Brave Enough

Have you ever wished that you were “brave enough”? 

Brave enough to do anything that scares you? 

Brave enough to hike a mountain trail…

Brave enough to ask a question in class…

Brave enough to oppose someone’s opinion and discuss it…

Brave enough to ride a certain thrilling ride…

Brave enough to walk up to a stranger and begin a conversation…

Brave enough to stand up to a bully…

Brave enough to hug a hurting stranger…

Brave enough to bike a rocky mountain trail…

 

Brave enough to do anything that is out of your comfort zone?

Well, you are!!

There are so many things in life that people wish they were “brave enough” for…some things we may all agree are scary, but some things may make some of us tilt our heads in thought and wonder, “why in the world someone isn’t brave enough to do THAT?”.  We all have different comfort levels and we all have different things that make our hearts pump harder, our breath come quicker and our minds think that we simply are NOT going to do “that”.   

One of my families “brave enough” moments came when we left everything, and everyone, that we knew and moved to the other side of the nation.  We didn’t do it because a job was forcing us to.  We did it because we wanted to.

It was amazing to me how MANY people…and let me stress MANY…said to me, “Oh! I wish I were brave enough to do something like that.” 

When others would realize that my husband and I were moving our family from Alabama to Colorado the first question was always, “Why?”  And the first thing that everyone always assumed was that it was his job that was moving us. 

When I would explain that Jason owns his own business and we can truly live where ever we want and still run that business, therefore we chose Colorado, people were always amazed. They would almost always follow up with something along the lines of, “Wow!  I wish I were brave enough to move away.”  Or they would say, “Oh, I could never leave this place that I’ve lived most of my life, even though I’m really not happy here and would love to live some place different.” It became predictable!

We even had people tell us, without missing a beat, of the new location that they would LOVE to live…if only they were brave enough to make that move.  So these people had a location that they have thought of, dreamed of and discussed with their loved ones about living there and having a life there…a place that they could see themselves living a happier life, having adventures as well as more opportunities at a better life but they knew they would never make that move.  The sad thing about this is that they were okay with letting their dream of living in a better place go because of a little uncertainty and fear. 

Was I nervous, and a little afraid, of what awaited us in a new location thousands of miles away from family and all that we knew?  Heck yes! 

Am I glad that we did it? That I didn’t let the fear of the unknown stop us? Am I glad that we took a chance instead of staying somewhere that we had our routines and knew the people around us? I can not express enough how GLAD, THANKFUL and BEYOND HAPPY I am that we were “brave enough” to step into something that was out of our comfort zone!!

We have been here for almost 3 years now and we do not regret a single moment! The experiences we have had, the places we have explored and the people we have met have all been better than we ever hoped for! We live in such a beautiful place where any number of adventures are right around the corner. We do life with a group of people that we now call “family”. They are the best friends that Jason and I have ever had in our adult lives. Two of our children have met their soul mates here and our third, and youngest child, has found her passion. We feel beyond blessed in so many ways and all we had to do was be brave enough!! Brave enough to take that first step, to make that move and to trust in God.

So, what are you waiting on? You are brave enough! I know you are!

 

This day we were brave enough to take our truck off-road up into the mountains around Ouray, Colorado. It was breathtaking in a few different ways!

This was the most strenuous hike that we had done to date. You gain 1000 feet in elevation in 1 mile. It was worth every drop of sweat!!

Snow tubing in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Snow storm on May 18, 2017! Gotta love Colorado and its unpredictable weather. What an experience!

For this photo we were brave enough to drive onto a strangers property, in the middle of nowhere, and ask permission to walk around and photograph. I made a friend that day and made an old lady’s day with our unexpected visit!

Hiking outside of Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Hiking and climbing near Estes Park, Colorado.

Rocky Mountain National Park…it’s one of our favorite places to escape to!

 

 

 

 

My Birthday Hike was a Huge Success!

It was my goal to hike Lumpy Ridge Trail, in Estes Park, for my birthday this year. It’s one of our favorite trails but we haven’t hiked it since I became sick last fall and my muscles turned to mush.

The trail is a little strenuous but oh-so-worth-the-effort. We have hiked this trail in every season and I can tell you it is magnificent in spring, summer, fall and winter!! I will warn you, though, to wear proper footwear and clothing while hiking it in winter. We have seen people have to get rescued due to falling on ice!

