Blisters 'n Bison Chips

Today’s guest post is by Ash, through hiker, founder of @gogalavanting, fellow writer and wild woman! Empowered Wanderer is SO JAZZED to welcome her voice to the collection. Read away folks…

This isn't a beautiful hiking story. 

This is a candid, blistered, bloodied and tearful account of my first thru hike across Santa Catalina Island in September of 2018.

It was 6:45AM and I was sandwiched awkwardly between tourists and local weekend warriors on the Catalina Express, chattering excitedly of their impending Labor Day festivities on the island.  A group of women sitting next to me were double fisting mojitos as if it were five o'clock somewhere and not a shade past the break of dawn. I nervously kept unlacing and lacing up my worn Vasque hiking boots to avoid eye contact with curious passengers surveying my stuffed pack and mismatched hiking outfit. When the boat docked I scrambled off the platform and into Avalon, Catalina's tourist hub and largest community, my pack hanging off the side of my body like dead weight. Other eager backpackers huddled in groups, shaking down one another's gear and confirming their trip itinerary one last time before setting off.

I let them go ahead, biding my time in town and filling my belly with snacks and a few liters of water, I wanted the trail to myself, I wanted the isolation and the screaming silence of solitude. With a trail map stuffed into my back pocket and beads of sweat already rolling steadily down my back and nether-regions, my journey on the 45-mile long Trans-Catalina Trail began. The trail starts with a road walk past the Avalon Country Club and into Hermit Gulch campground where the trail officially turns into a steep dirt path of switchbacks with minimal shade. I stopped frequently, shedding my 35-pound pack, taking heaving gulps of lukewarm tap water, and stripping off my soaked shirt to vigorously wave it in circles in a feeble attempt to create a cooling wind tunnel around my flushed face.

Prior backpacking trips hadn't left me doubled over, drenched in my own sweat and funk and considering throwing in the towel only two miles into the trek. "The fuck is going on here?" I thought, puzzled. "Why are you even letting these thoughts of inadequacy invade your mind?" But here I was, being barraged with insults that ran the gamut of, "Who the fuck do you think you are to even attempt this? You're just a girl with impulse control issues born of your bipolar disorder," and "Look, it's okay, you're pushing yourself really hard. Would it be all that bad if you turned around now, spent the rest of Labor Day weekend actually having fun in Avalon, and revisit the trail in winter? Wouldn't that be the smarter choice?"

Every 100-yards was punctuated with a 5-minute break and me wrestling with my deteriorating drive and self-worth to continue the hike. This was becoming a huge time waste. I wasn't even out of Hermit Gulch yet and it was half past 12; I still had 7 miles to go before reaching Blackjack Campground.  It was time to wipe away the crocodile tears and embrace the suck. I needed to ignore the screaming protests coming from my quads and calves, wipe the sweat pouring from brow and upper lip, conserve the little water that remained, and make the final and continuous push out of this godforsaken canyon and onto the ridge line above.

30 minutes and an impressive dry heaving episode later I was sitting in a shaded gazebo on a ridge overlooking Avalon with its tiny specks of boats meandering lazily around the bay. It was a small victory, but I could only relish in it for a few moments before I desperately threw off my pack and began shedding as much unnecessary weight as possible. I pulled out my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone and feverishly ripped already read pages away, a few luxury toiletry items made the chopping block along with a few melted protein bars sitting at the bottom of my food bag. 

A steep, dusty and bison chip covered down slope later I was taking shelter under a massive oak on the outskirts of Hayduke Recreation Area, a playground situated, literally, in the middle of nowhere. Whoever had the bright idea to construct something of this nature in this remote of a location was irrelevant to me in the moment, a water spigot and ample shade from the mid-day heat made this playground a godsend. My feet were swelling and felt like white hot coals in my boots and this was a welcome respite. As I left, a Catalina Island Jeep Tour whizzed past me further down the trail and the tourists inside craned their necks to observe the lifeless specimen moving sluggishly along the road that led deeper into the heart of the island. 

The remaining daylight was dwindling and at the rate I was hiking I would be arriving to camp well past dark. The landscape around me changed drastically as I gained and lost elevation hiking deeper into the island. From barren, rolling hills speckled with dry grass, dried out droppings from the island's bison population, and desert scrub to deep gulches with bright yuccas spilling onto the trail, California junipers sending their sweet aroma to comfort my senses, and blue palo verdes swaying softly in the late afternoon breeze. When I wasn't mentally flogging myself for not keeping at an aggressive pace, I bellowed Eddie Vedder bangers to any critter hiding nearby who would listen. I gargled my warm tap water to see how long I could go before I choked and was forced to swallow and I tried and failed to remember the MacBeth monologue I had performed in high school. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace..." 

