My passion is hiking and exploring this beautiful land, in every way I can.
I have always loved hiking. I would hike with my family when I was young and we would drive 10 minutes to the local park. We would hike the trails and I would collect leaves, or pretty rocks, or take notice of the every smell around us. I can still smell that park... oak and maple. Pure oak and maple leaves, usually fallen and dead, as hiking is best done in Spring and Fall in my opinion. Eventually, I grew older and hiking was less important to me. I opted for drives to the big city of Cleveland and parties with friends. My desire for socializing began to overshadow my love of nature. It happened slowly I suppose, since I never really thought twice of it. Eventually, I moved from my rural town in Ohio, to the "Gateway to The West", St. Louis, Missouri.
Fight or Flight
I darted around my newfound city like a bee in a field of flowers. I would go here, there, meet new friends, stumble into new apartment buildings. I saw more of that city than any local I had ever met. I fell in love with this city. But in life, all things are temporary. Over the years, the hustle and the bustle began to eat at my naturally peaceful mind and soul. The constant rage in traffic every day, the nonstop threat of increasing violence, (I even witnessed a drive-by shooting), and the lack of trees was beginning to weigh on me. I grew tired of my social routine, exhausted by the lack of life I witnessed, and I began to detest the city. Not long after, I found an apartment building surrounded by trees and immediately moved in, though all too soon. Within a week cockroaches had appeared by the dozens. Small ones came from the bathtub drain. Giant, mouse-sized ones crept from the ceiling, the closets, the walls, the stove; they came from everywhere. By the second week the ceiling began to fall down upon me, literally. Large pieces of white painted-over-plaster began dropping without warning. I came home from work and half of my living room ceiling laid broken on the floor, my dog terrified. Then came the mold. Spots that were clearly painted over on the wall, now began to transform into their true identity, mold. I had to escape. I hated my apartment in the trees. My apartment I had hoped would save me from my own insanity. My anxiety level had elevated to dangerous levels. My landlords came into light as slumlords and the only way out was breaking my lease. That break broke me and made me finally crack, condemning my once-loved city. My bed was nothing more than a mattress on the floor. I sat there on my mattress and watched as two shiny cockroaches race along the opposite wall. I never kill insects, even cockroaches. I will put a glass jar over them, slide a slip of paper beneath it, and release them outdoors where they belong. I hate the thought of ending any living creature's life. But that night I stood up, grabbed my cowboy boot, and hailed death down upon them. I could have pushed right through the wooden floor. I felt terrible, and just plain icky. I plopped onto my bed and sobbed for hours in self pity. I had sought a haven but found myself in Hell. I needed an immense soul cleanse if I was going to survive here.
I can almost smell the pines, the aromatics of the sap oozing down their jagged trunks. Colorado herself, found a home in my heart that year.
What I needed was a reset button. There was only one way I knew how to reset my soul. Nature. Nature would be the one to heal me. God's infinite wealth of fresh air, never ending challenges, flowing ice-cold waters, and a well seasoned wilderness to keep it all in perspective. I had to escape to the wild. I notified my boss I would be taking eight days off. Two days of travel, four days of exploration and rejuvenation, and two days of recovery. Even my boss could see the need for this travel written all across my face. So off I went, all alone, into the deep unknown of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. I rented a small cabin just outside of the small town of Estes Park. I was well equipped with several knives, pepper spray, and booby traps inside my window and door. You see, I am used to a city where people break in for a hot pepperoni pizza, much less a female on her own. The first night I would rest, allowing myself to shake the bad vibes from my core and free up the space needed to heal. Tomorrow I would hike. And hike I did.
