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

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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Trekking Made Me Lose Things to Gain More

Once upon a time I had a 1500 square foot, three bedroom, two bath house with front and back yards, complete with furnishings from top to bottom and front to back.  I had subscription to Costco, a huge grocery chain that sells in bulk; hence,  I bought in bulk every week.  But I lived alone. I had the house for 10 years.  “Had.”  I sold it.

In those 10 years, I spent majority of my  time hiking, backpacking, trekking and whatever else one does with their feet in the outdoors.  During perhaps the most defining moment of my life, I summoned up the courage to leave my career for a year, my house in Washington, D.C. and the comfort of my daily routines and obligations, so to speak.

12832365_10156514924130461_27965803844931818_n
In Kotor, Montenegro with my “home.”

I lived life on the road.  Specifically, I trekked in the mountains of Asia and Europe, mostly by myself but also with others as the opportunity arose.  My home then was all confined within a 65 liter Golite backpack plus another compressible day pack.  Both packs carried mostly hiking gear that allowed me to trek in all weather conditions, in addition to a few other personal items.  For the record, this was the most minimalist I had ever been in my life, but the lessons learned from the experience are too many to count.  However, here are some of the lessons worth highlighting:

I learned from this experience that minimalism means what we truly need in life doesn’t take much space as we are conditioned to think from a young age.

I realized that owning a car is unnecessary.  During the one year that I was away, I relied only on public transportation and moved around as a local.  In contrast to the typical driving life in D.C. where you find yourself stuck in heavy traffic, getting around like a local was a refreshing change.  In fact, I found myself much more productive sitting in buses, trains, boats, jeepneys, tricycles, scooters, water buffaloes, camels, and horses, to name a few of the local transports.  The time in transit allowed me to reflect and clear thoughts in my head without the stressors of dealing with the chaotic nature of road traffic.  Looking back, these were special moments; hence, I never took any of it for granted.  My car, a Toyota Echo, is now 15 years old, which I only use on weekends.  When it stops running, my replacement will be the local transports just like when I’m on my travels – an extra routine to add to my workout.  Same goes for one’s shelter.  Living in tents, cabins, huts and hostels taught me we don’t need much space if our goal is to experience life as much as possible outside the confines of the four corners of any room.

me-in-palawan
One of the many boat rides in the Philippines.

I learned from experience that we don’t need to overindulge in the usage of certain products, some of which can last a while if we use them minimally.  

For instance, washing your hair daily is really unnecessary.  Putting on make up became less of a needed routine because on my travels, I did mostly trekking so there was no point wasting time and energy on that.  Likewise, minimalism creeps in when it comes to the usage of clothing.  How many times can you wear your hiking pants before washing, you ask?  A lot, actually.  But if you wish to be sort of scientific about it, you can often answer that by doing the “smell” test.  Generally, outer layers can wait a while before they get washed.  The undergarments, however, will need washing in a much lesser time period.  The usage of clothing changes drastically when on the road compared to being in one place.  Keep in mind though that if you change clothes everyday, the inconvenient repercussion would be having to do the washing more frequently than necessary, which for some can be a burdensome task.

I learned from the experience that minimalism on the road can transform our daily routines into their simple and basic  forms.  

For one, you’ll have to learn how to wash clothes by hand.  As much as you’d like to think that in this day and age most cities will have machines you can use to wash your clothes, think again.  Some cities may only have washers accessible.  In Chengdu, China, the hostel I stayed in had washing machines but drying clothes required sunlight and good drying weather.  As a hiker, you’ll have to shift your thinking completely as the small towns along the way to the trail heads are unlikely to have any washers or dryers.  At times, you maybe lucky to have washing service at the hostel or guesthouse you’re staying at but AT ALL TIMES be prepared to wash your clothes by hand – your hands to be exact.  If you haven’t tried washing clothes by hands, I urge you to give it a try.  It’s not as bad as you think.  I honestly can say that washing clothes by hand can be such a meditative experience.  If you love nature enough, washing clothes by hand is like being close to nature…living in the moment of feeling the water and the suds touch your skin as you smell the fragrance of the soap.  Sure, it does require a little bit of imagination but you get my drift.  You may not like to hear this but when it comes to bathing in countries like the Philippines, you will need to manage without hot showers and shower heads.  You’ll be using a bucket of cold water instead to wash yourself.  You may have to eat with your hands in Cambodia or Mongolia in lieu of utensils.  Again, approach it as meditation like I do because going back to basics like this can provide you with the rare chance of experiencing humility at its purest form.  These are the smallest of things that can truly leave a mark in a traveler’s life.

etna
Newfound friends while hiking up Etna in Sicily, Italy.

I learned from the experience that minimalism on the road entails minimizing our friendships, only to create more ties along the way.  

I gained, and then quickly I lost the same people I met just days ago.  This taught me to love without being attached, which was a difficult task to do repeatedly.  I had to learn to say “hello” to a stranger who became my friend, but soon enough he or she also became my ex-traveling companion – a process that can happen in as little as 24 hours.  But letting go only means paving a new path for another “hello” and a newfound friend to open up the upcoming new chapter on the road.  You realize, however, that you hardly lost anyone.  You actually have been gaining all along – the people and the memories.  What started out as such an emotional process overtime became an enlightening one for me where I learned first-hand about trusting in the flow of life.

I learned from the experience that minimalism entails indulging in experiences, not things.  

It’s true.  There are many things that are free in life – and they’re what we call experience.  While in the town of Pokhara in Nepal, I had the option to go souvenir shopping or do a day hike nearby for free.   I chose to experience life, and hike.   This led me to discover the historic village of Ghandruk where I spent a night at a guesthouse and indulged in the views of the Himalayas.  Similarly, in Croatia, I decided to go hiking in the Velebit mountains instead of spending the rest of my time in the cities.  Hiking in Velebit was free and when I reached my hut for the night, a local family was having a family reunion which entailed tons of food and drinks.  I was invited and included in the merriment which allowed me to try authentic local dishes while getting to know more about Croatia and the locals’ daily lives.  All that experience cost me nothing.    Had I stayed in the touristy areas and focused on shopping, I would have missed out on these memories I gathered from hiking – the part of my travels that truly mattered the most.

velebit
The hospitable innkeeper of the hut in Velebit. Despite language barriers, we were both thrilled to be in each other’s presence.

I learned from the experience that minimalism affords you joy from simplicity.  

