Are We Real Backpackers Yet?

A few weeks ago, Thomas and I went on our first backpacking trip together.

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Thomas took the picture of me, I took the one of him. You can see who’s the better photographer…

We have a glorious fourteen days of freedom this summer, and for weeks we were waffling back and forth on how we wanted to fill it. Travel to Italy? Promising, but too expensive. Road trip? Cool, but too much road and not enough trip…

Backpacking? YES!

I’ve dreamed off and on of hiking the Appalachian Trail for years now, but I’ve never felt I could do it on my own. Thomas was similar–he loves being out in the wilderness, but wanted someone to share it with. After Thomas casually threw out the idea of hiking a section of the trail over the course of two weeks, we quickly realized that this was the perfect way to experience something new, grow closer as a couple, and be awed by the simple beauty of nature that exists right in our own states.

We wanted to get all our gear in time to have a trial-run backpacking trip before I left for Costa Rica. So we jumped right in, feverishly consuming Backpacker.com articles and compiling a list of everything we would need to go from total newbies to nature-trekking aficionados (or at least look that way). Thomas compared prices and quality of gear, I came up with a menu of lightweight and calorically dense trail food (and broke out the dehydrator to make our own meals), and we both scrambled to buy everything we needed. Luckily, our efforts coincided perfectly with the timing of the March REI garage sale, and we were both able to score awesome deals. (I got an Osprey Atmos 65 backpack–practically new–for 50% off!!!)

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Thomas assembling the gear.

Within two weeks we were outfitted and ready to go.

Thomas’ co-worker suggested the Three Ridges trail near Lyndhurst, Virginia. We assumed that since he suggested it, it would be a good beginner route… You know, nice even trail, nothing too difficult, no stress. It turned out to be much more difficult than we anticipated–but all the more rewarding because of it.

We arrived around 6pm and hiked a mile up to the first campsite, where we excitedly pitched our tent for the first time and camped out for the night. We were giddy like kids trying out all our new gear–look at this! We made a fire! We have a tent!–and it was so exciting to realize that our dreams of backpacking were coming to fruition in real life. Everything seemed to work perfectly, from our dehydrated dinner and tiny stove to our cozy tent that our two sleeping bags just barely fit into, and it was amazing to realize that we were living the adventure that we had spent so much time imagining.

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The next day, we did the brunt of our hike. We hiked past waterfalls and alongside gorges, over cliffs and up steep rock walls. It was exhausting–much more challenging than the kind of long leisurely walk we were expecting! But even while we complained about yet another switchback (ughhhh), we realized that the views we got to see were so worth it. The trail was abounding with natural beauty, and we were in awe.

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By the time we finished our hike early Sunday afternoon, we immediately wanted to hit the trail again.

Afterwards, when we good-naturedly grumbled to Thomas’ co-worker about the difficulty of the trail he recommended, he reminded us that if we wanted to be serious backpackers, we had to get used to working hard. He was right: the trail was a challenge, but the difficulty had only helped us realize all the more clearly that backpacking was something we wanted to keep doing, a challenge we wanted to face again and again.

We complained a lot on the trail–but all along, we were doing what we had dreamed of. We had taken steps to make our hopes a reality, and they paid off. The result was exhilarating and energizing. We can’t wait to explore more, to go farther and become stronger and better at backpacking, in the future.

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Monteverde Cloud Forest + Review of Cabinas El Pueblo

 

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(Wall art at the Monteverde bus station)

 

Pura vida, friends!

This month I am in Costa Rica, completing my student teaching semester with a five-week international experience at a school in San Jose. Last week I shadowed classes in a 7th grade English classroom and got to know my teachers and students, all of whom are lovely and welcoming. But this week is the semana santa, A.K.A. holy week, A.A.K.A. spring break… And that means exploring!!

After fastidiously reviewing several Costa Rica travel guides, my friends and I decided on a voyage to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. We read about the lush green rainforest, abundance of wildlife, and exciting array of adventurous activities available, and immediately knew the cloud forest was one place we had to see. Let me tell you… Monteverde did not disappoint.

