To Venture

“So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?” 
― Hunter S. Thompson

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School is back in session, so unfortunately my summer of near constant travel is over. I spent my last few free days camping in Aspen — one of my absolute favorite places. Before I left town I visited a hot springs right off the road on a river outside town. I love hot springs of all kinds, but natural and primitive are the best. Usually.

Some couples came and went and then others came. We had great conversation and it was a beautiful day. When one couple was about to leave a man I had seen earlier in the bushes came out of nowhere. He sat right behind me, with a big jug of something and just a creepy vibe. I've been trying lately not to think someone is "creepy" just because they're alone — I'm always alone. Or "creepy" if they seem to live in their car/a tent — I'm sleeping in a car too after all. 

But I've also been making an effort to listen to my body. When something doesn't feel right. Trusting my infamous women's intuition. So I got out of that hot spring, no goodbye to my new Polish friends, ran up to my car shaking in my bikini, and headed straight home. I was seriously scared. Literally shaking.

I do a lot of things alone and generally feel very safe and capable and all of those things, but I’ve realized there's a difference between doing things you're afraid of and doing things you should be afraid of.

But my problem is how do I know the difference? And how can I keep a situation like that from scaring me away from future awesome riverside hot springs? I don't have any answers, but I have some ideas.

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I've been lucky. I travel alone way more than the average person and yet I haven’t had too many scary experiences on the road (thankfully), but there have been a few similar to the hot springs. And they all have one thing in common — they are not in National Parks. Or State Parks. Or hiking trails. 

I have a theory for why this is true -- and it starts with Donald Duck (doesn't everything though?)

You know those adults who are obsessed with Disney? They go to the parks for every vacation, without a care to the haters who wonder why. But I think I get it — National Parks/public lands are just Disneyworld for outdoorsy people. Hear me out. 

Disney is a bubble. It’s an escape from reality, where everything is spotless, commercialized, immersive, and characters will never break. It’s all carefully curated to take you to another place. Where all you have to worry about is wait times and where you’re getting your next overpriced meal. Everyone is there for the same reason.

National Parks/Public Lands are really similar in some important ways -- everyone who is there wants to be there. They’ve all spent considerable time and effort to trek to some huge swath of land because they love nature. They are my people. No need to be scared. 

Even though I’m alone in a park, I want to share my experience. Be alone together. That's why one of the things I always make time for in a park visit (even if I've been there multiple times) is to visit the lodges and visitors centers -- to be alone together. To get the high that comes from being surrounded by likeminded people. 

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I was talking to a friend the other day about my persona of solo female adventurer yada yada. He pointed out that visiting National Parks solo isn’t actually that adventurous — and he’s right! 

That’s kinda the point — it’s Disneyworld. It's an escape. I don't have to worry about being followed downtown and forced to literally run away in broad daylight trying to look at some street art (looking at you Rapid City, SD) or being terrified and pushed out of a roadside hot spring by an aggressive guy. And that's important to me. 

But I'm sure you're all wondering, what's the instagram connection (ha yikes). I’ve recently changed my Instagram handle (big news I know) and am in the process of changing my website over to a new moniker — emilyventures. I’ve ruminated for an embarrassingly long time over this — but words are important, remember. 

Venture is defined as “a risky or daring journey or undertaking” — and I feel like that ties my ambitions together in a way that my clumsy words never could. I want to lean in to uncertainty and I want to take risks. I want to do things that are daring — just not blindly dangerous. 

National Parks — and the outdoors in general — are a great way to do that. 

If you need more proof than Donald Duck can provide, well, there isn’t a lot. Information on crime in the outdoors or National Parks in particular is sparse— because there really isn’t much. Backpacker magazine says that despite 46% of men and 56% of women agreeing that its riskier for women to hike or backpack alone, “Your risk of being a victim of a violent crime (murder, rape, or aggravated assault) is thousands of times lower in a national park than in the country as a whole.”

That’s right — thousands of times lower. I’ve always felt safer, but even I was totally shocked by that statistic. Seriously, look at this graph.

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People ask me all the time how to hike alone, or how to visit a park alone — but you guys, it’s really not that brave. You're way safer there than you are almost anywhere else. That’s why the outdoors are so freeing — it’s an escape from a world full of real and perceived danger. 

So venture. Be smart, but trust yourself. If something doesn't feel right -- leave. But don't let it stop you from going in the first place. 

Friday Five - 12.16.16

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” 
― Maya Angelou, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now

"Ugly" Christmas Sweater Day

Today is apparently "Ugly Christmas Sweater Day" according to the made up holidays of the internet. While I have dressed up for my fair share of these days/parties - I have a problem with the ugly part. Why can't it just be Christmas Sweater Day? Festive Christmas Sweater Day? I've read a little about the classism associated with the trend and as much as I love dressing up I'm just not into the ugly part. 

Just like another made up holiday - #jessdaytuesday - to me the success of this trend is due to the novelty not the ugly. It's fun to dress up! If I could wear a costumey festive outfit for every random made-up holiday I totally would. 

This article sums it up well. A few tidbits:

 "The "ugly sweater" trend lets us have it both ways. We can indulge in the whimsy of a fun holiday sweater, while emphasizing that of course we are not the kind of people who would genuinely purchase and enjoy such a thing. Those people wear holiday sweaters to church or to Wal-Mart because they don't know any better; we wear them to ugly sweater parties serving hand-crafted cocktails because we do.