Hiking isn't always a consistent lashing of inspiration and the beauty of this world hitting you from all angles at all times. We see the summit photos shared by our friends, but we don't see or talk about the trials, tears, rolled ankles, scraped knees, and self-doubts plaguing us every step of the way to that high and hallowed point. People like myself are frequently asked the question we dread the most, "Why?" I provide a cop-out answer to those who don't truly care for the real reasons I'm doing this thru-hike or any ambitious peak bagging, "Because it's there."

In all honesty, I set out on this hike across an island in the middle of the Pacific to prove to myself that I could. Following through on even the most menial of tasks has presented itself as a challenge throughout my youth and into adulthood. Hiking was an activity that held me accountable and made it abundantly clear the only person who could make it to the top or the end was myself. Hiking became a language I could speak fluently and the words fell from my mouth like glistening rivulets.

The sun dipped below the switchback riddled hills I still had yet to tackle. Rounding a bend I came face to face with a kit fox blocking the middle of the trail, staring intently at my slouched figure under the weight of my pack, almost as if it had been expecting my arrival. I took a few slow steps forward but the solemn black eyes remained transfixed on my tired blues. "Dad?" I murmured at an almost inaudible level. My father had passed away in a tragic accident six summers prior and in my exhausted, emotionally wrought delusion I had convinced myself his spirit was being channeled through this stoic creature.

The fox took off into a thicket just as a massive flock of sparrows suddenly rose from the woods beyond it and flew in tight formation low over my head. Following their exit, a bison grazing on a hill nearby stopped to turn and gaze in my direction. The sensory overload made my eyes water instantaneously and every muscle in my body stiffened. Since I had stepped on the trail I had not encountered so much as a lizard scurrying across my path and now a barrage of wildlife exploded onto the scene with as much magnificence as morning's first light hitting the dawn wall of El Capitan. My eyes remained brimming with tears of frustration and finally jubilation as I made the final push into Blackjack Campground as the last warming rays of day receded behind the trees and golden hills. 

A rowdy group of backpackers were gathered around a couple of picnic tables they had pushed against one another, sharing stories of blackout co-ed nights and reminiscing on their last spring break retreat to Punta Cana. They were glowing, all smiles, feeding off of one another's hyped up energy, passing lukewarm beer around a crackling fire, and playfully throwing pieces of pita chips at one another. I spied their laidback jubilation with a hungry longing until I realized I probably looked like Richard Ramirez and hastily set up camp in the dark. After letting my head hang under the cool water spurting from the only water source in camp and a half-assed wet wipe bath, I crawled into my sleeping bag and realized I had not eaten anything since the Italian hoagie I had scarfed down back in Avalon. My arm weakly untangled itself from the sleeping bag and I reached inside my pack to pull out a severely deformed king sized Kit Kat bar and a bag of salted almonds.

I wasn't hungry and I couldn't even force the salty and sweet carbo-loaded dinner of champions down my throat. I admitted defeat, tucked my snacks back into the food bag I had meticulously planned and even posted an Insta story about in the days leading up to this hike, and curled into a tight fetal position. I don't know when it happened and how it came about but at some point I buried my face into the inflatable polyester pillow and began to wail and weep and scream. I pleaded for my fiancé. I pleaded for my dad. I implored myself to find the strength to pull it together and complete the remaining 30-miles of this hike. The sound of leaves in the trees being rustled by the wind and raucous laughter rising from the group of backpackers across camp helped to stifle the sounds of the pure, terrifying reality of my solo endeavor. The sobs turned into sniffles and the sniffles dissipated to a resigned silence. I fell into a deep sleep and was whisked away to another world. 

I was looking down and then up at a mountain that resembled a combination of the north face of the Eiger and signature summit of the Matterhorn. I knew I had to climb it to get to whatever was on the other side and there was no choice in the matter. Fear and uncertainty gripped me. I felt a presence behind me and I turned to see my dad, a younger version of him but nonetheless the same man, smiling at me. He gave the treacherous peak a quick once over, glanced back at me and gave a look as if to say, "Well? What are you waiting for? Get going."

