Every once in a while, when walking around the incredible lodge I live and work in, my eyes, a window, and one of the surrounding mountains perfectly line up. As I walk towards the window, the angle of my view through it rises, and my view of the mountain climbs higher and higher and higher... and HIGHER???
By the time the top of the mountain is in view, I'm shocked. I'm reminded of how majestic, how huge these surrounding peaks are. Every time this alignment of eyes, window, and mountain occurs, I stop and stare in amazement for a second.
The mountains surrounding Silver Gate, Montana are multiple thousands of feet higher than the town on the valley floor. They climb so high, so fast, and from so close that their presence just looms, towering over the valley. I was constantly moved by these mountains when I first arrived at the beginning of the summer, but over time, I got used to them. In their constant presence, I looked up less and less to appreciate their grandeur.
The above video is a National Geographic Live! Presentation by Andrew Skurka, a man who left the trail behind to traverse 4,569 miles of Alaskan Wilderness. It's riveting. It's powerful. It's one of the most inspiring talks I've ever seen. I share it not just in the hopes that it moves you, but to illustrate the extreme degree of possibility that comes with being alive.
An old Toyota pickup that was roughly converted into a dump truck cruised a Hawaiian highway with dense jungle on both sides. In the back of the dump truck was a giant pile of bananas. Atop that pile of bananas were three guys. I was one of them.
The absurdity of the situation baffled me as I sat, precariously perched atop a pile of fruit at such high speeds. I looked at my buddy, Alex, with near disbelief. “Dude!” I yelled through the wind, “Do you realize we’re in Hawaii riding down the highway in the back of a dump truck full of bananas right now?”
We laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation as we attempted to juggle bananas, throwing them forward into the 65mph blast of wind that would push them back towards you to catch as you tossed the next. Chuckling, I incredulously wondered aloud, “How did I get here?”
This is a guest post by Patricia Maurice. An accomplished professor, mother, and a voracious student of life.
There’s nothing like a solo hike up the side of a rugged mountain peak to organize one’s thoughts and create a little time for reminiscing. But, it wasn’t until I got back to camp this evening and raced to warm a bowl of soup in the path of a thunderstorm that clarity finally struck me… at 55 years old, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my life.
This journey towards happiness has not been steady or linear by any means. Mine has been a life of long periods of chaos punctuated by sudden epiphanies that have arrived like thunderbolts from out of the blue. I could, and perhaps will write about several of them. But, surely, one of the most important occurred a little over a decade ago. In my mid-40s, life had become a seemingly endless, exhausting ping-pong match of career and family. I wasn’t sleeping, was hardly eating… and it always seemed like the harder I worked, the more behind I fell.
A certain energy was in the air. It was one of those rare mornings when you wake up conscious of your surroundings and what you're about to do because it's the day.
My sister and I rolled up our sleeping bags, broke down the tent, and packed everything with a hushed fever and deliberateness. After failing to do so almost exactly two years previous due to an unprecedented August snowstorm, we once again found ourselves at Guitar Lake, preparing to make our second attempt at the 14,505ft Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States.
It was 2:15am. Four of us stood around trying to maintain a degree of stoicism toward the effort that lay ahead, distracted and awed by the stars above. Well above the treeline, our surroundings consisted of rock and dirt, giving us an unobstructed view of the Milky Way that spanned across the entire night sky. The air felt like one would imagine space to feel if it were hospitable—cold, crisp, still. My hands were crammed into a pair of used, crusty wool socks for warmth. Unable to use my thumbs, I awkwardly attempted uncomfortable grip variations of my trekking poles.
Not long ago, I couldn't even entertain the possibility of doing a handstand. Now, I can hold one for five or six seconds. At a glance, that's really not all that impressive. However, what happened between these two points in time is quite worthy of mention.
Way back when I was a little kid at recess, a bunch of my classmates were doing handstands, cartwheels, and other gymnastic type stuff. One week, it was just what everybody was doing. I'd never really tried or learned anything of a gymnastic nature and, unsurprisingly, I sucked at it. On the other hand, I played a lot of sports at home, and on the elementary school playground I always did quite well. I concluded that I was athletic, but not acrobatic.
For the next fifteen years or so, the belief that I was “athletic, but not acrobatic” shaped my life. I practiced and played all sorts of sports, believing that I was athletic, I got pretty good at many of them. I sought out athletic opportunities, but avoided acrobatic ones—I knew I was bad at those. Many years later, I still am.
I've spent a majority of the past two years traveling and honed some serious ultra-cheap traveling skills. I've bicycled across the United States, lived like a local in Mexico, worked as a deckhand on a cruise ship, and had many other adventures on a shoestring budget.
I am not rich, nor do I have passive income. I just picked up skills, strategies, and a host of resources along the way that make traveling insanely cheap. I suppose you could call me a “travel hacker.” A quick example: I spent two and a half months on the Big Island of Hawaii last summer for $669 (including airfare) without budgeting or “penny pinching.”
Here are 10 rules I attempt to follow that produce some insanely inexpensive trips: