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!

Living an adventurous life means fully taking risks

Recently, for my 34th birthday trip, I picked Nevada-Utah-Arizona-California as my backpacking adventure destination: 9 days and 8 nights. I am glad that I did this epic adventure, as the life lessons from this journey gave me a new perspective to understand life. Now, my fellow adventurers, I would love to share my experience and a little wisdom with you through four blog “chapters”.

Chapter 1: Reflecting on a remarkable adventure: risk and reward    

What does risk mean? Everyone has a different definition based on their own experiences and abilities. Risk and reward are related: both play a role in almost every decision you make, especially when it comes to adventure. It is human nature to focus more on the downsides of risk than on the upsides of potential reward. But the risk and reward equation in a life adventure is not the same as can be ascribed to a stock investment. So understanding the risk and reward equation is very important, and it helps you to complete a remarkable adventure successfully. My recent adventure proves it.

A few months ago, I saw Alstrom Point, Utah on a random social media post. It seemed too beautiful to be real, with the best overlook of Lake Powell. It stayed on my mind. In this backpacking adventure, I decided to explore and see it in person.

Traveling alone to Alstrom Point is a risk, due to its remote and wild location, so before I started this adventure, I did extensive research, particularly of weather, road conditions and the terrain, to calculate the risk and potential harm. I prepared well. Alstrom Point is a journey of “backcountry adventures Utah” located 25 miles from Big water Town, Utah. Utah’s remote areas are mostly wild and isolated, and to travel there you need a high clearance vehicle or 4WD – and good driving skills – to handle the dirt roads. This is especially true during the “wet season” when the roads are messy and muddy, making the drive more dangerous and technically challenging. A regular rental car is unlikely to be able to navigate the terrain. The weather and road condition are key factors to consider to make this adventure successful.

On March 19, my 34th birthday eve, before I departed, I called the Big Water visitor center to double check the current weather and road conditions. Although the ranger replied that the road was dry, conditions on the north part of the road were uncertain because no one had been there recently. I still decided to go, and to drive my rental SUV, based on my observation of the weather forecast calling for four consecutive days of no rain or snow. Good weather and road condition were important to  minimize unforeseen consequences. Also, the driving instructions I found on online helped.

The road to Alstrom Point was too long to forget: it was 23 miles to the first overlook, and I spent a full hour to get there, driving at only about 20 mph. It was an unforgettable driving experience: the bumpy, rocky and gavel dirt road rising up and down endlessly, in the middle of huge canyons, going over small, round black hills or seeing huge cliffs on the roadside, before entering a washboard road, truly wild, with just a few bushes and grass.

The road to Alstrom Point is like being on the moon.
Only me driving alone on this gravel, bumpy and rocky road, endlessly up and down. I did not know when or where the road would end.
This sign stands in the middle of nowhere. After this sign, I drove on a washboard road.

I slowly drove, only traveling about 15-20 mph, moving slowly to minimize the potential of getting stuck or having a problem.

Only a few cars passed by, so it was mostly just me and my SUV in this wild desert. It felt like I had left Earth and it looked like I was driving on the moon. I could feel my heart beat a little faster, and it was a little scary: I did not know when and where this crazy road would end, and I was taking this adventure alone. Still, I overcame my fear and trusted myself to handle it.  

I arrived at the first overlook point, Glen Canyon, and parked. The last two miles of terrain to Alstrom Point is complicated and more technical, requiring a high-clearance vehicle or 4WD, with experience driving in such conditions. I knew my rental car SUV could not handle this terrain, so I parked, got out and hiked to the point instead.

I arrived at this overlook at 3:12PM, took a little break–and prepared to carry my 30-pound backpack on my hike to the destination.
I started to hike the last 2 miles. Looking back at my car, I was isolated. It was only me and the wildness.

I began my hike at 3:30 PM. The sun was strong and beat on my head, as I carried my 30-pound backpack of gear. At the beginning, it was easy to follow the path. But then I entered slickrock terrain, where everything surrounded me looked the same, with no clear path, and rock faces looking alike, with no landmarks and a nearly identical horizon everywhere, making knowing the true direction very difficult. My off-line GPS helped me to navigate, but it still was confusing and disorienting because everything looked the same. My navigation skills finally helped me realize the direction I needed, and I hiked to this special place successfully, to witness and embrace an unreal but amazing view.

As I traveled deeper into the area, slickrock terrain appeared, where everything looks alike, including the horizon, without clear landmarks, making it easy to lose your sense of direction.

I was very happy and pound of myself: I completed another remarkable adventure in my life, before I turned 34. I was living an amazing and wonderful journey.

