A girl wandering in an enchanted wonderland

Into the rainforest, her inner fairytale came true. 

The heavy rains fell on the roof of the cabin, an exceptionally melodious sound. 

It was around 7:45 AM, the sky was still a little dark, weak streetlights shone in a tiny town – Forks, Washington. She was driving, windshield wipers clearing the light mist from her view, trees in thick fog along the way, she was on a long and curving wet road, so quiet, the whole environment seemed to suggest that something unusual was going to happen. The magic and moody vibe came to her mind, she was going to unfold the endless unknown within her curiosity.

She witnessed the best moody time in her life. 

Without any cell signal, she slipped far from the real world. In front of her, the giant moss covered trees, like people, lined both side of the road, bowing in greeting to her. Mist covered their green clothing, and some tall, some short, but all smiled at her. She wanted to get closer to them, but she was a little afraid at the same time, wondering who are they?

Different “weird but unique shaped” giants said hello to her.

The heavy rains dripped on her body and the ground. A tall giant delivered a sweet message to her, only she could hear it. Wow! Other trees, like elves now, wore green clothes, speaking and laughing, some adrift in tiny boats on the long green river. They saw each other, an old elf with a long green beard and tall, old hat, smiled at her, and said with a soft voice “Welcome to your wonderland!” At that moment, the whole rainforest came alive for her.

A friendly old elf bends over to tell her a secret. 

The sound of heavy rains, a flowing river and blowing wind created a beautiful melody, and she danced with a group of cute elves. Woohoo! 

Wow! She saw the cute elf playing on the green river. 

She followed a tiny elf who wore a mini hat, entered a magic forest with a sign “Hall of Mosses”. Hundreds of mosses and other species showed in every corner, moving in different directions. She passed the mosses above her head, smiled at the scent of freshness in the air, her red outfit covered by raindrops. 

The giant provided a huge shelter for her to rest. 

The tiny elf disappeared, leaving the girl in this moist and mossy land. She looked around. A man in a green robe extended hand to show his playground, and brought joy and mystery to this girl. 

“Was I dreaming?” The thought stayed on her mind. 

In a very short time, she transited to the other-worldly wilderness of infinite surprises – full of a sea of “species,” jelly fish and rays, in a whole green ocean, the “waves” whispering to her. A child was wandering and playing, an area full of unique mushrooms and ferns of the world, feeling happy and content. That was her fairytale world. 

A small moss tree door was waiting for her. 

“Di, Di, Da, Da, Di, Di, Da, Da”…. The steady rain sounded like a ringing clock whispering to her.

She opened a small mysterious door, she was obsessed with this wide and magic wonderland. The rabbits were playing hide and seek under the grass. She used her favorite binoculars to observe the shape of twining and spiral of those special giants, they performed different magic tricks to make her smile. She lost track of time, lost and immersed fully in this dreamy wonderland. 

The clock was still running…. 

She cannot believe this wonderland was real

She immersed and enjoyed the giants’ fantastic magic trick performances: their noses changed to different shapes, sometimes pointy, sometimes bigger, sometimes the roots spoke. The biggest surprise then happened: A beautiful “unicorn” passed by, within 10 feet of her, so close that their eyes caught each other at first sight.  

She was excited to see the deer and cheered, “Hi, unicorn, nice to see you!” 

The unicorn replied, “Hi, my sibling and mom are here! Let’s play together!” 

Her eyes turned to see the three of them in the tress, and they saw each other again. The most beautiful thing was the mother unicorn made a magic wish to her, “Meeting you is my greatest adventure! Now, I give all the grace, gentleness, heart, intelligence and devotion to you and your adventures. We are always with you. Love.” After that, the three of them disappeared in the rainforest.

The girl believed this was not a dream. She was in a real wonderland. 

Three beautiful “unicorns” make a magic wish for her. 

Heavy rains continued with a chill in the air in this unknown land full of surprises and  enchantment. She discovered it was a one-way magic “maze,” the huge rainforest looked the same, but it could change: sometimes it was circle, sometime it was straight. 

