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Live, Play, Travel

The Best Camp Coffee You’ve Ever Had (No, Seriously!)

September 19, 2015
aeropress

I’ve been a coffee drinker for as long as I can remember. I hated milk when I was a kid and to get me to drink it my mom would sometimes flavor it with a dollop of her coffee. I started drinking coffee more regularly in high school and what began as a way to get through 5 a.m. swim practices (and the long days of school that followed) slowly turned into a daily habit. And then an obsession.

Truth be told, I’m kind of a coffee snob. I love coffee but I only love good coffee. My morning cup is partly about the caffeine (which I admittedly need) but also about the enjoyment I get out of drinking it.

This presents a bit of a problem when camping or traveling.

Visiting coffee shops is one of my favorite things to do when I travel and I have a long list of favorites  in Colorado and elsewhere. But sometimes going to a coffee shop isn’t an option – like when you’re staying in a crappy motel in a tiny Mormon town and the only coffee shop doesn’t open until 10 a.m. Or when you’re camping pretty much anywhere.

For a long time we didn’t have a great solution to this problem. Sometimes we’d take a french press on our camping trips. That worked well as far as making coffee goes, but without running water the cleanup was difficult and messy. We tried sucking it up and using the little cans of Starbucks drinks to at least get in the requisite caffeine but that was expensive and not at all enjoyable. We dabbled in instant coffee but, yeah, that wasn’t going to cut it.

And then we discovered the Aeropress.

It’s not an overstatement to say that the Aeropress changed our camping coffee lives. Long gone are the days of trying to wash out the French press or force sub-par, sugary Starbucks drinks down our gullets. These days we enjoy really good coffee right at our campsite, in our hotel room, or pretty much anywhere else.

Why is the Aeropress so great for camping? Let me tell you!

First of all, it makes really good coffee. The coffee that comes out of it is smooth, flavorful, and completely customizeable. It’s also lightweight, simple to use, and easy to clean. Like, stupid easy. Combined with a device that quickly boils water (a la Jetboil), you can brew and clean up a killer cup of coffee in just a couple minutes. If you like coffee and you like camping, this thing should be in your kit.

Our Aeropress now goes everywhere with us. It’s been on countless camping trips and brewed us perfect cups of joe for early mornings at Kalalau. I’ve used it at home, in hotels, and even in the sheepwagon. I took it on a hut trip last winter and spent my morning playing barista for the fifteen women that were with me. Want to be popular among your outdoor friends? Have a great way to make really good coffee on a snowy mountain morning.

If you’re wondering just how easy this thing is, allow me to enlighten you!

Here’s what you need:

And that’s it!

Here’s what you do:

1. Heat your water. If you have a Jetboil, this will happen really quickly. We usually just heat the water until it boils but there is probably an exact temperature it’s supposed to be at (we’re not THAT picky!).

2. While your water is boiling, put a filter (it helps to get it a little damp first) in the bottom of the Aeropress and then scoop in your coffee grounds. It takes some trial and error to figure out the ratio of coffee to water that is best for you. I usually do two big, heaping scoops for a full Aeropress. Place the Aeropress on top of your mug.

3. Gently and carefully pour the hot water into the Aeropress. Let it sit for a few seconds. Maybe stir the grounds around for a bit. Place the plunger part on top of the main tube.

4. This is where the magic happens! Slowly and smoothly press down on the plunger and watch as you turn into a human espresso machine. This may take some elbow grease but we promise it will be worth it.

Et voila!

I’m pretty sure that making this stuff takes less time than you just spent reading this article. And did I mention that the coffee is so good?

To clean up after each cup of coffee you simply unscrew the cap from the bottom of the Aeropress and push the plunger in the rest of the way, popping out a neat little puck of coffee grounds. And you’re done. This could seriously not be any easier.

Getting the ratios of coffee to water right takes some trial and error and depends largely on personal preference. I usually make mine nice and strong because I figure I can always add more water if need be. When you’re done brewing you can customize your coffee in any way that you like. Add sugar or cream or booze (mmm … booze!) or whatever. I don’t add anything to mine because I like my coffee like I like my dogs – strong, smooth, and black.

Just like you, Maddie!