After an intense hike in hot weather, I sweat heavily. But when I saw this unreal view, it was totally worth it.
I sat there quietly to allow myself to experience this amazing sunset view.
Far away, a butte and gorgeous landscape stood silent and unparalleled.

I set up my tent on the cliff and slept under the stars with a beautiful view. On the morning of my 34th birthday, I awoke. I saw the color change in the sky, reflecting multi-layer rocks and Lake Powell. I had a feeling again: it was worth it to take this adventure. It was one of the best birthday gifts for me.

My tent on the cliff, facing this magical view, where I witnessed one of most stunning sunrises on my 34th birthday.
The sky color changed, and reflected Lake Powell and multi-layers of red rocks.
This place is magical, absolutely unreal.

Despite my solitary experience, I do not recommend you go to Alstrom Point alone, especially for a less experienced adventurer, due to the remoteness of the location and the complexity of the terrain. If you do go, this driving direction reference was particularly helpful to me: .

When I returned to my car on March 20th, I sat there to enjoy the view again before I left.

This was the first part of my adventure trip. I will share the other three parts soon.

Meanwhile, I also want to mention: Escalate is a hidden gem in Utah, especially the 56 mile long ”Hole-in-the-Rock” dirt road, which has unique and amazing places to explore, but it does require a good 4WD vehicle, as well as good dirt road driving skills and good weather. Based on my current “off-road” experience, traveling there alone is pretty dangerous even in “dry weather” and with good road conditions. After I calculated the risk, I did not go there alone.  

Adventure is a high-risk dynamic. The more exposure to high-risk situations you face, the more likely you’ll encounter the nuances of danger. But higher risk does not automatically mean higher reward in an adventure. We have different experiences, different levels of innate risk tolerance, so my risk and reward might be different from yours. It is important each person understands what they have to gain and lose, and to anticipate any potential bad outcomes and how they might handle them. Prepare ahead of time. If we know ourselves very well, it is possible to strike a balance, to be brave and decisive to take the risk, to enjoy the precious things adventure and life throw at you, including mistakes. It is part of living a full adventurous life.

Backpacking to the Alstrom Point alone is a risk, but the reward is tremendous. I am very proud of myself, I accomplished this remarkable adventure !

Little Trailer: a home away from home

Home is where the heart is.

I love camping life, an escape from the bright city and a chance to embrace the wonder of the dark. I always find new ways to enjoy camping. A tiny house lives in my heart. So during my recent adventure to Moab, Utah, I chose to rent and stay in a teardrop trailer, a unique and special mini home life experience in the great outdoors.

There are plenty of camping options near Moab. You can pick a first come-first serve BLM site, like Sand Flats Recreation Area, Big Bend Recreation Area, etc., or you can reserve your own site at a local campground. I chose to camp in a first come-first serve site, so I picked spot D14 at Sand Flats Recreation Area, which offers spectacular vistas of sandstone domes, canyons and mesas against the backdrop of the La Sal Mountains. (I recommend you arrive early to find a good spot in the morning, because it is a popular BLM site, and it fills fast). After I picked my favorite campsite, the trailer host Wendy (from Airbnb) delivered and set up the trailer, to be ready for me after my day of adventures.

When I saw the trailer in person, I felt the mini home in my heart come to life.

I was very excited to experience this mini house life: Cozy bed and bedding, perfect for little me; Well-equipped kitchen fulfills outdoor cooking needs.

The trailer looks like an adorable tiny house: inside it has a cozy queen bed, soft bedding and wood cabinetry, and off the back is a well-equipped kitchen, including all cooking essentials, a gas stove, stainless steel counter, hot/cold water sink, pans, etc. A yeti cooler, camp rugs and camp chairs also are provided. The trailer is equipped with a propane heater, too. It was very convenient and practical for sleeping and cooking. It made camping life charming and authentic.  

Staying in the teardrop trailer was a fun and unique experience:

