Desolation, desolation: an amazing adventure through others’ perspectives 

“I came to a point where I needed solitude and just stop the machine of ‘thinking’ and ‘enjoying’ what they call ‘living’, I just wanted to lie in the grass and look at the clouds.’’ Jack Kerouac  

Desolation Peak is a 6,102-foot mountain summit in Washington State’s North Cascade. In the summer of 1956, American novelist and poet Jack Kerouac spent 63 days as a fire lookout alone there and used his experience to inspire his books Desolation Angles and Dharma Bums. The job now is taken by the Desolation Peak fire watchman Jim Henterly, who spends more than 70 days alone during the summer season in this place of isolation.

Jack Kerouac, spent 63 days alone at the Desolation Peak in the 1950s
Jim Henterly, spends more than 70 days alone at the Desolation Peak in summer.

Their stories inspired me to go on my own adventure, decisively and intently. I wanted to experience their stories: desolation in solitude. I might see the world from their perspectives.   

The dictionary says desolation is a state of complete emptiness or loneliness. As its name implies, Desolation Peak is located in a remote area: no cell service and the only access to the Desolation Peak trailhead is by water taxi, by paddling 14 miles from the Ross Lake Resort, or on foot via the East Bank trail. I decided to take the water taxi to save time and energy for this big hike. 

Desolation Peak is a tough place to reach. 

A good adventurer needs to calculate risks. When hiking solo in a very remote mountain, meeting bears is the biggest risk. Food and anything with a scent must be stored in a bear canister, and wise hikers carry bear spray and use a Garmin InReach to communicate with friends for safety. I was fortunate to get a backcountry permit to stay two nights at desolation camp located one mile below the summit. I made myself very familiar with the map and route, making me confident to go solo. 

There is no direct road access to Ross Lake Resort to meet the water taxi. On September 22, at 7:10 AM, I arrived at Ross Lake/Dam trailhead and hiked one mile down the trail. At trail’s end I turned right onto a gravel road, then followed the road to the lake. I needed to call the resort across the lake using an old phone on site. However, the phone sign was well hidden, and it took me serval minutes to find it inside a box mounted to a pole. Ha! Just searching for the phone felt like an adventure. 

I eventually found this old-fashioned phone. 
On the way to the desolation peak trailhead on board the water taxi. 
I followed Jack Kerouac and Jim Henterly’s footsteps to start this adventure! 

I carried 26-pound full backpack with gear, using hiking poles to begin my climb to the top, a 4,400 feet elevation gain in 4.7 miles. The water taxi dropped me off and it was soon far away, slowly disappearing on the lake. I was on a narrow, steep and curvy trail only wide enough for one person at a time. 

On this narrow and steep trail.

“Try the meditation of the trail, just walk along looking at the trail at your feet and don’t look about and just fall into a trance as the ground zips by.” – Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Like Jack and Jim, I was alone on the trail, too, experiencing how they felt to be alone here. I immersed myself totally in the fresh and shady forest, like I was floating in a paradise. Even alone, I was not scared. To alert bears, I yelled with a confident voice: “Bears, I am coming! I am human”! My voiced echoed around the empty forest. 

Long lost in this cool forest. I sing the songs to bears. 
I was very aware that turns in the trail are potential locations for bears to lurk and attack, especially any turn covered by weeds and trees. 
The trail terrain changed suddenly from forested to rocky.  
The view after hiking two miles. Ross Lake to the west and Jack Mountain is to the south.

Suddenly, the shady forest ended and I was exposed to the broiling sun. I kept climbing up, being bitten by mosquitoes on the trail. At that moment, I understood Jack Kerouac’s description “The trail’s just like life”. The feeling of climbing this trail is really likes life: it is unpredictable, both difficult and beautiful at times, but just enjoy dancing with it.

Alone in the meadows. 

I kept “talking” to the bears as I baked in what felt like a sauna, the sun beating down on me. I wanted to lie down on the trail because my shoulders and legs were very sore. My body soaked with sweat. But I was strong enough to never think about giving up. 

Can you see the small sign there? It is still 200 feet away and with a steeper climb ahead. 

After six hours, I accomplished this very challenging hike and arrived at the top.  Hiking five miles actually felt like I hiked 10 miles. It was the hardest day I had. But I forgot the pain when I saw the fire lookout.  

First sight of Desolation Peak. 

I did not think I would actually meet Ranger Jim, but life gave me a wonderful surprise and we met. Jim is tall, lean and cool, and immediately hospitability to me. It was our first time meeting, but it felt like we already knew each other. It felt magical but was real.  

I told him with a naïve face: “Jim, you inspired me to take this adventure, because I knew you from the film “Ode to Desolation”. He smiled and shared details of how they shot the film, and told me he was glad that I was here. We enjoyed a simple first conversation, but like close friends, we talked naturally and comfortably. 

I observed the cabin surroundings. Everything there was very simple: some art stickers on a green wall, a simple and old device to spot the smoke, a kitchen with stove and hardware, a pot for the hardware washing, a sleeping bag, a sitting desk with lots of books in the front window overlooking the view of Hozomeen.

It is hard to image someone staying in this extremely simple space alone for more than 70 days. 

Jim introduced me to the history of this L-4 cabin, the name of Desolation and how to use a simple device to spot smoke. He has more than 30 seasons under his belt as a fire lookout. This is his seventh consecutive fire seasons in the Desolation Peak lookout in North Cascade National Park. Most fire lookouts in Washington State have been disrupted, but Desolation Peak still has Park Service staff to manage it. 

Cool stuff: Fire lookout Closure Tips (2022). I was fortunate to meet Jim two days before closures. 
A photo of the mountain range taken from this lookout in 1933. 

Around every 15 minutes, even as talked, Jim’s eyes were searching for a change of smoke far away. I caught every detail as his eyes turned. I was very impressed. He is using his philosophy to see the change of fire every minute. He immerses himself totally in this wilderness. 

His eyes always searching the smoke. 

I was thinking, with only this 360-degree epic view for company, how could a person remained fulfilled for so long in such isolation? In Jim, I saw passion, and the responsibility within him: his responsibility to preserve human safety, and to carry the legacy and history of this place. He is like a hero, and he touched my heart deeply. 

He acts as a radio relay for rangers and trail crew in the peaks around. 
“Hozomeen, Hozomeen, most beautiful mountain I ever seen.” Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angles
Sunset at Desolation Peak. 

The next day, I hiked from the campsite up to the peak again, on my sore legs. I continued to watch for bears.  

I felt free, even though my hands grew numb in the windy and chilly day. 
The lookout is quiet in the heavy fog covering Hozomeen. 

On this chilly day, Jim made hot tea for me. We were like close friends again, and I felt warm and appreciative. It was as though I was experiencing Jack Kerouac’s story in The Dharma Bums: “One man practicing kindness in the wilderness is worth all the temples this world pulls”.

He shared a wildfire photo he took the previous night. He said, even when the radio is off and others sleep, he still searches for fire, and his experienced eye notices potential fire immediately. I know this is more than just a job for him. He lives it, day and night. I truly appreciate his service and time. 

Jim said, “The most challenging thing for someone staying here is that he will miss his family, he cannot share this special place and moments with them”. I answered, “This is your home!” He nods, “Yes. I think, a little selfish alone here.”  I understood his feeling. 

A cool guy outside his special home. 

He shared his story about his wife: they met in a U.S. Forest Service fire crew and worked as a lookout couple. And his wife inspires and “pushes” him to continue to work as a fire lookout with the National Park Service, because she cannot work at a lookout anymore. This is such a beautiful story that I could see and understand “love” better, an amazing couple, very admirable. 

The fog cleared so I looked from the window where I sat. Jim sat on his seat, and we enjoyed that quiet. Sometimes, Jim went outside for a stroll. He said, “I cannot just sit here to spot the smoke, I have to walk down the cliff and lake to spot the smoke clearly.” I realize the responsibility is deep inside his soul.

“No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.”- Jack Kerouac

I sat in Jim’s seat, as a fire lookout to search for smoke at that international border. 

At first, I became bored quickly, despite the stunning view and mountains. I then think that Jack and Jim must suffer the same boredom from long periods of solitude. But slowly, peace and calmness overcame my mind. I was face to face with myself. The silence was so intense that I could hear my own blood roar in my ears and could feel the mysterious roar of silence itself. It is the “void” as Jack described in Desolation Angles. I learn: Life is nothing but a feeling of aliveness in my body and soul.

In my solitude, I drew the mountain, I read a few chapters of the book “Mountains and Rivers Without End” which Jim gave me, I wrote some notes about I observed and felt there, I read all comments from the visitor logbook, and got to know other adventurer’s journey. I was not lonely. 

I am so lucky that one of the special groups that came here. 
Inside the Visitor logbook
Jim was preparing to close the lookout. 

Jim Henterly, a real legend, a tall, lean, kind and cool guy on the desolation peak. He is quite a character: paratrooper, infantry medic, prolific illustrator, creator of award-winning children’s books, art professor at Western Washington University, volunteer firefighter/EMT, husband, father, and fire lookout are all roles he has held throughout his life. (His illustration website:

He usually carries a 70-pound backpack up and down his post. Even though we have a modern technology to spot fires now, he continues to use his eyes, ears, experience and time to warn of danger of wildfires, keeping a ghost alive! What an inspiration! He is worthy of respect and admiration. It was my pleasure to meet him. 

I am very pound of myself, following his footprints and his story.  
No better guy to take Jack Kerouac’s place. Definitely Jim. 
Jim shared his memories before I left: bears and cubs, helicopter on the lookout, smoke on the mountains. 

Just before saying goodbye, I said, “Jim, you are very awesome. Thank you!” He replied, “Live your full adventurous life”! We smiled at the same time. Two adventurous souls understand each other. What a beautiful moment I will remember forever. 

I looked at him after saying goodbye. Yes, he is alone there, everything is wilderness and simple, but he is not lonely. 

On the sunrise of the last day, I hiked down to the trailhead alone again. The whispering voice with soft orange and pink colors on the mountain is in that moment full of emptiness and awe.

I stood on the trail a while, forgot about the bears, feeling emptiness fully.
What a spectacular moment! 

I “talked” to the bears again, “Morning Bears, I am coming!” I did not see any bears the whole time. Maybe they were finding me too? Ha. 

“I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream…” — Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

I took 2.5 hours to hike down to the lake. My eyes filled with tears. “Desolation, desolation, so hard to come off of.” Jack Kerouac is right again! Desolation is not entirely desolate. One day, I will bring my kids here, to experience this tough but very incredible journey. 

Climbing this mountain is very challenging but leaving such a special place is even tougher!
The Water Taxi picked me up to return home.

What an awesome adventure, from start to end! Yes, I was by myself on the trail, but I was not alone. The bears were always with me, even we did not meet. All the suffering, the blood, the soreness, and the sweat, thirst, hunger and loneliness is for the cleansing of the soul. Just dancing along the trail, like Jack Kerouac. 

Two adventurous souls met and shared their adventures on the top. I saw a bigger world through another adventurous soul. Like those two guys, I live and share solitude with the beauty of nature, cloudy, foggy mountains, met freedom and voidness, happiness in the wilderness. It is a long journey like I experienced 10 days of life, but an extremely special feeling within my soul. 

Two adventurous souls met, talked, and smiled on the wilderness. 

