Epic Adventure – and Longing

Hi. My name is Shelli. I’m 43 years old. I have been married to Jerry for almost 20 years and we have three young sons, Wolf, 11, Hayden, 9, and Finis, 4.

Sending a message to my husband and sons from Alaska's Brooks Range.

This is a post about a wife and mother’s longing. It is also a post about a once-in-a-lifetime “epic” experience that I will never forget. It is also a post about gratitude. To be a wife and mother who was supported and encouraged to have an experience like the one recalled in this post is a gift for which I’ll be forever grateful. (With Thanksgiving approaching, now is a good time for me to thank most of all my husband, Jerry, who is my biggest champion, and who encouraged me to embark on this adventure while “holding down the fort.” Also, a big thank you to my parents, who helped with the boys while I was away, and to all who provide friendship and support to me.)

It was taking seemingly forever to get our expedition started. I was in The Last Frontier, headed to The Far North, to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in Alaska’s Brooks Range. I had looked forward to this adventure for months and was ready to get the party started. But as I was finding out, it takes a long time to get away from civilization.

After a night in a Fairbanks campground, we boarded a small airplane and spent a couple of hours flying to Coldfoot. After landing, we loaded into a van and spent three more hours traveling north before, finally, we were dropped off along the side of the road.

I was on my way to spending 12 days backpacking and exploring, while learning wilderness travel, outdoor skills and leadership from the world’s premier teacher, the National Outdoor Leadership School.

The experience I was about to embark upon was a dream come true. Actually it was two dreams come true.

Up until my departure for this trip, I had just one regret in my life, and that was that I had never taken a NOLS course. I was raised in Lander, Wyoming, where NOLS is headquartered. During my formative years, my parents would have supported my enrollment in a NOLS course and had offered as much. Unfortunately, I was more interested in my social life and basketball. But that was then. Now, I am an outdoor enthusiast. I love everything NOLS stands for, and I take pride in the fact that my town is home to the organization.

In recent years, when my regret for having never enrolled in a NOLS course would surface, friends who work at NOLS would tell me, “You know, it’s never too late.” But I wasn’t quick to agree. After all, I am a mother of young children. It felt selfish to think of embarking on a 2-week adventure. So, enrolling in a NOLS course was no small deal for me. It was a dream that had been hard for me to “justify.”

The other reason the NOLS course would be a dream come true for me is because of its location. I travel the country in search of the most epic scenery. In my mind, no place embodied epic better than Alaska’s Brooks Range. It would be a dream come true for me to get to intimately explore such an epic place.

Alaska is huge. Situated in the northwest extremity of the North America, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, Alaska has a larger coastline that all U. S. states combined. Occupying 586,000 square miles, it is the largest U. S. state. And yet, it is the least populated. To put it in perspective, there is one person per square mile.

It’s vast, unpopulated and extremely wild, complete with grizzly bears. For all of these reasons, the NOLS Brooks Range Hiking course was perfect. Like I said, the things dreams are made of.

Except for one problem. It would come with some longing –– some serious longing.

Here is a clip of photos I captured and printed to be included in letters and cards a neighbor mailed to Jerry and boys for me every day while I was away:

Due to one of NOLS’ policies, which I understand, appreciate and support, I would have no communication with anyone outside of our course. That’s right, two weeks of no communication with my family.

The farther north we traveled on the Dalton Highway, the more excited I became. And yet at the same time, the farther north we traveled, the more heart sick I became as I realized the scale of this region and its distance from my family.

I should mention that traveling and being away from my family is not unusual for me. I travel frequently. When I am away, I miss them very much and, as a result I limit and select travel with great care. Typically I’m away for no longer than 1-3 days, and I can start and end each day in conversation with all of my sons. In a way, I can be there for them even though I’m geographically not there.

During my NOLS course, I would not be there for them. And, they would not be there for me.

I have many friends who are terrific role models as parents, who travel much more than I do. In the weeks leading up to my NOLS course, I looked to them for support. Their input was helpful. They told me things like, “This is good modeling for your sons. You want them to choose girls/women who are adventurous and brave.” And: “Think of the special gift you’re providing by leaving them to have these two weeks of special time with their father.” And: “Think of the country you will see and the tales of adventure you will get to share with your family upon your return.” And: “This is a dream of yours. It’s not a vacation, but an expedition. It will grow you. The knowledge and experience you gain from it will enable you to have a greater impact on the lives of your children, and future clients.” It all made perfect sense.

But. Still.

“Video Love Notes” I captured for Jerry and our sons during my NOLS Brooks Range Hiking course:

I worried aloud about not being here for my boys for two whole weeks. To this, some of closest friends reminded me that children are resilient and that although my sons love me, they probably wouldn’t miss me as much as I think they would, or as much as I would miss them. While hearing this was not exactly comforting, it was honest, and therefore helpful as I prepared to long for my boys.

Being away from my boys, with no ability to hear their voices and know how their lives and days were going, would – hands down – be the most difficult part of my NOLS experience. This much I knew.

The rain and intermittent snow, hiking through spongy tundra, and tussocks and through alders and across rivers and up steep, loose, exposed mountain ridges with a heavy pack on my back was easy compared to enduring the longing I had for my boys. The longing for my boys was at its worst at the end of each day when we all retreated to our tents. I would lie there and yearn to hear their voices, to smell their hair, to hold their hands, to “dog-pile” with them, and just to be in their presence. I was emotionally tender during these times. I literally had a heart ache.

Letter from our 4-year-old son, Fin.

Letter from our 9-year-old son, Hayden.

Letter from our 11-year-old son, Wolf.

The boys often roll their eyes at me, the only girl in our home. Here is a photo they included with their notes to me where there are glued on plastic rolling eyes glued onto their eyes.

When I sign up for something that is hard, I grow. My NOLS Brooks Range course was hard, all right. But, it was also, truly, an experience of a lifetime.

Despite the longing, I made life-long friends with my eight course-mates and our two wonderful instructors. I was blown away and inspired to new levels by the sights and scale of Alaska’s Brooks Range. I experienced the best leadership training, ever. I grew. I returned more, and better, than I was before. Part of this is due to the longing I experienced. Because my NOLS course meant sacrificing time and contact with my family, I participated in the course and experienced the Alaska tundra to the absolute fullest. As a result of all of these things, I cannot imagine a richer experience. And, I am quite certain that I returned a better mother and wife.

Photos I captured during my NOLS Brooks Range Hiking course for Jerry and our sons:

For all of you considering a NOLS course, I cannot recommend it enough. Please feel free to contact me to ask more personal or extensive questions about my experience.

This “self interview” captured on my final day in the Brooks Range says it better than my written words:

In closing, here are some things I did before my departure to ensure my boys would be touched, and reminded of my love, on a daily basis, despite no real-time communication with them, as well as some things I did for them during my absence.

  • 1.) I snapped photos of me holding an “I Love You” poster from various points around Lander where my family I often frequent. I had prints made of each of these photos and then included them in a letter or card I wrote (in advance) for Jerry and our sons. I arranged for our neighbors, Terry and Gene, to drop one in the mail each day I was away. This way the boys received mail from me every day while I was hiking in the Alaska tundra. (In some of the mail I included gift certificates to the local ice cream shop, or pizza gift cards, or for my husband, coffee gift certificates.) It made for a lot of work in the days leading up to my NOLS course, but it was well worth it because I took comfort in the ability to “touch” my boys while I was out of communication.
  • 2.) I recorded a video message for them. It is too personal for me to post here, but suffice it to say it was hard for me to do, but important for me to do. I loaded it onto Jerry’s laptop the morning I departed and instructed them to open and view it once I was officially out of touch.
  • 3.) The first night in the tent in the Alaska tundra, when I dug my journal out to record the events of the day, I discovered an envelope of items from Jerry and the boys. They had each written me a letter and included some photos. I was so moved and touched to read letters from my boys. Instead of dwelling on missing me, their words cheered me and told me how much they loved me. (With my sons’ permission, I’ve included photos of their notes to me in this post. I didn’t include a photo of the one from Jerry, which will forever remain very special to me.)
  • 4.) At home, I’m quite outnumbered, the only girl in a house of four males, plus a male puppy. For various reasons, the boys are always rolling their eyes at me. One of the things included in the envelope from them was a photo of the three boys with plastic googly-rolling eyes glued to them. (See photo).
  • 5.) Before I departed for Alaska, it was decided the boys would have their own expedition — a project we termed, “Expedition Basement.” Basically, while their mommy was away they would have full rein in creating a “Boy Cave” downstairs. This gave them something exciting to look forward to, while facilitating a project for them to focus their creative energies on without my interference. :) You should see it. Paint thrown on the walls, a big screen television, skull and cross bone flags, and even a mini-fridge (for their juice pops I guess?) It’s a riot.
  • 6.) While I was away, backpacking in Alaska’s Brooks Range, I enlisted my course-mates to capture photos of me holding an “I Love You” note. (By the way, my course-mates were a terrific family-away-from-family.)
  • 7.) I also captured a few “video love notes” for Jerry and the boys from various points during the NOLS course.
    NOLS Brooks Range Hiking course — Not a Vacation
    My Brooks Range People Made Me Better

    I am a life/leadership coach. Services include on-demand coaching and consulting, with an option that includes an epic outdoor adventure. I also provide nutrition and personal branding consulting. Please email me if you’re interested in learning more about this.

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    8 responses to “Epic Adventure – and Longing”

    1. Best Blogs About The USA

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    2. Debra East

      Shelli, I finally had a quiet moment to read this fully and love more than the first glance! You rock it in so many ways. I love, love the googley eyes too. I laughed so much.

      More travel, more finds, more mountains, more sun!

    3. North Georgia Cabin Rentals

      I must say one thing Shelli. Your kids are indeed adorable. And the letters they wrote you are so heartwarming that I as a parent feel like reading them again and again every time I set my eyes on them. I just do not seem to get enough of those lovely nothings they wrote. Best Wishes Shelli, have a Happy Family Life ahead!