Anyway, my birthday is May 11 and I was determined I would build myself up again and hike this trail for my birthday. Not only hike it but do so without becoming exhausted or severely out of breath. It was my birthday gift to myself!

In the weeks leading up to my birthday I pushed myself with workouts and hikes. These other hikes were not for leisure, they were building my strength and stamina. After a few weeks I was actually able to begin running little uphill sections of each hike which meant tremendous success! A victory was in having little pain from the nerve damage caused by my illness. Only a couple of times did I end a hike with a limp from the pain. The limp and pain did not last long, though, and it did not sideline me for a couple of days like it would have a few months earlier. THAT is huge progress.

My birthday landed on Friday this year so we headed up to Estes Park on Saturday. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies and 70 degrees! We stopped in Lyons, like we always do, for our favorite sandwiches to put in our backpacks. Hiking works up an appetite, ya know?

I was actually a little anxious about this hike so I used the time during the drive up to refocus my thoughts. It’s pretty easy when I have Raine and Jason with me. They easily keep me entertained which is a blessing to say the least! ((Well, honestly, Jason and the kids are easily my BIGGEST blessings!))

Anyway, I was concerned that I would be disappointed in myself on this hike. That I would struggle a little too much or be out of breath too early in the hike. But I wasn’t! I had great stamina and strength. I went further, and with better time, than ever before! And I still made sure to enjoy the views and the company. 

It was super special to me that Raine and Jason made sure to make this hike happen for me! Raine even rearranged her day specifically to head up into Estes and hike with me! She is a such a fun person to hike with. She can hang right in there with Jason and the boys, climb to any height and loves to explore the nooks and crannies while she chatters and laughs alot. BUT, she can also walk slower with me, listen to the silence and have deep conversation while taking in her surroundings and capturing God’s creation with her camera.

One of my favorite moments of the hike was when Jason took my hand. We were at the start of a section that was continuing up. This long section had a couple of curves in it and was steep enough that there were stairs that had been carved out of the earth to make it easier on hikers.

I sensed what Jason was doing and I was up to the challenge! We looked at each other, said, “GO!”, and ran. Straight up…hand in hand…and I matched his steps and he did not have to slow for me. Our feet landed on each earthen step at the same time with the same rhythm and I did not hesitate for a moment. Yay, me! 

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…Philippians 4:13

Did you know that baby pine cones are bright pink? I didn’t! I think they are beautiful! God is very creative!!

Making our way back down the trail. Jason was far ahead of us…his sandwich was calling his name from the Jeep.

I know that I am a MESS and my hair is CRAZY. But I am a HAPPY mess. It was a perfect birthday hike! P.S. Jason did a wonderful job of avoiding my camera today!

Have You Ever Wondered What Story the Stranger Sitting Next to You on a Flight has to Tell?

On a recent flight from Denver to Atlanta, Jase (my oldest) and I chose seats at the back of the plane. In front of us was a dad with two tiny girls. I would later find out that they were both under the age of 2. He was flying alone, with them, from Mexico to Atlanta. His wife, who was 9 months pregnant with their 3rd child, a boy, had taken an emergency flight out of a small village in Mexico 2 days earlier. They are Jewish missionaries living there, with no extended family. He was making the best of a difficult situation and trying to reunite with his wife. This dad was so patient the entire flight. Trust me when I say he had his hands FULL! Those two beautiful babies were NOT quiet travelers.

Near the end of our 3-hour flight, I felt something moving against my leg. What? I looked down and saw the butt and legs of the baby disappearing under our row of seats. I was on the aisle seat and she was on all fours and squeezing herself between my right leg and Jase’s left leg. She had escaped her daddy and was on the move! Can you imagine our shock?

I also saw the humor in it right away!

I jumped up, put my hand on the kind giant’s knee behind me, and said, “don’t move your feet, there’s a baby under there.” He looked down, quickly glanced back up at me with his eyes huge in disbelief and said, “There really is a baby down there!” I couldn’t help but smile! Oh, and about this giant…seriously, he had to be close to 7 feet tall and looked strong as an ox! He looked so uncomfortable in that small plane seat but he never complained!