My mouth dropped, "Are you kidding? I can't fucking climb this behemoth. You know it. I know it." He stared in response but Dad didn't need to speak for me to understand what the flash of emotion in his eyes conveyed. Of course you can. Just climb. 

I awoke the next morning to overcast skies with tiny rays of light poking through weaknesses in the cloud cover. Cool moisture hit my nostrils as I exited my tent and began to break camp. The silence was interrupted by the occasional snore from a few folks cowboy camping on the other side of the grounds and chirping birds rising from their nests. I shoved a handful of almonds down my gullet and began my walk out of camp. A short distance later the clouds parted, the fog around me dissipated in the morning sun, and a sweeping view of the island revealed itself to me, the best view yet in fact. I could see the trail take a steep curve down and then up and over shoddy looking hillsides and I did not, at least for now, feel an impending sense of dread or the looming threat of failure. I took one step forward. Then another and another and then, I climbed. I just climbed.

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This is Ash, the day before she set off for the Trans-Catalina Trail.

To read more of Ash’s work, become a part of the Go Galavanting community, or see some rad pictures of wild women wanderers visit her website.

Empowered Women - A Marriage of Voices

Dear Reader,

It’s me, Annalise, the voice behind Empowered Wanderer. I know it’s weird, me showing up like this on a page dedicated to other women’s voice.

Well ya’ll, let me explain! This week is super special. This week I will be marrying the incredible Brooke Lambe’s, voice with my own — it only seems appropriate since our souls are already married — hehe.

About a week ago, an email popped up in my inbox and it said: “Hi, I just read our first message (on Instagram) and got inspired to write this. Not sure if it’s something you would want to share on your page, but I’m going to publish it on my blog. With pictures of course :) I love you - Brooke.”

The rest of the message was a blur, and I mean a literal blur, because I had tears rushing down my face as I read. Brooke captured the nature of our relationship and unyielding growth together beautifully, and she did in fact share our story on her own website.

I have the absolute privilege of sharing her words in this space of collective voices speaking up and speaking out together. As you read her words, I am going to intertwine a few of my own, in honor of her, and our fruitful body of shared work, love and laughter!

Read away lovely people:

“Hello lovely :) I’m starting a feminist travel blog called Empowered Wanderer and was wondering if you’d like to team up in some capacity! I’d love to send you a sample post if you’re interested - I’m about 30 days or so from launch! Hope you’re having fun with Charlotte.” (Charlotte being Brooke’s rad traveling home).

This was sent to me (Brooke) January 28th of 2018 by the incredible Annalise. I said something along the lines of “I’m not really a writer, but I’d love to be involved in some way, most likely with photography!” I had no idea the type of friendship that would ensue after that first message. Annalise and I were familiar with one another on Instagram because of a mutual friend. We definitely had the whole travel and adventure thing in common. 

And folks, let me tell you, as I (Annalise) sent that message, my stomach buzzed with butterflies. I was so enamored by Brooke and her journey, and every part of me wanted to work with her. I just didn’t know how. I was so new to the blogging world, still unsure of my message and the space I wanted to create, and I had no idea how another creative would play into the mix. But it didn’t matter, I knew I had to message her. So I did. And next up was starting the blog you’re reading today.

So, did Annalise start that blog? Absolutely. Took off running and never looked back. Quit her job, turned her car into a home and went for it. She shows up every single day to make her dreams come true. Such a powerful voice in the female community. Not only is she inspiring other women to travel and live their dreams, but she’s talking about the things we were told to keep quiet. The things we were never taught in sex-ed. Asking the questions to start the conversations most of us need to hear. I am so unbelievably proud of her and honored to call her my friend. 

I (Annalise) still tear up when I read Brooke’s words above. Brooke is a photographer, and there’s something about her talent that grants her an incredible gift of truly seeing the people in her life. This was something I could sense, long before I experienced it myself. And thank goodness for that, because this sweet woman and I were destined to create magic together and make other women feel seen and held. Brooke has a the gift of creation through photography, and she likes to say I have that gift through words — I can't say I disagree.

Annalise is really good at painting a picture of where she is and what’s around her when she’s writing, after all she was bouncing all over Europe for a lot of her posts. So in honor of that: I am on my bed, Trevor Hall playing in the background, sandalwood incense burning. Outside the window is Lake Coeur d’Alene with a light snowfall. Okay, back to the story.

