I Love My Gramma

Dear Gramma,

I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately. I spent the last two weeks hiking through the canyons of Southeastern Utah with 10 high school kids and 3 other instructors. We played games, sang our hearts out, talked about time and perspective and memories, sat through classes under the sun and blue skies, cooked up feasts of every variety of cheesy pasta you could imagine, learned each others’ stories, and soaked in every moment fully. I discovered my passion out there, my dream job.

Of course I don’t have to tell you this because you know it all. I never fully admitted it, but when I started this blog almost a year ago, I started it for you. You always hated it when I left Chicago because it meant another few weeks or months of worry, and thus I hated leaving you. So I started this Intentional Wandering blog to let you know I was alive, and living, and to try to explain why I do it; why I travel to new places, why I throw myself into the wild without a rope, why I hike and run and explore. You used to check the iPad every morning to see if there was a new post and every time I wrote one and clicked that “publish” button, I thought of you. I thought of the joy it would bring you (and Papa) to know where I was and what I was thinking.

Before I left for Overland, I came over to check in. We talked about my latest post which was about riding a train from Seattle to Chicago. You told me about how you used to ride the train to the east coast when you were young. We reminisced on watching the landscape fly by, the tranquility of the bobbing train car, the conversations with strangers in the observation car. We shared those memories together and I’ll never forget it.

Now you don’t have to worry anymore and I don’t have to write in my blog as much. Because you’re with me. You were with me as I drove out to Denver 6 weeks ago. You were with me in the mountains as I was learning to ski. You were with me in the canyons as I discovered my dream. You were with me as I watched the desert-canyon sunset in magentas and violets, breathed in the wind that whipped across the sandstone, fell asleep wondering up at the stars. You’re always with me and I find great comfort in knowing that. Now we can explore the world together.

[i carry your heart with me(I carry it in].

I love you, Gramma.

Dylan

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When you’re tired, slow down and eat

When I set out on my first ever trail run about a month ago, my friend/coach/chef, Cale, gave me one simple piece of advice: “When you’re tired, slow down and eat.”

I ran my first half-marathon last weekend at the Tesuque Trail Run. The prospect of running 13 miles in an afternoon was pretty daunting when I first started running. I got about 3 miles in and, breathing heavily and facing a steep climb, I was overcome with doubt. What am I doing? No way can I make it up this mountiain. I’m exhausted. How the hell can people run full marathons?!

When you’re tired, slow down and eat.

So I slowed to a walk, and whipped out some chocolate covered espresso beans and a rice-crispy treat and scarfed. I took a moment and looked down upon a valley of autumn-yellow Aspen trees, heard the flap of midnight black ravens overhead, took a deep breath of sage and suddenly, I had the energy. Let’s do it.

This past weekend, Cale and I took on the challenge of a bike ride to Taos and back. Neither of us had ever done a long distance bike-touring trip and we went into the 150-mile round-trip journey with hopeful minds and a readiness for whatever brutality lie ahead. We packed that freedom on our tires and rode off. The first day went off without a hitch, as long as you don’t consider 35-degree temperatures and rain on a mountain in bike shorts a hitch. Somewhere during our return trip though, around mile 95, I was hit again with that same doubt. I had to shift into the lowest gear to struggle up a little hill and I wondered if I was ever going to make it. I lost all enthusiasm for the journey. I was done.

When you’re tired, slow down and eat.

After the hill, with both of us noticeably struggling, we pulled off to the side of the road. We sat down, split a package of peanut butter crackers, a handful of gummy bears, and a homemade peanutbutter-honey-nutella-coffee goo and looked around. We were sitting in the middle of Carson National Forest, surrounded by Pinyon trees and sandstone mesas with the sun shining down. A smile stretched across my face. There’s no other place I’d rather be. We cruised the rest of the way, never going more than 45 minutes without candy, caffeine, and a slowing.

With Overland and Jumpstart Chicago this summer, I found myself moving very quickly, much faster than I had been while intentionally travelling. I was suddenly responsible for the well-being of 56 energetic kids nonstop for three months straight. It was exactly what I wanted to be doing and I was following my passion. They were both incredible experiences as I mentioned in past blogs but and they were exhausting. By the end of August, my brain, my body, my response-inhibitor, they were all tired.