Back to the baby…she was trying to disappear under this giant man’s seat but was tangled in the long cord attached to his device. It took some work, but we got her untangled and off the floor before she could disappear to the next row back. In the process we managed to infuriate her which alerted everyone on the rows around us that there was a baby on the loose. The look of amazement on this gentle giant’s face as he handed her to me was priceless! He said, “Well, that was a first!” I couldn’t help but laugh. Even the flight attendants said that was a first for them as well.

Her daddy waited patiently in his seat, with the other squirming child, for me to hand the little infuriated escapee back to him.  He just smiled kindly and spoke softly to his screaming child.

Once the plane landed the dad worked calmly and slowly to get their belongings together and get two fussy little ones off the plane. Maybe he was exhausted or maybe he was dreading this next little leg of their journey. Maybe he was simply that calm and patient!

Everyone else had already left the plane but I was holding back, wondering if I should offer to help, and feeling like I couldn’t just walk off. Jase saw the uncertainty on my face, smiled and walked on ahead of me to take care of something else. He would be waiting on me just up ahead. I decided to leave the plane but half way up the ramp I stopped and turned around. I could hear the babies fussing as he made his way toward the plane’s exit. Suddenly a flight attendant stepped off the plane, looked at me, and accusingly asked if I was his wife. Oh, my word! I found it hilarious. She was about to fuss at me for not helping him with the babies! With a grin assured her I was not his wife but wondered if he needed help. “YES, he does!” she almost yelled at me. Then she recognized me and said, “Oh, you’re the one who captured the baby earlier.” I just smiled and moved forward to take a baby, or two, while the dad wrestled with their bags. She rolled her eyes, in true southern drawn-out diction mumbled, “Lord” and seemed a little frustrated that this situation was taking place.

In stepping off the plane it was discovered that his double stroller had been sent to baggage claim. Really? It was supposed to be waiting on him right here. Baggage claim is lots of walking, several escalators and a long train ride away. How was he supposed to get two exhausted squirmy babies and his carry-on bags all that way? Well, because I was going to help…and so was Jase. Not even the pilot, or a single flight attendant, offered to help. They apologized for the stroller mix up, wished us luck and then left together to make their way out of the airport. In hindsight I wish I had had a way to photograph our little group as we made our way through the airport. Or at least get a photo of my sweet Jase loaded down with everyone’s luggage! He had his big hiking backpack on, my two bags thrown over his shoulder, and two of the dad’s pieces! The dad had the oldest, calmest child and their third bag and I had the fretful, squirmy, distraught baby in my arms.

Can you imagine my husbands surprise when we FINALLY emerged from the depths of the train tunnels? He and Raine were standing there waiting patiently, a little concerned because there was literally no one else around. It was a late flight so there were not many people in the usually crowded airport to begin with, and everyone else from our flight had passed this point quite a while ago. They were wondering where Jase and I were and if something was wrong. Then, suddenly we emerge, rising slowly on the long escalator, with Jase buried under a mound of luggage and me holding a baby! What a funny scenario! They looked surprised, and a little confused, for half a second but then sprang into action. They ran around the metal gates and relieved Jase of luggage while asking what they could do to help me.

Jason later said, “For a second I was so confused but then immediately knew what you had done.” I rarely pass up an opportunity to help someone but had never thought of it until Jason said that. I guess I’m predictable.

The dad was so trusting of us with his baby. He was walking ahead of us with the older child but as soon as we got to baggage claim he sat her down and disappeared to locate their stroller. Jason looked at me with huge eyes and a comical yet terrified look on his face. He couldn’t believe we had been left, without a word, with this mans babies. The daddy in him kicked in quickly though and he began working to keep the tiny girl, who had been left at his feet, from toddling off.

It occurred to me that the little one in my care seemed not only exhausted but distraught in another way. Realizing that I had not seen him give her a bottle on the entire flight, I asked for one as soon as he reappeared. Right away he made her a bottle out of powder and water and she took it like a starving child! She just leaned back in my arms, half closed her arms and relaxed as she drank her bottle. Bless her! She was hungry!

She had been happy most of the time in my arms, except she hated the train and screamed the entire time it was moving. I’m talking red face, huge tears, blow in her face to make her catch her breath kind of scream. Her daddy had tried holding her during part of the train ride but quickly handed her back to me as he wasn’t sure how to calm her. His relief was so evident when I took her back that I had to hide a smile. She calmed every time the train stopped but screamed again as soon as it took off. Now, as she lay in my arms, with her big beautiful brown eyes watching my face, so trusting and relaxed, I said a little prayer of thanks that we were the ones “in the right place at the right time” so that no harm came to these babies as their daddy did the best he could.