People get used to their experiences and perception of others’ stories and make judgements. But when we are open to experience others’ stories, we learn to understand and appreciate. Our world becomes bigger and more amazing. This adventure was as much about intention as it was curiosity. For me, travelling is not only about seeing cool and new places, it is more about learning about myself through others. I travel to learn, understand and appreciate. I hope you are open to experience others’ way of life and story, too. 

“So shut up, live, travel, adventure, bless and don’t be sorry”.–  Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angles

Thank you, Jack Kerouac.

Thank you, Jim Henterly. 

Thank you, Desolation Peak! 

Life of Stephy: floating on the Lake Tahoe

The Tiger is within my heart. I met him already.

Nestled on the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is known for world-class recreation and incredible mountain views. I was deeply attracted to its amazing landscape and beautiful crystal-clear water, and I was particularly interested to do SUP (Stand-up Paddle) boarding and clear kayaking – a unique and fun experience. I might even meet an adventurous tiger on this huge lake, a scene straight from the movie “Life of Pi”, where a person is adrift in a small boat with a real tiger. I bring this concept to start my tiger adventure this summer – Life of Stephy.

When I arrived, due to strong winds, my plans changed. I decided to explore other unknown places. Early morning of the first day, I was at Cathedral Gorge State Park, a hidden gem in Nevada, and no one there. I stood around those unique spires and buff-colored cliffs, shoes were on the ash, and it seemed as if different chapels were around me, full of silence and solemn, a good place for meditation.

I attained mentally clarity and calm as I stood there a while, a meditation.

The tiger image always floated in my mind. I was thinking, when I would meet him? I brought this “tiger” thought with me as I hit the road again, this time to Reno, Nevada.

Driving around 450 miles one way was an enjoyable experience.Most of the time my car was the only one on the road. I gazed through the front windshield, to the vast mountains far away, with sparse grass on both sides of the road. It felt like the middle of nowhere, and I “forgot” how a long drive I had to my destination. I actually touched the freedom spirit and had precious time to reflect on my background, past experiences and values, all factors that created the current me. This might be why I loved this road trip.

My greatest adventures have been the ones where the journey was not mapped out.

On late afternoon of July 3rd, I picked up a stand-up paddleboard from SUP Tahoe, a local rental company. (I strongly recommend this rental company: the price is reasonable and you are able to pick the board up the day before your rental or return on the next day, just for an additional $15).

I drove around the whole of Lake Tahoe at least five times, the board was on my blue car as we crossed through Nevada and California. Along Lake Tahoe, we witnessed different boats on the clear water. The most surprising thing happened along the way, I met my dream adventurous car – a VW Bus. I was like the happiest kid, as I had found one of most precious things on my adventure, and it made me smile for days.

Being on the road enjoying the great outdoors is where I am happiest and how I grow in my journey.
I wore a pair of fashionable sandals to hike Uphill. Haha. A brand new experience !
I will forever enjoy the endless detail of this scene. Also, I enjoyed the journey hiking in my new sandals.

I parked my car along the lake, feeling the breeze and warm sunshine, closer to my inner soul. Along the way, I met different nice strangers who helped me to load and unload the heavy paddle board. Their kindness made this adventure more special.

It reminds me to appreciate the kindness of humanity.

On July 4th, I explored Sand Harbor Lake Tahoe thoroughly with my paddleboard. (Just a friendly reminder, Sand Harbor is a very popular place to visit, and it gets full fast. I was in line at the door at 6:00 a.m., and many cars were already there. I recommend getting there as early as you can.) 

At the beginning on the water, I did not find my balance to stand up on the paddleboard. I used my arms while lying and kneeing on the paddleboard instead, until I rowed to the middle of the lake. The strong sun reflected off my whole body. I listened to the sound of the waves, all the sunlight reflected on the water and the wind swaying, sparkling, with the magnificent mountains. I actually did not know where I was.

I was there to see the mountain, which felt close but was far.
The surface on the lake peaceful looks like a vast, endless ocean. “Life of Stephy”!

I rowed, no destination in mind, just going forward. It challenged my physical and mental strength to the limit. In the middle of nowhere, on this huge lake, only a tiny adventurous girl with a small paddle board, sometimes I did not stand up and balance on the paddle board, so I felt a little nervous, I decided to lay and let the board float on the water naturally. Sometimes the strong wind blew, the board moved unbalanced on the water, and even though I was not in the wilderness as I had been in my previous adventures, I still felt a little vulnerable.

I gazed at the mountains and blue sky, the spiritual energy beneath the current brought utmost calmness to me. My inner “tiger” pushed me to be calm, to just keep going, and always row, letting the paddle board took me somewhere. At that time, I realized that I met him – my tiger — and he was with me to complete this adventure together. I was not afraid, I was the cloud, the sun, the sky, looking at myself in awe from high above. It was a sense of infinite expansion in all unseen dimensions at certain moments.

Now the tiger looks nice. Can you see him?

I shaped a new perspective of “Life of Pi”. I experienced a “Life of Stephy”: I enjoyed the time with him floating on the water for five hours. I stayed balance on the paddle board at the end. The universe unveiled one of the most important lessons to me: the adventurous tiger was inside of me, with strength and bravery coming from within me. It gives me courage and power, when you are on an unknown journey. 

In this adventure, I explored Lake Tahoe deeply again in an entirely transparent kayak on my last day. (I would recommend the local rental company: Wild Society, if you would like to do clear kayaking too.) 

I saw various shades of turquoise shores and gorgeous private coves. This time, I just relaxed, as I slowed down and observed the picturesque landscape around me. I looked down to below the surface from the clear kayak, Wow, the water is very clear, sometimes I could see the bottom. I gazed far away, the blue sky combined with the glassy water with mountains, and it seemed like I was in a paradise. I touched the water. Wow, it is very cold, even in a hot summertime, it makes Tahoe more unique.

All the “Tahoe Blue” in my clear kayak.I was very relaxed and enjoyed the moment.

I felt so fresh and alive in my body and soul, I found the calm in the chaos. I saw Lake Tahoe in a new light: it can be calmness or can be adventurous, the decision is yours.

Commit yourself and take a journey into the unknown.
Eyes in the sky.

I drove 455 miles back again, on the highway, the last road near the end of my trip, and my mind was recharged. I met a tiger, a dream VW bus and different nice people, all three precious elements the adventure and life gave me.

Most importantly, I brought the tiger back home too. He is part of me, his strong and brave heart had called me. We met each other. I hope, my fellow adventurers, you find and meet your tiger too, maybe a unicorn or a lion. We may not find it always. But at least we will inch closer to it, and in the process, to ourselves. After all, this long journey of ours, even though it takes place in the outer world, is a journey within! 

The best view always happens on the road.

Tiger Adventure – Floating on the Lake Tahoe Stephy*Vision

Nestled on the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is known for world-class recreation and incredible mountain views. I was deeply attracted to its amazing landscape and beautiful crystal-clear water, and I was particularly interested to do SUP (Stand-up Paddle) boarding and clear kayaking – a unique and fun experience. I might even meet an adventurous tiger on this huge lake, a scene straight from the movie “Life of Pi”, where a person is adrift in a small boat with a real tiger. I bring this concept to start my tiger adventure this summer. The tiger image always floated in my mind. I was thinking, when I would meet him? I brought this “tiger” thought with me as I hit the road. Driving around 450 miles one way was an enjoyable experience. Most of the time my car was the only one on the road. It felt like the middle of nowhere, and I “forgot” how a long drive I had to my destination. I actually touched the freedom spirit and had precious time to reflect myself. The most surprising thing happened along the way, I met my dream adventurous car – a VW Bus. I was like the happiest kid, as I had found one of most precious things on my adventure, and it made me smile for days.  I met different nice strangers who helped me to load and unload the heavy paddle board. Their kindness made this adventure more special. I explored Sand Harbor Lake Tahoe thoroughly with my paddleboard. At the beginning on the water, I did not find my balance to stand up on the paddleboard. I used my arms while lying and kneeing on the paddleboard instead, until I rowed to the middle of the lake. The strong sun reflected off my whole body. I listened to the sound of the waves, all the sunlight reflected on the water and the wind swaying, sparkling, with the magnificent mountains. I actually did not know where I was. I rowed, no destination in mind, just going forward. It challenged my physical and mental strength to the limit. In the middle of nowhere, on this huge lake, only a tiny adventurous girl with a small paddle board, sometimes I did not stand up and balance on the paddle board, so I felt a little nervous. Sometimes the strong wind blew, the board moved unbalanced on the water, and even though I was not in the wilderness as I had been in my previous adventures, I still felt a little vulnerable.My inner “tiger” pushed me to be calm, to just keep going, and always row, letting the paddle board took me somewhere. I realized that I met him – my tiger — and he was with me to complete this adventure together. I was not afraid, I was the cloud, the sun, the sky, looking at myself in awe from high above. I shaped a new perspective of “Life of Pi”. I experienced a “Life of Stephy”: I enjoyed the time with him floating on the water for five hours. I stayed balance on the paddle board at the end. I learned: the adventurous tiger was inside of me, with strength and bravery coming from within me. It gives me courage and power, when you are on an unknown journey. I explored Lake Tahoe deeply again in an entirely transparent kayak on my last day. This time, I just relaxed, I felt so fresh and alive in my body and soul. I drove 455 miles back again, on the highway, the last road near the end of my trip, and my mind was recharged. I met a tiger, a dream VW bus and different nice people, all three precious elements the adventure and life gave me.Most importantly, I brought the tiger back home too. He is part of me, his strong and brave heart had called me. We met each other. I hope, my fellow adventurers, you find and meet your tiger too, maybe a unicorn or a lion. We may not find it always. But at least we will inch closer to it, and in the process, to ourselves. After all, this long journey of ours, even though it takes place in the outer world, is a journey within! 
  1. Tiger Adventure – Floating on the Lake Tahoe
  2. Sleeping Beauty and Time

Sleeping Beauty and Time

Time does not wait for anyone, but you always have to wait for time.

The Horsetail Fall (called the “Firefall”) in Yosemite National Park transforms into a stream of fire when the sunset hits the water just right, occurring in mid-late February annually. It needs several factors to converge to trigger the effect: sufficient snowpack, warm temperatures and a clear sky at sunset. If conditions are just right, the Firefall will light up but last only ten minutes.

I sensed this could be an adventure, so I decided to travel to Yosemite to witness this incredible natural wonder. However, due to my recent work situation change, I only had the weekend free, only 48 hours, a very short time to travel there and back. I still took this chance to have a special adventure, enjoying to the fullest this place in this brief time.

This adventure was totally different from my past ones, a new and special experience for me: it started and ended on midnight from Feb. 20 to Feb. 22, 2022, completing all in just 48 hours. I drove to Yosemite National Park from Los Angeles, California, completely in the dark, stopping to take a breaks every few hours, then hit the road again. I gazed from the car window, the dawn and the first ray of sunrise appearing in the sky, especially layers of pink colors reflected off the mountains.

This special adventure started and ended on midnight.

In the early morning of the first 24 hours, I drove along the Wawona Road (Highway 41) to Yosemite Valley. In winter, most trees there are bare and snow covered both sides of the road. I wondered when it would end and I could see Tunnel View, my first stop, one of the famous views of Yosemite Valley. Because I had driven a long time, since midnight, I was a little bit rushed. I arrived at the entrance to Wawona Tunnel, the longest in California at just under a mile. I drove through it, all in the dark, music playing in my car, the entire time being in this tunnel, until the blue sky appeared slowly at the end of the tunnel.