Unexpectedly, a huge wood suddenly blocked her way so she could not pass at all. She turned back to try another direction, but with the strong mirrors with mosses around her, she failed to make any progress. She decided to go forward, her feet broke the mirrors with her strength, like a warrior breaking a spell. Her rainboots were soaked by the green cold water, her hands turned numb from climbing and the moisture from the old wood, with odd ferns below. Her body stepped across those crowded mosses and dead red leaves, taking all efforts to pass the obstacle. 

All giants, ocean species and mosses in this wonderland faced to her, applauded her bravery! Mother Nature was speaking to her: “Da, Da, Da, Da”, the rains and the winds in rhythm, using its unique language to express admiration for this adventurous girl. She received all wishes and compliments. 

A girl in wonderland. 

She stood there and looked back awhile, found the original giant wood, which disappeared, and a new and huge wood door appeared instead, fully closed. A normal world, transited. Magic! 

The beautiful long green river still flowed, quietly, old trees, dead woods, mosses and leaves were there, too. She walked over the small wood bridge, observed the beautiful moment of the raindrops on them. 

“Was it just a dream? Was that mysterious world real? Or surreal?”

“Hi, my dreamy wonderland!”

She brought the wishes and wonderland dream back to the road again. The sky slowly cleared, the light mist still on the windshield. The smile on her face and eyes shined again, deeply. 

Another beautiful adventure continues…. 

She opens her adventure book, sits next to the warm fireplace with a soft blanket and lights on in a tiny cabin. She closed her eyes, “Wow! Quite a sight and adventure! Magic.” Her eyes shone. 

The rains still pound outside the cabin. Di, Di, Da, Da, Di, Da, Di, Da…..

Noted: The inspiration of this wonderland story was a visit to Hoh Rain Forest in Forks, Washington. Forks is a tiny populated town and the rainiest place in the contiguous U.S., it receives an average of 120 inches (10 feet) of rain each year! The town is out of the way, surrounded by forest. It was a primary setting for the fiction “Twight” films. When you visit Forks, you can see a lot of movie scenes anywhere, like Bella’s truck, the restaurant where Edward and Bella had their first date, the food menu, the Cullen House and Swan House, La Push, etc…

Being in Forks was one of the most incredible and magical experiences for the author, inspiring her to create and achieve her inner fairytale and wonderland. The word surreal gets overused, but visiting Forks really was like walking around inside of a dream. If possible, the author would like to stay in Forks, WA for an entire month, to complete the full story.

Stay tuned for the author’s newest creation! 

Those unique places I stayed: an epic “indoor” adventure

What is your inner dream life? 

My trip of 10 days and 9 nights to the PNW (Pacific Northwest) started on December 1 in Portland, Oregon – a whole 364 miles of Oregon Coast – Olympic Peninsula, Washington, and ended in Seattle, Washington on December 10. I planned to stay in different unique places along the way, relax and enjoy a “luxury” indoor adventure with typical coastal winter weather, as a great way to thank myself, grow and plan for 2023. 

Day 1: An old elementary school hotel

A lot of “unusual but fun” things, like Voodoo Doughnut, World’s smallest park, naked bike rides etc., all show Portland, Oregon’s “weirdness” culture. This accommodation takes the weirdness to a new height: many schools, or salons from the past, are now renovated into hotels, the combination design style brings the quirky but cool experience to guests, and it is worth experiencing at least once.   

Kennedy School was built in 1915 in Northeast Portland, and is now home to a 57-room hotel with schoolhouse features. When I walked into the hallway, many long historical school photos line the walls. I found long seats, mini short water fountains, vintage lights on the ceiling, and I immediately connected the school life, even though I did not attend elementary school in the U.S.

It is an elementary school; it also is a hotel. How cool to mix both styles. 
The photo of first grade class at Kennedy School in 1914 and other old photos helped me to learn about its past. 
A “student” with her adult perspective exploring U.S elementary school life.  