Because I was on a tight budget from the start, I managed to stay in hostels when in the cities and tents or huts in the mountains.  I rarely stayed in hotels, which in my view deprives one of the realness of the experience.  Staying in hostels provided the opportunity to meet people from various parts of the world.  Oftentimes, they became my travel or trail companions for days or weeks, which added meaning to the experience.    After days of trekking together, we were no longer just friends.  To me, they were my family.   Likewise, the art of hiking is simple.  Whether you walk solo or with others, you immerse yourself in the lure of nature with its snow-capped peaks, emerald green lakes and hidden valleys.  Walking in the mountains bestows upon you a world filled with nature’s masterpieces, simple and yet extravagantly beautiful.

Yading Kora Trek
With the Milk Lake on Yading Kora Trek in Sichuan Province of China.
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The majestic rocks of the Dolomites in Italy, along the Alta Via 1.
huangshan
In China’s Huangshan (Yellow Mountains), nature meets zen.
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Gobi desert in Mongolia has the the best sunsets with the colors reflected back on its golden sand. Not to be missed in this lifetime.

I learned from the experience that minimalism allows me to appreciate the beauty of solitude.  

When it comes to numbers and company on the road, we gravitate away from “solo.”  Don’t.  When you get a chance to be alone on the road, don’t hesitate to give it a try.  You may discover the power of being “one” and the beauty of your own companionship.  Seriously.  Don’t let solitude intimidate you.  When my journey ended, I brought home with me a whole new set of myself – someone I truly got to know and learned to fully love in the end.

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In Nepal’s Everest region, it never got dull staring at the peaks as I learned about myself each day.

Falling in love with yourself starts with the moments you have in solitude.  Take advantage of it when you’re on travels or better yet, when you’re in the mountains.  I found nature combined with solitude as one of the most organic and powerful experiences to be had in our lifetimes.  Don’t pass up the opportunity to trudge on that path towards self-discovery and self-love.  If you’re venturing out for the first time as a solo traveler or trekker, see this article for tips, 8 Ways (7 Really) to Mentally Prepare for A Solo Adventure.

me-and-tibet-mastif
I had the privilege to meet a Tibetan mastiff in Tibet! He was certainly bigger than me.  Yes, he’s real.

While I minimized many aspects as noted above when I was on the road, ironically this led to an increase of joy and abundance in my life.  That increase included my circle of friends, the trails I have trekked, the mountain peaks I experienced first-hand, the number of stamps on my passport, the happy memories with fellow humans and even furry friends (I hiked with a dog and spent time with cats), and best of all, the love and gratitude I had within me.

my-loot
My few priceless possessions – mostly hiking and travel gear.

Indeed, minimalism brought an overflow of love in my life, which brings me to the present.  I sold my first house almost a year ago now and traded that with a 400 square foot studio.  People wonder if I’ve lost my mind to transition back to a studio after owning a house for a decade. To date, I’ve not experienced even an ounce of regret over my decision.  You see, my studio holds everything that is important to me now- my furry friends, my trekking and travel gear, my passport, my laptop, among a few other items.  Other than that,  everything that matters and holds meaning in my life is tucked away safely and kept close to my heart, which suits me well knowing that I’ll never have to worry about losing any of it.

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Upasana Ray

As some of you may know, I am currently a nomad in Washington, DC which is my third home.   I have called Washington, D.C. my physical home for the past 15 years.  With a few exceptions, this area is a hub for nomads and transients who come to the city to pursue their dream jobs and initiate lifelong careers.  Hence, Washington, DC is a unique place to meet a diverse group of people.  This applies as well to meeting hikers and mountain lovers in the region.

Upasana herself came to D.C. for work opportunities just like many of us.  She came to the D.C. area to pursue a fellowship in 2012 and eventually discovered her love for the mountains.  Upasana became known to me via outdoor groups through Meetup.com.  If you have yet to familiarize yourself with Meetup, I highly recommend it.  If it wasn’t for Meetup, I would have never discovered my passion for the mountains and Brown Gal Trekker would not have been in existence.  Suffice it to say, I’m grateful for the invention of such a platform.  It’s one of those social media sites that actually allows for people to meet and connect in the old school way – plan the activity and go!  This discovery is something that Upasana also experienced herself as you’ll hear more about below.

Truth be told, I have yet to meet Upasana in person which hasn’t prevented me from  hearing about her from mutual friends and acquaintances.  Eventually, despite the lack of an actual meeting in person, we managed to become friends virtually on Facebook.  That allowed me to witness her passion for the mountains, and as such, I quietly admired her nonstop pursuit of peaks in the East Coast, then West Coast, and eventually the Indian Himalayas.

As I got to know her a little more, I realized Upasana and I have this similar love for high altitude treks – the ones that make you work extremely hard to capture an everlasting moment in nature.  At the same time, we both share the same sentiment about trekking – the notion that we spend time with our beloved mountains for spiritual connection, more so than a personal goal defined by distance or speed.   It’s a thrill for me to feature Upasana, who is now a kickass hiker in the mighty Himalayas of India.  Although she has left behind her Meetup hiking friends in the D.C. area, I’m sure we’re all with her in spirit as she continues to trudge up the Himalayan mountain ranges of India.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Upasana Ray is from India and is currently living in West Bengal.  She’s a scientist working on research on viral infections and development of therapeutic aids.  She professes to being a nature lover and wildlife enthusiast since her childhood.  However, due to her busy school schedule and lack of like-minded friends, she did not get into hiking until she came to Maryland in 2012 for a fellowship with the National Institutes of Health.   The boredom during her free time led her to discover hiking via Meetup.com, which was a pivotal moment in her hiking life.  Upasana is also an avid landscape and wildlife photographer and loves painting, music and films.

Let’s hear directly from Upasana about her hiking life in the U.S. and India.

Tell us some details on how you discovered hiking via Meetup.com in the U.S. and your experience hiking with strangers for the first time.

In 2013, one lucky day, I do not even know how, I was searching for trekking clubs or nature clubs over the internet. It was then that Washington Backpackers and Young Adventurers groups caught my eyes. These were actually Meetup groups. Travelling with strangers? Oh, I do not drive! Should I take this risk? Are these good people? What if…….? And so on…….Many questions came to my mind especially being a woman.   But then, I decided that alright…..enough of thinking……….I should go for one and see how I feel.

The next question was which one to do? I did not know a single thing about trekking and gear list involved. That time in the meet up group I saw that a night hike meant to view the sunrise from the Old Rag mountain, Virginia was getting organized. This was it. I wanted to do it. It was a group of many hikers…….really many. We did carpooling (something that I could never imagine doing) and reached the trail head at almost midnight. Everything was new for me that time – the country, the people, the culture, the society and the type of activity, as well. But, as it turned out, I liked the people, I liked the company, I liked the fresh air, the darkness of the mountain, the thrill……every moment of the hike. The sunrise…….Ah! I decided, yes, I love this!   And, the journey started.

