Last Monday, I celebrated 30 successful years on this Earth. Which, as I’m sure everyone feels when they turn 30, feels completely nuts. How the heck am I already 30?! And then I stop to think about all that I’ve done in the past 30 years – even just the last 10! – and I feel like 30 is an appropriate age.
On recent birthdays, I’d lamented that I didn’t even FEEL like I should be turning 26, 27, 28, that I still felt like I was years younger. And that was probably true.
But these days, I feel much more ‘adult’ about life thanks to things like: buying a car with my husband, working for a high growth tech company and growing/evolving as a manager of an expanding team, working remotely for said company, moving across the country to support Alex’s dream of earning his MBA, celebrating the marriages of so many friends and family and most recently, excitedly welcoming babies! The past couple of years in particular have had a lot of growing and stretching which has made me realize that I am very much an adult. (Maybe being the single source of income for our family has something to do with feeling like a responsible adult, too. #sugarmama)
Birthdays, like the new year, lend itself to reflection on the past and what the future will bring. I can’t help but think about what the next decade holds: Alex’s MBA graduation, settling down in a hopefully more-permanent location, probably buying a house, likely expanding our family (Alex already agreed to a new fur child when we find our next home!), maybe dancing at weddings for a sibling or two or all, definitely buying my youngest sister a beer on her 21st birthday.
THIRTY feels like such a big number but really, I feel content. (6 months ago? Not content. Today? Content.) We’re almost halfway through this MBA journey and are looking ahead to ‘the rest of our lives.’ It’s stressful but also exciting. I’m ready to not be in limbo, to not move nearly every year from apartment to apartment, to have a place to grow a garden, to have money for a big vacation. I’m excited about the next decade and undoubtedly looking back, thinking, Holy cow! Look at everything we did in the last 10 years!
This year, I woke up on my birthday in Oregon with Alex visiting a couple of our favorite people. How unlikely and completely amazing is it to have Couple Besties where both genders are best friends, too? We couldn’t have been luckier that the universe crossed our paths in Wilderness Trekking School in Denver.
We spent our time in Bend, OR hiking to giant waterfalls, trail running in national forests, dropping our jaws at Smith Rock, skiing on a VOLCANO! and – most importantly – laughing/lounging/hugging/savoring every moment with our friends. (We also cheers-ed Alex locking down a killer internship during our trip! More to come but we’re both pretty psyched about our summer plans.)
I couldn’t have imagined a better way to ring in 30 than with a few of my favorite people, playing outside in a beautiful place. Looking forward to the new adventures ahead in the upcoming year and beyond.
…relaxing in a condo room in Vegas, on the strip, with one of my best friends. Tonight, we’re going to the Britney Spears show at Planet Hollywood but not before brunch, pampering, a fancy dinner and toasting at Chandelier Bar. A girls weekend with friends and my sister who lives in Vegas is just what my soul needed.
…gearing up for a lot of fun travel in the coming weeks. From Vegas to Oregon to Mexico to Denver, I am so, so excited to travel to new places and see some of my favorite people.
…enjoying PTO days! As I put together my Out of Office items for my team this week, I realized I haven’t taken a PTO day since September. Which is just crazy. That’s 5.5 months! Of course, I’ve had company holidays off, like everyone else, but to have a day or two off for just me? It has been too long!
…ignoring the fact that I turn 30 in a couple of weeks. I mean, WUT. How is it even possible?! I’m not having ‘OMG NO!’ feelings, just surprised it’s already here. A lot has happened in this past decade and I’m certain there will be many huge milestones in the next decade..it’s just crazy to finally feel like an adult.
…feeling in limbo. Despite the short term travel, I’m anxious to nail down what my summer and 2017 will hold. Being the wife of a grad school student forces me to be patient and flexible…which is something this planner struggles with.
…making a last ditch effort to accomplish at least one of my February goals. This month, I’d said I would:
buy no GT’s Kombucha (so good but so expensive; fail)
read one book (started a book, hoping to make a big dent this weekend! Not yet a fail)
do one creative thing (decided that registering for a creative class will count, even if the class happens in March; not yet a fail)
sell GMAT books and a dress (haven’t even listed GMAT books, dress is on eBay with no bidders; mostly fail)
For the first time in a few years, Alex and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving in Cincinnati with our families this year as it’s a short 4.5 hour drive from Pittsburgh. While living in Denver, we usually decided to spend Thanksgiving in Denver and travel home only for Christmas due to limited PTO and crazy expensive flights into CVG.
