Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sara in Colorado: Day 6

I've been home for almost a week, but there are still a few awesome things from Colorado I want to share with you...

Day 6: The Big Hike

My mom and I both signed up for an 11 mile all day hike to Black Lake.  It was a gorgeous morning and we left promptly at 8am to head into the Rocky Mountain National Park to find our trailhead with the rest of our group and our fearless leader, Amy.

The neat thing about this hike was that as you hiked you came across several natural wonders.  First up was Alberta Falls.

 What a cute mother daughter duo!

Once we were past the falls the real hike began.  And after a couple of miles we came to Mills Lake, which was gorgeous as you can see.

One of the more interesting things about this hike is that in November of 2011 a wind burst had come into the valley and at estimated 80mph winds tore up the landscape.  In the next few pictures you can see how wood split, trees were uprooted, and how many trees had to be cut to clear the trail for hikers.

I forgot to take a picture but a mile or so past Mills Lake we came upon Jewel Lake that really was a jewel tone green and very serene. It was after Jewel Lake that the rain started, and at one point hail.  Well, our hike leader called it something else, but it was icy and it stung the tops of my legs as I hiked.  We were told if there was lightening we would have to turn around due to the risk.  About a mile and a half from our destination a huge crack of lightening lit up the sky followed immediately by a boom of thunder.  We were given the signal and turned around in our tracks and back tracked about half a mile.  We sought cover under some trees once we were lower down and ate our lunches in the rain.  This was my least favorite part of the hike.  Finally the rain let up and some sun peeked through so we continued towards Black Lake.  There, just before reaching the lake we came upon....

ELK!  There were two females and two babies, who are harder to see in these pictures.  They were just calmly eating.  As you can see the one is tagged.  There is an overpopulation of Elk in the park and they follow some to check birth rates and other information.  

The closer we got to Black Lake the more beautiful the scenery became.  We were in between many mountains and could see water flowing down and patches of snow.  Simply gorgeous.

Finally we had made it to the lake but we didn't stay long.  Because when we turned around we saw more ominous looking clouds and didn't want to risk a storm.

Dark skies in one direction....

perfect weather in the other...

I was very happy to make it to the top! 

As we hiked back down I stopped to take some pictures of the splintered wood.  I loved the color and the textures it created.

At times on the hike we had to walk on beams of wood to avoid messing up the land.  Here I am with some of our group!

Finally back at Mills lake, our hike leader Amy had us all take our shoes and socks off and soothe our feet in the ice cold water.  Very refreshing.  But it started to rain again so we had to go finish the last few miles.

This is where I got cocky.  I felt the "old folk" were moving too slow so I took off, walking fast, and running down the rest of the trail.  Of course I inadvertently took the wrong trail to the parking lot and ended up adding an extra .6 miles to my journey.  Whoops!  My knees and ankles were NOT happy campers the next day.

That night was the first Family Summit Talent Show and it was AMAZING.  We're truly a multi-talented group.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sara in Colorado: Day 5

July 10th, was the fifth day of my trip and my first difficult hike.  The West Creek Falls hike, while only 4 miles round trip, had an elevation gain of a full 1,300 feet!  I embarked with a group of about 15 a little after 8am and took a van to the trail head.  I travelled with two spanish speaking ladies, and two interpreters Fernando and Tracy.

Immediately upon starting the hike it was clear there were two groups of hikers.  Those of us who were under 50 and those who were over.  Not to be ageist but, I think the steep incline proved to be more difficult than our older crowd had suspected.  I was with the "fast" group, but was decidedly the slowest of them in the uphill portions.  It was a beautifully sunny day and it felt nice to have the warmth of the sun on our backs as we hiked.  I spent a lot of time speaking with Fernando and his wife Tracy.  They were a very interesting and fun couple.

Eventually we came to a stream.  After crossing the stream we noticed there was a partial elk skeleton in a pile on the bank.  It was missing the lower jaw and ribs from what we could tell, and had definitely been there fore awhile.

Finally we reached our destination, the falls.  The view wasn't as spectacular as I had hoped, but it was a peaceful spot where I sat and talked with the "fast" group a bit.  I also shared my elk salami I had purchased the night before!  Tasty! We then headed back down, and our group headed back to have lunch.  Overall a good hike, but more adrenaline than scenic.

Again this hike wiped me out and I spent the rest of the day relaxing back at the YMCA of the Rockies.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sara in Colorado: Day 4

Day 4 (July 9th) was rock climbing day.  For those of you who know me you know I have a relatively intense fear of heights yet every year I challenge myself to confront this fear head on and attempt either rock climbing or a high ropes course or both.  This year my good friend Matt who I've known since approximately 1999 was the rock climbing instructor along with his climbing buddy Nick and was assisted by another long time friend, James.