After this first hike, I did several day hikes before I did some weekend backpacking trips in Virginia and Southwest Virginia with Washington Backpackers. Then I came to know about the DC-Ultralight group. I wanted to do serious mountain treks/hikes with full of challenges and definitely risks. It was this group where I was taught to be methodical and independent on mountains. I kept doing all kind of hikes with them starting from low mileage to moderate to extreme hikes. Very soon, I realized that I have changed a lot.  My endurance level increased a lot and I was getting crazy about mountains.

Between, 2013-2015, I did many… REALLY MANY hikes with them. Even though I returned to India in July 2015, by then I had done many section hikes of the Appalachian mountain/Massanutten mountain, many weekend backcountry hikes in Virginia and Southwest Virginia regions like the Roaring Plains, Dolly Sods, Double Top mountain, Canaan mountain, Catoctin mountain, Mill mountain, Big Schloss, McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliff, Dragon’s Tooth, Cranberry Wilderness, Mount Rogers, North Fork mountain, AT-Mau-Har trail, southern SNP, the Tuscarora trail, Great North mountain, so on and so forth. I loved the foothills trail running from South to North Carolina. Then I got the opportunity to taste the mountains of New York. The first one was Devil’s path. I was told that it’s very tough and risky and I should be careful. Yes, it was. But I did it. I successfully finished United States’ one of the most difficult hikes.

Tibett Knob, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
The Adirondacks, New York.

Then I followed my passion and did many peaks of the Adirondacks range.  East Coast was not enough for me and so I went to other parts of the country with different groups of hiking friends and hiked the Rocky mountains, Colorado; the wind river traverse in Wyoming; the famous rim to rim hike in the Grand Canyon, Arizona; Olympic National park in Seattle; Mount Rainier up to the Muir base camp in the Washington state and the Burroughs mountain of Washington state.  All these – in less than 2 years.  As I kept hiking I realized that I like high altitudes more, the snow covered peaks and the beauty of the mountains above tree line.

Olympic National Park, Washington.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Wind River Traverse, Wyoming.

Then in July, 2015 I came back India. We have Himalayas. I had to try. Himalayas have completely different terrain, very unstable weather, more dangerous on high altitudes and definitely majestic. So, I went for a 12 day high altitude trek in the state of Himachal Pradesh, the Bara Bhangal trek that involved two high mountain passes of almost 14,000-15,000 ft altitude, the Kalihani pass and the Thamsar pass. We were a group of just a few trekkers and out of them I knew one who studied in the same institute from where I did my PhD.

This is one of the most remote treks in India and we did it. I was extremely happy. The view that one can get from these high mountains is just breath taking. No, I could not stop here. In fact, now it’s time to explore more and explore higher. This year, after all the preparations, I went for a semi-technical climb of Stok Kangri, in Ladakh region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This is a 20,080 ft high summit of northern Himalayas, the highest in the Stok range. It was a serious expedition as the altitude falls under extreme high altitude range. With a systematic ascent I could successfully be at the top of the summit.  It’s beyond my vocabulary to explain how I felt. This was an achievement.

And the journey continues.

Who or what inspires you to trek?

Mountains attract. They are addictive and keep calling back. The beauty, the massiveness, the sense of achievement after a successful summit or after successful finish of a trek, everything inspires me to do more and not stop. When I stand surrounded by those massive snow peaks and weather doesn’t follow the rules, I feel how tiny I am and how big mother nature is. So, shake off all those unnecessary ego, overconfidence and what not…….here I am nothing but a tiny part of this huge universe. Mountains teach to be human, to share, to live, to smile, to enjoy, to respect nature and to trust each other. When the same mountain allows us to stand on top of one of her peaks, she says…….hey, see, you can do it….this is success! Being a woman, this feeling of achievement is a huge driving force.

What do you like the most about hiking or the outdoors?

Hiking lets me see nature at its much unaltered/ minimally disturbed form and offers me with a feeling of success. This success is something very different than materialistic success. Above all,trekking brings tremendous peace of mind and boosts my confidence level. Even if no one is there for you, nature will always be there. I always feel that mountains make me feel that I am important, I am worth it.  Every time I visit her, she asks me to come back and talk to her, whatever I want, whenever I want. She has so much to offer but for that I need to keep going back.

Apart from walking on the trail or climbing the passes/peaks I also love mountain photography and thus every time I trek, I shoot lot of photographs.

Upasana proceeds to tell us about her most important treks thus far.

I will tell you about not one but two of my favorite treks that I did in India as I can’t pick one out of them. These are (i) Bara Bhangal trek, Himachal Pradesh, India (12 days) (ii) Stok Kangri expedition, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India (9 days). I went for Bara Bhangal trek in the month of October and Stok Kangri, between end of August and early September. The reason I attempted these treks are the challenge levels. These are challenging treks. Additionally, Stok Kangri is a summit climb of a 20,  080ft mountain top that is the highest of the Stok Range of the Himalayas.

Bara Bhangal Trek

Bara Bhangal is a very less explored trek. Not many people attempt this. The trek is 12 day long and difficult but what you experience is majestic. The two passes that one has to traverse, the Kalihani and the Thamsar, will drain out the energy from you but once you start feeling like you are now completely drained out, it’s when you realize that you reached the top and then look up to see the heaven. Tons of high Himalayan peaks show up in panoramic form and you now feel all of a sudden that the energy you lost is back again.

Bara Bhangal.
Kalihani Pass.
Thamsar Pass.
Thamsar Summit.

Stok Kangri Trek

If weather is clear, from the summit of Stok Kangri, one can see the higher Karakoram range and even K2. There is a massive glacier that one has to cross after the second base camp of Stok Kangri and that part of the journey is glamorous. However, the summit climb of Stok Kangri is a night ascent, hence one can actually see the glacier only while returning.

Stok River.
Stok Kangri Basecamp.
Glacier after Stok Kangri Advanced Basecamp.
Stok Kangri Summit.

What did you wish to get out of this journey? What personal goals did you have and to what extent did you achieve them?

I am a person who just wants to see very high mountain peaks as closely as possible. I enjoy taking challenges and going through difficult conditions to ultimately view something majestic. The only goal I had was to go for extreme high altitudes to see high peaks, cross glaciers and travel through high mountain passes and snowfields full of crevasses. Of course, when I return I wanted to have plenty of photographs to show everyone what I saw, what you can’t get in cities or low lands.