The Aeropress is equally useful and even easier to use while traveling. Long gone are the days of horrible hotel coffee. Heat up a cup of water in the microwave and you’re good to go!

How do you make your coffee when you camp? Have you tried the Aeropress? WILL you try the Aeropress?! If you do, you have to come back and tell me how it went.

This post contains affiliate links. 

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How to Save Money on Outdoor Gear

September 12, 2015
dotssupclouds2

One of the benefits of my” normal” job, back when I had it, was access to some pretty amazing pro deals. Because I worked for an outdoor/conservation focused organization I was able to score killer discounts from some of my favorite companies. It was a perk that was hard to give up (and yes, it was something I weighed when I was making the decision to jump ship!) but, at the end of the day, a good pro deal is not a reason to stay in a job that makes you unhappy.

When I struck out on my own and had to start paying full retail (what?! who does that?!) for gear, I realized I was going to have to be a lot smarter about how I spent my money. Needless to say, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way.

Let’s face it, outdoor sports can be expensive. Like, really expensive. And if there is a way to minimize that cost, I’m all for it. Because buying good gear for less money means there’s more cash leftover to do things like travel or, yanno, feed the dogs and pay the mortgage.

So with all that in mind, here are some things that I’ve learned about how to buy the stuff that I need to do the things that I love …. while also still being able to feed my family:

Contact your local bike/ski/paddle shop. If you’re looking to buy a big ticket item (bike, paddleboard, snowboard …) and are ok with getting something gently used, it’s always a great idea to check with your local gear or guide shop to see if they have demo or rental equipment that they are looking to unload. I got a great deal on my paddleboard this way! And while some shops only sell stuff at certain times of the year, others are happy to move old inventory all year long. It never hurts to ask! Plus, supporting local businesses is always a good thing.

Not all technical clothing needs to be expensive. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of pricey gear and I love it all but not every adventure or workout requires expensive stuff. When it comes to fair weather runs, hikes, paddles, and just about anything else, I often get by with tops from Target or Costco. Glamorous, right? Seriously though, if we’re talking basic wicking tops, theirs get the job done well for a very reasonable price. If you can wait until Target’s workout clothes go on sale, you’re even more likely to score a deal. I bought my very favorite cold weather running jacket on sale at Target for something like $25 and it has served me very well.

Check out Sierra Trading PostIf I am looking to order stuff online (this goes for both casual and technical clothes and shoes as well as things like ski goggles, snowshoes, backpacks, etc.) I always check Sierra Trading Post first. They carry gear from most of the major manufacturers at deeply discounted prices. Selection may be limited but sometimes you can score – and when you do, you score big! STP has also been a great place to get stuff for the kid because, again, the prices are just SO good. Pro Tip: It’s always worth looking to see if they have a promo going (Like right now! The code AVFRESH5 will get you 25% off your order plus half off shipping – you’re welcome!).

Hit up T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. I discovered several years ago that discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls can be really great places to find name brand outdoor apparel for super cheap. T.J. Maxx actually owns Sierra Trading Post which means that they stock a lot of the same stuff. I regularly find clothes from companies like Patagonia, Prana, and Pearl Izumi there and it’s always at a MUCH lower price than you’d pay pretty much anywhere else. Shopping at those places definitely requires some patience (which I, admittedly, don’t always have …) but there are certainly some killer deals to be found.

Consider renting! I know that we all want our own gear but sometimes renting can be a really good deal. If you are only going to use your equipment for one trip or even one season it might make sense to rent rather than buy. I did a season long ski rental with Christy Sports my first year of skiing and it cost all of $100 for the whole winter! It was a great way to see if I even liked skiing before making a big investment on equipment. The downside of this is that your options are limited and you may find that the rental equipment doesn’t work for you (this happened to me when I did a snowboard rental – the boots were no bueno for my feet). But it’s always worth a shot! As a side note, renting camera lenses is also really easy and REALLY fun. I use Pro Photo Rental.

Get an REI credit card. You guys. REI credit cards are the bomb diggity for people who like to spend money on gear. They won’t save you money up front but they will pay dividends (literally!) down the road! Our REI dividend skyrocketed after we started using an REI card as our primary credit card. I’m not going to say how much our dividend was this year because it’s a little embarrassing (seriously …) but I will say that I was VERY happy to have it when we were gearing up for our Kalalau trip.

