The pressure builds in your head, your ears feel tight, the air gets thinner; these are the signs that you are gaining elevation quickly. Increasing, the only relief is a hard swallow or blowing your nose, “popping” your ears and releasing the pressure. This feeling is one of my first memories. I was four years years old, flying back from California and I was crying. The elevation gain was too much for my tiny head to deal with and was incredibly uncomfortable. I had my favorite stuffed animal clutched to me tightly as my parents and the flight attendant tried to reassure me that it would be alright. I was given a drink and some peanuts and the pressure was released. For years, I loathed this experience. Now, it is a sign that great adventures will soon be had.
It was the 1980s and I was a little kid when I first heard about Native Americans in Yellowstone National Park. I was told, by a ranger at a visitor center that Native Americans didn’t live in or even visit the lands within the boundaries of the park. I was told they were scared of the unexplainable and the area was avoided. I was told lies.
It was late summer of 2015. The snow had melted by February. There was a fire burning in the Queets Rainforest. It was the driest year on record and was my first glimpse at the extremes of climate change.
I had already racked up more miles in the Olympics than I had in the previous three years combined, and decided to take a trip up to the often-overlooked Black and White Lakes in Olympic National Park. It would be another glorious day in the wilderness of my backyard park and while expectations were high, what I encountered is still an event on Public Lands that I look back on fondly.
Nearly every hike I complete on our Public Lands becomes a favorite. From coastal treks past stunning sea stacks, to rainforest runs, canyon crusades and mountain top meanderings, every mile hiked is a memory I want to relive over and over again. These trails nourish my struggling soul, bringing back meaning and calmness to my normal anxious and worried state. With each step, I find balance and happiness, remembering why I walked away from my old life and started over in nature. No trail is a favorite for long, but some remain classics that I return to again and again. One of those is found out in Big Sky Country, where mountain summits await.
Relationships are tough. They cause pain and heartache, but also bring happiness and love. They give us incredible highs not found anywhere else, while still having the power to completely destroy us for days, weeks, months or years. They come and they go, leaving us forever changed, for bad or for great. They take and they give, they inspire and they crush. If healthy, they allow us to love and be loved.
John Muir. Edward Abbey. Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Ansel Adams. Aldo Leopold. These heroes of public lands have many things in common, including being old, white men. While the history of America’s Public Lands seem to be only filled with members of the patriarchy, there are hundreds, if not thousands of others who deserve the same credit and attention. One of those is Herma Albertson Baggley, who lived from 1896-1981. The other is Marguerite Lindsley, who lived from 1901-1952.
Our National Parks are filled with incredible history. From buildings and battlefields, to the cultural importance of these lands to the first people’s, every single one of these places of Public Lands is steeped in historical wonder. Our Public Lands have a lifetime’s worth of stories and tales, iconic figures and shady characters, allowing us each to have a favorite part of the unique history in our National Parks. While I could, and may, write an entire book about historical awesomeness around these regions, for now I will share one of the slices of history that I often repeat while taking people to Olympic National Park.
I was stressed and sad, or as I called it in 2013, Tuesday. We were in the midst of a Government shutdown and I was surviving my job as a political consultant on fumes and alcohol. My job was safe for the year, but the future was not. I had reached my breaking point and needed an escape. Campaign life was draining my soul and the rotten mood of America was permeating everything around me. I had to get away, so I bailed on my responsibilities for the day and decided to hike into Olympic National Park. I needed something beautiful to calm my restless soul.
The sounds of chainsaws shattered the silence of the desert landscape at Joshua Tree National Park while the stench of human feces rose from the ditches along the pull outs at Yosemite National Park. It was a great start to 2019. Across the nation, at Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, National Parks and federally funded Public Lands, trash piled up deeper and deeper. Toilets, if not locked, became cesspools of refuse, a physical representation of the current administration’s view of not just Public Lands, but of functional government. As the Government Shutdown of 2018-19 lingered on without an end in sight, our Public Lands, the jewels of the nation, were under attack.
