to be in danger. So when hiking, both of us are very attentive to his every step. If there are hard parts on the trail and he’s too tired, we carry him. If the mountain is a major one, we used to seek help from friends to accompany us so we have somebody to rely on in terms of cooking of meals, etc. so our focus is purely on our son. We also take time in the trail. Before, we used to run but now, we just follow our son’s pacing. Very enjoyable!

You also launched a website – what is the goal for your site?

At first, it was a private site because Ed and I were both busy so we couldn’t write anything to be published on that blog. We just wanted to compile Wyatt’s photos of his climbs, travel and other adventures through it. I’ve purchased a domain with his name and made it public in May, 2016. Then eventually, the website helped us establish media presence for Wyatt (TV shows, magazines, and other blogs).

How has the outdoors community responded to your son’s love for hiking?

We’ve been receiving both positive and negative comments about bringing our child in the mountains. For the positive comments, they said they are inspired, amazed and wanted to do the same. For the negative, there’s a lot. They said we are putting our child into danger, some even said we’re not a good example, that it’s a bad parenting, etc. Even so, we’re not really affected with the negative comments because they don’t know us, they don’t know what kind of preparation we do, and they didn’t experience it themselves.

You can read more about this topic via this article on Wyatt’s website.  What future hikes do you have planned for Wyatt?

For nearby mountains, we usually go unexpected. For those that need airfare tickets, I’ve already booked promo fares in advance so we have plans for Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia (May), Lantau Peak and Dragon’s Back Trail in Hongkong (July).

What are some of Wyatt’s favorite hikes?

 Wyatt loves water so his favorite hikes are those with falls, river, and lake.

What advise do you have for parents who have a child who’s interested in hiking and who wish to start going outdoors?

Hiking with a child, let alone a toddler or infant, is not an easy task. So if you are interested to start going outdoors with your child, make sure that you have tried it yourself. The most important thing is that both parents should love what they are doing. Be prepared not only with the supplies but also physically and emotionally.

It’s been a pleasure to have Kaila and Wyatt on this feature and learning more about the hiking life in the Philippines.   The outdoors are meant for any age and stage of life as long as preparations are made.  Wyatt sure has more hikes to pursue and so it’s worth following him via his social media accounts:  Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.  You can also read about Wyatt’s adventures via his own blog.

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: Oregon (USA)

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 or visit if your passion has to do with spending time in the mountains or nature.  Our featured hiker’s paradise is: 

OREGON (U.S.A.)

by Tarah & Tip of Fit Two Travel

Oregon is one of the best places to live if you enjoy hiking. It’s should be a sin to visit Oregon, without getting out on one of the many hiking paths. From forests, to waterfalls, to breath-taking views, Oregon hikes has arguably some of the most gorgeous scenery in the World. A few of our favorites are Misery Ridge Loop, Angels Rest, and the Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park. 

Smith Rock State Park is 3 hours from Portland, located right outside of Bend. Misery Ridge is one of the more popular trails at Smith Rock, at just under 4 miles round-trip. Consider yourself forewarned as it is an intense climb with a mile of straight uphill hiking. It’s all worth it when you see the view at the top! From the top on a clear day, you can see multiple mountains in the distance, including Mt. Hood, Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters.

There are many beautiful views in the Columbia Gorge, but our favorite is Angels rest. Just under 5 miles, it’s not too long, but it does have a steep incline. Silver Falls has 10 waterfalls and over 24 miles of trails to explore. Silver Falls is the largest park in Oregon. With so many trails, you can pick your difficulty level. We highly recommend doing the trail of ten falls, where you can see all 10 falls. It’s a longer trail at 8.7 miles, but it doesn’t have much elevation gain.  

Oregon is a beautiful state to explore, especially when you’re surrounded my nature and incredible views. The many trails of Oregon need to be on your list to see.

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

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Are You Brave Enough? Summiting a Peak That Almost Killed You

I can see IT, touch IT, smell IT.  

“THIS”

The summit, that is.  In just a matter of days I will once again come face to face with a mountain or a volcano rather that has instilled this lingering fear in me.  Her name is Kilimanjaro.

A few years back, I made an ambitious attempt to summit Kilimanjaro via the shortest route – Marangu.  By shortest, I mean 2.5 days to go up the summit.  Sounds intense?  It’s more than intense. I almost died from the onset of symptoms of pulmonary edema.  By the time I hit the last hut, Kibo, on the night I was scheduled to summit, I barely could lift a fork to feed myself pasta.  To be frank, that was one of the scariest night of my life.  A German doctor who happened to be at the hut that night looked me over and said rather bluntly, “You know you’re not making it right?  You’d die if you continue on.  Well, that is if you can even walk at this stage.”

She was right. I couldn’t walk anymore.  My lungs were starting to fill up with fluids and my breathing was significantly limited.  As the night progressed, I started coughing and fever set in.  The minimal amount of oxygen left me devoid of any ability to even fully comprehend my surroundings.  Unbeknownst to her, in silence, I cried that night while the hikers and I made our attempt to get some sleep before the midnight start time for the summit.  My younger self then was consumed with a sense of “failure” – one that I dreaded on the trek.  After all, I came to Kilimanjaro to conquer the peak.  Being only 6-8 hours away from the goal was heart-wrenching.  I was that close to possessing the prize.  But I knew I had no choice except to quietly lay on that top bunk bed struggling to keep myself conscious and awake.  Minutes before midnight, I could hear the noises coming from the adrenaline-fueled hikers that were hastily preparing their gear for the ultimate hike up the summit.  Their day of hiking would take anywhere between 10 and 14 hours to complete whereas my activity for that day took a different shape, one in which I have to be transported down the mountain as soon as daylight arrived.

As they left the room, I felt a sense of disappointment at myself. I could barely stand the thought that I allowed the journey to lead me to this –a distraught, debilitated and hardly functioning version of myself – fully surrendering to the defeat.  I recalled laying in silence for a long time while fearing that if I closed my eyes, I may never open them up again.  Never.  In other words, it dawned on me that quite possibly I might die tonight. 

