Keep Close To Nature’s Heart

We’re back!  Once again, I find myself in the flat lands of Oklahoma dreaming about the mountains and all the fun we had the last two weeks.

John and I pulled into the driveway about 2:45 Saturday morning, and quickly agreed that we wanted no part of that kind of late night driving anymore.  11 PM until home was rough!  The late night plus the seriously active vacation (we don’t do relaxing trips!) meant we were pooped, and spent the rest of the weekend being lazy watching The West Wing and reading.  It was perfect, but that means I have a ton of laundry and other odds and ends to take care on this fabulous Monday morning.  So, trust me, I will have a ton of recaps coming at you later in the week, but, for now, I’m going to give you a little glimpse at the over 300 pictures we took while we were gone.

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And this is just an extremely small portion of all the pictures I have to share!  Is it any wonder that I always want to be in the mountains.  The pictures don’t even do the beauty of them justice!  As promised, I’ll be back with the tales that accompany these illustrations later in the week.  Have a great Monday!

 

Currently: July

Hey everyone!  I hope you’re having a great week.  We’re still in Colorado enjoying our vacation.  Right about now, we’re deep in the backcountry enjoying life away from technology for a little while.  However, I didn’t want to completely check out on you all so here’s a little Currently post for the month of July!  Enjoy!

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Current books:  A few weeks ago I was going through a bunch of old paperbacks, and found one “Losing Julia”.  I’m fairly certain that I read this years ago, but I don’t remember a thing and I needed a paperback to stash in my pack for our trip.  So far so good!

Current music:  John and I always forgo music on our trips for an audio book.  This time the selection is “Allegiant.”  I, of course, have already read it, but John hasn’t and I’m so ready for him to find out what happens.

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Current guilty pleasure: The Bachelorette.  I know, I know-it’s completely undignified TV, but I’m hooked.  At least I have no allusions about the quality of the show!

Current nail color:  I was inspired by Hazel’s nail color choice in “The Fault In Our Stars” movie so I dug up some gray nail polish (I didn’t have black!).  Let’s see how long it takes me to get tired of something being on my nails!

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Current drink:  I’ll say water because that’s all I get to eat in the backcountry!

Current food:  Anything from Steamworks Brewery.  It’s my favorite restaurant anywhere, and it’s where we’re going to have our post-trail meal!

Current favorite show: Of course, we’re on a break on vacation, but John and I are still working through The West Wing.  It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite shows ever.

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Current indulgence: I can promise you that as soon as we’re off trail I will be indulging in all manner of decadent treats!

Current blessing: The means to take vacations.  I know not everyone gets to travel the way I do, and I never want to take that for granted.

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Current outfit:  Hiking shorts, hiking shirt, and boots!

Current excitement: I’m out on the trail, and sharing the experience with people I love.  That’s exciting!

Current mood: Content and happy

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Current link: To go along with the theme of this post, go check out a post Heather wrote a few weeks ago about women in the outdoors.  My sentiments exactly!

What are you feeling grateful for currently?

Quotes To Hike By

Hey everyone!  I hope all of you are having a great week!  My crew and I are deep in the backcountry right about now which means I’m right in the middle of my happy place!

I know many of you out there are prolific Pinterest users, and I share the obsession.  One of my favorite things about Pinterest is all the uplifting, thought-provoking, or just funny memes and quotes that float around there.  Of course, I have entire board devoted to quotes about hiking, and, since, I’m up in the mountains hopefully living them, I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you!

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And, of course, my favorite.

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And because we can’t be deep all the time…………

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Have a great day!

Thru-Hiking The Appalachian Trail

Between writing my review on “A Long Way From Nowhere” and preparing for our latest backpacking trip, thru-hiking a long-distance trail has been on my mind a lot lately.  Thru-hiking is simply the act of hiking a long-distance trail from end to end, and, in the U.S., there are three major trails that people are usually talking about when they mention thru-hiking:  Appalachian Trail (approx. 2,100 miles) Continental Divide Trail (approx. 3,100 miles) and the Pacific Crest Trail (approx. 2,650 miles).

All three of these trails have their pros and cons, and today I’m starting a series to break some of those down for you in the event that you’re considering your own thru-hiking experience.  Keep in mind that most of these are my own opinion.  Something that’s a con for me might end up being a pro for you!