    4. Amy Kocourek

      I laughed out loud at the photo of your boys with the googley eyes. Your kids are hilarious. Thanks for sharing about your adventure. I almost went on this same NOLS course a few years ago, but then something came up and I had to cancel out of the trip. I’d still like to go on this trip and hope to arrange my life to accomodate it sometime in the next few years! You’ve inspired me!


    5. Shelli

      Kate, Kathy and Leann,
      Thank you all so much! Each of you is included in those dear ones I reference that provided love and support in leading up to my NOLS course — and in my life.
      THANK YOU!!!
      Much love to you and thanks for the wonderful comments!

    6. Leann

      Life is such a journey. I loved the notes your kids wrote to you. As the parents, you have both created a solid base of love, caring, and trust. That foundation will carry you through the all the challenges of family life. :)

    7. Kate Roeske

      Oh my goodness -this is inspiring. It is a huge “and” that I think so many mothers struggle with. How do I do what my life has called me to do AND be the mother I am. This is just so touching to see yours motherhood and calling both be honored. We don’t have to choose OR. And such creativity came out of it!! For everyone! Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your inner journey.

    8. Kathy Swanson

      Oh boy I felt your pain for you each day you were away but knew you would return stronger, as you have. You’ve captured this just right. I adore your family and these letters from your sons demonstrate what a great job you and Jerry have done to help shape them into positive, loving people. I have no doubt this adventure will have a pivotal role in their lives, even if they can’t ever verbalize that. Only positive things can happen from things like this. Congrats. Kathy

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    We Are Of Many Minds; How to Leverage The Best One

    I wake up at 4 am three mornings a week to go to the gym and work out. Many people ask me, “How do you get up at 4 am to work out?” This question is not surprising; 4 am is crazy early. And of course the reasons I do it are numerous, but include the following: Getting up at dark thirty when everyone else in my family is fast asleep “creates time” for me, energizes me, which causes me to be more productive during the day, and provides a tremendous health benefit.

    But the response really should be this: “Easy. I set my alarm at 4 a.m.; when it goes off, I get out of bed and go to the gym.” (See my humorous video response to this question from a while back.)

    Seriously. It’s easy: You decide to do something, and then, you do it.

    But if it’s so easy, why is it not so easy?

    Um, because, in fact, it’s not easy. And the reason it’s not is we are of more than one mind. At 8 pm, when we’re setting the alarm, we are of the mind that we will get up and work out at the gym. But then the alarm goes off, and someone else is present in our mind and it’s not the same (crazy!) person who set the alarm and thought getting up early to go to the gym was a good idea. All too often, the person who reaches for the snooze, or that turns off the alarm entirely, wins the battle.

    Alas, we are each of many minds and usually the “rivals” are not at the table at the same time. When they are, they duke it out, but chances are, the stronger one at the particular moment will almost surely win.

    This scenario happens for each of us all the time. For example, yesterday was Halloween. I love all things sweet. We had pumpkin cookies, brownies and heaping bowls of candy at our home yesterday in preparation for trick-or-treaters and as a result of our sons’ own trick or treating.

    I could have easily self-destructed by allowing myself to gorge on sweets all day long. To protect against this, I determined a day in advance, and again at dark thirty while working out at the gym on Halloween, that I would not eat a single piece of Halloween candy. I am no good at moderation, and I knew I’d feel physically miserable as a result of eating a bunch of candy.  I know that the only benefit of eating the candy is the taste of it, which lasts only as long as it takes to chew it. (And I “snarf” candy so it’s even more fleeting.) In other words, the upside of eating candy is very short-lived, whereas the longer-lasting result is not feeling very optimal. It’s not even a contest when you think about it.

    And yet, how it is a contest, and not an easy one to win. While making the commitment was easy, honoring it was not. I am human, after all.

    I am not good at many things. But one thing I am good at is setting and achieving goals. Still, as I put the Mounds into our bowl for trick-or-treaters, I was of the mind that “Halloween is just once a year. You love Mounds. You work out hard. You are so disciplined the rest of the year. You can have just one Mound. These are Mounds for crying out loud!”

    You get the picture. This mind was clearly not the same mind that so steadfastly declared no sweets at the start of the day. It was a battle, except only the one side appeared to be present at the moment, the “weaker” one, which aimed to sabotage my earlier commitment.

    I fancy myself as a strategist. I love experimenting and researching ways to win battles and achieve goals. I’ve been reading a lot about the conscious mind and the unconscious mind, and things that affect our behavior.

    What I’ve figured out, as a result of both my research and my own experimentation, is there are ways to decide which mind we are serious about and want to honor, and ways to strengthen that one, while weakening the other. We can find ways to sort of “trick” the weaker of the minds.

    To illustrate, let’s return to the waking up early to go work out at the gym example. Let’s say you’re serious about your commitment to rise early to work out at the gym. Ways to bolster your chance of winning that battle and honoring your commitment might include going to bed at a reasonable time, setting the coffeemaker to brew a cup for you for that early, having your gym clothes out and ready, placing the alarm clock out of reach so you have to get out of bed to tend to it, and  — if all these things still aren’t enough –– asking your significant other to remind you and enforce your desire to get up and go to the gym when the alarm sounds. There are yet more things you can do, such as thinking of those awesome designer jeans you want to fit into, or thinking of the way you will feel (disappointed) when you get up at 7 am and realize you let yourself down by not honoring your commitment to wake early and exercise. You can come up with more than these if you wish.

    On the other hand, ways to sabotage your efforts and strengthen the lazier, less-committed mind, would be to stay up late watching a movie while drinking a bottle of wine and snacking late, and to not to do any of aforementioned “preloaded” things.

    Following are some strategies that work for me when it comes to achieving goals and in an attempt to honor the “best” of my many minds.

    Deciding your priorities is the first step, but committing is critical if you are serious about achieving something or making serious change in your life.  Deciding and committing are not the same thing. We decide all the time to do things. Committing is making them happen.

    Once I commit to the people and things that are my priorities, I take my commitments very seriously, which includes making sure I don’t have an easy way to retreat, and wherever possible, creating habits and developing them into routine.

    Routine serves me well. Making decisions requires energy and self-control.  Our supply of self-control is limited, so why wouldn’t we go to great lengths to preserve it? Dan and Chip Heath call this “preloading” — when you make a decision ahead of time, thereby preventing the use of self-control later. In short, if you decide and commit to something in advance, you don’t need to consider it or make a decision about it when it comes up in real time.  In my experience, this saves energy and helps my chances of success.

    Examples of preloaded decisions I have built into regular routine are working out at the gym three mornings a week, not eating ice cream except during my ice cream social with our three sons on Friday afternoons, having tea with my parents every Wednesday afternoon, distance training on Friday mornings during spring and summer, shutting my cell phone down during the weekends, and so on.

    I’m not saying that preloading prevents me from being tested. But it does mean the temptations are more limited and not as great of a presence if I’ve made decisions in advance about them.

    By the way, I did not eat the Mound. I did not eat a single piece of Halloween candy. It was hard, but I stayed true to my commitment. Tying the consequences to short-term emotional feelings (in this case disgust and feeling physically lousy) tends to be effective in helping me choose to do the right thing. For that reason I recommend it.

    Hope this of value to you. What are some ways that you honor commitments and achieve goals that you set?

    I am a life/leadership coach. Services include on-demand coaching and consulting, with an option that includes an epic outdoor adventure. I also provide nutrition and personal branding consulting. Please email me if you’re interested in learning more about this.

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    2 responses to “We Are Of Many Minds; How to Leverage The Best One”

    1. Shannon Kaminsky

      LOVE your new post Shelli! My favorite: “Deciding and committing are not the same thing. We decide all the time to do things. Committing is making them happen.” I have to agree with Kathy; I too have learned much of this from you. THANK YOU!!

    2. Kathy Swanson

      Very true and I have learned much of this from you. Thanks my friend!

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    Life is Full of Micro & Macro Route Decisions

    (Note: Here’s a 4-minute video blog of the same)

    Most of us have an idea about what we want our life and future to be. Call it our destination. It’s where we’re headed. It’s the life that we’re trying to create. It’s what every day we’re working toward.

    If given a choice, I will always choose the high route.

    There are many ways we can get there. And I suspect most of us would agree that there is value in the journey.

    So we “route find” our way through our lives. At times we follow paved roads, complete with signs and navigation. Other times we follow trails. And still other times we bushwhack, creating our own path. Life is a series of macro and micro route finding decisions. For example, a macro decision for me is deciding that I want to be a life and leadership coach. A micro decision might be determining what coaching program to enroll in.

    In August, I embarked on a NOLS Backpacking course in the Brooks Range of Alaska. For two weeks we backpacked north of the Arctic Circle. There are no trails in the 700-mile-wide Brooks Range. So our course involved a lot of map reading and route-finding.

    About halfway through the course, we had to make a decision about which route we’d follow to hike to the Dalton Highway to meet our pick up at the end of the course. We had two choices: Follow the Chandalar River bottom all the way out, or, take an alternative route, which we dubbed “the high route,” which would mean ascending at least two mountain passes.

    Ascending a steep mountain pass in falling snow.

    Thankfully we voted and it was decided, unanimously, to take the high route.
    Now, don’t get me wrong. There are far worse ways to spend six days than hiking along the Chandalar River. However, it would be about six days of the same spectacular scenery and experience. It would lack adventure due to the unvaried aspect of the route and the predictability of the terrain.

    The high route, on the other hand, would provide a variety of vantages from which to view the Brooks Range. It would also be more physically demanding, mentally challenging, while almost certainly providing more uncertainty. It would be the more interesting route, and there would be far more learning to come out of it. For all of these reasons I, and I think my course-mates, found it to be more compelling.

    I think we chose well.

    I remember one day my hiking group ascended a mountain pass. A light snow was falling on us, making the terrain, which was loose rock on top of loose rock on a steep slope, wet and slippery.

    It took tremendous focus and determination for each of us to ascend the pass. Each foot had to be deliberately placed. It was not fun. It was hard work and extremely taxing on the body and the mind.