  • I wore a headlamp to brush my teeth at the back kitchen at night;
  • I used solar power in the trailer to charge my phone and GoPro;
  • I used my flashlight to walk and find the restroom at the campground in the dark;
  • The BLM site does not have shower, but I did not mind missing a shower;
  • I turned on the heater to make the mini home warmer during the cold nights;
  • The trailer was under the breathtaking night skies. I saw endless stars and moon every night: the night sky was fantastic.
  • I curled into bed at night, with no cellular service, but I enjoyed disconnecting from my phone and social media. I never felt bored, just enjoyed my precious alone time, thought about the adventures I was enjoying, collected my thoughts, took time to self-reflect, then slept like a baby.
  • It was very windy outside throughout the night. I could feel the wind blow the rugs and a sun shade outside, but I slept soundly, and the windy conditions did not bother me.
  • When I woke up the next morning, I opened the mini door, and the soft indoor lights from the trailer cast a warm glow against the morning gray. I saw the sky turn from dark to bright, the sunlight reflecting off the mountains, turning them red in the distance. It recharged my endless passion and energy, preparing me for a new adventure.
  • I have always wanted to live in the mountains, and I made it happen!
My car and trailer parked parallel under the tree at night. I love this moment.
Staying outdoor, you could stargaze the night sky, with the stars, moon and mountains with you.
The indoor lights reflect the trailer in early morning.
I dressed and was ready for a new day of adventure!
Sand Flats Recreation Area has great views of the La Sal mountains and red rocks.

The precious time spent in the trailer became a new and different perspective for camping life. One of my friends told me that the trailer reminds him a little of the “forts” children will build, small places to hide and play. For me, this trailer made my dream tiny house real for a short time.

What do you think of this trailer? Maybe it is your next adventure. Let’s do it again in a heartbeat!

What a Blast! Epic Off-Road Adventure

If it excites and scares you at the same time, it probably means you should do it.

I knew Moab, Utah was called “America’s off-road capital,” and it lives up to the name. The region’s unique “slickrock” makes for a driving experience unlike anything else, and with breathtaking scenery. Off-roading is a culture, and trying it was on top of my bucket list as I explored national parks in the area. I chose a tour company called “Epic 4×4 Adventure” and I actually experienced an epic and thrilling ride, so the company name was exactly what I experienced, something “epic”.

To start, I want to give a special thank you to “Epic 4X4 Adventure”. The owner, Jennifer, was very nice and takes great care of her customers. She saw my special circumstance: a young and small woman was going to drive one of her aggressive off-road trails solo, and I had never driven such a vehicle before. She was concerned and wanted me to have the maximum amount of fun, safety, so provide me a special favor: she assigned me a private guide, Gavin, and we completed this epic adventure together.

My tour was called “You-Drive Hell’s Revenge and Fins & Things Trail (Sunset)”. My private instructor Gavin was very experienced, professional and knowledgeable, and made me feel comfortable and confident before this wild adventure started.

The first trail was Fins and Things, reached through Sand Flats Recreation Area. It was a moderate trail. Gavin and I drove single file in separate vehicles, with him in front. Gavin communicated with me via 2-way radios, giving me directions and offering tips to navigate the uneven terrain. I followed him and drove through some sudden steep climbs on and off the slickrock. I had a little trouble shifting the transmission properly a few times at first, so Gavin patiently stopped and came to check on me, then we’d be back to the trail again.

As an off-roading beginner, this trail was a good introduction for me to learn the basics of true off-roading, and how conditions can change quickly with small hills, steep drops, large rocks and a generally challenging driving environment. I immersed my whole enthusiasm in this activity.

After completed the Fins & Things Trail, we headed to the Hell’s Revenge Trail. It is one of the top off-road trails in Moab. It is an adventurous and difficult trail, with this major slickrock area including steep climbs, sharp turns and hair-raising descents along high ridges with little room for error left or right. It is more technical than Fins & Things. Gavin decided to sit beside me in the same vehicle for this one, providing instruction along the way regarding speed, gear and direction.

The first challenge of this trail was to drive and up onto a narrow fin – a long but thin stretch of road with steep drop offs on either side. Although I am not afraid of heights, my heart beat fast at that moment. But I had a good instructor, his directions were spot on, helping me to move smoothly on this scary-looking  trail.

I kept driving straight and entered a low spot, experienced some high mounds and steep descents, up and down, using brake and gas. I drove into the bushes a few times, but Gavin was very patient and instructed how to turn back toward the trail. I drove much better as I went along, like a new driver, learning how to drive a new car on the road. It is a learning process, and I loved it.

One of the most impressive moments occurred when we drove to the summit of the hills, a high vantage point overlooking the Colorado River with beautiful, classic scenery, a panoramic view from the La Sal Mountains through Arches National Park to the cliff rims that overlook Moab Valley. It is a simply spectacular view.

We decided to keep going because I wanted to explore this trail more deeply. It included even tougher terrain and obstacles, so Gavin drove and allowed me to experience it from the passenger seat. It was very steep and bumpy with speed; it was so much fun. At one point, I could not see the actual edge of the road from inside the vehicle as it dropped off so quickly from view. These long steep climbs and white-knuckle descents offered me a roller coaster ride across slick rock fins, scary-looking but exciting.