When you’re tired, slow down and eat.

So I went back to Ghost Ranch. I got into some of that power of the slowing that Gerald May so beautifully describes. I ate piles and piles of Mexican food in the dining hall. I watched sunsets streak across the high desert sky, explored untamed areas around the ranch, read Krakauer and Hesse and sat around campfires. My passion for exploration and challenge has been reinvigorated and I’m ready for whatever adventure lies ahead, whether it be tutoring or traveling.

Life can move pretty quickly sometimes, especially while we’re chasing our dreams and doing something that makes us forget to poop. Those moments are great. They invoke that flow state when time ceases to exist and can lead to supreme, genuine happiness. They’re also taxing. They require our full energy, both physically and mentally, to engage. And we get tired. And when you’re tired, slow down and eat.

Is it Thanksgiving yet?

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It is What You Make It

It was just a few weeks ago, as I was finishing up my Jumpstart classes in Chicago, when I was faced with a difficult decision: where should I go next? My two best friends from Chicago (James & Sebastian) were moving out to San Francisco to start a new life of adventure and uncertainty. They had no jobs, no apartment, their pets heads were falling off but they were just ready for something new. It had been my plan since college graduation to move to the Bay Area and this was the ideal opportunity. San Francisco represented a chance to settle into a life in a beautiful place with people I love and start working toward the business I’ve always dreamed of: an outdoor educational and tutoring center. On the other hand, I was offered an internship at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico to develop their outdoor and sustainability curriculum with a number of youth groups. Since my intentional wanderings in the spring, Ghost Ranch has held a special place in my heart and I couldn’t wait to go back. New Mexico represented a chance to slow down life for a bit, continue exploring the mysterious and powerful natural world, work directly with kids groups, and live for free.

Ultimately, I decided to go back to Ghost Ranch because it offered me the direct experience in building outdoor educational curriculum that would come in handy in the future. That and my buddies were going to be living in SF for quite a while and there was no rush for me to get out there and spend all the precious little money I had saved. It was a difficult decision and I wasn’t totally ready to give up the nomadic lifestyle and settle down. However, the simple fact that I was considering it means that I’m closer than I was 4 months ago.

I was excited to get back on the ranch that had been so wonderful to me in the spring, a place surrounded by rich sandstone mesas and sprawling sage fields, a place where everyone greets each other with a smile, a place where somebody else prepares my meals. I had great visions for a collaborative educational movement on the farm, where kids would be inspired to reconsider their everyday water and land usage and start building their own farms at home.

On my first day of work at the ranch, it quickly became clear that I was not going to be doing what I had signed up to do. In fact, I wasn’t going to be working with kids at all and there was absolutely no ‘education’ aspect to my job description. My time would be split between basic farm duties like weeding, watering and harvesting and helping with the Outdoor Adventure program, which consists of leading guided hikes, archery, and the ropes course. A few months ago, this would have been ideal, but to the new motivated and future-oriented Dylan that somehow developed over the summer, this was a waste of time.

I was stuck. I had just finished one of the most incredible road trips of my life with my lifelong best friend, James, across America. It included a weekend in Denver staying with an Overland friend (Sarah) and her roommate (Annie) where I had never felt so welcome and comfortable as a visitor. We could have stayed in that apartment on that green couch for weeks without a care in the world. But life had to continue and before I knew it, I was on a Greyhound bus down to New Mexico. Now New Mexico turned out to be not what I had anticipated and my mind kept slipping from the now into the elsewhere. Should I just quit and go to San Francisco? Or maybe back north to Denver? Should I tell the ranch I’m only staying for a month, or a week? Should I complain about my job description and demand a new position?

I called my parents looking for some guidance. After explaining the situation to my mom, my dad grabs the phone to tell a quick story. For almost 20 years, my dad would take an annual fishing trip up to Roaring Stony Lodge in Minnesota. After the first day, people would sit around the dinner table complaining because they couldn’t catch a single fish, not even a nibble! My dad, boasting about his 5-catch morning, would offer to take em out the next day and show em around the lake. He’d show em how to relax, enjoy the serenity, and appreciate the opportunity to be sitting out on a lake without a care. Soon enough, the people who were complaining were now laughing, joking and having a great time despite the fact that they still hadn’t caught a fish. They arrived at the lodge expecting the big catch, but left with something else, an appreciation for the landscape and the now. The initial expectations didn’t match up with the lasting memories.