Can I just pause to say, these words GIVE ME LIFE! That is all hehe.

After that first message, we didn’t speak again until July 3rd, 2018.

That’s 7 months ya’ll. I (Annalise) did say, I had no clear idea of what we could possibly do together right? Well it just goes to show, we weren’t ready yet. We both knew the magic that could sprout from our teamwork, but we weren’t sure how to make it happen. So…

On July 3rd 2018 I (Brooke) posted a photo of myself on Instagram. My favorite self portrait to date. Just me in my birthday suit under the full moon in Joshua Tree. The feeling I got from that photo, the empowered beautiful feeling of self-love, made me want to share that with other women. So in my caption I said I was starting “The Empowerment Project.” Helping other women feel liberated! And of course Annalise commented. She said, “Babe! Can we please please team up and do a project?” 

And this was it, I (Annalise) was ready! It was happening. No if’s and’s or but’s about it. I had been sitting at a desk job for nearly 5 months, devoting my life to a job that slowly sucked my soul from my body. And looking at Brooke’s photo from my office chair, butt numb, eyes bloodshot, I felt a spark of life shoot through me again. It was time I followed my calling. Brooke lit that spark in me and reminded me that this blog I was writing, wasn’t just a project, it was a life style, it was a pursuit of joy and empowerment and that could be shared with other women in ways that truly changed the game. There was more to do, and I needed a partner. There was no way she was going to say no, I could feel it.

How could I (Brooke) say no? :) We both had the same vision. We wanted a group of women to gather out in the woods. We made one phone call to talk plans and that was it. We were going to host a retreat. The Wandering Women’s Retreat.

The first time I (Annalise) met Brooke was as we scouted locations for the Wandering Women’s Retreat, we sat in a forest looking in each others eyes and said, “we love each other don’t we?” and that was it, we were linked, loved fully, accepted greatly and destined to make some important impacts. I laughed with Brooke that weekend like I hadn’t laughed in months, deep belly laughs I forgot existed and felt myself come back to life.

I (Brooke) had actually never been to a retreat at that point, a small gathering, but not a retreat. I booked the Columbia retreat right around the time we decided to do this. We wanted our retreat to be under a full moon so we planned for that day, only to later find out I looked at the calendar wrong and we scheduled it for the new moon. No biggie! Just camping out in the complete darkness. I was actually a little worried but the new moon is such a powerful time for new beginnings. Getting clear about what you want and manifesting it. So having the retreat on that day was perfect.

September 8th, 2018 we had our vision come to life. After the initial stress about weather, everything came together. There were 11 of us out there in the beautiful woods of the PNW. Tents pitched and hearts open. It was so amazing to be a part of it and I’m forever grateful that Annalise came into my life and made it happen. Connecting, sharing, exploring, creating and loving! 

And I too am eternally grateful for Brooke, the force that brought my passion back to my body, the queen who stood by my side and hosted an change-making, loving-radiating event with me!

Have you ever met someone you just instantly click with? That was Annalise for me. It was like I had known her forever the moment we finally met in person. Like I said earlier, we have the travel and adventure thing in common. Both traveled while living in our vehicles. Both went backpacking through Europe. Both felt empowered as we stepped out on solo journeys into the unknown. And we both want to inspire others to do the same. Meeting new people and seeing new things. I’m a strong believer that everyone should take at least one solo trip in their life. You learn so much about yourself and the fact that you’re alone, opens you up to sooo many possibilities. 

Annalise is an amazing example of following your heart and doing what you’re called to do. Finding your purpose and going after it with everything you have. She is warm, goofy, uplifting and the best hugger. She lives a life of passion, which we should all strive to do. An incredible person to have on your team. She will love you fiercely and be your biggest cheerleader. Inspire and empower you, just as she was meant to.

And just as she was meant to Brooke is an incredible photographer, a being who sees into your purest self and captures you in a form you simply fall in love with, she helps you to see your own power, grace and worthiness. She is a woman full of the occasional perfect spunk, full and vivacious laughter and unending willingness to cuddle kittens and humans. She is full of more support than you could possibly ask for, always the first to share your work, like your photo or send you love. She is a spirit unlike any I’ve ever known, and my heart is full being able to share our words here together.

You can read Brooke’s original piece at also linked above!

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Written by Annalise Combs and Brooke Lambe.

Sending lots of love from us both!!

We hold you in deep appreciation!