    For which we were significantly rewarded. Standing at the top of the pass, we were elated about our accomplishment, as we took in views of mountains in all directions and a labyrinth of canyons. And, to top it off, one side of the pass had a complete, bright rainbow arching over its abyss, and the other side had intermittent sun shining through lightly falling snow. It was surreal, and it was unforgettable.

    Gold at the end of the rainbow. Indeed.

    We would have missed this amazing experience had we chosen the easier, safer route.

    Life is like this. We get choose our route(s), and factors that will influence our decisions often include amount of effort required, degree of difficulty, level of uncertainty, and so on.

    Following a well-traveled path is easier. The heavy lifting has been done. There are maps, textbooks, signage, experiences and wisdom shared from others who have gone before us. There is not a lot of new learning required. It’s predictable, and as a result pretty “safe.” There are few unknowns, if any.

    Charting your own path is harder. It’s baptism by fire, trial and error. It’s bushwhacking. It’s climbing uphill, and over loose terrain. You’re more exposed. There are many unknowns, because it’s possible that no other person has gone before you, or where you intend to go. You might hike all day before arriving at a cliff, which will mean backtracking, re-routing, or possibly having to start over. There are no maps. It’s mostly work, and a lot of learning.

    It’s a great question to ask yourself: In your life, are you following a trail, or are you charting your own course? And how’s it working out for you?

    I am a life/leadership coach who provides on-demand coaching, combined with an epic adventure. Please email me if you’re interested in learning more about this.

    NOLS Brooks Range Backpacking course — Not a Guided Tour
    My Brooks Range People Made Me Better
    Other Life and Leadership-related Posts

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    5 responses to “Life is Full of Micro & Macro Route Decisions”

    1. Marc

      Inspirational, as always!
      Brooks Range was definitly a metaphore for life wasn’t it? :)

    2. Leann

      Thanks Shelli, worth reading several times! Thanks for the inspiration to continue to celebrate being alive!

    3. Barbara Cartwright

      I hope we can all experience that gold, after choosing the higher route. Thanks Shelli, once again for your inspirational words of wisdom.

    4. Sharon Lincoln

      This is quite a timely message and very inspiring!!! Reminds me to continue to follow my gut and trust that it’ll all come together. Thanks for sharing this message shelli!!!!

    5. Kate Roeske

      So true! And I think that it’s important to take those risks. So many of us choose the easier path and fall asleep! Don’t! Wake up!! Go up! Stay awake!
      Loved it!! Write on!

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    Route Finding in Life

    In your life, are you following a well-traveled trail or charting your own course?

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    2 responses to “Route Finding in Life”

    1. Amber Hollins

      Fantastic advice and what a perfect, inspiring metaphor! I’m definitely creating and charting my own path, but what you said enlightens and encourages me that it’s okay…and to keep moving forward, have faith and believe in myself no matter what. Thanks so much, sister! xoxo

    2. Life is Full of Micro & Macro Route Decisions | Have Media Will Travel

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    To Win, Back Yourself Against a Cliff

    I am a goal-oriented person. I always am working on a goal, or ten.

    From time to time, I refer to the goals I set as Ulysses pacts. A Ulysses pact, or contract, is a self-made decision that binds one to the future. The term refers to the pact Ulysses (Odysseus) made with his men as they approached the Sirens. Sirens were the three dangerous bird women/seductresses who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island.

    Ulysses wanted to hear the Sirens’ song but he knew doing so would render him irrational so he put wax in his men’s ears so that they were unable to hear, and had them tie him to the mast so that he could not jump into the sea. He then ordered them not to change course under any circumstances, and to keep their swords upon him to attack him if he should break free of his bonds. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

    I set many goals and achieve most of them. And while I don’t take it to the extreme that Ulysses did, I understand his thinking. I absolutely credit the achievement of my goals to my level of commitment to them, and to the fact I tie them to short-term consequence(s) with no chance for compromise. I’m sharing what works for me here in hopes it will be of value to others.

    It’s pretty easy to decide to do something. How many of us decide we’re going to eat healthier starting this week? But we don’t. Or we’re going to start going exercising again, and/or we’re going to join a gym.  But we don’t. We are going to limit our alcohol consumption, or give up smoking. But we don’t. We are going to start saying “no” more often. But we don’t. We are going to spend less time watching television. But we don’t. We are going to read more. But we don’t. The list goes on. We all do it.

    Deciding, while it’s a start, is not enough. I think pretty hard about something I want to achieve before deciding it is a goal. Then, I commit. (Deciding and committing, while they go together, are not the same things. The distinction is critical. Please watch this video for more.)

    Further, if the goal is too big, or too vague then it’s likely the goal won’t be achieved. I would have little chance at succeeding if I were to say, “I want to be healthier” or “I want to watch less television.” The goal needs to be very specific, with no ambiguity. As Chip and Dan Heath so effectively put it in their awesome book, Switch, we should “shrink the change” (make the goal not so vague or big) to increase our likelihood of success.

    For me to have any chance at succeeding at a goal, I make a big deal of it to those closest to me. I need not only their support, but also, very importantly, their accountability.

    So commitment is the first requirement. Tying the commitment it to short-term consequence(s) is the second.

    Neuroscientiest David Eagleman, in an EXCELLENT Radiolab.org podcast, called “Help!,” says one of the best strategies for breaking a habit or making a change or achieving a goal is to tie it to “some sort of emotional salience — some reason why they matter to us right now, otherwise they will never work.”

    A personal example is my weight loss journey that started in March of 2009. After three years of growing lazy, overweight and out of shape, the feeling of disgust and regret that I met with every single night when I went to bed served as the best motivator and consequence in my mission to lose weight and get healthy again.

    My goal was a long-term one – to be a vibrant mother and wife who takes care of her health and body. But the short-term consequences were what did it for me and kept me true to my commitment to good health once I set that goal. I tied the future goal to a short-term feeling of disgust and regret. I did not want to feel that way. So my battle became a battle of disgust vs. desire (to not exercise and to keep eating too much junk food). In my humble opinion and experience, disgust almost always wins over desire.

    Thomas C. Schelling is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist who has written a lot about the idea of commitment. (Being a fanatic about commitment, I enjoyed his Strategies of Commitment, which I highly recommend.)

    In the same, aforementioned Radiolab podcast, Schelling talks about arranging commitment “so you can’t compromise.”

    An example he gives is from ancient Greece. A Greek being pursued by a huge army of Persians had to make a stand on a hillside, and one of his generals said “I don’t think this is a good location to make our stand. There is a cliff behind us. There’s no way we can retreat if we need to.” He told the General, “Exactly.”

    Schelling personally enlisted this strategy in his own life. In the Radiolab.org podcast, Schelling tells of his own win over smoking. In 1980, after many failed attempts to quit smoking, he gathered his children together, and told them, “I quit.” But that wasn’t all. He told them they “should never have respect for their father again” if he returned to smoking. Guess what? He never smoked again.

    I will give one more example of a goal of mine with short-term consequence, which is far less significant than giving up smoking, but illustrates the effectiveness of the strategy this post is about.

    I’m on Day 7 of a 30-day “no nuts or fruits” pact. If I screw up, my short-term consequences for the week are: 1) I cannot have the scoops of ice cream I have on Friday with my sons during our traditional weekly ice cream social, and 2) I have to train/exercise in the streets of Lander, which would mean forgoing the trails in the canyon, foothills and mountains above town, where I prefer to train. (Of course, fruits and nuts are good for a person. But I eat an excessive amount of both, so this is simply a pact to clean my slate on these items before reintroducing them at reasonable and healthy levels.)

    By the way, upon hearing the Sirens’ song, Ulysses was driven temporarily insane and struggled with all of his might to break free so that he might join the Sirens, which would have meant his death.

    But this is beside the point. He survived AND he didn’t give in to the Sirens. Right? Thanks for listening, and good luck with your goals.

    Shelli Johnson is a life/leadership coach. Her business, YOUR EPIC LIFE, Life Should Take Your Breath Away, combines coaching with an epic adventure. Email her for more information.

    Self Control is an Exhaustible Resource

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    8 responses to “To Win, Back Yourself Against a Cliff”

    1. We Are Of Many Minds; How to Honor The Best One | Have Media Will Travel

      [...] I commit to the people and things that are my priorities, I take my commitments very seriously, which includes making sure I don’t have an easy way to retreat, and wherever possible, [...]

    2. Jim Breitinger

      Excellent post!

    3. Shannon Kaminsky

      THANK YOU Shelli! Great post and so thought provoking for others. I have committed to my own 30-day Ulysses Pact starting October 1st because of you! More people should push themselves to do these types of things! Great Job as usual!

    4. Kathy Swanson

      Excellent, as usual. Thank you.

    5. Joel Krieger

      Another great post. Thanks for sharing, Shelli : )

    6. Sharon Terhune

      Hey Shelli,
      Yea, I like the idea of making a pact with yourself. It seems a very self-honoring thing to do. And the key seems to be specificity. I don’t know-you got me thinking, girl. Ulysses Pact. Nice!

    7. Toni

      Thanks so much for this post!

      There is a story in Caesar’s Gallic Wars that always impressed me: several Swiss: a Swiss tribe had the choice between staying in the village, nice and comfortable but facing the likelihood of a Roman invasion; and leaving behind their village, which would initially be rather arduous, but int he long time would ensure their safety. They decided to leave and, to make sure no one would change their mind on the way and try to get the group to turn back, they set their village on fire.

      Not only is this a (slightly extreme) parallel to Schelling telling his children never to respect him again if he went back to smoking; it also shows you that people struggled with the same kinds of things – decisions and committing to them – that we are still dealing with today. I’d even say Caesar himself must have had that problem – otherwise he wouldn’t have recounted the story of this one tribe in so much detail.

    Leave a Reply

    My Brooks Range People Made Me Better

    In the Brooks Range, on our last night.

    This is Post 2 in a series about my recent Alaska Brooks Range backpacking course.

    It was Aug. 6, the afternoon before the start of my NOLS Brooks Range Hiking course. I was in Alaska, enjoying the comforts of the Ah, Rose Marie Bed & Breakfast, in Fairbanks, while waiting for others enrolled in the course to arrive.

