Today I got to be a guest blogger!!

Come see my long-time writerly friend Gustavo Bondoni’s site Classically Educated where I got to be a guest blogger today!

Gustavo’s work is on fire these days. I can’t even keep up with how often I see a new story of his getting the green light from a magazine or publisher. Plus he is an accomplished artist, dad, and all around man of excellent qualities.  It’s an honor and a privilege to know him.  Check out his site and feel your brain getting smarter every time you do!

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Getting Outside of Oneself

Everyday, most of us live in a rut.  We set our alarms to wake us up at the same time every morning.  We pour a bowl of cereal, maybe a cup of coffee, we ride to work, either in a bus or a car or a train.  The world flashes past us and we are observers, watching the sun come up, the city come to life around us.  Long shadows are cast on grey concrete roads.  Groggy commuters stare out from the dirty windows onto a landscape of identical houses, a river of cars, big box stores, gas stations, supermarkets, flashing past like the repeating background of an old episode of the Flintstones.  We might as well be running in place with a laugh track and sound effects telling an audience beyond the fourth wall how ridiculous it all is.

Starbucks in hand, we are in a rush to get to our next rut.  For some of that means the walls of our cubicles, or maybe the familiarity of our desks, for others it might be the inside of a truck or a shop.  The routine is the same.  The people are the same.  We stop and talk about what we watched on TV the night before, or what the Housewives are up to, or how much we hate the Kardashians, (yet for some reason we keep talking about them).  We text each other “What’s up?” and wait for the invariable answer of “Not much.  What’s up with you?”

Getting out more also means getting out of oneself, breaking the routine.  Scaring the wits out of yourself a little bit, because it is that kind of rush that reminds us we are alive. You can go small, which would be something as basic as trying out that tortillaria you always pass by and wondering what could smell so good inside.  It could be taking a longer drive home from work and seeing something new, or riding your bike to work one day instead of driving and feeling the rush of endorphins from an early morning ride instead of a McAnything from the drive through.  It can even mean the old standard of picking a spot on the map, getting there, and then trying to figure out how to get back home. Getting a little bit lost, but knowing that no matter where you go, there you are. 😉

It could mean getting on an airplane and going somewhere nobody has ever heard of a Iced Mocha Latte or Big Mac. Where bread doesn’t come in a bag. Where the biggest frustration of the day isn’t that the traffic lights are sometimes red when you want them to be green. Where complaining about the President isn’t a right we take for granted.  Or why nobody has “liked” your post in the last ten minutes.

We’ve all that that dream of being at school naked.  It rattles us, haunts some of us in our sleep.  But there are plenty of places human beings gather without their clothes, without everything turning into an orgy or escalating into a menagerie of people pointing and laughing at your private parts. Recently I went to a clothing optional resort.  I was naked there, along with just about everyone else.  It didn’t turn into an American Pie movie. It was probably one of the most wholesome experiences I have ever had. It scared the heck out of me at first, but once there, I wondered what the big deal was.  What had kept me so afraid of the experience for this long?  It was just different than what I was used to.  Ruts are scary things because they are not only what keeps us in our lanes, but we also trick ourselves into believing they protect us.  I found a bunch of naked people at a hot springs to be more accepting of everyone and their differences than the last time I went to staff diversity meeting.

I would recommend the experience highly.  It’s sobering once you realize the only judgement you are likely to find is what you brought with you.

I wondered where that insecurity originated from as I soaked.  Was it the first day we dressed ourselves for school and our moms said certain colors didn’t go together, and so they got us a new outfit to dress ourselves in?  Or was it in high school when someone had a better car than you and got more dates? Or was it the day you looked at yourself in the mirror and wished you could just erase certain parts of it all and start over again?  Your hair is too frizzy, you are too fat, too short, your teeth are crooked, your eyes are too brown.  We stopped feeling like ourselves at those moments, loving who we saw ourselves looking from the inside out, and started judging ourselves from how we imagined other people saw us.  For whatever reason, that started to matter. To some it matters more than anything.  We built those fences and we built them high.

As much as it scares us, our brains crave variety.  Inside every one of us is a thrill seeker.  Once we are past the anxiety of getting over out of our ruts, breaking our bubbles, and challenging those fences we have taken a lifetime to build, we become a little more fearless.  What could possibly happen if we realized our fears are self-chosen?  Social anarchy?  Bedlam?  Or would it be an undiscovered country to which we venture and never return? Would we crave excitement like addicts or worse yet, become jaded to it?

What happens if we go somewhere else and start to pick up another language?  Do we risk losing our identity?  What if we run a race, or eat a bug covered in chocolate, or swim naked with a bunch of strangers? What happens if we change our minds about something?  Does that mean we are no longer who we were before we set out?  Is that necessarily a bad thing?  Will our world fall apart once we realize that maybe we haven’t been building a home for ourselves, but rather a prison? Is our prison better looking than someone else’s prison?  Is it as good as the other prisons you see on Facebook or on TV? Those people sure seem happier than you in their prisons!

Perhaps it is better to remain ignorant, because how can we live with ourselves once we understand that we are limited in this world only by our own perceptions of who we are?

Maybe knowing that there is more to life that what we have been told will drive us crazy.  Maybe it’s better to just drink the same coffee in every city, or eat at the same restaurants, listen to the same radio stations, watch the same shows on TV.  Watch our microwave meal spin around as radiation warms it up. Even though it all tastes the same, it tastes much worse when it is cold.  Conformity.  Resignation.  The Mundane.  If that doesn’t keep you up nights, I don’t know what will.

