I’m Back! A recap of the past 9 months.

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As anyone still following this blog might be able to tell from my recent repost, I’m back. I had a falling out with blogging and the entire internet when I returned to Glacier and the open road this summer. Both driving and/or working 12 hours a day (I had plenty of both kinds of days) takes a toll on the body and the mind. I found it a struggle simply to keep up the personal journal I have for myself or even read, instead opting for 5-8 hours of sleep. Yes, for several weeks I had to choose between the two: it was tough.

But, enough excuses, and let’s move on to updates, shall we?  To begin, I have a special man in my life now. His name is Joshua, or JT, as I call him. We met in Glacier in 2013 but really hit it off this past summer. Within a week of my arrival, we were dating. He’s a native Texan, whose spent the last 5-6 years in Montana. And he’s 30. A bit of a leap for me (about a decade separates us) but he’s been nothing but a wonderful and positive addition to my life. 

Second thing thing you might be wondering: well where in the hell in the world are you now, Maddie? To answer that question: Seattle. I was accepted by the University of Washington and I am finishing up my degree in English there, where I hope to graduate by June of 2016.

Besides falling in love and going to school, what have I been up to? Since October I’ve been interning at a local law firm in Westlake, and well, it’s been alright. I applied because I wanted to learn about law, but the biggest thing I learned is that I’m totally not cut out for it! Office life is just totally not for me. I’ve also been interning as a research assistant for the author David Shields, who teaches creative writing at the UW.

The bottom line: I reworked my life from the bottom up. I threw away or donated many of my belongings before I left New Jersey, then spent 3.5 months cleansing my mind and saving money in Glacier. Seattle was a chance to start over and it’s been amazing. I’ve lost 15 pounds, have two amazing internships, and my relationship with JT is the healthiest kind of any relationship I’ve ever had.

So I apologize for the saccharine post, but I felt like I should establish that. I’ll be back for more environmental commentary and music writing soon.  

“Dubs” the UW mascot and I!

  

JT and I in front of a waterfall in Olympic National Park over winter break.

  

My handsome man in Cougar Mountain Park, an awesome greenspace East of Seattle. Review coming soon!

 

Weekly Rant: Living in the Age of Irony

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Interesting take on the hipster “irony.” I was glad to see the calling out of postmodernism and the intellectual elite… Not to say that they are bad, just simply part of problem.
As someone who feels criticized for being too earnest and not ironic or critical enough, especially when it comes to music, I appreciated this post.

Queerly Different

A couple of years ago, the always-inflammatorySalonran a piece entitled “The 15 Most Hated Bands of the Last 30 Years.” Included on the list were such hate-favourites as Nickelback (hatred of them has become so common as to be ubiquitous), but also many of the bands whose work came to define the sounds of the ’90s. Think Goo Goo Dolls, Dave Matthews Band, and Hootie and the Blowfish. Surprised to hear that they are the most hated band? So was I. But then again, in many ways I really wasn’t. Though I was incredibly annoyed at rediscovering this list a little over a week ago, I saw it as just another sign that we are indeed still living in “The Age of Irony.”

At first, I couldn’t quite figure out why the list annoyed me so much. Was it simply because they had listed the Goo…

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Adventures with Monty Day 1: Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountain National Park(s)

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Day 1 of my cross country road trip began at 6 am on May 13 in Sparta, New Jersey at my friend Janine Moody’s house. Janine accompanied me for a little over a week throughout the South, to the Hangout Music Festival, and to New Orleans before she flew out with another friend on May 21.

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Sorry Janine.

We left as the sun was still rising over this rural part of New Jersey, and it was a beautiful drive. Our first omen though? An aluminum beer can popped open and started spilling everywhere, so our first reaction was to shotgun it. Janine sprang to action, since I was going to be driving for the first few hours, and it was beautiful.