The most magical thing was the bar – in a school, wow! The darkness mixed with music, in a school setting, made this very unusual. 

Can you image a bar in a school? Ha.

I stayed in a room that has a real chalkboard, reminding me of my elementary school life: I studied different subjects in a classroom with other classmates. In my guest room, I wrote my response to the teachers’ questions on the chalkboard. Then, I wrote my reflection of the year and plan for 2023 on the chalkboard, leaving a cool gift for the next guests. The fan on my head ran slowly and quietly, I slept and dreamt in the classroom…. 

Do you remember your favorite subjects in school? 

My time stopped at the “school” life, I was a student observing each “classroom”, and heard the laughter from a soaking pool. I might be at an old school, or at a hotel, or both. I appreciated the precious time I spent there, I connected my elementary school memories in China, but created a new perspective of elementary school in U.S.

Do you find similar connection from my chalkboard and those school features? 

It rained lightly that day. 

Day 2-3: A luxury airstream

After I met with Bruce Campbell, I drove to Coos Bay, Oregon and stayed at Bay Point Landing, in an iconic Airstream heaven for two nights. I opened the door of the airstream, the luxury design caught my eyes immediately: a Kitchenette with stove top, microwave etc., the complimentary TVs, a soft sofa and a cozy queen bed and hot showers. I found a huge difference between Bruce’s non-custom airplane and this airstream. It seems I transited between two different worlds on the same day. 

A luxury airstream delivers a different concept of interior customization. 

It is typical coastal wintertime: the day is short and gets dark very early, so I started and ended my “outdoor” adventure early and had enough time to enjoy and relax “indoors”.

I drove along Highway 101 and explored many places in the southern Oregon Coast: Shore Acres, Cape Arago. I stood there to listen to the sound of the waves crashing against the shoreline, and a fresh scent came to my nose, the mist and wind were on my face. I felt the power of the coast.

The coast and nature are so powerful. 

Late afternoon, I swam at the club house, cooked, relaxed in a cozy bed in the airstream with some light rain on the tin roof. What a full day I had. Staying in a luxury Airstream, especially one that I don’t have to haul, park or level, is a new “camping” adventure for me. 

Airstream experience was a new “glamping” experience. 
Played with the rains in airstream heaven! 

It was raining outside. 

Day 4-5: Luxury resort- Head out, Stay in

I continued my adventure on the Oregon Coast. I hiked up to the God’s thumb with the rains and chilly and windy weather cheering the epic 2022! I came to Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa, immersed myself in a new and fancy “indoor” adventure. Wow! The impressive way my room is a cast-iron soaking tub with an incredible view of Cape Kiwanda, one of my favorite “indoor” styles. 

Enjoying the soaking time. 
I do not want to leave this room with an incredible view. 

I sat on the oceanfront balcony to witness the endless incredible views of sunset and sunrise with Cape Kiwanda in glorious solitude: the sound of the ocean waves around my ears, a line of birds flying in the sky. The calm and peacefulness connected to me deeply. 

I sat there to enjoy the beautiful sunset on the coast silently. 
Different experiences at different times.

I head out to walk on the sandy beach, played with the waves in cloudy and chilly weather, got closer to the Cape Kiwanda, my mind was totally freed, only me and the ocean. I thought about my American family and close friends I saw this year, appreciated that we still can share and understand each other’s journey. Some new faces came to my mind, too. I understood that meeting someone needs some luck and “fate”. 

A great place and time to reflect the year. 

On Dec. 5, a rare sunny day of coastal winter weather, I revisited Cannon Beach, enjoyed driving the curved road through the endless forest in Ecola State Park. I saw one benefit of traveling to PNW in wintertime, though state parks and national parks stations are closed, free, one of the beautiful things in this country.

I only had one sunny day. 

In the evening, I did sauna and soaking at the resort. My mind was recharged and my body was so relaxed. This is one of the most wonderful things that the indoor adventure gave me, and I enjoyed it to the maximum. If you visit Oregon Coast, stay in Headlands Coastal Lodge, you won’t be disappointed. 