I thought about my family and friends, how far away they were and without a clue of the predicament that I was in.  Fear mixed with despair wasn’t something I ever conjured in my mind until that night. My only goal at that moment was to survive.  I preoccupied my mind with thoughts, no matter how random they maybe just to avoid the allure of sleep. I reflected on how events unfolded leading up to that point.  Perhaps I became too overly confident that I can conquer any peak I so desire in light of the fact that I successfully trekked up Thorung La Pass on Annapurna Circuit in Nepal just months prior.  Now, as fate intended, I was learning the hard way that being overly confident in Kilimanjaro worked against me.  The decision to hike up over the shortest amount of time worked against me. Now, I myself was against me for making such reckless decisions that led me to this unwanted fate.  I was angry at the situation and myself while placing most of the blame on me.  What was supposed to be an ordeal with summiting had turned into one dealing with survival.

As daylight came the next morning, I was notified of the porters’ arrival at the hut to lift and carry me back down the mountain as a means for me to survive.  The plan was to transport me back to the lower hut where I was expected to reunite with my hiking companions.  To add insult to injury, the transport down via a homemade stretcher was quite a bumpy ride as the porters, my saviors, hurried down the rocky trail as if I was as light as a feather.  Speeding down the mountain did mean a quicker recovery, however.   In fact, within minutes of arriving at the lower hut, I felt completely functional again without a hint of any of the symptoms I endured earlier at higher altitudes.  I survived physically.  But then I wondered, “Would I survive the feeling of failure?”

This all happened in 2009.  Eight years went by and the experience continued to haunt me. I reflected on the sense of defeat while the passage of time which carved out the space I needed to detach from the horrific experience allowed me to grow as a person.  That process of growth afforded me the chance to see the incident from a more mature view point.  Over time, I found a way to release my pent-up frustration and fears that caused me to question myself as a hiker.  I hated every second that I felt this way.  I was scared that if I ever make a second attempt to reach the mighty peak of Kilimanjaro that I will be forced to bare the utmost sense of failure yet again.  Eventually, I learned to forgive myself which proceeded to restore my sense of self-worth.  This process then led me to realize that the power of fear to deter our ability to function to our fullest potential was in essence merely an illusion.

And so, years went by.  Life moved on.  I continued to hike and trek other parts of the world.  But, still, I continued to debate in my head the ultimate question – will I ever make a second attempt?  I promised myself that if I ever decide to do so, it will be for the right reasons.  For 7 years, I hardly considered renewing any commitment to returning to Kilimanjaro and even decided at some point, “Hell no, I will never go back.”  

However, from out of nowhere, I found myself inspired to return.  An epiphany unexpectedly entered my psyche dictating that I should go and make a second attempt.  This time around it’s not so much about proving to myself that I can summit.  Instead, it’s more about proving to myself that I’m fearless and that no matter what the outcome maybe, my self-love is strong enough to resist the pull of the ego to define my inability to summit as “failure.”  Since the fiasco, I’ve been sheltering my heart and mind from the lingering frustrations of the experience.  Eventually, this constant denial left me feeling weary of this baseless fear and my constant subconscious effort to shield myself from it, so much so that one day I decided, “what the hell, it’s time to go back to conquer this fear once and for all.”

As you can see, it took 8 years to finally muster the courage to revisit this unfortunate circumstance.  Whatever reluctance I might have had in the beginning have all dissipated at this point.  Now, I’m genuinely looking forward to the moment I set foot on Kilimanjaro’s trails again armed with my new sense of self – scared but courageous enough to conquer that very same fear.

I am of course returning to Kilimanjaro equipped with lessons from the first attempt.  The lessons include devoting some serious mental preparation for it in addition to the physical training to ensure that my body is at its best shape to overcome the challenge that lies ahead.  From running a half marathon to walking 30 miles in one day with my usual intense hot yoga and cardio workout in between, I am facing this personal fear of Kilimanjaro with the best mindset and physical capabilities that I can possibly have.  I have been diligently preparing for this moment including my extensive research on the best route that will guarantee a higher level of success.  I also added at least 4 more days to the ascent to ensure proper acclimatization to the altitude.  I even wrote notes to myself about how best to prepare for the altitude from a mental standpoint.  Finally, my trekking gear has been upgraded and replenished to withstand cold and windy conditions, which should make the experience less excruciating.

Completing the Charleston half marathon to prepare mentally and physically.

In a few days I’ll be en route to the summit of Kilimanjaro.  As I do so, I intend to remind myself of a meaningful conversation with a random unnamed fellow hiker who shared with me some wonderful wisdom – “what makes one courageous is not the first time experience of successfully climbing a peak; rather, it’s failing at it the first time and yet making a second attempt at it despite the fear of failing yet again.”

If he’s right about that notion, then this only means one thing – that I was courageous then, but more courageous now for facing the same challenge the second time around after a failed attempt.  With that in mind, I forge ahead with my head up high. Trekking Kilimanjaro or any mountain peak for that matter has taught me first and foremost to face my fears. Second, success is defined not by what we do in a physical sense but rather what we tell ourselves regardless of the direction the journey takes us.  Hence, no matter the outcome  the second attempt of Kilimanjaro yields, one thing is for sure this time around – either way, there is no defeat but only life lessons and gratitude for the experience.

So, are you brave enough to go back and tackle that mountain that you didn’t summit?  You are.  You will.

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The Grand Canyon Rim to Rim: Risking It All In The Heat

If there is a trek that has taught me well as a trekker, it would be the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Trek.  Sure, it’s a classic 4 day trek and every avid hiker wishes to experience the grandeur of this terrain but Grand Canyon can be a danger zone if you don’t properly prepare for the potential hazards that are inherent in the trek.  I learned the hard way and so did my trekking companions.   As a trek leader, it was one experience that I will never forget for good reasons.