Join a club or team! Getting discounts on everything from gear to beer probably shouldn’t be the main reason you join a team but it’s definitely a perk! Most outdoor sports teams and clubs have sponsors who happily give discounts to members. Plus, meeting other people who love to do the things you do is just plain fun!

Got any other tips? Drop ’em in the comments! 

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How to do Nothing in Crested Butte (And Still Have a Really Good Time)

September 8, 2015
CBstars

You know those people who hate not having plans? The ones who can’t deal with not knowing what is going to happen or where they will be sleeping that night? I am not one of those people.

Our initial plans for Labor Day weekend, hatched just a few days before, involved heading in the general direction of Leadville. And then we realized just how bad I-70 traffic was going to be and quickly changed our minds.. We decided to stay far away from I-70 and drive up Highway 285 for a while. We thought maybe we’d camp at Kenosha or Cottonwood Pass. I figured we’d figure it out as we went.

When we got to Kenosha on Saturday morning, everyone in the car was asleep and rain looked imminent so I decided to just keep driving. By the time we arrived at Cottonwood we were in a downpour and the world had turned to mud.

So, again, I just kept driving.

A few hours later we rolled into Crested Butte. It wasn’t really an accident.

Crested Butte is my favorite place in all of Colorado, and that’s saying something because it has some pretty stiff competition. The mountains? The town? The trails ? They’re the best around as far as I’m concerned.. The 4.5 hour drive means that we don’t get out there nearly enough … but it also makes it feel pretty special when we finally do.While the sky was dark and cloudy, the roads in Crested Butte were dry. We tossed aside the idea of finding a hotel for the night (setting up a tent in the rain with a kid and two big dogs? Not fun.) and headed up Kebler Pass in search of a place to camp. We found a nice campsite in the meadows above Lake Irwin, cooked some dinner, started a fire, broke out the whiskey and wine, and hunkered down for the night.

Things stayed blissfully dry until we climbed into our tent to go to sleep. And then the skies opened up.

It rained all night and into the next morning and by the time we rolled out of our sleeping bags, the ground was soaked and muddy. I saw the clouds building again over the mountains and started questioning my plans of riding the 401 trail that day. Maybe tomorrow, I thought.

With no big rides or hikes on the horizon we did the only thing there was to do: we hung out. We made breakfast and drank coffee and read books and watched the kid ride endless laps around the campsite on his Strider. We watched as the weather continuously changed it’s plans (rainy! sunny! rainy! sunny!) and hid in the tent when the sky opened up. I went for a little hike with the dogs (still hobbling around on a broken toe …) but other than that, there was no activity to speak of.

This isn’t how we usually do things but, man, it was nice.

The second evening was more of the same. A campfire under clear skies followed by dumping rain all night long. The five of us stayed warm in our little four-person tent despite the fact that the temperatures had to be hovering near freezing. When the sun came up, we decided to throw in the towel and go grab some breakfast.

We packed up the car, hit up Camp 4 Coffee for bagels and americanos, and hit the road. We mused about how, despite our plans being thwarted by the weather, this was one of the best camping trips ever. The kid had a blast and was a joy to be around all weekend long. The dogs were tired and happy. My husband and I were exhausted but content. Getting to slow down and just chill for a while? It might have been just what this family needed after a long, hectic summer.

Being so close to some of my favorite trails on the planet without getting to set foot on them was a bit of a bummer but I can’t call this weekend anything but a success. Spending time in one of my favorite places with two of my favorite people and the two best dogs that a girl could ask for? It will never be anything less than awesome.

I hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend!

If you go: 

Kebler Pass begins right on the edge of the town of Crested Butte and has some of the best dispersed camping in Colorado, as far as I’m concerned. There are loads of gorgeous spots up the road from the Lake Irwin campground and even on this busy holiday weekend, plenty were available. We didn’t have our paddleboards with us but when I saw all the people paddling around on Lake Irwin, I sure wished we did! Take lots of firewood with you – the stores in town seem to run out on busy weekends. We’ve learned this the hard way in the past! Crested Butte has some of the best mountain biking in the state – but that’s a topic for another post (one that’s not about doing nothing at all!).

