Posted on May 22, 2017
I have never been good at meditation. I have tried it on a few occasions, but I have struggled to steady my mind for more than a moment or two. As soon as I calm my brain it starts making lists of all the things I have to do later, regretting that thing I said to someone 8 years ago, or contemplating what dark matter is actually made of. All things that of course must be resolved immediately.
The only time I’ve actually enjoyed meditation was when I spent 10 minutes overlooking the canyons of Malibu after climbing to the top of a waterfall last week. The serenity of the sound of the falling water against the beautiful backdrop made it easy to let go of everything.
Although I have struggled with meditation in the past, this project is as much about pushing myself to do things that make me uncomfortable as it is about doing things that are exciting.
I was intrigued when I first saw a post advertising sound immersion mediation. The session was held at The Hot Room Yoga and Wellness Studio and was hosted by Massood Taj and Robin Barnes. The description of the event read:
“As the sounds of singing bowls, frame drums, native flutes, gongs, vocal overtoning and other sacred instruments wash over you. It invites you to move into a deep meditative state. Cellular vibrations can unlock unhealthy, stuck emotional tension held within our cellular memory, boost your immune system & cultivate a heightened awareness of your inner world and intuition.”
Here is an example of what it sounded like:
Massood and Robin had a multitude of instruments laid out on blankets surrounded by salt lamps and rope lights, which provided great mood lighting in the dark. They used water drums (a bowl is placed upside down in a larger water-filled bowl and then stuck for a percussive sound), frame drums, Tibetan signing bowls, crystal singing bowls, a handpan, energy chimes, a wooden bamboo flute thingy (that was made with bamboo that grows naturally in Tennessee), a Quena (Peruvian wood flute), an african talking drum, a kalimba, and an array of other fascinating instruments. A nice summer storm added to the soundscape.
The best way to describe it was that it felt like I was being treated to a live version of the music they play while you get a massage. It was extremely relaxing.
I was just as unsuccessful at clearing my mind as my previous meditation attempts, but I did have a few moments of zen when I pictured my view from my Dominican rainforest tree house. The music was beautiful and I loved the experience. If I ever hit the Powerball I plan to hire Massood and Robin to provide the soundtrack to my life.
Posted on May 15, 2017
Some people bring nothing but joy, bliss, and positivity to your life. For me, two of those people are my friends Justin and Samsara, who I met during my stay in a Dominican Republic tree house village. I was lucky enough to reconnect with both of them on a recent trip to LA, despite the fact that neither of them actually live in Los Angeles.
As one of our many adventures, and to offset all the food we gorged ourselves on over the weekend, we decided to go for a hike in the mountains of Malibu. Specifically, Justin took us all to Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfalls.
This is also known as the “three waterfall hike” because you can hike to all three tiers of Escondido Falls. The Escondido Falls are the highest in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the tiers are 50 feet, 25 feet, and 150 feet, respectively.
The actual hiking portion was simple enough, and stretched 4.2 miles past Malibu mansions and through beautiful flora. I usually hike 10-12 miles every weekend so I thought this would be a leisurely afternoon. But I should have known that a day with Justin and Samsara would be filled with adventure.
The first part of the hike is easy. Just a general stroll through the wild flowers, across riparian canyon terrain, and over several creek crossings that required careful stepping over logs and rocks. But that just led us to the first waterfall. After that, things got interesting.
In order to get to the second and third waterfalls you had to switch to climbing mode over large rocks and muddy hills. This path isn’t very accessible if you have any mobility issues, but with the help of some ropes and large tree roots, you can make your way to the second and third falls. Things get pretty wet and slippery, so be sure to have proper climbing shoes (which I did not have) and prepare to get muddy.
But once you get to the main falls, the climb is totally worth it!
For the last few years Escondido Falls has been relatively dry due to the drought. But thanks to a wet winter and some rainy days leading up to the hike, the falls were flowing while we were there.
Samsara and I spent some time goofing around at the base of the falls, jumping off the rocks, and having fun on a rope swing as Justin took off exploring.
While we were engaged in frivolity, Justin had made his way to the top of the falls and beckoned for us to follow.
Please note that Samara is barefoot for this hike, because she is a badass.