First up, the Appalachian Trail.  Now last week I told you that I have no interest in doing the Appalachian Trail, and I’ll enumerate those reasons but, again, this is just my opinion.  In fact, the Appalachian Trail is the most popular trail of all three long distance thru-hikes in America. It runs from Georgia to Maine, and thousands of people attempt to thru-hike the AT every year with many, many more getting out on it for day and section hikes throughout the year.  Why is that?  The AT is the oldest and most well-established of all three major trails.  It is also really close to resources.  While on the AT, you will never be too far from a town which makes resupply a breeze compared to the PCT or the CDT.

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Another plus for some hikers is the never-ending supply of company you can find on the AT.  Many thru-hikers begin their journey solo, and, as a result, find comfort in the fellow hikers they meet along the way.  Almost everything you read tells the tale of thru-hikers forging lasting bonds with people they never would’ve come into contact with otherwise.

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As for the trail itself, the AT is not without challenge.  Let’s face it-any time you attempt to walk for thousands of miles it’s going to be challenging!  The AT has it’s fair share of climbs and rough patches of terrain.  However, the elevation is not nearly as high as the trails you find out west which can be a huge blessing especially for people who are not used to it.

Now let’s talk about the negative aspects of the AT.  The Appalachian Trail is home to your friendly neighborhood tick.  It is a significant concern on this trail because ticks can transmit Lyme Disease.  Though dangerous if left untreated, Lyme Disease can be controlled with the help of medication and a doctor’s help.  However, the main danger to a thru-hiker is the end of their trip.  It is not unheard of for hikers of the AT to be forced to end their trip early due to this disease.

This is the part that I need to put up a giant IN MY OPINION sign, but I’m going to go ahead a count one of the pros as a con for me.  I personally would hate that many people being on the trail.  For me, one of the main draws of hiking in general is the ability to get away from the world.  I often tell the story of the time John and I spent a day and a half in the backcountry without seeing another soul save for a backcountry ranger.  And I tell that story with fondness!

I hesitate to voice this next one, but I feel like the views on the AT cannot compete with the views out west.  I hesitate because I’ve never actually been on any part of the Appalachian Trail, but I am, however, familiar with geography of the part of the country as well as the geography of the CDT and PCT.  I just can’t imagine how it could compare.  Again, that’s my viewpoint.  For some people, the gently rolling hills of Virginia is perfect!

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All in all, the AT is definitely a trail to consider if for no other reason than convenience.  Many first time thru-hikers pick this one so they simply don’t have to put as much effort into resupply.  And, I hear, the trail magic of the AT is second to none!  It may just be a perfect trail for you to get your feet wet!

Have you ever considered a thru-hike?  Ever done any day hiking on the AT?

A Long Way From Nowhere

One of the biggest dreams I have for my life is to someday hike one of the long-distance hiking trails in the U.S.  There are three options:  the Appalachian Trail (approx. 2,100 miles), the Pacific Crest Trail (approx. 2,650 miles), and the Continental Divide Trail (approx. 3,100 miles).  I have no interest in doing the Appalachian Trail (for reasons I’m sure I’ll enumerate in later posts) so that leaves the PCT or the CDT.  I go back and forth on which one I’d rather do so, as a result, I devour anything I can find that’s written on these two subjects.

Enter Julie Urbanski.  Julie and her husband, Matt, have conquer all three of these long-distance trails that earned Matt the coveted “Triple Crown” title.  (Julie can’t quite say that for reasons you find out in her book!)  Julie has written two books detailing their adventures on the both the PCT and the Appalachian, and Matt joined in on the writing process for the third book, “A Long Way From Nowhere”, which follows their journey on the CDT.

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I loved this book.  It was my favorite one of the three, and it was largely due to the two unique voices that tell the story.  Both Julie and Matt switch off chapters, and tell the series of events from their own viewpoints.

One of the best parts of Julie and Matt’s writing is just how real they are about their experience.  Anytime you’re on the trail you will have seriously hard days.  There will be days where all you can think about is food or how much your feet hurt or whether or not the effing bugs will ever stop landing on you.  When you are on the trail for 3,000 miles all of that is magnified by a million.  Of course, there also days of incredible joy and wonderment and gratefulness that you have the means and capabilities to complete such a feat.  Julie and Matt are very honest about both sides of that spectrum.

