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The Year that Inspired a Lifetime of Travel: Top 10 Adventures of 2012

I already know that after my yearlong Simply Adventure trip, I’ll be claiming that 2013 was the best year ever – but there would be no epic future without the unbelievable year of traveling, new friends, and outdoor pursuits experienced during 2012.

The year began with me residing in snowy Denver, Colorado – and now as it comes to a close, I’m saying farewell to house-living in Florida, and preparing for life as a van-dweller. Woah. To wrap my mind around how I’ve ended up where I am today, we have to take a look back at the top 10 adventure moments of 2012. The list keeps getting better as we journey towards #1:

I'll totally admit it, I felt like a bad ass on those bunny slopes in Vail.10. Learning How to Ski in Vail, Colorado

Eager to take advantage of my temporary residence in Colorado, the elder Boués were incredibly amped when the chance arose for them to join me in the mountains for a weekend of adventure. In late February, they flew out to Denver and together we road tripped out to the Vail Ski Area for a few days of snowy bonding.

Having previously failed miserably at snowboarding, I took my first skiing lesson and conquered the bunny slopes – but the real highlight of the Vail trip was spending time with my folks, eating the best breakfast burrito I’ve ever tasted at Pazzo’s Pizzeria, and sharing my newfound love for Colorado with them.

9. Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona

Hanging out with one of Ursa Minor's Ecamper creations during Overland Expo.

Each year of my life now seems to include an epic solo adventure, and this year’s trip was my one-woman journey out to Flagstaff in late May for the annual Overland Expo event. The misadventure began with me tragically killing a young black bear while driving through the middle-of-nowhere in Texas, but quickly took a more pleasant turn as I connected with a group of fine fellas (like Dave Creech, David Croyle, Anthony Sicola, and so many more) who mocked my inability to finish a glass of whiskey, cooked up some mean tacos, and introduced me to the art of overland travel.

I gained valuable insights from the Hackney’s educational seminars, feasted on Overland Gourmet’s outstanding fireside fare, and spent over a week traveling across some of the finer parts of the country. J. Brandon, thank you for taking me under your wing and becoming a true friend.

8. My First Amtrak Train Ride

Niko and I first started dating a few days before Thanksgiving in 2009, which has led to a rather inconvenient occurrence of our anniversary falling on days when we’re typically spread across the state visiting family for the holiday. We were together last year for Thanksgiving in Denver, and this year I was determined to spend our third anniversary together – so I hopped on my very first, and highly anticipated, Amtrak Silver Star train journey from Miami to Tampa. It was an admittedly small step towards fulfilling my dreams of train travel, but I loved every minute of it – and can’t wait to embark on extended railway journeys in the future.

7. Sport Climbing at Red River Gorge in Kentucky

Climbing one of my favorite routes at Red River Gorge, Plate Tectonics (5.10a).Prior to my Arizona road trip, I spent 10 days exploring a lush gorge in the depths of Kentucky with Niko and the owner of Tallahassee Rock Gym, Rich. We met up with a crew of topnotch Floridian climbers for days spent hiking through dense greenery, avoiding pesky campers at Land of The Arches Campground, and gorging on pizza at Miguel’s.

I witnessed my friend Rachel take the scariest whipper I’ve ever seen while climbing a route called Amarillo Sunset, nearly peed on a young copperhead while drunk at The Zoo crag on Cinco de Mayo, and proudly on-sighted my first 5.10a leads. It was one of the most inspiring and motivational climbing trips I’ve ever been on.

6. Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City

Lovin' my experience at my first Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City!The climax of 2012’s integration into the outdoor industry occurred during the festive chaos better known as the OR Show. Thousands of gear junkies, media professionals, and brand representatives converged upon the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City for the ultimate outdoor industry experience.

Swept up in a whirlwind of introductions, meetings, and pitstops for beer, I was entirely overwhelmed as I filled my pack with free gear, brushed elbows with Alex Honnold, and reunited with the wonderful folks at Stonelick and Columbia Sportswear. The trip was completed with a gorgeous day of climbing at American Fork Canyon with the #ClimbChat crew. I’m already planning for next summer’s OR Show.

