Monday, February 2, 2015

Roadtrip to NOLS

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream - C.S. Lewis #fuel4play
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream - C.S. Lewis
A while ago I decided to embark on a journey; a journey unlike any other I had done in my life. I decided that I wanted to take an Outdoor Educator course with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). But this actually wasn't just a new adventure for me, it was truly a new direction in my life, and my career. Deciding to do this course was like turning around 180 degrees and walking on a completely different path, and it was scary, but hey, at least this one was dirt! 

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt." - John Muir

You see, I had previously been in the fashion industry, and that was my life. Fashion was what I knew, what I went to school for, what I moved to Los Angeles for, what was my passion, and what I thought I would be spending the rest of my life doing, that is, until I got my first tantalizing taste of the outdoors. My life went from fashion flash to a granola stash and the philosophy that all you need is less, and I couldn't be happier.


Camping Yosemite Valley #fuel4play
My camping spot in Yosemite Valley
I grew up in the country so it may sound a bit silly to say that I got my first 'taste' of the outdoors only a few years ago, but growing up in the country and running around the neighborhood playing tag until after dark vs. going into the great wide open with all that you need on your back, breathing the fresh mountain air, where each day the scenery is different and increasingly more amazing, is a bit different. Those who have that love and understanding of what nature and the outdoors can do for your mind, body, and soul, understand. Those are the same people that can tell you all about their first true experience in the outdoors too. From the sights, sounds, even to the slightest smells in the air, the details never disappear from the mind. This happened to me just a few years ago at Yosemite National Park on my first backpacking trip ever along the painstakingly beautiful Panorama Trail, and there was no way I was turning back. I was bitten and smitten by the outdoor bug. I was given a sip from this overflowing cup of cold, delicious water and have been chasing my thirst ever since.
My first backpacking trip starting at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park #fuel4play
My first backpacking trip starting at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park
When I lost my job in the fashion industry, where I was slaving away day after day behind a computer, not feeling the fulfillment that I thought I would, or I should have in life, I was relieved, but also frightened. What the hell was I going to do with my life? I didn't have the answers, but the idea of sitting behind a desk again, day in and day out, copying and pasting my life away, literally gave me a panic attack. I just couldn't live that life anymore. I decided that I was going to make the rest of my life the best of my life. I realized at this point that I wanted to not only keeping sipping from that cool cup of water that I had the privilege of tasting, but that I wanted to help others quench their thirst for the outdoors as well. This is when I stumbled upon NOLS.

"Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life." - Confucious

NOLS is a very well-known and reputable outdoor leadership school based in Lander, Wyoming that was started by Paul Petzoldt that teaches outdoor survival, minimum impact camping and outdoor and environmental leadership skills. They offer programs all over the world from Patagonia to New Zealand and Alaska, and in many different outdoor disciplines, from sea kayaking to mountaineering. At first when I started researching this school and talking to people about it, everyone knew it and recognized how great it was, but also how expensive. Crap! I initially looked into doing a semester long program but soon realized that even with all the amount of saving/fund-raising/begging on the street, I still would not be able to afford it. That's ok, there was an alternative; a 22 day program focused on backpacking and rock climbing. Sweet! To pay for this was still going to be a stretch for me and although I had absolutely no experience actually working in this industry yet I decided to try to apply for one of the scholarships that they offered when I turned in my application. Much to my excitement, I was not only admitted into the program, but was given a scholarship in the exact amount that I had requested! Further testament to the fact that you never know what you can get unless you try!

The next step after being admitted was receiving the student packet in the mail with the 4 pages of equipment/gear that you needed to bring for your course, FOUR! Aren't we living with just what we can carry on our backs? Can I really carry 4 pages worth of gear over the course of 22 days without injuring myself or more likely cursing them for making me bring so much crap?! Out comes the plastic...caching, caching. Sigh.
My gear #fuel4play
My 'gear'

Once I had all my gear, read my guidebook for the course, and finally moved all of my stuff out of my apartment that I had been living in for the past 7 years I was ready to begin the next chapter in this journey called life. Walking out of that apartment door knowing that my life would forever be changed was a moment that bittersweet doesn't even come close to describing. But alas, the mountains were calling, as John Muir said, and I had to go….
Three Peaks Recreational Area - Cedar City, UT #fuel4play
Three Peaks Recreational Area - Cedar City, UT