I was also really drawn to this book because of their couple dynamic.  John is my partner in all things including the trail, and I’ve never done a trip without him (although that’s about to change soon-details later!).  My trail experience has always involved a twosome so it’s interesting to see how other couples navigate this dynamic.  It was especially illuminating to hear about it through both people’s eyes which is another reason this book was my favorite one yet.

Lastly, the CDT has a special place in my heart because so much of it is in the heart of the wild area I love.  It was so interesting to read about places that I am intimately familiar with, and I found that it made the idea of someday attempting my own through hike less intimidating.

Julie and Matt Urbanski are the best people I’ve found yet at navigating the highs and lows of the trail life.  They make thru-hiking accessible without shying away from the hardships that are involved.  If you are at all curious about thru-hiking in general or the CDT specifically, I highly recommend you pick this one up.  Julie and Matt also a run a pretty popular website where they talk about hiking and their adventures in long-distance trail running.  They’ve both completed 100 mile runs so there’s a little something for everyone!

What’s your favorite adventure book?

It’s Go Time!

Happy almost Fourth of July!  What big long weekend plans do you guys have?  I’ve got some big ones!  John and I are shipping out tomorrow morning to head to the mountains for our backpacking trip.  We’re going to be in one of my absolute favorite parts of Colorado that we haven’t seen in a couple of years so I’m pretty pumped.

It’s July 3rd so it’s a great time to check in with the month of June and see how my monthly goals went.  One of the things I want to continue doing on the blog is monthly goal check-ins because I’m a huge believer in accountability and small measurable goals.  Here’s how June went:

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1. Prepare and dehydrate three meals for our group backpacking trip

Done!  I put the last of it in the pack last night, and I am so glad.  Dehydrating for our group of six was a bit of a job, and I’m glad to have the hard part done.

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2.  Run 80 miles

I did not even get remotely close to this goal.  A few weeks ago, I sustained a foot injury and it’s been aggravated ever since.  I don’t think it’s anything serious, but I wasn’t willing to put our backpacking trip in jeopardy so I gave up running except for the little bit here and there I did in Cross Fit.  I’m hoping my foot gets it’s act together by the time I get back because it’s almost time to start training again.

3.  Relax and enjoy

This was all about my Blend weekend.  Going into it I was a little nervous because I’m usually a total dork around new people.  I’m happy to report that I aced this goal because the weekend was so much fun, and I feel like I made some friends for life.  This girl is never getting rid of me!

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And July!

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1.  Relax

I’m going to throw another relax into July.  I have a tendency to plan every minute of vacation, and feel the need to go, go, go.  I know this wears John out, and, quite frankly, it wears me out!  We’ll be spending a week just day hiking and hanging out before we do the backpacking portion of our trip, and I am determined to make it low-key, go with the flow, and enjoyable!

2.  1,000 push-ups, 1,000 squats, 1,000 sit-ups

I’m about to go on vacation for two weeks and I have another little trip planned at the end of the month.  As a result, I think I’ll get to Cross Fit a total of five days this month.  I don’t want to completely lose all of my strength so I want to set some specific numbers to reach.  These three moves can be done anywhere-even camp!

3.  Enjoy Food!

I have done a 180 degree turn when it comes to food in the last year and a half, but I can still get a little anxious when I feel like I’m indulging a little too much.  Vacation can cause be a little stress, and I don’t want it to!  Two weeks is not going to be the end of the world, and, because of the intense exercise we’re doing, I almost always come home lighter anyway.  Besides we’ll be going to my favorite restaurant in the world while we’re gone, and I’m going to enjoy it!

Those should be some easy attainable goals for this month!  Now I’m off to finish packing and loading up.  Have a wonderful and safe 4th of July!

What are your July goals?  Do you let yourself eat freely on vacation?

5 Tips For New Backpackers

Hello, hello!  As you can tell from my posting to lately, I’m turning weekends into four day affairs :)  Seriously, this summer has been so busy, and, as a result, it is flying by!  John and I spent most of the weekend doing trip prep, but we did manage to drag ourselves out of the house Saturday night to spend some time with this crazy group.