    As I waited to meet my course-mates, I wondered: What kind of person signs up for a Brooks Range NOLS course?

    I generally love people. I get energy from people, and am inspired by people. Still, I get a little nervous before meeting new people.

    We would be dropped off by the side of the road, north of the Arctic Circle, a region where evacuation is nearly impossible. We would be off the grid, and we would not be “picked up” for 12 days.

    We would be “stuck,” together.

    Strangers, dropped off on side of road in the Far North.

    After being dropped off, and watching the van drive off, I recalled a quote by John Kauffmann in John McPhee’s Coming Into the Country: “You come to this place on its terms. You assume the risk.”

    For me, part of the risk (read: scary part) of the NOLS course was setting off into The Far North with people I didn’t know.

    I did not enroll in a NOLS course for the people I would meet. I enrolled in the NOLS Brooks Range Hiking course because I wanted to experience an epic place that is wild and vast and home to very few people, and to learn leadership and outdoor skills from the world’s premier teacher.

    The NOLS course is not a guided tour or a vacation. It’s a lot of work. In fact, it is mostly work. The easiest part of the Brooks Range Hiking course was the hiking. When we weren’t hiking, we were setting up camp, cooking or baking, cleaning up, only to wake up again the next morning to break it all down and pack it all up and start all over again.

    My hiking team on top of a snowy pass.

    At times there was torrential rain, cold, and even snow, and steep slopes and loose rock, and sinking, squishy tundra over which to hike, or tussocks, which felt like hands coming out of the tundra and pulling/tugging your ankles down as you tried to take a hiking step, and there were deep rivers to cross.

    We had to work together, which at times meant working out differences and supporting each other in a wide range of circumstances. We had to pull together in times of hardship to move the group forward. It meant being selfless.

    Each of us was vulnerable during the course, and often, which meant we really got to know each other.

    Working together to set up camp.

    Perhaps course-mate Jon (Rosenfield) said it best, in his informal video interview, which I captured near the course’s end, when he said the Brooks Range experience meant “coming back in contact with myself, because there’s no hiding from all parts of yourself out here.”

    Indeed. Each of us revealed ourselves in The Far North.

    Hiking up a hill toward a mountain pass.

    Through thick and thin, I came to love these people who were on my course.

    The hardest part of the course for me was being away from, (and out of contact with) my three young sons and husband. My Brooks Range comrades – Antonia, Chris, Jon, JJ, Marc, Pat, Cutter, Lauren and Amy – were a wonderful surrogate family for me. They are not merely friends; they’ve made it all the way into my inner circle, which is saying something because before the course, I already had plenty of wonderful people in my life.

    By the end of the trip, I felt right at home. Marc, Chris and Jon, who were part of my cook group, were rolling their eyes at me -- much like my boys do to me at home. :)

    A couple of weeks before I departed Wyoming for Alaska, I went to coffee with a friend who is a former NOLS instructor and who has spent time in Alaska’s Brooks Range. She shared her photos and further whetted my appetite for the upcoming adventure. One of the things she told me, that struck me, was that the experience would change me, and that one thing I may notice upon my return will be I will have changed, but the world and people around me won’t have changed.

    Sure, I changed as a result of experiencing, so intimately, Alaska’s stunning Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Brooks Range.

    But the biggest change in me was brought about by my course-mates. Because they were/are so different from me, I learned much from them, while discovering new things about myself. And in the process, we shared what was for me an unforgettable, experience of a lifetime.

    The best way I can describe the way these special people changed me is to say I am better because of them.

    My Brooks Range people, on top of our last pass, toward the end of our course.

    Antonia, Chris, Jon, “JJ”, Marc, Pat, Cutter, Lauren and Amy: Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

    I would love to introduce you to them here:

    Antonia Ruppel (or “Toni”), 32, is a native German, with a B.A., Masters and Ph.D. from Cambridge University, is a Senior Lecturer in Classics, teaching Greek, Latin and Sanskrit at Cornell University. Antonia speaks beautiful, “proper” English. I could listen to her for hours if afforded the privilege.

    Antonia Ruppel.

    I loved having her as a tent-mate. She is the wittiest person I have ever met, and is fascinating to converse with, what with her wealth of knowledge and what is a wide range of interests. Except for our two female instructors, Antonia and I were the only women on the course. As hopefully women readers will appreciate, we girls like our girlfriends for particular types of conversations. It was a treat to retreat to the tent each night and have important – and rich – conversations with Antonia. I would share some of them but then I’d have to kill you. Yes, the conversations were that great. I have never met anyone like Antonia. She is that much of a treat. She is brilliant, charming, and I have to say it again, fantastically funny. I also loved her enthusiasm for hunting down wild blueberries, and her skills at finding (usually several) antlers on every single hike. We will remain friends forever, and I consider myself lucky as a result. :)

    Chris Scovil, 28, is a Tax Manager at Deloitte Tax LLP, in Chicago, IL. At 6’9”, Chris was “the tall man” on the course. He is a triathlete, has an appreciation for fine food, and his passions include international relations, cooking, thoughtful conversation and the outdoors.

    Chris Scovil.

    Chris’s courage on loose, exposed terrain, despite his discomfort, was an inspiration to me during the course. I was fortunate to be in Chris’ cook group, and on many days, in his hiking group, and can fondly recall many meaningful conversations we shared. Chris was often the first to start doing the “common work” that had to be done every morning and evening, even as all of us were getting soaked in a downpour. He placed a great deal of respect on goals and schedules, which I really appreciated during our course, and in my life, in general. One other thing about Chris is that he has a big vocabulary. Prior to this course I was proud of the extent of my vocabulary, but on a few occasions Chris used words I didn’t know the meaning for. A word lover, I found these instances exciting. :) I would be on Chris’s team any day. He is not only really smart and driven, but also courageous, loyal and generous.

    Jon Rosenfield, 42, is a Ph.D. conservation biologist for the Bay Institute in the San Francisco area. This was his fifth NOLS adventure, which to me, meant he is an expert at all things NOLS. He took me under his wing and taught me how to master the camp stove and the spice kit.

    Jon Rosenfield.

    He helped me turn unspectacular entrées into spectacular entrées, such as the apricot, cashew and sunflower nut quinoa meal I made for our cook group the night before an arduous hike over a big mountain pass. Jon is engaging and smart and funny. He had many of us in stitches for long periods of time. We had many great conversations “in the kitchen” and while sharing caffeinated mud from his coffee press. Due to his many NOLS experiences and his unending good nature, it really was a gift to be on the course with him. By the end of our trip I felt like I had known Jon for most of my life. He was probably the first of my course-mates to make it into my inner circle. Which is really saying something. :)

    Marc Morisset, 31, was born in Belgium, Brussels, but now lives in Paris, France, where he is an international sales manager. Marc is well-traveled (he has traveled to 50 countries), and after our initial conversation, I sensed he was hungry for an outdoor experience and a physical challenge.

    Marc Morisset.

    Throughout the course, I admired Marc’s quiet leadership, especially the way he would step up and lead, with conviction, when he was asked to be “on point.” I remember the day our group was crossing the Continental Divide, and Marc was asked to take point on what was a very steep, loose slope of rock sliding on top of more sliding rock. He rose to the occasion and did a phenomenal job of route finding. As someone who asks a lot of questions, I appreciated Marc’s own questions of others in his desire to learn. He was there to be challenged, and to learn, and he applied himself to the course, and to our mission, to the full extent. When I first met him my impression was that he was a very serious man, which certainly I think he is, but I also got to see a very fun, and funny side of him when we taught him how to play gin rummy, and during his telling a story about his role in playing high stakes poker. I am glad that I met Marc, and that he is among my friends.

    Cutter Williams turned 27 during our course, and is from Portland, OR. He is a writer, who works as a barista at a popular coffee house. When he’s not a barista, he is working toward publishing a magazine called Cavalcade Literary Magazine. I found Cutter and I to be kindred spirits in that we both would like to, well, just walk, preferably forever, even it’s all uphill.

    Cutter Williams.

    Introspective, Cutter was often laying in the tundra reading a novel or writing in his journal along a babbling brook. I envy Cutter’s ability to “chill.” I have three unforgettable memories that occurred on the course involving Cutter: an air ping pong game on his birthday that we played until we realized we didn’t have anyone willing to chase the ball for us, skipping rocks across the Chandalar River, and also his finishing my “Yeehaw” bear calls with his signature finish. Watch for his name in future literary works. I have a hunch that great literary things are in store for Cutter. I also hope to take him “walking” in my back yard, the Wind River Mountains, one day. I think he’d love ‘em.

    Pat Kirby, 25, is an investigator for The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, in Washington, D. C. Two things I’m absolutely certain of after having spent time with Pat is that he is an extraordinary friend to his friends, and that his employer is lucky to have him on board. He very evidently cherishes his friends. This was obvious when he referred to them in conversation.

    Pat Kirby.

    It is obvious to all around Pat that he is a man of honor and integrity, which must serve him well in his work, which he loves, including the responsibility that comes with it. Pat is a natural team player. I witnessed him many times winning consensus while leading or being on point during a hike, or even during tasks at our camp. He is a good initiator, but is also an active follower. It is evident that in all areas of his life, he is a contributor. He is someone I’d want on my team, and I would be honored to be on his. He is sometimes quiet, and so it’s an exceptional treat when he finds something really funny because his laugh is quite boisterous, and when he gets going, it’s contagious. I imagine those closest to him get to hear that a lot, and I envy them for that. :)

    John Jostrand, or “JJ,” is 57, and is a partner in an investment management and banking firm in Chicago, IL. John is married and has two grown sons. I connected with JJ for many reasons, but initially because we are both spouses and parents and had those things in common. He was also the oldest (yet as fit as a 25-year-old) on the course, so I, the second-to-oldest, looked to him for his wisdom on all kinds of fronts. JJ (very obviously) is an effective leader.

    John (JJ) Jostrand.