The most relaxation moment.

Day 6: A simple and clean cabin at Forks, Washington

It was another foggy and misty day.  

I got back on the road again, drove to Forks, WA from Pacific City, Oregon in 5 hours. On the road, with the light rain on the car windshield, along with the fog, I think about those adventures I completed already: sleeping beauty at Yosemite National Park, relaxation twice in NYC, Tiger adventure at Lake Tahoe, Desolation Peak; meeting amazing people, like Jim Henterly and Bruce Campbell, I saw a bigger world from their perspectives, a great opportunity to understand and respect someone else’s adventures. I realized people are a key element of the year for me! 

The unpredictable weather is one reason I like to travel to the PNW in wintertime. I saw a rainbow twice, and I was like a kid again, running and wanting to touch it, and a twice appearing of rainbows seemed to tell me that 2023 is going to be more colorful and charming, and I will meet more possibilities.  

Rainbow brings good luck to me.

I stayed at a very simple but very clean and cozy cabin in a small town in Forks, Washington. I picked the “Olympic” theme cabin: rustic elegance with modern amenities. I found a little connection with the town, rainforests, mountains and Olympic Peninsula through its interior, and it inspired my curiosity and exploration of the area. 

A cozy home style with holiday decorations in Forks, WA.  

I slept with the sound of endless heavy rains outside the cabin. I recommend that you stay at Woodland Inns if you visit Forks, WA, to enjoy a simple and supreme comfort experience in a small town.  

The soft blanket is so comfortable. 

Forks, WA has the best moody weather in Washington. 

Day 7: A mini cozy treehouse 

The lights in a treehouse shine exceptionally in the dark. I walked upstairs and opened the small ceiling window, Wow! A mini cozy and red home appeared in front of me. I was full of curiosity to discover new stuff there: mini pans hung from the ceiling, books on a mini shell, vintage binoculars, different kitschy games, cute red lights, a couch with a blanket and pillows facing trees and water.

A lovely design made the treehouse cozy. 
Vintage binocular brought adventurous vibes to me.

I climbed up the mini ladder, into a mini loft and a bed appeared. So lovely, this treehouse was like my little world. I slept deeply with the sound of trees swaying and waves lapping, quiet and peaceful. 

I witnessed the sky go from dark to light as I snuggled on the cute couch. I didn’t want to leave the floor-to-ceiling window and got lost in the memorizing view in front of me.

A stunning couch area with a nice view from the floor to ceiling window.

The surprise thing was the three sweet visitors – deer came to the treehouse. I was very excited to get out to say hello to my visitors, we saw each other, a beautiful moment I will remember and that made this treehouse experience more special. 

Hello, sweet visitors.

I realized that this tiny treehouse fulfilled my idea of a dream life, a tiny space with amazing landscape views and full amenities, the wind and rain, tree and ocean put me in the mood to listen to records and enjoy my cozy time after the “outdoor” adventure. Sometimes it is good for guests to visit, too. A longing for adventure and a sense of coziness and relaxation with the natural world.   

This treehouse calls my inner dream life to real life.  

Day 8: Back to Captain Whidbey 

It was another cloudy and windy day. 

It was my second time to visit Whidbey Island this year. Captain Whidbey nestled among old growth firs on the shores of Whidbey Island since 1907, it is older than any human being on Earth. A couple of months ago, I walked on hidden staircases and infinite doorways, narrow pathways and intricate stonework in the historic lodge, the floors tend to squeak, many historical photos and vintage design tell its rich history and rustic style. 

I left my heart there, so came back to revisit another time.  

My time there took me back to the era of 1907. I stayed in the Captain Suite, with views of Penn Cove, a shared bathroom, creaky floorboards and the occasional glass clinking from the tavern below, a sound easily heard in my room, but I enjoyed the noise so much. 

The Captain Suite is virtually unchanged from 1907, the traditions remain, too.

