If you Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look About You.

News Flash: Michigan is awesome.

I have found that the phrase my mother keeps using to try to get me to stay in Michigan forever, which also happens to be the Michigan state motto, has rung true since I’ve been back in the mitten.

“If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”

Some of you have always known how awesome Michigan is, but for those of you who, hypothetically speaking of course, are slightly addicted to adrenaline, tend to be all in, crave epic adventures, and want to live out of your van down by the river,  this may be news to you.

When I was in college, I could not get out to Colorado fast enough. I was so ready to get out of Michigan because it didn’t have mountains and therefore, didn’t have any adventure. Now I am not saying that I will be here forever, because the pull of the mountains is still strong and I may have to answer that call, but for now, I am psyched to have discovered this whole new community of adventurers in a seemingly unlikely place.

As I have grown, I realize that adventure is truly a mindset, not a place. Adventure can be found anywhere and in any experience, you just have to seek it. Disclaimer: For those of you like me, you do have to have some outdoor sports options to fuel a certain part of yourself though. I have realized that adventure is to be found in Michigan and even that outdoor sports side of adventure that many of you, like me, crave. Mountain biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, beaches, lakes galore, cliffs, about 627 miles of endless road trip options, camping, skiing, road biking, cross-country skiing, climbing, and the list goes on.

But the thing about adventure and the outdoor community in Michigan, is that you have to seek out those people and experiences. In Colorado, we have it easy. It’s everywhere: downtown stores, events, climbing gyms, world-class outdoor athletes living in your city, the mountains right out your back door, and endless Patagonia- clad Midwesterners flocking to find it. If we are being honest with ourselves, we can sometimes be a bit arrogant and in your face about how adventurous we all are there. It’s something that I love about Colorado and something that drew me there, there’s an energy, it’s a mecca. But Michigan seems to be stereotypically midwestern about the outdoor community. It seems to be a quiet and humble community of adventurers and sometimes a slower pace of life.

My lens of what I’ve come to expect an “outdoorsy person” to look like doesn’t always fit here and it’s a beautiful thing. So when I first looked around, I thought (very judgmentally) to myself, “There are literally no outdoorsy people here” and I was worried that my assumptions were going to be true and I would not be able to find that community.

Luckily, when I got off the trail, my amazing brother suggested I work at Guardian Tree Experts, where he is a sales arborist, for the summer instead of a serving job. He said I could be outside all day, learning about trees, doing hard physical labor, and potentially climb some trees. Climbing? Outside? Physical Labor? Yes to all of those things.

He invited me to come tree climbing with some of his co-workers and when I showed up, I immediately felt at home. I knew that I had found “my people” and that outdoors-people did exist in Michigan! Charity was full of energy, Chris was hilarious, Matt was knowledgable and encouraging, and then Mo showed up and free climbed to the top of the 30-40 foot tree to say hello. We drank beers, talked mountain biking,  I was sold.

In the 2 and a half months that I’ve been off the trail, I have been loving my job and super excited to keep learning more, use power tools, lift heavy things, and hopefully climb trees soon. I have mountain biked trails around here, up north, and in the UP. I have biked down roads with miles and miles of trees and beautiful farmland. I have dipped at least my toes in 3 of the 4 great lakes touching Michigan. I have driven Penny 600 miles across the state. I have slept by waterfalls, woken up to lakeside sunsets, and canoed, kayaked, and paddleboarded lakes and rivers. Michigan is awesome. I feel so lucky to be where I am now and am excited to spend the next 10 months seeking adventure in this very pleasant peninsula.

 

Time to start listening.

” ‘And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness…and this was the most vexing of all’, he noted, ‘HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.’ ” – Jon Krakauer, Into The Wild (With reference to Dr. Zhivago) 

I was challenged. I experienced growth. I am ready to put my learning into practice. And I am done.