5. The Triple Crown Bouldering Series at Hound Ears, NC

Proudly showing off my score sheet - it may not have been a 1st place qualifier, but it was my strongest day ever. I’ve never been the competitive type when it comes to climbing, but when I heard about the annual climbing event at Hound Ears in North Carolina a few weeks before my birthday, I instantly registered Niko and I for the competition – this outstanding crag is only open one day a year for the Triple Crown Bouldering Series. Situated atop a ritzy gated community, the Hound Ears boulder field is a mecca for any style of bouldering imaginable. I sent my proudest climbs to date, placed 15th in my category, and celebrated the end of the competition with apple-picking at Stepps Hillcrest Orchard in Hendersonville, NC.

4. The Last Rocky Mountain Adventures and Leaving Colorado

Farewell, Colorado. At the end of 2011, I experienced a few career hiccups, and realized that in order to live my dreams of a life of adventure, I needed to leave Colorado and return to Florida to save up for the Simply Adventure trip. Before departing from the mile-high city, Niko and a few buddies flew out to Denver to spend their spring break climbing, hiking, and exploring. We traveled out to Horsetooth Resevoir near Fort Collins, made one last visit to my favorite sushi spot in Boulder, and ended my time in Denver with an excellent week of adventure.

During the first week of March, Niko and I packed up my little Scion hatchback, and drove me back down to Florida. It was a bittersweet moment, and I’ve been dreaming of the Flat Irons ever since.

3. Building, Renovating, and Expanding at Tallahassee Rock Gym

A panoramic view of all the construction work on the new climbing walls at Tallahassee Rock Gym. If you follow me on Twitter, gander at my Instagrams, or read my Facebook statuses, you know that one of the most important things in my life is the Tallahassee Rock Gym. It’s my home, the birthplace of my climbing lifestyle, and the spot where Niko and I first met. I’ve laughed, cried, and crushed there – and this year, we bought the warehouse space next door and began construction on an epic expansion effort. Everything was paid for out of pocket, every piece of wood was put up during long hours of volunteer work, and every inch of the new climbing area is loaded with love and dedication.

We’ve nearly completed the renovations, and on January 12th, we’ll host a grand reopening celebration. It’s the proudest project I’ve ever been a part of, and it breaks my heart to think about leaving this place for an entire year.

2. Joining Columbia Sportwear’s Inaugural Omniten Ambassador Team

The inaugural Omniten crew from Columbia Sportswear at Havasu Falls.One of the first shots from my GoPro - taken during a hike down a waterfall near Mooney Falls in Arizona.I still remember the day Adam from Columbia Sportswear sent me the first e-mail; he nonchalantly asked for my shipping address, claiming to be interested in sending me a few pieces from the new spring line. Fast-forward a few weeks, and I was speeding back to Florida to open up a mysterious package – which I quickly discovered was my invitation to join a group of ten outdoor influencers selected to become a team of gear-testers and adventurers. During my six-month Omniten experience, I was introduced to nine people who I now think of on a daily basis.

We met in Phoenix, Arizona for a press trip as complete strangers, and by the time we left Havasu Falls five days later, we all cried upon departure. During our Arizona adventure together, we were spoiled in Sedona with prickly pear margaritas and vortex yoga on Bell Rock, spent three days exploring the Grand Canyon and jumping from the waterfalls around Havasupai, and grew into an unforgettable little family. I can’t thank Columbia Sportswear enough for blessing me with the Omniten opportunity – it truly changed my life forever.

1. Buying The Big Yellow Van

The Simply Adventure duo at our finest; shovels in hand, climbing gear ready, and our big yellow van!Niko and I dreamed of it all year, and finally in October, our fantasies came to fruition – we took the biggest plunge of our lives thus far, and bought a used 2005 Sprinter cargo van. We gutted the interior and built ourselves a little home within the cozy cargo area. Niko crafted an amazing bed built entirely by hand, and we installed a kitchen cabinet and countertops. In a few days, we’ll officially move into the van – and our ultimate treasure from 2012 will guide us towards unbelievable journeys in 2013.