I’m not sure how long it took for him to locate their stroller, but it seemed like forever. We knew nothing else to do but stay in the same spot with his babies, so he could easily come back to us. Once he had his stroller and we got them all strapped in we told him good luck and went our separate ways. Before walking away, I asked if he needed help finding his ride, or getting anywhere else. He said he didn’t even know if he had a ride or who was picking him up. Goodness! I said a little prayer as we walked away for this daddy, who was truly trying but was clearly not use to overseeing his two little ones.

I had a little smile in my heart though because I knew God had put me exactly where I needed to be on that flight. He had put me in the seat behind the people he needed me to pay attention to. In one afternoon I had been reunited with Jase and we had flown to reunite with Jason and Raine. That alone was enough to make my heart very happy. And in all of that the four of us had joined together, with no verbal plan or discussion, to help a dad of two beautiful babies who was struggling. He had concern for his wife and had no idea if his son had been born yet or if they were even okay. To relieve him of a little bit of a burden, even if only for an hour, was a blessing to me and we had all done it together. My family had jumped right in without a word, or a question, and helped a stranger in need. That makes my heart beyond full.

Colors of Life

Have you ever REALLY paid attention to the colors that surround you in your every day life? When we truly slow down and notice it is pretty amazing how much color is in the world. I know you may be thinking, “Color? Whatever!” but seriously, take a look…

Laughter…It’s a beautiful thing!

Laughter! We are born with it. It is as natural as breathing and it is healing. Healing? Yes! Just try being still and listening. When you hear laughter, from a stranger or a loved one, you can’t help but smile. The sound of, and the act of, laughing relieves stress and gives joy.

Thanks to My Car Sickness and the Need to Exit our Jeep, We Found A Secret Society of Gnomes in the Red Feather Lakes Area

March 5, 2017 was a beautiful spring like day in northern Colorado. Our souls ached for an adventure and fresh air so we took off. We headed an hour north of Fort Collins to the Red Feather Lakes region as it was an area we had yet to explore. It made a perfect afternoon getaway!

Red Feather Lakes consists of a rustic mountain village that sits beside a lake and is surrounded by the Roosevelt National Forest. The people are few yet friendly and the main road of town is dirt. This Sunday afternoon the sky was bright blue and the air was fresh and crisp with snow still covering sections of the ground.

In early March the lake is still frozen but shallow areas are beginning to thaw. As beautiful as the lake is when frozen it was inviting to my imagination as to how beautiful it must be during summer when the grasses are green, trees are in full bloom and the sun is dancing across the water. I could almost hear the hum of activity along with children’s laughter as they enjoy the clean mountain air, bright sunlight and cool water. The locals tell us that the place is busy and full of life during the summer months and I can easily see why.

The drive up to Red Feather Lakes was beautiful and open with few houses, or homesteads, dotted around the mountainous hills. Once we arrived at the village there really wasn’t a lot of exploring to do by car. As I said before, the main road of the village is a dirt road. It is short and wide with less than 8 local businesses divided on each side.

There was one old gas pump that stood in front of the Trading Post and that was it! No gas station full of digital pumps and no convenience store with snacks and/or souvenirs. I liked it that way! It gave me a feeling of life being simple and relaxed.

A Secret Society of Gnomes

The roads leading to the Red Feather Lakes area are well maintained and easy to drive. They are not crazy curvy like other mountain roads which I’m thankful for! Nevertheless, by the time we were there, I was car sick. Seriously, it is such a pain with how easily I can become nauseous from the motion of a moving vehicle.

The first thing we did once we found the lake was to take the dirt road that cuts a path through the middle of the lake to homes, and forest, on the other side. We were simply exploring. Getting a lay of the land and figuring things out.

After crossing the land bridge, we came to a fork in the road and Jason paused while deciding if he should go right or left. In that moment, I exited the Jeep with little warning. I was so nauseous that I desperately needed my feet on the ground, and to walk it off.