Yesterday, I came off the trail. I had my mom come pick me up in Mackinac City once I reached the tip of the lower peninsula, and I was done. The last few days of the trail, I began to ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” or “Do I really care about doing this trail?” And those were some really tough questions to confront. I began to look at myself very honestly and realized that I didn’t actually want to finish the trail by myself. I realized there was a difference between wanting to do the entire trail and wanting to do the entire trail completely solo. And the former was my truth. Of course I really want to do the trail. But I am done doing it alone. And the big life conclusion that I feel has finally been beaten into my head through this experience, is that I am ready to stop trying to do everything alone.

For those of you who know me well, you know that I am pretty stubborn and independent and have always been that way. I tend to take things to the extreme, even earning the phrase, “That’s so Gleason” from my good friend Jesse. The past few years out in Colorado, I have been just trying to soak up as much adventure as I can, with whatever means necessary, with relentless pursuit. While I love that about myself, I have slowly realized, and this trail finally beat into my head, that I also equally love community and relationship. I have been operating under the stubborn impression that relationship/ community and adventurous independence are mutually exclusive. That you either have to choose “settling down” and prioritizing relationships or prioritizing epic adventures. I didn’t want to be “one of those girls.” I have realized, for me, this is an absolutely false assumption.

I think the trail really helped to solidify that truth. For an extrovert, 9 days alone under pretty challenging circumstances, was tough. It was definitely a mental and physical challenge. But what began to become more evident, was that the real challenge I need to experience and attempt to overcome in my life was not some massive physical pursuit alone, but the pursuit of relationship and vulnerability. It’s easy for me to be alone and do things on my own. It’s easy to build up walls and not allow people (and for me a lot of times, specifically men) to help or hold my hand. It’s ultimately easy to set up a tent and plan a bike route and bike a bunch of miles. But the challenge is to be vulnerable. The challenge is for me to admit that I don’t need someone to do these things with me, but I WANT someone to do these things with me and that it’s not weakness to want that.

Strength is not me being able to do everything on my own. Strength is realizing that there is beauty and power in doing things together. Strength is allowing someone in and asking for what I really want. And what I really want is to find the balance between epic adventures and relationship. What I really want is to foster those relationships with people who honor that “So Gleason” side of me and are right there by my side for the ride. What I really want is to stop placing more value on the “epic adventure” than the quiet times sitting with good friends.

There are a lot of things I truly want. Now it’s time to actually start listening.

 

 

Following the omens.

It is currently day 4 of my trip along the Iron Belle Trail in Michigan. I am sitting in a library in Bay City, called the Sage Branch, which is in this beautiful old Victorian home and conveniently right across the street from the post office. I am on a “rest day,” which is really just an unplanned layover day as I wait for my new stove to arrive.

I’ll give an overview of the experience so far including each day and the stove dilemma. For those of you that want to read this saga, enjoy.

The stove dilemma: I decided to take an alcohol stove on this trip because of the good reviews I had heard from people and the fact that for a through bike/ hike, the fuel is much cheaper and more readily-available (I got my fuel for $.99 at Meijer!) . It seemed like a brilliant idea and I tested the stove out before I left. While it seemed to take extremely long to boil, I finally thought I got the hang of it, with some help from my friend Dan. On day 1, it took 23 minutes to finally get my water boiling, which seemed ridiculous. I am under the impression from the videos I’ve watched, that with the alcohol stove, you are supposed to let it heat up a bit and then the flames will start to come out of the side holes, allowing you to set the pot directly on top of the stove for a faster boil. However, mine never quite got to that point. Every time I thought it was hot enough, I would set it directly on top and the flame would immediately extinguish. I am still convinced that it’s probably user error and I am open to any mocking, help or suggestions. But regardless of the reason, I can’t figure it out and after two dinners and two breakfasts that never quite reached a boil, I’m just not willing to take the risk for the rest of the trip. Luckily, my dilemma is solved with the help of my amazing parents. I had my MSR windpro stove at home in Saline, with my other gear and called them in a desperate panic asking if they could ship it to me as soon as possible, because I was running out of backpacker pantry meals that just needed boiling water. So I ended up doing a little side detour in Saginaw to the Cabela’s store, hiding my bike behind a boat outside because there was no where to lock it up, and praying that no one stole it while I ran inside to buy fuel. Then my parents graciously overnight shipped my stove and it should be arriving at the post office across the street by 3pm today. Lesson learned: If your systems ain’t broke, don’t fix em! (especially when you are embarking on something that you have never done before)

Here’s a quick overview of the first few days of the trip, including Roses and Thorns for all you outdoor educators out there…

Day 1: Belle Isle to Ortonville Recreation Area- about 66 miles.