Other than one session of indoor rock climbing a few years ago, this was my first attempt at climbing. It was also my first attempt at bouldering of any sort. The climb was one of the scariest and most dangerous things I have ever done. I do not recommend attempting to take the same route we did unless you are an experienced climber. There were several points along the way that I did not think I was going to make it (I even had to abandon my bag, as you can see above) and had I fallen, it would have been disastrous.
At the top of the most difficult part of the ascent was a small slot we had to climb through. The only way to get up its slick walls was to push your back up against one side and use your feet to climb up the other. Basically I applied the trick I learned watching cartoons as a kid to pull myself up.
Having my own personal cheering squad at the top definitely helped too.
But the view at the top made the climb and the fear completely worth it. We could see the waterfall, the canyon, and of course, the Pacific Ocean.
We all took time to enjoy the view and take our fair share of pictures. Part of me expected to end up in one of those “selfies taken right before disaster” click bait articles.
But instead, we had a lovely time relaxing and meditating at the precipice.
It rained on and off that day, just like it did during our trip to the Dominican rain forrest. That combined with the company and the complete lack of cell service resulted in one of the best and most relaxing days I’ve had since returning from my planned #funemployment.
At one point while admiring the view we heard the sound of what sounded like a team of hikers coming up behind us. It was, however, a small rockslide crashing down the path we’d just climbed up.
I want to reiterate that you should not attempt to replicate my stupidity and that this climb is not meant for novices. My only saving grace was the flexibility gained from doing yoga 5 times a week for the last 4 months.
Of course we had to make our way to the very top of the falls for some photos. The water behind me is what was flowing over the top of the highest part of Escondido Falls.
It began to rain again right before we started our climb down. While the cool rain drops were refreshing, it also make the rocks extremely slippery and the dirt trail slick and muddy. I fell, more than once, and was utterly caked in mud. Fortunately, I only had some muddy clothes and a few scrapes and bruises to show for it.
Overall, we could not have picked a better way to spend our day. It was just the adventure I needed.
The Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfalls hike is free and the parking area is just off the majestic Pacific Coast Highway (which I hope to drive start to finish one day). If you visit on a Sunday, it is also just down the road from the fabulous Malibu Farmers Market where we got delicious fresh fruit and the best sprouted almonds I’ve ever had.
Posted on May 9, 2017
A few weeks ago my boss called me into his office to ask whether I would be interested in representing our firm at a fundraiser for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee. I of course was happy to take part, especially once I learned that it happened to be their annual Over The Edge event in which the participants rappel off of the Omni in downtown Nashville.
I have discussed over and over and over and over that I am afraid of heights. However, I have also discussed my quest to overcome that fear by seeking out situations that make me second guess myself. So far, so good. If flying lessons turned my dread of air travel into love, then eventually, one day, I’ll be able to jump and fall off of things without hesitation (hopefully during some sort of planned excursion).
Before I went over the edge, we got a brief training session on how not to fall to our deaths or get stuck on the side of a building. I appreciated the tips.
I’m joking. I felt safe the entire time. There were lots of ropes and harnesses and gears and double and triple layer safety measures.
Before I could start my rappel, I had to crawl over some scaffolding to get to the edge of the building. This was surprisingly nerve-wracking considering what I was about to do.
However, the worst part was the first steps going down the building. It was a little hard to get started because, well, I weigh as much as a wet chihuahua. You control the rate of your descent with your weight and guiding rope through the belay. So, my size made it difficult to get horizontal with the wall.
When I started my descent, I was hanging from the side of the building, but still had my feet at the top of the ledge. This felt very unsettling. However, I felt completely secure once lowered myself down a bit and got my feet flat on the side of the building.
I fed the rope though the belay and I walked myself down the building, taking time to waive at my supporters below and the hotel guests who gathered at the windows to watch.
It only took a few minutes for me to completely lower myself down the 26 stories, but every second was thrilling.
The event was exactly what I hoped it would be. I had a wonderful time and we helped raise money for a wonderful organization in the process.
Over The Edge helps non-profit organizations throughout the world raise money for important causes like Big Brothers and Big Sisters. If you are interested in a chance to rappel down a building without getting arrested, keep an eye out for Over The Edge when it comes to your city.
Posted on April 5, 2017
Taylor Hollow is a 163-acre nature preserve hidden away an hour outside of Nashville. The Nature Conservancy owns the property and they have done an excellent job protecting the land. Taylor Hallow is wonderfully secluded. In fact, you’ll have to drive for a good 15 minutes before you even come back into cell phone range. It is perfect.