We drove through the sand road with extreme speed, too, allowing the fresh wind to sweep over us in the open-air vehicle. I could sense the power mingling with the charming views of true desert life. The desert’s soft sunlight painted the evening sky along the way, making this ride even more amazing.

On this trail, Gavin always encouraged and pushed me to drive more, teaching me how to adjust to the tough terrain. I appreciated this very much. It was my happiest day in Moab. Thank you “Epic 4×4 Adventure” for this special arrangement, making this adventure more awesome and memorable. I’ll come back!

I am an adventurer, but also an off-road racer! LOL

Driving off-road is exciting and terrifying at the same time, but you should ride it. Embarking on a new experience, when you are willing to try and learn, you are actually developing skills. It is a journey: learn, adjust, overcome and enjoy. This is a part of an adventurous spirit, too!

An Epic Adventure begins with an Epic Action

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

How willing are you to embrace the unknown? I love to take adventures with someone, but I love to experience them solo, also. Some people might think a solo adventure is boring and lonely. This is not true; it is a lot of fun! Taking an adventure does not mean being reckless, and the reward is much greater than you might expect.

For my most recent adventure I picked Moab, Utah as a destination. Moab is a small town, home to Arches, Canyonlands National Parks and Dead Horse Point State Park, and it is an avid outdoor adventurers’ paradise, offering tons of activities like hiking, rafting, off-roading, climbing, and mountain biking with unique red rock landscapes. It was a whole new and epic adventure for me. I experienced so many new things during this trip, and so much wonder. This is how a true adventurer lives.

Hike in the dark

I wanted to witness the most stunning sunrise/sunset, and to do so I needed to hike in the dark. On October 19, I woke up at 4:00 a.m., then drove in the dark, alone, through Arches National Park. At the beginning, I felt uncomfortable and nervous because it was my first time driving up the curved mountain roads, in the dark,  so I drove carefully, then adjusted to it. My eyes kept searching the road signs in the dark, but I missed the turn to take me where I originally planned to see the sunrise, so I kept driving to the delicate arch viewpoint parking lot. An adventurer must be able to improvise!

I started hiking in this dark adventure. The trail was three miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 480 feet. It was definitely a challenge to hike in early morning, because it was a new and unfamiliar trail, a of it uphill, and across sandstone rock faces where the trail can be hard to find. With the cold weather in the morning, it required especially good physical fitness.

Hiking in the dark is totally different from hiking during the day. It takes time for your eyes to adjust to the dark, and my flashlight helped. I met an elderly couple hiking along the way, and we hiked to the delicate arch together. In the dark, we got lost a few times, as there were no trail markers. We stopped and observed our surroundings, then saw a few lights far away, realizing we should head in that direction, and followed the light hike back to the correct trail. Because it was early, and a lot of the path was uneven, steep and uphill, I had to breath heavily. We hiked approximately 45 minutes to reach the arch.

I was very impressed during this dark journey: when I looked up, stars studded the sky. Then I witnessed the sky change color, turning from black to orange with the dawn. The sunlight shone on the arch at different angles, creating a spectacular sunrise to welcome a beautiful new day and adventure in the park. Hiking in the dark and seeing this amazing sunrise was a wonderful way to connect myself to nature.

Orange and pink colors appeared on the horizon, like a painting in front of you.
It was 7:11 am. when the soft light painted color in the sky. It was worth the wait in the dark.
We witnessed the change of sunlight at Delicate Arch.
Although a challenging journey, a true adventurer reached it, a reason to celebrate.
Delicate Arch shows its beauty through different light and angles.
I took this photo when I got back downhill, and only then fully realized what kind of sandhill terrain I had hiked in the dark.
We hiked a lot uphill, in the dark, to the Delicate Arch.

Hiking in the dark can be more challenging than during the day. It is important that you research and plan ahead, bring layers of clothing, appropriate gear, prepare for wildlife, and stay sensitive to your surroundings. Then get ready for a dark and wild adventure!

The adventure of a lifetime: completed the difficult trail solo

Devils Garden is a difficult trail in Arches National Park. The total distance is 7.2 miles, and the weather is hot, especially at noon. On this trail, you will see different arches, including Pine Tree Arch, Tunnel Arch, the longest landscape Arch, and Double O Arch. It proves that “it is a journey, not a destination”.

One of the world’s longest natural rock arches: Landscape Arch

The trail to Double O Arch starts difficult, because you must use your hands and feet to scramble and climb.

Double O Arch, but the path to get there is difficult.