Roses: beautiful bike paths; met some cool people along the trail who wished me well; got my tent set up and my dinner made and eaten before the rain came; my friend Kendall lived about 2 minutes down the road from where I was staying and came out and talked with me!; no flat tires; my planning was good (except for the not training); guy at the Ortonville Recreation Area was really nice.

Thorns: Not training was a bad choice; the dirt roads near Ortonville were horrifying and I thought my bike was going to break; thunderstormed pretty much all night, so lots of tent time; slugs

Day 2: Ortonville Recreation Area to Otter Lake- originally supposed to be about 65 miles, ended up being about 35-40 miles.

Roses: Otter Lake campground was the shit- showers, cool people, pizza, beer, the owner at the Otter Lake campground was super nice and sat and talked with me for a while, then I gave his son the rest of my breadsticks; the ride was short; it got really sunny and beautiful; I found an outlet to charge my devices; I “showered” (which really meant just standing under the hot shower for far too long and rinsing but it felt amazing)

Thorns: When I first got to Otter Lake, it thunderstormed pretty immediately after I got my tent set up (I was running around frantically trying to get it set up before it hit) and I got soaked; I was kind of a bitch to my Mom as I called her desperately about the stove and then got pissed that it started downpouring and ended the phone call abruptly (sorry Mom); in Ortonville, I had to ride through an insane thunder and lightning storm (I took video) and decided that it would probably be best to just take the direct route to Otter Lake so I didn’t get caught in Flint in a thunderstorm; slugs

Day 3: Otter Lake to Bay City Recreation Area- about 67 miles through Saginaw stopping at Cabela’s

Roses: The ride from Otter Lake was awesome, a little scary at times on M-15, but smooth and good; no one stole my bike at Cabela’s; minimal rain on the ride; getting into the Bay City Recreation Area and seeing the beach was glorious, like I imagine meeting Celine Dion in person would be; I got to spend time and have meaningful conversation with my friend Maria, who picked me up IN A CAR to go get dinner

Thorns: realizing that being alone, I have to listen to the gut feeling when something feels off, and I got that feeling as I went to walk down to the beach at sunset, so didn’t go all the way to the water; my ass hurt; slugs in the morning

Day 4: Layover Day in Bay City- about 15 miles around town

Roses: I am typing inside on a computer; got to eat breakfast at this really cute little place called Mornin Maggie’s in Bay City, which was delicious, quiet, and had NPR on the radio; I get to hang out with Maria again today!; I get to sit inside a quiet library; I got to have a great conversation with a man sweeping the streets in downtown Bay City; no slugs!

Thorns: It’s a little cold outside today; I am sore and stiff

So here’s the part I think is the coolest about this journey so far. Even though it has only been 4 days, I already feel like I have had a pretty cool epiphany. When I set out planning this trip, I was definitely set in my typical Beth Gleason intense mindset where everything has to be extreme and the focus was on the mileage, physicality, and forcing myself to be alone. But in everything, there should be balance, something at which I am not always the greatest.

The very first night, I was offered a warm and dry bed but I refused because it wasn’t part of my original plan, or it wouldn’t be bad-ass enough, or some other bull shit stubborn reason that I came up with in my head. That night, as I was laying in my tent with a thunderstorm coming down, I realized how dumb that was. I refused a warm, dry bed because I thought the trip should be done a certain way and I didn’t want to “give in” so easily. I started to think about this concept of omens, from one of my favorite books, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coehlo. The whole book is amazing, but there is this concept of following the omens throughout that really resonated with me and is something that I would like to practice more.