The BEST Part of 2012: The People

Even harder than trying to condense this year into just ten stand-out moments was attempting to somehow address each person who came into my life during 2012 – and it’s impossible, so my top moment isn’t so much a moment as an overall experience. From the Omniten crew and the folks in the outdoor industry to growing closer with my sister, the ultimate gift of 2012 didn’t come in the form of mountains or climbing gear – it’s all about you.

A poorly positioned self-timer shot of the ClimbChat group at American Fork Canyon!The whole Havasu Falls hiking crew gathers before we head out on our grand three-day adventure. I connected with, met, and traveled the country with strangers who quickly became family. We passed a bottle of whiskey around the campfire (in a can) at Overland Expo, led climbs in American Fork Canyon, hiked up and down the Grand Canyon and slaved over the renovation of Tallahassee Rock Gym. My adventures would have been incomplete without the people who helped create moments that I’ll carry for the rest of my life. Thank you, I love you all, miss those of you who are far, and can’t wait to adventure with you in 2013!

What was your best adventure from 2012?
What are you looking forward to in 2013?

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Introducing “Simply Adventure” – Reinventing the art of adventure in 2013

In May 2011, Niko and I embarked on a five-week trip across the country to climb, explore, and gain a new perspective on living. My leg of the journey began along the Atlantic coast in Miami, and together we traveled across mountains, prairies, and forests until reaching the Pacific ocean. After over a month spent living out of my parent’s Pilot, waking up with the rising sun, and spending afternoons splayed out in the sunshine of boulder fields – we returned home entirely changed.

It was quickly realized that we needed more.

We spent the next six months apart, with Niko studying in Tallahassee while I voyaged out on a seven-week solo trip and moved out to Denver for the fall and winter seasons. Upon reuniting, we decided our lives were better spent together – but that togetherness had a purpose.

We were built for a life of adventure.

And so, the plans began to form for a yearlong trip across the entire length America. At first, we dubbed it “The 2013 Trip,” but this epic journey deserved a more proper name – and thus, Simply Adventure was born. 

What are we doing?

We’re two perfectly regular people, proving that adventure is within anyone’s reach – all you have to do is choose a trail and follow it. We’re selling everything we own, buying a used van and building a home on wheels, simplifying our needs, and traveling America to discover everything that the land of the free has to offer. Our strongest passion is climbing, and through our journey we plan to support and advocate for local climbing communities and organizations. We also want to revive a love for living locally, focusing on local eateries and farmers markets.

Why are we doing this?

The common thread in all of our passions? The land.  We’re going to spread an appreciation for the unrivaled nature that sprawls across our country, and we hope to inspire others to embrace the values of land stewardship, conservation, and taking full advantage of what the outdoors has to offer. Whether it’s working to ensure access to a climbing crag in Tennessee, or supporting local farmers in California, we want to give back to communities who love the land.

We also want to demonstrate that what we’re doing isn’t some special journey reserved for a handful of folks daring enough to break free. Simply Adventure is a journey for EVERYONE. This experience is accessible to anyone – and we want you to come along for the ride. We hope to inspire you to forge you own path, dream about your own epic trips, and hit the road towards your adventure.

Where are we going?

Frankly, we want to go everywhere. Our map is still evolving, but we have a rough idea of our seasonal destinations. The adventure begins in January 2013, with a few months of climbing around the southern states to avoid the brutal winter up north. Once spring has sprung, we’ll begin meandering towards the mid-west and Pacific coast. Summertime will be spent in the northwestern region, and across the northernmost states. As the heat resides and the colors of autumn begin to blossom, we’ll follow fall along the northeast, and back down to our beloved southeast. The trip will conclude with a circuit around our favorite southern climbing areas.

For Katie, this trip will be the cherry on top of a lifetime of American travel. With only a handful of state lines left to be crossed, Katie will fulfill her goal of visiting all 50 states by summertime. And Niko? Well, he’s always up for exploring new territory.

So, how can you get involved?

Without you, our trip is meaningless. Simply Adventure is about inspiring, challenging, motivating, and educating others. We want to bring you along during our adventures, and we want to provide everyone with the opportunity to take part in the journey. By sharing our experiences, providing valuable tools and resources, helping local communities, and spreading the good tidings of adventure, we hope to create a new breed of explorers. We want you to adventure.