The Trek

The plan was simple.  As an organizer for meetup.com, a well-known social platform that allows people to organize events to meet and do activities, I intended to organize a classic itinerary of the rim to rim trek of the  Grand Canyon. In our case, the plan was to start at the North side and finish at the South Side in a span of 4 days.  The mileage was moderate in length with the first and fourth days requiring the group to work on the elevation loss and gain – a descent from the North Rim and the ascent to the top of the South Rim.  Perfect short multi-day trek.  The only issue was that I obtained permits for the late June-early July time frame.  Hence, we were going to trek the Grand Canyon at the hottest time of the year!

Yet, despite the heat, a group of us ventured into this unique opportunity.  We survived.  At the same time, one of our members suffered heat exhaustion.  This leads me to say to all those who are considering to trek this mighty landscape to keep in mind the potential hazards. If you can avoid the hottest time of the year which normally falls in July and August, do so.  If you decide to go and battle the heat, then make sure to do all the necessary research to prepare yourself and to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Of course, the experience we had and even the incident itself did not minimize the tremendous beauty of the Grand Canyon as the photos depict.  In trekking the Grand Canyon, we experienced a rather unusual situation where one member of our group, John, suffered from heat exhaustion which occurred on the third day as we all hiked out of Phantom Ranch to proceed to our last campsite on the third night.  During that time, John and Aaron, who volunteered to be  our sweeper, unfortunately became separated from the group.  In the end, we caught up with one another and were all ever so grateful for the safety of everyone and for the lessons learned.  Below, Aaron shares the experience to remind us all about the inherent risks of trekking in the heat and the measures we can take when we find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of dealing with heat exhaustion.

The Grand Canyon Rim to Rim: Risking It All In the Heat

(as narrated by Aaron)

The day before the onset of heat exhaustion.

Well, as the camera hog of the group, it’s only natural that I was designated the sweeper out on the trail. So, by the time I got into Phantom Ranch that second day, I had never really caught on all that day as to how Johns was holding up during our hike into Bright Angel camp. I had no idea during the hike if he was having any issues or managing just fine. I just know that I was the last person in line throughout that day’s hike and nobody lagged behind enough to be swept up. Probably the first real sign that caught my attention was how John was doing once the temperatures started to cool down. Getting into Phantom Ranch just before noon, the campsite thermometer had already reached some 130F! Most of the crowd waited out the afternoon sauna inside the dining hall while others welcomed the dry heat by taking turns napping in Bright Angel Creek.

Once the evening started to creep over, I did notice that John seemed a bit lower key than others in taking advantage of the cooler air. He didn’t speak or add to the conversation much and his gait didn’t have the same ‘bounce’ that most of us still carried. Back at camp, I remember asking him if he had yet much to eat and his response didn’t demonstrate much enthusiasm at the idea. The apparent apathy for food and his lethargic demeanor that evening were clear signs that his body hadn’t managed that day’s hike and the camp’s subsequent dry heat as well as it should have been. While some of us were contemplating a quick morning hike overlooking camp, I suggested he take the rest of the evening easy, eat as much as he could tolerate before turning in, and sleep in the next morning while some us caught the sunrise. I was sure through some food and sleep that he’d recover well enough to make the hike out the next day and manage the shorter albeit uphill trek to Indian Gardens Campground.

It was a rough night for most of the group, trying to comfortably sleep through 100+F heat with barely a breeze to console us. After getting back into camp from a spectacular sunrise hike, it was nice to see John already breaking camp. He was moving a bit slow but that was understandable; it took most of us a bit of extra effort to really get in gear. But John’s disposition did seem to have a bit more pep than the previous evening. He expressed some confidence in the day’s hike out in front of us. And he did say that he already had some breakfast, though I didn’t press him for any details.

Heat exhaustion.  Noticing the symptoms.

As the group hiked out of camp, John was out there in line somewhere. I, per usual, hung around until everybody was well on their way out and brought up the back of the pack. Hiking out of Bright Angel Campground, it’s about a mile crossing over and then hugging west along the Colorado River before getting to Pipe Creek, the point of the trek that distinctly signals the start of the climb up towards the South Rim. Pipe Creek as it drains downward into the Colorado includes a section aptly named the Devil’s Corkscrew, about another mile or so up from the river.

It was barely a few hundred yards up Pipe Creek though that I spotted John up ahead taking the climb at a noticeably slower and more deliberate pace than everybody else out on the trail. Barely a quarter of the way to Indian Gardens with plenty of incline still ahead, I found his lack of progress concerning. His pace had become slow and deliberate with frequent rest breaks. 

I eventually caught up with him. He was sweating profusely, which was not necessarily a bad sign. I asked him how he was holding up and what he was thinking. He admittedly expressed how surprised he was to have so much trouble from yesterday through this morning. I assured him to just take his time, pointing out the lower mileage for that day, and that I would be with him for the rest of the day.

The thing with heat exhaustion is that it can strike a person practically on the spot in mid-activity or take over a person through a length of time as that person may go through periodic waves of strenuous activity. Fortunately for John, it was more the latter. He was noticeably less energetic that evening at Bright Angel, appearing to easily tire with basic physical activity such as walking back-forth between camp and Phantom Ranch while the rest of us had obviously completely recovered from that day’s hike into camp. And he exhibited not just a lack of an appetite but an apparent aversion to just the very thought of food. Generally, he had an apathetic manner about himself, based mostly out of fatigue. The less warm air that overnight (one could barely call it ‘cooler’) plus time off his feet seemed to do him some good come the following morning.

It can only get worse before it gets better.

I let John know that we would spend the rest of our hike together and that the pace would be dictated by how he was feeling, noting that although the climb up to Indian Gardens was significant the mileage was shorter than the previous day’s and there was plenty of daylight ahead.

Unfortunately, after a short while, it soon became clear that John’s exertion was causing more harm than it was safely worth for him. His rest breaks eventually turned into seats of him bent over between his legs. He was using his hiking poles more to maintain his balance than to purposefully push himself forward. And most concerning is that he started to slur his speech and became unable to string together coherent thoughts when I engaged with him. His physical grind had been apparent for a while but his mental status was starting to fail him as well.