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We’re all about to embark on a month of never being in town at the same time so we wanted to get together before that kicked off.  I petitioned the group for a bowling outing.  I have always loved to bowl.  In fact, when I was a senior in high school, there was a big group of us that you would go once a week.  The habit has definitely fallen by the wayside.  In fact, this was the first time I had been in years!

We devoted the whole of Sunday to getting all of our gear and most of our food together.  I’ve heard rumors that some people can go on vacation without devoting an entire room of their house to preparation, but I’m not sure I believe it.

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We’re just about ready to ship out on Friday, and I am so ready to go.  You guys know I hate this hot weather, and with the heat index in the triple digits this week, vacation can’t come soon enough.  I’m especially excited to take Dad, Caite, Justin, and Alex on their first true backpacking adventure.  John and I (John, especially) have been paying close attention to detail to make sure that our newbies have a good experience which made me think about the most important advice and tips that all first timers need to know about backpacking.

There is a never ending amount of advice I could give about backpacking, and you’ve made a friend for life if you engage me in conversation about it and let me talk for hours.  However, I’ve narrowed all of that down to five simple tips that I feel like will allow anyone to have a successful first outing even if you’re not exactly passionate about debating the ins and outs of going ultra-light or the best form of water filtration.

1.  Start Small

My very first backpacking trip was an overnighter in Devil’s Den State Park that spanned 15 miles.  Yes, that doesn’t seem like much, and I’ve since done way more than that in a single day but back then I was on top of the world when I completed it.  On top of the world and more exhausted than I’d ever been in my life.  You guys know how much I revere Cheryl Strayed, but most people couldn’t and shouldn’t hike the Pacific Crest Trail having never backpacked in their life.  Usually, it doesn’t turn out well!

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2.  Borrow Your Gear

Backpacking can be a really affordable activity in the long run, but your initial gear set-up can be really pricey.  There is no reason to spend a ton of money (or buy crappy cheap stuff!!) before you know it’s going to be a long-term part of your life.  I know it may not always be an option, but borrow if you can!

3.  Break In Your Boots

One of the main rules for a successful backpacking trip is to take care of your feet.  Those babies have to carry you plus 20+ pounds of gear over a relatively large number of miles and varying terrain, and boots right out of the box will not be forgiving.  We’re talking blisters that can be debilitating and toenails that detached themselves from your body (been there!).  Get your boots as early as possible and get them on your feet.  Wear them to work (boots and khakis can be stylish!), to the grocery store, to walk the dog, wherever…..just put some miles on them before the real work starts!

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4.  Know The Route

John loves maps, and studies them relentlessly leading up to any trip we take.  In fact, the majority of our trips are several different trails pieced together that he worked out just by looking at the map.  You obviously don’t have to go that in-depth, but it would be helpful for you to have a general knowledge about the trail you’ll be on.  How many water sources will there be?  How much elevation gain and loss will you be dealing with?  What’s the mileage breakdown between campsites?  All of that is valuable information in the backcountry!

5.  Watch The Weather/Know The Climate

This one is huge.  It’s so important to know what your walking into.  You wouldn’t want to plan a trip into the high Rockies in January wearing hiking shorts and carrying hammocks to sleep in.  Not only is that extremely dangerous, quite frankly, it wouldn’t be very pleasant.  We live in a horribly hot part of the country, and, as a result, we don’t even think about planning a trip in the hills of Arkansas in the middle of July.  If you tried that your first time out, you probably would hate backpacking and never give it a second chance!  It’s also important to check specific weather reports in the days leading up to your trip.  While afternoon summer storms are common in the mountains, you don’t want to plan a trip in which you encounter monsoon rains for three days straight!  Additionally, many areas of the country are experiencing extreme drought conditions which means there is very often burn bans in effect.  That can affect campfires and, sometimes, camp stoves.  That information if vital to have beforehand so you can plan your food accordingly!

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Like I said, there is so much more I can say about backpacking, but these five tips are a great start for any newbie out there.  With them, you’ll have a great first trip and be bitten by the backpacking bug.  Then we can start that discussion about water filtration ;)

I Am NOT A Healthy Living Blogger

Hello, friends!  I’m popping in with a few Thursday Thoughts since I have a few things to catch you up on!

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1.  I had a lot of fun hanging out with my mom and Caite this week.  We did manage to conquer Cavanal.