The fresh air, and my feet firmly on the ground, took away my queasiness in no time at all. By the time Jason put the Jeep in park and climbed out to join me I was feeling much better. Such relief!

I wasn’t ready to get back in the Jeep though. I needed to walk some. Before moving forward, I took in my surroundings. To my surprise, I spotted a group of Gnomes standing on a large rock nearby. They were staring at me! With a touch of excitement in my voice I pointed them out to Jason and Raine, who had also climbed out of the Jeep, and we went over to get a better look.

The gnomes appeared to be guarding the forest. What an unexpected delight to find them in such an unexpected place. Oh, but what a fitting place for them to reside! I began to take a really good look at my surroundings, peering closely among the boulders and trees. It was only a matter of seconds before I spotted another gnome.

One was sunbathing on a rock that looked more like an island in the snow. Another could be seen peeking out of the snow at us. In astonishment, we realized that we were surrounded by gnomes, and other woodland creatures, that someone had taken great care in placing. Some were on top of giant boulders looking down at us. Some were in little crevices between, or under, boulders. I even found a dinosaur in a tree! It almost felt like a game of hide and seek and as we explored we discovered more and more.

Someone had put a great deal of thought into the placement of these little guys and it was a great diversion to my car sickness! Honestly, for the first time ever, I was glad that I had become car sick. If I had not felt so sick I wouldn’t have exited the Jeep for fresh air. Being out of the Jeep is the only reason I spotted the little Gnomes hiding along the forest path. We were all 3 glad to have discovered this place. It put a smile on our faces and made us feel as if we had discovered a special little secret in the wooded area by the lake.

Because it is still winter in this area there wasn’t a great deal of exploring to do this day. However, our day was not done! A few miles south, back the way we came, is a 600 acre area called The Shambhala Mountain Center. Stay tuned and read my next blog about this beautiful and peaceful place hidden away in a small valley among the peaks.

 

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Estes Park, Colorado is a Town Hugged by the Rocky Mountains and a Place Where the Elk Roam the Streets

There are so many amazing communities, towns and cities in western Colorado that call to my sense of adventure and curiosity. The many that we have visited have not disappointed but have thrilled me with their beauty, history, and quaintness. There is a prevailing positive attitude throughout Colorado that is evident in the way of life and the atmosphere of the communities.

Estes Park as seen as a new day dawns and the town begins to wake.

Of all of the small mountain towns we have visited in Colorado, Estes Park is one of our favorites. It holds a special place in our hearts. We have had many amazing adventures in and around Estes. It is a “must visit” mountain town that is nestled in a cozy little valley and hugged by the Rocky Mountains. It is a place that we return to over and over again and never leave disappointed. Estes hosts many street festivals throughout the year along with a downtown trick-or-treating bonanza that is hard to beat. Estes Park is so much more than the shops and restaurants. It’s the friendly and welcoming attitudes of the locals, along with the adventure and beauty to be found in the Rocky Mountains, that brings so many people back year after year.

You can reach Estes Park from different routes but my favorite is Highway 66 through Longmont. By taking this route you go straight through Lyons which is another beautiful little mountain town.

You must stop at the St. Vrain Market, Deli and Bakery, located on Main Street in Lyons, and purchase your lunch. They make the very best, made-to-order, sandwiches using fresh made bread, top quality meats and cheeses, and fresh vegetables! Grab a piece of fruit, and a bag of chips made locally in Boulder and you have a wonderful lunch. If you’re starving, eat it on the ride up to Estes Park but if you can wait, save it until you find that perfect spot to sit and enjoy the views, and fresh air, while you eat!

When you arrive in Estes there is a wonderful Welcome Center just on the edge of town. It is full of information on trails, adventures, history, places to eat, places to play, etc. It’s a great starting point!

Make sure that you do not speed while traveling around town as you are likely to come upon a herd of Elk walking the streets. The town has invaded their space so they roam freely among the streets when they choose.

Kind Coffee is possibly my very favorite place in the entire town. It is locally owned, organic and Fair Trade sourced. It is the very best coffee you will EVER taste. I’m not a coffee drinker but I love their coffee…crave it even! Kind Coffee is a favorite among locals, and tourists as soon as they discover it, so there is usually a line. Don’t let the line discourage you! The baristas work fast while keeping a relaxed smile on their face and friendly atmosphere. They know what they are doing! Oh, and if you don’t want coffee, you can choose from many different teas or other hot drinks. Just trust me, and try Kind Coffee.