    He is enthusiastic, warm and engaging. His love for the outdoors and physical challenge was evident throughout our course. Others gravitate toward him. I was fortunate to be in JJ’s hiking group often, but a few of the experiences with JJ that I’ll never forget include the time we had a “Vista Data” break and he discovered a location at which an unfortunate dall sheep met its end. It was quite a find! JJ was also along when we “went swimming” in the Brooks Range, and again during our “rock sledding” adventure. JJ had many notable bear calls, but “Booyah!” was his signature call and I will think of him now whenever I hear that word. He also had a stash of Brazil nuts that he shared with me throughout the course. JJ is a kindred spirit. I admire him and am better for having met him.

    (Instructor) Lauren Rocco, 25, is in her second year as a NOLS field instructor and recently relocated to Palmer, AK. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 2008 with a degree in Government and an interest in Computer Science. Upon graduating, she caught what she calls a “travel-exploratory bug,” and wanted to travel and learn more. In 2008-09 and 2009-10, she went to Antarctica to shovel snow and work in the carpentry shop.

    Lauren Rocco.

    Most recently she was a teacher at a charter school in Boston, MA. Lauren is currently enrolled in an EMT course and in addition to leading NOLS courses, she would like to volunteer for the local Search and Rescue. Lauren told me that she finds instructing for NOLS is meaningful, impactful, challenging, and “it obliges everyone involved to become better human beings.” When she’s not leading a NOLS course, she’s likely learning something, constructing something, reading, cooking, programming, or going for walks and exploring. I found Lauren to be a most effective leader, engaging and sensitive to both the environment and those around her. Her love of learning and her genuine interest in others was demonstrated throughout our course. She often read poetry to us during our evening meeting. In addition to being a great leader, Lauren is a lot of fun to be around. I went swimming, “rock sledding” and played “Ninja” in the Brooks Range – all of which happened when I was in the company of Lauren.

    (Instructor) Amy Davidson, 36, is a NOLS field instructor and program supervisor. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a major in Linguistics and a minor in Education. She took her NOLS Instructor course in May 1999 and worked her first course that summer. Subsequently she worked one summer course per year while working in San Francisco as a creative services consultant to the advertising industry.

    Amy Davidson.

    In the past two years, Amy has been a full-time NOLS employee, working in Alaska during the boreal Summer and in New Zealand during the balance of the year. Amy is smart and very funny. Her style is directive and yet engaging. As someone who wants to be a leader but can use more directive, I learned a lot on the course by watching Amy’s leadership style. She was well liked – loved – and yet has a knack for being directive and decisive. In being that way, Amy really enables her students to become more than what they otherwise would become as leaders in the outdoors. Amy is a high level leader who instills confidence in those she leads by challenging them to not be afraid to try, and even fail, and to embrace doing so in the pursuit of learning. I really enjoyed having Amy as one of our instructors and she is a great model for me.

    Thanks for reading! Please check back soon for more blogging about my Brooks Range experience.



    Photos – part 1 of 2

    Photos – part 2 of 2


    The National Outdoor Leadership School is the world’s premier teacher of outdoor skills and leadership. Consider enrolling in a NOLS course. There are many to choose from, throughout the world. Or, request a catalog that provides in-depth course information.

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    6 responses to “My Brooks Range People Made Me Better

    1. Route-Finding In Life - Epic Life

      [...] POSTS: NOLS Brooks Range Backpacking course — Not a Guided Tour My Brooks Range People Made Me Better Other Life and Leadership-related [...]

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      [...] and unforgettable. It was beyond scale. The scenery was epic – truly, out of this world. The people with which I shared the experience – who started out as strangers and would become some of my dearest friends – are epic. The [...]

    3. Epic Adventure – and Longing | Have Media Will Travel

      [...] the longing, I made life-long friends with my eight course-mates and our two wonderful instructors. I was blown away and inspired to new [...]

    4. Life is Full of Micro & Macro Route Decisions | Have Media Will Travel

      [...] POSTS: NOLS Brooks Range Backpacking course — Not a Guided Tour My Brooks Range People Made Me Better Other Life and Leadership-related Posts var addthis_pub = ''; var addthis_language = [...]

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      [...] The People. As I waited to meet my course-mates, I wondered, nervously, “What kind of person would sign [...]

    6. Kathy Swanson

      Very nice. So glad I got to know them all better through your wonderful detailed descriptions.

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    My NOLS Brooks Range Hiking Course: Not a Vacation or Guided Tour

    In Alaska's Brooks Range.

    Greetings from my beloved Frontier of Wyoming. I am re-entering upon returning from my National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course in Alaska’s remote Brooks Range and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    For two weeks, I backpacked a country that is so big and unending and wild and spectacular that there is no way I can adequately communicate or share its magnificence.

    A place like Alaska’s Arctic National Refuge and Brooks Range, and an experience like a NOLS course, changes people. I am not the same person.

    I have many interesting stories to share. While I am still “unpacking” all that I gained from the experience, here is a list of the main take-aways.

    1. A NOLS course is not a guided tour or a vacation. It is hard, but it’s one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. When I sign up for hard things, I grow. This was hard for all kinds of reasons, and as a result, I am more than I was before.

    My hiking group on top of a snowy pass, after a hard uphill effort.

    2. Longing. As a mother of three young sons, I found the hardest part of the NOLS course was not having any contact with my family. I now know what it is to “long” for someone. I am better for enduring it, though, and I hope my doing so may inspire other women who are mothers to consider a NOLS course.

    Photo note from the Brooks Range for my husband and sons.

    3. Expedition Behavior. This is one of the concepts for which NOLS is famous. On my course — spent with “strangers” and in bear country where bear precaution protocol means you can’t do anything without three other people near you at all times — learning to pitch in and do whatever it takes to move the group forward was critical and one of the most valuable skills learned. I see significant value in applying EB in all areas of my life.

    Expedition Behavior at work!

    4. Route-finding. We did lots of macro- and micro- route finding in the Brooks Range, a region that has no roads or trails. Map reading and route finding were a major part of my course. If we didn’t do it well, it was costly. Nothing like climbing the wrong pass or ascending or descending the wrong drainage only to realize you should have spent more time thinking it through and studying the maps, right? (Chris said it best when he said, during a particularly lengthy map check: “I don’t think it’s a waste of time for us to figure out where we are.”) Like in life, we can charge ahead with our heads down, choosing a route without looking ahead or considering the big picture. We can choose a path in life without being decisive, and just sort of wander and hope we end up at a good place. Or, we can look at the big picture — the features of the landscape before us for as far as the eye can see  – and then choose micro routes based on factors such as rewards, risks, time investment, certainty, consequences and other factors or features. This was one of my favorite aspects of the course, particularly how it applies to my life, since I am choosing to not follow a trail.

    Route-finding was a favorite aspect of the course for me.

    5. “Leader of the Day.” Our group of 10 divided into hiking groups of five each day. Each group was led by a “leader of the day.” I volunteered for this early on in the experience. While our hike was considered a success and I received positive feedback during the debrief, the day wasn’t easy for me. Despite the “success,” and my hankering for leading, I felt ineffective on a couple of fronts. It was humbling. I had many learnings during that day, which are already serving me in my life. The LOD component of a NOLS course is invaluable, and I plan on getting vulnerable in sharing my LOD experience with you in an upcoming post.

    Each of us was Leader of the Day at least once.

    6. Active Followership. This is another of NOLS’ well known leadership skills. Because I prefer to lead — I favor ownership and responsibility — I looked forward to learning about “active followership.” Turns out that I’m often an active follower due to my non-directive style of leadership. But mostly, this skill is an intriguing one, and I will be posting about it.

    Hiking near Lake 4352, with caribou up ahead.

    7. Bear Precaution Protocol. Wow. This is a good story to tell! Alaska is bear country. A lot of leadership skill development simply happened as a result of being required to always have three people with you to do anything, which, most notably, included going to the bathroom, but also for simple tasks like retrieving a camera from a tent or needing to communicate something to a member in another group that was in the tents when you were at the kitchen or the other way around. This aspect of our course also provided some humorous material, some of which I’ll be happy and excited to share in a story on this blog in the future.

    This is supposed to be funny.

    8. Baking and Cooking in the Brooks Range of Alaska. I never imagined I’d leave my NOLS Brooks Range Backpacking course with cake mix and flour on my outerwear, but that’s what happened. NOLS courses follow a “pantry-style” food rations system. We don’t bring freeze-dried foods or s’mores. We had bags of flour, brown sugar, cornmeal, powdered milk, pancake and cake mix, quinoa, pasta, cous-cous, cereal, granola and a pretty generous spice kit. Meal time was a big deal, then. Not only were we hungry and motivated to “lighten our loads” by consuming the food we were packing, but pantry-style cooking involved measuring and combining  – and being creative. This often meant breakfast and dinner, from set up to clean up, each took about two hours. The cooking and baking and creating with our course-mates was an unexpected pleasure of the course that facilitated not only meal preparation but intimate bonding and time for great conversation with one another.

    Baking in the Brooks Range.

    9. 24 Hours of Daylight. Well, more or less, it never got dark. At home in Lander, WY, I’m a morning person. I rise at 5 am and am in bed by 10 pm. On my NOLS course in Alaska, we would wake up between 7:30-9 am and often eat dinner as late as 8-10 pm. Often we didn’t get to our tents for bed until midnight. If we had nightfall I am not sure I could have adjusted. Certainly it would have been interesting to see me try and operate on such a schedule! But given it was light all the time, it was nothing to adjust. I found it wonderful to have so much light and yet it was so perplexing when I would be visiting with one of my course-mates in broad day light, and it was midnight! I did not sleep well, despite being tired and comfortable and for the most part, warm. It may have been due to the daylight, although I doubt it since I often had my head buried in my sleeping bag. When I returned to civilization, I saw author Tim Sanders quote someone saying “I haven’t slept for 12 days. Because that would be too much.” Oh how I can relate. That is my story for the Brooks Range. Fortunately I did get lots of rest when others were sleeping. And as someone once told me, I can sleep when I’m dead. I was in Alaska’s Brooks Range after all!

    This was the closest thing to nightfall that we had.

