Happy New Year everyone! We are definitely ready for 2019. 2018 was such a mixed bag for us, although, in the end, we wouldn’t trade the year and experiences for anything!! Here’s our “best of” list for 2018.
Leaving our role as property caretakers and environmental educators at Fenton Ranch in New Mexico was probably the hardest decision we made this year. And while I miss SO much about Fenton, it was well worth the risk to work for Leave No Trace/Subaru as the Zero Landfill Team!
Speaking of Fenton, leaving Mrs. Gibbles (the Fenton cat) behind is our biggest regret in 2018. And while we know it wasn’t at all possible to keep her and she is insanely happy with the new caretaker at Fenton, I still miss her (daily!) and think she is the coolest cat we’ll ever have! I hope we meet again sometime Gibby!
On April 10, 2018, we received an e-mail from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics asking about our availability for an opportunity to work with LNT, Subaru and the National Park Service during the summer. So many of the specifics were still unknown, but much of the planning would be in our hands. And all of this would start just a few weeks later on May 7. We were honored LNT thought of us and while we had “tentative” plans about what our summer and future employment would look like, we knew throwing those out the window made sense. Challenge accepted, and it only took a matter of days before we became the official “Zero Landfill Team.” No regrets about taking the leap. There were definitely obstacles, but they turned out to be growing and learning opportunities. We are really proud of working through these and coming out on top for a successful Zero Landfill Initiative tour!
Best New People We Met
We met SO many new people this year! Besides all the awesome staff at Leave No Trace, we met 2 very powerful and passionate women at Subaru and so many others through our work this summer (Joe Lampl from Growing a Greener World, staff at Denali Education Center, staff at Teton County Recycling, fellow nomads/van lifers). Also, we continue to meet lots of like-minded folks through our work at Backpacker! I think it’s been the story of our lives the last several years … so often these chance meetings have shaped our life path.
Best Decision AND Biggest Surprise
So, one other important person we met that changed our life this year was Dr. Vogel, a colorectal surgeon at the University of Colorado. Justin’s surgeon and doctors (whom were wonderful and caring for Justin since 2016) were really at a standstill with his Crohn’s, and we came to terms with Justin having a colostomy bag and bone infection for the rest of his life. Everyone, EVERYONE, wanted us to get other opinions. We tried here and there, but it just seemed like too much trouble and no different answers. That was until Justin’s surgeon strongly urged he go seek a second opinion specifically from her old friend and colleague at the University of Colorado (a place we couldn’t get into without a referral as per our insurance). Even in our first meeting, Dr. Vogel was so confident Justin didn’t need the bag & could resolve his bone infection. Two surgeries later, and Dr. Vogel changed Justin’s course of health! So our best decision this year was to go get that second opinion and the biggest surprise was that Justin can live bag-free!
Best Road Trip
We took a 13,000-mile road trip this summer because of our work with Leave No Trace/Subaru, but it’s not hard to pick our favorite route of all those miles. The northbound drive to Alaska via the 140-mile Icefields Parkway through Canada’s Banff and Jasper National Parks took the cake.
Best National Park
Hands down, Katmai National Park in Alaska, was the best national park we visited this year and even ranks #1 of the 46 parks we’ve been to (at least for me)! We celebrated my 40th birthday in Katmai and I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. Everything about it was amazing.
Best Wildlife Sighting
The whole year included phenomenal wildlife sightings actually—even while we were living at Fenton with our resident bear and bobcat! We ended up having 39 grizzly sightings this summer in Alaska & Canada, but perhaps the most rewarding was while we were backpacking in Denali National Park. I guess there was just something exhilarating about viewing them in the true wild with no one around to protect us but ourselves. Don’t worry, we kept well beyond the recommended 300-foot distance and watched through our binoculars. Leave No Trace Principle #6: RESPECT WILDLIFE!
Best Backpacking Trip
It was a b*$@% to get to, but Boundary Lake in the Emigrant Wilderness/Yosemite National Park in California made for the perfect kind of backpacking trip. No crowds, gorgeous scenery, perfect weather. Stay tuned, you might see this trip written up as an article in the November 2019 issue of Backpacker!
Best Car Camping Site AND Day Hike
Alaska already got a lot of love in this post, but the mountain views from site #4 in Kesugi Ken Campground in Denali State Park were mind-blowing. Even better, our favorite day hike of the whole year lives within that campground. Curry Ridge Trail to Lake 1787 is a hidden gem.
Remember when we made that impulse decision to buy a van in May? Right before we hit the road in a Subaru Outback for Leave No Trace/Subaru? That van still exists! We have it in storage and I seriously hope we can get more use out of it in 2019 than we did in 2018. I keep referring to it as an investment.
Best Netflix Binge
We are definitely Netflix fans when we have good Internet to stream or an address for the DVD program. Besides moves, this year included a few shows and “The Haunting of Hill House” (only one season) was our favorite!
Free Solo. This is the film about Alex Honnold’s free climb of El Capitan in Yosemite. It’s a phenomenal film because Alex is just a fascinating guy, but also the producers, Jimmy Chin & crew, are so very talented. We actually got to see the film in September as part of a private viewing in Yosemite with Alex in the audience, making it more special. But I just rewatched the trailer & want to see it again and again and again. Even if you aren’t into climbing, it’s a worthwhile movie!
I try to read (you know, words on paper) one book per month, but we also love our audiobooks while on the road. Our favorite this year was Ranger Confidential: Living, Working and Dying in the National Parks by Andrea Lankford. It was fitting because we were working so closely with the National Park Service this summer, so to see true stories of their behind the scenes work was eye-opening.
Much to Justin’s chagrin, there was not an abundance of concerts this year! He always sneaks them into our travels, but would prefer a higher quantity. The annual holiday “From Good Homes” concert therefore ranks as the top for 2018. From Good Homes will always remain his favorite band, but I think the annual pilgrimage has become much more than a concert. It’s a reunion of his high school buddies … and now their kids!
Justin’s food aversions keeps changing and I’ve had to really revisit our go-to recipes. I LOVE Danielle Walker’s recipes because most are dairy and gluten free (as well as a lot of other xxx-free). I can’t say my dish looks like hers, but the Prosciutto Pesto Chicken is a crowd-pleaser and one of our new go-tos this year.
Best Photo of Us
We were part of another photo shoot for Backpacker this year that ended up in the April 2018 issue. And while it’s A LOT of work, the results are quite the reward! Plus we got to connect with the DeYoungs (another favorite new meeting from 2018). This is definitely one of my favorite shots taken from the day because we were truly laughing (Justin was trying to get me to give him a foot rub … you know, to get the shot!).
Valuable Life Lesson
Life is too short to not take leaps of faith. I love the “life less ordinary” we have created and genuinely wonder what’s next for us. Bring it, 2019.