So what did we do for Thanksgiving in Colorado? We spent one Thanksgiving celebrating ourselves (our first Thanksgiving dinner as a married couple!) and spent the next two with our fellow displaced, mountain-loving friends who organized a backcountry hut trip! As much as we missed being at home with our families, Alex and I loved spending our holiday weekend in the mountains with friends.
But let’s back up. What IS a hut trip, right?! Good question!
Hut trips are the best. Throughout the Colorado mountains, there are a series of hut systems that were borne out of backcountry skiers and mountaineers looking for a way to extend their playtime in the in the winter wilderness in the 1940s and 50s. The largest system, 10th Mountain Division Huts, includes 34 huts and more than 350 miles of suggest trails – several of the huts are close enough to travel between (Green Wilson/Tagert + Lindley, for example) to offer great ski touring options.
Huts usually sleep 10-16 people and require a hike in. Hut trippers will reserve their dates online (many dates now are on a lottery system because of the popularity of hut trips), note the number of people in their group and cross their fingers to get the dates/hut they prefer. Our groups always had 16 people but smaller groups can still make a reservation and will share the hut with another group to book out the hut.
Many hut trippers with AT skis or split boards (snowboard that splits into 2 skis) choose to ‘skin’ up the trail vs. snowshoeing. Skinning feels like Nordic Trekking up a mountain but allows for playtime once the hut tripper arrives at the hut – pull off the skins from your skis, reattach your board and you’ve got touring and downhill fun!
But we snowshoed into the hut, carrying our gear, Thanksgiving dinner and ‘mountain margarita’ ingredients on our backs and in sleds pulled behind us. For some people, this was their first back country experience so not everyone had the gear required to skin into the hut.
This trek into Ben Eiseman Hut from Spraddle Creek Trailhead is not for the faint of heart. It’s a 7 mile hike which feels like eternity with a 50 lb pack on your back. The majority of this hike journeys through rolling meadows and and tricks you into thinking it will be an easy finish. But it’s not. The last 2 miles of are intense switchbacks with significant elevation gain. After already snowshoeing for 6 hours, these last 2 miles feel like literal death. And as the sun is setting and the air is getting colder? Even more discouraging.
(One note: because this group had a few inexperienced folks, we chose Ben Eiseman Hut for it’s lack of avalanche danger; always check CAIC before you venture out in the backcountry but getting to/from Eiseman is an avy free zone.)
But we made it! We found the hut!
Those of us who arrived at the hut first began warming the hut and a few even ventured back to grab packs and relieve those still on the trail.
As you can see, the hut was very spacious and include a number of ‘glamping’ amenities like solar powered lights, a wood burning stove, a sink, outhouses, beds and pillows, books and games. Most (all?) of the huts in the 10th Mountain Division include the same amenities. It’s a perfect trip for anyone who loves to have a fun weekend. Sure, there is sweat equity in the hike but once you’re at the hut? It’s pure mountain house enjoyment.
Because it was Thanksgiving night, we immediately set to making/reheating our Thanksgiving fixings: turkey, sweet potatoes, salad, mashed potatoes and more. Oh, and bacon. We brought at least 12 pounds of bacon on this hut trip, between the 16 attendees. 1 year later and my clothes still have a bacon stench baked in.
Let’s chat food for a hot second. How do you carry in food for a hut trip?!
Our group leaders decided 2-3 people would be responsible for breakfasts and dinners – planning/bringing ingredients, prepping and serving; lunches were on your own (Alex and I brought salami, cheese and tortillas – standard Petre family trail lunch). For Thanksgiving dinner, we split up the different components and each person brought one piece of the meal to share. It worked out perfectly; everyone was invested in the meal and contributed and it was so delicious after 8+ hours of snowshoeing up a mountain.
Thanksgiving night, we ate and retired early to bed but the next morning, we all arose, ready to enjoy our long, mountain weekend.
We played games (so much Farkle!), we built dangerous sledding ramps, we trudged through snow around the hut, and we built even crazier sledding ramps. It was perfect adult recess time. With little cell service, we relied on ‘old school’ ways to entertain ourselves – books, board games, camaraderie and downloaded dance tunes. Lots of singing and dancing.