Play, Travel

Dispersed Camping: Why and How

August 25, 2015
tigerroad

Back when we lived in Kansas our camping options were pretty much limited to established campgrounds in state parks. What that meant for us, most of the time, was that our neighbors were either 1) college kids having a big party or 2) RVs with noisy generators that ran all night long. It was better than spending a night at home but it wasn’t what I would consider remote or relaxing.

Our first few camping trips after we moved to Colorado were pretty much the same thing. And while the scenery was a lot better, the level of privacy left much to be desired. I was explaining all of this to a friend several years ago when he looked at me and dropped a little morsel of truth that changed my camping life forever: In the National Forests, you can camp pretty much anywhere.

Wait, what?! You mean we can set up shop … anywhere?!

That was almost a decade ago and I’m pretty much convinced that I owe all of my continuing love of camping to that person. Remind me to thank him.

In the years since, we have discovered the pure awesomeness of camping in places that are quiet, free, and far from other people. This was a good thing when it was just us and the dogs but it became an even bigger bonus when the kid came along. Camping in a place where you don’t have to worry about your crying kid disrupting other people who are trying to enjoy some semblance of peace and quiet? It’s freaking fantastic.

Now when I hear people talking about camping in campgrounds I find myself wondering … why? Why would you pay money to camp in such close proximity to other people? Why would you want to listen to other people’s generators all night long? Why don’t you want to get out to where it’s actually quiet and you can change your clothes without having to hide in the tent?

People, there is a whole world out there that is well beyond the bounds of established campgrounds – and trust me when I say that life is way, way better there.

There are places where dispersed camping is hard to find and a couple spots where having neighbors is just plain fun (like 18 Road in Fruita or Kalalau) but for the most part, we avoid campgrounds like the plague. And sometimes I wonder how we ever did it any other way.

Want some tips on how to leave the campground behind and set up shop way far away from everyone else? I’m here to help!

How to find a spot: This may be easy or hard depending on where you’re located. For the folks in Colorado and the rest of the west, look for property owned by the USFS. We’ve had a lot of luck just picking random Forest Service Roads and driving around. To reduce your impact, look for places where others have already camped (fire rings made from rocks are a good indicator of this). The internet can be a great place to get suggestions on dispersed camping in unfamiliar areas but don’t be afraid to set off on your own! Before you set up the tent, be sure that there are no signs warning that camping is allowed only in designated campsites and you should be good to go. If you have any doubts or are out of ideas, consider calling the local ranger station for advice.

What to pack in: Remember that pretty much none of the creature comforts of established campgrounds will be available to you when you’re out in the woods. You’ll want to pack your own water, toilet paper, and whatever else you’ll need to get you through the night. Camp chairs are also a must and if you are going to be cooking you may also want to bring a small folding table (no picnic tables here, remember!). You should plan on bringing your own firewood because, while you may be surrounded by trees, chopping them down to make your campfire is no bueno.

What to pack out: Everything you brought with you! This probably goes without saying but it is very, very important to leave the place better than you found it (and no, building a log cabin or installing an outhouse at your off-the-beaten-path campsite is not considered an “improvement”!). Remember that no one is coming out to the middle of nowhere to clean up after you. Be a responsible user of our public lands and remember to Leave No Trace.

Be a good neighbor: While your neighbors are likely to be much farther away than they are in an actual campground, other people may still be able to hear your shenanigans. And while some noises are acceptable and somewhat unavoidable (see: crying baby), others are just really poor form. If you’re planning on throwing an enormous rave, a mostly deserted Forest Service road is probably not the place to do it (and yes, this happened to us!). You may be a half mile (or much more!) from your nearest neighbors but if you are being really loud, you might be bothering them anyway.

Be safe. The farther you are from other people, the more you’re on your own. While I fully support enjoying a nice bourbon or a few brews around a campfire, remember that when you’re off the grid you’re pretty far from any possible help. Any damage done to you or the environment (think wildfires …) could be far worse than if it occurred where help is nearby.

 

If you are a car camper who has never ventured outside the bounds of the campground, it’s time to up your game and give it a go! I promise you’ll thank me later!

Do you have additional advice for aspiring off-the-beaten-path campers? Want some suggestions on where to go in Colorado? Leave a message in the comments!