Driving through the Wawona Tunnel is an enjoyable experience.

I was greeted by the Tunnel View and stood there to witness the scene a while: the Bridalveil Falls on the right, El Capitan on the left and half Dome further in the distance. My hands were numb due to the low temperature. The most interesting thing for me was the presence of so many photographers there to capture every moment and angles of the scene together, talking and sharing photos, like a gathering of souls.

Morning at Tunnel View. Yosemite lasts forever.
This gathering of like-minded people is as impressive as the view itself.

I saw sections of open meadows with rippling rivers and others of thick forests with only peepholes of the surrounding monoliths. This is one special part of Yosemite Valley, different from the rest of the valley.

The air smelled like a mix of vegetation, moisture and soil. All I could hear was the soft white noise of Bridalveil falls.

I stopped my car at the side of road, then walked on the heavy snow, using my hands to claw the branches, and a new picturesque scene appeared: the reflection of El Capitan and bare trees, the sound of the river flowing attracted me deeply. I got closer to the river, looked at the surroundings, a whole white color played on the deep snow. It is another beautiful and special place for Yosemite, like a Sleeping Beauty: she is waiting something to happen quietly, maybe the right time to awaken.

I gave you a special name: Sleeping Beauty.

Nothing shows nature’s transition from winter like the streams flowing over steep, rocky cliffs and no place in California boasts more magnificent waterfalls than Yosemite. I chased the waterfall endlessly, like a kid running into the barren grasses, far from the people who crowded on the bridge to take the photo of the waterfall. Everyone seemed to forget about their numb hands and faces, just listened to the powerful sound of streams flowing, looking like big ice drops from the air.

My eyes stayed to see this big ice drop show.

I hiked and climbed up to Lower Yosemite Falls. As the sun warms the rock, the ice melts and makes water flow, the sound echoing throughout the valley, the sheer force of the waterfall spraying mist on my face, the noise deafening. I am awakening.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

In a flash, my spirit left the cage of my body and soared high, much higher than any waterfall in the world, making circles in the sky. Maybe this is one reason why I always chase waterfalls. Sleeping Beauty seems to find the passion in her heart.

At that moment, Sleeping Beauty’s world and my world were not very different. 
I immersed myself in these bare and dark forests, and in this sleeping world I find myself.

I sat on the wood quietly, the sunlight reflected on my face, a little warmth in the winter air. I took time to observe my surroundings. I waited three hours to witness how the colors of the waterfall slightly changed until the water appeared a fiery orange color falling off the mountain. I was not concerned with time at all. It seemed to slow down a bit, allowing me to reflect upon the moment. Even at the end, though the Firefall was perhaps not as incredible as in previous years due to a lack of water, it indeed looked like a real massive lava flow.

The most inspiring part of the experience, beyond the Firefall itself, was waiting for the right time and conditions to witness it.
I “found” the Firefall. Mission completed!
Waiting and seeing this natural wonder is an incredible adventure.

After the Firefall show, I returned slowly, in no rush, and another beautiful moment unfolded: an amazing alpenglow on the mountains and reflection on the Merced River. I stood there awhile to appreciate it. Sleeping Beauty is using her way to amaze us.

Who needs the Firefall when you have this amazing alpenglow?

Over the following 24 hours, I traveled to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Along the way, the black, dark and dead dry trees gave the impression of a sleeping world, and a sense they are waiting the time to be reborn.

I entered a whole sleeping world.

I arrived at the Giant Forest, home to the world’s biggest tree (by volume). Nature has a way of being awe-inspiring, and it was here: I was very impressed by the tree’s magnificent roots, wondering how long it took to grow into the most massive single-stem tree on Earth. Viewing from the side, it looked like one huge tree, but these trees actually were twins, hugging each other, their trunks scarred by a fire long ago, my love in the foreground, awed by its presence.

Wisdom came from time: it is old, wise and resilient.

I was very tiny standing next to these gentle giants. I looked up at the blue sky and bare trees, rays of sunshine reflecting off the ice entering my eyes, the winter air and scene glowing. It is silent but full of mysterious power — time. 

My first time to hike on the snow and sleepy ice. What fun!
You are really big, I am really tiny. I seem to find the power of time from these giants.

The sound of a rippling stream echoed around me, and wondering where it came, I followed the sound, walking far from the original trailhead, and came to the river covered in white snow. I felt life running through my veins, I seemed to see Sleeping Beauty awaken, welcomed the new day, the snowing melting into the water then flowing far away, creating a new chapter in her life.

The mysteries and stories they hold…
The small river flowing in the middle of white snow and giant trees, Sleeping Beauty knows to wait for time.
Nature’s window, the view to look far back in time.
I stood there to see you, my dear mountain, you remind me again, I am an adventurer, also I am a mountaineer, always brave enough to pursue your feet and accept any challenge!

When I got back to the airport, I felt exhausted but fulfilled and profoundly spiritual. For a brief time, I forgot about myself and came face to face with the majestic beauty of nature. I became all eyes, and my souls vibrated from the energy radiating from the landscape. I was not obsessed with time. I enjoyed the wait for the Firefall, I slowed down a bit to appreciate the mountains, rivers, waterfalls and people’s reactions.

I found new wisdom through you—Sleeping Beauty. Your power and beauty unfolds slowly, your time will come, the snow will give way, bare and dead trees will be lush and the rivers and falls will be filled with movement and life. They would be in the right time. You and I learn to wait for the time, witness and understand the power of time, meet love, happiness and wisdom. “Slow down, wait for the right time” is the best lesson I learned and can pass onto others from this special adventure.

It was midnight, 48 hours had passed, and my adventure ended. I closed my eyes, and a picture slowly emerged: I could see all those happy faces again, cheering for me.

I was finally home. Or that is how I felt at that time.

An autumn concert reflection on life

Life is only a reflection of what we allow ourselves to see.

New England in the Northeastern United States is filled with rich history, cultural attractions, scenic villages and fascinating cities. Traveling to New England in the autumn has always been on my bucket list, with its endless magnificent colors and breathtaking landscapes making you feel like you are in a fairy tale world. Recently I traveled to New England (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine), and it was totally different from any of my past adventures, because this time it was relaxing – starting with a drive in a red sports car through forests, farms and mountains, giving a brand new feeling to me. 

I carried some emotional luggage to start this adventure, so as I enjoyed the views of fall foliage along the way, this trip gave me a special chance to reflect on myself deeply, into my soul and mind, like a concert. 

The red sports car – a late model Ford Mustang – first stopped in Maine. I was attracted to two things deeply: buoys and lighthouses, like icons of the rich history and culture and living legacy of the fishing communities along Maine’s coast. My feet followed the directions, my eyes gazed at their lights, my ears listened to the sound of sea waves beating the rocks, my body felt the fresh and strong wind from the coast, and at that moment, those negative emotions in my mind seemed still, the light got into my heart, giving me a big hug and courage to face others’ judgement.

Soft orange sunset illuminated the Bass Harbor Head Light.
I enjoyed listening to the sound of sea waves hitting the rocks at Portland Lighthouse.
We wish we lived there; we know we can’t. So we carry the light inside, no matter where we live. At the Nubble Light, York. Maine

I loved exploring those colorful buoys in Maine,too. In the past, a lobsterman painted unique designs in his own color scheme on his buoys in order to mark his trap territory.

I immersed into the unique and bright colors of buoys, and looked closer at them. I wondered what my buoy would look like?

I am glad that I did not miss the beginning of the leaves turning colors, and I did not miss the peak either. I witnessed endless brilliant red, orange and yellow leaves all around. In Maine, I traveled to Acadia National Park, but this time I did not hike a lot, just hiked a few trails instead. I felt so relaxed. 

The most beautiful view was unexpected and appeared along the way between Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. I immediately stopped and pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car and just stood there and took photos.

Mirror, mirror….a look back at some spectacular colors!

I saw magical lake reflections, especially on the last day I was there, on an early morning, the fog showed up on the calm and glassy lake, with the colorful leaves and the ray of sunrise on the sky far away. I stood there for a while, though it was chilly. The lake’s reflection reminded me to reflect on myself, the scene prodding me to hold a mirror to my inner self.

Life is like a mirror.

I carried those reflection reminders back to the road again, heading to my next destination—the state of New Hampshire. 

In New Hampshire, nature continued to amaze me. I traveled from east to west, then north, from early morning to evening, enjoying many sites of incredible fall foliage without leaving the car. I gazed out the car window into the distance, magnificent mountains surrounding all the peak colors along varied terrain and layers. The fog gave it a mysterious air. I listened to the sound of the trains passed old logging railroads, delivering the history that shaped New England.

Scenes of fall in New Hampshire looked unreal. I stayed to enjoy it for a while.

This time, the red sports car helped me to complete another adventure — a climb up Mt.Washington. Driving on the Mt. Washington auto road was a thrilling experience. The road ends at 6,286 feet above sea level, and there are no guard rails on the road, with numerous steep drops on either side, a fairly narrow road and all one way. The most impressive thing was that ever-changing weather amid the fall foliage, first bluebird skies and stunning vistas, then strong winds, and fog, and rapidly moving clouds at every turn; like our life, we never predict what will happen at the next turn, but we still go forward.

Have you ever climbed Mt. Washington?

I think about my last mountaineering adventure, using my feet to climb up to the mountain, while driving is faster and easier, but a totally different experience. Like a destination or goal, we can use different ways to achieve it, the journey is worth enjoying and creating memories, every experience is unique and incomparable.

This time I got to the summit, achieved my “goal” finally. I witnessed 360 degrees of epic view from the top. I was so tiny in front of Mother Nature, I saw the world from a different perspective from this mountain, and felt a deep connection with those clouds. My soul was much calmer than before.

The combination of cloud inversion and orange leaves gave me a new perspective.
Surround yourself with things that inspire you and let go of the obsessions that want to take over your mind.
I finally got to the summit !

I sat there and wondered if judgments about me from others really matter? Do they define the real me? I kept this thought in my mind.

I appreciated that little time to reflect on myself.

I then headed to my next destination – the state of Vermont. I drove more miles on backroads than on highways, interstates or main roads. While it sometimes took twice or three times longer, the country roads were warm and homey.

Into the woods…

I lost myself in endless unknown colorful foliage forests, finding hidden secrets along the way: a beautiful old barn sitting high on a hill, a castle ruin standing in the midst of a forest. There is no cell service or road signs whatsoever, but that part of it made me feel like I was on a true vacation. I was far away from those outside voice and judgment, with only open roads, a camera, an imagination and an open mind. My inner self was very calm again.

Autumn color in Vermont never disappoints.
This castle ruin seemed to tell me: there are some secrets which do not permit themselves to be told.

I walked into and allowed myself to become “lost” in those deep forests, saw the reflection of lake and foliage, making me reflect again on myself in a transcendentalist moment: What are my core values? If I were you, would you fall in love with Stephy? How do I describe myself? What are my strengths and weakness? What is the best version of myself?

I answered myself honestly: I know my values and who I am, and I am very true to myself. I admitted that I am not perfect; I have my weaknesses; I have made mistakes; I don’t always know how to express myself well; my actions have hurt others, made others misunderstand, but I accepted my weaknesses calmly. Also, I reflected on myself and people I have engaged with, trying to understand if I have treated them respectfully and honestly.