Over three days we went on a coffee tour and a night hike, horseback riding, zip lining, and ficus tree climbing. Since we were in the mountains, the weather was incredible–breezy and cool–and the scenery was breathtaking, especially when viewed zooming along a cable hundreds of feet in the air. There’s something there for everyone, whether you’re a huge adrenaline junkie (alas, none of my travel companions would agree to bungie jumping) or you want to just relax and enjoy the scenery. If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, I HIGHLY recommend making a visit.

 

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Why, yes. Doing handstands on a swinging bridge in the middle of the rainforest is one of my favorite hobbies!

While we were in Monteverde, we stayed at the Cabinas El Pueblo. The Cabinas are located just outside of the downtown tourist area of Monteverde, which meant we were within walking distance of several restaurants and cheap eateries, souvenir shops, and grocery stores. At $35 a night for a four-person room, this place is astoundingly affordable–and well-worth every penny.

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You had me at swan-themed towel-gami.

The owner, Freddie, was friendly and welcoming, and he was incredibly helpful as we got settled and started figuring out how to explore Monteverde. He gave us a map of the area scribbled over with tons of notes about the best places to visit and how to get there. Later, when we decided which activities we wanted to do, he signed us up for the times we wanted and arranged for transportation to pick us up from the Cabinas. We were worried about how we would find our way around in the unknown area, so this was a huge help!

Our room was lovely, colorful, and clean, and the Cabinas also offered a porch and a sunny lounge area with comfortable hammock seating. This ended up being a favorite place for us to congregate and chill for a while after an exciting morning of adventures.

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Best of all, the Cabinas offer a delicious free breakfast! Every day a full breakfast spread would be cooked hot just for you, including pancakes or an omelet, fresh fruit, eggs, ham, toast, coffee, and fresh fruit juice. It definitely made me excited to get up each day.

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I live for these banana pancakes, y’all. They were crispy, cinnamon-y, and goooooood.

Overall I would give Cabinas a 10 out of 10, and highly recommend them to anyone looking to visit Monteverde. However, one important note and possible downside is that the owner, Freddie, speaks little or no English. Luckily two people in our group are competent in conversational Spanish, and we were also able to talk to his teenage son, who does speak English. But if his son isn’t around and no one in your group remembers much from your high school Spanish class, you might have some trouble doing things like making reservations for tourist/adventure activities, unless you go to an outside organization to book.

I loved my time in Monteverde, and I would love to go back. (I heard that they’re looking for more teachers. Does that mean I can move there?)

Tomorrow we’re leaving again to visit a beach called Manuel Antonio. I’m looking forward to more adventures in this beautiful country!

Until next time,

Rebecca

 

 

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated in any way for writing this review. All opinions are my own.

March Fo(u)rth

boots(Appropriately to the subject of this post, I am posting it on March fifth.)

Today was March 4th, the one day of the year which (as many before me have already pointed out) is also an exhortation:

March forth.

Soldier on.

Persevere.

It was a Saturday, and I spent most of the day doing just about nothing.

Okay, so I got up at a reasonable hour. I made myself a yummy breakfast. I figured I had plenty of time, so I lolled around on my bed for a while with a book.

When I finished the book I sat down at my computer, unwillingly pulled my work up on to the screen, twiddled around on the keyboard… Then hurried off to get a snack.

30 minutes later, I sat down at my computer (round 2), even less willingly pulled up the same untouched work on to the screen… Then promptly logged on to social media and wasted a truly ridiculous amount of time mindlessly scrolling.

Etc.

By 4:00, the fruit of my procrastination was visceral. I felt nervous, agitated, sick to my stomach. Oh crap, oh crap, I REALLY needed to do that work today. Oh crapcrapcrapcra–

My internal dialogue was damning. Inside my head I screamed, Why do you make these choices, self?! Why do you continually do what you know will only stress you out?????

And of course, the more stressed out I was, the more I felt like curling into a ball and hyperventilating… instead of–ya know–doing my work.

The frustrating thing is, this is not a new phenomenon for me. I have experienced this lousy cycle of wasting time (in generally unsatisfying ways), hating myself for wasting time, and finally working like a madwoman to get everything in on time, since at least the tenth grade. Probably long before that. Every time I tell myself that this is it, this is the last time, because I know it isn’t good for me. But still I go back.