The book says on page 30, “In order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left you.” I set out on this journey for self-discovery and a challenge and to figure out what this “treasure” is I seek. But when I have a plan, sometimes I can be so stubborn in what I think I should be discovering, that I forget to listen to those omens telling me what I am presently or could be discovering.

Two times already on this trip, I have had the opportunity to connect with people that I may not have connected with otherwise, and it has been beautiful, unplanned, unintended, and unexpected. So instead of being stubborn in my ways and intentions, I am deciding right now, to be open to the omens, and allow myself to follow whatever type of journey this will and could be. Hold me to it!

Here’s to the rest of the journey! Cheers!

My quarry is sighted- Tally-Ho!

Tomorrow is the big day. It was an interesting feeling as I was deleting old pictures from my phone, trying to create space and longer battery life for the trip. I realized that I have been planning this trip now for over a year and it’s happening tomorrow.

For those of you who don’t know, I will be attempting to complete the Iron Belle Trail, which is a brand new trail that broke ground last summer in Michigan. The trail itself is actually only about 64%and 69% finished (hiking and biking respectively). It is 791 miles of biking and 1,273 miles of hiking, give or take some route finding in that 36% and 31% of unfinished trail. If I finish, I believe I will be the first person to thru hike and bike the trail. Even though it’s no PCT or intense western trail (I’m assuming), I am extremely excited by the prospect of venturing into the unknown and trying something that has never been done before. That seems like a hard thing to find these days. The goal is to finish by August 20th, 2016.

People have asked, “How do you feel? Are you ready? Have you been training? Have you found a job?” all valid questions. But to be honest, I don’t know that I can answer any of those questions well. (except for have you been training- no I haven’t, in true Gleason fashion, I’m currently operating under the off the couch philosophy…we’ll see how that works out for me) What I can say is that I feel very jittery because of the amount of coffee I have coursing through my body today.

I know I’m pretty well prepared, but I before every trip, there’s always that feeling that you’re missing something (and chances are, I probably am). My roommates and I were laughing at the fact that before I left Colorado, my brain was so all over the place, that my to do list looked a little like this:

” Get whiskey, get jeans off drying rack, get Sudoku book, get chakra candle…”

You know, the important things. There were just so many little things that all added up and made it feel overwhelming, so I needed to just write it down and get it out of my head.

It’s a pretty parallel feeling to life right now and trying to process some of those big questions. I don’t have a job, I luckily have 2 more months of paychecks, I don’t have a house (except for Penny my beautiful Toyota Sienna), and I don’t have a clue about what I’m doing when I get off this trail. All of these things make it easy to get overwhelmed with anxiety, especially when you come from the Midwest and the people who ask you those questions probably think that a 30 year old should be married with 3 kids by now.

As I’m sitting down and trying to write some of these emotions and questions down, the list goes on: excited, scared, anxious, psyched, eager, terrified, happy… and the emotions go from one extreme to the other. I’ve realized that the reason it’s a risk is it’s unknown and the beautiful thing is I don’t have to know.  I don’t have to be overwhelmed. Instead of being afraid, I can look at all of those unknown things from a different perspective and embrace them as a challenge and an adventure. An adventure can be defined as the following:

“noun: an exciting or very unusual experience; participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises: the spirit of adventure; a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome; a commercial or financial speculation of any kind; venture.”

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. All of those definitions apply. I’m sure the experience will be unusual and exciting. It is definitely an exciting enterprise. It will be somewhat hazardous and the outcome is uncertain. I most certainly and speculating with my finances. I know there will be tears, and sweat, and hard work, but there will also be joy and love and opportunity.