Reflections of the past found in the present.
The path of silence…

On the way back to Massachusetts, I looked in the little rearview mirror, dwelling on the past, my mistakes. I looked back and reflected, and then my eyes shifted to the windshield, looking forward, the view even clearer. Those mistakes and emotional luggage I needn’t carry in the present or in my heart. I had learned from them and put them behind me.

When I am honest to myself and know myself well, I realize the labels from others are just “fact” or “not-fact”. If true, I would be concerned about others’ opinion or judgment of me, accept and improve; if it is not true, I would let it go.

Keep your eyes focused forward.

I hope the reflective questions within myself from this “concert” of nature will inspire you to ask and reflect on yourself, too, my fellow adventurer, and those questions are good to revisit as our life progresses. The journey into self-love and self-acceptance must begin with self-examination. When we begin the journey of self-reflection, we begin to learn and grow in life. One way to understand yourself is to observe how others respond to you – but others do not define us completely.

When I have the ability to change my mind in the face of new facts, I refuse to let the fear of admitting I was wrong stop me from getting it right. I know I have intellect and wisdom. They are one part of growing up. We will never be too lost as long as we can see those horizons!

Thanks to nature’s “concert”, I reflect on myself. I keep going, to the horizon and beyond.

My vision of an other-world desert

I will always be a child, curious to see and discover this world.

“Bisti Badlands/De-Na-Zin Wilderness,” New Mexico: its enchantment of maze-like and alien-like terrain offers endless surprises and wonder around every corner. On the same day I explored this area with my travel companion, in late afternoon, I decided to return there again, but this time I explored it alone. Because there is no marked trail or map, I created my own adventure, and this time it reflected more closely my imagination of an alien world.

The strong sun started to go down. I headed randomly toward “chocolate hills,” their black and gray ash made me feel like I was on the Moon again at the beginning, until I got deep into the hills, where I saw different rock formations, looking like a castle with chocolate colors. Eventually I hit a dead end, no road anywhere, and I wondered what lie beyond the hills. I decided to climbed up the loose chocolate hills to find the answer.

I wondered what scenery was waiting for me behind these chocolate castles.

A surreal planet was waiting for me — infinite strange hoodoos were hidden behind the chocolate hills. Their up and down shapes looked like various musical notes, as though it were a composition ready to be played in this small valley. A gentle breeze blew on my face. I stood and immersed myself in this magical melody. I looked around, only the wilderness and me, amid layers of rock and a tiny mushroom hoodoos garden, towers and temples carrying a breathtaking message on this island.

The floors and layers are separated in the middle, I wondered if once a river flowed here?
The irregular hoodoos and small “elf” play the different melody together.
Incredible “cap” shapes on the rocks left marks by erosion, water and wind that carved the sandstone and ever changing shapes.

I kept hiking and exploring. Seeing a few pairs of “rock chairs” standing there, I decided to sit to enjoy this precious time on what seemed like an alien planet.

The unique rocks stand in the stillness.

My eyes gazed far away, to red and black colored hills and unknown white rocks, attracting me deeply. I chose that direction to hike, strong with a curious and adventurous spirit, not knowing my exact position as the sky began to darken. I climbed another chocolate hill again, my feet on the gray and black ash, with little grass, just uneven land, a swirl, as I got closer to red colored hills. It felt exciting, like I had discovered volcanoes.

This landscape reveals a message to me: volcanoes once screwed ash into a dry forest to become what I saw today.
The sparse grass with black ash seemed to tell me that this ancient rain forest was once fed by a river, before time and erosion entombed and exposed and froze the ground.

This place stirred so many questions for me: Had there been an apocalypse here? Are these stones aliens emerging from a subterranean slumber? What was this place like long ago? Did a river once pass through here? Did an ancient glacier carve these rocks? Was it once a green forest? It seemed these unique shapes and colors and the sparse plants were delivering a message of its past. This curiosity pushed me to keep exploring and thinking.

I finally arrived to find an even stranger rock island, and at that moment, I felt I was on an ancient ocean. Those amazing landscapes and diversity of rock formations looked like different species roaming in the ocean, big and loose rocks seemed like a huge wave hit the ocean, some small rocks looked like jellyfish, and still others looked like coral.

When I saw them, I felt that a huge wave was rising on this “ocean”, leading me to go even deeper into the area.
The water and wind created different shapes of sandstone with coral ash, nature’s masterwork.
Light golden color reflected on this “ocean”. I closed my eyes to hug the mental image, afraid to open my eyes again lest the view trickled from my memory.
I saw jellyfish and rays roaming in this ocean. What do you see?

I walked, then ran on this “ocean,” no extra things in my mind, like a pure kid encountering nothing but swimming freely in the sea, simple, innocent and true. I made a deep connection with this “wilderness ocean.” There were no humans to talk to, only a sea of “species” and uneven “ocean”, whispering to me. I came and opened a door to see another small world, wandering through this other-worldly wilderness and endless surprises, listening to the heartbeat and feeling happy and content. I experienced a feeling of freedom, the anticipation of what lies ahead, and becoming one with Mother Nature.

I felt a longing for it, as if the self which belongs to me wanted to surrender its existence and become one with it.

Around 7:45 PM, a soothing breeze caressed my hair and I began to unwind myself. I hiked back and caught one last long look of the alien landscape painted in various shades of orange and pink, and I closed my eyes. I took a deep breath and the afterimage of the landscape slowly appeared on the dark projector screen of my mind. The full image appeared in my mind: many years ago, the melting glaciers exposed sandstone, mudstone, ash, shale, coral and prehistoric fossils and petrified trees. A river delta feeding into the areas eroded all the plants. The ancient landscape through climate change and time, wind and water craved the unique rock formations, sedimentary deposits pushed upwards and then eroded away, creating this current landscape.

At sunset, the area is bathed in warm light and lengthening shadows, coaxing the imagination, a land fit for gnomes and trolls.

I also explored the north side of the Bisti Badlands. I did not spend time to find famous rocks that others always want to explore, like Manta- Ray wings, stone wings. I saw something else: countless slots and sandstone washes excavated over the millennia appear to form a giant “ruins,” extending for miles. I was in the middle of the ruins, the natural sculpted platforms and rocks with their unique colors made it more mysterious, seemingly a “little Egypt,” the ruins like the remains of ancient temples. The ruins were irregular and messy, but it delivered a powerful message, just as temples in ancient Egypt reportedly gave humans a religious power in their spirit.

The endless tiny rocks stand there, as if a compass leading me forward.
Alone I stood in the middle of what looked like ruins, its power impacted my mind. I call it “Little Egypt”.

On this adventure, I explored “King of Wings” and “Valley of Dreams” in New Mexico, too. “Valley of Dreams” was very impressive to me. There were three areas to explore, and when I arrived, I had a feeling like I was entering three different styles of rooms, with countless different rock formations standing in each room, some looking like a human brain, some like Roman architecture, some like a kingdom of mushrooms, still others looked like ice cream.

The first “room” was full of magical things.

The incredible Alien Throne stands in one of the“main rooms”: it is a hoodoo and formed by erosion from wind, rain and flowing water beating away at stacked layers of soft and hard rock. When I first saw it, I thought it looked like a Queen’s crown, calm but powerful. All the different unique rocks were around it. In that moment, I am a child, joyful to call this place “The Queen’s bedroom,” and I wanted to stay longer in her bedroom, dreaming of a white horse princess and her special valley.

“Alien Throne” at the Valley of dreams. I think it looks like a Queen’s crown, elegant and powerful.
I was in The Queen’s bedroom, full of mystery.
The “mushroom” kingdom stole my heart.

The journey into the wilderness desert in New Mexico was a mesmerizing experience that would etch an indelible memory for me. Adventures are how you learn about yourself and the world. Maybe I was like a pure kid, exploring and absorbing things, using my vision to unfold and wander into the unknown in this magical world. 

How do you envision and discover the world?

An alien adventure and a life lesson

He/She who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader in an adventure.

Because of my inner calling and curiosity, in most past adventures, I have enjoyed taking those adventures alone, but I do not feel lonely. I am always absorbed by something the journey gives me, thinking about the world and reflections of life. I enjoy the solitude. When someone, a new acquaintance, asked me recently “Can I meet you on your adventure?” I hesitated but finally allowed him to join me. In fact, I thought, taking adventures with others could be fun and lead to a meaningful exchange of learning, sharing valuable stories and lessons, providing a new perspective on life lessons learned along the way.

For this adventure, I had a “space” wish: to simulate an astronaut roaming on another planet with endless curiosity. I picked Utah and New Mexico for this spontaneous adventure destination because both states are wild, have amazing landscapes and strange textures, like a world in outer space. And this adventure would be different from my past adventures, as I would take it with another person along with me.

We traveled to Hanksville, Utah, to explore what looks like “Mars” and the “Moon”, both in remote areas. Thanks to my friend’s off-roading skills and experience, we had a whole new experience there. We drove the Jeep to experience the Moon with its gray landscape and unique texture and layers, endlessly moving up and down, a strong wind of fresh air blowing in my face and hair, feeling nature. I felt that it could be true: traveling with someone would be more fun than alone, as we can share experiences, and create and share stories together.

Those lines are on the “Moon”: look like marks from human exploration.
All the gray color and unique texture around us made it seems like we were actually on the “Moon”.
My eyes always stayed on the spectacular and breathtaking extraterrestrial-like landscapes.

We continued our travels, arriving in New Mexico. A few weeks prior to our trip, a random photo of what looked like “alien eggs” caught my eye. I did an intense online search and found this place called “Bisti Badlands /De-Na-Zin Wilderness” in New Mexico. There is no marked trail, and the area is wild and isolated. You can create your own adventure there, and most attractive for me is that it is like a maze, as you could easily get lost there. I had a strong connection with it, feeling its enchantment fill my imagination and demand for the space.

We entered the “space” area around us, a wild desert with strong sun, and as we moved deeper into the area, everything looked the same, with a horizon everywhere. We really were in the middle of nowhere. We hiked without any sense of where we were, just followed one direction randomly, but we marked our location on our GPS, just in case we got too lost. We passed gray hills, then the light yellow landscape with wave texture appeared. We saw weird and unique sandstones and hoodoos, we simply wandered in this unusual place.

We needed to climb and pass these black and gray hills to explore more unknown things in the area.
I stood there in quietness and watched as everywhere looked the same, immersing and carrying the message the desert gave to me

After we hiked a few miles, my friend’s pace had become much faster than mine, and to keep up was difficult. I felt a little frustrated and complained a bit. In previous adventure, I could control my own pace, but with a traveling companion I had someone else wanting to control the pace.

I got thirsty, so I stopped and drunk a lot water without fully considering how far we still needed to hike back, and my fellow traveler reminded me that I should keep some water for the return trip because we still had a long way to hike. Especially in the desert, it is important to know your body clearly. It was the first time I realized that I still need more experience at outdoor adventuring.

We kept exploring the “space” with curiosity. We got into the hills, got closer to the sandstones and hoodoos, and one area particularly impressed me, all the white, strange and unique sandstones around us. The hills were covered in every direction, it was like something out of Star Wars, an alien place, far away from the real world. We walked and passed different aspects of this alien terrain. We really got “lost” in this maze.

Endless strange big and small sandstones are out there, some look like a mushroom, some look like an elf.
I seemed to be on another surreal planet, all the “elves” around me , and we kept exploring deeply with a strong curious and adventurous spirit.