What exactly makes this method so bad? On the one hand, I do get my work done–eventually. All of the essentials are finally pulled together at the end, usually in a burst of slapdash, anxiety-fueled frenzy.

But as you can probably infer from that statement, the product that results from this kind of work ethic is almost never my best work. It’s an act of desperation, not of love. Anything I produce is done simply because I have to do it, with the deadline pressing against me like a figurative gun to my head. And oftentimes I cut corners in order to finish it on time.

Not only does this reduce the quality of the work I do submit, but it also trains me to only complete work that has a deadline. If I don’t take myself seriously until that last hour of panic, then how will I ever muster up the self-discipline to write that novel, learn to play the piano, train for a 10K–to do anything that no one is requiring me to do? Living this way teaches me to only value work that others expect from me, and not to set higher expectations of myself.

Finally, what does all that time I use up before I sit down to (really) working actually do for me? Is it worth it? Most of the time, the answer is a resounding no. I fritter it away in pointless Google searches, Netflix binges, endless social media distractions, or other low-grade pleasures that contribute nothing to my happiness, my wisdom, or my health. Then when an opportunity to do something I really want to do (like spending time with my family or my friends) comes up, I guiltily turn it away because I know I ought to be working. My procrastination habit means that I am exchanging quality time I could be spending with those I love for cheap thrills that ultimately leave me feeling stressed and empty.

I don’t say this to condemn myself or anyone else who is a chronic procrastinator. But I want to take this issue seriously, and realize just so much this nagging habit is holding me back every day. I could accomplish so much more, and feel so much less stressed along the way, if I learned to shut out that persistent voice that tells me not to march forth, to pause and delay and waffle around rather than actually doing what I know I need to do.

I have the power to become the strong, capable, determined person that I want to be. I just have to make the choice to pursue it.

So I think it begins with small steps. Resist the urge to open a new tab and log on to Facebook: That’s a step.

Put on my tennis shoes and go outside when I’d rather lie on the couch: That’s a step.

Choose to smile when I want to feel sorry for myself: That’s a step.

And slowly it will become easier, and then I’ll start to be surprised by the opportunities I stumble upon and the work I find myself creating. Life will begin to feel less like a frantic uphill race where I’m constantly sprinting to catch up, and more like a hike on a breathtakingly beautiful mountain, where I can’t wait to see what will appear over the next ridge.

Either way, it’s still a climb. But the attitude I have about it makes all the difference in the world.

Today, and every day, I can embrace the choice to march forth.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Story time:

For exactly two months now (since January 1st), I have been striving to cut refined sugar and processed foods out of my diet completely. This decision came about for a number of reasons: discomfort with my body; concerns about my health and fitness (the amount of sugar I was regularly consuming was DEFINITELY not good for me, and I felt that my body wasn’t healthy enough for me to exercise the way I wanted to); OD’ing on a jam-filled Christmas bread that I felt like I could. not. stop. eating… You get the idea.

For years before then I had struggled with what I ultimately recognized as a sugar addiction. I would come home from high school, make a pan full of Pillsbury cookies, and devour them all by myself. I regularly ate multiple times the amount of sweets as my friends, and at social events where sweets were present, the sugar was all I could focus on. I would be talking to a group of friends, and in the back of my head all I could think about would be how soon I could make a socially acceptable excuse to cruise by the snack table again and grab three more cupcakes.

The need for sugar was constantly on my mind. It swarmed in my brain like bees around honey, and it seemed like I would never make it stop.

The funny thing is, it took me a long time to realize that these behaviors were abnormal. Somehow I never became overweight, and so I didn’t face the horrible stigma of people telling me to “put down the cake.” My affinity (or obsession) for sugar was seen as an endearing or amusing personality trait by most of my friends, who knew me as someone who loved to decorate cupcakes, baked amazing gingerbread cookies for everyone at Christmas, and would drop everything to go spend the afternoon with friends at Sweet Frog.