Most people choose to go back after reaching Double O Arch after about three miles. But I decided to keep going, completing the primitive trail alone. Just like my life, I am someone who always goes forward, not back, and I enjoy every journey, no matter how easy or difficult. The Primitive Trail is the most difficult segment of the Devils Garden trail. It is a loop trail to the starting point. The obstacles include difficult route finding, steep slopes, narrow drop-offs, and rock scrambling.

I used hiking, scrambling, and climbing skills during this trail. This is a tricky route. I got lost, stopped, thought about my previous steps, observed and recognized the footprints, trusted my instincts, listened to sounds, asked other hikers for directions, and tried to find a GPS signal (I used Gaia GPS app). I finally navigated back to the right trail. Because it was noon, very hot, my body covered in sweat. I stopped and took a break, and drunk plenty of water.

Devils Garden Trail is worth taking an adventure of your lifetime.

After hiking approximately four hours, I retuned back to the starting point. I had a sense of accomplishment and was very happy. I never had before completed such a long and difficult trail solo. The reward is one of the most remarkable and awesome adventures in my life.

My adventurous spirit pushed me to accept the challenge, successfully accomplishing this difficult trail!

Witnessed one of the most epic sunrise/sunsets

Mesa Arch, Canyonland is one of the most famous sunrise spots in Moab. On October 20, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. again, then drove 40 minutes, entirely in the dark, without passing a single other car on the way to canyonland. I hiked in the dark again, but compared to the delicate arch, this was an easy trail, just an eight minute hike. I arrived around 6:30 a.m., the sky was still dark, but a few photographers were there waiting.

It is a small arch. I saw the rays of sun from the dawn out to the horizon beneath the arch. The sun illuminated the underside of the arch, giving a breathtaking view under the arch, showing nature’s craftsmanship again. I loved the orange color shine beneath the arch. This epic sunrise brightened my day again.

I love to witness the sunlight change to pink in the dark under the arch.
As the sun rises, I sense the natural power.
I love this moment, all of us waiting for the amazing sunrise at Mesa Arch.
The sunlight illuminates the underside of the arch. I sit overlooking the amazing natural scene.
“The most beautiful gift of nature is that it gives one pleasure to look around and try to comprehend what we see.”—Albert Einstein

If you visit Moab, you should not miss the most stunning sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park. I drove to the end of park, reaching the dead horse point overlook. I saw different vast layers on the red rock canyon. It looks like a different planet from Earth. I looked down the gorgeous ever-changing landscape to the Colorado River.

A dramatic sunset reflects light from the Colorado River.
The rocks all change to orange color.

A brush of color stands stark against the sky, like an artist forgot what paint to use. I stayed there through sundown, ending in all dark. If I could, I would wish to see this incredible sunset every day.

I sat there to see the most stunning sunset, feeling its charm and mystery.
Desert sunsets never cease to fill people with wonder.
Layers of desert canyon look like another planet.

Taking a solo adventure is not easy: it requires courage, confidence, wisdom, plan and action. If you do it, you will experience unexpected things along the way, and you will learn how to trust your instincts, accomplish a lot of tasks and make decisions alone. It pushes you to personal growth. I am glad that I made this epic adventure happen! A true adventurer has ambition, able to accept challenge and adapt to any changes in a new environment, make dreams come to reality. I hope my adventurous spirit and experience will inspire you, especially women, to step out of your comfort zone, and be brave enough to pursue and live your desired life!

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone: Aloha Spirit

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

This birthday trip to Hawaii was meaningful and remarkable for me, not only because my whale dream came true, but also because I learned what happens when I travel and seek a new adventure. During this trip, many of my original plans were interrupted due to the coronavirus outbreak, but I am proud of myself that I made changes and had amazing experiences. When your plans are interrupted, what do you do? For me, I will always find a way to learn about new places and have new experiences. It proves the outcome can still be wonderful even when your plans change.

People often say “It is the journey, not the destination” to describe The Road to Hana in Hawaii. The journey includes 600+ turns, 50+ one-lane bridges and occasional rock or mudslides. There is breathtaking scenery and amazing stops along the road: its cliffs are cloaked in green, and lush valleys burst with waterfalls; curves hug the coastline and you gaze over an ocean that stretches uninterrupted all the way to the Alaskan coastline. It is all coupled with black, red, and white sand beaches, a multitude of trails and beautiful gardens. So I put this at the top of my top to do in Maui, and I was very excited, anticipating the drive to Hana to see the rainforest beauty and inspiring coastal views.