My hike out of Bright Angel camp to the point of meeting up with John probably took about an hour, give or take. The hike back with John took several hours, partly by design as well as necessity. The most important thing was to take our time. As much as possible, I wanted to minimize the physical exertion it took him to make it back into camp, not too concerned with how long it would take us. This included multiple catnaps, transferring much of his backpack weight onto myself to carry, and taking advantage of any seats in the shade from the sun as we came across them.

Along the way, I encouraged hydration (he refused to eat) and regularly saturated his body with water, all to allow his body to control its core temperature. I also tried to regularly engage with him, whether by conversation or just by occasionally holding his shoulder or arm. I offered encouragement but I was hoping that just the physical interaction itself could help him stay focused and determined.

John and I spent a second night at Bright Angel camp, giving him a full afternoon and evening of physical recovery as well an opportunity to nutritiously replenish his body. I suspect that he didn’t eat well that previous evening after hiking into Bright Angel and whatever meals/snacks he had the next morning was lost out on the trail.

Once back in camp, he was physically and mentally spent. The rest of the day saw him recover well, though, especially once we periodically settled down for a while to recover, alternating between the cool dining hall, dipping in the nearby creek, and relaxing in camp. He was still obviously very fatigued and not at all motivated to do anything all that day. But slowly he became more mentally alert and aware, forced himself to snack and eat what he could stomach a bit more each time (and kept it down), and eventually able to manage himself on his own feet with little concern. By the end of that evening, he seemed more like he was early that morning when he was breaking camp.

After assisting John back to Bright Angel Camp and assuring he was stable enough to rest up on his own, I sought out the on-duty ranger for advice. It was through his radio that I was eventually able to contact the rest of the group after they had made it to Indian Gardens CG. After that, John and I were pretty much on our own until we could meet the group back at the North Rim the next day, which was a bit of an adventure in itself. Fortunately, once back at the North Rim, I could call them from the North Rim Lodge and arrange a pick up.

That evening went relatively well. In a few hours’ time after getting back into camp, John recovered well enough to walk around with little issue, although still in no hurry, and eventually could tolerate eating some food. John’s night ended fairly early as I can’t recall if he even stayed up much past sunset.

The game plan.

After I chatted with the ranger that day and then conferred with John that evening, we decided to push for a pre-sunrise hike out the next morning. Partly to help beat most of the hot weather (especially when considering The Box) and partly to give us enough time to safely cover the 14miles to the North Rim. I encouraged John to eat a full dinner so we could break camp as quickly as possible and take in our breakfast on foot.

Options in hiking out of Bright Angel camp were pretty limited. Direct NPS assistance was only available in immediate life-threatening situations, which did not apply to John by the time he ably recovered. And the South Rim route was not practicable, as even John admitted he doubted he could make the steep climb in the day’s heat, especially considering we’d have to catch the day shuttle back to the North Rim by a particular time. Heading back north was our only real option.

The most appealing factor in hiking out to the North Rim was that the group would be there waiting for us. I was confident that John could handle the relatively even hike through Cottonwood camp with little problem. And I felt that if he could at least get through half of the climb up the North Rim from Cottonwood then at least I could get some help to carry him up the rest of the way, if necessary.

Also, I felt like there would be more available water sources along the hike out the north side. That would allow us to carry a bit less and the easier access would allow me to treat any symptoms of heat exhaustion, if necessary.

The exit out and hike back to civilization.

The morning hiking out of Bright Angel found both John and I a bit slow. We decided to break camp well before sunrise to beat the heat and cover some 14 miles to the North Rim before sundown as soon as possible. But we got going soon enough. And John physically seemed in much better shape than the previous 36 hours, complimenting my sense of urgency to get through the first half of the day’s mileage with a quick pace.

We didn’t spare much time that morning preparing for the day’s hike. The most pressing need was to get out on the trail as soon as possible. So, we didn’t bother with a full breakfast, opting instead for a full dinner the night before and just snacking on our breakfast while on foot. We quickly reviewed the day’s plan and options at hand if/when he reaches the point he can no longer continue.

The hike out of Bright Angel camp was pretty straight forward, even somewhat businesslike. With me taking up the tail end, we pushed the trek to Cottonwood as fast as John felt he could take it. We only took breaks to occasionally snack on some food and sip our water. I wanted to get through that part of the day before the heat really bared on us and also so that we could save as much daylight as possible for the actual hike up the North Rim. I figured that John wouldn’t appreciate getting stuck hiking up the North Rim in the cooler air much more than hiking up the South Rim in the day’s heat. Once at Cottonwood, we both napped a bit and took our time to recover under some shade. Even if a bit slow and tired, John was doing well enough to take in a full lunch and still exhibited some urgency upon hiking out of camp.

Back on the trail, I’m sure I got on John’s nerves as I constantly bugged him to regularly snack and drink. A short while past Cottonwood, the trail profile noticeably steepens and John’s hike started to significantly slow down. I tried to play with him a bit by making a deal in that every time we took a rest break he had to nimble on a snack bar. That lasted a short while. As we continued the climb, John struggled to keep moving forward. I took on as much of his heavy gear as I could handle myself. Rest breaks became more often. Fortunately, that day’s heat didn’t seem as intense as earlier in the trip. But battling up through the sharp switchbacks just before the Supai Tunnel, it became clear that he wasn’t going to clear the North Rim before dark. He was physically hitting the wall hard and pushing him through the trail in the dark by myself wouldn’t be safe.  John and I made it to Supai Tunnel some 1.5miles short of the North Rim about an hour or so before sunset. I can’t recall the exact time I hiked over the rim but it was well over an hour past sunset.

Upon reaching the Supai Tunnel, I told John that he should keep a temporary camp while I hiked up the North Rim and reached the group for assistance. I set him up as best as possible to preserve his energy and body heat before hiking out on my own. Dusk was just settling in when I left and so it was completely dark soon enough before making it out on top. I was able to hitchhike to the North Rim lodge to call the group over for assistance.