Suddenly we got into a deep hill, the distance going wide to narrow. I insisted we explore more deeply, however, my friend did not recommend doing so, explaining that when the distance of hills narrows, it is more difficult to hike, so to keep exploring further would not be a good idea. I trusted his judgment and listened, and decided to back and explore in another direction.

We got “lost” in the land of enchantment.

At that moment, I felt uncomfortable, again realizing that my outdoor experiences were not enough and that I still needed to improve my judgement. I knew my traveling friend had more outdoor experiences than me. I realized that in my past adventures, I was always the leader, as I had traveled alone, and I was always determined, decisive and felt accomplished in my own adventures, enough so to lead a good example and inspire others to follow. However, I had ignored that I needed to learn to be a good follower, too, especially when sharing an adventure with someone else. I cannot always be the leader; I needed to learn to switch a follower role at times, particularly in situations when someone else has more experience.

A leader and a follower are different roles. They are mutual partners, not in opposition, and when we switch roles we can discover ourselves more deeply and become better at the other role when we return to it. Now I am working to become a good follower because it will help me to become a better leader.

I felt “lost” in this maze-like otherworld, but I discovered myself: I needed to learn how to be a good follower of those who are more experienced in an adventure.
Even with the strong sun on my head,I felt endlessly wild and free, more so than ever on this planet.

We continued exploring and hunting the “alien eggs”. Although the “alien eggs” ended up not being very impressive to me, their strange shapes still amazed me, and helped me again to appreciate nature’s power and creativity.

The “alien egg hatchery”, their unique and peaceful designs were showed off by different angles and light.

Although this “space” exploration did not exactly match my original idea of the space that I wanted to see, experiencing an adventure with another person gave me a valuable lesson and a new perspective: the mutual learning and importance of being able to switch between being a leader and a follower, because he/she who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.

We got back on the road again, sharing stories of travels and life experiences, and we discussed our own perspectives of life: was it better to travel alone or with a group or others? We discussed compromises in our lives; we discussed if we needed to go to a place immediately or wait?

I hope these questions inspire you to think about yourself and life, too.

All the discussions provided valuable life lessons to me and helped me to discover more about myself:

  • I discovered about compromise, knowing that many people spend their whole lives never learning the benefits of it. Everyone has their priorities. For me, if something is not important to me, I can compromise, but if something is important to me, especially my dreams, I cannot compromise, but I can stay flexible on my path ahead, knowing that sometimes detours are necessary. Learning to say “NO” is also a choice, as time is precious and limited.
  • Traveling alone or with others are definitely different experiences. For many people, traveling with someone else is more fun than going alone, but I prefer to take my most important adventures alone, because I enjoy the process of learning and discovering on my own, to be independent and creative in my thinking. I do not mind if someone joins me in the future if we share the same passion for what I am going to do, as companions can add to the enjoyment in sharing an adventure.
  • I believe that the choice of traveling alone or with others is not the most important thing; the most important thing is that we know what is important to us. Sometimes traveling alone, sometimes traveling with others, life is a dance, sometimes I lead, sometimes I follow. I learn as I go.
  • Even if I have different opinions that another person, there’s no right or wrong. Everyone has an opinion about how they lead their lives, but I think differences of opinions don’t have be threats and is not a relationship bug; rather, it is an opportunity to learn.

Adventure is my passion, and it always drives me. I find my true self when I am out in the far lands, and what I seek is not the sight of magnificent landscapes or the unique experiences from exotic cultures, but who I am. I am searching for my reflection on a still lake or in someone’s face. I may not do it always, but at least, I will inch closer to it, and in the process to see myself. This journey of mine, even though it takes place in the outer world, is a journey within!

Thank you, an alien adventure and a new person, for the most valuable life lessons!

The mountain is my teacher

The mountain is always there, we climb it, not conquer it; we just conquer ourselves.

Dear Mountain,

Thanks for calling me strongly, thanks for using your unique ways to test my commitment, thanks for changing me, physically and mentally into good shape, to see you and go into your environment in person. Thanks for giving those unforgettable experiences, even though they hurt me deeply: it is your way to love your pursuer.

I sat there and always looked at you. I felt you were using your ways to teach me something, the lessons you gave me like a flower bloomed in my heart and continues to blossom and transform my life now.

  • You taught me: No one but a mountaineer is the bravest and most courageous to pursue your feet.

You are mighty and tall, always standing there, calling us, we are human, so tiny in front of you, but we decided to step out of our comfort zone, we left our comfortable homes, traveled to a different place or country to explore and go into you, we took the risks, we were brave and courageous, it is your strength that inspires us to push ourselves, physically and mentally, to achieve our goals.

I am that person, a mountaineer, a true adventurer, adventure flows in my blood, you gave me power, you inspired me as a brave woman to pursue my potential and breakthrough myself. I carried a heavy pack and took effort to climb you, got closer with you, I experienced a lot discomfort and hardship, physically and mentally, your steep slopes, strong winds and increasing altitude, even though you hurt me so much, you made me see my weakness and all emotions and pain clearly. You made me stronger and braver to face this tough challenge.

It is your way to test my commitment on a long path. Now, I realize and understand that, dear mountain, we are human, come and climb higher and higher, not to conquer and win you, we just challenge and conquer ourselves, to learn courage, patience, endurance, the limits of our body and mind, and accept the result, success or failure. I convert this lesson to my normal life, I now know I can face different challenges, as long as I am willing to step out one more foot, those roads up and down, I conquer myself. I grew. Every attempt has the possibility of failure, but an avid adventurer has more courage to accept failure in their adventure but is not afraid to go forward and attempt again. Because failures help me grow as much as success does.

I am proud of myself, to be a mountaineer and an adventurer, always pursue your feet, dear mountain.  

I’ll never forget I traveled and drove alone, just to follow your footstep, my dear mountain.
  • You taught me: Mountaineering is not for everyone, but the mountaineers should enjoy all experiences you give us.

I failed to summit this time, but you made me get to know myself more clearly, and I now know my physical fitness is not at the required level yet If I want to stand at the same height with you, I have to work and train harder in the future. In the mountain environment, I witnessed different stories.

Every mountaineer is a good storyteller, some mountaineers have altitude sickness when the elevation becomes higher and higher, we have to turn around at that tough moment; some mountaineers have excellent physical and mental conditioning, however, the fickle mountain weather is not cooperative, like strong winds or a snowstorm could force them to turn around before reaching the summit. My fellow mountaineers attempted to summit on the same day as me, they accomplished 85% of the climb, but the weather was bad, with drizzling rain, so they had to turn around for safety reasons. It was a disappointment, like mine, because we took huge effort to climb the mountain but failed to summit. The feeling of pain is not less hurtful than mine. We returned to camp, looked at you and thought about the lesson and experience you gave us: mountaineering is not for everyone, if we demand 100% success of reaching the summit, it is not mountaineering, and we would feel disappointment. We should enjoy all the experiences you gave us, we live every moment with you, pain or joy, success or failure, laughter or tears, disappointment or hope, all are incredible and unique. Not everything in life is perfect, a lot of ups and downs, but we learn experiences and lessons, just as the mountain gives us different lessons.

We understand you are always there, that day was not our day, but we grew stronger and will come back, with more courage to attempt again. It is you, my dear mountain, that always inspires and gives us courage.

I have a deep connection with you. Going on an adventure with you is one of the most special adventures in my life, it is not like other adventures like I’ve done in the past. It is not one-time experience; mountaineering is worth a lifetime pursuit, every mountain is a new experience, every mountaineer is a good storyteller. Every time we climb, we can achieve different altitudes, experience unpredictable mountain weather and mountain conditions, change our route to climb at that moment, we push ourselves and explore all possibilities. Each climb is unique and teaches us new lessons. You are my teacher, dear mountain, you hurt me deeply, but you taught me new life lessons.

  • You taught me: The mountaineer is dancing with you, you always lead us, we respect the beauty of nature.

We are human and cannot control the weather or Mother Nature. We go into the mountain, we dance with you, try to win your heart during this dancing, you always lead us. I’ll never forget the twilight and first ray of the sun appearing on the edge of the mountain, it was one of the best moments on the mountain. I felt fresh wind, my face reflected by the strong sun, I saw the landscape, I enjoyed the thin air when the altitude increased, I respected the beauty of nature. It was pleasure to go into and dance with you, you allowed us to get closer to Mother Nature, respect and accept any directions she gave us.  

The mountain is always there, we challenge and conquer ourselves to achieve our goal, even fail, but the experiences will change you.

Dear mountain, you are the place I tasted the spirit of adventure: I listened to my inner voice, overcame fears and uncertainty, dared to disclose my goal, you whispered into my ears and that kept me going. I prepared, traveled and climbed, and experienced failure, all the experience and pain are special and memorialized within me, living now deeply in my heart, and were all there to teach me life lessons.

You made me look inside myself deeply, you made me realize that I am strong and courageous, you gave me the strength to come back to try again. You are my teacher, the lessons you gave me are unique and powerful, you change me. Now, I am reborn. Mountain climbing is a very human experience, even though you broke me down, I still want to return for more. In order to improve my physical fitness, I will do hard training 8-12 hours straight, increase my leg muscles and endurance, improve my whole body fitness, I will accept your challenge again: Mt. Rainier in Washington, at 14,411 feet, next climbing season.

The reflection of the mountain is a reminder to reflect ourselves.

The purpose of life is to discover our true potential and know who we are. To know who we are, we need to find out what we love to do, And for that, we have to set out on a journey into the unknown led by our inner voice. Once on this path, every risk is worth taking for it brings us closer to our true self. Mountain climbing is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life, and one of best ways to learn to discover one’s self and grow.   

Even though you hurt me so much, my dear mountain, I will always love you, and I’ll wait for the day when our eyes meet again. I look forward to see you soon! 



Mountain climbing is tough, but failing to summit is even tougher

An adventurer has the courage to accept a challenge – and more courage to accept failure.

My big day had finally arrived. I was excited to achieve my commitment with my mountain!  

On the morning of June 18, 2021, I met my group and packed my portion of the group’s gear with my personal gear. When I lifted my pack, it was almost exactly 40 pounds, the weight I had anticipated and trained to carry. I was glad that I had trained so hard for this moment, as I now could lift and carry this load on my back. My hard work had paid off.

All set. Ready to see and climb my mountain.

My mountaineering adventure had officially started.

We drove a dirt road for 40 minutes from town through the forest to reach the Clear Creek trailhead. Clear Creek route is a strenuous 16-mile, 7,800 feet elevation gain scramble up the southeast side of Mt. Shasta to its 14,179-foot summit.

We had to transition to the Clear Creek Route to climb Mt. Shasta this year due to low snowpack.

On Day 1, I carried my 40-pound pack to hike the Clear Creek Trail through thinning forest to approach the mountain. The hike gains elevation along the ridge above the cavernous Mud Creek Canyon, with a vertical gain of 2,000 feet. I could clearly hear my own breathing as I hiked with my heavy backpack. While strenuous, I enjoyed the scenery and geology, especially when I looked back, I could see another small mountain far away and above the tree line. A breeze blew over my body, and I felt so fresh. In fact, the hike was not easy, because we were hiking uphill with heavy packs, but my eyes always searched my mountain, and I felt that we were drawing closer.

I hiked with a 40-pound pack up to the base camp, not easy, but I enjoyed the breeze and scenery of a mountain far away, above the trees.