Estes Park is a place that many choose to stay while exploring Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The East entrance into the RMNP is located on highway 36 just 3.5 miles west of Estes Park. It is known as the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station and is a favorite starting point for many. When visiting Colorado let Estes Park be your base camp while you spend at least a couple of days exploring RMNP. I think you’ll be glad you did!

Oh, and if you don’t want to go into RMNP every day that you are in the area, but want a great hike, there are many trails to choose from in the Estes Park area that are not in RMNP!

 

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8 Reasons We Chose To Build Our Own Custom RV Camper

Why did we decide to build our own custom camper?  What made us choose this route?  Why not simply purchase an already existing manufactured RV camper?  Let me tell you…

First of all, we put a lot of thought into this decision and ultimately knew that it was absolutely what makes the most sense for us.

We love adventure!  We love to explore, get dirty and get exhausted in our explorations. We also love a good night’s sleep in a comfy clean bed after a day of playing and exploring.

We love to camp and be in the outdoors but when you are on an air mattress in a tent in the middle of a wind storm in Utah you do not sleep!  When it is July and you forget to take into consideration the higher altitudes in specific areas of the Rockies and it is 40 degrees but you packed for JULY, you don’t sleep.  When your air mattress has a slow leak and the ground is hard and rocky, you don’t sleep.  SO, our main reasoning for reluctantly leaving behind our tent camping was the need for sleep after long, active, usually exhausting days.

Our second reason was wanting to be able to camp in locations where only hard shell camping is allowed due to threat of bears and mountain lions…which is far more places than you realize here in the west.

We added up the cost of hotels when doing a road trip…it can get ridiculous and who has that amount of money to throw away on one night’s sleep in a hotel?  (I’d rather spend the money on an experience.) And what if you are in an area where there are no hotels?  Or, motels?  We have slept in the SUV when there were no other options!

So, why not find campsites along the way?  Well, we do…BUT who wants to set up camp every single night after hours on the road or hours of adventure?  Sure, if it’s a small single person tent that just pops right up that is no problem at all.  Our tent has to sleep at least 4 so it is large and is NOT fast to put up.  If you stay put in the same area for 2 or 3 nights, which we like to do, but you don’t sleep well on the air mattress which makes you exhausted and achy the next day it kind of takes the fun out of the road trip!

So we reluctantly began exploring the option of a hard shell RV camper.  When we first began to explore our options I was adamant that we only needed a place to sleep.  We don’t spend our days inside so why purchase something large that mimics a home when we won’t be in it most of the time?  Jason, on the other hand, doesn’t like to be as rustic as I do on our road trips, or camping adventures, and wanted a bathroom, shower and such in a RV camper.  UG!  Not necessary!

We realized in looking at different sizes and types of RV campers that they are overpriced for the quality of work and type of material used.  We also never found one that exactly met our every need and want…which really wasn’t a long list in the first place.

Jason is a problem solver and began researching other ways to have what was best for us without spending a lot of money…which we didn’t have.

He wanted to build our own camper and to build it well.  That way there would be no wasted space, the quality of work would be top notch and the materials used would be durable for our roughness, yet look good.  It had to be safe and well-built and sufficient for at least 4 people.  After lots of research we decided on a contractor grade cargo trailer that we could turn into our own safe and secure camper!

We have very carefully drawn out the plans for sleeping, and storage space, that makes the most sense for us.  Can our entire family sleep in it?  No…but because of the ages of our kids we only needed to account for our youngest and her best friend.  Sadly, most of our future adventures will not include our older children because they are grown.  If they want to join us they are more than welcome and we will figure out sleeping at that point.

So, we chose to build our own camper for several reasons…

  1. For the adventure of it!
  2. For the sake of a good night’s sleep!
  3. For safety reasons when camping in the wilderness. **Check with the National Park, or campground, that you may be heading to if you plan on tent camping.  Many of them in the Northwest no longer allow tent camping due to bears.
  4. For the money we will save not staying in hotels…which is A LOT!
  5. For the large amount of money we saved not purchasing a manufactured camper.
  6. Because we were able to design every aspect of it and that was fun!!
  7. Because the thought of not having to keep everything in a suitcase, or pack up necessary daily items every time we head out, and then having to rummage for needed items the entire trip sounds great!
  8. Because the thought of always having a clean comfortable bed ready and available, that is ours, sounds beyond great! We purchased REAL queen sized mattresses, guys, that are comfortable and inviting!