Believe it or not, with this behavior we made it as far as Gatlinsburg, Tennessee by that evening. It was a grueling 14 hour drive, but we ended up in the Elkton Campground inside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

We were actually able to hit up two national parks in one day, visiting Shenandoah National Park around 1 pm that day. “That’s ambitious,” said one of the rangers when I told him where I planned to be that night. And boy was it. We made it into the Elkton Campground in the Smokies around 9 pm that night. But it was not crowded at all, and Janine and I found a site in about 30 seconds, which was really nice. But don’t expect this all season long! This will start filling up around mid-July

Since most of this first day was driving, I’m going to provide a few photos below to give you all an idea of what we saw!

Transferring as an Undergraduate: Five Tips for Prospective Transfers

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Hey there! So I’ve mentioned briefly here that I am transferring from my school at Emerson College in Boston to either the University of Washington in Seattle or CU Boulder (I’m making my decision in June). As natural as a transition it may seem to people looking in at me, I can assure you it hasn’t been all butterflies and unicorns. It’s been hard, stressful work, and I’ve found that a lot of my friends and/or acquaintances have met me with some resentment, frustration, or confusion while adults have tried to convince me that I’m making the wrong decision. Luckily, the ones who have been most supportive have been my parents and I am definitely very grateful for that.

But I know that my process could have definitely been smoother, and that’s why I’ve put together a short list of tips and tricks for those students who might be thinking of transferring, or are already in the process of it. I’m including some long-distance specific items because I happen to be experiencing that sort of change, and I feel like it’s something people do not address often. 

1.) Keep Your List of Possible Schools Narrow

This transferring process is all about you: even more so than it was your senior year of high school. By now, you’re either nearing the end of your freshman or sophomore year, and you’ve learned more about your likes and dislikes. You don’t want this transfer experience to be as stressful as senior year. And I promise you it won’t be! Now that you know more about yourself, it’s going to be easy to pick just two to three schools to apply to. Similar to senior year, you will want a safety, a top choice, and either another top choice or a reach. For me, I applied to CU Denver, CU Boulder, and the University of Washington. Both Boulder and Washington were my two top choices. By doing this, I minimized application costs, and was able to focus more on my essays, which still count while you’re transferring. Your bank account and your sanity will thank you for this later.

2.) Know Your Program

Are you going to want to switch programs, or are you going to stay along a similar track? Either way, contact students in your chosen department and ask them questions about it. This should be pretty standard, as you’ve probably already gone through the process of choosing your program before. But do not skip this! It’s very important that you know as much as you can about the program. It also helps you field the questions family members are sure to throw at you about why you’re transferring.

3.) Plan in Advance… And Make It Fun

I’ve been telling people for a couple of weeks now that the best decision I’ve made is to road trip to my next school. Of course I’m working in Montana for three months this summer so there will be a significantly long pit stop along the way, but road tripping has made the process much more fun and exciting. But plan ahead! Save up and make reservations for campgrounds or motels in advance, save up money, and keep family and friends in the loop. What has helped me a lot on this road trip has been the hospitality of friends along the way. I am writing this while sitting at the kitchen table of friends of mine in Houston, TX. This will likely be one of your first solo road trips if you’re transferring, so having friends and staging points along the way will be helpful and also comforting! It’s also a great way to catch up with family that you haven’t seen in years. It’s a big life change, why not reconnect with long lost friends and family? Just give everyone you’re planning to visit about two weeks notice that you’ll be coming through.

4.) Consider Whether You Want to Bring Your Car

I’m moving to the West coast from the East during this transfer, and I know that there are lots of things that I am going to want to see in the West. Both Washington and Boulder have outdoorsy student populations, so I know I will be hiking and climbing a lot, and to be able to do that, I will need a car. Are you going to be in a city? Then leave the car at home, because finding an apartment with a parking space will be difficult, and paying for parking is going to be ridiculously expensive. Are you going to be at a larger campus with activities that are far away? Consider bringing your car, as it will bring you higher levels of confidence and independence. For me personally it feels good to do what I want, when I want. But be careful! Everyone who doesn’t have a car will then want to be your best friend, so choose who you give rides to wisely.