We were climbing on these beautiful red and orange toned rocks.  The boys had set up our ropes on two opposing walls and it was simply put, gorgeous.  Matt and Nick were great at explaining how to tie our own ropes to our harnesses and teaching us how to belay- that is, how to be the person making sure the climber doesn't fall if they slip while on the rock.

Before I knew it it was my turn.  I had my climbing shoes on, my harness, and my helmet; I was ready to go.  I looked at James, who was belaying me and stated, "on belay?"  He calmly replied, "belay on."  I continued our climbing communication, "climbing?" "Climb on" came the response and I was officially on the rock wall.  The thing about rock climbing is, as a spectator, you see all these cracks and ridges and holds for a climber's hands and feet but when you are right there, face to face with the wall it feels impossible.  But it's not.

I slowly began carefully placing my hands and feet on the wall while continually asking James to keep tension on my rope.  I was soon up a few feet and to my surprise felt extremely comfortable on the wall.  My muscles weren't tight, my hands weren't cramping, and my legs weren't shaking.  I hadn't started freaking out.  I was suddenly hit with this feeling that I really could make it!  I continued up until I hit an area of difficulty.

As I paused to assess my options I heard my friends yelling their encouragement and offering their suggestions.  I hoisted my leg up- using my long legs to their full advantage and surpassed the smooth section of rock before me.  I was within two feet or so of the top of the rope but I had moved several feet off to the side from it.  Not about to stop so close to my goal I edged my way, hugging the rock, to the area directly under the carabiners that were holding my ropes.  Another step or two up and BAM my hand reached up and slapped the carabiners!  I had made it.  Insisting upon proof, I had my friends snap a few pictures of me!  It was amazing, I was so comfortable on the rock that I was able to chill at the top enjoying the view and posing.

I'm sure you've all heard the saying... "What goes up, must come down."  After I reached the top, posed for my pictures, and enjoyed the view it was time to get back down!  I told James, my belayer, that I was ready and he reminded me to place my feet flat on the rock wall and to sit back.  This was probably the most nerve-wracking, but it was fun too and I was able to back myself all the way down to firm ground.

Phew, I was finally done.  Or so I thought.  The boys had other ideas for me... scary ideas... like walking backwards off of the side of a cliff.  (That is, repelling.)  I tried to avoid it, but feeling a bit enthusiastic after the best climb of my life I agreed to it.  

First, I had to scramble over a bunch of rocks to get to the top.  Then I hooked into a horizontal line as I edged along the cliff to the repelling station.  Lastly, I received my instructions on how to lower myself slowly to the ground.  After getting strapped in Nick told me I could start.  It was such a weird feeling to me to walk backwards towards the edge of this rock wall and start going backwards.  Once I was on the wall it wasn't nearly as scary since it was a lot like coming back down after climbing.  

And with that, my rock climbing experience for this summit was over.  I was so proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and really not freaking out!  There is a first for everything.

But what do you follow rock climbing with?  Other than a quick rest in my hotel room I followed it with.... A SQUARE DANCE!   Every summer we square dance at the Family Nature Summit and it is a great time!  I threw on my "country" outfit and headed out on the dance floor with my friends!

We partnered up and do-si-do'ed, promenaded, and generally had a great time.  It was actually a pretty decent workout as well.  If you ever get the chance, definitely go to a square dance.

As you can see Day 4 of my Colorado adventure was chock full of excitement... but there's so much more to come.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sara in Colorado: Day 2-3

Day 2 and we were still in Fort Collins.  We took our time having breakfast, hanging out with my aunt and uncle, and gathering the supplies we were borrowing from them for our week of hiking and other activities up in Estes Park.  Finally we got our stuff together and began the drive up up up several more thousand feet!

I'd forgotten how many twists and turns the road into Estes contained.  Surrounded on either side with walls of rock that shimmered in the sun (I'm thinking from mica) and following a flowing river we continued our journey.  There were several signs that had symbols for mountain goat crossings but no matter how much I looked I couldn't find any.

We arrived at the Y and checked in rather painlessly and I began my favorite part of the Summit, greeting all my friends I hadn't seen in a year!  These people have truly become family to me and it is just as exciting now at 28 as it was at age 12 to see my friends again!  After 17 years I can't imagine not attending one of these events.  

It was chilly and rainy and cloudy up at the Y but I really liked the view.  I don't think this picture truly captures how literally in the clouds we were but it really was beautiful.

Day 3 was the first full day of the Family Nature Summit!  I decided to start my week of easily with a four mile hike to a visitor's center in Rocky Mountain National Park.  We crossed streams, saw wildlife, and beautiful scenery.  It was the perfect hike to start the week with!

There's a deer sitting in there, smack dab in the middle- can you find him?
After my morning hike I was much more exhausted than I'd planned.  I think the altitude had finally caught up with me and I was forced to lay down instead of going to a lecture I had planned on attending.  Upon awaking though I felt much better and was able to spend some quality time with my friends.