I go hiking almost every weekend, but I have never gone on a wildflower hike. I didn’t know what I was missing out on.
They entire hike is lined with a crystal clear babbling brook which leads to a hidden cave. There is also a waterfall, but the water was too low for it to be running during our visit.
Taylor Hollow supports more than 380 plant species and is home to state endangered plants as the Blue-eyed Mary and the Ozark Least Trillium and several state threatened plants such as the Michigan Lily and the Butternut.
We picked the prefect weekend for a visit. Everything was in full bloom.
My crappy iPhone photos do not do the place justice, but it is just beautiful. It would be the prefect place for a spring picnic and an afternoon of seclusion.
Other than fluttering butterflies and busy bumblebees, there was not a lot of wildlife to be seen on the day we visited. However, I did make friends with a curious snail. (No snails were harmed in the taking of this photograph.)
Now that Spring is here, take advantage of the natural beauty that surrounds us and be sure to visit your nearest nature preserve or botanical garden.
Posted on January 26, 2017
I have been a bit delinquent with my posting. The last few weeks have been filled with traveling and spending time back home in Virginia with my family, so I simply have not been able to find the time to write. I still have many adventures and stories to share about my time off from work!
One of my favorite snowy excursions during my time in Breckenridge was snowmobiling through the Swan River Valley and up to the Georgia Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide. In Colorado, the divide separates the the watersheds that flow into the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
I booked a tour with Good Times Adventures, the same company that took me dog sledding. The season had just begun so we had brand new, two-week-old 2017 Ski-Doo Grand Touring 600 snowmobiles. They were sleek and sporty and, most importantly, came with heated handlebars and throttle.
I booked the first tour of the day so I could see the sun rise through the trees as we climbed 2,000 feet to the summit. At first, driving the snowmobile took a little getting used to. Every time I hit a bump or block of ice I was worried that I was going to go careening into the line of trees. However, after just a few minutes on the trail I was able to relax and enjoy the wintery landscape.
Our guide, Susie, took us though the winding snow-white paths which were dotted with pine trees and hills. Occasionally, we got to see a dog sled out for a morning run or some horses on their way for a visit with a vet.
As we neared the peak, the trail steepened and the trees cleared.
I was greeted with an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the Swan River Valley, Summit County and the White River National Forest.
I was also greeted with the coldest air I have ever felt in my life. While my long underwear and snow suit kept me nice and toasty in the valley and on the trail, the icy wind at the top cut through it like a knife through butter. I was only able to get a few pictures at the top before the battery in my phone froze and died.
Other than the view, the most striking part of being at 11,585 feet is the absolute silence. All I could hear was the wind and my labored breathing from the thinned air.
Even though my phone battery died, my video goggles managed to capture the entire journey to and from the Continental Divide. I tried to trim the hour-long trip as much as I could, but the ride was just too beautiful to only make a 3-minute montage. Here are some of the extended highlights:
If you have a chance to visit the Rockies in winter, be sure to add snowmobiling to your itinerary. It is certainly worth the detour.
Posted on January 17, 2017
As part of my New Years trip to Breckenridge I decided to try my hand at skiing. It is something that I have wanted to do for a long time, but living in the South does not afford a lot of opportunities to hit the powder.
I had never taken part in any winter sports prior to this trip (if you don’t count sledding down my front yard after snowstorms). I knew that if I was going to hit the slopes I would have to take a lesson. Me, on skis, without any training, would be a menace to everyone on the mountain.
My friend Jill and I took a lesson for first timers in order to learn the basics. The first half of the day was designed to get us acquainted with the fundamentals. We started by skiing in a circle on one ski, sidestepping up and down a hill, and then wedging down a hill. All of this, fortunately, was in a designated ski lesson area. This was wise, because while I was doing well with skiing, I was not doing so hot with stopping.
Somehow after lunch, and with a few extra tips from my instructor, I managed to get a better hold on slowing myself and eventually stopping. When we returned from our break, five of the eight members in our class decided not to return. Apparently, they determined skiing was not for them. That was sad for them, but awesome for the three of us who remained. We basically got a semi-private lesson for the rest of the day. In the afternoon our awesome instructor took us up the QuickSilver SuperChair life to Ten Mile Station.