I found the absolute most gorgeous hike I could possibly find within a two hour drive time. It was located in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. I got there fashionably late and managed to find the last parking spot in the park, with just a short hike to the trailhead. The trail itself however, is roughly 8.6 miles and considered a moderate hike. I would not argue that last detail! I began my hike with my eyes wide open. I took in every unique song from flight, every tree-cast shadow in front of me, each smell of the freshest pine you could ever imagine. I felt the sunlight warm my face and make me squint while my smile grew with every step. I felt like a child again. Free. Wild and at home from the earth where I was born. Even more, I was vulnerable. Animals could take to my scent and track me with little to no warning of attack. I could tumble down a mountainous ravine and not be found for weeks, possibly months. But it was the beauty of the natural earth, the fear of the wild, and lack of human company that would reset my soul. I traversed on.
During this entire outback hike, I only came across five troops or couples of people. I feared not, for there was plenty of daylight. I stopped at Long Lake for a brief moment and while I could see its evident beauty, it was not the masterpiece I was searching for. I climbed higher and higher along the trail, further from civilization and closer to God. Past waterfalls, over rock formed bridges, along what looked like the edges of the earth... through grassy fields and wildflower abundance, I hiked on. Suddenly, I saw something run from the corner of my eyes! What was it!? I drew my knife and waited with my eyes peeling away the scene around me. Not a single movement was made. I pressed forward until I saw movement yet again. This time however, it was spotted! A small marmot! And another! And another! They were all popping the heads out of the rock formations and appeared to be sending signals! Were they warning each other of my presence? Were they warning each other of a more vicious and unmerciful presence still unknown to me? I kept my knife blade-out in my right hand and continued on my journey.
Soon after, I came to her, Lake Isabelle. What is considered to be the third most beautiful lake in the world. I had done it. I had hiked to heaven. Giant boulders surrounded this side of the lake, perfect for some sunbathing in heaven. I plopped down on a large tan and moderately flat rock. I began to shed my clothes down to as much as possible, while remaining decent and equipped for a bear attack if need be. On the other side of the lake was what appeared to me a man and a boy fishing, I felt safe. Or at least I knew if someone heard my screams they might be answered. The sun felt hot and the water looked like paradise, reflecting the mountainous peaks in it's emerald pool. Isabelle Glacier hung across the lake in the middle of the peaks and is the source that feeds this bountiful lake. The freshest water I have ever seen in my life was right here, lying beneath my dangling toes. I needed to get in the water. I looked up to make sure my company had not yet departed, for fear of a wild animal coming to get me while I waded. They remained. I began to lower my legs into the sub-alpine lake. It was a cold I had never felt before. Not an unbearable kind of cold, but a cold very different from ice or snow. I lowered myself in until I could not hold the rock any longer, and dropped into it's icy waters. It nearly stopped my heart; perhaps it did! As I swam I awed at the curtains of mountains around me. They were stunning as they rested beneath the bright blue sky, glittered with both snow and vibrant colors of wildflowers. Swimming right there in heaven was little old me. Alas, I was only human still, so I forced myself out before the cold really took over my body. When I withdrew, the tops of my feet were marked with large bruises. The cold had caused the small blood vessels to burst almost immediately. I did it though. I swam in heaven. And right there in those moments, my soul, my presence on earth, and my love of nature had been reset.
The Majestic Terrain
Ronda Cook from Sullivan, MO on April 19, 2020:
A beautiful account of finding yourself, Sara. Love it and look forward to reading more of your articles!
Denise Parry on April 18, 2020:
What a beautifully wtitten account of how you came to know and understand yourself and to follow your heart.
Sara Brand (author) from The Continental US on April 14, 2020:
Thank you so much for the kind words.
Sara Brand (author) from The Continental US on April 14, 2020:
Thank you so much! That trip permanently changed me for the better.
Liz Westwood from UK on April 14, 2020:
You give an interesting account of your trip with beautiful photos.
Lorna Lamon on April 14, 2020:
Such a beautiful portrayal of you journey in the the wonders of nature. I agree, it is the only way to hit that stop button and fill your senses with all things good. I enjoyed reading this great experience and your photos are stunning. Take care and keep well Sara.