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Live, Play, Travel

Let’s Be Honest: Sometimes it Sucks

August 7, 2015
momOEfish

If we’re friends on Facebook or you follow me on Instagram you’ve probably seen a lot of pictures lately that make it look like the kid and I are having a really good time.

Pictures like this …

And this ….

And this …

And while a lot of our life lately has been fun and games (because summer!), it hasn’t all been awesomeness.

I have a tendency to share the good parts of life, the fun parts of life. No one, myself included, wants to hear about the tougher times. We like to post pretty pictures of ourselves and families and friends out doing rad stuff. I mostly leave out a lot of the the hard parts. It’s not because I want to lie to you or mislead you. It’s because I want to remember the good stuff (and most of it is good stuff!).

But it’s not all good stuff.

My kid has always been a great traveler. We’ve had our share of challenging nights in the tent but he is generally a pretty easy-going guy. Normal toddler problems aside, he is a happy, laid-back kid who is almost always up for anything. This has made him a great little adventure buddy. With my work being easy to take on the road and him not having much in the way of his own activities yet, we travel a lot. We visit family, go to the mountains, camp, and glamp. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Except when it’s not.

My parents are up in the mountains for the summer and the kidlet and I have been up there a bunch. Being around family and having a beautiful home base for all sorts of high altitude adventures is a pretty glorious thing. We went up at the beginning of last week, thinking we would stay for a week or so. Long story short, a week and a half later we were still there. And with my husband racing the Breck Epic all next week, we figured we’d just stick around through next weekend.

If you’re doing the math, that’s three weeks in the mountains. Three weeks away from home. Three weeks that should have been so much fun.

The first two nights I couldn’t sleep, which kind of sucked. What sucked even more is that for the next week, the kid didn’t sleep either.

To say that his sleep schedule went to hell would be an understatement. While some nights were worse than others, for the last week or so he has pretty much woken up every couple hours during the night and screamed his little head off for the next thirty minutes. Then he’d fall asleep and an hour or two later, the whole thing would begin again. And a kid that doesn’t sleep for several nights in a row? He’s tired and grumpy during the day. And so are his mom and dad.

And none of it makes for a very pretty picture.

Last night was the worst night we’d had while we were up there and when my mom gently suggested that maybe we should go home for a few days to see if we can get him back on his schedule, I wholeheartedly agreed. An hour later I had packed up the car, loaded up the kid and dogs, and headed down the hill. I felt a little bit defeated but also very relieved to be headed home.

I know that parenting is hard work and that good nights of sleep can be few and far between. I know that we have been very lucky to have a kid that generally sleeps and travels well. I know that these things are phases and that everything is constantly changing. I’m not telling you this story to complain. I’m telling you to point out that sometimes the pretty pictures don’t tell the whole story. I’m telling you that sometimes things are way harder than they actually look. And I’m telling you that sometimes it’s ok to give in, cry uncle, and go home.

The truth is that traveling with, adventuring with, and, hell, living with kids can sometimes be challenging. It may look like we hike and paddle and ride around and the kid is always thrilled to be tagging along. And most of the time, that is how it goes. But it’s not always like that. For every few times that we go and rip around Valmont, there is a time that a meltdown a half mile from the parking lot means carrying a screaming kid (and his bike) back to the car. For every couple blissful cruises around the reservoir on the paddleboard there is a trip that went to hell or one where we never even made it out the door. There are the amazing pictures from our last trip to Fruita, which couldn’t have gone any better … except for the time that the kid got bit by a fire ant at the bottom of the 18 Road campground and I had to carry him all the way back to our campsite near the top. Those of you who have been to Fruita know that that’s a long damn way to carry a kid that is screaming at the top of his lungs.

These things aren’t failures, although it’s easy to feel like they are. They are the reality of traveling and adventuring with kids. A lot of it is sunshine and wildflowers and all the good feelings. But a lot of it is really hard. And sometimes, like this week when I headed for home way earlier than expected, you throw in the towel.

That’s not failure either, as long as you get back at it.

I realize that I’m probably speaking rather dramatically about a week without sleep and that, in the grand scheme of things, this is small potatoes. In my own defense, I’m still totally sleep-deprived and feeling the frustration at the end of a long week. This week’s challenges, though, were a good reminder to never take the good days, the easy days, for granted.

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