We hiked for about 3 hours, finally reaching the base camp at an elevation of 8,500 feet. We erected tents under the trees, and reviewed climbing techniques, and use of the ice axe and crampons. We went to bed early that night, to be ready to attempt to summit early the next morning.  

We reached the mountain spring, the only place to get water on the mountain.
Our group set up tents at base camp, planning to summit the next day.
The view from base camp at 8,500 feet.

The summit day! How exciting. We woke at 2:00 AM, then had coffee and oatmeal. We attempted our summit bid at 3:00 AM. I wore a mountain helmet with head lamp, carrying the pack with layering and climbing gears, my trekking poles helping to balance my body, and started our ascent of the mountain. We followed the guide’s pace, rising around 1,000 feet per hour. In the dark, our head lamps illuminated the front and we climbed the mountain. It was a whole new experience for me. During my climb from the base camp, as twilight appeared, I witnessed the sky change from dark to a brilliant sunrise over my right side, with a spray of blue, gold, orange and magenta. The first ray of sunlight reflected on the edge of the mountain, peaceful and beautiful. It was one of the best moments on the mountain. When I got higher on the mountain, the wind grew stronger and blew me, the strong sunlight reflecting on my face.  

I climbed the mountain in the dark, saw the twilight and the horizon appear on the right edge of mountain.

For the first time, I felt mountaineering as a really challenging task: the mountain is constantly steep; I am wearing my mountaineering boots, carrying a heavy pack, climbing up loose dirt, ash, scree and rocks, and every 1,000 feet of altitude rise my whole body felt different, challenging my muscle endurance, core, cardio, balance and flexibility. I could clearly hear my heartbeat and breathing, and I used diaphragmatic breathing as I climbed higher. My feet climbed on the scree and rock with a steep slope, and as altitude increases, the mountain angle grows steeper. A few times, my feet were unstable on the rock and scree.

The sun was up, the wind was stronger, the altitude increased, and we stopped here to adjust clothes.

For safety purposes, we must stick to a climbing timeline. Turnaround time could be as early 11:00 a.m. in order to avoid potentially serious hazards that tend to arise in the afternoon. So we had to climb to the top of the mountain in eight hours nonstop, only taking 5-10 minute breaks every hour, to drink water, eat snacks and adjust our clothes.

However, the toughest thing for me on the mountain happened at around 9,800 ft-10,000 feet, after climbing up for four hours nonstop. My body, especially my leg muscles, started shaking, because they were so very tired. But I still continued to climb up the steep slope, my body and mind in great discomfort, especially my mind was conflicted, but I pushed on, telling myself that I must see the top of the mountain. I told myself: “Stephy, you cannot stop, you can do it, one more foot, please! The mountain is there!” Then I pushed myself to continue moving up again, even though I knew my body had reached its limited. My pace slowed, after traveling so far with my group, my mind still not willing to give up, always pushing myself to keep up.

I climbed up the steep terrain on the mountain nonstop. My body and legs were slowing as the altitude increased and we continued to climb nonstop. We hit 9,800 feet.

I was exhausted and in great discomfort, in shock physically and mentally. I insisted to myself to go another 1,000 feet – but my whole body would not allow me to continue. I could barely move my legs and maintain the exhausting pace required because we had a strict climbing timeline. I could not keep up the pace and reach the summit on time, so I had to make an extremely tough decision: to turn around! My final height on Mt. Shasta was 10,800 feet.

I pushed myself to look up the top of the mountain, and told myself to take one more step, please ! It would put me a littler closer to the top, but my body had reached its maximum.
On the mountain, I climbed the steep, sometimes vertical ground, and the elevation was an added challenge. I felt that mountaineering is hard.
My final height at Mt. Shasta was 10,800 feet. My legs were fatigued and shaking, my eyes filled with tears, my body and mind were in pain as I felt the physical pain and emotional disappointment of having to turnaround before I reached my ultimate goal.

At that moment, as tears shed from my eyes, I could feel my heart was broken deeply. It was very painful, no so much the physical pain in my legs and body, but the mental pain. To turn around short of my goal was one of the toughest decisions of my life. The pain was in my heart. I descended to camp with other groups who did not summit. It took two hours. I cried the whole time, my tears would not stop. I said to the mountain with sad emotion: “The mountain, you won!” I had prepared and trained so hard for this climbing trip for 7 months. I had traveled and drove alone, just to see and climb my mountain, but I did not get to the summit this time. I was very frustrated and felt like a complete failure and loser. It was my first time to feel pain and sadness so deeply from one of my adventures.

Back at camp, I sat alone on a rock, my eyes  swollen with tears. I  looked at the big mountain and felt: Mountaineering is tough. It is uncomfortable and a challenge. You must be able to climb about 1,000 feet vertically every hour, carrying a 40-pound pack, uphill, walking on rough terrain up and down, especially in the snow. It requires a lot of muscular endurance in your lower body, and you must  tolerate cold temperatures and strong winds, and icy conditions on the mountain. You must have a lot of mental fortitude and mental stamina.

However, I think, failing to summit is even tougher, because the painful is mental and felt deep in your heart. I could not complete the whole climbing trip after all the physical and mental preparation, a huge effort of 7 months preparation and travel, so that feeling of pain cut deep in mind and heart. It is especially difficult because I came so close to the summit; I could nearly reach out and touch the top. I counted my steps up the mountain, but I had to turn around, like all of my effort and hard work were thrown away. Failing to summit is very tough. This is definitely one of the toughest moments in my life. Words cannot express my actual feelings; it leads to a lot of pain in my spirit and soul.

I sat at the base camp alone, and kept looking at my mountain with tears in my eyes, as my unsuccessful ascent was very painful. It is the first time I had this feeling from one of my adventures.

All the emotions and pain came from this mountaineering adventure:

I started to doubt if I qualified as a mountaineer. Why had I made this commitment? Where had my  courage gone?

I told myself that my body could continue to the top, the mountain was not really steep and tough, a feeling of denial appeared.

Anger also appeared. Why does my stupid body climb so hard ? Why did I turn around ? Why did I put my entire heart into you, my mountain, but you hurt me so much? We were so close, so why could I not make it to the top? I felt like a loser and a failure.

I felt disappointment and depression, too. Others can make it to top of the mountain, standing on the summit to witness a fantastic 360-degree view. Why cannot I do so? Mountaineering is not my thing?

The hardest thing is to accept failure. I did not reach the summit this time. Mountaineering is not an easy feat for me, but if things come easy then they are not impactful. Although I failed to summit, it did not take away my hard work and training for 7 months. In fact, the mountain changed me, my body and my mind, as I got into good shape to prepare for this adventure. I saw a breathtaking sunrise on the mountain. I got a first-hand mountaineering experience. I took effort to come and see my mountain.

Hey, I am an avid adventurer, I love the challenge, learning new skills, new experiences. As a great adventurer, I have the courage to accept the mountain challenge, but I have more courage to accept failure in my adventure. I allowed myself to cry and accepted all the bad emotions in this attempt.

I still sat at the base camp and looked at my mountain with tears till the sun was all the way down. I thought about all my preparation, travel and climbing experience, feeling the mountain use its unique way to teach me something…..

The mountain called; I answered “YES!”

Every goal has its timeline, preparation is important to achieve it, especially for a mountaineering adventure.

In late October 2020, the mountain was strongly calling me.

I listened my inner voice: I must go and see it! In the past, I always saw the mountain far away, but I intensely wanted to go into the mountain. I wanted to take the effort to climb and stand on the summit of the mountain, I wanted to experience first-hand mountaineering, so I firmly answered “YES” to the mountain calling. I decided to do my first mountaineering adventure in the upcoming summer 2021, a climbing season.

Most importantly, 2021 is my 10-year anniversary of being in United States. I wanted to use my first summit to celebrate this anniversary, as the best gift for myself, so I was even more firm in this big decision. I had great determination and was very excited to complete this journey.  

I did intense research of Mt. Shasta in California, at 14,179 feet, a playground of mountaineers, attracting many climbers attempting to summit it from May to September. The south side (Avalanche Gulch Route) is the most popular and classic mountaineering route. My heart felt a deep connection to Mt. Shasta, so I picked it as my first mountaineering adventure destination.

Mountaineering is very physically and mentally demanding, with long hours spent working slowly up and down a mountain carrying a heavy pack. Often, you must use an ice axe, crampons and ropes to traverse hard snow and ice fields. Mountain climbing is not an easy task, especially for a height of over 14,000 feet. It combines aerobic, strength, core, endurance, balance and flexibility into one adventure sport, so usually the mountaineer is an athlete. However, I realized early in my planning that my fitness level was not ready at all, and I had not been working out. To achieve my goal to climb this mountain, I would have to work very hard and prepare for this big challenge.  

Here, I would like to give special thanks to my friends Klinton and Jenny. Even though they did not take this adventure with me, their support gave me a lot of encouragement and confidence. At the preparation stage, I am particularly appreciative of Klinton, my training instructor, for providing professional advice, tracking my progress, and helping me to train and prepare physically for this adventure.

Because I would be required to carry a heavy pack, including personal gear and group gear, to go up the mountain and reach basecamp, it definitely would be a big challenge, particularly for tiny me, so we made a complete training plan. My strength goal was to be able to lift and carry a 40-pound pack, almost 50% of my weight.

Now, I’m glad to share my training progress with you:

  • Month 1-2 (Late Nov. 2020 – Jan. 2021): I started to work out, did general training: sit ups, lift weights, push-ups, planks, step-ups, all to build shoulder, arm and leg muscles. I also kept walking long distances over long hours as my usual exercise.  
  • Month 3 (Feb. 2021): I saw some progress with my strength and endurance, added cardio training, swam 2-3 times per week and sometimes combined jump rope. During winter months in Chicago, I carried the backpack with weights around 20-25 pounds to walk outside in the cold weather, especially walking on the snow to practice, to make it more realistic to prepare for snow on the mountain.
  • Month 4 (March 2021): I could carry a 27-30 pound backpack to walk/hike long hours already. I felt happy. I added weight to my routine workout session. But Klinton saw that it was still very hard for me to lift 40 pounds, so I was still well short of my strength goal, so he said we must push very hard when training. My muscles were shaking because of muscle fatigue, but I had to continue and could not stop. I would feel the burning sensation because I was building up lactic acid, a process I knew helped to increase muscle mass. Also, I lifted the heavy backpack at home every night, increasing the weight weekly. It was one method to gain strength in a short time. (In fact, Klinton and Jenny knew this hard training would stress my tiny body, and we discussed it many times. They understood this trip was very important to me, so they continued to support my decision, which I very much appreciated.)    
  • Month 5 (April 2021): I had reached reasonable fitness and saw the progress of my strength. However, Chicago and the surrounding area has no hills and mountains to practice, so I chose to carry the heavy backpack on walks 7-10 miles twice per week, and I would walk up and down three flights of stairs at the back of my apartment, still carrying the backpack.
  • Month 6 (May 2021): I continued training: cardio sessions to improve the fitness of my heart and lungs. I started to wear my mountaineering boots and carry a 35-40 pound backpack to walk/hike 10 miles up to four hours again, to build up my endurance and make more realistic practice of the actual mountain climb. By this month, I can lift the 40-pound pack. I focused more on upper body strength, which was my weakness, so at my workout sessions, I did a lot push-ups.
  • Month 7 (June 2021): I felt I had made big progress physically through my hard training and effort, reaching a good level of fitness. I began to do regular exercise to maintain the result as the time grew closer to board the plane, waiting for my big day.