As always, I had a choice. I could bitch and moan about the girl who hired me and the fact that I wouldn’t be learning any new skills in the day-to-day. Or I could appreciate my surroundings and make something of it. Ghost Ranch is what you make it. I’m determined to make it great. I’ve decided to take the energy that I would have otherwise spent developing new curriculum and put it into physical activity. I’ve decided to take these next few months and appreciate the slowing, read some books, spend my time outside and challenge myself with exercise. In the last week, I’ve gone on 5 hikes, biked over 40 miles and ran a half marathon up and down a mountain. I look forward to the end of work each day when I can get out and move my body through some of the most pristine and unique land in America. I don’t care, I love it!

Overland Summers: Extreme Happiness

It’s been a long absence from the blog. 91 days to be exact. In that time, I’ve had no time to respond to emails, no time to post pictures, no time to read, no time to overanalyze, no time to blog. And I’m not sorry. For the last 91 days, I have been totaling engrossed in the now, in my immediate surroundings. Living in the moment not for myself, but for everyone around me.

This summer I worked for Overland, a company based out of Williamstown, MA that creates adventure experiences for kids all around the world. 

Taken straight from the Overland website: “This is the Overland experience: a small group with inspiring leadership, engaged in a carefully crafted summer camp program that captures their imagination, stretches their abilities and strengthens their bonds with each other.”

It’s only a seasonal job, but if you asked me what I do for a living, I’d tell you I work for Overland. I spend the rest of the year killing time until Overland begins again. This was my second year as an Overland counselor and I led a brand new trip called “Alps Explorer” with the talented and intentional Judy Merzbach as my co-leader. We had two groups of 12-15 year old kids for three weeks each, exploring the snow-capped alpine mountains and pristine valley towns of Switzerland, France and Italy. We ate fresh croissants in the morning, hiked up 3000-foot mountains in the afternoon, cooked up pizza dinners in the evenings and ended each day with “dessert circle,” a time for each of us to reflect on our highs, lows and cheers of the day over a couple Oreos or a cup of pudding. We laughed, we cried, we played, we challenged each other beyond our physical limits, we grew together as a family. It was the best summer of my life.

Be Here Now

On the first night with the kids, I told them what I wanted to bring with me on this trip is “Be Here Now.” They chuckled and rolled their eyes a bit, presumably thinking, “yeah, duh! Where else am I going to be?” But at Overland, you have to be here now because there’s nowhere else you can be. There are no distractions. There is no chance to escape from the moment. There is no technology. In everyday life at home, many kids might have reached for their Instagram or Snapchat during those awkward or challenging moments. But at Overland you have to work through them. Fortunately, you have 13 other people in the same situation who are helping you get there. That is how we became a family. We didn’t spend our time fretting about the “luxuries” we were missing from home like a bed, a roof or a toilet seat. We spent our time soaking in the mindful moments on mountaintops and appreciating the opportunity to explore the Alps.

Be The Dog

Before the trip began, I set a personal goal for myself during training: Be the dog. The dog is unconditionally loyal. The dog does everything for you and asks nothing in return. The dog expects no acknowledgement. My goal was to lose my ego, ignore my selfish desires and spend the summer living totally for other people; for my kids, for my co-leader, for Overland. If my kids were happy and my co-leader was happy, I was happy. It meant late night brainstorming discussions with my “co” and early morning wake ups to start breakfast and hot chocolate for the kids, when all I really wanted was to roll over and snooze. It meant unbridled encouragement and positivity through long, exhausting uphill climbs, when all I wanted was a little peace and quiet. It meant sprinting through french grocery stores trying to buy dinner for 14 people in ten minutes, when all I wanted was a sandwich. After a few months of intentionally wandering on my own, this was a big transition. In the end, I achieved my goal. I lost my ego, I lost my connection to the outside world, I lost myself. It was a truly humbling experience and reminded me once again that a life lived in selflessness and gratitude is a satisfying one. It was wonderful. And it was contagious.