So if you want to wear a tacky, fun, joy-inducing sweater (and you should!), just wear it. You don't need a theme party with kitschy decor and ugliest sweater prizes. You don't need the protective irony of the adjective "ugly" at all. Christmas sweaters are fun. They're warm. They're comfortable. They make people smile. The rest of us should be thanking their stalwart fans for keeping the tradition alive, not giggling at them behind their backs."

Read more here and here

Holiday "vacation"

In a few short hours I will be at the airport headed for a (slightly - dang you polar vortex) warmer location to begin my two week break from work. This time of year I can't help but realize how lucky I am to have a generous break. Did you know that in the US, companies are not obligated to offer paid vacation? In fact, the US is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn't guarantee leave. There are over 24 countries that actually require employers to offer 4+ weeks of paid vacation with some as high as 6 weeks. 

While companies aren't legally obligated to do so, many still offer 2-3 weeks throughout the year. But the bizzaro part is that only 57% of workers actually use all of their days. I read that this is in part because Americans find more happiness from their work while Europeans find that from leisure (but I don't believe it) And while as a teacher I get a ton of "vacation" let's be clear - it is not paid. Teachers have limited sicks days and are paid for their work days (generally only around 180/year)  - one of the reasons salaries are so low - despite working an average of 53 hours per week during the year. 

So - off soapbox and back to my point - if you get vacation days, paid/unpaid whatever - take them! Time off leads to "higher productivity, stronger workplace morale, greater employee retention, and significant health benefits" It makes you a better employee, a better boss, and really just a better person in general. And it's fun. 

Read more here and here

Flight Anxiety

If you made it through my rambling above you know this evening I'm flying off for a few days of solo adventure. It's a short flight but as I've gotten older I've developed some pretty gnarly flight anxiety. I read that one in three people are in the same boat so here are some of the things I've found that help me:

- Podcasts! I won't listen to my favorite podcasts for the week or two leading up to a flight so I have a lot of new ones to download before boarding. It's a great distraction.

- Close the window. I generally like the window closed (or a night flight) so I don't have to see where I am. Trick your brain into thinking you are on a train instead and the normal bumps seem totally different and more manageable.

- Trust the industry. Easier said than done but reminding myself how safe air travel is actually does help. 

- Box breathing. This is  a type of breathing that helps any type of anxiety. Basically you exhale all your air for four counts, breath in for four counts, hold for four counts, out for four counts,  repeat repeat repeat. Simple but effective. There is even an app!

- Just accept it. I've heard anxiety described as like a lid on a boiling pot. If you try to keep the lid on you're going to create an explosion. When you try to fight your anxieties you're only making them worse in the long run. Recognize how you are feeling, acknowledge the tools you have (or don't) to change the feeling, and then just accept it. Because really what other choice do you have?

- Watch this video. It goes through the takeoff/landing/normal sounds etc and is actually helpful :) 

Read more here, here, and here

Reading Challenge

I'm in the final stretch of my 2016 reading challenge. I challenged myself to read 52 books and I'm currently finishing up the 52nd! I wanted to know how much of a weirdo I actually was so I looked at some US reading statistics.

According to a Pew report in 2015, 72% of adults have read a book in the past year. The part that gets me about this number is that it's a book "in whole or part" - umm a part of a book could be 10 pages - does not count in my challenge. 

Anyways, some other interesting stats are: those aged 18-29 (the dreaded entitled millennials who are killing everything) are actually more likely to have read a book in the past year than any other group. The average number of books read was 12 but the median was only 4 - outliers like me screw up all the data. Women are much more likely to read than men (average of 14 books per year with men at only 9) as are those with higher education and incomes. 

Another interesting thing I found was statistics on the reading habits of successful people. Studies have found that successful people generally read at least two books a week, and that they're almost always nonfiction and personal development related books. One of the daily habits highest correlated with success is reading for self-improvement every day. 

For example, Bill Gates reads at least 50 books a year, Marc Cuban reads for over three hours a day, and Warren Buffet spends an estimated 80% of his day reading. "In fact, when Warren Buffett was once asked about the key to success, he pointed to a stack of nearby books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

So, even if you don't have the free time or desire to read like I do - set a goal! Set up a goodreads page, track your progress and learn some new things in 2017!

Read more about reading here, here, and here

Angel Tree

Christmas is only 9 days away! But luckily there's still time to help make a child's Christmas a little more joyful. I've participated in the Angel Tree program through the Salvation Army the past several years and it is always rewarding (and easy!). I usually pick a local child off a tree at Starbucks - it gives their age, gender, and three things they want for Christmas. You shop for them, wrap the gifts, and then drop them off. So fun! 

Last night I shopped for the 8 year old girl I chose. She wanted a dollhouse and Barbies so I got her the coolest Barbie Dreamhouse, some Barbies, and Barbie outfits. Did you know they make Barbie career outfits now?? I got her teacher and painter outfits haha I just hope she likes literally everything I like. I also ran into a family spending their evening shopping for Angel Tree kids all together - super heartwarming.

My gifts aren't due back until the 23rd so if you're interested check a Starbucks! You can see what the child asks for before you choose them if you don't want to get stuck buying something you can't afford. It would also be so easy to do as a group so you can pool the money and get extra awesome gifts.

The Angel Tree programs are region specific but learn more about my region here

Happy Friday :)