5.) Consider Travel Costs After You Move 

This can tie in to the fourth item above. If you are transferring a long distance, you might not be able to fly or drive home whenever you want to. You’re going to need to find places to stay during breaks, and choose economical times to visit home when you do decide to go back. That’s why I heavily recommend to anyone doing this long distance switch to bring a car. Driving a few hours to a friend or family member who can house you for a week is going to be cheaper and easier than flying home.

 

Bonus Tip: Are you going to want to visit your family often? Then save up. As much as your family tells you it’s fine and to come visit whenever you want, you won’t be racking up those frequent flier miles fast enough to make a difference to your family’s check book. Mom and Dad might even tell you that you have to pay for your next flight. Believe me, it’s happened.

 

In Conclusion: Transferring is so incredibly exciting! Especially if you are transferring a long distance away from home, this gives you a chance to enter your sophomore or junior year with a clean slate and a new starting block. I see this opportunity for me as one where I can finally grow up and become an adult. Where I transfer might be where I end up living for the few years after graduation.

Transferring is full of possibilities, the only thing required is that you plan accordingly to maximize your opportunities. Don’t be nervous, this is going to be a blast.

Life on the Road and In the South: Adventures with Monty

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Howdy!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Life has changed a bunch since I last posted, and I feel kind of guilty that I haven’t shared with you guys in a while. 

So where am I, you ask?

Well, I’m in Baton Rouge, Louisiana right now in a Starbucks with glorious air conditioning and coffee, which I haven’t had in a while. I’ve recently packed up my entire life in the back of my 1998 Mercury Mountaineer and hit the road with friends on a whirlwind tour of the country. My car, Monty, and I have already had some crazy adventures since I left Central New Jersey on May 13. I am queuing some posts right now to keep you guys entertained and interested, but they’ll also be relevant to my experiences. I’ll be discussing the topic of National Parks, Music, and transferring, as well as planning road trips and going to music festivals. Next up is going to be a post on tips for students transferring universities over long distances, like me!

Thanks for hanging tight, everyone! I’m excited to share my experiences with you!

Getting Ready: Hangout Festival 2014 in Gulf Shores, Alabama

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This year, my friends Janine, Zack, and I will be roadtripping through the South to Gulf Shores, Alabama, for Hangout Fest(ival) on May 15, 16, 17, and 18. We couldn’t be more excited! We’ll be volunteering, too, so our tickets will end up being absolutely free.

I have never been to a music festival, let alone volunteered at one, so I’m preparing for quite an awesome experience.

First, check out this year’s line up:Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 12.47.52 PM

And we’ve got the kickoff party, too, which we’re pretty psyched about.Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 12.48.00 PM

 

So get ready for some festival and roadtrip blogging! We’ll be hitting up as many state/national parks as possible during our trip, and seeing as many bands between volunteer shifts.

Bands that we’ll be keeping an eye out for:

  • Iron & Wine

I saw Iron & Wine in New York right after Sam Beam released his “Kiss Each Other Clean” album. Since he’s been really into arranging with bigger bands, I think the festival vibe will be perfect for him. Though admittedly I couldn’t care less about his latest album, which is kind of sad.

  • Wolfmother

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been to a hard rock show. This should just be a ton of fun. Plus, they’re Australian, and who doesn’t love a band of Aussies?

  • St. Paul and the Broken Bones

They’re my favorite new band, and kind of the reason that I’m going to this festival in the first place. This band is getting a lot of new press, and was named one of SXSW’s top bands to look out for. I’ll be counting down the days/hours/minutes until I get to see them.

  • Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

I love me some jazz, and I think Trombone Shorty is making it cool again. I also used to play trumpet, so I’m a sucker for brass instruments.

  • Fitz and the Tantrums

I started listening to F & T because I thought they had a cool band name, and kept listening because they’re unlike any band I’ve heard. Their mix of indie-pop and R&B that culminates in neo-soul is artistic and fun at the same time. I also have faith that they will attract quite a good crowd at this festival.

  • The 1975

These guys are my pop music guilty pleasure. My 16 year old sister introduced me to them, and I’m pretty sure “Sex” has 50+ plays logged on my Last.fm. I think they have a lot going to for them, and they’re one of the Top 40 bands that I think I’ll be interested in come their second album.