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the parks on the island were closed and the tour was canceled. I was not surprised that this would happen, however, and I immediately changed my plans. I instead chose to take a helicopter to see Hana instead. I was lucky to take the last helicopter tour before it shut down. I indeed experienced an even more epic sightseeing and thrilling adventure from the sky, revealing why Maui is continually rated “The world’s best island”. Now let me help you witness the unique Hana and Haleakala from another angle.  

My chariot awaits. I flew blue Hawaiian helicopter to discover all of Maui’s hidden secrets.

When I rode in the helicopter, a sea of clouds, green mountains and blue ocean came into view. I could not believe these things were real in front of my eyes. It is too incredible to describe and very close. At that moment, I truly felt that I almost could touch this unbelievable scenery. I could feel that Maui is truly a magical place.

Soar thousands of feet above the immense, moon-like crater of Haleakala — the world’s largest dormant volcano! My original plan was to drive to watch the stunning sunrise over the crater walls at the Haleakala summit at 5:30 AM. Although it did not happen, I still witnessed its impressive views from the sky: the clouds above the crater, along with beautiful reds, yellows and grays of volcanic soil.

 I’ve never been to the moon but this is what I imagine the surface might look like.

The highest point of Haleakala is 10,023 feet high. Although I did not hike there and see blankets of clouds below my feet, I saw another unique view of Haleakala. At that moment, I felt so appreciative that I could have this incredible life experience.

The helicopter allowed me to gaze down at the beautiful Hana Rainforest Preserve on my way to the famous Seven Pools of Oheo Gulch, where bamboo trees line the forest and dozens of waterfalls cascade into the tiered pools below. I could see the Alpine-like vistas of upcountry to the lush landscape of the Hana Rainforest Preserve and the rugged beauty of East Maui shoreline.

The only way to discover all of Maui’s amazing hidden secrets is by air!

I immersed myself in aloha spirit by soaring over dramatic “broccoli” looking landscapes.  

There is something special about chasing abundant waterfalls from the sky.

The most beautiful coastline that I’ve ever seen in my life. 

Climb aboard a helicopter to experience the island’s thrilling hidden secrets.

As you might know, Hawaii is known as the “Rainbow State” because of the many brilliant rainbows that often appear, arching over valleys or beaches. At the beginning of my trip, I expected to see double rainbows across the ocean. In fact, during the whole trip, I did not see it happen. However, the magical thing is that when I rode in the helicopter, through the Hana, the rain drizzled, then transformed to sun, and Wow, I was lucky that I then saw a rainbow in the sky above the Hana Forest Reserve! The rainbow seemed very close to me, as if just a few feet away, so close I thought I could almost touch it.

Seeing a rainbow from my view in the sky was definitely a whole new experience in my life.

I knew that the rainbow primarily represents transformation in Hawaiian culture. It is believed, too, that those who can connect to the spirit and “upper” world will live abundant lives as humans. This new experience taught me that the world will present you with opportunity and wants everyone, not just the brave people, to achieve success.

As you might know, I enjoy snorkeling to meet varieties of marine creatures in the ocean. Maui is home to a multitude of amazing snorkeling locations to explore, full of interesting reef formations and lava fingers boasting remarkable ocean wildlife. So when I planned this birthday trip, I decided to do snuba on March 20th, which is my birthday. I wanted to see the most striking marine species and beautiful coral reefs at Molokini Crater, and swim with turtles at Turtle town, experiencing world-class ocean wildlife in Maui. I was looking forward to this special experience to celebrate my big day.

Again unfortunately, they canceled my activity due to COVID-19. Although I was disappointed, I made another, even better decision instead. I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to sunbathe and get to know nature and reflect upon myself, to relax and see the natural beauty around me. So I decided to enjoy this precious solo time on the beach. I went to the Ho’okipa Beach, and life yet again let something magical happen to me: I enjoyed the breezes of the ocean, witnessed professional windsurfing there, and all worries melted away. The most surprising thing is that I got to meet my other special guests: turtles. Once again, life used another way to help me to achieve my wishes.

On my way drove to Ho’okipa Beach, I met these colorful surfing boards on my birthday. Life is like surfing a wave, to keep your balance you have to keep moving.   

Mahalo to my other special guests. I was fortunate to get to meet you finally. I will swim with you until next time, cross my heart.

Another part of my original plan was to go to The Big Island (Hawaii Island) after Maui. Due to all activities canceled at this tough time, I decided to cancel The Big Island trip in the end. Hey, The Big Island, it is not goodbye, it is see you soon, instead!