What lessons did you learn from this trek?

I learnt that one should not get demoralized because many people could not finish a particular trek…..rather you should trust your abilities. Being mentally positive and being happy on the trails, both are very important. Instead of trying to finish a trek, one should try to live the trek and enjoy it.

If you were to do this trek again, how would you do it differently, if at all?

I think I did pretty much what I could. But, more the fit one is, the better it is. So, I would definitely exercise harder and try to improve breathing efficiency even more considering the thin air that one faces at extreme high altitudes.

What piece of advise would you give a female who is thinking about doing this trail based on your experience?

I would definitely say that one must at least give it a try ……..and do not underestimate yourself.

Upasana talks about her toughest trek, which happens to be Stok Kangri for obvious reasons.

There are many tough treks that I have done, each challenging in one respect or the other. However, Stok Kangri was most challenging because of the extreme altitude of 20,080 ft accompanied by bad weather. Many participants had to turn back because of altitude mountain sickness sooner or later, in some cases milder and in some others harsh. The pace of an athlete would not necessarily help in such altitudes.  It’s the discipline and slow but steady ascent that counts. If you hurry, you will be in trouble. Being slow, acclimatization, drinking lots of fluid, eating well, and honesty make the difference.

Someone told me in the beginning of the trek that hardly 50% of the total participants can actually finish Stok Kangri. That was not nice to hear. Also, I am not a very thin person. Plus, I am a woman. But, I kept my confidence level high and did everything that I could. I worked hard on acclimatization, kept my spirit up and that was my key to the successful climb of Stok Kangri.

What other treks do you have on your bucket list?

Oh, many…… I would require lots of buckets. However, some of them are Kalindi Khal, Pin Parvathi pass, Annapurna Circuit, Chamser Kangri, Goecha La, Auden’s Col, Panpatia Col, Everest base camp till camp 2 i.e. crossing the Khumbu ice fall and back and the Siachen Glacier trek for civilians that is organized every year by the India army.

I want to explore more semi-technical peaks of altitude 20,000 ft and more. I am also looking for sponsors for my treks so that I can accomplish more and write about such expeditions.

What is your favorite hiking gear?

They are two: (a) My hiking shoes as that keeps my foot (most important for the journey) safe (b) my backpack as that is required to store the essentials for a multi-day exploration in the rugged mountains.

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

As a female hiker my experience regarding issues that I faced is similar if I compare India and USA. Generally speaking, women are considered less efficient as compared to men whether it’s here in India or the western world (of course, the extent of this type of thinking is of lesser degree in western countries). Let’s talk about hiking alone. I found that a lot of women engage in this hobby. However, if you are interested in high altitudes or multi-day treks, the number of women participants decrease with the increase in number of days and increase in altitude. So, if I am looking for a female company, my chances are low.

Being a woman, I am confident. I fight for the rights of a woman. However, I do have to accept that nature herself has made man and woman different. On the trail, some women can be very fast just like their male hike mates while others can be slower but not inferior as far as endurance is concerned. Lot of times I felt that when I trek in a group of men only or mostly, it’s hard for them to understand that a woman who is slower than them is not necessarily less efficient or is feeling unwell. It is just that she hikes little slow but can hike as much as the others do.

Then, we women have health related issues that we need to consider seriously. If needed, we should have someone to share our problem with. It is a little harder when you do not have other female hiking friends in the group. I have faced this once and I had to take medication and wait on the trail itself in an isolated place where the other group mates went ahead. I waited alone for almost half an hour before I could get up and start walking again. This was way back during one of my initial backpacking trips and would never want another woman to go through. Hence, I would suggest every woman hiker to carry enough medicines and have them when required. Also, if you are not feeling well please tell your hiker friends whether female or male about your exact problem.

Lastly, women always are at the risk of harassment/ misbehavior. I generally keep a knife for emergency use and always maintain distance from suspicious people.

Upasana gave us an in-depth insight on some of the challenges as a female hiker including the pace difference between men and women which I completely relate to as generally men tend to go on a faster pace.  In any event, we ought to listen to our body and learn to respect our own abilities for safety reasons regardless of the pressures from our fellow hikers.

Moving on to the trekking world in India – what are the best areas for trekking in India?

For someone who likes snow peaks, I suggest trekking in the northern and eastern Himalayan ranges in India. The terrain is different in each of these areas. While extreme north (e.g. Jammu and Kashmir) is arid, as you move towards eastern India, the mountains are greener. Each type of the terrain has its own beauty. Ladakh (in Jammu and Kashmir), Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Darjeeling (in West Bengal) and Sikkim are some of my favorite destinations.

How would you categorize the hiking/trekking in India?

In India you will find hiking choices of all sorts, non-technical and easy, moderate, non-technical but very difficult, semi-technical, and of course, technical. Some high peaks such as Stok Kangri and Chamser Kangri are semi-technical climbs where you need to trek till the base camp and some more before you need to get roped up and use your ice axe, crampons etc.

As far as elevation is concerned, the altitude can vary from nominal to extreme high altitudes above 20,000 ft. Trekking above 12,000 ft is very common here in India and thus for many treks hikers traverse through altitudes ranging from 11,000 to 16,000 ft. For those who like to go even higher, there are plenty of options.  The Himalayan terrain is not easy. The weather is also unpredictable.

Although many people opt to hike on their own, according to the government rules, Himalayan treks must be done by hiring a guide and you should have permits wherever required. Hence, trekking alone is not advisable. This is particularly important for high altitude treks as altitude mountain sickness is a common issue in Himalayan treks and guides become very useful in case of any sort of emergencies.

What treks would you recommend for someone who is doing treks in India for the first time?

If someone is new here, I would suggest doing Goecha La (in Sikkim), Roopkund (Uttaranchal), Rupin Pass (traverses from Uttarakhand to Himachal Pradesh), Har ki Dun (Uttarakhand), Chadar (Jammu and Kashmir), Bara Bhangal (Himachal Pradesh) (this is very remote and less explored) and Kuari pass (Uttarakhand). There are many more. These are only some of them. It also depends on individual interests. Like myself, I always look for very challenging treks at extreme altitudes and remote areas where risks are high, and of course, treks with good views. Some trekking companies conduct guided treks and these can be pre-booked. People who are trekking for the first time in India, it will be advisable to book the treks beforehand.

Can people trek solo in India? If so, which areas?   What are the obstacles/challenges of solo trekking in India?