One of my favorite parts of each day at Eiseman Hut was sunset. The only sounds were pine tree branches woooshing as the wind rushed through.
How lucky was I that I got to spend a long weekend, in the mountains, with crazy mountain-loving friends, witnessing a stunning sunset. Unreal! In that moment, I gave thanks for all things in my life – my husband, my family, my friends, the ability to do these ridiculous mountain adventures, living in Colorado, and so much more.
On Saturday, more of the same – sledding and relaxing, not thinking about our 7 mile hike back out the next day. And the weather was perfect the entire weekend – sunny bluebird days where it was warm in the sun and chilly in the shade.
While others brought in gallons of tequila (not exaggerating) and bagged wine, I brought my Pat’s Backcountry Kit to wash down my dinner with a legit mountain beer. We’ve brought Pats on a few of our mountain adventures and it never fails to delight; drinking an IPA at treeline will never get old.
After dinner on the last night, we busted out more games and Cards Against Humanity. Drinks + Cards Against Humanity = hilarious evening.
When the sun rose Sunday morning, all 16 of us meandered out of bed to help make the remaining 3 packs of bacon and clean up the hut to prepare to leave. We were the first guests of the season so we arrived to a pristine cabin; there are no cleaning crews that come in in between reservations so it’s up to the group to clean the cabin and leave it exactly as they found it. With so many people, it wasn’t that hard to divide and conquer chores to straighten up the hut before heading out.
The hike our was uneventful and (thankfully) quicker than our climb in – I think knowing exactly where you came from helps, mentally, make the miles tick by faster, too. Before we knew it, we were back at the cars and planning our refueling at a burger bar, halfway between Vail and Denver. No matter that we ate our weight in bacon and snacks over the weekend…we were hungry for food someone else would prepare and clean up!
Sadly, our hut trip group is not making their annual trek this year – too many people traveling or have moved away. Selfishly, I’m a bit relieved because #FOMO is real. As excited as I am to spend the weekend at home with my family next week, I’d be lying if a part of my heart wasn’t missing our annual HutTripsGiving and spending the weekend in the place we love the most – the Rocky Mountains.
This past weekend, my oldest friend, Sarah, tied the knot with her now-husband, Brian, in a beautiful ceremony in Sarasota, FL. Sarah and Brian live in Florida but Sarah grew up in Denver (we met in elementary school in a Denver suburb!) and wanted Colorado to be part of her wedding celebrations so her sister planned the perfect Colorado-style bachelorette party a few weeks earlier in September.
The group of gals met at the Denver airport on Thursday evening from all over the country – Orlando, FL; Ann Arbor, MI; Billings, MT and Denver, CO. The Denver girls picked up the rest of us from the airport and we high-tailed it to The Rio, a downtown Denver staple, for tacos and margaritas to refuel before the trek out to our weekend home, Breckenridge!
Christine, Sarah’s sister, booked a huge mountain house about 5 minutes up the mountain from downtown Vail which was perfect for our group. We spent Thursday night catching up on the couch until, one by one, we retired to our rooms.
Friday morning brought plans of a mellow hike on the ski mountain followed by standup paddleboard yoga. The crisp fall morning air scared the Floridians but we assured them the afternoon would be plenty warm.
We hiked the Sawmill Trail that meandered from the base of the Snowflake lift up to a pretty lake for a 1.5 mile round trip. While the hike was short, we took many stops to snap photos, explore off trail and share stories.
As you can see, the weather warmed up nicely and we shed our layers pretty early into the hike. After finding the lake, we headed back down the mountain to grab some lunch and head to our paddleboard yoga class!
Meta Yoga Studios hosts SUP Yoga on the Breckenridge Lake and the class was perfect for our group. Our instructor asked if we wanted more restorative and stretching or high intensity…we quickly opted for restorative/stretching as this was the first SUP class for the majority of us. Our instructor, Amy, led us through a gentle practice and we were thrilled to not have lost anyone off their board.
After yoga, we headed back up the mountain to our house to relax, drink a beer and get ready for dinner in downtown Breckenridge. Christine picked another staple for dinner and we dined at the Breckenridge Brewery (can’t not stop a brewery when in Colorado!)…and of course we brought our friend, Gregory Pecker, the inflatable penis.
Rather than hit the town, we trekked back up the mountain and spent Friday night enjoying the house. We’d stocked up on beer, wine and liquor in Denver so it was an easy choice to head back and drink what we already had on hand.