You can keep up with us through social media, personal contact, the blog, and even joining us during the trip. We’ll be documenting the trip as we go, via The Morning Fresh, and will be collecting material for a series of books, including photography books and a guide for creating your own epic adventure. (Stay tuned for an upcoming Kickstarter to help us fund the dream!)

Check out all the ways to stay in touch with Simply Adventure and The Morning Fresh:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SimplyAdventure
Twitter: http://twitter.com/SimplyAdventure
Instagram: http://statigr.am/themorningfresh
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/themorningfresh/
Yelp: http://simplyadventure.yelp.com

The journey has just begun – and we invite you to travel with us during every step of the way. Updates shall begin flowing, plans will solidify, the dream will inevitably grow, and Simply Adventure will soon come to full fruition. Will you join us for the adventure?

Final thoughts on 2011, and cheers to upcoming adventures in 2012

It’s here once again – my favorite holiday. The best day of the year for reflecting on the best and worst moments from the past, and looking towards the future with hope and an eager resolve to make the upcoming year even better than the last.

This year was the first year where I began to dedicate my life to the art of road tripping. Over the span of two cross-country trips and countless climbing excursions, I traveled to 21 states from Alabama to California. I visited ten National Parks – thanks to my wonderful annual parks pass. From the swamps of the Everglades and camping in Yosemite to the giant towering trees of Sequoia and the sand dunes at Death Valley, my explorations through America’s National Parks were one of the defining aspects of my adventures.

I graduated from Florida State University in April, and quickly sped off on my first road trip of 2011 – a six-week delve into car-dwelling and extended travel with my boyfriend, Niko. As we traveled across over 6,400 miles together, we climbed some of the most beautiful rock formations in the country, sampled amazing grub, and slept beneath the stars.

During our four-month relationship hiatus, I embarked on my own solo road trip. Embracing the idea of solitude for the first time, I traveled alone across 17 states and 6,657 miles. I also made my first ‘adult’ decision, and moved up to Denver, Colorado to get a taste of mountain living.

And now here I am, on the eve of the new year. You’ll currently find me holed up at Tallahassee Rock Gym, the place where it all began. It truly feels like I’ve come full-circle this year, and I couldn’t be most satisfied with where my life has led me. It feels so appropriate to be ringing in the 2012 with a final day spent slaving away setting new routes and cleaning the rock gym, then by the time the clock strikes midnight I’ll be on the road to Rocktown for a climbing trip to start my year right.

So, I propose a toast.

Here’s to 2012.

New adventures, new destinations, new climbing ascents,
and lots of saving up for 2013.

Readers, expect huge things from The Morning Fresh in 2012. My goal for this upcoming year is to position myself as an established travel and adventure blogger, and to begin truly dedicating myself to my photography and other creative projects. Here’s to finally catching up on overdue posts from my cross-country adventures, an increased social media presence, and working to inspire others to join me in the quest for living a simpler life on the road.

Thank you for your readership, comments, tweets, and unwavering support. I appreciate each and every one of you, and can’t express my gratitude enough. Have a wonderful new year, and keep your spirit high on adventures.

Road Trip America – Boy Meets Rock, Niko and El Capitan

One of the gargantuan icons of Yosemite National Park, El Capitan is a towering hunk of granite glory that is coveted by climbers around the world. As we passed by the giant on our way into the valley each morning, Niko gawked at El Cap with an open mouth and glistening eyes – it’s his ultimate dream to climb the beast. Personally, a 3-day climb up a 3,000 foot face of granite does not sound like the recipe for making me a happy camper, but it’s impossible not to respect the daredevils who ascend El Capitan.

On our way out of the park one day, Niko and I stopped near El Capitan to get a closer look at his dream. As we trekked along the trail that led towards the base of the monolith, we came upon an older couple who were peering up the giant wall through binoculars — it could only mean one thing: climbers. Barely able to make out the tiny specks with my naked eye, I used my camera zoom to focus in on the two figures perched high above the tree line. Check out the photo above: those red and gray dots to the right of the tree are two climbers on their way up El Cap’s tormenting face. Wow.

