Sequoias, Motorcycles and Other Stories
One fun story I had the opportunity to write recently was on giant sequoias and how they are responding—and could respond—to the effects of climate change. It turns out that scientists disagree, which is always interesting. New research suggests that big trees such as the redwoods and sequoias could be extra sensitive to changes in precipitation and temperatures. Other scientists believe that at least individual trees will be more resistant than other species, which haven't weathered the centuries like these giants. Check out my story, "Gentle Giants," in the fall issue of National Parks magazine here.
This summer I took a long break from work with two motorcycle trips around the West—a total of nearly six weeks in the saddle. As much as I am a cautious personality, I love to try new things. (This penchant winds up getting me into some ill-advised situations.) So when my husband asked if I'd like to hop on the back of his dual-sport bike despite the fact that I had been on a motorcyle once in my entire life, what did I say? Hell yes.
I'll be honest, the first few days were pretty rough. Andrew is a superb rider, but it was still a bit scary letting someone else be 100% in control. I also realized that being on the back of a motorcyle is really about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable most of the time. You're either hot or cold, sore or tired, scared or bored. But after a few days of freaking out, I got over myself. The awareness of discomfort became less distracting, and I was able to take in the landscape in new and fascinating ways. In California, we could smell the change in the scenery, from the earthy and floral fragrance of hay fields to the damp musk of pine forests. We camped at remote hot springs in middle-of-nowhere Nevada with no one else in sight. We drove through a herd of buffalo, as they shook the bridge we were stopped upon. We saw badgers and coyotes and deer and bears. We camped on the Lost Coast of California, bushwhacked through primeval forests and camped near a herd of rare coastal elk. In sum: It was awesome.
Meanwhile, I have worked on a few other stories. I wrote a story about one thing in each state you must do before you die for Outside Online, which was a fair bit of work, but the results are quite fun. I also contributed to Outside's Best Towns story for the September issue. Next up? A fun story for National Geographic Adventure and a wild assignment in Africa. Stay tuned!
ARE PRINT GUIDEBOOKS DEAD? KIND OF.
Travel guidebook companies have had a rough time in the past few years. Sales of print books have plummeted, while online competitors and apps have mushroomed. No doubt, things are changing quickly, which means companies like Lonely Planet and Rough Guides have to adapt fast to survive. The surprise? This is all good news for us. There has never been more great travel content available online, in books, and on apps for cheap or free. Check out my latest story ("Detour Ahead") in the August issue of Outside about the changing landscape of guidebooks—and what it means for travelers.
TWO NEW STORIES IN NATIONAL PARKS MAGAZINE
My latest feature story for National Parks magazine is about someone I had never heard of: Chiura Obata, an Asian-American painter who helped bring an understanding of Eastern art to the West in the early 20th century. The story, "Wood Blocks and Watercolors," appears in the summer issue.
I love writing stories like this. Obata was not only a remarkable artist—he created woodblocks and watercolors of Yosemite that still look fresh and modern today—he was also an exceptional man. He was a lifelong teacher, a source of hope and leadership during the Japanese internment; and a philosopher who helped friends, students, and family members understand Zen and look at the world in a different way.
This quote, written by friend and artist Robert Howard about a trip he shared with Obata in 1927, sticks in my mind: "Before turning in for sleep, Obata would bring forth his philosophies of life. How to appreciate every minute of existence and time. How right it was to be happy, and cheerful, and productive. How wrong to shed tears, do nothing, and waste time and strength. That to be an artist was the best of all things." Exactly.
In the same issue, I also have a short story on sea otters, "Shifting Tides," and their remarkable comeback in Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park. By the turn of the last century, fur hunters had all but wiped out the species in the Pacific. Scientists estimate there were fewer than 1,000 left around 1911, when an international treaty helped protect them. Glacier Bay is a massive success story that could help scientists elsewhere understand otters and the conditions for their recovery.
A FEATURE ON UTAH'S HIDDEN CANYON PLAYGROUND IN THE WASHINGTON POST
A persistent, mind-boggling truth about where I live: There are endless new places to explore. Cedar Mesa, a 70-mile-long plateau in southeastern Utah, is just one trove of canyons, hoodoos, and ancient ruins. I go there whenever I can in spring and fall, when the weather is best. Honestly, I questioned the wisdom of giving away the location of one of my favorite weekend haunts, but my desire to share won out. Here's my essay on this wild place, which ran in the Washington Post on Sunday, April 21. If you go, leave no trace, take no artifacts, and preserve the place so that others can for decades to come. If you have a healthy dose of curiosity, persistence, and some good hiking legs, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
Travel can be a force for degradation and a force for positive change. A recent story I wrote for National Geographic Adventure explores the nature of the impact we have as travelers—and how we can make a positive contribution to the places we visit. Included are ten trips that give back in some way, from volunteer work to bringing income to remote communities. I might add that they all sound pretty darn fun: Come nose-to-nose with a sea turtle, sail to little-known hot springs on the British Columbia coast, and circumnavigate Kilimanjaro on foot. Check out the full story, "10 Adventure Trips that Give Back," here.