Saturday morning was our check-out day in the house so we made breakfast, cleaned up and hit the road for Vail where we planned to do another hike and then check out Vail’s Oktoberfest before our final long trek into Denver.
In Vail, we followed the Berry Picker trail from Vail Village up to a wide open run (looks like a black run called Lindsey’s from the Vail trail map!) where we munched on snacks and broke out a celebratory bottle of wine to share.
We really lucked out as both Breckenridge and Vail were in prime leaf changing season and the mountainsides were littered with glittering yellow aspens. It was so beautiful and we couldn’t stop staring and taking photos. Truthfully, it made my heart happy and sad – happy to be back in ‘my’ state on such a beautiful weekend with great friends but sad to know time was fleeting and I’d have to head home to Pittsburgh – instead of Denver – at the end of the weekend.
Once we packed up our snack garbage and drank the last sips of wine (Leave No Trace, people!), we strolled back down the mountainside, bound for Vail Village’s Oktoberfest celebration!
The party was jam-packed and we were excited to eat pretzels and quench our thirst with boots of German beer. Luckily, we snagged a table for all 9 of us and enjoyed a couple of hours in the festive madness. At one point, (those of us who weren’t driving) played a game where we pass a giant boot of beer around the table while yelling, BOOT! BOOT! BOOT! It was ridiculous and hilarious as we caught the attention of the event photographer and everyone around us was cheering as the bride-to-be finished off the beer.
With bellies full of beer, sausage and sauerkraut, we loaded up our caravans and made our way back into Denver for a final night of celebrating in ‘traditional’ bachelorette party style. Christine booked us rooms at the fancy Westin hotel and we settled into two rooms to get ready for the night ahead of us.
Of course we ran into a group of NYC firemen at our first bar!
If you’re an adventurous gal who isn’t into the traditional bachelorette party themes, would highly recommend you consider a weekend in the mountains to celebrate. Breckenridge was perfect as there is ample hiking, food/drink and beautiful views to take in while still being relatively close to Denver (1.5 hour drive). Obviously, the most important part of a bachelorette weekend is celebrating the bride to be but doing it in a cute mountain town? Perfection.
Since moving to Pittsburgh, I’ve been slow to explore much outside the city. With weekend visitors, school commitments, travel and settling in, it’s been hard to get out and check out our surroundings. And frankly, despite having a super long list of things I want to be sure to do, it felt intimidating to know where to start. (note to self: just START.)
Living in Denver, I hit the trails at least once a week either by trail running, camping, hiking or climbing and, a couple of weeks ago, I realized just how much the lack of nature was affecting me and did something about it. Of course, the forecast called for rain all day long but I loaded up a small day pack and hit the road for McConnell’s Mill State Park, fingers crossed for a break in the drops.
As luck would have it, the rain eased into a light drizzle as I pulled into the parking lot and had completely dissipated as I locked up my Subaru to explore.
I’d done only a little bit of research before my trip; I knew the gristmill was a short hike from the parking lot and I knew there was climbing somewhere in the park. My goal was to find both.
A short hike from Johnson Road/McConnell’s Mill Road parking lot, the trail to the mill is a packed dirt trail with rock obstacles throughout and full of lush greenery alongside. It was really beautiful and hard to believe the colors around me. I forgot just HOW green the midwest is!
The hike is maybe 1/2 mile from the parking lot and is marked with a blue reflector. It’s a well worth path and easy to follow along the river.
Because it was a rainy afternoon, I enjoyed a very quiet day on the trail and inside the mill. I poked around inside and around, snapping photos and reading the plaques inside before deciding to continue further up the trail. (Note: there is also a parking lot right at the mill so visitors who don’t want to or can’t hike are still able to visit the mill!)
I ventured up another 1/2 mile southwest on the trail, past the Kildoo Bridge and falls; the trail follows the river the majority of the length of the park and, while there were no kayakers while I was hiking, I know it’s an option and I plan to come back and kayak along the trail I hiked.
I turned around and headed back towards the mill as darker clouds started rolling in above. I made it back to the parking just as the sky opened up and dropped big fat raindrops on my car, satisfied in my short afternoon jaunt in a Pennsylvania state park. While I didn’t see the climbing spots I’d hoped to scope out, I know exactly where to find them for the next trip out to McConnell’s Mill.