It’s a mental, as well as, a physical challenge.

Any challenges early on for that day’s hike was not unlike what one would expect for any other typical day hiking out of the Grand Canyon. Time above all else was a concerning factor. We wanted to get through past Cottonwood the sooner the better so the day’s heat would be less of a factor. And we wanted to get up the North Rim with as much daylight and warmth as possible still available left to us. And, of course, the relentless climb up the North Rim would be a challenge. That made getting past Cottonwood as early as possible even more important since we knew the climb up would likely be a slower than usual ascent.  

John’s particular challenge was more about his body’s ability to physically complete the day’s hike. Although his day started in much better shape than the previous day and a half, I knew his body could replenish only so much of its energy reserve in such limited time to recover. That became apparent with us still a few miles short of the North Rim. And with his body battling the climb, his appetite again turned very defunct. Any food outside the occasional sip of water became intolerable.

The end of John’s hike presented a couple challenges, one of keeping him warm while I hiked out by myself and brought back some assistance and then the actual hike out to get in touch of my group for some assistance. Up along the North Rim, the temperature dropped quickly as the sun hid behind the canyon walls and John’s body could get in trouble from hypothermia after working itself so hard the past couple days.

Addressing and alleviating John’s symptoms.

We managed our time as best as we could by getting out of Bright Angel before sunrise, pushing the day’s early pace as much as John could take it, and rewarding ourselves with a good rest break and meal at Cottonwood camp. And then just took whatever time necessary for John to make it up the North Rim as far as he could.

Knowing John’s body would be near its physical end the closer to the North Rim we hike, I did my best to get John to regularly snack and feed his body through the day’s hike, to the point I’m sure he picked up his pace just to stay away from me.

Making camp at the Supai Tunnel, I did my best to assure John could maintain his body warmth while waiting for me to bring back some assistance. I had him sit on a sleeping pad atop of a large rock while I cooked him a small meal and covered him in a reflective blanket as he ate it. Before leaving, I laid out a sleeping bag for him, gave him a Nalgene of hot water and told him to sip it slowly and encouraged him to snack on some bars with it.

John’s determination to beat the heat from an observer’s standpoint.

Considering what John went through that evening at Bright Angel camp through the following day up Pipe Creek and recovering afterwards, John did fairly well. He fully trusted my guidance and understood the situation we were in at every major step of the way back to the North Rim.  His motivation level on the return hike to the North Rim was very high. Upon reviewing our plan the preceding evening, he clearly understood how difficult this hike back could be for him and exhibited confidence in making it out fine as long as we managed the hike and time efficiently. That morning we maintained a good steady pace upon leaving Bright Angel all the way through just past Cottonwood. Naturally, as the climb progressively became a challenge for him and his body couldn’t help but give out on him, his motivation level dipped significantly.  His hike for some two-thirds of the way was strong and steady. But the last five or so miles saw the trail start its climb up the rim and John’s body eventually worn down too much to finish out the trail.

As I noted earlier, John was just physically depleted by the time we got to Supai Tunnel but he never really lost his mental state. As fatigued as he was, he was still obviously aware of his situation and was responsive whenever I engaged with him. Otherwise, I would’ve opted to not leave him and wait out the hike until the next day.

Motivating John was not easy. Fortunately, while the hike up the North Rim may have been physically too much for him, he was still able to stay mentally sharp. So, the dwindling chances of him coming out on top the rim became pretty obvious to both of us as he continued to struggle up the climb. One motivating factor I was able to use was when the Supai Tunnel became within striking distance. Knowing it would be a camping spot for him while I hiked out for some assistance, we used that fact to motivate him to at least make it up there.

The availability of outside help.

Out on the trail, many hikers passing by John and I offered plenty of advice. But once we got back to Bright Angel, the ranger was very helpful with some medical guidance, establishing communication with Indian Gardens to contact the group, and pointing out our limited options for the next couple days.

Upon hiking out of the North Rim and calling my group for assistance, my hiking buddies helped me pick up John and assist him up the final leg of the hike, as well as carry out our backpacking stash.

 The lessons learned.

Experience helps, whether it is for yourself or in order to help others. Fortunately, I had hiked that route a few years earlier and was familiar enough of the route to make some rational decisions, like choosing to hike back out the north side instead of trying to continue through the south side.

The most obvious answer is just to honestly judge your physical hiking capability. The R2R hike is not impossible and is very doable. But it is a physical challenge that very few day hikers have ever experienced, especially when considering the desert weather climate in the middle of the summer.

It is always a good idea to take on such challenging routes for the first time with somebody else or even a group, especially with somebody/a group with experience in that type of hike.  Basic first aid/back country knowledge and common sense is invaluable for any type of hike. Always review and be aware of it.

As the person who’s handling the crisis, I was pretty fortunate as far as potential emergencies go. That assistance was always fairly nearby whenever I figured we would need it most gave me no reason to lose my composure or to panic. Losing one’s composure is probably the worst way to handle any emergency. As easy as it to just say, stay cool and calm. Making the decisions while distressed about the situation hardly helps.

In closing, the best means to avoid an unfortunate circumstance is to be prepared.  You can find valuable tips here for wilderness backpacking and here for traveling.  I would add as a group, it is prudent to research the means of communication in the event of an emergency, whether via radio or walkie talkie, cell phones, via ranger assisted means or hiking together closely.  Make sure to be aware of the means of assistance available through the park and the exit points along the trail.

AARON- THE SWEEPER EXTRAORDINAIRE – No worries, he got your back.

Thanks Aaron for such a thorough overview of the experience and insight as to how to manage an unexpected crisis on the trail.  You’re one hell of a sweeper extraordinaire!

Photo credits: Aaron Crawford & Ian Macurdy.

P.S. – DON’T BE “THIS” GUY!