And of course, there’s The Killers and The Black Keys. As headliners, the crowd for both will be kind of rowdy. But who cares? I’ve never seen either band live (a sin, I know).

Stay tuned for reviews of these performances, road tripping updates, and a Nickel Creek concert review coming up May 2nd!

Music Recommendation of the Week: Words Like Earth

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Last night, on an assignment for WERS I covered S. Carey’s show at the Great Scott. I went in not knowing anything about the openers, however, and I was in for a really pleasant surprise.

The first act was Words Like Earth, a solo acoustic act of Boston University student Tanner Connolly. I’ll be honest, when I first saw Connolly take the stage, I was distracted by his sweatshirt which read “Montana Grizz” and his waterbottle, which had all manner of National Park stickers as well as a few from Patagonia. Immediately I was thinking he was my kind of guy, if he had actually picked up the sweartshirt from Montana, and not from the Buffalo Exchange down the street. As he was tuning my whole mind was distracted by an evaluation of his “authenticity.” Whoops.

But what came afterwards blew all my expectations of him out of the water. His simple acoustic fingerpicking gave way to a crystal clear voice that floated effortlessly into higher octaves. The first song he performed was called “Rookery.” Connolly has the gift of a crystal clear voice that floats effortlessly into high octaves. But he can also sing in a more natural, lower octave and surprise the crap out of you while he does it.

A couple other songs that I thought worth a mention were “The Belfry” and “Sojourn,” the second of which is available to listen on Words Like Earth’s Soundcloud.

The catch of all of this though, is that Connolly doesn’t have an album out yet. But, you can help fix that. The musician has a Kickstarter for this solo project, and hopes to raise $3,000 in order to record his debut album. He’s at about the $1,200 marker right now, with 5 days left. I even donated $20, and I’m a cheapskate!

C’mon, if Veronica Mars can raise 2 mil, Connolly can raise 3k. Help him out.

 

As a little treat, here is a HQ recording of Connolly performing “The Belfry”

Belle Isle Salt Marsh: Are We There Yet?

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Way back in February, when there was still ice on the ground and misery in the frozen, Boston air, I took a trip to the Belle Isle Salt Marsh at the end of the MBTA Blue Line. And then I wrote a bit about it.

For a while, I’ve been quietly researching and scoping out this little independent ecosystem within Boston, which is managed in part by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

I’ve interviewed Matt Nash and Geoff Wood of the DCR, as well as attended a Boston Natural Areas Network, made connections with the Friends of Belle Isle Group including Gail Miller and Dani Foley, and reached out the the BNAN’s program manager, Candice Cook, for more information.

It’s been a long and tiring road since February, and I’ve learned a lot about myself and about the marsh since I made that first trip out there. I just wanted to share a few interesting facts and other tidbits that I’ve encountered along the way. In part, to act as a status update on my progress with this project, as well as a little selfish reminder to me in the future, that I did, in fact, gain a lot from my research.

The most interesting little fact that I learned in my research had to do with the casino that is being developed in Revere, less than a tenth of a mile from Belle Isle. Plans for the casino originally developed in the fall with Caesars Entertainment, but that agreement was cut off and transferred to Mohegan Sun after it was discovered that Caesars had connections with Russian mobsters and had sponsored a visa for an professional hit man. I’m not joking.

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Rendered plans of the new Mohegan Sun Resort in Revere, MA.

Now, plans are going forward with Mohegan Sun, but environmental groups are more than concerned. I interviewed interested parties from the Friends of Belle Isle group and was able to get my hands on a couple of environmental reviews that they had a hired consultant do. Turns out Mohegan Sun has already been trying to cut corners.