This time, to gain new experience there, I stayed at the Filson cabin instead, outfitted in homage to Northwest maritime tradition with modern features. Endless traditional maritime elements appeared in front of me: fishing net on the ceiling, fishing poles, cute buoys outside of the cabin, fulfilling my fisherman dream.

My time back to a maritime era through fishing details. 

A bed frame and wool curtains transformed a bed into the sleeping quarters like the bow of a boat. The cabin took me back to a sea life, like a fishing adventure on a boat.  

A fisherwoman is fishing on her “boat”. 
I found fishing poles in the corner. Wow. Let’s go fishing. 

Day 9: A vintage boutique style hotel at Seattle  

It was a heavy rain day, my last day of this PNW trip. 

I took the ferry to Seattle from Bainbridge Island and witnessed another beautiful view of the Seattle skyline, covered in heavy fog. I enjoyed walking in the rain without an umbrella, the rain added a special element to this city, alive and romantic, and I played with rains again. I learned to be more patient when driving in the rain in the city, too. 

At the Palihotel, Seattle, I was obsessed with its blend of classic and contemporary aesthetic elements, seeing all the green color around me. I loved this design: many books with plants and character photos on the walls, and the black and white checkered brick on the floor. It is unapologetically eclectic. 

I immersed myself in this room, full of books and vintage characters.
Please bring this vintage luggage to start your next adventure.
Tile work to admire.

Out the windows, heavy rains and street noise was like the rhythms of music. The delightful green color in the room made me find a special connection between the place where I stayed on New Year’s Eve 2022, a perfect match that seemed tell me: Thanks for an amazing life of adventure in 2022, a great way to start, also a great way to end. 

NYE 2022 and the end of 2022 memories are connected with similar green style bathroom. 

These unique places I stayed are another highlight of my long PNW trip. In the “indoor” adventure, I practiced being still and relaxing in life. I got different perspective from them, a great opportunity and time to reflect on 2022 and plan for new adventures in 2023. When I was at the airport, I realized, those places I picked might be a reflection of my inner dream life. I discovered which place fulfilled my dream life already through this “luxury” adventure. 

Did you discover it? I hope my adventure and places can open your mind and provide new perspective and paths to you, or give a break, or inspire you to go out to discover your own path! A great adventure would help you to discover the true inner you. 

Lastly, I appreciated the people and places that came into my life and helped me to grow and enjoy life this year, creating many unique memories, now all in the book! 

Cheers, my 2022! 

Welcome to the change in 2023! 

He lives in an airplane with his vision

I had never thought about an airplane being converted into a home. 

Bruce Campbell, an interesting man, lives in a retired Boeing 727 in the woods in Hillsboro, Oregon, a 40-minute drive from Portland. I randomly watched his story on YouTube one night in November. I immediately contacted him and expressed my interest in listening to his cool airplane adventure. The surprise thing was that he could meet with me during my upcoming PNW (Pacific Northwest) trip in early December. He seemed a funny and interesting guy, this was my impression of him through his words and style during our email communications.  

Before I met him in person, a lot of questions floated in my mind, especially why, when restoring the airplane, he did not customize his airplane at all, instead keeping it as close to the original as possible? If I converted an airplane into my home, I would customize it to my liking. But at the same time, I thought he had his reasons. I knew meeting him would be a great opportunity to learn and understand someone else’s adventure, with respect and without judgment. 

It was the afternoon of December 2, my second day of my PNW trip, in Portland, Oregon. I brought a strawberry cake, along with my curiosity and respect, to meet Bruce in person. His airplane home is easy to reach via Google maps, but I felt uncomfortable to drive on his private road in wet conditions. I parked the car adjacent to Holly Hill Road (in fact, it is not allowed), and I walked to the woods instead. 

The cute sign is to the airplane home! 
I walked through a forest to visit his airplane home. 

Wow! A real huge airplane appeared in front of me. 

How cool, airplane home! 

I took off my shoes to walk up the stairs and knock on the aft doors loudly, a man with a nice and big smile opened the door and welcomed me with hospitality. We introduced each other. 

