I don't usually love New Year's Eve. It makes me realize how quickly time passes and I get nervous about what an entirely new calendar year will bring. Will it be good? Will it be bad? I have a hard time with uncertainty...
But this year, despite my anxious NYE nature, I find myself reflecting upon 2015 with glee and getting little butterflies of excitement over what 2016 will bring. I'm certain this perspective switch is due to the sheer number of adventures we squeezed into the last 12 months. So, before I joyfully cannonball into 2016, I want to properly acknowledge my favorite memories from this year with this Top 5 Adventure Countdown of 2015!
#5. Family camping
I remember camping with my family when I was about 7 years old. I hiked with my Dad to the fire lookout atop a mountain wearing slip-on Keds and raccoons broke into our cooler and ate all the lunchmeat. It was a great trip. But, I think it was the last time we camped together - until this year!
In September, we spent a long weekend at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park hiking through the trees, wading across rivers, eating too much cheese, and protecting my Mom from poison oak. Each night, we sipped beers and chatted around the campfire and each day we set out into the wilderness to soak in the silence of the redwoods. It was an amazing reminder of the outdoorsy family I grew up with and I'm so grateful for my tough, adventurous, and hilarious parents and sisters.
#4. Camping with a baby
In early spring, we set out with our friends for Baby's First Camping Trip. We were prepared for midnight wails and extra slow hikes, but what we got instead was a weekend full of wonder. Every pine needle, every tree stump, every step on the trail seemed like a brand new experience to me as I watched her little mind take in the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. She's a mellow baby to begin with, but I'd like to believe that being surrounded by the outdoors helped her (and us) sleep soundly and breathe deeply on the forest floor.
#3. Lost Coast
In addition to all the outdoor adventures in 2015, it was also the year I turned 30. I agonized over how I should spend this milestone birthday and finally realized I didn't really want a birthday celebration at all. I just wanted to run away to the woods and turn 30 in a place that made that number feel insignificant.
The Lost Coast, with its expansive solitude and mountains that seem to rise straight out of the ocean, was the perfect place. Russ and I spent the entire weekend cozied up at the Inn of the Lost Coast, eating pizza and taking day hikes along the north and south ends of the iconic trail. And since we had driven all that way, we spent a few hours wandering around the Avenue of the Giants on our way home. Turning 30 wasn't bad at all.
#2. Backpacking to Sykes Hot Springs
This three day backpacking trip in Big Sur was a first for me, and I chronicled my struggles and triumphs with backpacking in a blog post titled, "Bring Less," earlier this year. But there's a good reason this adventure ranks so highly on my Top 5 Adventures of 2015. It changed the way I spend time in the outdoors.
As a car camper, I always felt like a tourist. I drove a few hours, unloaded an entire kitchen from the car, and got a two-day taste of the wilderness while sitting comfortably by the fire. But backpacking over the steep slopes to Sykes Hot Springs brought me to the brink of my physical and mental limits, until I realized they weren't limits at all. I could conquer physical fatigue and I could push past my fears of rattle snakes and I could sleep happily in a tent full of dirty, smelly gear. Most of all, it reinforced what a great team Russ and I are, especially under pressure. We supported, pushed, encouraged, and lifted each other up. We took turns loving and hating backpacking and when we got home, we couldn't wait to plan our next trek. This adventure gave me a brief glimpse into the real wilderness and was the absolute best way to spend our second wedding anniversary.
#1. Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand
For obvious reasons, my #1 Adventure of 2015 deserves a lengthy and descriptive post of its own. And believe me, from the moment we landed in Bangkok, I've been trying to write about the experience. But, the diversity of emotions, activities, and lessons this trip provided is difficult to capture. Volunteering at the Surin Project changed how I will travel for the rest of my life.
Elephants are a business investment in Thailand. Elephant rides, circuses, and even begging in the streets provides an income for the owners (mahouts) and, very sadly, a life of abuse for the elephants. But, the Surin Project works provide income to mahouts and a better life for the elephants through voluntourism. As volunteers, we completed daily chores to help care for the elephants, learned about Thai culture from the mahouts, and spent time with the elephants walking through the forest and bathing in the river. By paying to stay and volunteer at the Surin Project, we helped financially support the community and proved that there is a desire to see elephants treated with respect and living happily among one another. Our time in this community helped us understand the complexities of animal tourism, make better decisions about how we spend our money abroad, and gave a few elephants in Thailand lots of love and a bit more freedom.
There are so many more amazing experiences from 2015 that couldn't fit in the countdown, and as I watch the clock roll to midnight tonight, I will feel no fear of 2016 uncertainties, just gratitude for the incredible adventures yet to come.
Happy New Year!