The fact of my addiction didn’t really sink in until I left for college. When I traveled to Chile in the summer after my freshman year, for the first time I experienced not having sugar. The host family I lived with very rarely ate sweets, and my withdrawals and cravings became so bad that I would spend afternoons (when I could have been exploring! when I could have been learning Spanish!) Googling pictures of cookies and ice cream and fantasizing about what I would eat first when I arrived back in America. At some points I even snuck into the kitchen to take mini-cartons of chocolate milk from the refrigerator and drink them guiltily in my room. I knew I had a problem, but I felt like I couldn’t stop.

Later I wised up, and I realized that I had to make some changes to my lifestyle. The change certainly did not come quickly. During one of my first sugar “interventions” during which I stripped my apartment of all things refined and fructose-filled, I got so desperate on the eve of exam week that I drove to the grocery store at 10:00 PM, bought Cocoa Krispies, came back to the apartment and ate the whole box, along with a nearly-full carton of orange juice. Sitting there afterwards with blood pounding in my ears and my stomach stretched fit to burst, I knew that this wasn’t funny and it wasn’t cute; it was painful.

That was a year and a half ago. Since then I’ve been trying in various ways to limit my sugar intake. I’ve learned to cook healthy and (mostly) good-tasting meals, stopped buying processed foods and snacks, and learned to sub out unhealthy foods for better versions (like dark chocolate–before I couldn’t stand it; now, the darker, the better). But always, I stopped just short of eliminating sugar completely. It seemed too much a part of me to give up. What about those adorable gingerbread cookies at Christmas? What about Girl Scout cookie season, or sharing ice cream with friends on hot summer afternoons?… I wasn’t ready to give up those parts of my life, so I continued to indulge in sugary treats whenever a special occasion (or something I convinced myself was a “special occasion”) came up. And every time that I happened, I would binge. I ate way more sugar than I needed or intended to, and that set me off on a chain of bingeing that lasted for days.

So, to circle back to the beginning of this post, at the end of 2016 (and after the aforementioned jam-filled-Christmas-bread incident) I decided, finally, that I needed to really make a change. I realized that as long as I was eating sugar, I would always want more. The way my brain is on sugar, “moderation” is a no-man’s land; it’s all or nothing. If I wanted to win the battle I’d been waging with my addiction, I had to choose “nothing.”

Ultimately the decision came down to a desire for health and self-ownership. When I binged on sugar, I felt horrible for days afterwards, not just mentally but physically: Yes, there was some of the guilt and anxiety that many health bloggers connect with thinking about certain foods as “bad” or “off-limits,” but the real problem was that when I had stuffed myself full of sugar, I felt like a heavy blanket was weighing me down; I couldn’t run as fast as I wanted to, or jump as high, or even move as much in general without having to catch my breath. I felt like I was chained inside my own body, by my own decisions. And when the voice of sugar was constantly in my head, always telling me to seek it out, I could hardly focus on anything except for how soon I could get the next treat. How much brain space, I wondered, did I waste on sugar, when I could have spent it on any number of other things–on creating art or writing, on getting to know people, on just taking in the little details of the life going on all around me?

Quitting sugar was therefore a much bigger decision than wanting to lose weight or even wanting to be healthier; it was about wanting to have a better-quality life. Sugar was dulling my tongue, numbing my brain, and weighing down my limbs, but I wanted to experience life with all of my senses unchained.

And for the past two months… Honestly, it’s been great. The change came slowly and the improvements weren’t as dramatic for me as some people have reported (my skin didn’t miraculously clear up, I didn’t suddenly get a superhuman burst of afternoon energy, etc). This was disappointing for me at first, because I was excited about experiencing the kind of sweeping changes that other people had raved about on their blogs. But after about five weeks I realized that the biggest change in my life wasn’t some amazing feeling of a high; it was the absence of the once-frequent lows.

No longer did I overdose on sugar late at night and wake up the next day feeling sluggish and bloated; I rolled out of bed every morning feeling reasonably well-rested and ready to start the day. As I ate a little less and exercised a little more, I began to feel like I could do all of the hiking, swimming, and running that I wanted to do, and I enjoyed it a lot more. I didn’t experience the thrills of bingeing on sugar followed by the awful feelings of regret, anxiety, and self-loathing, which meant that I spent a lot less energy worrying about my body and a lot less time feeling miserable. My mood and my ability to concentrate both went up. And I wasn’t tortured anymore by feelings of missing out. Whereas my sugar-addled brain would have screamed at me to swallow a whole box of Girl Scout cookies, I passed an offer of Thin Mints the other day without thinking twice. It was awesome.