Choose Happiness

During the second day of our backcountry trip with group two, we had been hiking for about 8 hours in on&off rain when suddenly the drizzle morphed into a violent lightning storm. Stuck on the side of a mountain just north of Chamonix, France, we threw our metal hiking poles to the ground and crouched into lightning position beside a tall rock face to wait out the dangerous lightning. The kids hid under tarps to keep dry, while Judy and I danced in the cold rain to keep blood flowing to our limbs. After a 20 minute delay, we got moving again down the mountain through torrential downpour. Buckets of water washed over our heads, the trail deteriorated into a shallow stream, dense fog made the path nearly impossible to see past 40 feet, my hands were quickly numbing. And what did we do? We sang. WE SANG OUR HEARTS OUT! We laughed, we smiled, we dug deep and chose happiness. It was amazing. Finally, with less than half a mile to the campsite, we stopped. The storm intensified to a flash flood and our trail was washed over with a rapid river flowing straight down the mountain and off a cliff only 20 feet away. If any of us were to fall, the rapids would take us down the mountain. It was an extreme situation and required extreme leadership. Judy and I didn’t flinch. We huddled together and made a plan. We tied a rope between ourselves and I carried all 14 bags across the river to safety. We then tied each kid to the rope and ushered them cautiously across the river to safety. The whole fiasco took over an hour and we all reached the other side safely. Again I looked at the kids and they weren’t shaking in fear or doubt, they were gleaming in pride and confidence. We sang the rest of the way down to camp. When we finally arrived to Camp Ruins D’Arleve, more than 10 hours after we departed that morning, we told the kids they could warm up in their tents and we would cook dinner and serve it to them in tents. But they didn’t want to go in their tents. They were more concerned about the group’s wellbeing than their own. They crowded around and asked what more they could do. They set up my tent, they set up Judy’s tent, they made a rain shelter, they gathered water, they cut vegetables, they cooked dinner, they served dinner. It was one of the greatest moments of selflessness I’ve ever witnessed.

With rain pouring down, legs exhausted from a long day, and a bone-chilling cold creeping in, you have a choice. You can choose to complain and pout and wallow down a long path of self-pity. Or you can choose happiness. You can choose to sing and dance and laugh and enjoy life. Those kids chose happiness and with it came a story they will tell for the rest of their lives. Everybody has this choice. Some days it’s an easier choice to make than other days, but it’s always a choice.

I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to have led for Overland the past two summers and I hope to do it again next year. Since I returned from the Alps, I’ve spent the last 3 weeks teaching my 7th Grade Jumpstart Camp. Now I have another week in Chicago before I’m off again to New Mexico to work as an education intern at Ghost Ranch, teaching kids sustainability and farming. Keep the adventures rollin!

 

photo 2The time I let the kids cut my hair

photo 3Glacier hiking

photo 4“I’m on top of the world, HEY!”

photo 5Judes n I

photoThe greatest summer of my life

 

FOR MORE PICTURES CHECK OUT THE PICTURE WEBSITE: 

Alps Explorer Group 1:  http://photos.overlandsummers.com/2014/Hiking/AX-1-with-Judy-Dylan/

Alps Explorer Group 2: http://photos.overlandsummers.com/2014/Hiking/AX-2-with-Judy-Dylan/

Riding that train…

In a full year of travel, this is my first extended journey via train, an experience so unique and satisfying that everyone should experience it at some point in life. Sooner than later.

The train embodies the full journey, the experience from A to B, with time slowing just enough to stop and think, to be with the moment. It allows for passive sitting and active observing, of the passing landscape outside windows, the moving passengers through train cars, the flowing thoughts through the mind. It is comfortable, unhurried, free to be as social or introverted as you please in each moment.

It is a unique collection of individuals on the observation deck of a transamerican train, for everyone has a story, and not only that, they have the time to tell it. One can create great companionship on the train within the comfort of traveling together while recognizing that when the destination arrives, you will probably never see that person again. Easy conversation initialized by a simple, “where are you heading?” quickly transforms into extensive family histories, exciting travel stories and philosophies on life. Lost within hours of quiet contemplation without distraction, people can truly open up to you, eager both to share and to listen.