About home

He was going to help me to drive the car up to his area. We walked down to the main road together and started first with simple conversation. I said: “Bruce, I watched your video online, your airplane home is cool, but I think the coolest thing is you. This is why I came here.” He smiled and appreciated my compliment and shared his journey: He was an electrical engineer and pilot, now he does not fly due to his age. He has lived in this airplane as his home in Oregon for more than 20 years. He has traveled to many different countries, but Japanese culture makes him the most comfortable. He felt respected and friendly from the Japanese, and he spends half of each year in Japan. I started to understand why he picked Japan as his second home.

I shared my background: I came from Guangzhou, China, and Jacksonville, Florida is my second home. I met a lot nice and amazing people there, so I visit Jacksonville to see them regularly. We seemed to find a connection: People are an important element of the definition of home. 

Only Home Rule for visitors 

The visitors must leave their shoes at the entrance and wear Japanese-inspired slippers before walking through the plane, and the acrylic floor is protected from scuff marks. I saw he made a great effort to keep his airplane very clean and neat, even though he did not customized his jetliner home. 

“Shoes not allowed on the stairs! “

His Playground 

Most of the interior of aircraft remains intact, but he’s made it a very simple and neat home setting, though it is a little dark. I can see old style computers, components, a simple fold-away futon, a small kitchen with microwave and refrigerator. Ha ha! I actually witnessed a simple makeshift shower that was created from a plastic tray and a wrapped sheet that formed a screened tub.  

It was my first time to see these vintage items. I am full of curiosity.
He enjoys the primitive nature and his shower time. Ha.  
Looks like I entered another airplane era. 

He instructed me to use an old wire to touch the custom-contoured titanium air ducts, and suddenly lights appeared in the airplane. Wow, that experience was so interesting!

I typed on his three “Macintosh” computers, which were a little slow. I was like a kid, full of curiosity, played and learn with this new toy “Macintosh”. I was very excited and told him that he transformed and recreated these retired things, this home is your playground! He nodded and answered: “Yes! My playground”! We found a connection again, simple and real.

I went back to the “Macintosh” era, too. 
He uses interesting way to notify his guests; do not sit in seats with a spider, and other fun stuff. 

On the flight deck, I wore the pilot cap Bruce gave me, and I sat in the pilot seat. I controlled overhead displays, used pedals to navigate and kept the plane in the upright position. I looked like a pilot flying to a destination.

This flight deck made me think about my past co-pilot experiences in a small private airplane. 
Pilot Stephy is flying to the destination. Welcome Aboard. 

I saw and admired his efforts of making this home full of interesting and impressive features: he has managed to source and replace many of the desks’ missing elements, recreating the original setup as closely as he could. I imagine that he could “fly” everywhere in this cool flight desk, every day.  

He immerses himself in this cool playground completely.  

His airplane journey 

I got closer to his world via his style and his soft voice and funny character: he got used to living in a simple and humble mobile tiny house, saving money to afford to purchase a property and the airplane.  

He remains and enjoys this simple lifestyle. 

When he was 50 years old, he discovered and followed his “engineer” vision: Every retired airplane should be repurposed into a home. We can reuse and recreate those practical components in life, instead of destroying them, even after they have retired from flying. He saw the opportunity for a Boeing 727 that he could afford, and moved it from Greece to Oregon, paying $100,000 (plus an additional $100,000 to drag it into the woods and another $15,000 to refurbish it).

Due to the incredible strength and durability of an airplane, he believes an airplane is the best shelter for people to protect them from and earthquake or serious wind storms. He shared that typically about three jetliners retire from active service every day. We could transfer the purpose of these retired airplanes. You have one, your child has one and your grandchild has one. 

His show time!