Caesars had already conducted an environmental review for the plans they had to build. When Mohegan Sun came in, they tried to use the same environmental review that Caesars had already paid for and conducted, despite the fact that there were vast differences between the two plans:

  • Mohegan Sun’s plans include a 1.66 million square foot parking garage, whereas Caesars had plans for limited underground parking.
  • Mohegan Sun plans to add an additional 43,757 square feet of Land Subject to Coastal Storm Flowage, and as the review points out “in an increase of nearly 15% from the previous Caesars project.”
  • Mohegan Sun plans to add 22% more hotel rooms
  • There are also plans to increase square footage dedicated to retail by 240%
  • And probably the most offensive: Mohegan Sun, because it moved all of its development into the Revere town lines, will “not be performing a microscale and stationary source analysis [for Air Quality] because the project is no longer located in Boston.”

The casino, while it cannot be stopped, can definitely try a little bit harder to be more eco friendly. It has a long way to go.

Concert Review: Hurray for the Riff Raff at The Sinclair, April 5 2014

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I’ve had a great stroke of luck recently in that I’ve been able to see four shows in the last two weeks, and let me say, it’s been pretty damn awesome. And recently I had the privilege of being able to see one of my personal favorites, Hurray for the Riff Raff, a New Orleans based outfit led by the wonderful gyspy-esque singer Alynda Lee Segarra.

Earlier in the day, I was actually able to sit down and talk to Alynda Lee during a session at WERS FM, the radio station that I work at in downtown Boston (making me feel even more lucky). I also was able to listen in while she recorded a 3 song set with her band in the studio, which she kicked off with “The New SF Bay Blues.” The fifth track off of her latest album and also the first song she played at The Sinclair.

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Interviewing Alynda Lee and trying to look cool and not too in love with her.

Entering under a single, yellow spotlight, Alynda Lee stepped out timidly on to the stage and introduced her self quietly, quickly plunging into the song. I was struck by the immediate silence that held the room. The only sound you could hear was Alynda and her acoustic guitar, working together:

“I got the blues from my baby left me by the San Francisco Bay/ Said I got the blues from my baby left me by the San Francisco Bay/ And there was nothing I could do or say/ Or just hang my head and slowly walk away.”

By opening both her session at WERS and her concert like this, I noticed that Segarra has a strategy here. By placing emphasis on this song, which happens to be a love ballad, but also with lines about female empowerment and self discovery, Segarra is introducing herself. She sets up her voice, her attitude, and personality in about four minutes.

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Segarra opening with “The New SF Bay Blues.”

 

Next up was “Blue Ridge Mountain,” a traveling song as well as a foot stomper. This is my personal favorite, as it uses all of the talents available to Segarra’s band: in addition to her guitar and banjo picking skills, Segarra supplements her sound with a fiddle player and upright bass.

 

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Hurray for the Riff Raffs Yosi Pearlstein on fiddle during a killer solo.

After playing “Look Out Momma,” the title track from the band’s third album released in 2012, Segarra engaged in a little audience interaction. In many ways, I was surprised by her humble nature and reluctant smiles that gave way to shining grins. And in many ways I wasn’t. The singer grew up in the Bronx with her aunt, and at the age of 17 decided that she wasn’t where she was meant to be. She took a Greyhound to Philly, then headed out to San Francisco for a bit, before traveling around and landing in New Orlean’s 9th Ward. She’s seen a lot, and done a lot. And maybe, this is why she is humble. Some would react the opposite way. But for a girl who admitted to me that “poetry saved her life” during her middle and high school years, I can see travel making her in fact, more tender and more loving, and even more expressive. Plainly said, this was such a joy to watch.

Before plunging into “Slow Walk” from the album Young Blood Blues, Segarra said “This is for all you dreamers out there. We’ve chosen not to give up on this dream and it’s worked out pretty well.” What I appreciated was that this simple statement was not affected at all. It just melted my heart.

After warming up with a few serious tunes, Segarra lightened the mood with “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright).” I couldn’t help but giggle when strumming out the first few chords Segarra posed as an afterthought: “This is a love song… but it might get you into some trouble.”

It’s tempting to write about every single song that the band played, as each took on a different tone and I could tell that each number had a different significance not only to Segarra, but to her band members as well. But “The Body Electric” is one that cannot go without being mentioned. When I first paid attention to the lyrics, I was blown away by the story. And when Segarra explained it to me, I was enlightened and amazed by her ability to incorporate over 150 years of tradition into less than three minutes.