I did Plank, average time 1 min 40 second hold each time or till I could not hold it anymore, then I would stop. I would mix push ups and planks to improve my upper body strength and core.

As part of weekly training plan, every week I would add weight and time to my training, all the way to the maximum, to build strength and improve my core and endurance. I got into good shape to accept this big challenge. Usually on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday my time is more flexible, so these three days I maximized my use time to go outside to practice strength and endurance.

Sun Mon TueWed
50 mins cardio
session of swim;

Walk long hours with heavy

pack to practice endurance

Use gym machines to build leg,

arm, shoulder muscles
60 mins
workout session
60 mins
workout session
50 mins cardio session
of swim;

Carried the heavy pack
(30-40 pounds)
to walk 7-10 miles nonstop
Long workout session as usual (more focused on push-up since April 2021)

Carried heavy pack on stairs back and forth 40 mins
till my body cannot endure anymore

I did not change my diet much, but I added more meat and protein. However, I could not do elevation training because Chicago and nearby areas have no any hills and mountains for me to practice. This was too bad, but I accepted this situation.  

During this preparation, I felt my body was stronger, healthy and fit. I had a strong feeling: the mountain changed me already, physically and spiritually, so no matter what, deciding to climb a mountain was one of my best decisions of my life.

In May 2021, I started to shop for clothing and gear for my mountaineering adventure. How exciting!

My gear list includes:

  • 1 pair mountaineering boots
  • Layering: Tops: Shell Jacket (Arc’teryx), Down Jacket (Fjallraven), Fleece Jacket and base layer (Patagonia); Bottom: Climbing pants (Patagonia) and base layer (Lululemon)
  • Osprey AG 65L backpack
  • Sleeping bag (Mountain Hardwear, down filled, lightweight and compressibility, 0F/-18C)
  • Sleeping pad (Big Agnes R-Value 4.5)
  • Wool hat and sun sat
  • Gloves (1 pair waterproof, insulating gloves + 1 pair fleece liner gloves)
  • Trekking poles
  • Glacier glass
  • Headlamp with fresh batteries
  • Bandana
  • Hiking Socks
  • Locking Carabiner
  • Sunblock and Lip Balm
  • 2 Water bottles (1 Ouart each)
  • Eating Utensils: Bowl and spoon
  • Gaiters (Mid-calf height, I rented at The Fifth Season in Mt. Shasta, CA)
  • Crampons (Rented)
  • Ice Axe (Rented)
  • Climbing Helmet (Rented)
  • Wag Bag, Hand Cleaner, Toilet Paper, Wipes
  • Snack and lunch (Protein Bars + Granola Bars + Trail Mix + Hot Dog)
  • Small size medical kit
  • Gopro 9 and Iphone
  • Power Bank
  • Tent/group cooking gear/climbing ropes/climbing harness (when I meet the group first day, the guide would distribute)
On May 2021, I got my mountaineering boots. For training, I wear it with a heavy backpack to walk/hile long hours, making it more realistic. They are my adventure buddy.
My layering and insulation system helps to achieve this commitment for the mountain.
I was very excited to get to crampons and ice axe, to have a genuine mountaineering experience.

However, Mt. Shasta has a unique climbing condition this year, as it only received 47% of normal snowpack, which has created extremely dry and hazardous conditions for certain routes. The original, most popular route Avalanche Gulch is very dangerous due to these conditions, so we had to transition to the Clear Creek Route to climb instead. This route does not provide a quintessential snow and ice skills focused mountaineering experience, as we will be climbing up trails, rock and scree with occasional patches of snow or ice. But I still decided to go even after I got this information, because my mountain was calling me strongly. I must go and see it! I don’t want to miss this great opportunity!

My mountaineering trip, plane tickets, car rental and hotel were all set. I was physically and mentally ready for this big challenge. Hey, my dear mountain, it is my time to achieve my commitment! I can’t wait to see you in person!

Ready to go go go!

Be a traveler, not a tourist.

Chapter 4: You never know what you might discover until you open your eyes.

“Why do you want to see ‘The Wave’ so strongly?“

The question was posed to me by a nice old man who I had met in Kanab, Utah. The Wave is a beautiful sandstone formation at the border of southern Utah and northern Arizona. A natural wonder, it is one of the most photographed locations in the West, but it requires a permit to visit, accessible only by lottery.

Full of naivete, I stared at the elderly gentleman, and answered, “I have tried for a few years through the online lottery but haven’t got in. Now that I am in town, I went to the visitor center to try the walk-in lottery. I know the odds are low to win the lottery, but I don’t want to have any regrets.“

He laughed, said “The Wave in southern Utah is like the Mona Lisa or the Banks of the Seine in Paris. Everyone who visits Paris, their first thought is to go to see the Mona Lisa and take photos to prove you saw it. I have lived in southern Utah almost my whole life. I love this area, and I can tell you, southern Utah is not just about The Wave, which is actually just one rock formation. If you win the lottery, it’s good to go, but if not, maybe that means it is not meant to be. Don’t be disappointed, Stephy. Open your eyes and let them guide you. There are many hidden gems worth exploring.”

His words stay in my mind, even as I half-doubt myself, deciding to leave town instead of waiting for the lottery that day, and head to White Pocket, Arizona.

White Pocket is situated on the remote and rugged Paria Plateau in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona, close to the Utah border. But to get there, a 4WD vehicle with good ground clearance and off-road tires is a must to pass unmaintained roads of deep sand with rocky sections. When I first arrived, I felt I was on another planet. White pocket showed me nature is an amazing “artist” itself: it has twists, multi-color striations of white, yellow, red, orange and pink, pock marks and pools that sometimes fill with water, strange bulges look like human brains, polygonal fracturing and wave-like features. Unlike The Wave, White Pocket does not require a permit. Despite its wonder, this is another place people ignore as an alternative to The Wave.  

I let my eyes guide me. In this unbelievable playground, I immersed myself by walking around and standing in what looks like giant brain texture. It is as if I am on an alien world; it’s really a thrill.

When I saw this texture, pattern and color, I appreciated nature as an amazing artist.
I looked up to see the tree stands on the “brain” texture, quietly expressing beauty of Earth.
I stood on the top of a “brain,” looking so tiny in this alien landscape.
Everyone will discover a different wonder through their own eyes. I saw ice-cream cake.
Nature never ceases to amaze and inspire us.
It has its own mystery and is unique, no less impressive than The Wave. Why do we need to be so focused on The Wave?

After I explored and witnessed this fantasy landscape, I realized that the world is so big and has infinite opportunities to discover all its natural workmanship, so why do I need to only focus on seeing The Wave? Although I cannot compare both personally, I’m not sure if White Pocket is better than the wave or not. But it is not important. I believe White Pocket is no less impressive, and I enjoyed a great bond with nature there. I realize I should remain open to other ideas and ways to allow beauty to enter my life. When I returned to the town after my visit, I made a spontaneous decision: I gave up my last chance at The Wave walk-in lottery the next day. At that moment, I felt it did not matter whether or not I would win the lottery. I put it out of my mind. I had already packed my mood to go to my next destination.

I continued exploring other hidden gems near Kanab, Utah the next day: I stopped at the Toadstool while I drove on U.S-89, hiked and got to what seemed like another planet: “mushroom” sandstones and rocks. With the white color covering the rocks, from some angles they look like snowmen, and from some angles they look like ghosts. At that moment, I thought that if I were at the Kanab visitor center at that time, I would have missed these unique landscapes that I had stumbled upon randomly as I traveled.

The highway roadside has its hidden planet–Toadstool Hoodoos. I explore without regret as I get to see so many different things.
Is it a snowman? A Ghost? Let your eyes find its own answer.

I put The Wave regrets out of my mind and take an open-minded heart to continue my journey. I visited the Goblin Valley State Park, Utah, with crazy high winds and sand, but I made a connection with what seemed like Mars here again with its unique, strange hoodoos and mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles. I stood and walked around this magical land and enjoyed the brilliant light of afternoon reflected on my face.

The cute yurt lives on what seems like Mars.
Endless “mushrooms” amazed me no matter the crazy strong wind and blowing sand here.

When I drove to the Mystic Hot Springs from the Goblin Valley State Park, I experienced four seasons along the road: sunshine-rain with sun-rain-snow-sunshine, and suddenly the mountains covered in snow appeared before me. I enjoyed the fast-changing weather so much, just me and the road, deeply. This is one interesting thing when you are traveling, not just touring, because you can immerse yourself totally on the way.

I soaked in the hot spring with chilled temperature outside the tub–and saw the sunset.

I visited Sedona, Arizona, “climbed” to the Cathedral Rock to witness those endless red rocks. I also hiked to the Devils Bridge and birthing cave, experiencing big snowfall on the trails. It gave me a different feeling to experience Sedona. Maybe it is not what you picture when you think of Sedona: maybe it is Snowdona? But Snowdona has its beauty, when we are willing to open hearts to feel it.

The Earth is big, and I am so tiny, but I made a deep connection with the environment and nature.
When you travel, stay curious, ask questions, see inside yourself as much as outside.
I climbed to the birthing cave to see “Snowdona”, the grey and clouds, as it was snowing, cover all the red rocks far away. It gave me a completely different perspective of Sedona.

I also visited Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, and Joshua Tree National Park, California to surround and embrace those beautiful things in nature that speak to me and provide me solace.

I drove one of the coolest roads in the U.S. twice through the park, just wanting to enjoy all the simple things it gave me.

My perspective changed during this trip, I learned that if you focus too much on one thing, you probably will miss other things in life. In fact, life need not only be about routines or patterns; it can be a lot of different things, and give us alternatives, so we should be open to different ideas and ways of life, and embrace them in our life, and accept any possibilities. They are here to take you on a spiritual journey and turn you into a mystic who disappears from this world and reappears in another.  

Traveling is as much about seeing inside yourself as it is about seeing outside. Nature, I came to explore you, but you held a giant mirror in front of me. I absorbed the landscape, reflections of my past, thinking about the world from a new perspective, learning life lessons. I returned as a different person. I did not just tour; I traveled.

I hope the same for you, as you travel, to find more than just being a tourist and taking lots of photos. I hope you see and feel and learn the full measure of it.  

Remote places I slept

Chapter 3: I am prepared for real life.

A bold idea came to my mind: I wanted to experience spontaneous things to maximize adventure in my life, to see where I would end up without planning it all out. So I decided not to book any places to sleep to start my recent adventure. The unknown and uncertainty of where I would be spending the night on my trip did not scare me at all; it made it more exciting. I was curious to see what life would give me, without a specific destination after I carried 30 pounds of backpack with gear, hiking from my rental car. I only had my adventurous spirit to guide me. Although some people thought I was crazy, to travel solo and into so many unknown and remote places without an overnight plan for every night, I think sometimes we need to be more adventurous, open minded, flexible and go with the flow. We can learn so much by simply enjoying what life chooses to give us.

To start this backpacking adventure, I traveled only with myself, my gears, a rental car and an adventurous spirit.

In fact, I made an excellent decision: during the final 9 days and 8 nights of my backpacking adventure, I spent numerous nights in the wilderness, camping in different places, experiencing amazing and tough things, high and lows – all exciting – and it was difficult, worrisome, scary, fearful, exhausting and heartbreaking, but it also was transformative, and it all gave me a reborn feeling, and revealed to me completely so much about myself and life. I found I am stronger and braver than I thought myself in the past.