Put another way, it was freedom.

Unfortunately, that streak was interrupted last night. I’m currently student teaching, and I’ve been planning an activity for my 120+ students that involves cookies, so for the past week I’ve been coming home after school and mixing up six huge batches of chocolate chip cookie dough to freeze. Yesterday I was in the kitchen from 2:30 until 9:00, assembly-lining trays of frozen cookie dough lumps into the oven, putting out the finished cookies to cool, and then breaking those up and putting them in plastic bags. (Side note: I am never, ever doing this again. Ever.) It was the first time I had made anything “unhealthy” in the kitchen in months, and when the first fragrant, golden batch came out of the oven… Well…

I decided–despite my resolution to the contrary–that one bite of sugar couldn’t hurt.

And once I had eaten that first cookie, I downed six more before you could say “inflammation.”

(These were not small cookies.)

Despite my progress, despite my two months of being in control of my body and feeling like I didn’t need sugar at all, immediately once I got a taste of it again I felt like I had to have more. I probably ate way more than that before it was all said and done–I don’t really remember. The weird thing is, although the first bite tasted incredible, after the first two or so I felt like I couldn’t really taste them anymore. I just needed them in my mouth, needed that sheer animal feeling of stuffing them down, whether I was really enjoying it or not.

Later that night the familiar sugar headache was back, along with the dull achy feeling that my limbs and my senses were restrained. This morning (despite a full night’s sleep) I woke up feeling horrible and tired, and during the five hours between breakfast and lunch (which usually pass by without a problem) I was craving snacks like crazy. I even snuck some miniature candy bars, just to get another sugar hit. I ate them secretly and way too quickly, and even now, as I write this, I want more.

It’s that same old pattern, over and over again: Overeating. Regretting. Feeling lousy. Eating in secret. Always hiding, always ashamed, always harming my mind and my body, never free to do what I really want to do, which is just live.

So, here we go. I took a step back, but this isn’t the end. Falling back into my old habits has just made me realize how much better my life is without them; now I’m going forward to get back to a place where I don’t need sugar anymore, where I can enjoy the awesome feeling of truly being free again. It’s a tough road for anyone with any kind of addiction to follow, but I know that it’s worth it.

One day I’ll be able to run, and travel, and spend time with my loved ones without the need for sugar distracting me or holding me back.

 

And that is the sweetest feeling of all.

 

Starting the Journey

Hello, and welcome to Becoming Weird!

We’re Rebecca and Thomas, and we are (currently) your average, normal twenty-somethings: She’s finishing up a Bachelor’s degree; he’s working and pursuing music on the side. But our plans for the future are a little different.

Our dream is to become really, really weird.

So…

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “WEIRD”?

“Weird” is our shorthand for the three concepts we want to build our life around: loving people, living simply, and growing in creativity.

We consider living this way to be “weird” because, well–not many people do it. We have grown up seeing hate-filled prejudices and unnecessary division, an insatiable consumerist appetite that only serves to promote inequality and overtax our Earth, and a nation full of people who consume far, far more than they create. We’ve watched these practices tear apart relationships and leave people feeling purposeless, frustrated, and miserable. And we’ve made up our minds to live our lives much differently.

So that’s where you come in. We’re not that weird… Yet.

Over the next few years, we want to radically change our lives: Downsizing our living spaces and our expenses, learning to love and share life with the people around us, and carving out more space for the creative practices that mean the most to us, like painting, writing, and making music. We’ll be chronicling that journey–our successes, our failures, and our lessons learned–here. And along the way, we hope to encourage you to make your life a little weirder, too.

Because, guess what? That thing that your mom told you in middle school turned out to be true: “Weird is the new cool.” 

Thanks for reading–We can’t wait to start this journey with you.

Sincerely,

The Weirdos

(Rebecca and Thomas)