Travel changes everything! Many people travel and only look for the familiar. However, life does not always follow your plan. Travel is not always perfect, either. This is a good lesson because learning happens when you travel and seek out what is different. Sometimes, a new experience is even better than your original plan, it just makes the experience that much more amazing. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, so push yourself out of your comfort zone. I hope you can seek out the difference and enjoy new experience, too, in your future travels!

Mahalo to my special guests: whales for an amazing journey

It is a commitment between the whales and me. It is an unforgettable journey between us.

One night, at the end of January, I dreamed of whales.

In the dream, we were very close. I remembered the dream when I awoke. This magical dream pushed me to decide to see the North Pacific Ocean. During the winter months of December to April, over 10,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska to the warm, shallow water of Maui (Hawaii) to mate, birth and raise their young calves in safety. This is why I chose Maui as my destination for this trip. I wanted to achieve it when I turned 33 years old, so I decided to go during my birthday week as a special gift for myself.

Unfortunately, we are experiencing the coronavirus outbreak, so people around me thought I should not travel at this time. But in the end, I made the best decision at the moment: I persisted in going and making this dream come true. I knew that if I missed this great opportunity, I would have to wait until next year. Life is made for adventuring! My special guests were strongly calling me! No matter the circumstances, I had to pursue this dream. I indeed went and experienced the most amazing marine wildlife adventure in my lifetime.

Just like the humpback whales took a long journey to Hawaii – over 3,500 miles one way from Alaskan waters – I traveled 4,184 miles to Maui from Chicago. The whales and I shared a connection even before meeting, both taking long journeys to Hawaii. When I exited the airplane, the air was so fresh and smelt wonderful, and I knew I was in the right place. It rained and flooded my first day there, but it did not hurt the island’s beauty. I drove alongside the ocean, during the rain, along twisting roads, rising up and down and through and over mountains to Maui.

I enjoyed listening to the ocean sounds and breathing the fresh Maui air. The rain and grey do not hurt its peace and beauty. This photo is from Lahaina, Hawaii.

On March 18, around 7:30 a.m., I took a whale sighting tour departing from Lahaina Harbor to see my special friends in the ocean. In the morning, the ocean is calm and glassy. Along with the Maui mountains, and blue sky and white clouds, and the sounds of the ocean sound, I was living in paradise, everything else in the world just melted away from my thoughts.

An exploration of the humpbacks’ favorite places and breathtaking views of the West Maui mountains in Maui’s panoramic central valley.

Our experienced boat captain turned up the throttle on our vessel and got us into the open water, as our eyes scanned the ocean for signs of movement. The tour’s certified marine naturalist explained the maneuvers and actions humpback whales use to attract mates, such as pectoral slaps, tail slaps and breaching. As luck would have it, we see a flurry of activity nearby.

My eyes were always searching for whales. Although people often call them “gentle giants,” I call them as my “special guests”. I gazed out at the mating display, the males competing for the attention of a single female, jostling for position, ramming and shoving each other and using aggressive behavior and maneuvers in hopes of chasing each other away from their potential mate.

When whales surface to breath they expel water into the air.


A whale swam slowly under our vessel and popped its head up for a closer look at us, something called “mugging”. Although I missed seeing it, I could still feel that they were very close to our boat.

I saw baby whales follow the mama humpback as they moved through the water together. The baby whales were learning how to breach. It was one of the most amazing marine experience I’ve ever seen.

I was so excited to see my special guests blowing spray above the ocean surface. It was not a dream.

All this took place with a backdrop of mountains, blue sky and ocean, the whales playfully surfacing, tail slapping and blowing spouts in the air. I can steel feel their enthusiasm and energy in and out of the water. I kept my eyes glued to them until the last glimmer of their crescent-shaped tails disappeared into the deep blue sea.

My eyes kept gazing at the whale’s flipper until it disappeared into the blue ocean.



As you might know, whales communicate with others through a variety of sounds. People call these “whale songs”. I am so lucky that I could hear how they sing in the ocean, as they used their special sounds to compose a beautiful melody echoing through the water, moving to and through me. I think it is an ocean spirit. I could feel this natural mystery, one of the most magical moments in my lifetime.


Nothing is better than listening to whales singing underwater.

The most spectacular moment happened just before the end of my tour: a whale suddenly breached the water. I saw its whole giant body leap out of the ocean, and although the distance was not very close, people, including myself, began cheering at this sight.  

At that moment, I had a unique feeling, sensing that the whales were using their special ways to tell me: Thank you for coming to see us, no matter how dangerous the situation and how far away, you still came, and you are very brave. Now, we have met each other.