Now I am happy to present to you some sleeping locations from Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California.

Night 1 (March 17th): Slept in a RV Park in Kanab, Utah

I drove to Kanab, Utah from Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. When I arrived, it was dark already. I found an RV Park (Hitch-N-Post RV Park) randomly and parked my car there. All places nearby were closed, so I decided to sleep in my car. For me, a RV Park for one night was ideal, as at least it was a safe area. I ate simple freeze-dried food that night. It was my first time to sleep in a car, but I slept like a baby, as I was so tired, and looked forward to new adventures the next day.  

First time in my life to sleep in a car, alone, but I was still brave to face it, although it was a little bit of a struggle.

Night 2 (March 18th): Slept on Lone Rock Beach, Utah

After my White Pocket, Arizona tour, I made a spontaneous decision: I gave up my last chance for the wave walk-in lottery the next day, and instead drove to the lone rock beach to see the view of Lake Powell. The lone rock is one of the few spots where you can drive directly to the water’s edge and camp on the shoreline. When I got there it was dark already: I could not see anything, I only knew that I was at the beach. I set up my tent in the dark, and slept on the beach under the stars. I woke the next morning to see golden and red light illuminating Lone Rock at sunrise. Wow! I was glad that I made this spontaneous decision: it was one of the amazing places I have ever slept.

Until the sun appeared with its light, I did not know the exact surroundings of where I had just spent the night.
This will forever go down as one of my favorite places I’ve slept.

Night 3 (March 19th): Slept on the cliff at Alstrom Point, Utah

I camped and slept in my tent on the cliff at Alstrom Point (Utah), facing an unreal view there, but this time I was not alone. I was with my new adventurous friends I had just met. I rolled in my sleeping bag to see endless stars, and although it was windy overnight, I still felt happy because so many magical things happened there. I could not ask for more. My birthday was celebrated there. Although I did not sleep very deeply that night, I had a special feeling there. I awoke to see one of most stunning sunrises in my life.

The journey getting here was an amazing trail, but camping here and seeing this view on my birthday was absolutely incredible.

Night 4 (March 20th): Slept in a car outside Goblin Valley State Park, Utah with wild wind and sand

I arrived at Goblin Valley State Park in the afternoon. At first, I thought I could find a perfect spot to camp on my official birthday night. However, the most unexpected thing was how crazy and wild the wind became, blowing hard with so much sand, like a sandstorm, so strong it could almost blow me over and I could not set up the tent. At the end, I decided to sleep in my car again. Even in my car, I could still feel how crazy windy it was outside with so much blowing sand. The sound was very loud, the first time I slept outside with such intense windy and sandy conditions. I was still brave to face it and slept in my car alone until the next day.

I slept, alone, in my sleeping bag in my car with crazy high winds, hearing only the scary sound of wind and blowing sand.

When I woke up, I saw the sun appear on the horizon, but this experience I will never forget. This was one of the first times to really know myself, to know I can be very brave even in a rough situation.

It was a frustrating night, but to see the sunrise after crazy wind and blowing sand, I realized I am braver than I knew.

Night 5 (March 21st): Slept on the grass around cool old buses and falling snow

A cool and authentic place I found has different colorful old buses. I decided to camp nearby, on the grass under a tree, with these old buses around me. But it was snowing and freezing, around 18 degrees. I boiled water with my portable stove to keep warm, rolled up in my sleeping bag. When I woke the next morning, snow covered my tent. In freezing temperatures, I packed up my tent. My hands were totally numb from the cold.   

I felt so cool and excited to camp near these unique colorful old buses.
Life is not perfect: I experienced this spot with chilly temperatures and snow on the ground.

Night 6 (March 22nd): Slept in a car in a restaurant parking lot in Sedona, Arizona

I arrived in Sedona (Arizona) in the afternoon. I thought I could find BLM land or an outdoor campground to camp, however, I drove back and forth around Sedona until it was dark and could not find a place, the worst-case scenario. I decided to park my car outside of a local restaurant and slept there, in downtown Sedona, overnight. During the night, I woke up many times, worried my car was going to be towed or something might happen. This was the worst night of my trip because I was so worried and exhausted, sleeping in a parking lot alone. But I told myself that I would face and overcome this problem, and although worried and afraid, my heart beat with a secret promise to myself. The next day, I left all these worries behind like the dust, and I was back on the road again.

Night 7 (March 23rd): Slept in a desert around Superstition Mountain and Cactus, Arizona

I made a spontaneous decision again, leaving Sedona earlier than planned, and I went to Superstition Mountain, Arizona, instead. Here, there were different types of cactus and mountains quietly around me. I slept with heavy rain and the sound of rain. But I witnessed the sunrise reflected on the mountain and cactus, giving me a feeling of being reborn.

After a heavy rain overnight, I opened my tent, and I saw the mountain and Saguaro cactus, waiting with me as the sunrise came. We were reborn after the rain.
I enjoyed being alone with my gear and good company with cute cactus.

Night 8 (March 24th): Slept in BLM land outside of Joshua Tree National Park, California

The last night of this trip, I sat in my tent under a tree and saw the soft sun set quietly until all of it had gone down. I looked back on these eight nights I had experienced, and I felt I had gone through a long journey in my life, but it gave me a special experience and life lesson: I am actually braver than I thought, and I can face difficult situations alone, too.

The last night of my trip, it was only me and gear, simple freeze-dried food and my rental car again. People thought I might be lonely, but my passion and dream took me on this journey.

Far from home, these unusual places became my home for a night. I’ve come to realize that no matter where I fall asleep, my passion is still there completely. I am on my own journey with my inner voice leading me, no matter how broken I am at the end of the day, no matter if I can find a perfect place to camp and sleep, no matter if I have a fancy meal, or stay in a fancy hotel or resort, I am reborn the next morning. I set up again, I run again, I move forward to meet the next opportunity and start a new adventure again.

It is similar to life. Life is not always prefect, and good things do not always happen, things do not always go according to plan. You have to rough it a little. This is real life, and we should accept good things, but at the same time we should allow and accept the worst things can happen too, as high and lows are all part of life. 

While I drove to the airport to return home, I thought back on these eight locations where I spent each night. I want to say to myself: thanks for these incredible experiences, as they showed myself that I am braver than I knew, and they helped me to build character and prepare me for anything that life will throw at me in the future. Thanks to this trip, I know I can face different situations alone. I can tell myself, “Stephy, you are very confident and strong, you saw real life: it is not always a fairy tale, you should allow and face good things and bad things. I know you can do it: you are prepared for a real life, Dear Stephy.”

Now, I bring this wisdom and courage to fly and start my next adventure!

One Encounter, One Chance

Chapter 2: Adventure is out there – and wherever new friends are found.

I often share my adventures discovering pristine mountains, magnificent oceans, boundless skies, vast deserts, stunning sunrises and sunsets, moon and star-lit nights, and other natural wonders – although most of these wonders I enjoy alone. My passion always drives me and gives me endless courage to take each experience as it unfolds. However, my recent birthday trip gave me a whole new point of view to understand adventure more deeply; that in fact, people themselves can be a huge and important part of adventures, too. This is something I did not fully realize in my past adventures.   

Alstrom Point, Utah is a very magical place. Not only is its beauty unreal, but on my recent trip I also met new adventurous friends there. We spent precious time together, making this place even more amazing. On March 19th, I completed a remarkable adventure—backpacking alone to remote Alstrom Point. I thought I would enjoy the view and celebrate my birthday quietly, alone. However, suddenly, a group of strangers driving a 4WD appeared. They were kind, saw me alone, and asked “Are you okay?” This simple and friendly question started another new adventure: they invited me to join their group, to enjoy the surreal view with music, and a little food and beer.

Their enthusiasm and friendliness impacted me deeply. They knew it was my birthday, and they took a lot of excellent and creative birthday photos for me. We sat in chairs on a cliff, talked and shared our adventure stories, and we laughed. It was simple but real, and we made a wonderful connection. These strangers became my new adventurous friends and brought this moment to life. I am not sure if it is fate, but I appreciated this precious chance to meet other adventurers in this big world in such a remote place.  

Thanks to these strangers, but now friends, who took these creative birthday photos for me: Stephy x 3.
They gave me a chair and invited me to enjoy the view together.
When we witnessed the stunning sunset, I gazed far away, at these 4WDs parked together, giving me a whole new element to adventure: people.

The most unexpected thing happened after we saw the sunset together: these strangers celebrated my birthday with me. We cut and cooked food together, all sitting around the warm campfire under the stars, they sang “happy birthday” to me, and we each shared plans of our next adventure. We were getting get to know each other and felt a common connection in our adventurous spirit.

We cooked food together, preparing to celebrate my birthday.
Good food, great company, laugher and the best wishes from new adventurous friends, I could not ask for a better birthday celebration.

I had this feeling: we met only two hours ago, so we were still strangers really, not yet good friends, but they still celebrated my birthday with me. Their friendliness and kindness warm my heart again when I think of if it. Although the food was just simple, no cake, and I was not at a nice restaurant to have a nice birthday dinner, it was one of my best birthday celebrations. It was a true people connection, a treasure, a moment simple, sincere and close to my heart. The universe gave me a wonderful birthday gift: allowing me to complete a remarkable adventure and meet new adventurous friends. I could not ask for more.  

On my official birthday, we sat together to witness the stunning sunrise at Alstrom Point, and I received the warmest birthday wishes from them again. Before we left Alstrom Point, they invited me to join their 4WD adventures in the future, exploring remote areas together. Now, my future adventures might not all be solo, as I know enjoying an adventure with someone is a totally different experience.

We sat there quietly, witnessed the stunning sunrise at Alstrom Point.

We said goodbye, went in different directions and continued our own journeys. But I will never forget those precious moments that we experienced together at Alstrom Point.

Alstrom Point is a special place for me: a great adventure not just to experience alone, but also including people who share similar passion and interest.

While driving to my next stop, I realized that life had given me a surprise birthday gift: the lesson that people are a huge part of an adventure, too.   

I continued the rest of my trip alone, though I met a few more people along the way. I met someone who shared the same interest with me near Goblin Valley State Park, Utah. We talked about mountaineering, and he shared his first-hand experience with me, giving me some advice to prepare for my coming trip in June. I then met a few girls who also were from Chicago, when I was on the hiking tail at Sedona. One of the girl’s birthday is the same as mine. What a small world. We laughed and gave birthday wishes to each other on the trail.

At the start of this backpacking adventure, I thought the biggest outcome of this journey would be to witness those amazing views and complete remarkable adventures along the way. I never thought about people being part of the adventure, until I met those nice and friendly people along the way. I found the beauty of human kindness, which made this adventure more amazing and unforgettable. This beauty of kindness and friendship is no less magical as the remarkable natural experiences I discovered. This kindness is not related to culture, religion, race or a particular region; it’s just humans being human. It is a simple, natural truth, and warms my heart and will always stay in my memory.  

I now understand “life is an adventure” more deeply. We never knew who we might meet and what will happen in life, but life will give us surprises. We will meet different people, experience and share travel stories with them on the road. They wave at us, show their kindness to strangers, who now are friends. When we open our heart, we see and feel these beautiful parts of being human. These people taught me that every new friend is a new adventure. The most beautiful parts of an adventure are not things; they are people and places, memories and pictures, they are feelings and moments, and smiles and laughter.

Hey, my new adventurous friends, I am ready to embark on a fantastic new adventure with you. See you again soon!