Airplane travel is quite different. It is about efficiency, haste, arrival. After the stress of packing tightly into carry-on bags, removing all objects from pockets, placing laptops in separate bins, getting electronically frisked by a rotating cylinder, obsessively checking and rechecking the video display board, filing into the artificially pressurized container like sardines, restricted to your closely confined quarters for hours, you arrive. Often more flustered and exhausted than when you left. It is strictly about the destination, whichever gets you there faster. The entire process is a burden. Hurry up and wait to be happy. Every airplane trip is the same, every railroad trip is different.

Perhaps it is the ability to walk around and stretch your legs, perhaps it is the easy sway and soft vibration of the car gliding along the level tracks, perhaps it is the orchestra of creaks and shakes crescendoed with a loud whistle or screeching brakes, perhaps it is the constantly adapting landscape of densely packed forests, lonely trailer towns and bustling interstate highways, perhaps it is the methodical fall and rise of powerlines that border the empty roads, perhaps it is the 40+ hours on unstructured confinement. Whatever it is, I like it.

“A train isn’t a vehicle. A train is part of the country. It is a place.” – Paul Theroux, Riding the Iron Rooster

Falling asleep amongst the quiet roads of Spokane, arising for a red-sky sunrise over the mountains of Glacier National Park, asleep again in the empty dark plains of North Dakota, arising alongside a crystal clear lake in Minnesota. The train provides a haven for that lost soul, free to reflect mindfully and wonder imaginatively, within a constant state of movement, a constant state of intentional wandering.

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Be Here Now

Sitting upon a chair lined in blue and green felt on the upper deck of an Amtrak train midway through my 48-hour journey from Seattle to Chicago. Tucked intimately close to the wide-stretching windows of the observation car looking out onto wind-swept green and brown alfalfa fields stretching far and flat to every horizon. I’m back in the flatlands of the Midwest again. Observing with a quiet smile all of the patrons pacing back and forth through the train cars eager to stretch their legs and stimulate their minds amidst the long ride to Chicago. Standing momentarily stagnant in Culbertson, MT waiting for the freight traffic ahead to subside. Apparently railroads get traffic too. Eavesdropping on conversations of European train travels, the joys of grandchildren, and proud Seahawks Super Bowl moments as my mind wanders out into broad fields and even bigger skies of possibilities. Reminiscing on the moments of the past 6 weeks living out of my backpack and indulging on plans for the near-future surrounded by the embrace of my family, my friends, my bed.

Stop. Be here now.

Throughout the blog, a number of themes prevail: a focus on breathing, living in the moment and nonjudgement. Mindfulness. I first heard the word “mindfulness” during my senior year when a girl was explaining her thesis project and while I nodded casually as if I knew what she was talking about, I raced home to google it myself. The art of mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years in the Eastern world but is only recently unveiling its positive potential in our fast-paced, stressful Western world.

Mindfulness is living fully in the present moment of experience. It is taking the time to stop and sit and do nothing but observe the moment, which includes the thoughts and ideas that rush through one’s mind, the movement of the wind across one’s face, the chirping birds in the trees above, the taste of moist air from a recent rain, the natural and chaotic beauty of that sage bush in the far away valley. Observe it all and bring it into your awareness.

The physical, external world is the same for all beings and yet we all seem to interact with it differently. Through our personal experiences, we develop unique mindsets and perspectives that we use to judge the world and interact with it. I like this, I don’t like that. This is good, that is bad. The mind, molded by time and experience, is what perceives. It takes the information of the world, the stimuli of the senses, and presents it to you. It is the ultimate. That is why brain tumors can lead to hallucinations and schizophrenia and we deem those people “crazy” because their perceptions do not align with the norm. It is why some can see a traffic jam as a great burden while others perceive the same jam as a wonderful moment to reflect with the self. It is all about your perception.

We can’t change every little things that happens to us, but we can change how we experience it.
-Andy Puddicombe

Life is like a play on stage. We are actors in this play, interacting with the world, developing opinions, thoughts, values, ideas. We live most of our everyday lives in this blur, rushing from place to place, worried about the overwhelming responsibilities of food, money, relationships and spend the rest of the downtime engaged in our screens. During mindfulness practice, you remove yourself from that stage and take a seat in the audience, watching and observing your own thoughts as they flow. Not with judgement that this is good and this is bad, but with pure observation. We’re often so quick to judge but as soon as we do, we ignore the entire portion of reality that we deem to be “bad” or that which we “don’t like”.