 

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HIKER’S PARADISE: The Amalfi Coast (Italy)

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 or visit if your passion has to do with spending time in the mountains or nature.  Our featured hiker’s paradise is: 

THE AMALFI COAST (ITALY)

by Isobel of Testaccina

Not everyone knows that southern Italy’s idyllic Amalfi Coast was formed from a mountain ridge, the Monte Lattari, which juts out into the Mediterranean Sea between the town of Naples and Salerno. But the mountains are there, though almost disregarded beyond the coast’s brightly coloured, popular resorts, which attract tourists all year round. The peaks touch their highest altitude at 1,444 metres with the Monte San Michele, and you can also catch a cable car up to Monte Faito, at an elevation of 1,131 metres, from Castellammare di Stabia.

While the coast is around 55km long, you’d be hard-pressed to find any hiking routes that take you the entire length of the coast from Vietri sul Mare to Nerano in the west. Despite that, there are plenty of day excursions under 10km which are popular with locals and tourists alike. Where else can you start out in an idyllic town such as Ravello, and finish your hike by throwing yourself into the sea from the sandy beaches of Amalfi?

The most famous walk of all is nicknamed Il Sentiero degli Dei, The Path of the Gods, and comprises a stunning 8km walk from the tiny hilltop town of Agerola to Nocelle, a village nestling above the pretty coastal town of Positano. Ideally, you should plan to start in Agerola rather than Nocelle, as the route runs gently downhill from this direction, with breathtaking views across the towns of the Amalfi coast and across to the island of Capri. The route doesn’t feel particularly steep, but there are stone steps to tackle in a number of places and they do add up.

The actual starting point of the hike is a hamlet called Bomerano, on the outskirts of Agerola. To get there, catch a local bus run by the Sita group from the town of Amalfi, down on the coast. Ask the driver to let you off in Bomerano, before you reach the town. As soon as you alight, you should see green trail signs which lead you to the beginning of the hike. The signs suggest that this is a 180 minute walk, so bring drinks and snacks.

Once you reach the trailhead, the walk is well signposted by red and white numbers which count down towards Nocelle. Orange and white signs have also been painted on the rocks so you know you’re on the right path. The weather can be changeable up here, so even in the summer (and always in the spring or fall) a light waterproof jacket may be necessary as showers and sun alternate rapidly.

When you arrive at Nocelle, which is a tiny town 400 metres above sea level, there are a couple of bars and restaurants to quench your thirst and sate your appetite (but these may close after lunch, so be aware of this when planning what time you set off).

If you don’t make it to Agerola on your first visit to the coast, there are also plenty of informal walks linking towns along this stretch, including a lovely walk from Ravello down the hill to Amalfi, which is less than 5km and should only take you an hour or so. 

For more information on this latter walk  from Ravello to Amalfi via the town of Scala, please read more HERE. 

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

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My Favorite Local Hike: Seneca Creek & Spruce Knob, WV

If you ever manage to spend time in the D.C. area, you’ll soon realize that there’s a large hiking community in the region.  There are options from easy to strenuous hikes and multi-day backpacking trips.  I have had the pleasure to experience the region as my training ground for my overseas trekking adventures.

In West Virginia, one is lucky to enjoy the fall colors in the autumn season although hiking is ideal anytime of the year.  I often organize groups to do overnight backpacking and/or camping & day hiking in the Seneca Creek & Spruce Knob area of the state.  Spruce Knob happens to be the highest point of WV and easily visited by car.   

However, the magic of nature is best experienced by foot.  Some of the best trails including the Seneca Creek which provides a remarkable display of waterfalls along the trail. You can easily combine this trail with the High Meadows, Alleghany or the Lumberjack trail which will then take you up to the highest point of the state, Spruce Knob. 

To learn more about trail options, you can check Hiking Upward website.

The experience is best told through visuals so check out the video and enjoy!

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FREEDOMPRENEURS: Alex & Sebastiaan of Lost With Purpose

Iran. Afghanistan. Pakistan. Kyrgyzstan.

These are places that not many travelers go to and given the political instability that is happening all around the world, many adventure travelers are disheartened with the thought of visiting such places.  It takes plenty of research and courage to navigate such countries and experience travel at its finest.  As travelers, we’re behooved to exercise our innate nature to roam the world freely but what happens when political and cultural views get in the way?

I must admit that I have yet to go to these countries. In particular, as an avid mountain trekker, I’m highly interested in the trekking opportunities in Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan.  As an American, the recent change in the political and cultural climate towards predominantly Muslim countries have posed a mental challenge – despite what have been presented on the  news, would you allow this to compromise your desire to see the lesser known parts of the world, the ones that are especially known for warm and friendly locals (despite politics) and rich in history, as well as, stupendous landscapes?

In light of the world’s despair over varying political views on the state of said countries, reading travel stories from bloggers who have been to the places in dispute provide a hint of hope and connection.  It is more important now than ever before to continue sharing travel stories from these countries that are constantly berated on the news as being “dangerous” and “unwelcoming” to the rest of the world.  (Read this Matador article on bloggers’ roles in promoting humanity). For us, travelers, we are now faced with the difficult question as to how to delicately balance safety versus our desire for freedom to roam.  If we do manage to venture into these countries, it would be incumbent upon us to share with the world the beauty and generosity of the locals and the world-class sites and nature that abound within these countries.

I’m delighted to feature two travelers who have done exactly that, whose mission is to tell the world about the wonderful experiences they’ve had in countries that remain unjustifiably questionable to the majority of travelers.  Perhaps the negative perceptions will dissipate one day, even if takes years or decades or more.  Regardless, bloggers and travelers have a critical role to play in that process.

Alex and Sebastiaan of Lost with Purpose

Alex (short for Alexandra) is a 25-year-old American girl, and Sebastiaan is a 28 year old Dutchie.  They’re full time travelers and bloggers over at Lost with Purpose.  They’ve been on the road for nearly a year, traversing the Caucasus, Iran, Pakistan, China, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. Currently they’re in India, alternating between sweating profusely, devouring curries, and basking in brilliantly bizarre culture.