You can trek solo in India but with a guide. However, a group of 5-6 hikers is always better. Himalayan terrain should be taken seriously. As I said elsewhere as well, most of the Himalayan treks involve high altitude climbs in one or the other forms, for less or more duration. Mountain sickness is a commonly experienced issue. Weather is unpredictable. The trails in Himalayas are not well marked, especially at very high altitudes. Hence, even if you want to hike solo, please hike a guide who can help you out in difficult situations.

How does one obtain guides for treks in India for those areas requiring permits and guides?

Guides are mandatory in Himalayan treks. Those who don’t hire guides, violate the law. If caught, you can run into trouble. If you come here and decide to go for a trek unplanned, you can certainly still go for it. You need to get in touch with travel companies and they will assist you.

Are there factors that women should specifically know about when they trek in India?

Yes, being a woman, you have to be a bit more careful. That is why I suggest to be in group. If you still want to go solo, please get in touch with reputable trekking companies. They will take care of your safety. On your own hand, you should keep something for self-defense and emergency situations. Phones might not work on trails. Let the embassy or similar organization know that you will be out solo in the wilderness and share your travel logistics with them.

Upasana encourages everyone, as I would, to experience trekking in India.  As my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, intends to scout the trails in India to promote local tourism, I plan to trek there one day and hope to cross paths with Upasana in her trekking paradise – the Indian Himalayas.

On one final thought, Upasana leaves us with her favorite quote in loving memory of her friend a beloved member of the Meetup hiking community of the East Coast and an inspiring Outdoor Woman’s Voice –

HUA DAVIS

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”

                                             -Swami Vivekananda

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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Diversity Needs a Voice: Will You Speak Up?

America’s political and cultural landscapes are about to change in a drastic manner. The incoming new president of the supposedly most powerful nation in the world is set to initiate his leadership position in a matter of days. The very thought of it reignites my belief even more strongly than ever before in the importance of the role that writers, bloggers, creators, artists, musicians and all other sorts of dreamers play in advocating for diversity, multiculturalism and globalization.

I’m not going to lie. I’m scared for the future of America and anxious as to how dialogues and human interactions will go from here. Even the liberal nature of my locality, which happens to be the D.C. metro area, is ineffectively able to pacify my fears, so much so, that I get the nagging feeling that being apathetic is no longer a choice. In fact, in a place where marches, rallies and movements are common occurrences, my tendency to shy away from these events as they come to my area no longer feels okay. There’s guilt deeply seated within me ready to consume all of me for any future rallies that I avoid with no justifiable excuse.

I’m not saying we all should hold hands and sing, “Kumbaya.” Doing that will not create change unless we utilize our voices more effectively in our respective mediums. The next four years will likely bring tremendous change to people’s mentality about human rights, globalization, diversity, travels, and everything in between which in essence touches upon the very nature of our humanity —that of love and respect towards one another.

If you have a voice, which we all do, then now is the time to speak up. If you believe in the value of diversity in our society, then it’s time to incorporate that in your business, your publications, your personal dialogues with friends and strangers, your film projects, your artwork, your music, your blog, your travels and everything else in between. Silence is only acceptable for self-reflection and to further tap into internal inspiration. Other than that, to be silent on such issues is to be deliberately reckless and egregious as a human being which would utterly be detrimental to the human race, if we seriously hope to instill and advance mutual respect towards one another despite our differences.

I say all this to assert that now there’s a new form of guilt to contend with — one in which our inner being compels us to leave a critical mark and legacy in the advancement of human rights whether within America or beyond. So, as non-politicians and regular individuals, what can we do about it?

If reading books and articles on human rights are too dry of a reading for you, then there are simpler avenues for you to take to educate yourself and others. For one, travel outside the U.S. more. Talk, or better yet, write about your adventures in Pakistan or Iran so the world can be less judgmental of certain ethnic groups and refrain from labeling them as terrorists. Blog about the beauty of human interactions in remote countries that are predominantly of Muslim faith. Take photos of the wonderful human connections that you managed to develop. Let your photos depict the innate goodness of people from any parts of the globe. Create art or music that sends out a positive message on inclusiveness. Collaborate with diverse individuals to advance your business enterprise.

Artists, musicians, storytellers, dreamers, entrepreneurs, writers, bloggers, and whatever voice you may have at your disposal — we all have a place in this movement. In fact, we have an important role to play and this is our time to rise to the occasion to perform our very best.

At this juncture, we can’t afford to overlook any opportunity to grow as individuals and to go beyond our prejudices as so much of humanity is, and will be, at stake for the years to come. There’s no room for apathy. Silence will only make it all worse. When apathy lures you, reject it, and focus all your energy to summon that part of you that values change, progress and humanity. Your role as a human being is now much more critical than ever before.

When it comes to diversity, it’s either you effect change to advance it or you subconsciously join the silent movement to destroy it. We all have that decision to make, whether we like it or not.

What will it be for you?

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I Turned 40 and Became a Superwoman

My costume as a superwoman. Watch out for my walking sticks.

“40”

What a scary number for most women. Well, in 2016, 40 came to my life and stayed. It looks like it’s not going anywhere either.

While most women struggled transitioning out from their 30s and transitioning into “40,” my circumstances were highly unlike most, and for that, I’m grateful. Before turning 40 myself, I heard heart-wrenching stories from women about their harrowing experiences with it. The difficult transition can be minor, chronic or severe. I recall a female friend who was having difficulty with the notion as she was single, never married and without kids at the age of 40. Her choices in life were driven by desperation and overwhelming need to feel good that ultimately led to her own pain and suffering. To receive some form of validation, she engaged in this unhealthy habit of dating men who were married or already in relationships. Little did she know, that cycle wasn’t going to get her a long-term commitment from anyone — the very core of what she desires.

That friend’s approach to life never left my mind. Partly, it’s because witnessing her go through a tough time with the age made me wonder if I’ll go through a similar unpleasant situation. The thought scared me. Subconsciously, over the years, I have kept that image of her in my mind as a contrast to how I wish my transition into the 40s to be.

In my case, I turned 40 while camping and hiking with friends in Acadia, and like my friend — single, never married and with no kids. There was no real celebration as on my actual birthday I was on the road driving back to Washington, D.C. As expected, people sent me their birthday wishes in various forms, but all in all, there were no fireworks to celebrate the milestone, which is exactly how I intended it to be.