Through extended mindfulness practice, which takes no more than 10 minutes per day, one can achieve greater control over the mind, their interactions with the world and can experience a situation in any way they choose. It gives you that extra second to stop and form a response to a situation instead of a reaction. It can lead to greater happiness, satisfaction and creativity.

Within routine, we blaze neural pathways through the brain as this idea connects to that idea connects to the next, until we arrive at some conclusion. Often times, we seek out conclusions that align with our own which just reaffirms and strengthens our own ideals. Those neural pathways get stronger with repetition and over time, our potential for deviation from the norm, our potential for creativity, declines. Mindfulness can help one recognize those habitual thought patterns, stop, and take that minor detour into newness and innovation.

I know it might sound like a bunch of hullabaloo spewing sunshine and flowers. But it isn’t. It is scientifically proven. Happiness is my passion. I’ve researched it, taken classes about it, experienced it and I’ve come to realize that happiness is a choice. Ten minutes of mindfulness everyday is scientifically proven to make you happier, more creative, less stressed, improve athletic ability (ask Phil Jackson), improve academics, boost socio-emotional behavior, decrease the symptoms of ADHD, pretty much everything. It’s no longer crazy hippy Eastern world mediation crap. It is real. It works. At least it has for me.

Throughout the last six weeks on the road, I’ve made great efforts to remind myself to “be here now.” Stop mid-shovel at the farm and breathe in the afternoon mesas at Ghost Ranch, stop mid-climb for a breath in the Arches surrounded by 5 snapchatting ladies, stop mid-concert to breathe the vibrations and the Gorge at Sasquatch and now stop to breathe mid-sentence to recognize the easy sway of the train car traveling through the rolling green hills of North Dakota.

I’d like to close with some great epiphany from the last months but that would defeat the whole purpose of this blog- that every moment should be cherished and life is full of adventure.

Thank you to everyone that provided a couch to sleep on or recommendations for places to visit or just read the blog. I’m always looking for feedback so don’t hesitate to email me at Dylan.gschwind@gmail.com

“Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about your reaching a designation and becomes indistinguishable from living your life.” -Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

For more info about mindfulness check out:
ANDY PUDDICOMBE TED TALK
Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
10% Happier by Dan Harris
Wherever you Go, There you Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Summertime in Seattle

For the last week and a half, I’ve been living out of Gretta the Jetta with Sara and Georgia. The three best friends that anyone could have driving through the numerous National Parks of Utah, the great forests of Central Oregon and finally through to wonderful city of Seattle, complete with that wonderful summertime sunshine. We hiked through Devil’s Garden in Arches, the south rim of the Grand Canyon, Angel’s Landing in Zion, the blue pools of Bend Oregon, Powell’s books in Portland and Capital Hill in Seattle. The West at its best.

It’s funny to think that I’ve only known Sara for less than a year and Georgia for less than two weeks. Over late-night campfire contemplations about the stars, mornings filled with loopy laughter and banana sandwiches, and dance breakdowns through lonesome Idaho farmlands, we’ve bonded something special. I guess that’s life on the road. When showers are only available every 4 days and you spend most of the day within an enclosed moving box, you really get to know each other. I was nervous at the start that I might be intruding on their long-anticipated adventure, but they’ve welcomed me with open arms and I’m extremely grateful for it. Good people.

Last night I got to introduce them to the wonderful world of Pomona College while we ventured the sounds of the city on Capital Hill. A bunch of 2014 grads just finished the classic post-grad roadtrip up the west coast on the way to Sasquatch and they arrived in Seattle on the same day. Walking down the stairs of ChaChas, I was spotted by them with an eruption of great cheers and smiles and bear hugs and love. That love that builds over 3 years of everyday interaction, Dale Bros beer at The Boot, brawls on the beer league field, sparkles in Lowry. I had that goofy, cheesin grin on my face all night, arms around my homies, worlds colliding together again. It was awesome. So awesome in fact that I bought a Sasquatch ticket this morning and will spend the next 4 days camping, dancing and singing with all of em. WABOP!

BOULDER, CO

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ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

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GRAND CANYON

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ZION

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BEND OREGON

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SEATTLE

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