Stay tuned for rock climbing, wine tasting, and much much more!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sara in Colorado: Day 1

I'm on vacation in Colorado.  Sara in Cleveland has become Sara in Colorado for the next 10 days.  My adventure began yesterday morning...

Traveling with my parents can be a true trial of patience, more specifically traveling with my father.  Our family travels, quite a bit.  I travel more than the rest but my parents have certainly flown in recent years.  However to the casual observer no one would have guessed that about my dad.

As we are standing in the slow moving security line my dad starts asking me... Do I have to take my belt off? (yes)  Do I have to empty everything from my pockets? (yes)  What about my phone, my watch, etc etc.  Then several more minutes pass and he suddenly goes, "Do you have to take your liquids out?"  I was so very frustrated explaining that yes you have to take your liquids out, they're supposed to be in one ziplock baggie, and yes eye drops, bug spray, and lotions all count as liquids.  Miraculously we made it through, I didn't have an anxiety attack, and my parents weren't held for questioning.

Originally all assigned seats in different areas of the plane the lady at the desk was able to put my mom and dad together in a row two ahead of me.  Then once on the plane they needed to shuffle people and lucky me- I ended up sitting with my parents.  We all were in the emergency exit row which usually costs extra because there was so much leg room.  (To all my tall friends- it might be worth the extra $20 or however much.)  It was now that Dad struck again.  When the steward came by to ask if in case of emergency we were able to help our fellow passengers Dad responds with "I hope so, guess we'll see" instead of a "yes."  The steward was not amused and told my father he had to read the pamphlet and decide if he actually could or not.

The flight went smooth and our baggage was ready and waiting for us at baggage claim.  At the Denver airport I was really impressed by the friendly senior citizens in western garb who were there to provide information and directions.  One nice woman directed us towards the right carousel at baggage claim and another man told us about the rental car company and toll roads and gave us directions.  It was just one of those extra perks that made traveling that much more enjoyable.

We rented our car from Enterprise and I don't have much to say about it other than I felt the girl taking care of us, Sara(h), was very efficient and knowledgeable.  She gave advice about which car to take and had us on the road in no time.  We were off to Northern Colorado to see my dad's sister and family in Fort Collins.

It's been years since I've seen my cousin and her husband and children.  We had a lot of fun catching up for a short bit and playing with the dog.  Her daughters have gotten so big and were so social I was impressed.  I'd never met her 2 year old son and he was absolutely a ball of adorable energy that was hilarious to watch.
So adorable, and grown up!

To end our night we headed out to the Charco Broiler which is apparently a well respected restaurant for steak.  We met up with my friend Thomas who I met 9 years ago in Maine and have stayed in contact with over the years.  Dinner was good, my steak was the most oddly shaped piece of meat- picture a 3inx3in cube.  It was tasty and the fries were really good.  I think my dad might have had a bit of altitude sickness though.

After dinner Thomas came back to my aunt's house to see the view and to catch up some more.  I wasn't sure what it'd be like seeing someone in person again after all that time, but it was really fun.  I always enjoy talking as I'm sure most of you know and it seemed he was willing to listen.

My Canoe Guide: Thomas
So far this trip has been great.  I haven't had any altitude sickness yet so I'm trying to remember to hydrate and to get rest.  (The fact that I started writing this at around 7am local time may indicate otherwise.)  

Later today we check into the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park and the 2012 Family Nature Summit will commence.  I'm so excited to see my old friends, make some new ones, and get some fresh mountain air.  I hope to be blogging regularly throughout the week so check back!

Life Changes

I wrote this post several weeks ago but apparently forgot to post it... so here it is now.

I made a big decision official on Wednesday.  I informed my workplace that the next 17 days are my last, and I will not be returning next school year.  I believe whole heartedly that this is the right decision for me.  However, it was a far from easy decision to make.

I LOVE my coworkers.  I really do.  They are dedicated and intelligent and so good at what they do.  Not just the ones in my classroom, but throughout our entire building.  I have made many friends and have people every day checking in on me to see how I'm doing and asking to help.  I enjoy many many aspects of the job I have, but unfortunately for me, there is no real room for growth for me unless I get a counseling or special education license, and neither makes sense for me currently.

6 weeks from now I will be 50% done with my Masters degree coursework.  By attending John Carroll full time next year I can finish by May.  My schedule will be such that I can substitute teach several days a week and get my face into districts I really want to work in.  Upon graduation I can apply to adjunct at local community colleges as well as continuing to apply for full time High School English jobs.  This is the path I have to take.

The sense of relief I have from making my intentions known is great.  My leaving may open up opportunities for others in my school.  But I am still sad.  And, I can admit, scared.  What if this doesn't work out the way I want.  What if I don't get enough sub jobs and can't find a decent part time job that works with my schedule?  I have to trust my gut and stick with the choice I've made.

To any Phoenix people reading this- I appreciate each and every one of you and will miss you greatly.  Don't be surprised if I come and visit.