So while I may not be able to answers those big questions well or even at all, I can say this: maybe it’s naïve or foolish of me and it definitely comes from a place of privilege, but I am so excited that I don’t have a job, and so excited that I don’t have a house, and so excited that I have no freaking clue what I’m doing because it means I have the privilege of having an adventure. It means that I get to experience something unusual and risky, and I get the opportunity to see if I can boldly rise to the challenge and push past my perceived limitations, forging my way through the air! Adventure is my quarry and my quarry is sighted- Tally- ho!

If you would like to follow along the trail with me, follow me on Instagram at @bethanyglee. Or send me a message on Facebook and I’ll add you to the email update list.

Making “Someday” today…

Well, it seems that news travels fast and my last Facebook post revealed more than I intended, so I think it’s time for this post. I have decided that this is my last year teaching at Eaglecrest High School. It’s a bittersweet decision, but all I can do is trust in my ability to make good decisions for myself and have confidence that making my someday happen today is the right decision.

I think I tend to make a lot of life decisions based on feeling and not on weighing “known” and “unknowns,” (which is probably something I should work on…) and my move to Colorado was definitely one of those decisions. I had taken a couple of trips to Colorado and looking back at one of my journal entries from that time, which contained the words “fun, excited, awesome, pumped, great, etc.” approximately 12 times, I obviously had some good feelings. The “knowns” were this: I loved climbing, I had become recently obsessed with the outdoors, I knew I had to work in the outdoors in some capacity, Colorado had mountains, and Colorado had people that I really liked to spend time with. So the decision seemed pretty clear to me. But I really didn’t know anything about Colorado. I knew about Denver.

I was so lucky to land my “dream job” before I even moved out here. Because of my lack of Colorado geographical knowledge, I was just applying anywhere and everywhere for a teaching position. So I applied to this school called Eaglecrest High School, in Centennial, for a PE position. When they called me back informing me that they would “love to interview me for the outdoor ed position,” I was ecstatic. In my head, the plan was to get a regular PE job during the school year, because the dream was to be a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) instructor during the summers. So I could not believe it when I had found a full time job that essentially combined both of those things. After the interview and some good feelings about a really cool lady named Kelly, who was one of my interviewers, I was sold.

It’s been a wonderful six years at Eaglecrest and in Denver. I have invested so much time and energy into that school, I love the adventure program, and it has been a huge part of my life. I have fantastic co-workers and friends, an administration who is extremely supportive of my program, a lot of freedom to create the curriculum that I think is most beneficial to students, and have met and built relationships with, in my totally biased opinion, the most amazing teenage humans on the planet. I could not have asked for a better first job out of college and first job in Colorado. And it has been a great home.

But sometimes it’s time to move away from home and step outside of our comfort zones. I try to teach my students to do something out of their comfort zones every day. So I have to look at my own life as well and make sure that I am living with integrity and following my same teachings. In the decision-making process, I have been asking myself, “why do I live in Denver?” and I keep coming back to the same answer- my job is comfortable. I have security in the fact that I know I do a good job, I know I am supported, it is full time, I have benefits, and the list of comforts goes on… But I realize that I don’t actually do a whole lot in Denver. My social life basically revolves around climbing, mountain biking, skiing, “mountainy” parties and events, good friends, and of course good beer. Every weekend that I can be, I am in the mountains, probably sleeping in my van.

In my comfort, I have let some of my dreams fall into the category of “someday,” and that is a dangerous place for dreams to be. I’ve always said, “someday I want to be a NOLS instructor” and “someday I want to live in the mountains.” As I was perusing my favorite blog, Semi-rad, the other day, I stumbled across an article from 2012 called “The Importance of Big Dreams” that I remember reading and still invokes the same feelings as it did back then. There’s a section in it that says,

“If you start a sentence off with, “I’ve always wanted to …”, you either

  1. aren’t going to do it, which means it’s not really your dream, or
  2. just haven’t done it yet.

Procrastinating, putting it off is fine as long as you’re 100 percent sure that you’re not going to die in the next year. Because you’re going to die someday, and if you’re honest with yourself, you will admit that you never once as a kid said to anyone, When I grow up I want matching drapes, or a riding lawnmower that mulches too or a cozy living room. You wanted to be a cowboy or a polar explorer or Amelia Earhart.”