A TRAVEL ESSAY IN THE WASHINGTON POST
Last spring, I went to Alaska to report a story on a new yacht-accessed backcountry ski trip, but I also tacked on time, as I sometimes do, to tool around the Fairbanks area. (How lucky that I have the opportunity to do such things!) I had never been there and I was simply curious. I love extreme landscapes and was not that surprised to find that I loved the area's boreal forests, big skies, and endless tundra. I felt inspired to write an essay about my experience there and the power of quiet to help you truly understand a place. I'm happy to report that the story appeared in the Washington Post last Sunday. Check it out here.
GOOD EATS AND CESAR CHAVEZ
Sitting here flipping the pages of the latest issue of Outside, I was caught by surprise. Funny how after three months have passed, I can forget which stories are slated to hit print. This one is about five unsung post-adventure dining spots, from a beachside food truck to a pancake parlor in the mountains. I also have a more serious story in the current issue of National Parks magazine. It's about the new Cesar Chavez National Monument. Check it out here. What an interesting story to report. I had the opportunity to talk to some accomplished academics, such as Amherst's Ilan Stavans, about Chavez's legacy. New evidence suggests that Chavez was a much more complicated man than his myth leads us to believe. He accomplished incredible and indispensable victories in the farm labor movement, but he also struggled with leadership and ethics within his organization. I think that only makes him, and this new monument, more interesting and more important to learn about.
WHY I LOVE WEST TEXAS
Nearly two years ago, I set off on an impromptu road trip, promising myself that I would not make a single plan. It was a hard time in my life and this was a throw-my-hands-up effort to do something to pull myself out of a dark cloud. To let go of the tyranny of my to-do list and my paralyzing expectations. It worked. I found myself traveling lonely roads south of Durango, through New Mexico, east through Texas, and all the way to the Gulf Coast. To say it was an amazing and restorative trip is an understatement. Now, an essay I wrote about the experience appears in the February/March issue of National Geographic Traveler. I have already received some reader comments on it (much appreciated!) and hope you'll enjoy it.
ONE BOAT, FOUR DUDES, AND A VERY LARGE BODY OF WATER.
Setting off across an ocean in a 20-foot rowboat may sound hare-brained, but it is not as unusual as one might think. To date, more than 500 crews and thousands of rowers have set off, and every year, more are inspired to attempt it with developments in boat, communications, and other technology. A story I wrote about the unlikely rise of this adventurous sport appears in the December issue of Outside. The main subjects are the men of OAR Northwest, a Seattle-based rowing team that clinched a world record for rowing across the Atlantic in 2006. Any minute they are setting off again, this time with another record in their sights: a new route from mainland Africa to mainland North America. Read the story here or check out OAR Northwest's website for updates on the expedition.
ON POWDER DAYS IN ALASKA AND BRITISH COLUMBIA
Last year, I was lucky enough to have a slew of great ski trips. The fruit of two of those journeys appeared in magazines over the last month. My trip to test out a brand-new heli-skiing operation, Bearpaw, in northern British Columbia, appears in Skiing magazine's 2013 Gear Guide. We logged over 50,000 vertical feet in a tenure of 1.2 million acres in two days. My legs were mush, and I couldn't have been happier about it. In this month's Backcountry magazine, I write about a yacht-accessed backcountry ski trip in Prince William Sound, a hard-to-access bastion of incredible peaks and monster snows. It was gorgeous and unique and unforgettable. I feel very lucky, as always.
DURANGO, BUFFALO SOLDIERS, AND SWITZERLAND
Damnit. Our secret is out. The one about Durango, Colorado, I mean.
Ok, truth be told, the merits of Durango as a beautiful, highly livable recreation town are no big secret. That's why over 1,700 Outside readers voted it one of Outside's best adventure towns. My story on this great spot is in the current issue of the magazine. Read it here. I also have a new story in National Parks magazine this month, one that was very fun to report. It's about the buffalo soldiers, who happened to be some of the first park rangers in Yosemite and Sequoia. New photos and records are illuminating this little-known passage in American history, and park staffers are making an effort to get the word out. Read the story here. In other news, my next trip is to Lucerne, Switzerland, where I'm headed to the Adventure Travel World Summit and tacking on some time to explore. Back to the land of mountains and fondue, two of my favorite things.