Internally, however, it was a different experience altogether. There was a sense of peace and calmness within me and yet a loud voice saying, YES! Quite frankly, turning 40 felt like a major achievement in my case because despite all the dangerous solo trekking I did the past decade, I successfully made it to 40, nonetheless. I also felt rather enlightened by the many lessons I have learned both on my travels and in my regular life. I even managed to write about the 40 lessons I learned on my blog to celebrate my entry into the 40s zone. In essence, I had no fear whatsoever when 40 entered my life. Instead, I felt tremendously excited about the new decade settling in. In my mind, it only means more adventures to come for a wiser and more mature version of myself.

So, as you can see, my reaction to 40 was different from how my friend reacted. It wasn’t an overnight process. My 30s involved making mistakes and learning, getting hurt and growing, and even hating myself in order to finally love myself. When you figure out a way to the path of becoming a self-made individual, you then discover your powers to create your own world that is aligned with your true essence. This then develops your ability to dismiss any negativity in the external world.

In other words,

You no longer have the urge to please everyone or even anyone for that matter. You learn to value pleasing yourself. You no longer feel obligated to look, act or speak as dictated by society. You are 100% YOU. You no longer follow other’s desires. You only follow yours. You no longer judge others. More importantly, you no longer judge yourself. You no longer fear anything or anyone but fear itself.

This all leads me to say, “40 turned me into my own hero.”

By permitting yourself to embrace the person you are now and in the future, you dive into a version of freedom that only a handful of humans can relate to. You become fully awakened by your potential to expand and create your own path. You become your own superhero — in my case, a superwoman.

Forty can be an enlightening moment — a moment to be your own version of a hero to yourself so you can be of service to others and beam light on people’s lives in the darkest of days.

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Andrea of Andy in the World

We, hikers, are more similar than we think.  If you ever doubt that, please let me give you some arguments to support that statement.

I took one year to travel and trek.  Andy did as well.

I have trekked the Inca Trail.  Andy has done the same.

In fact, I’ll add Mont Blanc in Europe, Torres del Paine in Chile, Banff in Canada, Haleakala National Park in Maui and Yosemite.  We both have trekked in those places.

Add Kilimanjaro, South Africa and Nepal, which I’ve been to.  These three are on Andy’s bucket list.

Obviously, Andy and I have similar tastes when it comes to mountains.  Not only that, but we are also both fortunate to be part of the same supportive community of female hikers called Hike Like a Woman.  And, I’m quite happy to add, Andy is also part of the Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks project.  Who knew there is such a thing as being twins in the trekking world?  Well, now you know.  With all that said, I’m excited to share Andy’s hiking story.  She’s truly an adventurer and a source of inspiration; hence, I’m thrilled to have her featured on this series.   After all, Andy has already inspired a significant number of people.  Need some proof of that?  Check out her Facebook page and see for yourself her number of followers.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Andrea “Andy” Buzeta is from Kennesaw, GA who currently resides in Canton, GA.   Andy is back in the working world after a full year of traveling and hiking.  But not for long.  She already has some adventures in mind. Her next trip will be in Colorado for a week of hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park.   Locally, Andy hikes around North Georgia mountains, metro Atlanta and the Smokies.  She usually takes 1 to 2 hiking trips a year abroad or to a U.S. National Park.  When off the trails, Andy loves traveling that entails experiencing other cultures and cuisines.  She’s also fond of biking, kayaking, salsa dancing and reading.

How did you discover hiking?

I first started hiking 8 years ago- 2008. I had moved from the city (Atlanta) to the country (North Georgia) when I had first got married to my then husband. I was bored and having culture shock because there was nothing to do- no crowded bars and nightclubs, no international restaurants, it was even hard to find a gym. While I was out driving one day, I found Amicalola Falls State Park and hiked some of the trails.  Upon hearing that the Appalachian Trail starts there and goes all the way to Maine, I was fascinated!  Also the 2 mile loop I did with 600 stairs in the middle made me realize that I was out of shape!  It became my goal to be able to do that 2 mile loop without feeling like I was going to die.

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?

My most memorable hiking experience to date was my trip to Chile in January 2015.  It was supposed to be a 6 day backpacking trip called the “Trail of the Neighbors”, trekking Chile’s famous Futaleufu River Valley.  The trip would depart from near the little town of Futaleufu and take me to a camp located at the confluence of the Futaleufu and Azul rivers.  It would be a circumnavigation of the Teta peak along side the Espolon lake, while experiencing deep immersion of Patagonia culture with homestays in remote ranches. Well, that’s what I went to do.  But I ended up on an expedition from the Andes to the Ocean on horseback, because the route was too dangerous on foot. A volcanic eruption a few years before had left the route too dangerous, with rivers unsafe to cross on foot.  I later learned that this was a bucket list trip for horseback enthusiasts. I had never even rode a horse before. It was way out of my comfort zone to trust an animal to carry me up high mountain passes and to cross rushing rivers.

That’s quite a surprise – from walking to horse riding!  That’s why it’s memorable indeed.  

What do you like the most about hiking?

What I like most about hiking is the mental meditation that it is for me.  It completely clears my head and rids me of my anxieties.

I couldn’t agree more with that.  To me, the meditative part is the most alluring aspect of hiking.  

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?

It depends.  I enjoy hiking solo more as a general rule, when I am just going out for a hike on the weekend.  On trips, especially international trips, I enjoy the group comraderie, meeting like-minded people from all over the world, and sharing the experience.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

First, to be truly present in the moment.  Put away the IPhone. Put one foot in front of the other, breathe in and out, see the sights, hear the sounds, smell the scents around you.  Second, some things seem impossible when really they aren’t, it is just your brain telling you so. For example I look at a pass and think wow, there is no way I’m going up and over that. But you just put one foot in front of the other and next thing you know, you’re there!  Third, when you’re lost and cannot find the way, sometimes prayer really is what works.

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

1) Always go prepared- with water, rain gear, etc. 

2) Don’t not go hiking because you don’t have anyone to go with, go alone anyway. Start at your local state parks and get comfortable there, then you will have more confidence to venture out for hikes in other places.

Please share with us your 3 favorite hiking photos and the reasons why they are your favorites.

This is in Banff National Park, Canada, in July of 2014.  This was the day I went over my first real high mountain pass. I was very happy because I had accomplished something new. The scenery around me was so very beautiful!

This is going up Macchu Picchu Mountain in Peru, in April 2016.  This was a very challenging hike, because you have to climb 2000 stairs above 10,000 feet in altitude.  The air was thin and it was hot and humid.  But about halfway through I got this crazy second wind and zipped up to the top!

The next picture is from the Tour du Mont Blanc in August 2015.  This was right near the border of Switzerland and France. Our group was about to close the loop we started 10 days before. The weather was just gorgeous this day and I was enjoying every moment.