I’m not 100 percent sure that I’m not going to die in the next year. And this year, I turn 30 and will be starting my endeavor on the Iron Belle Trail in Michigan. So why not now? I don’t know what I’m going to do to make money to live and pay off those hellish student loans, but I know that in the words of one of my NOLS instructors, my dreams aren’t going to realize themselves. It’s time to move to the mountains. They are calling, nagging really, and I must go. It’s time to make my someday today.

Just say no….so you can actually say yes.

I am sitting at Yeti’s Grind coffee shop in Eagle and it is finally Fall Break. It definitely came at the perfect time as my practice of trying to respond vs. react to my students was becoming more and more difficult. This year has been extremely busy so far, which is pretty typical for the beginning of the school year, and also pretty standard for how I usually operate: tending to take on more than I can reasonably do well. I really have not done much work toward my Iron Belles project since school started and as I think about the lack of progress, it leads me to the question that recently keeps haunting my thoughts: what have I been doing with my time?

A co-worker (who obviously knows me too well) gave me this book called, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown and it has helped me remember something really important: I have a choice of how I spend my time. This is an easy thing to forget especially in a culture where there are a lot of “American dreams” and “should be’s.” It’s easy to say “I have to” versus “I choose to.” Those teachers out there probably know exactly the feeling I’m talking about, the feeling where someone asks you to do something, and you immediately say yes without even taking a second to think about it, because that’s just what you do. You’re a “team player.” But what I have realized about myself lately, is that I tend to not stop and ask the question of “why?” What goal is this thing accomplishing personally or professionally? And if it’s not helping with those things, then why the hell am I saying yes to it?

It’s time to take back my time! So this week, I am going to set aside some time to think about what is truly important to me. Then, I’m making a vow to say NO to more things so that I can actually start saying yes to the things that matter. Hold me to it friends!

Relaxation 2.0?

I have to laugh at myself sometimes because I am not very good at just “relaxing”. I can’t tell you how many times I have said to myself, “I can’t wait till [insert any time period here] when I won’t be so busy” and then immediately remembered that somehow I always find things to do to fill my time. That’s just the way that I am. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good veg session in front of the television, especially if it involves True Detective or admittedly, The Bachelorette. But whenever I just sit there and watch television, I find that there’s this persistent feeling that I should be doing something else.

My first trip that I was supposed to be instructing for this summer was cancelled due to the amount of kids. However, I was still able to go on a scouting trip to the Medicine Bow National Forest with some fellow instructors and a couple volunteers from the organization. I realized that it was the first time in a long while where I would be backpacking for fun. Granted, there was still an objective of scouting the area for my upcoming trips this summer, but there were no kids, just a bunch of adults with a wealth of backpacking experience.

It rained, a lot, but it was beautiful. The first day went from walk in the park, to hailstorm, multiple snowfields, consistent rain, testing our navigation, and 13.25 unexpected miles later singing Proud to be an American through fields of flowers, eating pesto chicken pasta and laughing about the crazy day it had been. It was perfect. I couldn’t help but feel grateful and completely present.

There was no where I would have rather been, no feeling like I should be doing something else. It was truly “relaxing.” I realized that maybe relaxing is just practicing gratitude. It could be letting the brilliant writing of True Detective draw me in and allow my mind to focus on the sounds, sights, and feelings of the show with gratitude rather than guilt of not “doing” something. Or being grateful for the tarp over my head and multiple games of Euchre with good company.

I looked up “relaxing” on the very reliable source, dictionary.com, and one definition was, “To release or bring relief from the efforts of tension, anxiety, etc.” I’m no expert and I’m sure this is not a novel thought, but simply saying, “I am here and I am grateful” allows us to do exactly that; it replaces tension and anxiety or that feeling like you should be doing something else, with a different and positive feeling. And that, is a relaxing thought.