And did you know that there is an app that tells you all of the places all over the US that allow and encourage travelers with RVs or campers to stop and stay the night for FREE.  Yes, there is!  It is locations like Cracker Barrel stores/restaurants, Walmart parking lots and many others.  This is excellent for travelers like us who often decide to stop and explore an area we are passing thru.  When you have a locked in reservation at a hotel you feel like you have to press on no matter how tired you are or what you will miss exploring!  Pulling our comfy, cozy, no-wasted-space home-away-from-home, we can explore any little town, mountain top, lake or museum we unexpectedly come to and still find a safe place to lay our weary heads at night…happy, safe, content and comfortable in our own beds with our own sheets and blankets and no chance of bed bugs!  How great is that?

UPDATE: After our 18 day road trip down the Oregon and California coast we can without a doubt tell you that we did the right thing in building our own camper. It passed every test…kept us dry, cozy and safe. You wouldn’t believe how many strangers, at campgrounds, asked to look inside. They were always pleasantly surprised by the comfort as well as everything we squeezed into the space. I can tell you that the hidden drawers inside the stairs were plenty roomy enough for the 4 of us. The shelves and closet space were great and we never wished for more space for clothes, shoes or personal items.

TRAVEL APP: The travel app for finding a place to pull over and sleep did not disappoint us! It is called RV Parky, it has over 100,000 downloads and a 4.6 Star rating. Every place that it led us to, for an overnight stay, was in a very safe, clean and well lit area. The Walmart parking lots that we stayed overnight in were all newer stores that were very clean and the parking areas were very large. I highly recommend this app for any road trip.

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A Cowboy, A Chance Encounter and A Moment in Time that I Will Never Forget

I met a Cowboy.

A real life authentic Cowboy.

One that I’m sure had a thousand stories that he could tell me.  Stories of his life, his land, his animals and his family.  Stories that would captivate me just as his smile, rugged tan skin and happiness captivated me.  He talked to his cattle as if they were his children…scolding the sassy one and sweet talking another.  He had a twinkle in his eye, I kid you not, and an easy smile that spoke volumes and made me ache to photograph him.  I wanted to capture with my camera the stories that creased his face, gave him laugh lines at the corners of his eyes and gave him that smile.

So I asked.

“May I take your photo?”

He looked surprised and then smiled again.

“Sure, I don’t see why not.”  And he seemed a little shy yet honored that I would even ask.

I photographed him as he talked to my husband and as he talked to his cattle and went about his business of checking on them and feeding them.  I even caught him as he smiled and looked right at me for a moment.  That captured moment became one of my favorite photos of our entire road trip.  In fact, it is a photo that I treasure two years later because I feel that it captures LIFE.

 

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

It was December 2013 and we were about 2 weeks into a cross country road trip.

My husband, two youngest kids and I had decided that for Christmas we wanted adventure and to experience life rather than stay home and purchase material gifts for each other that we really didn’t need.  So, we planned a road trip that would take us from our home in Alabama to Breckenridge, CO for a few days.  Then we would travel to Heber Valley, Utah for a few days then on to Missoula, Montana where we would spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my brother, his wife and baby.  From there we would make our way through South Dakota where we were awed by The Bad Lands and visited Mount Rushmore.  Then it was back down to Alabama through many different states that we only saw from the window of our SUV.  A lot of details have been left out but you get the idea.

The first couple of days that we were in Montana my brother had to work.  His job was in radiology in a tiny hospital in a tiny valley community called Plains. It is right at 2 hours away from their home outside of Missoula so he has an apartment that he lives in there when he is on duty.  We arrived in Montana a couple of days before Christmas but my brother wouldn’t be home until Christmas eve.  Wanting to see him, we took off to Plains with excitement of seeing him but also in taking in some of the natural beauty that is Montana.  As we ended our short visit with my brother and prepared to drive back to their home we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to pull off of the road, into a small dirt parking area, that sat above a frozen river.

It was here, just on the outskirts of this tiny valley community called Plains, that we happened to meet this smiling and welcoming Cowboy.

