The Heart and Spirit of the Outdoors

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.

Jack Kerouac

Well, it’s 2020 now. I already wrote a short post on my personal blog about my hopes and dreams for this year and this new decade here (which I talked a bit about my Wild Westendorf goals, as well!) but for my life in the outdoors? I want the focus to be a little bit different going forward. I’ll discuss some “bucket list” stuff I want to do but largely I want this to be about what I’ve learned, emotionally and spiritually, in my adventures and how I want to grow those aspects exponentially. Those are the moments I have felt true happiness within myself and those times keep me going. Obviously I have these moments with friends and family but this is focused on my love of the outdoors and my personal experience in it so don’t go getting your feelings hurt!

As most of you know by now, I did the occasional hike growing up and in my early adult years but it didn’t become something I loved until 2013. That’s the year it finally clicked within me that, despite getting my ass kicked the whole time, I absolutely loved hiking and started craving it more and more. I wrote about it very shortly here. But it would take a few more years for me to really refine how I loved the outdoors and how to embrace and understand the feelings I would have during my excursions.

I’ll never forget the first time I was hit with that feeling of pure awe and love for what I was seeing right in front of my eyes. It was my first time up Mount Muscoco, a couple years before a trail would even be built up there, and if the hike I mentioned earlier is what sparked my love of the outdoors, this hike to the summit of Mount Muscoco solidified that love for me. I was standing on the edge of this crag, watching the shadows from the lowering sun being cast across the dozens of peaks surrounding me creating a sense of depth and surrealism for me. Little would I know that this feeling would be something I would experience many, many times again but each experience would be a little bit different. Also, here’s an embarrassing picture of my best friend and I from this hike. Sorry, Ryan!

We’re still a couple of dorkinators.

What makes me stoked and hopeful is I’ve experienced that feeling even on the simplest trails. It always starts out as a wave of emotions hitting me where I feel so completely overwhelmed with love and happiness for what I am seeing and doing. I’m stoked knowing that it’s not a feeling that is likely to just stop appearing and that it’s not a feeling that will only appear when I’m doing some huge gargantuan hike in a place that is very far away.

In the years since I started hiking, I’ve come to learn that sometimes that feeling just doesn’t happen and that’s okay. There have been times that feeling didn’t come but I still enjoyed myself and had fun and it hasn’t ever stopped me from wanting to do another hike. I think it is largely dependent on my mood and my mental health. Especially this past year, with the snow taking forever to melt and my mental health taking a nose-dive, it was harder and harder to have those moments during my hikes.

But! Not all hope is lost. I’m doing fine with my mental health so no worries there! It’ll always be a work-in-progress but I’ve had a lot of clarity this past year and it makes me so excited for this upcoming year. So, long story short, I am so ready for this year and for my upcoming adventures.

I’ve learned, especially after this past year, that I can’t force that feeling to happen and I think trying to make it happen is actually what stopped it from coming into being for me on many occasions. I did get that feeling in the places that mattered, like when I was on the last ten miles of the Rito Alto Four Pass Loop in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the moment I hit the summit of Static Peak on the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park, when I hiked in the Beaver Creek State Wildlife Area with two good friends of mine and we stopped for a rest along a creek and I could see how happy they were with the giant smiles on their faces, the moment I sat down on a chair in front of an old cabin on the summit of Mount Le Conte in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, coming down from the summit of Huron Peak and really soaking in the beauty of the valley below me, watching the sunrise with another good friend of mine up in Rocky Mountain National Park, when I hiked up Snowmass Lake with a long-time friend and he got emotional at the same time I did when we reached our destination and saw how beautiful the whole place was, and I could go on and on and on. Wow, that was a really unnecessarily long sentence I just wrote out!

Listen to the air. You can hear it, feel it, smell it, taste it. Woniya wakan—the holy air—which renews all by its breath. Woniya, woniya wakan—spirit, life, breath, renewal—it means all that. Woniya—we sit together, don’t touch, but something is there; we feel it between us, as a presence. A good way to start thinking about nature, talk about it. Rather talk to it, talk to the rivers, to the lakes, to the winds as to our relatives.