    10. Rainbows. We saw several rainbows during our backpacking. Each was magnificent. My favorite was one that lit up its end (a bunch of orange lichen-covered rock on top of a pass we had just ascended) and another on our second-to-last day of hiking that filled the bowl of a black granite peak. Often we were above the rainbow, which provided a pretty cool vantage.

    Indeed- there was gold at the end of the rainbow.

    11. Variable weather. The weather for our two weeks was phenomenal for backpacking. That said, we experienced all four seasons on our course. Probably we had more spring and fall than winter and summer. Most days, at least for some short duration, we would have on our full rain gear, but not too frequently. On one day, we ascended a mountain pass in falling snow. On our two layover days of the trip there was enough sun to get more freckles on my face and even get de-layered down to a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. Mostly it felt like Autumn though. Much of the tundra’s floor was “crispy and crunchy” and there were lots of golds and burnt-red leaves. I like to be in control. The weather is something I can’t control. For this reason I am fascinated by it and welcome its variety. I also like the way the weather, depending on its mood, changes the feel of the moment as well as the look of the landscape. The variable weather did all of this for us in the Brooks Range.

    Watching the clouds was fantastic.

    12. Physical challenge. I am in good physical condition. My passion is long distance day hiking and I live at an elevation of 5,280′ and hike at altitudes ranging from 8,000′-12,000′. I didn’t expect my NOLS course to be much of a physical challenge for me. Still, it was physically demanding. There were two days that involved ascending mountain passes in rain and/or snow that had steep angles and loose rock on rock, followed by a long, unrelenting descent in a rocky gorge. These days, combined with the usual work of the course (setting up and breaking down camp, packing, and other chores) were challenging. Overall the course was a good physical challenge. Certainly this is a huge benefit of a NOLS course — using the outdoors and an awe-inspiring natural setting as a platform to improve your work ethic and your health. :)

    Hiking in soft tundra, through tussocks, across rivers, and up steep mountain passes was physically demanding.

    13. Leave No Trace. I know we didn’t! Learning and applying the Leave No Trace principles in a place as undiscovered and vast and wild as Alaska’s Brooks Range and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was a critical component of the NOLS course. I have much to share about LNT and examples of our implementation of LNT, including one of our biggest fails — and the low point of the entire course for me — when a Dig-It went missing. Long story short, we found it. But the stakes are high with LNT. We don’t mess around. NOLS taught us/me well when it comes to LNT.

    We left no trace on the beautiful landscape of Arctic tundra.

    14. The People. As I waited to meet my course-mates, I wondered, nervously, “What kind of person would sign up for a NOLS Brooks Range Backpacking course?” I was eager to meet these new people but also nervous. Turns out that I have some new friends in my life that I view more as family than friends. I will never forget any of them and hope we can keep in touch forever. To share such a meaningful, unique, hard experience together in a magical setting, is really something to treasure. Our instructors, too, were off the charts and also a part of this new family. I didn’t enroll in the NOLS course for the people I would meet. But it turns out the people on this course enriched the experience in ways I could never have imagined.

    My Brooks Range family.

    15. Evening Meetings. Every evening, as part of the NOLS experience, we had evening meetings. These provided a time for announcements to be made, tips & tricks to be shared, and discussion around the next day’s schedule. Then, one of us would have a 15-minute “spotlight,” which was a time to share your life story. There was also usually a poetry reading or a sharing of a chapter or small essay. Sometimes one of us would read something interesting in a naturalist’s book about something we saw during the day. The evening meeting was an intimate time for our group and it was really a great way to end each day.

    Evening meeting.

    16. Classes. A NOLS course is not a guided tour or vacation. There is a lot of instruction provided in outdoor skills, wilderness travel, environmental ethics and leadership. There were often classes held in the morning before we hit the trail, or in the evenings, and on our two layover days. Some classes were optional. There were classes on leadership styles and skills, knot-tying, cooking, stove-repair, map reading/gps use, first aid, and others. One class was “Alaska: Sense of Place.” This was presented to us during a layover day with the Chandalar River in the background. It made the experience complete because we were able to better understand the place we were in and how it came to be.

    Knot-tying class.

    17. Unforgettable Moments. The moments of this trip that are unforgettable include “swimming” in the Brooks Range, skipping rocks in the Chandalar River, watching four little waterfowl take off from Caribbean blue waters of Lake #4352 as hundreds of caribou ran across a hillside in the background, standing on a pass and being above a rainbow to the left and in falling snow with sunshine piercing through on the right, “sledding” down a bunch of shale/scree, playing gin rummy under the fly in a downpour, the smell of Labrador tea while hiking in the tundra, the taste of wild blueberries, the almost-constant sound of running water from a nearby river or a babbling brook, watching the clouds move down a ridge and “fill in” the fronts of a peak we could see from our tents, chocolate chip, brown sugar and granola pancakes with peanut butter on top, listening to poetry with kindred spirits in a magical place, posing with antlers against my head, coffee in the morning, looking at scat full of berries and small bones and trying to figure out the story, baking my first backcountry cake, the unique and fabulous signature “bear calls” each of us had, hearing rain pitter-patter on our tent all night long, the first time I set up and operated the camp stove with no assistance, the vanilla sky on our last night in the Chandalar River, walking up and through a small-but-dramatic gorge, the “moment of silence” upon ascending our final pass of the trip — a point that symbolized our “going home,” hiking under the moon and a handful of stars during our 2 am “hike to the highway,” our tailgate coffee party on the road at the end of the trail/course, and the really deep conversations I shared with each of my course-mates at various points of the course. And there are so many more.

    A moment in silence at top of our final pass.

    18. I’m A NOLS Graduate! I was raised here in Lander, WY, where NOLS is headquartered. One of my only regrets was that I never took a NOLS course. (We plan to send each of our three sons on a NOLS course when they’re 16.) I love what NOLS stands for and am a cheerleader of NOLS. In my work and travels, I’ve often met people who are NOLS graduates. They always are leaders in their fields, which I think is no accident. During the last year, I’ve been going through a bit of a “reinvention”, and many folks I know who work at NOLS (Jeanne O’Brien, Bruce Palmer, Kat Smithhammer, John Kanengieter, Brian Fabel, Rick Rochelle, and others) told me, “it’s never too late.” My NOLS experience was everything I had hoped it would be, and more. Truly. I had high expectations for the course and they were exceeded. I am fulfilled to be among the graduates and in this “club.”

    19. Jaw-Dropping, Inspiring Scenery. I will be inspired for the rest of my life by the sights I saw and experienced in Alaska’s Brooks Range. I feel honored and privileged to have been a guest.


    20. NOLS Leadership Curriculum. NOLS is famous for its leadership model that utilizes the outdoors as its classroom. A big motivation for my embarking on a NOLS course was to learn and experience the school’s leadership curriculum. I was not disappointed! I learned about NOLS’ 4 Leadership Roles (designated leadership, peer leadership, active followership and self-leadership) and its 7 Leadership Styles (expedition behavior, competence, communication, judgment and decision-making, tolerance for adversity and uncertainty, self-awareness and vision and action). It’s funny; I got my money’s worth from the leadership classes and curriculum, but I also reaped a lot of leadership development benefit that just happened due to the fact I was dropped by the side of the road in the Far North to backpack for two weeks with “strangers,” having to follow strict bear precaution measures, cook and bake together, struggle together, etc. For this reason, NOLS’ is truly a brilliant model.

    Instructor Lauren teaching us about Leadership quadrants.

    21. Personal Video Interviews with my course-mates. Meet the interesting friends I made on my NOLS course and hear from each of them what they gained from the experience. For starters, here is mine:

    MUCH MORE to come here in the next days and week.
    Part 2: My Brooks Range People Made Me Better
    Part 3: Epic Adventure — And Longing

    If you’d like to see videos or photos, help yourself here:


    Photos – part 1 of 2

    Photos – part 2 of 2

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    20 responses to “My NOLS Brooks Range Hiking Course: Not a Vacation or Guided Tour”

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      Have you ever considered about including a little bit more than just your articles?
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    2. Naseri

      Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful multimedia blog about the Brooks Range NOLS course. My boyfriend is currently on this expedition — his first NOLS experience — and I after reading your blog I feel that I can participate with him vicariously. Blessings :)

    3. wearingmyblackness

      Hey! I’m waiting to hear back about the Outdoor Educator Rocky Mountain 23 day course. I’ve been scavenging the internet for reports from NOLS grads. Thanks for sharing your story. It was wonderful to read!

    4. Why I Pursue Epic in My Life - Epic Life

      [...] of Zion National Park, a 32-mile Traverse day hike of Wyoming’s southern Wind River Range, a 2-week NOLS backpacking expedition in Alaska’s vast and remote Brooks Range, and many others. I also skate skied 50 miles in a [...]

    5. Lessons in Leadership from the Arctic - Epic Life

      [...] August, I embarked on a NOLS Backpacking course in the Brooks Range of Alaska. For two weeks we backpacked north of the Arctic Circle. There are no trails in the 700-mile-wide [...]

    6. Why I Pursue “Epic” in My Life | Have Media Will Travel

      [...] of Zion National Park, a 32-mile Traverse day hike of Wyoming’s southern Wind River Range, a 2-week NOLS backpacking expedition in Alaska’s vast and remote Brooks Range, and many others. I also skate skied 50 miles in a [...]

    7. To Get My Feet Wet, or To Not Get My Feet Wet? Lessons in Leadership from the Arctic | Have Media Will Travel

      [...] August I experienced two weeks of backpacking in Alaska’s Brooks Range and Arctic National Refuge. It was epic. Greetings from Alaska's Brooks [...]

    8. jackie kohlbeck

      Hi Shelli,
      I finally got back and finished this post… Amazing! I absolutely love your pictures and the way you tell stories. Good job on completing this amazing course as well as the blogging. Your website is very nice…i like your design choices :)

    9. Epic Adventure – and Longing | Have Media Will Travel

      [...] friends with my eight course-mates and our two wonderful instructors. I was blown away and inspired to new levels by the sights and scale of Alaska’s Brooks Range. I experienced the best leadership training, [...]