Niko convinced me to veer off the beaten path and journey through the thickets down a rugged little trail frequented by climbers. It led us past fallen trees and scurrying quails before introducing us to the granite monolith that Niko had always dreamed of touching.

We were fortunate enough to have made this pitstop while a group of men were beginning their adventure up The Nose, the infamous route that Alex Honnold soloed in less than six hours. (Check out an awesome video of Honnold on The Nose here!)

For mortal climbers, it typically takes around three days to complete the ascent of The Nose. That means roughing out the valley’s spontaneous afternoon storms while dangling thousands of feet in the air, sleeping on portaledges, and hauling up days’ worth of food and water during your climb. Crazy, right?

El Capitan is a truly impressive rock formation renown for its classic fame throughout the climbing community and beyond. Any trip to Yosemite National Park would be incomplete without a making a stop to take in the glory of this beautiful granite giant.

Road Trip America – The Ahwahnee Boulders in Yosemite National Park

The bouldering in Yosemite Valley is scattered throughout a handful of areas, all of which bring different gradings. Camp Four was intense, with our entire crew getting shut down on a V0 – and these are boys that climb up to V9s. The Housekeeping boulders were moderately graded, with a few that seemed slightly underrated, but the best area for agreeable route ratings was easily the Ahwahnee Boulder crag.

The climbing sat across the street from the ritzy Ahwahnee Lodge, where fancy folk sought expensive lodging in a rustic, yet clearly high-class setting. I went to the bathroom in the lodge once, and almost laughed out loud from the perplexed looks shot my way as I paraded my dirty, smelly, sweaty self past throngs of middle-aged people totting decorative walking sticks and wearing pristine North Face jackets.

Ahwahnee Boulders held my favorite route of the trip: Beached Whale, a flowing V5 climb with a vicious top out. It was my main focus during our time spent at Yosemite, and I could kick myself for not sending the route when I had the chance. On our last day in the park, I hopped on the route and miraculously made it all the way to the finish, with half of my body beached on top of the boulder. I wasted two entire minutes trying to flop myself over the ledge of the boulder before my arms gave out and I had to wave a white flag.

Beached Whale was interesting not only for the quality climb, but also for its funky location. The boulder sat tucked away in a breezy corridor, where the temperature instantly dropped about ten degrees. The air was cooled by an enormous waterfall that slid down a rock face far off in the distance.

The other climbs in the area were fun and had beautiful lines. Niko found his favorite V3 of all time, which I feebly attempted to climb – as you’ll see in the first picture below. Juan also had a mighty fine time on one of the boulders (middle photo below), and of course, I threw in a couple’s shot just because it’s such a rarity to get Niko to cooperate for one.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the Turkey Hill Heirloom Tomato Festival! As always, stay tuned for more climbing, eating, adventuring and morning fresh fun.

Road Trip America – Welcome to YOSEMITE, baby.

Every climber shares a united dream: climbing at Yosemite National Park in California. After ditching Moab a few days early due to relentless rain, our crew shifted gears and headed out to the land of El Capitain — with a new addition in tow, our new British buddy Paul, who traveled with us from the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Utah throughout our entire time spent in Yosemite.

We were a few weeks shy of the seasonal opening of the Tioga Pass, so we were forced to scoot north, then west before entering the park. From the moment you pass through the Ranger’s Entrance Station into the great land of Yosemite, there is a deep, undeniable connection to everything around you. The gushing Merced River, the curled baby fern blossoms, the snarky blue Stellar’s Jays that tended to cock their heads in apparent disapproval of everything we did.

Not a bad first impression, eh? As eager as we all were to get our hands on some Yosemite granite, we couldn’t help but pull off at a scenic overlook to admire the stunning valley. Check out iconic landmarks El Capitan and Half Dome off in the distance. Believe it or not, that group shot was entirely candid – Paul’s hand on hip and all. On our way back to the car I made friends with a little mammal buddy, who kindly posed for a few shots.