Hitchhiking near the Kolsai lakes in Kazakhstan.
Sebastiaan

Sebastiaan grew up in the Amsterdam, the Netherlands. At age eight, his family moved to the Caribbean island of Curaçao.  After two years of island life, they moved back to Zandvoort, a beach town in the Netherlands. He continued to travel, both with family and without (in later years), and took not one but two gap years in Australia and Southeast Asia after high school.

Alex

Alex grew up in an “international” household in Pennsylvania; her mother is Filipino, and her father is English. Her father was also a professor, and the family often tagged along when he went to international conferences. Their travels took them to comfortable destinations such as Hungary and Denmark, as well as far-flung locales like Mongolia and the Philippines.

Their paths crossed on a university exchange program in Bangkok, Thailand.  They hit things off, had a stint of awkward dating-not-dating while traveling around Southeast Asia for several months, then decided things were meant to be and suffered a year of long distance post-travel while they finished their bachelor degrees. After graduation, Alex got a British passport (thanks to her father) and moved to the Netherlands so they could be together. Now, almost five years later, they’re on the road backpacking once again!

What are your interests and passion in life?

Our passion is what we first bonded over, and continue to explore today: traveling!

We both love traveling, especially to uncommon destinations. Once off the beaten track, meeting new people and exploring new cultures becomes much easier and more organic. It’s what motivates us to travel to more “difficult” or unconventional countries!

At a shrine to Hazrat Ali in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

Aside from our shared love of travel, Alex is addicted to ice cream, and I spend a good part of my waking life devouring manga.

Are you still working a 9 to 5 job? 

Nope, we’re jobless—and homeless—bums. We quit our jobs before we started traveling and blogging.

Before adopting a life of vagrancy, we both worked in Amsterdam. I had a marketing and sales position at a food-related company, and Alex both freelanced and worked as a designer and occasional web developer.

 How was the process like to quit something so stable?

It was surprisingly easy. We knew we wanted to do this for a while, and never really thought about it as something difficult to do. We’re used to change, thanks to my multiple gap years and Alex’s relocating for school and to the Netherlands.

The most difficult part was figuring when to tell our bosses. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad—we both had very encouraging, understanding bosses. We ended up telling them about three months in advance so they had ample time to find and train replacements.

 What are your current projects/business/plans?

We’re mostly focusing on monetizing our blog, Lost with Purpose.

The blog is a combination of photo-heavy storytelling, as well as practical information and advice for other travelers. The focus is on covering less visited destinations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan; i.e. places lacking in up-to-date information for travelers. To supplement our direct income from the blog, we sell articles to publications, and Alex does a bit of freelance writing if an opportunity arises.

I’m curious to know more about your project.  What led you to start this blog?

When planning our trip, we were surprised to see how little useful or up-to-date information was available for the places we wanted to visit. There are hundreds of blogs covering Europe and Southeast Asia, but hardly any covering Georgia or Iran or Pakistan. We decided we could fill that gap.

The blog’s name, Lost with Purpose, comes from our tendency to get lost. We find the most memorable experiences occur when lost… so instead of bemoaning it, why not savor it? Our purpose: enjoy getting lost.

Getting lost in Georgia’s Truso Valley.

When did you launch your blog?

We officially launched when we started traveling: February 24, 2016. The blog was nearly empty though, and the only people reading it were our mothers.

What is your blog’s mission?

It started out as helping other travelers find their way in uncommon destinations.

However, the purpose of the blog shifted since its inception. In our travels, we visited several countries struggling with terroristic stereotypes such as Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Despite the negative connotations, we met so many people who were ecstatic about our visiting, and were eager to show off their country and mind-blowing hospitality. We wanted to give the world a chance to see what people in these countries are really like.

Surrounded by crazy friendly locals in Lahore, Pakistan.

Now, we write to show people how awesome the world and its people are. People are fundamentally similar no matter where you go, and most will greet you with a friendly smile if you let them. In today’s polarized society, this is often forgotten or purposefully suppressed. We hope to be a voice of positive reason, one article at a time.

With a friend we met through Couchsurfing in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.

We still give plenty of practical information (how-to guides, budget reports, transport information, etc.), but many of our stories focus on the human element.

What hurdles have you faced thus far with this project?

We’re on a perpetual hunt for working wi-fi! Seriously, we’ve probably spent more money on coffee and drinks while attempting to find wi-fi than anything else.

The wi-fi in Iran was terrible, and to top it off, many major websites are blocked by the government!

Another problem: traveling full-time and trying to start a business don’t play well together. You want to fully experience your surroundings and meet new people… but you also have to write articles, maintain social media, answer emails, etc.

Another hurdle is monetization. No matter what those articles peddling travel blogging as an instant source of money or free travel may say, making money from a blog is not easy. At the moment, most of our money is made from writing for other publications, not our blog.

How did you overcome these hurdles?

Whenever we find a place with decent wifi, we take over. Sometimes we’ll stay an extra day or two if it’s working really well. Other times, it’s impossible to find any connection. In Pakistan, for instance, some places only have working electricity for a couple of hours a day! Good luck getting any work done.

The Hunza Valley in Pakistan: gorgeous, but connection-less.

That plays into finding our work/travel balance. No wifi = focus on travel, and offline tasks such as writing and editing photos/video. We’ve learned to focus on doing what’s possible at the time, which saves a lot of stress and misery!

As for monetization… we’re still working on that one! Most of our money comes from selling articles, but more sponsored opportunities are coming in as we become more established, and we’re currently focusing on better integrating affiliate sales into our existing content.

Who or what helped you along the way to make your project a success?

The blogging community has been a great help to us! There are several travel blogging Facebook groups that we frequent, such as We Travel We Blog and Female Travel Bloggers. They’re filled with (mostly) good-hearted people willing to help each other out and point each other in the right direction.

We’ve also developed a relationship with a couple of other bloggers in our niche, and they’ve pumped us full of all kinds of useful advice and tips.

Tell us more about your traveling life. How often do you travel?

Full time! We quit our jobs, stopped renting our apartment, and sold all our stuff, so we don’t have anything in the Netherlands to go back to. Our travels stop when the money stops, but we hope to indefinitely postpone that date with blogging.