With all these beautiful trekking experiences you’ve had, what other treks do you still have on your bucket list?

I would like to do a trek in Nepal in the Everest region or Annapurna region.  I would also like to do a trek in Africa- either Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, or something in South Africa.

What is your favorite hiking gear and why?

I love my Merrell Moab Waterproof shoes.  They have taken me all over the world.

Andrea shares with us 3 favorite trails.

In July 2016 I took a trip to Yosemite National Park in California and did day hikes for 6 days.  My favorite hike was the Panorama trail, which starts at Glacier Point, passes Nevada Falls, and ends in Yosemite Valley.
 

In February 2016, I took a trip to Hawaii (Maui and Lanai) and did day hikes for 6 days.  My favorite hike was the Sliding Sands trail in Haleakala National Park, which is a dormant volcano.  The terrain of this place is the closest you can be to walking on another planet!

In October 2015, I hiked a 100 kilometer section of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, starting in Sarria and ending in Santiago de Compostela.  The Camino is an ancient pilgrimage route to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried.   This walk was 8 days, 2 of which were in the pouring rain.  This hike really tested me.  Even though the terrain was flat and much easier than trekking in the mountains, the 2 days of rain and amount of time walking on concrete really took its toll on my feet.  This was also my first solo trek.  On others I have typically gone with a group.  It was a great experience.

What was the toughest hike or trek you have done?

It was actually the section I did of the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  It was physically more challenging to me because walking on flat terrain, sometimes paved, for longer distances was harder on my feet and legs than walking up and down mountains all day. I got leg cramps that I had never had before. I walked 2 full days in very heavy rain so I got blisters also. It was also mentally challenging. I expected to be meeting and connecting with lots of people, but the rain had everyone just trudging along only focused on getting to the next town. This was also my first solo trek, so when my phone died from getting too wet, it did increase my anxiety.

Yikes!  That is one heck of a blister.  I do agree with flat paved paths as a challenge.  I’ve had that same issue in the past myself as it can be mentally challenging due to the lack of variety of the trail.  

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

 No, not really.  On one of those really rainy days walking on the Camino, I did have a man pull over and offer me a ride to the next town.  I asked the pair of hikers behind me and the pair in front of me if he had offered a ride to them and they said no.  I’m pretty sure it was just a nice person offering me a ride, but being a female alone, my guard was up and I declined.

One last thing, Andy leaves us with her favorite quote from one of my favorite authors to inspire us all.

“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” 
                                       – Paulo Coelho

Andy manages to document all her adventures via her blog,  Andy in the World which launched in August of 2015.   In her blog, she documents not only the treks that she has done but also her non-trekking travels.  I do enjoy the fact that she is eclectic in that she does combine her love of the mountains with regular traveling.   With us being so similar in tastes and with my social enterprise (Peak Explorations), I get the sense our paths will cross sooner than later, and that’s something I look forward to!  Until then, you and I can follow Andy via her blog to see what mountain trails or cities she’s exploring.  And if you did end up checking her Facebook page earlier, you would then have discovered that she has over 17,000 followers!  Proof enough of her being a source of inspiration in the traveling and trekking world.

You can follow Andrea via her blog, Andy in the World and social media:  Facebook 

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.

FREEDOMPRENEUR: Cory of You Could Travel

Most of us can only imagine of a traveling lifestyle where one gets to travel frequently and have the financial resources to do so.  In the brief period I’ve been writing and connecting with other bloggers, it became apparent to me that there is a huge community of nomads, expats, lifelong travelers of every kind.  In the Freedompreneur series, my hope is to debunk the myth that it is close to impossible to live a life filled with travels.  With creativity, passion and perseverance, many aspiring nomads do achieve their dream of a traveling lifestyle.  This achievement is exemplified by our feature Freedompreneur, Cory Varga, from You Could Travel, a website that provides travel inspiration and advise.

Dreamy in Madeira, Portugal.

Brown Gal Trekker Meets Cory

When diving into the world of travel blogging, one can easily lose his or her way.  I don’t blame you.  It’s a rough blogging world, after all.  By luck, I met Cory via one of the blogger groups when I posted my search for features for the Freedompreneurs series.  Unbeknownst to Cory, I did know of her even before then due to an article she wrote that caught my attention.  The article,  aside from being well-written, somehow left an impression on me.  Her article spoke of the hurdles that bloggers face, and despite of it, deciding to to take the higher ground, nonetheless.  As a new blogger, I have yet to get a full understanding of how collaborations work with fellow bloggers.  Cory provided an opening for me to get somewhat of a view of how that world works.  Since reading that article, I have always kept Cory’s advise nearby as a resource for future mishaps in the world of blogging.

Cory Varga of You Could Travel

Nature in Seychelles.

Cory Varga is a Romanian born British citizen from Bristol, UK.  She   grew up in Bucharest, Romania.  She was an only child which enabled her “to keep all treats for herself and not having to share them with siblings (haha!).”  According to Cory, she had a very happy childhood as her mother dedicated 7 years to stay home with her, raise her and teach her about the world. As a child, they used to travel to the seaside and mountains a lot, which she believes made her the traveler that she is today.

Cory loves writing and photography.  She always had some sort of inclination towards arts, but her parents told her on many occasions that without mathematics and sciences, she can’t make a decent income. For many years, during school, she dedicated her time to learning mathematics and computer science, whilst using her spare time to visit art galleries, museums and read A LOT.   When she turned 18, she pursued her passion to learn languages whilst pursuing a degree in law with criminology. Years later, she settled for what she truly loves: design, photography and writing.  

Hence, it isn’t a surprise that You Could Travel came into existence.   Cory is a UX designer for her own digital studio in the UK, as well as, a travel blogger and photographer for You Could Travel, which she deems  as her epic soft adventure website.  Let’s learn more from Cory about her enterprise and traveling life.

Are you still working a 9 to 5 job? 

The answer is not quite as a black and white. Together with my husband, I own a digital studio in the UK, whereby I am the creative force in the office. This is my main source of income and I absolutely love designing. As a hobby, I started writing on my travel blog about my travels, whilst sharing my photography with friends and family. A few months later, my blog took off and became my second source of income. I am now sharing my time between both businesses so in a way, I work from 8am till 11pm.

What are your current plans?

I want to continue to grow both 42droids (my digital studio) and my travel website, You Could Travel. I also want to focus more on monetizing my photography skills.

In Madeira’s Pico Ruivo.

I’m curious to know more about You Could Travel. What led you to start your travel website?