I prefer to scare myself a little every day.

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RMNP for Complainers

I used to complain a lot about how there is nothing good to do around here.  Social media has a way of infecting your mind with this notion.  I have a collection of friends that spans the globe.  A lot of them do things that I consider extremely interesting.  They travel to places I haven’t been but have lusted after for years.  They get there on motorcycles, airplanes (sometimes their own), ships, trains, and even on foot.  I have seen the omnibus of their collected travels and wonder what the heck I’ve been doing all this time!  The funny thing is there are actually psychological studies about this, and how social media actually makes you feel worse about yourself.

I live on the Colorado Front Range.  If I were to go outside right now, I could see the mountain range that makes up Rocky Mountain National Park.  Much like inhabitants of New York City, not a lot of Coloradoans go to RMNP unless they have friends from out of town they are showing around.  I can tell you from experience that getting a year long National Parks Pass is worth the investment when you live only about an hour away from this place.  Who knew that all this time, I was making my friends from other places jealous that this is what I can see after a 45 minute drive up the canyon.

Bear Lake

This is where all your Denver friends will take you if you are visiting town.  It is a big, beautiful glacial lake surrounded by mountains and there is a good chance if you have seen RMNP in pictures, this was the setting.  Avoid it like the plague.  Bear Lake is crowded.  I’ve seen less people at the Denver Zoo on a weekday.  Due to its popularity and ease of access, buses shuttle tourists in by the droves about every fifteen to twenty minutes. Their primary goal is to get off the bus, use the bathroom, try to adjust to the altitude before taking some pictures at the lake and then filing back onto the buses to head to lower elevations where they can breathe again.  Also, there are probably no bears.  Maybe some freeloading squirrels.

The good thing about Bear Lake is the shuttle makes other stops  One of these is an area called Glacier Gorge.

Black Lake

Hop off the bus at this stop and start walking.  Not as easy a trek as Bear Lake, Glacier Gorge Trail offers a little less foot traffic, a more challenging hike, and some stunning vistas heading up towards Black Lake and the North West side of Longs Peak.  The area itself is the backside of Longs Peak, which is just about the only mountain most people in the Northern Colorado end of the Front Range can name.

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Mills Lake (better than Bear Lake!)

 

It was carved out by glaciers descending Long’s Peak and other mountains, crushing and grinding rock into majestic valley during the Ice Age.  Along the way are roaring waterfalls, Mills Lake (more impressive than Bear Lake, but with a less impressive name).

Even if you don’t make it all the way to Black Lake, there is some excellent hiking, less people, and actual wildlife to see other than squirrels and mosquitoes.  You can hike all the way back to Bear Lake too, if that’s your thing.

 


Gem Lake

 

Much like Bear Lake, this is a very popular destination.  Just a few miles of moderately difficult, yet well-maintained trail.  The attraction is an area that allows wading, a strip of rocky “beach” and a nice bluff of rocks where you can climb and catch some sun.  Very crowded at times, this trail has the advantage of being challenging enough for kids and adults to feel like they are on a good, healthy hike, without being lost in the woods.  Interesting rock formations, such as a natural keyhole, and a good vantage point which overlooks Estes Park are nice features too.

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Gem Lake. You have probably seen this pic on someone’s dating profile.

Ideal for groups of people with varying skill-levels of hiking and plenty of places to stop and rest.  Gem Lake is the perfect place to get your boots off and soak your feet before returning to the car.  It’s also not a bad place to take some pictures to make your friends jealous on social media without beating yourself up too bad.

The trailhead actually starts not far from the Stanley Hotel!

Lawn Lake

More challenging and less crowded than Gem Lake, Lawn Lake is at the end of a six mile hike to the base of the Mummy Mountain.  The elevation gain is gradual, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with altitude sickness issues.  The trail is well-maintained, yet challenging at times.  The Lawn Lake trailhead used to be more popular until decades ago when a dam burst and washed the area out entirely.

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Mummy Mountain. And someplace in those trees is a hungry wolf and rumor has it, Lawn Lake.

I hiked the trail in November.  I brought snowshoes but didn’t need them due to lack of snow.  Only in a few places was the trail very snowy or icy.  Fun fact.  I never actually made it to Lawn Lake, since I saw a freakin’ wolf about a half mile from the lake.  I have seen my share of dogs, huskies, coyotes, and from 200 yards off, I could tell it was a wolf.  Since it was getting dark and I was hiking solo, I decided to listen to my instincts and head back down the trail before nightfall.  At this time of year, the trail had not been hiked for about a week about three miles in, so I was blissfully all on my own. Just off Fall River Road.

Hidden Valley

Not very hidden.  Everyone in Estes Park comes here to sled.  It’s a decent enough hill.  A little crowded for my tastes and nowhere near as good as the Walden sledding hill.

Trail Ridge Road

This is a beautiful place if your thing is tundra, craggy peaks, snowy alpine passes, and lots of elk.  The wildlife here is diverse, from adorable pica, to chipmunks, to giant marmots.  You might even see ptarmigans!  Unfortunately if anyone sees elk, it can turn into a parking lot.  A nice windy drive to the western side of RMNP which is often more wooded, but less crowded.  Also a good way to explore Grand Lake, Granby, and even Winter Park beyond!  The gift shop at the top of Trail Ridge Road is a lot of fun to visit too.  But don’t forget Specimen Mountain and the headwaters of the Colorado River! Warning, the pass is very, very high and caution should be taken if you are not used to the altitude.  Also, traffic can suck.

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Trail Ridge