Each new year, we find ourselves full of hope and optimism. When the clock strikes midnight, we look ahead to wonderful times with friends and family, as well as ourselves. In those few few hours, days and weeks of the new year, we have a pep in our step and feel motivated to make the next 365 days the best of our lives. We make promises and resolutions, set goals and make plans. For many of us, the start of a new calendar also signals the time to daydream toward adventures in the outdoors.
Born and raised in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, anytime I explore a public lands location that doesn’t get feet of rainfall each year feels, I feel incredibly strange. I am used to endless green, to rivers constantly flowing and to signs of life around every corner. I am accustomed to seeing towering trees and sword ferns, salmon filled rivers and glaciated peaks. That is what makes the desert so intoxicating, and why I, like millions of other millennials, have fallen in love with Utah’s Public Lands.
The first taste of wilderness is an unforgettable high, forever altering the chemistry of your brain. Surrounded by seemingly endless nature, your perception of life, the universe and everything becomes forever changed. For most of us, that initial high we get from the great outdoors becomes our addiction, leading to us searching over maps and driving down dirt roads looking for our next fix at all hours of the day. We chase it day in and day our, blinded by the addictive properties of our public lands.
This post was written and posted in one hour for #NatureWritingChallenge. Join us for this weekly writing challenge!
All we knew is that we wanted to hike in snow. After a weekend of snow dumping down in the mountains, adventure was filling our blood and we were becoming drunk off of potential wanderlust. Reports of feet of powder were trickling in and we longed to be a part of it. It didn’t matter where we had to go to find snow, we just needed to explore the mountains on a pair of snowshoes. We checked roads, checked our gear and headed up Highway 101, eager to reach the wonderland of winter weather that was waiting for us.
Sometimes, random encounters with a stranger on a Public Land can become incredible memorable, inspiring a story that gets retold more than you mean to. For this week’s #NatureWritingChallenge, I decided to share one of my frequently told stories about a stranger I encountered in a National Park. Unlike many stories I tell a lot, this has never been put down on paper. Until now. Enjoy.
I was recently asked what my wishlist for Public Lands would be, and since we are just days away from the 2018 mid-term elections, I wanted to give a thought out and carefully crafted response. However, this question was posed as a #NatureWritingChallenge, meaning I only had one hour to write this. This is what I wrote:
The entrances to National Parks are like gateways to another world, granting access to breathtaking landscapes that are mostly untouched by human interference. The provide entry to lands full of wondrous wilderness and wildlife, where adventures await all who are fortunate enough to enter. While there are no bad entrances to National Parks, each of us has a favorite, one that speaks directly to our soul. Sparking our sense of adventure and increasing our love for public lands, these entrances are special, and are filled with amazing memories.
I have been called a fair weather hiker by quite a few people. For awhile, I denied this, hoping I could convince myself and others that I would be outdoors in rain, snow, sun, wind, whatever. I have tried, and I often fail to shake this label off of me. For as much as I feel the call of the wild on sunny days, I experience a pull toward comfort on rainy cold days. Wrapped in a blanket, sitting in front of a fire, drinking whiskey and hot chocolate, this is where my brain longs to be during inclement weather. Sure, I have hiked the rainforests in monsoons, trail ran Yellowstone in blizzards and climbed towering peaks in severe winds, but if you ask me if I enjoyed it, my voice may waiver as I respond of course. Bad weather and I usually not friends, but when I hear of a storm raging toward the Olympic Coast, everything changes.
Some stories need to be told. Some are so incredible, inspiring and bigly amazing that to hold them back would be one of the great injustices of the world. This might just be one of those tales. Written in just one hour for this week’s #NatureWritingChallenge, I present the following.
2003. What a year. Some will recall it as the start of the decline of post-September 11th patriotism. A few will remember it was the year the Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Jersey Devils and San Antonia Spurs won their sporting championships. A handful will relive the explosion of space shuttle Columbia as it reentered earth’s atmosphere. Many will remember this as the year the US invaded Iraq on faulty pretenses. For me, 2003 was the year I knew public lands needed to play a larger role in my life. For the past 15 years, America’s Public Lands have been where I find sanity, serenity and happiness. As George W. Bush said on May 1st of that year, Mission Accomplished.