I drove back to Pittsburgh with a full heart; I’d found a small piece of what I’ve been missing so much in Pennsylvania. Trails and dirt; places to play outside. And over the coming weeks with no weekend plans, I’m penciling in a lot more park adventures to find beautiful vistas to view the fall colors. I can’t wait to see miles of reds, oranges and yellow; fall in the midwest can’t be beat.
IF YOU GO:
Only 45 minutes away from Pittsburgh, this state park is an excellent choice for hiking, backpacking, camping and climbing. Hikes are available for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels of ability. The park is 2,500 acres and is situated next to a sister state park, Moraine State Park, that looks to have a beach(!).
In the vein of Throwback Thursday + the fact that I’m heading back to Colorado TONIGHT, I’m posting a trip report from my first multipitch climb in Eldo Canyon!
In July, a week and a half before we moved, Alex and I headed up to Eldorado Canyon (affectionately known as Eldo or Eldo Canyon), a famous climbing area just outside Boulder and a short 40 minute drive from Denver, with our friend Lucas for a 4th of July multi-pitch climb. Lucas has spent lots of time in Eldo and picked Swanson’s Arete to lead us up. Swanson’s Arete is a classic beginner’s climb, rated at 5.5 but much of Eldo is considered to be ‘sandbagged’ or rated at a lower difficulty than many perceive it to be.
Parking shortly after sunrise made for a cool hike into the canyon. A really cool thing about Eldo is that routes start right off the road so as park visitors drive through the main drag (or as climbers trek in), they can marvel at the routes being climbed just outside their window.
We hiked in about 20 minutes, gaining significant elevation in the short, ~.5 mile hike, and arrived at the base of our climb. Our route: Rewritten > Swanson’s Arete
Lucas briefed us on what do expect in the first pitch (‘take your pack off when you get to the chimney’) and up he went. We’d opted to ‘caterpillar climb’ meaning Lucas would climb, Alex would belay from below; then Alex would climb and Lucas would belay from above; lastly, I would climb and Alex would belay from above.
Going in to this climb, I was pretty stressed with the chaos of moving and had a hard time getting into the right headspace. As any climber knows, confidence, focus and determination are integral to your success and I spent much of the first pitch struggling to get a handle on my brain. It had helped watching Lucas and Alex head up before me because I was able to plan my route while I waited for my turn.
P1 was not my favorite; it looked a lot easier than it was and, with a lack of confidence, I slipped halfway up the pitch and fell partway back down the route. Which shook me up and put more doubt in my mind about if I’d be able to finish this climb. I let myself have a few moments of panic, realizing that the only way to get through it was to go up, before I refocused and found my determination. At the top of the pitch is a chimney – something I’d never tackled before. If I’d been in a better headspace, I would have enjoyed this challenge but I did not enjoy it in the moment. Regardless, the chimney is short and extremely doable.
Fortunately, the belay station between P1 and P2 was a pretty large ledge so I was able to calm down and regroup and these guys had room to snap selfies.
P2 brought us through Swanson’s Arete and, again, Lucas gave insider tips about where we could find bomber holds and how best to navigate the arete. Lucas first, then Alex, then I climbed; I flew through this pitch and found myself really enjoying it. It was a beautiful day with not a cloud in sight and I made sure to pay close attention to my surroundings; this was to be my last outdoor climbing in Colorado for a while and I wanted to soak it all in.
And then…we got to the belay station of P2/P3. Airy belay stations are still something I’m not super jazzed about but I was proud of myself for (mostly) keeping it together. The team decided to switch from ‘caterpillar climbing’ to climbing in tandem where Lucas would lead and belay both me and Alex at the same time.
P3 had a funky start, immediately having to overcome a ledge with not-obvious holds, and I was thankful to have Alex there with me, rather than figuring it out on my own. It took us a few tries but we finally found the right hold to get up and over.
The rest of P3 was really fun with good holds and fun options. Alex climbed a few moves ahead of me and I was happy to summit shortly after he did. Success!
I can’t speak to the down climb as I was pooped and just following directions but I do know we followed Option 2 here. We did 3 rappels and had a super short hike back up to the crag before calling it a day and hiking back down the canyon to the car.
Back in the parking lot, we stopped in the ice cold South Boulder Creek to cool off before heading back into Denver.
It was such a perfect ending to our outdoor adventures as Colorado residents; climbing in the classic Eldo Canyon with one of our best friends…not much more this gal could have asked for.