“If I have an airplane, where you would suggest me to settle? “ I asked. He replied, “New Zealand. That country and government is open, friendly and welcoming to people to add additional homes and live in their country. Some areas in New Zealand have suffered earthquakes, and an airplane can benefit from it.” I smiled with a naïve face, “An airplane is so huge, I need to find the right spot as home base for it!” He replied, “A ranch or farm is ideal as your home site, talk with local construction people and your potential neighborhood before you settle.” His dream home is Japan and New Zealand. He is working his second humble project in Japan now. (http://airplanehomev2.com). 

The mistakes of transporting airplane to home

I keep asking him, “the airplane is so huge, if we need to land it at its new home, how we can transport it there? Do we need to remove some part of the plane first? “. He answered, the best way is to fly the airplane to the home directly, do not destroy any part. He made a mistake himself when transporting his airplane to its final home: he hired a local contractor to tow the plane down the road to its current woodland setting, requiring the removal of the wings and tail prior to moving. A dismantling company might salvage your aircraft rapidly as they pillage for anything of value, leaving a grotesque broken hulk behind, so you want it to remain fully intact, functional. It is a conflict with your vision to dismantle it. So, flying the aircraft to the final home directly can avoid repeating his mistake. 

His airplane home !

I finally ask this question, “Why you did not customize your airplane at all”? He described the Boeing’s design and fabrication, explaining how every component in the airplane is worthy of respect, and can be repurposed and reused, the best way is to keep it original and simple, only need to remove the chairs to maximum that space, with all else in the airplane should be retained as much as possible. Customizing the airplane is not the right vision for him. He continued, “I just made an “engineering” decision.” At that moment, my heart and eyes were full of admiration for this guy in front of me. I understood and respected the airplane as he showed it to me is the best for him. 

“Now you can live in first class forever! Ha,” I joked. But he replied, no, the design of this jetliner does not have first or business classes, only tourist class. That made this airplane special.  

It was a cool experience to open this old aft door in the airplane. 

It is a challenge to devise efficient methods to economically relocate and repurpose essentially complete retired jetliners as homes, and an efficient model project illustrates the intrinsic appeal provided by a home rendered from a fully intact and functional modern jetliner. He hopes to use his dream airplane Boeing 747-400 to accomplish this illustration. Wow. I realized that his vision involves a great many elements and details, including physically, socially and mentally. 

His “Kawaii” style left a deep impression on me. 

Two different worlds connected 

Bruce saw my passion of taking adventures and found a connection with my world, too. I told him, taking adventures is my way to discover myself and the world. I love adventures, and I always follow my heart to achieve the things that I want. He smiled and understood. 

We walked slowly on a wing that was covered by the fall leaves. Even though it was extremely slippery with chilly weather outside, his funny, big kid personality made me happy during those few hours there. 

We cleaned the leaves off the wing. How fun! 

I asked, now that you live in your airplane, achieved your dream, you should be happy. He gave this answer to me: partly happy. But I did not ask his reason, seems I knew it already with respect. 

Before we said goodbye to each other, he gave me two big hugs and said, Stephy, you are so sweet, bringing the cake to see me. I am glad that you understand life is only once, you should pursue the things you love and be passionate, enjoy your adventurous journey! He stood there to say goodbye till my car disappeared from the woods. It touched my heart deeply, a big compliment and encouragement for me. 

Thanks for sharing your vision and journey, Bruce. 

I bring his encouragement and wish to continue my adventures, his image and journey always in my mind. Bruce Campbell, another amazing and impressive guy I met in 2022, he is using his experiences to deliver his vision and bring the re-use concept of the retired airplane, taking residential architecture to a new perspective.

If you are interested in learning his journey, please visit his website: https://www.airplanehome.com. He welcomes guests from all around the world to visit his cool home. 

Meeting and speaking with Bruce is one highlight of my PNW trip. We saw passion, enthusiasm, courage, decision and action from each other. We live life on our own terms: an avid engineer and an avid adventurer.

Best wish for you, Dear Bruce! 

We share some common things between our two different worlds. 

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: http://jamichaelhenterly.com/)

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! 

Love,

Stephy

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
ThursFriSat
Long workout session as usual (more focused on push-up since April 2021)

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

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!