Whether you’re a climber, hiker, photographer, or simply enjoy the natural wonders that our country has to offer (and has graciously protected thanks to fellows like John Muir), Yosemite National Park is truly a destination that you absolutely must visit within your lifetime. My parents took me on a few weekend trips to the park while we lived in San Jose, California, and I regret not taking full advantage of my blessed situation. I could have been climbing these sweet spots a decade ago, instead my twelve year-old self complained all weekend about how I would have rather been hanging out with friends – ugh.

This trip, I vowed to make up for lost time and took full advantage of the park. We hiked, climbed, ate, conversed and explored our way through the valley for a week. All the important stops were made: splashing around Yosemite Falls, climbing and sleeping at Camp Four, spotting bears in meadows, traversing no-trespassing areas in Curry Village, spotting Half Dome, hiking to the base of El Capitan, bouldering in front of the Awhwanee Lodge – and everything was documented for your viewing pleasure.

I must have taken about a million shots of the waterfalls, but can you blame me? From hundreds of vantage points throughout the park, the falls kept peeking out from the treeline, just waiting to be photographed. I’ll share more when I give you a full post about wading through the frigid streams fed by the falls, but for now enjoy two photos from Curry Village. The first is of a dogwood blossom, which quickly became one of my favorite trees. The white ‘petals’ are actually modified leaves, which house the true tiny yellow flowers in the center. The second photo is just two ladybugs doin’ the dirty – couldn’t help myself.

There you have it: an introduction to Yosemite National Park. Didn’t get your fix of granite, creatures, climbing and nature? Fear not, this entire week will be filled with tales and photos from our time at Yosemite. Enjoy!

A Rainy Afternoon of Climbing at the ‘Ninja Training Camp’ Cave in Moab, Utah

Like a bad luck talisman, our Tallahassee crew seemed to have brought rain to the dry landscape of Moab. The crummy weather eventually drove us out of Utah a few days earlier than expected, but first we made a stop at a mysterious cave to do some roof bouldering. I later learned that the cave is called “Ninja Training Camp,” which always makes me giggle a bit.

We were led to the cave by Max, another summertime Moab resident who worked at a cafe in town. The cave sits tucked away from the road down Potash, past the routes at Wallstreet. I was a little weary of the rain, but my interested was immediately piqued by the unusual path taken to reach the cave: we had to cross through a giant drainage pipe to make our way towards the climbing area.

The rest of the ‘path’ to the cave was relatively mild, winding through sandy patches and rocky areas before leading us to a giant pond that sat as a natural protector before the looming cave. I barely climbed, opting instead to play around the pond and assume my usual role as photographer. The routes in the cave primarily ran along cracks in the roof, with a few sloped ledges thrown into the mix.

The rain came and went in short bursts, but the cave stayed fairly dry and provided a nice little shelter for our group. Most of boys were transfixed on the climbing, but a few of us strayed off to explore the little landscape that surrounded the cave, pond, and stacks of boulders that sat above. We brought one of our hostel companions, Dan Hebb, along for the adventure, and he quickly disappeared into the wilderness while we remained at the cave.

To the right you can get an idea of what the area looked like. It isn’t the best photo, but it was pretty challenging to capture the entire scene. I tried to get shots of the whole cave while the boys were climbing inside, but pesky trees kept blocking my views.

Aside from climbing, the boys enjoyed throwing large rocks off the top of the cave into the deep pond below. We almost convinced Jeff to jump naked into the pond, but my promise of $20 wasn’t enough to persuade him to take action. In all honesty, I’m glad he chickened out, because that stagnant water must have been loaded with icky water germs.

We only spent a few hours at this miniature crag, as the Moab locals had to get back into town for their respective job obligations and such. I really enjoyed taking pictures from that big drainage pipe. The first one of Ryan turned out fantastic with the silhouette and funky lines, and the photo below provided a great illustration of our time in Moab: lots of climbing, and beautiful scenery.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite photographs taken on this little excursion. As I mentioned before, I was absolutely smitten with the pond that sat in front of the cave. It was teeming with water bugs, and I was determined to find this odd amphibian that Max kept claiming lived in the area – my searches were unsuccessful, but I ended up with this great shot of the pond’s reflective qualities. Enjoy!

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