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Caite and I strapped our packs on to do it so we could get a little practice in.  This was Caite’s first experience with a backpack on, and it gave her a little taste of what our backcountry hike in Colorado will be like in a few weeks.  I think she’s ready!

2.  After Cavanal, we cleaned up and spent the rest of Tuesday afternoon in Ft. Smith.  For people who don’t really like shopping too much, we managed to spend something like five hours just hitting store after store.  I think I’ve hit my quota for awhile.  We did stop in at the local popcorn factory for a treat, and that’s a store I have no problem visiting again soon!

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3.  While I was at Brandy’s baby shower last weekend, I had a chance to catch up with my good friend, Hayley.  She’s been telling me for over a year that I needed to watch The West Wing series, and she showed up at the shower with a bag full of DVDs.  We’ve been watching a few episodes a night all week, and I think I have a new favorite show.

4.  Food prep for the trip has officially begun!

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I loaded up the dehydrator yesterday, and started to get everything ready to put our meals together.  Right now, I’m aiming to put together two to three meals for the trips.  We’ll be out in the backcountry for five nights.  On the nights I don’t have a meal for, we’ll rely on our good ‘ol Mountain House meals.  Plus, we’re bringing a fishing pole on this trip!  We’ve never packed in a pole so we’re excited to give it a try.  Hopefully, one night we’ll all be enjoying fresh caught trout!

5.  This is apparently going to be the summer of Colorado.  The week after we get back from our big trip, I’m heading back out there to meet up with my girl, Heidi.  I’ll be tagging along with her and some of her friends on a trek through Rocky Mountain National Park.  Lots of hiking happening for this girl this year!

6.  We’re a week away from the 4th of July which means fireworks season has started.  That also means, of course, that my poor little Max’s nerves are on edge.  He is terrified of fireworks as you remember from our experiences during football season last year!  Honestly, he’s been doing really really well so far, but I know the explosions will just keep getting more frequent in the next week.  Buckle your seat belts!

7.  It looks like I won’t be making my 80 miles goal during the month of June.  I’ve been having some pain in my foot, and it’s been pretty painful.  It even flared up while we were doing Cavanal on Tuesday.  I’m not willing to jeopardize our backpacking trip so I’m laying off running until we get back.  I know that means a loss of running fitness, but, as long as I stay in good cardio shape otherwise, I think I can bounce back pretty fast.

8.  Ok, for the last few weeks I’ve been hinting at some changes I’d like to make to the blog.  I’m going to be completely honest here, but please remember that I am speaking specifically about my own blog and experience.

The Blend Retreat taught me something pretty important about myself and this little blog space of mine.  I came to realize over the course of that weekend one glaring fact.  I am NOT a healthy living blogger.

Let me explain.  When I first started my blog, largely the only blogs I was familiar with were healthy living blogs.  I knew next to nothing about the blog world so I tried to fit mine into the mold of the blogs I was reading, and I’ve continued to do that for the last year and a half. But here’s the deal-I don’t care about kombucha, I’ve never shopped at Lululemon, I kinda don’t like kale, and I really LOVE gluten.

I don’t mean to come off snarky or rude.  If your into that, great!  I’m simply saying that’s not me, and I don’t really want to write my blog in a certain way anymore because I’m trying to “fit in”.

So what do I see for the blog?  Well, the original concept of this space of mine was to talk about my extreme love for backpacking and get others inspired to love the outdoors as much as I do.  I’d like to get back to that concept.  I want to explore more topics relating to the outdoors, and truly become a resource for people who want to get out there as well.  Of course, I’ve also adopted running and Crossfit in the last year, and you can bet that those topics will come up pretty often as well!  And, don’t worry, there will still be posts about random stuff going on in my life mostly because I have family members that love to keep up with me this way!  So, in a nutshell, I’ll borrow a phrase from Heidi, and tell you that I want this to be an active living blog with an emphasis on living.  I hope you’ll stick around to see it all happen!

Do you consider yourself a healthy living blogger?  Any advice for not completely losing my running fitness in the next month?

Checking In

So as you can tell I am really enjoying my summer!  It seems like I’ve been going ninety to nothing since school got out which is why I’ve been a wee bit absent from the blog world.  I know you guys forgive me though, and, the good news is, I’ll have a ton of adventures to share.