    10. Life is Full of Micro & Macro Route Decisions | Have Media Will Travel

      [...] August, I embarked on a NOLS Backpacking course in the Brooks Range of Alaska. For two weeks we backpacked north of the Arctic Circle. There are no trails in the 700-mile-wide [...]

    11. My Brooks Range People Made Me Better | Have Media Will Travel

      [...] was Aug. 6, the afternoon before the start of my NOLS Brooks Range Hiking course. I was in Alaska, enjoying the comforts of the Ah, Rose Marie Bed & Breakfast, in [...]

    12. Leann

      Absolutely amazing! Thanks for sharing your adventure!

    13. Marc

      Awesome post! Great recap of this awesome adventure with awesome people!
      Keep the posts coming :)

    14. Kate

      So delightful to see you shining (and tearing up!) and fulfilled and IN Epic!! Finally getting around to catching up on some emails and this was a highlight!
      Thanks – as always for sharing your inner journey as well as the outer one.
      Big hugs,

    15. Mark Calhoun

      Great insights Shelli…. can’t wait to hear about the minor take-aways too….

    16. John Gookin

      Hi Shelli.
      Thanks for sharing!
      I realize it was a joke about sleeping inside the electric bear fence that is designed for food storage, but I have actually slept inside electric fences in AK. I sure sleep better in them!

    17. Joel krieger

      Congratulations on completing the course, Shelli! This looks like an amazing adventure. Looking forward to more posts about it!

    18. Kathy Swanson

      Very nice. So glad it was so much more than you expected. I also can’t wait to learn tidbits from you during future hikes. Congratulations!

    19. Kathy Browning

      FABULOUS post about your trip Shelli. I particularly like #4, route-finding, and the parallels you drew for making conscious decisions in our lives. I’m looking forward to more posts about your trip! The images and words are so inspiring…

    Leave a Reply

    Alaska’s Brooks Range or Bust

    I leave you with this video blog as I depart for my NOLS course in the remote Brooks Range and Arctic tundra of Alaska.

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    5 responses to “Alaska’s Brooks Range or Bust”

    1. My NOLS Brooks Range Backpacking Course was More Epic than Epic | Have Media Will Travel

      [...] never too late.” My NOLS experience was everything I had hoped it would be, and more. Truly. I had high expectations for the course and they were exceeded. I am fulfilled to be among the graduates and in this [...]

    2. Trudy Johnson

      Thinking of you Shellster — take care!

    3. Patty Brubaker

      Good Luck Shelly! Can’t wait to hear all about it!

    4. Marty Vondrell

      We’ll be thinking of you. Have a great time!

    5. Kathy Swanson

      Choked up. Best of luck. I will be thinking of you every single day. Love ya. Kathy.

    Leave a Reply

    This Hike Takes Your Breath Away


    It was very early morning on July 29, when reasonable people were still in their beds sleeping.

    Four of my closest girlfriends met my husband and I at our house at 3:09, and by 3:17, we departed for the trailhead at Dickinson Park, about an hour-and-a-half drive. Despite the early hour, as we left Lander, it was 67 degrees outside. A couple miles outside of town, a star shot across the black sky that was heavily dotted with dazzling, sparkling stars. As we approached the trailhead, we watched a small herd of elk cross in a meadow in front of us.

    Holly Copeland, Leann Sebade, Kathy Swanson, me, and Kathy Browning, on the Bears Ears Trail. (See the Bears Ears in the background)

    By all indications, the day would be a stellar one.

    This “epic adventure” is a trip I planned back in late spring. As readers of this blog know, one of my passions is long distance day hiking, particularly in my backyard, Wyoming’s southern Wind River Range. I love to hike far in a single day, in a landscape whose natural beauty takes my breath away, with people who are positive, interesting, fit, funny, and who are a pleasure to be around. If all goes well, my heart, mind, soul and health benefit.

    I feel so strongly about the benefits of this type of epic pursuit that this hike would serve as sort of a “test drive” for a product I plan to offer in my new leadership/coaching business.

    Hiking near the end of the Bears Ears Trail.

    We enjoyed epic views like this one, of Grave Lake and Musembeah Peak.

    There were six in our group, including Kathy Swanson, Kathy Browning, Leann Sebade and Holly Copeland, and my better half and frequent hiking companion, my husband, Jerry. (Jerry and I had this hike on our life list, but he also generously offered to help me by taking additional photos to capture the magnificence of the day.)

    We would start at Dickinson Park, hike the Bears Ears Trail to its end, connect to and hike the Lizard Head Trail to the North Fork Trail, and then head back toward Dickinson Park. The start and finish are separated by two miles of dirt road. If there’s one thing we like to think we are, it’s smart, so we took two cars and dropped one at the end before we started hiking.

    We hiked at altitudes of 11,000 feet to 11,700 feet for much of the day.

    A huge rock formation between Bears Ears and Lizard Head trails.

    The hike, according to the maps we had on hand, indicated the adventure would be about 26.2 miles — a marathon hike. (Turns out the maps were wrong; our trusty GPS, along with the signage on the trails, would indicate that in fact our loop hike measured 29.3 miles.)

    The hike would start at 9,400 feet elevation and climb to just under 12,000 feet in places. For much of the hike, we would be between 11,000′ and 11,700′. All told, there was 5,700′ of elevation gain.

    In other words, this adventure would be more than a long walk; it would involve some lung-busting and muscle-tearing. The payoff, of course, would be panoramic mountain views that would continue to unfold in front of us for long periods of time, as well as meaningful conversation and a fun time with kindred spirits.

    Ascending a snow field at our start on the Lizard Head Trail.

    My husband, Jerry, waiting for us girls.

    The first three miles are a climb through gradual, but seemingly endless switchbacks through lodgepole forest. Once out of the trees, we were at 11,000′ and hiking in alpine tundra by sunrise. Like I said, by all (continuing) indications, it would be a stellar day.

    The Bears Ears Trail gets its name for a rock tower formation that looks exactly like a (teddy) bear’s head, complete with its two ears on top. You can see the Bears Ears from various spots in the front/low country we frequent, so it’s a treat to walk right under it and to see it up close.

    Early Native Americans, particularly the Shoshone and Crow Indians, frequented this area to hunt for bighorn sheep, and to perform religious ceremonies.

    Alpine tundra and granite peaks were the flavor of the day on the Lizard Head Trail.

    Brief celebration along the way.

    Quick huddle.

    Enjoying some thin air.

    At this point, you can see Funnel Lake, before continuing through a low saddle called Adams Pass before dropping to a bridged (marsh) crossing of Sand Creek.

    After crossing Sand Creek, we continued to the right of Sand Creek and ascended a rocky trail. The granite is this area is 2.5 billion years old. It’s hard not to feel insignificant in the spectrum of time when hiking amongst such old rock.

    Stopping to take in the views.

    Lizard Head Peak.

    Happy hikers.

    At the seven-mile mark, we were handed our first real prize – a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, panoramic view of the Wind River Range. Mount Washakie and Washakie Pass, Bernard Peak, Lock Leven Lake, Chess Ridge, Mount Hooker (with its perpendicular 1,600-foot-tall face), Grave Lake, Mount Bonneville, Musembeah Peak, and more. Imagine a view of towering, silver granite, snow-covered mountain peaks with a scattering of glaciers and lakes and you get the picture.

    This is a great turn-around spot for reasonable-but-fit day hikers. Even better, though, would be to do a quick scramble to the top of Mt. Chauvenet, which stands 12,250 feet tall and is right there behind you as you’re taking in these magnificent views of the Wind River Range. Jerry and I climbed it about 12 years ago and I can’t recommend it enough.

    We stayed on the Bears Ears Trail and continued up, until the trail crested and we opted to enjoy a short break while taking in the awesome views.

    Up next for us was connecting to the Lizard Head Trail. The Lizard Head Trail would connect us to the North Fork Trail. Some of us had previously hiked the Bears Ears Trail, as well as the North Fork Trail, but always on separate occasions and had never linked the two trails. Jerry and I had long wanted to see what Lizard Head Trail was like. In looking at a map, and having climbed the massive Lizard Head Peak in 1999, we knew it could only be awesome.

    And boy, were we right about that.

    Lunch with a view.

    My husband, Jerry, leading us on the descent into the North Fork.

    After connecting to the Lizard Head Trail and ascending a snow field, or two, we reached sweeping views of additional sections of the Wind River Range. In fact, for the next several (seven?) miles we hiked on alpine tundra that was littered with an abundance of tiny, fragile wildflowers of all colors and kinds, and lichen-covered rocks while being overshadowed by one granite peak after another to our right.

    We’re talking jaw-dropping scenery. The kinds of views that can move you to tears, and, especially given the altitude, take your breath away and leave you speechless. For moments at a time.

    I’m usually a swift hiker and we had a timeline to keep for this long hike. But, during this stretch, I “strolled” quite a bit. It was impossible not to. The views were just so amazing and the hiking too enjoyable. The air is thinner on this trail, though. Some of us had faint headaches and I reminded the group — and myself — to take deep breaths to counter the effects of the thin, oxygen-deprived, high altitude air. I, as well as Jerry, and the others, snapped tons of photos along this section. (As you can see from the number included in this post!)

    Wildflowers and Cirque of the Towers.

    After about seven miles of hiking on the Lizard Head Trail, we were afforded views of the famous Cirque of the Towers. (Yeehaw!) The Cirque of the Towers are an amazing collection of 17 peaks that provides world-class climbing. We could also see Lonesome Lake, which is situated directly below the Cirque.

    Lizard Head Peak stands 12,842′ tall and is the star of this section of the Lizard Head Trail. No wonder it is the trail’s namesake. :) About one mile northeast of the Cirque of the Towers, Lizard Head is the area’s dominant peak. From our vantage we enjoyed a magnificent view of its east face, which towers 2,300 feet above Bear Lake.

    Here, with Lizard Head, Bear Lake, the Cirque of the Towers, Lonesome Lake, Mitchell Peak, Lizard Head Meadows and The Monolith as visuals, we stopped for a short break. This now marks the best lunch spot I’ve ever experienced.