I felt like I had a better handle on the skis in the afternoon than in the morning. We practiced our turns going down the slope so I was able to build up a little speed and confidence. I really liked being able to break away from the group and have a little space to practice. I managed to finish my day with no major incidents or broken bones.
The next day I met up with my friends Lilas and Chris, who just happened to be in Breckenridge at the same time. Luckily, I mentioned my visit in a previous post which Lilas read while sitting in the Denver airport.
I was excited to ski with them, not only because they are amazing people, but because they are substantially more accomplished skiers than I.
We started on the same runs I tried the day before, but took a few different routes down—a few of which were much more complicated than what I did the day before and included icy wooded paths and sharp hills. We also took the A-Chair higher up Peak 9 where I learned that all green trails were not created equal. I actually spent a good part of my day on my back with a lovely view of the sky.
But overall I had an absolute blast, falls and all. At the end of the day I decided to take one more pass down the mountain. Mainly because the easiest way to get to the ski shop was to ride the lift back up and ski down. Somehow I managed to make it the entire way without incident and I actually had my GoPro recording.
Here is my video of my first time skiing all the way down alone without falling. Yes, I am going slower than almost everybody, but I am pretty sure everyone else had been skiing a lot longer than one day.
I can’t wait to go skiing again. I will definitely take another lesson (or two) next time to give me a refresher and help me develop my skills. Unfortunately, unless the resorts get a lot closer to home, it may have to wait until next season.
Posted on January 9, 2017
When I was first planning my winter vacation I wanted something to complement my escape to the Dominican rainforest. When I could not find another tropical retreat that fit my days off, I decided to go the complete opposite direction and head to a winter wonderland. As part of the trip, I wanted to cross off a few things from my winter To-Do List. Item #1 on that list was dog sledding!
I went to Good Times Adventures in Breckenridge, Colorado. Good Times has 160 purebred Siberian huskies, and is the largest Siberian husky kennel in the United States. The dogs consume 2000 pounds of dog food a week and have a protein snack after every run. Sounds like me on vacation.
The dogs are well cared for and do 2-3 runs (10-15 miles) a day. But the dogs love to run! This is actually a light workout for a Siberian husky, as they are capable of running for over 100 miles a day or 20 hours straight! In fact, while waiting for the next run, the teams have to be tied to a tree so they don’t take off. They want to run all day!
Good Times Adventures uses all female and all males teams “to keep trouble in the same place,” but racers often mix males and females. Our guide said that the females are much faster and goof off less.
The dogs start training at 6 months and are a part of a team until they are about 7-8 years old. After retirement, the pups become part of their adoption program.
We had an all male team with Fez and Django (the lead dogs), Olaf and Drake (the swing dogs), Chief and Trix (the team dogs), and Cyprus and Ninja (the wheel dogs).
The dogs in the front are the super smart lead dogs who guide the pack. However, if they make a mistake or get into a fight they will get “demoted” and moved further back in the lineup. Our guide said that the dogs can tell when they get demoted and promoted.
The dogs in the back wheel position, according to our guide, are the “meatheads” and workers of the bunch. They are not the brightest lightbulbs. (But who needs to be smart when they are that handsome?)
Each tour accommodated six people. The dog sled was led by our guide pulling a sleigh via snowmobile. Four people rode in the sleigh and the other two rode the dogsled, one as the rider and the other as the musher. We all got to take turns in each position.
The actual ride was spectacular! It was a blast to zoom though the snowy woods behind a team of dogs.
We took some of the hills pretty slowly, but once we got going we had to hold on tight!
I really don’t know what I loved more, the scenery or the ride itself.
While the dogs do almost all of the work, the sled does come with a safety brake. We also help control the sled by leaning into the turns.
However, some of the turns were a little too rambunctious and we almost took a little spill (pictured above). But fortunately we were able to stay on the sled.
Both before and after the run I got to pet the dogs. They were sweet and soft, but definitely just waiting to have a chance to do some more running!
Below is a compilation point of view video of our runs. I did not have a helmet to attach my GoPro to, so I rented some awesome goggles that recorded it for me. As a disclaimer, my friend forgot I was recording so there is some language that is not suitable for children.
Here is a compilation video from the guide sled. You can’t hear her swearing in this one.
If you want to add a little adventure to your winter travels and cuddling on some adorable doggage is a priority, then go check out Good Times Adventures. However, book early. I called weeks in advance and they were already almost fully booked during my visit.