We had taken photos in front of the frozen river…you know, just as anyone from the deep south would do since we NEVER see frozen water unless it is in the form of ice cubes.

We were talking to the cattle who had wandered over to a nearby fence to check us out.  Turns out, it was their dinner time and they were wondering if we had their food.  After only a few minutes a farm truck rolls up with a wagon full of hay attached.  This farm truck was driven by a rusty old Cowboy who captured my attention immediately.

He had a smile on his face, beautiful bright eyes and a firm handshake as he introduced himself and assured us that we did not need to leave.  He was dressed head to toe in “cowboy” attire.  And not fancy spotless new “cowboy” clothes but comfortable worn-many-times, lived in clothes from his hat down to his dusty worn boots.  His clothes had character and told of a life of hard work yet a life well lived just as his golden skin and the creases on his face did.  He had laugh lines around his eyes and an easy going laid back manner about him that spoke of warmth and a sense of being comfortable with himself and the world around him.

This Cowboy stood around comfortably talking to my husband for a few minutes as if Jason were an old friend he was glad to see.  He masterfully included us all in the conversation so no one felt left out and I noticed that our 17-year-old son, Lane, stood with a smile on his face listening carefully and giving his full attention to this Cowboy.  I think he was quietly amazed by this kind hearted Cowboy just as I was.

While talking to us the Cowboy was also keeping an eye on his cattle who were eager to see him.  Now, I know nothing about cattle or the proper terms to use when talking about them.  This being said…there was one beautiful “cow” who was actually calico in color and probably the best looking “cow” that I have ever seen.  

But man, was this “cow” sassy!  The cowboy scolded his calico “cow” and talked to him/her as if it were his child. I was tickled and amazed to watch as this giant animal listened to this cowboy and even reacted as a young child might when testing their parent.  This “cow” wanted his/her dinner and the Cowboy wasn’t about to give in to such sassy behavior.  It only took a couple of minutes of talk between this Cowboy and “cow” before the “cow” decided to stop being bossy and wait nicely for his/her dinner. 

This Cowboy knew his cattle and you could tell that the cattle clearly knew him…there was a relationship there between man and beast and they had a respect and understanding of one another.

I was so interested in this Cowboy and his life.  He learned where we were from, our deep southern accents were a dead give-away that we lived nowhere around there, and seemed genially interested in our sense of adventure and our road trip.  He told us a little about his life and family.  Turns out that he actually had cattle scattered on different sections of land due to the mountains dividing up the land and not giving enough flat land for the cattle to all be in one spot.  As he finished feeding the cattle at this location he had to hurry down the road to the next location.  He shook our hands and wished us well before climbing into his farm truck and heading down the road.

A MOMENT IN TIME THAT I WILL NEVER FORGET

We hung around the frozen river and cattle for a few more minutes taking photos with the beautiful snow covered mountains as the backdrop.  Then we climbed back into our two separate vehicles and headed out of the valley.  I was still smiling over this chance encounter with a true Cowboy when a scene caught my eye.  I noticed a farm truck, with a wagon attached and full of hay, parked in the middle of this long fenced in field with snow-capped mountains jutting up maybe 50 yards behind the truck.  It was a beautiful stretched out scene with cattle making their way towards the truck and a Cowboy climbing up to give them hay.  As we passed the cowboy turned and waved to us.  I caught my breath as I realized it was the same Cowboy that we had just met and he was waving good-bye to us. I couldn’t see his face clearly due to the distance but I know without a doubt he had a big smile on his face.

I wasn’t prepared for the moment and to this day regret not having my camera ready to capture it.  It looked like a scene out of a movie, where everything was staged and placed just right to capture the beauty of the mountains contrasting with the rustic farm truck and wagon full of hay and the devoted Cowboy working hard to feed his cattle in the fading light of day.  And in a tear inspiring moment he is waving towards the camera and you think he must live a beautiful life in a beautiful place.  I wish I could have captured that exact moment with my camera.  As a photographer that was an once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity that was missed.  BUT, you better believe that my mind’s eye captured it, as well as my heart, and I know that it is an image that I will never forget.  I will also never forget the Cowboy who gave me a tiny glimpse into a different way of life.  A pure, hardworking way of life where life is hard yet life is beautiful.

 

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