My first sunny day on the road I went from Los Angeles to Cedar City, Utah. I had been there before and luckily knew of a free camping spot right outside of town (3 Peaks), so that is right where I headed. I arrived pretty late after having a pit stop for lunch with my friend in Vegas, and it started raining not long after that. Sweet, perfect opportunity to set up my new tent! Oh headlamp, how I love thee! Let me count the ways...
Beautiful scenery for the drive #fuel4play
Beautiful scenery for the drive
Red rocks scenery #fuel4play
Red rocks scenery
I left bright and early the next morning and started flying by billboards about polygamy at the swift 80mph that was the speed limit, and I was loving it. Nothing like the open road baby! Billboards slowly started to fade as red rocks started to emerge, and with them the excitement of this journey started a slow-rolling simmer.
The great wide open - Wyoming #fuel4play
The great wide open - Wyoming
Beautiful waterfall on the side of the road #fuel4play
Beautiful waterfall on the side of the road
Caution: Antelope entering highway! www.fuel4play.com
Caution: Antelope entering highway!















I stopped on the side of the road for a lovely waterfall and before I knew it I was in Wyoming and seeing signs to watch out for cows and antelope entering the highway. I was almost there!

Enter Lander, Wyoming, population 235, or something like that. First thing that I did, besides take a much needed bathroom break at the local McD’s, was to check out the NOLS headquarters and meet my amazing advisor that had helped me through the whole process of getting accepted into the program. 
National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) - Lander, Wyoming www.fuel4play.com
National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) - Lander, Wyoming
After that I headed to Sinks Canyon State Park, where I would be camping for the next 2 nights before I started the course, and ironically, where we would be staying for rock climbing camp, but I didn't know that at that time. Sinks Canyon is just 6 miles outside of town and is the corridor to the magnificent Wind River Range. It is named the Sinks because of a phenomenon called the Sinks and the Rise. Water comes down the canyon here and disappears into a limestone cavern and miraculously appears about a quarter mile down the way hours later in the Rise, when it should take mere minutes. Is there an underground traffic jam or perhaps a Starbucks on the way? I still wonder...

The 'Rise' - Sinks Canyon www.fuel4play.com
The 'Rise' - Sinks Canyon 
The 'Sinks' - Sinks Canyon www.fuel4play.com
The 'Sinks' - Sinks Canyon


Suspension bridge - Sinks Canyon www.fuel4play.com
Suspension bridge - Sinks Canyon
The next day and a half I spent doing what I truly live for doing…hiking. There is a cool suspension bridge that goes over the water from the upper campground to some hiking trails; the tranquil Popo Agie Nature Trail (1 mile loop), and the Canyon Trail (4 mile loop), and I happily explored them both.
Popo Agie Nature Trail www.fuel4play.com
Popo Agie Nature Trail


Then I went farther up the corridor and parked at a place called Bruce's Bridge and went on a little 3 mile out and back on the Middle Fork Trail to the delightful Popo Agie Falls.
Popo Agie Falls from the Middle Fork Trail www.fuel4play.com
Popo Agie Falls from the Middle Fork Trail


I was plenty excited by the scenery I had seen thus far and couldn't wait to get back into town that afternoon to meet my fellow course-mates and begin the longest backpacking trip that I had ever been on. Oh yeah, did I mention that one?

"If at some point you don't ask yourself, 'What have I gotten myself into?', then you're not doing it right." - Roland Gau

I think it's important in our lives that we step out of our comfort zones every now and then to really see what we are capable of doing. I definitely had stepped out of my comfort zone to get to this point so far and was about to embark on a journey that would push my comfort zone farther and farther away on the horizon. I was ready and open to see what challenges I would face and ultimately, the rewards that I would reap because of this. The low-rolling simmer had now developed into a full boil. It was time to get cooking...
Popo Agie Falls www.fuel4play.com
Popo Agie Falls
Looking back into Lander from Sinks Canyon www.fuel4play.com
Looking back into Lander from Sinks Canyon
Always take time to stop and smell the flowers - Sinks Canyon www.fuel4play.com
Always take time to stop and smell the flowers - Sinks Canyon
Playing with food, fun, fitness and adventure,
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