Waiting for a (potentially nonexistent) bus in Armenia.

Before this big trip, we tried to travel at least three times a year, money permitting. Traveling to foreign countries wasn’t particularly difficult or expensive when we lived right in the middle of Europe.

How does your project complement your passion for traveling?

We travel the way we like, and we write about it so that others can do the same. It’s pretty straightforward!

Alex and Sebastiaan share with us their favorite travel moment. 

There are so many moments… where to begin? We’ve been taken in by complete strangers who gave us food and a bed, we were almost killed by Georgian hospitality (AKA alcohol), and we were treated like movie stars in Pakistan, stopping every 10 meters for selfies and chats.

Our favorite moments are the ones with people we didn’t expect, like when a stranger helped us and fed us in a train station in Pakistan during Ramadan, or when were invited in for tea, melon, and loads of hash by some shepherds in Afghanistan. We’ve met so many brilliant people that have given us the world and then some in our travels—it would be unfair to choose just one!

Chilling with some shepherds in Balkh, Afghanistan.

How do you define success for your project?

Success, for us, would mean our blog is regularly making enough money to fund our travels. The way we’d travel, we’d need to make about $1,500 – 2,000 a month to comfortably carry on, plus put away some savings.

What have you discovered about yourself as part of this process?

We’ve learned all kinds of things! I, for one, have learned that I hate taking pictures… but you’ve gotta do what you gotta do, right?

Alex’s discovery has been a bit more positive. Blogging has proved to be a combination of multiple things she enjoys: photography, web design, and marketing. She’s definitely addicted to it, but in a good way.

How do you manage to afford traveling? 

Before we started traveling, we saved money for about 1.5 years, and ended up with around €12,000 each. We’re traveling on those savings, and supplement them with income from blogging and freelance writing. Our money stretches far because we try to travel cheaply. Previously, our budget was $25/day per person. In India we’ve lowered it to $15/day.

Being hosted for free by a family in Shush, Iran.

Blogging has also helped save a lot of money. When people get to know us through our blog, they often invite us for dinner, or host us in their home. This happened particularly often in Iran and Pakistan, and we’re getting plenty of invitations in India as well, though we haven’t been able to meet up with anyone yet.

Do you have other future projects in mind?  

We’ve tossed around several ideas, such as selling Alex’s photography, offering some kind of consulting services based on our skills, or writing guides to some of the places we’ve visited. The blogging world tells us offering some kind of digital product for sale is the way to go… but we haven’t decided on one yet!

Travel gets in the way of productivity more often than not. Not that we’re complaining!

What advise do you have to those who are thinking of pursuing their passion that require quitting their 9 to 5?

Make sure it’s something you really want to do. A lot of travel bloggers preach about how easy it is to quit your job, leave everything, and start a career on the road. Well, it’s not.

There are plenty of things travel bloggers don’t tell you. Many don’t actually travel full-time, but rather live in foreign countries for most of the year. In our opinion, not living in your country of birth doesn’t equal traveling.

Others make most of their money from secondary sources, such as writing for other publications or working part-time while on the road. They make their blogs look glamorous and profitable, which is, in those instances, a lie.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t do it—just don’t believe the hype. Quitting your job and traveling the world for free isn’t real. You have to work hard, forego the luxuries of home, and ultimately be stationary for long periods of time. Besides, it’s okay to have a 9 to 5 and pursue your passion. There’s nothing wrong with stability.

Did quitting the 9 to 5 kind of career and working for yourself turn out the way you envisioned it to be?  

Blogging has turned out to be more work than we initially thought it would be. We thought we could just post quick how-to guides every once in a while, write a story or two a month, that sort of thing. Far from.

No digital detox for us!

There’s writing, editing, social media, promotion, affiliates, pitching, networking… the list goes on. We spend just as many hours traveling as we do sitting in the glow of our laptops. We’re more glued to our phones now than we were before we left. But, it’s a challenge we enjoy, and if it can fund future travels… so be it!

 Are you living a life with more freedom now than before?  

Of course. We travel where we want to, when we want to. We can work late at night, or early in the morning. We write articles in cafes, do social media on trains, and edit photos from the comfort of a bed. If we want to stop working and go off and explore something interesting, that’s fine—it’s all part of “the job”. I’d say that’s more freedom than traveling to and from the office during the week!

Laptop? Check. Beer? Check check.

The only limiting factor is internet. We could travel to the furthest edges of the earth… but we’ll need to rush back to find internet eventually!

To wrap up, I asked them a few rapid fire questions.

How many countries have you been to?

We don’t really keep a close count, but Alex has been to around 50, and I’m in my 40s. Our current backpacking adventure has taken us through 10 countries so far.

What other countries are still on your list?

The offbeat islands of Indonesia beg to be explored, but we’d also love to explore more of the Middle East—think Iraq and Lebanon.

Name one thing you miss the most when on the road.

Cheese. Real, delicious, properly aged cheese.

Which do you prefer? Mountains/nature or city life?

Alex is a nature girl—she’s happiest when she can relax in some sunshine to the sounds of birds chirping (and she’s averse to humans). I, on the other hand, love cities for their endless opportunities and architectural marvels (and I don’t like hiking much).

Alex in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.

Describe the word, FREEDOM.

To do what you want, how you want, when you want.

Name 3 things that are important in pursing one’s dreams.

Motivation, persistence, and creativity.

Thanks Alex and Sebastiaan for a wonderful overview of your experiences in off the beaten path parts of the world.  I hope this will encourage some of us, travelers, to take that leap of faith and visit a lesser known destination despite the negative perceptions being promoted on the news.  Having said that, safety is always a priority so as travelers we all have to learn to find the balance between that and our freedom.

You can continue to follow Alex and Sebastiaan via their blog, Lost With Purpose or via social media: FacebookInstagram, Pinterest and Twitter.  They’re always happy to get messages from readers, and do their best to respond to every comment and message… or you can just say hi!

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