Adventuring Into Acceptance

“Kelly, are you excited for your trip?!” a coworker asks me with her tight brown curls bouncing.

Cautiously, I reply, “Not yet.”

Because honestly, I’m not, even though I leave for a solo backpacking trip to Europe in 5 days. I smile halfheartedly at her, knowing what’s coming next.

As expected, I receive a quizzical look from my coworker, as concern creases her brow, and she blurts out, “WHY NOT?!”

I squirm uncomfortably and use my go to line:  “I don’t get excited until I’m on the plane.”

I am an energetic, optimistic, world-traveling extrovert who gets excited about free bagels in the work kitchenette, so my coworkers and casual acquaintances are bewildered by my lack of enthusiasm for my travels.

And if that was all there was to it, I’d get it. But they don’t know I’ve been dealing with mental health issues for the past 8 years.

I am blissfully happy outwardly, but in reality I struggle with depressive episodes and extreme mood changes due to bipolar disorder.

While this is in no way uncommon, it does make certain parts of life and traveling completely unpredictable. I have traveled enough to know that my trips don’t always turn out the way I would hope.

I once spent an entire semester of college in Brazil during one of the worst depressive episodes of my life. No surprise, this was not my expectation going in. But that trip, along with many others, have taught me to not to set expectations on myself or my travels.

Even so, I still get nervous about traveling. I never know how I’m going to feel during my adventure. And while I wish I knew in advance exactly what weeks would be good weeks, and which would be bad weeks for me, I simply don’t.

So instead, I go into each trip cautiously optimistic. I keep an open mind and constantly remind myself that whatever emotions I’m feeling are OKAY, and I should not feel guilty or ashamed for having them.

And it feels important for me to share what I’ve learned with you: It is okay to be sad even if you are in a new, beautiful and exciting place. It’s okay to be nervous about how your trip will go, you don’t always have to be excited. It’s okay for things to unfold differently than you had expected, even if you’re trying not to have expectations. Allow yourself to fully accept your emotions so you can process them and move through them.

Believe me, I’ve cried on beautiful beaches and in more airports than I can count. Due to this, I like to remind myself of two mantras:

  1. Without sadness, we would not know joy.

  2. The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.

Okay one more, Theodore Roosevelt famously said “Comparison is the thief of joy”. And ain’t that the truth!

You’re reading this piece on a wanderer’s website, so chances are you follow other world travelers on social media. And damn is it easy to pick up your phone and be transported into the perfect vacation, or seemingly perfect life.

While this can be an amazing distraction from day to day life and serve as inspiration if it is done with intention and honesty, many social media accounts can cause what I believe to be the downfall of so many travelers: expectations.

If you see someone posting about their terrific trip to Greece and only showing beautiful weather, then you go to Greece and it’s raining, it can feel like a huge let down.

If you see someone posting about their perfect hotel in Thailand, but they don’t show you the trail of ants patrolling the bed, boy will you have a rude awakening.

And if you see someone who proudly proclaims their latest trip changed their life for the better, but neglects to explain that part of this transformation took place while sobbing on the bathroom floor, you’ll be convinced that any moments of sadness you feel = failure.

So, expel your expectations, your feelings of, “I ought to.” In turn, you will expel your guilt, find peace and be able to accept your experience for exactly what it is and was always meant to be.

Are you sad because it’s raining in Greece? Are you too tired from the long plane ride to venture outside this afternoon? That’s okay. Let yourself BE exactly where you are. If you do, if you sit with yourself in acceptance you will move onto the next new and exciting emotion and adventure a lot quicker.

By experiencing what your mind and body feel, you allow them to mend. You also allow the universe to manifest the best things for you.

It wasn’t until I was in a therapy session a few years ago that I heard it was okay to be miserable while in a beautiful international country, in my case, Brazil. I was finally told, that it was okay that I spent countless nights crying in my bunk instead of exploring, learning the language, or making friends. It was not my fault that I was in the deepest depressive episode of my life and there was absolutely nothing I should feel guilty about. And you know what? That therapist was right.

That’s what I want you to know too. However you feel, whenever you feel it, no matter where you are in the world, you are not expected, nor required to feel any type of way, however you’re feeling is absolutely okay! ***Cue Rich Homie Quan - “Type of Way”

Guest Post By Kelly Williams on Empowered Wanderer

Written By: Kelly Williams

Adventurer, solo female traveler, coach-surfer, trail runner, and fur-baby mom!