At that moment, I truly felt that my dream came true and this missing part of life was complete. Although I did not take any photos of it, that amazing thing will always be in my memories. I was fortunate because my tour was the last one in Maui before the whale sighting tours were canceled until April due to the coronavirus outbreak, and at that time the whales will be heading back to Alaska. The whales were probably thinking the same thing: at least we got to meet each other.

One of the best birthday gifts was to witness this amazing thing.


You will feel its power and mystery if you visit there. 

A whale’s tail is the most beautiful thing in the marine world.

One of the bravest decisions in my lifetime is that I still came to see you, no matter the circumstances. One of the most amazing moments in my life is that I witnessed your magical and awe-inspiring life. Now, my wish and dream came true. I have no regrets!

Mahalo to my special guests for an amazing adventure again. Thanks again for using your special ways to celebrate my 33rd birthday.

All aboard a manatee adventure

If you believe in your dreams, your dreams will come to life.

One night, gentle giants came to my dream and shared a place in my heart;

One day, I came to see them and shared a unique memory with them.

It is my adventure with manatees, often called sea cows.

You might know that Crystal River (Florida) is home to the world’s largest population of endangered manatee, particularly in the cooler months when they tend to congregate in the area’s warmer waters. My adventurous spirit pushed me to travel to meet them there, to dare to dream, and write a new chapter in my adventure book. I am proud to have completed this adventure solo and made this dream come true. 

I knew that the cooler the weather, the better the chance to see these friendly wild mammals. My adventure started early morning, at 6:00 AM. The weather was very chilly, about 45F degrees, and the sky was dark. On the way to my adventure spot, Kings Bay, I saw an amazing and incredible sunrise, with fog on the water, and boats around it. The moment was very peaceful as I witnessed the sky change color from dark to orange and pink, coloring above the fog on the water.

There is nothing more special than seeing the sun rise in such an amazing place. These are the moments that give you fuel which lasts forever.

Wow! I realized that I was about to have an adventure in this paradise wonderland. I could not believe my eyes, but it was real. That early morning moment made this adventure even more special.

Adventuring in a paradise wonderland.

Our boat stayed on Kings Bay. We got out of the boat, and submerged ourselves into the water, using snorkels, waiting for the manatees to come along. At the beginning, I did not see anything. I was very careful and patient, worried that my intrusion would interrupt them. After awhile, I felt something moving in the water. I looked closer and closer. Then, Wow! It was a manatee approaching. It is a gentle giant, clumsy but very cute and friendly. Adult manatees can be up to 10 feet long and weigh as much as 2,300 pounds.

This unique, crusty one was swimming toward me.

They swam around me, and said hello in their unique way. The most exciting moment was when they followed me and cuddled with my feet and body, like a close friend, playing with me in the water. 

They followed my body as we were swimming, staying at the same level as me, taking this adventure together. 

I did not feel nervous or afraid of them. I knew it was not a dream at all. I kept swimming with them, these gentle giants amazed me, they kissed and rode beside me, as if giving me a big hug. I saw a baby manatee flip over and swim with its mother, swimming around me. When we got closer, I clearly saw their whole cute faces and tails. I had a lot of magic touching with them. They showed me lots of love.

When you are face to face with this cute wild encounter, you will understand why they are special.

I felt great freedom when immersed in the water and in nature. I truly feel that the beautiful creature is simple and precious in nature. They love humans. I still remember the weather in the morning was chilly, and I spent a few hours in the water, my body feeling cold and shaking.  I inserted myself there with the sun rising, all things frozen in time. I forgot about the cold and other thoughts in my head, and just enjoyed the incredible moment with my adventure buddy.

IMG_0368 (1).JPG
We were super close. You shared a place in my heart, we shared an incredible moment together. Priceless.


A reflection of our own nature. A sentient being sharing our space. I found compassion and inspiration through this incredible experience.  

Come closer, closer… my adventure buddy.

A magic hug will keep a big smile on my face.

Its cute noses rises above the fog, making this natural moment more magical.

I felt most alive playing with them. I felt inspired and like anything I wanted to do in life is possible. When I am back to reality, I can still feel this special experience. It warms my heart. These incredible animals make my life complete. This is one of my favorite adventures in my lifetime. The “magic hugs” gave me courage to move forward and fearless to accomplish anything I want in this world.

My adventure buddies —manatees, thanks for the adventure.

Now go have a new one!

Note: In most cases, it is illegal to touch or interfere with a manatee in Florida. However, it is legal to swim and interact with manatees in two towns in Citrus County, including King’s Bay, located about two hours Northwest of Orlando. If you want to experience your own manatee adventure, be certain to do so where it is legal to do so, as this author has done.