Sunday I made a quick trip home to celebrate one of my very good friends.  She is expecting TWINS is just over a month, and a bunch of her nearest and dearest gathered to shower her with gifts and affection for her wee ones.  I didn’t realize until after I left the shower that I hadn’t snagged a single picture while I was there.  I was too busy visiting with friends that I don’t get to see nearly enough.  #bloggerfail

I drove back to Poteau yesterday afternoon with some pretty exciting cargo.

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Mom and Caite are spending a few days this week at our house, and I have a ton of stuff planned.  I’m dubbing it “Fitness Week” because it’s going to include running and a trip up Cavanal with our backpacks on.  I even took them to their very first Crossfit class yesterday!  Mom was skeptical, but they ended up really enjoying it and Caite even said she was drinking the Kool-Aid.

In other news, I know I promised you last week an update on some of the things that I’m wanting to do with this little Internet space of mine, and I swear I haven’t forgotten.  I’m trying to formulate exactly what I want to say and how I want to approach my new vision.  So patience, grasshopper!  In the mean time, stop back in to hear all about the adventures I take my company on this week.  I hope they want to come back when it’s all said and done!  Hope you’re week is off to a great start!

What summer adventures have you been taking part in?

5 Things I Learned At Blend

I decided not to recap the entire retreat because there is already a ton of great posts floating out there about all the fun things that happened during the Blend Retreat weekend.  I personally think you need to check out Marissa and Heidi’s thoughts on the weekend, but I may be biased.  I kinda like those girls!

Instead I thought I give you my takeaways in the form of one of my “5 Things I’ve Learned” posts.  I actually learned quite a lot in the space of three days, and I’m especially excited about what a few of those things mean for the blog.  So without further ado:

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1.  As  Anne of Green Gables would say,

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As you guys know, Heidi and I met up last year while I was in Colorado, but that was the only face to face we had had before this weekend.  Because I have major social anxiety, I have to admit I was little bit anxious to embark on a road trip with a virtual stranger.  My worries were for not.  Heidi and I clicked immediately, and there wasn’t a single lull in conversation the entire eight hours there and back.  I had so much fun hanging out with her all weekend, and I really feel like I’ve made a friend for life.  And I think she had an okay time with me too!

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2.  I love my Colorado girls.

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I was lucky enough to be in the “Colorado” room with Paige, Lauren, Marissa, and Heidi.  I made them give me honorary Colorado citizenship!  Between playing Cards Against Humanity with these crazy people, making sly snarky jokes all weekend, and generally just hanging out and getting to know one another, I loved spending time with these ladies.  Having the opportunity to spend time with them face to face absolutely made the entire weekend a worthwhile experience.

3.  I also really love trail running.

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When we first planned this weekend months ago, Heidi informed me that she was definitely taking me out on some of the trails around Park City.  I was a little nervous about this proposition as I am neither a gifted runner nor used to mountain altitude.  And it was rough!  Altitude is a serious consideration no matter what your doing in the mountains, but trying to run at 7,000 ft. was a humbling experience.  I managed to struggle through two miles both Saturday and Sunday morning, and, despite how challenging it was, I fell just a little bit in love with it.  Let’s just call my new fascination with trail running reason #874 to move to Colorado!

4. Cafe Rio is my new favorite restaurant.

If you’ve ever read Hungry Runner Girl’s blog, you have heard of Cafe Rio.  I am here to tell you that she was not exaggerating.  A group of use went to one for lunch on Saturday, and Heidi and I liked it so much that we stopped on the road somewhere in Wyoming to have it again on Sunday.  Seriously, give it a try if you have a chance!

5.  I want to take the blog in a different direction.

I know I’ve been impossibly vague on this subject in the last two posts, but I promise I have an entire one planned to explain my thought process later in the week.  Let’s just say that the Blend Retreat and conversations I had there made me realized what kind of blog I want to write, and I am excited about it!

The Blend Retreat was nothing like I expected it to be, and it was a really fun time.  I’m so glad I had the experience.  If any of you are interested in being a part of it next year, the retreat is moving back to it’s original location in Boulder, Colorado!  I know the organizers are already planning another great event so start planning to be there!

Do you prefer road running or trail running?  Ever been to Cafe Rio?

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