    Because we were on a timeline, and by now, knowing that the hike would be a few miles longer than the original marathon distance we had anticipated, we started moving again, descending toward the North Fork of the Popo Agie River, where we would connect to the North Fork Trail.

    Once we hit the North Fork Trail, we were back in the forest. The trail was more kind — both in terms of grade and terrain. The shade was also nice, given it was early afternoon and we were hiking at a reasonable elevation. Here, many of us (re)lathered ourselves with bug spray and some of us donned head nets. Darn it — the mosquitos were out in force. Fortunately we had all expected this.

    The Monolith and the North Fork of the Popo Agie River.

    Rivers in the Wind River Range were/are raging right now compared to normal, given the abundance of snow and moisture our mountains received this past winter and spring. We knew we had at least four river crossings to contend with but had been informed before our departure that they were all passable. Still, we were a little anxious in anticipation, as turning back was not something we wanted to consider.

    It was a few miles of level, fast hiking before we reached the first crossing. The water was swift and hit most of us in the mid- to upper-thigh for part of it. But the water felt great and we all crossed successfully, although some of us did so with more mental ease than others. I’m not a huge fan of river crossings so was glad to have this first one behind us. Reportedly, it would be the worst of the crossings.

    One of five water crossings on the North Fork Trail.

    The next one, however, proved to be swifter than our first. We took our time, and again, we all crossed with no more than some anxiety.

    Turns out there were three other crossings that required us to de-shoe, but they were easy and the water provided a welcome relief to our tired, dirty, “protesting” feet.

    Except for the bugs and the water crossings, in my opinion, the North Fork Trail is a walk in the park. From Lizard Head Meadows to Dickinson Park the distance is 13 miles and the elevation change is a mere 1,000 feet.

    That said, as is usual for these long hikes, the last two miles feels like four, if not more. With about 25 miles on our legs, we were pretty much cruising through the forest with little effort. At one point, I asked Jerry, the GPS-carrier, what our elevation was and he said, “8,600 feet.” What? I asked him again two more times and each time the answer was the same. This was a little demoralizing considering I/we knew the end was located at about 9,400 feet.

    The character-building portion of the hike (if there was one?) for me, and I’m guessing for the others, was at about the 26-mile mark, where we walked on a dusty, hot trail through a recently-burned section of forest and then had to grunt up a hill for about 1,000 feet only to descend a couple hundred feet and go for what was a couple more miles (that seemed like five or six) to get to the end.

    Once at the end, we had cold beers in a cooler (a surprise reward from Jerry), and Kettle Chips and Rainier cherries from Leann. All hit the spot!

    But the biggest reward for me, and hopefully for my comrades, is that I had gained an epic experience, memories to last a lifetime, inspiration that will serve as fuel for me, stronger friendships, and a health benefit to boot.

    Yeehaw! Beers all around after an epic day.


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    11 responses to “This Hike Takes Your Breath Away”

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    5. Leann

      Thanks for the great description of our spectacular day! Nothing like a challenging day to boost my confidence!

    6. My NOLS Brooks Range Backpacking Course was More Epic than Epic | Have Media Will Travel

      [...] Physical challenge. I am in good physical condition. My passion is long distance day hiking and I live at an elevation of 5,280′ and hike at altitudes ranging from [...]

    7. Marty Vondrell

      Nice job Shelli! Beautiful!

    8. Kathy Swanson

      Words can’t describe how thankful I am and grateful to you for the invitation and the most incredible hiking experience. The company could not be topped, and the scenery was mind-blowing. People keep saying it looks fake from the photos. Of course I always love a good hard physical challenge . . . thank goodness for the last 1000 foot ascent, huh??? Great writing-you really captured it. I will be re-living this hiking over and over for a long time and feel incredibly “full” and blessed. Thank you many times over. Love, Kathy

    9. Kathy Browning

      I count myself extremely lucky to have been on this epic adventure. This was hands-down the most beautiful trail I’ve hiked in the Wind River Mountains. The day was so perfect it seems surreal now — the bluebird sky, the alpine wildflowers, the stunning vistas of the high peaks, and the awesome company of friends. Thanks again Shelli for making it all happen! And yes, the last 4 miles or so were serious character builders :) . Great writeup of the trip!

    10. Steve Ferwerda

      Thanks for the awesome writeup Shelli! It’s nice to get all the little details. Can’t wait to get out in August and September. Hopefully we’ll have a fall even half as nice as last year.

    11. Sharon Terhune

      Oh God, the beauty. It almost hurts, doesn’t it? Great job sharing this with us, Shelli!

    Leave a Reply

    Cyclone Pass “Prize” Makes Shoshone Lake Hike (Grunt) Worthwhile

    On Cyclone Pass July 8.

    Shoshone Lake is a big lake that is in my backyard. Tucked in the foothills of Wyoming’s southern Wind River Range, the lake is situated at about 10,000′, and in the Shoshone National Forest.

    My husband, Jerry, a friend, Kathy Swanson, of Casper, WY, and I hiked to Shoshone Lake and beyond on July 8. The route we hiked follows some trail, but mostly two-track/ATV road. As a result, many hikers do not hike to Shoshone Lake. Pity!

    Kathy and I, with the Popo Agie Falls in the background. This is about 3 miles into the hike, on the Middle Fork Trail.

    I hike to Shoshone Lake 2-3 times a year if possible. In my humble opinion, it’s the hardest (best training) marathon hike near my town of Lander, WY, and it provides one of the best views of my backyard.

    Kathy, and my husband, Jerry, in Shoshone Basin.

    Kathy, cruising on one of the hike's only level sections, alongside Shoshone Lake.

    The “prize” — the reason we go to such great lengths on this hike — is Cyclone Pass. The top of Cyclone Pass provides one of, if not the, most glorious views of the southern Wind River Range. While one could do this as an out-and-back hike, or ride a jeep or  an ATV to Cyclone Pass and Shoshone Lake, we typically choose to hike a point-to-point route.

    Kathy and I, midway up Cyclone Pass. It's a grunt!

    Almost to the top of Cyclone Pass.

    Our hike started at Bruce’s Bridge, about nine miles southwest of Lander. From there, we hiked seven miles on the Middle Fork Trail, to a junction that took us uphill, on a grunt, for three miles, before joining the Shoshone Lake Trail at 10 miles. From there, we hiked briefly through the forest before it opened up into the vast — and lush — Shoshone Basin. After hiking through the basin, we arrived at Shoshone Lake, which marked a little over 13 miles.

    My husband, Jerry, checking out the views from top of Cyclone Pass.

    Jerry and Kathy, taking in the views, and I'm guessing, voicing their relief that Cyclone Pass is behind them.

    From there, it’s a mostly-level trail alongside the lake’s shore for a little over two miles. Next up is Cyclone Pass. And there are no two ways about it. Ascending Cyclone Pass is a grunt. It’s pretty much straight up over all kinds of rock scatter, and on July 8, some running water. The ascent of Cyclone Pass is about 1.5 miles and 650 vertical feet. Because it comes at a point when you have about 15 miles of mostly uphill miles on your legs, it’s a real “character-builder.”

    Group timer shot.

    No matter. Going uphill is not an unreasonable cost, given the prize at the top. You can hopefully see in the photos here of Cyclone Pass and get the picture. :)

    After an extended break at top of Cyclone while taking in the awesome views, we then started our descent toward Baldwin Creek.

    Kathy, on the dreaded Chute.

    Jerry, on The Chute, which was more like a creek.

    Despite the fact it’s all downhill from Cyclone Pass, arguably the toughest part of the day is what’s next, a 2-mile section known as The Chute. This is basically a dried-up creek bed. Some areas are nothing but rock on rock. For our hike there was a actually a stream running down much of the middle of the The Chute. It’s hard on the legs. It is sustained and unrelenting downhill on nothing but rocks on rocks. Let’s just call it what it is: another character-builder.

    Following The Chute, we hike by Suicide Point, a great feature that is aptly named. From there it’s just downhill, downhill and downhill, and more rocks and rocks and rocks. To be sure, the descent, even beyond The Chute, is a very rocky one.

    Kathy, in bottom right, descending last few miles of our hike.

    Almost to The End of our hike.

    My dad was to pick us up at the parking lot above the Shoshone Lake Switchbacks, off Baldwin Creek Road at 3 pm, but he was delayed in receiving our Spot Messenger text regarding our ETA, so we ended up descending a few of the switchbacks. (By then, in dire straits, I took a small bite of a snake on that portion. It’s my dad’s fault?) All told, we hiked about 25 miles, including 4,300′ of elevation gain.

    I ate a snake. Or not. You decide.

    It was an epic day. I would even go so far as to say it was stellar. It had all the important features: camaraderie, stunning views, character-building, and a reat health benefit to boot.

    Beers All Around!

    Here is a very short video from Cyclone Pass:

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    8 responses to “Cyclone Pass “Prize” Makes Shoshone Lake Hike (Grunt) Worthwhile”

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    5. Timn Caldwell

      Shelli, Thanks for the memories! I lived five miles NE of Lander back in ‘70-’71. The Popo Agee river was our property line to the north and the highway to the south. I was a young teenager at the time from Denver. The first summer I was there I spent everyday on the river and only went to town once all summer to get more fishing supplies and a haircut! My Dad was the Safeway manager and every week he had to bring me home some more salmon eggs and a Mepps lure or two after I got snagged in the rocks!

    6. This Hike Takes Your Breath Away | Have Media Will Travel

      [...] of this blog know, one of my passions is long distance day hiking, particularly in my backyard, Wyoming’s southern Wind River Range. I love to hike far in a single day, in a landscape whose natural beauty takes my breath away, with [...]

    7. Leann

      Shoshone Lake and Cyclone Pass are quite breathtaking views. What a great way to spend the day!

    8. Kathy Swanson

      Awesome Shel. I love this hike and hope to do it every year with you! My nightmares over the rocks have now subsided :) So well worth the views which have to be some of the best in the world–so stunning even after already seeing it last year, that I lost my breath again this year (no, not due just to climbing Cyclone Pass). Thanks so much for the invitation to join you as the “third wheel.” And, your treasured Snickers bar allowed me to persevere ’til the end. Love ya!

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