The first thing that popped into my mind was Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric” a beautiful poem that celebrates the human form, both male and female (Whitman was pretty on top of gender equality and injustice of slavery, and I love him dearly for that).  “I thought that naming it “The Body Electric” was really fitting, because “I Sing the Body Electric” is such a great poem about how all human bodies are important,” Segarra explained. But it’s also influenced by her genre, one notorious for it’s dark and mysterious murder ballads, which Segarra points out almost universally feature women as the victims of the murder.

“Our song, “The Body Electric” is about putting humanity into these characters in our music tradition. These women who are getting murdered, I feel like we really detach from them. And we kind of take away from their humanity, so that’s me putting that humanity back into them,” Segarra said.

The song was a gentle one, full of tenderness and remorse for both the women of the stories, and those every day who suffer violence at the hands of their lovers, or even strangers. Segarra addresses a woman in the song, but in doing so, is addressing every woman who has ever suffered, and it’s beautiful:
“I said my girl what happened to you now?/ I said my girl we gotta stop this some how.”

Below is a wonderful recording from WNYC’s “Soundcheck” program featuring Segarra and Pearlstein.

Hurray for the Riff Raff closed down with a sing along, stomp along version of “Little Black Star,” the first track from the Look Out Mama album. On the album, the energy is subdued a bit, but during the performance, Segarra et. al gave it all they had.

I left the night feeling soothed and like a piece of me had been put back into place. Hurray for the Riff Raff’s music is a lullaby to the broken, the bruised, and the out of place; music that can sing you to sleep where both sorrow and joy can exist side by side in peace.

On Hiking and Saying “Yes”: The Final Joshua Tree Post

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Here it is: the last post about my experience in Joshua Tree. My time there was a weeks in which so much happened that it felt much longer than 7 days. In this case, a month’s worth of activity that wouldn’t even happen to me in a month of living in Boston happened every single day.

Friday, my last full day in the park, was no exception. Except this time, all of the action, all of the beauty, all the excitement — it all happened before 7 am.

On Friday, I woke up at the cheery time of 3 am, probably when all the partiers of the night were passing out in their beds, flicking out the lights, and leaving the valley below where we were camped virtually unlit.

After shoving a tasteless, stale bagel in my mouth, stripping off my sweatpants in favor of a pair of shorts, and throwing on my pack, I took off with the group of 11 brave souls to go see if I couldn’t find myself a proper desert sunrise.

I’ve never hiked in the dark voluntarily. Usually it scares the sh*t out of me (pardon the language) because if I’m hiking in the dark, it means I’m getting back a little too late from a day hike. And if I get lost, I have about 8 hours to wait before it gets light out again.

But hiking in the morning darkness offers a different kind of heart pounding exhilaration, knowing that your enjoyment of the true pitch dark may only last for an hour or less before the sun starts to lighten the sky.

All concerns of possibly running into coyotes, snakes, or anything dangerous went out the window when we looked up at the sky, and noticed that we could see the entire Milky Way. Once we realized what we were looking at, no one would shut up.  I have never been around a group of people so happy to be awake at 3 in the morning, and after that we practically ran up the incline that took us through Black Rock Canyon and the ridge that overlooks the desert.

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The above are a few photos I snapped before and during the sunrise we watched once we reach the top of one ridge. It gave a 360 degree view of the desert, an overlook of 3 different populated areas and 2 snowcapped peaks (which I couldn’t identify). We reached the top around 5:30, and the sun rose at about 5:45. We were on our way back to camp by 6:15 am.

I haven’t done anything that was so worth the effort in so long — in its entirety the hike was about 6 miles. It’s wonderful when you commit to a hike (especially with an early call time) and and discover that it was better than you could have ever imagined.

My motto for this trip was to try anything and everything I could. That meant saying YES to everything. Wrapping up the day before with a sunset hike and then beginning the last day of the week watching the sunrise with new friends… what an experience that was.

Pardon the navel gazing, but I think we’re all allowed a bit of that on here once in a while. And hopefully it will inspire some of you to say “yes” to new experiences more often!