John (Fire) Lame Deer

That quote above really hits the nail on the head for me. I think that feeling is what made me finally understand why Native Americans hold so much of this land around me as sacred. It’s not just a thought of, “Oooh! How pretty!” But being met with this feeling connecting with the land my own two feet are standing on. I’ll likely never be able to find the words to fully describe what that is but I’ll continue to try my best.

One of my favorite moments was when I was having a terrible time in 2016 and decided to do a road trip through Utah while on my way to a family reunion. I had gotten off work and ran home to take a long nap, then I woke up and immediately started driving to Arches National Park outside of the town of Moab in Utah. I got to the trailhead while it was still night only to see the shadows of the desert caused by the bright stars along with witnessing the Perseid Meteor Shower. After arriving at my destination, the famous Delicate Arch, I sat down against a rock wall and watched as the sunrise illuminated and drastically changed the landscape before me.

I felt right then and there that my hard year would soon pass and better times were coming. I learned once again how important it is to just sit still in nature and listen, really listen, to the world around you and embrace the feelings that come with opening yourself up to nature. In that moment, the weight of the entire world was lifted off my shoulders and I felt like I could finally just be.

This is an example of me experiencing that feeling and literally trying so hard to not start crying in the Grand Canyon.

Starting in 2020, I feel like I’ve been able to clarify the kind of intention I want to head into it with regard to my outdoor adventures. I want to be more purposeful. Focus more on meaningful experiences with myself and others rather that focusing so much on miles. I mean, I still want to rack up the miles as a fitness goal and it’s fun to brag about, haha. But, the goal is to allow myself to feel the earth beneath every step I take and fully appreciate it all.

I didn’t do as many miles in 2019 as I did in 2018 (did around 480 miles compared to around 580 miles) but I’m okay with that because I have had many more experiences in different and unique places by myself or with some of my nearest and dearest friends. This is my intention going forward.

I’m only in the initial stages of planning since it’s still so early in the year, but I’ve narrowed down two destinations I absolutely want to experience. That is White Sands National Park in New Mexico and Glacier National Park in Montana. I think those two will be my big trips of the year, like during Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. Before, between, and after those trips? There is still so much of Colorado and nearby areas of Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico that I’ve yet to experience and can easily explore so many of these spots over a weekend. Along with that, there are murmurs among the Grand Canyon crew that I hiked the Rim to Rim to Rim (also know as R2R2R) with of going back to there this year and explore a different area of the Park. Then, there’s the big one. THE BIG ONE that I want to be the next major item I check off the bucket list. What is it?

It’s the Lowest to Highest Route. It’s a series of trails that connect the lowest point, Death Valley National Park, to the highest point, Mt. Whitney, of the contiguous United States. It is 135 miles. And it will be the biggest, extreme, and dangerous thing I will have ever done. There are a LOT of logistics involved and while I’d like to do it this year, I think it’ll have to be something to aim for doing next year in 2021. I’d like to do it alone, but others have said that it’s a must to do it with other people just for the sake of safety and sanity while on such a long and tough trail. So… would any of you want to join me?

Anyway, the above are just a few tidbits of many, many, many hundreds of adventures I’d like to do and I believe would be very possible to accomplish within this decade. Okay, maybe not literally hundreds, but you get the idea. I still have many more capable years after 2029 if I keep myself in decent shape and take care of my body!

The last several years have been a lot of trial and error and learning and growing when it comes to not just my physical shape in the outdoors, but in how to truly, authentically enjoy it for the personal betterment of me and those around me.

Thank you for reading and for all of your love and support! I’m so excited to see how I can develop Wild Westendorf in 2020 and still would appreciate any and all comments, suggestions, advice, whatever on this website, my adventures, and wherever else you feel like saying.

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