A NEW STORY ON ENTREPRENEURS
One of the best things about my job is the diversity of people I get to interview. One day I am chatting with the deputy director of the FBI, the next I am interviewing an Olympic gold medalist. One unusual publication I write for, Tuck Today, the alumni magazine of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, unfailingly comes up with fascinating interview subjects. My latest story was about alumni entrepreneurs. I interviewed more than 20 of them about their start-ups, but really their stories were about creativity, innovation, and social responsibility. The group included the founders of Cranium and Sobe as well as the creators of a new and wildly popular board game, Morphology, and a socially minded burrito chain, Boloco. I learned a remarkable amount about entrepreneurship, and my conversations with this group of inspiring, smart, charismatic people still stick in my mind.
Here is just one quote that I particularly love. It's from Sherri Oberg, the wise founder of a small pharmaceutical company that created a drug used to detect coronary artery disease: "One of the great things about entrepreneurs is that they're very optimistic. It's what enables them to go after incredibly difficult challenges that people with lots of experience would think are too difficult. And if we didn't have these people who are very optimistic and high energy, who believe they can do anything, we really wouldn't make very many breakthrough inventions. Looking back 20 years, I certainly have a different perspective now than I had then, but if I had known what I know now, we would have never invented a drug that makes such a huge difference in cardiology. This is a drug that can save people's lives." Read the full story here.
It's official. I am now married. Our wedding late last month was an incredible blur of love and fun and happy times. It was far better than I imagined. Now we are back from our honeymoon, perhaps the one trip I have taken without a notebook constantly in hand. Now I see why there's so much fuss about Hawaii. We hiked the Na Pali Coast (stunning), kayaking it the next day (even more stunning), paddleboarded Hanalei Bay and several rivers, and soaked up the sun and infectiously mellow vibe. Now it's back to the desk.
In other news, I have a story out in an unusual magazine. Last fall I got a call from an editor at Scouting, the publication for parents and leaders of boy scouts. He asked me to follow a venturing crew, an older coed group of scouts, on a kayaking trip off Catalina Island. Catalina was far more beautiful than I expected, and the kids were so fun and smart and impressive. The story turned out to be fun to write as well. Read it here.
As a born Bostonian, I never thought I would say this: I am grateful for rain. The rain has come early and robust here in Colorado. Nearly every day, the skies turn ominous and the clouds gift us some water—and a spectacular light-and-sound show. Just a few months ago, we weren't sure when we'd see the precious drops again. It was a tense emotional climate when I reported a story for Mountain magazine on an increasing trend in the West: megafires. Our full-suppression fire-management policies over the past century have allowed fire-prone underbrush to proliferate in our forests, which causes hotter, bigger, badder fires. Now, even though the Forest Service knows that fires are a natural part of every ecosystem, over 97% of fires are suppressed. That is in part because there is so much development in wildland areas that they need to protect houses. Have we gotten ourselves into an unfixable mess? Find Mountain magazine on newsstands, bookstores, and Whole Foods.
In other news, a story I wrote on an innovative community-based sea-turtle conservation program in Baja was just published in a new magazine, Wild Hope. The magazine is the brainchild of Brad Nahill, who runs SEEtheWILD, an organization devoted to connecting conscientious travelers with trips that help protect wildlife. The trip itself was awesome. I stayed on a remote islet off the Pacific coast of Baja, caught and tagged sea turtles, and ate amazing fresh Mexican food. Not exactly work...
Wow, it has been two months since I checked in on my blog. I am trying to simply accept that I am not a tech person and never will be. I prefer being in the real world, writing on real paper, breathing fresh air. I felt justified—and a bit shocked—to read a story in Newsweek on the growing body of research that suggests that long stretches of Internet use can be detrimental to one's mental health. Read it here.
Anyway, my recent desk time has in fact borne fruit. A story I wrote on kayaking, hiking, and biking in Turkey appeared in Outside's July issue. And my reviews of packs and travel essentials appeared in Outside's summer Buyer's Guide. I also had a short essay about Maine's Rangeley Lake in National Geographic Traveler's June issue. (I love Maine! And I loved writing that story.) In other news, I'm planning a wedding! And I'm about to take a glorious mini-sabbatical for the next month. It is a giant (perhaps unwarranted) gift to myself, and I can't wait.
MY LATEST STORY IN THE BOSTON GLOBE
Last Sunday, a travel feature I wrote about exploring the little-known canyons of Utah's Cedar Mesa appeared on the front page of the Boston Globe. I often find that the trips that I do on my own—just because—yield the best stories. Andrew and I arrived at the trailhead at sunset one Friday afternoon in November and hiked down Bullet Canyon in 30-degree weather, our breath steaming. A full moon illuminated the landscape and ice dotted the puddles. At first, backpacking at night in the winter seemed like a bit of an ill-advised idea. But our doubts soon vanished. Over three days, we explored remote Puebloan ruins, camped in 800-foot-deep canyons, and soaked up the winter sun and solitude. Read the full story here.