The sky has been dumping buckets of rain on Fort Collins for weeks, and it's made it difficult to fulfill my ambitious list of wilderness goals. On Sunday, my buddy Madison and I decided to tough it out anyway and attempt to hike Mt. Bierstadt, one of Colorado's incredible Fourteeners. But we didn't summit. In fact, we didn't even make it to the trailhead--walked right by it by about a half mile because it was buried in three feet of snow that still blankets the mountains here in May.
The peak on the left is Mt. Evans (another 14er), and the roundtop on the right is Bierstadt.
The road, Guanella Pass, was closed about two miles from the parking lot where in warmer days, hikers park and begin their excursion. This didn't stop us. The wind blew and the snow came down, and we walked along the road for the two miles to the base of the trail, passed two guys on skis and a snowboard who said 'hi' with a smile like "You're kind of crazy too huh?" We kept walking until a nice couple stopped us. "Where are you headed to?" they asked with a skeptical look. "Bierstadt," we said. "Oh, you passed it!" Of course we did. We couldn't see a thing in the blinding white.

Neither of us had worn waterproof shoes, winter jackets, or gear fit for an alpine climb. Even though we knew we wouldn't make it any farther than the road, this wasn't a failure. Madison and I had left town in the pre-dawn darkness that morning to seek out the wilderness, and well, we had certainly found it.
Unprepared, wet, and cold, we decided to make the most of our time and the place, and wandered around Arapaho National Forest telling ghost stories, swapping book recommendations, and exploration plans for the upcoming summer and year, and we had a great time. You learn a lot when you let yourself wander. You don't always have to summit. Sometimes, it takes a few tries just to begin.

Rough & Ready

I love the climbing community because, in my experience, you can show up anywhere and there will be awesome, gracious people ready to take you out on an adventure, and it was no different in Las Cruces, New Mexico. 

Josh, myself, and our new friend Trent, climbed into his open-air jeep and traveled some off-roads to the Rough & Ready Hills where volcanic tuff--a brittle, light, porous rock--makes this area the second most popular to the nearby Organ Mountains. 

There are over 40 routes in four different crag areas, many of them still in development which made this excursion particularly exciting. For a warm-up, I led this 5.9 slab route, "Blood, Sweat, and Steers" on which I actually broke a sweat, not just because the desert sun was beating down on us, but because the crux was height dependent! 
At first, giant flies made resting spots of our legs and I felt like a horse kicking my feet around as I belayed Trent and Josh, but it didn't take very long for the sun to move over the hillside throwing our Reddi-Wip Area into wonderful shade.
This little crag pup is Fiona, and she photo-bombed our picture! 

Some rain started to trickle in on us, so we packed up and headed out.

Tomorrow, my friend and I will be summiting one of Colorado's fourteeners, and I could not be more stoked to share the adventure!

At the Border: Las Cruces, New Mexico

Last weekend, I drove 11 hours to visit one of my very good friends who left Fort Collins, Colorado last summer for Las Cruces, New Mexico. Everyone he knew thought he was crazy: who would leave the Rocky Mountains, the brewfests and the biking for a border town in the desert? I thought the move was risky but brave; nothing good ever comes without a bit of risk right? Little did I know that I would instantly feel a special kind of affinity for this place, the southwest, and I’d venture to say that Josh didn’t expect this either.
This is Josh, a damn good fiction writer at NMSU.
I drove 100 miles through the Jornada del Muerto Desert Basin, “single day’s journey of the dead man,” with no gas, no signs of civilization, and no warning that this area was once the most feared and deadly to pioneers, and still meant trouble if you weren’t paying attention today. Needless to say, I was humbled in my air-conditioned car as I thought about trekking this route by foot beneath the unforgiving high sun. 
 Incredible changing landscape of plateaus, white peaks, and the brilliant desert reds and yellows.
We spent Saturday in Juarez, Mexico. I expected an army at the border crossing, dogs, and endless checkpoints, but we walked right into Mexico without any hullaboo.
At the border.
I was captivated by the colors of Cuidad Juarez. We spent the whole day walking around in circles in the marketplace. There was so much to take in!

(l.) "Do whatever He tells you."

We grabbed bottles of Coke, pastor, and paletas de frutas from side-street food stands.

I didn't notice the AK-47 wall decoration of this abandoned building until I was home and editing this photo!

 We walked back over the Rio Grande and into the U.S.  As a resident of Colorado, a state whose natural landscape is so loved and protected, the sad state of this river was one of many reality breaks during this day.
On Sunday, we went climbing in the local sports crag, The Rough and Ready, and I’ll be sharing my experience on New Mexico rock soon!

Conversations with Cheryl Strayed

A perk of MFA programs is opportunity to meet inspiring, smart, talented writers. In April, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, visited Colorado State University (I graduate with my MFA this week!). Jayla Rae, a nonfiction MA student, introduced Strayed to 500 people who attended her reading, and struggled to find the right thing to say.

Last summer, I volunteered to introduce Cheryl Strayed for Colorado State University’s reading series, and I did this without thinking, and without understanding what it would be like to introduce a famous author.

 Between summer and April, Cheryl’s popularity grew and grew and I didn’t know what to say besides the obvious: she’s a champion creative nonfiction writer. As we held cocktails at the party, the two of us talked about our connections to Ashland, Oregon and how she loves Portland and how I do, too, and how she used to have a braid as long as mine when she was younger, worn similarly to the side. I had someone snap a photo of us. I uploaded it instantly. She signed my copy of Tiny Beautiful Things. And then she was on to talking with other students, and I missed my chance.

 So here, I will tell you the thing I didn’t tell Cheryl Strayed when I could have. Here I will admit my blasphemous inaction considering the culture I am surrounded by in Colorado: I’ve had a backpack hanging on my bedroom wall for years now, with tags still attached.

 This backpack has even moved from walls in Oregon to Colorado, its intended purpose for an outdoor course in Montana that I never took. I even have gear. The backpack hangs, the gear collects dust, and I have no idea why it’s placed like a trophy on my wall when I’ve never taken the time to break it in. But what Cheryl Strayed does not realize is that she makes me feel as though I am capable of breaking it in. And even though I don’t have a “plan” as of now, I know it’s something I want to do someday soon. Solo. Romania?

 I saw her a month later at the AWP Conference in Minneapolis, briefly. We snapped another photo. I chickened out again, because I’m sure she’s heard it before: Oh, you want to go on a solo-backpacking trip after reading Wild? But that’s not quite it.

 I now want to seize the thing I’ve always wanted to try—backpacking—because of reading Wild.
 Where are my scissors? I’m snipping these damn tags off.

Bio: Jayla Rae Ardelean holds an MA in creative nonfiction from Colorado State University. Her two dachshunds are the loves of her life, but literary geniuses are welcome. 

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