It all started at the end of March 2016 when I decided to write down everything about my trip to Japan. Before visiting the country, I found little information about what a foreigner should actually be aware of. Beyond the tourists attractions and a few Japanese words, there is a lot I wish I knew prior to my arrival. I wanted to share this with the world. My website has only honest information, and I only write about personal experiences. I make mistakes so others don’t have to.

What is the mission of You Could Travel?

To encourage others to travel safely, learn new ways to enjoy various destinations and avoid making the mistakes I made during my trips. I want to educate through my blog.

What type of content do you have on your website?

I mainly write about my travels to Japan as this is my main niche. I am obsessed with this country and one day I hope to live there. I obtain my content based on personal experiences and I usually spend at least a week figuring out a proper travel itinerary. I read other blogs, books and ask around what’s best, then tailor this to my own requirements.

What hurdles have you faced thus far with this project?

The competition is fierce and sometimes I feel that blogs are about who shouts the loudest as opposed to ethical and quality writing. In the end, great content and a solid business plans wins the race.

How did you overcome these hurdles?

I created a solid business plan, dedicated a lot of time A/B testing to ensure I know what works and what doesn’t. Also, I followed my gut and continued to create good content as opposed to short targeted articles.

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

I am grateful to several blogging communities from which I learned a lot about the business aspects of having a website. I spent a lot testing on my website to understand what works and I was not afraid to try new things. I kept an open mind and embraced useful advice.

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

I am keen on slow travel so I prefer to travel one month out of three, as opposed to travelling somewhere just for a weekend. As it stands, on average, I travel every month for at least a week.

Cory shares with us some amazing travel moments:

Mount Hiei when my husband proposed to me.

Tokyo arrival when we realized how amazing the city was.

Driving in Madeira because their roads are crazy narrow and sometimes close to 90 degrees upright.

How do you define success for You Could Travel?

The more visitors read my content, spend time interacting with my website and email me for further advice, the more successful I deem the website to me. Of course, I need to make a living so kind readers using my affiliate links make a difference, but I strongly believe that when people press that share button, it means my content left an impression. That is what my website was created for.

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

I discovered that I love a good challenge and I am relentless until something works the way I want it to. I also learned to be more patient, because let me tell you, I usually want things to happen yesterday!

How do you manage to afford traveling?

As I mentioned before, I make a living from my digital studio. Together with my husband, we offer a lot of fantastic digital services which clients love. This leads to more recommendations, which translate to more clients and ultimately more revenue. Since we own the studio, we can work from anywhere and are location independent. We also get clients though You Could Travel which helps us a lot.

Do you have other future projects in mind? Tell us about it.

We are redesigning 42droids Ltd and we can’t wait to put the new website live very soon! I also want to launch my own ecommerce brand. Next year I will have a space on You Could Travel dedicated to photojournalism, through which I want to sell my photography. Now that is what I’m mega excited about! Want even more? I have almost completed my first book and going to Japan for a month to research for my second one!

What advise do you have to those who are thinking of pursuing their passion?

Stop dwelling, stop finding excuses and just take the first step. Don’t be abrupt and change your life all of a sudden, but it is important that you take the first step towards following your dream. One step will lead to another, and then another, and ultimately, this is how we all start pursuing our passion.

The coastline of Madeira.

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

It really did. I was working a 9 to 5 job when I met my husband, already a freelancer who enjoyed a free lifestyle. Together we put together our digital studio and the moment we had our first client, I quit and never looked back since. There are a few downsides and you have to be cut for this lifestyle. Whoever tells you it’s all pink and flowers will lie to you. If you do it with you partner, you have to know you can work and live together almost 24/7. You have to be relentless and perseverant and know how to do your research. You have to be good with budgeting because you can have a huge contract today and nothing for 6 months down the line. It works for me and my husband and I would not do it any other way.

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

Of course I am and it’s epic. I can take holidays whenever I want, budget the way I think is fit and have the flexibility to shop on a Thursday and work on a Sunday. Well, I do tend to work most of the time but that’s not a bad thing. The important part is that I can tailor my schedule to fit my needs and avoid busy times at the market, busy weekends in the mall or peak times on vacation. I can travel during the cheapest dates and work from anywhere in the world as long as I have internet.

Finally, any unique travel advise you can give everyone?

Don’t start travelling because you seek to discover who you are. Travel because you want to get to know the world, because I promise you one thing: by discovering the world, you will inevitably discover yourself.

To wrap it up, I asked Cory just a few more QUICK travel-related questions:

How many countries have you been to?

You know, I never kept count of this. Over 30 but the more you focus on quantity, you start forgetting about the quality.

What other countries are on your list?

Canada, Nepal and Mongolia.

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

My tea!

Which do you prefer? Mountains or city life?  

I’m an outdoors lover. I would take a hike up the mountains over shopping in a city any day.

Name 3 qualities that you think are the most important in accomplishing one’s dreams?

Patience, perseverance, relentlessness.

As you can see, choosing to live a traveling lifestyle is not as easy as one would think.  It’s possible as long as you are aware and open to the challenges that it brings.  Thanks Cory for the insight and encouragement!  I’m definitely looking forward to what the future holds for your project and mission.  Undoubtedly, you’re well on your way to your dreams, as we speak.

You can follow Cory via You Could Travel and her social media accounts: Facebook & Twitter.

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

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

HIKER’S PARADISE: Moab, Utah (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 if your passion has to do with spending time in the mountains.  Our featured hiker’s paradise is: 

MOAB, UTAH (USA)

by Heather of Explore With Heather

The town of Moab is mentioned and instantly everyone around begins dreaming up mountain biking on slickrock, climbing spires, hiking to awesome petroglyphs, or jeeping along some of the toughest dirt roads in America. This is your ultimate tourist destination, especially April through October, and serves as the gateway into Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. 

My main love for Moab comes from hiking, though it is definitely a town for any outdoor enthusiast. There is actually a trick to Moab that helps get the most bang for your buck as far as hiking goes. Tons of the awesome trails are all under three miles throughout both National Parks and all around the area. Your best bet that provides the biggest variety of hiking in a day is to string together two or three of these.
The perfect day of hiking in Moab involves waking up early to catch the sunrise at Mesa Arch then driving along the Colorado River to hike Fisher Towers. After that take some time to explore the town of Moab and refuel with a bite to eat on the patio at Peace Tree Café. End your day hiking the three miles to the iconic Delicate Arch to watch the sunset.

For bang for your buck on hiking availability, Moab is sure to be your next home. Whether you want to hike in deserts or drive 45 mins to the La Sal mountains to bag a peak you have all your favorite options in one place.

See you in Moab!

 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.