photo: Ali Diaz
A Birthday Sunrise in Malibu:
I told my fiancé I wanted to wake up at the beach to see the sun rising for my birthday, he simply said “let’s go!” We folded down the last two rows of our 2016 Toyota Highlander, laid out the pad, 2 layers of blankets, and a bunch of pillows, buckled up our baby girl, 3 small dogs, and drove to Malibu to cuddle up by the beach. It was warm and comfy with plenty of room. Even at 6’2″, Charles was able to stretch out. At 6:54AM, we got out of the car, walked over to the water and saw the sun rising in the distance. It was a beautiful, perfect way to start my birthday.
I love these spontaneous moments when we just pack up and go. It gives us a lot of time to breathe, relax and to reflect on life and what lies ahead. We also want to show our daughter the beauty of nature, the waves, the sand, the trails and to take advantage of everything it offers.
Janice Andrade, Los Angeles
An Unplanned Adventure:
I was planning on going a solo road trip to Arizona and Utah right after Christmas. Two days before I went, I invited my cousin who happened to have many days off during this time. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever had because although we grew up like sisters, we never really spent time together doing outdoor activities. We made dinner in a parking lot and set up a tent in snow at night. We hiked in the rain, and slipped on icy snow. These moments weren’t glamorous, but to be able to lean on each other and laugh about it just made this trip even more worthwhile. I felt that we grew closer, but also I learned that sharing my experience is as rewarding as just making time for myself.
Stepfanie Aguilar, Lancaster, CA
Solo Celebration in Joshua Tree:
I turned 30 last year. For the first time in my life, I made plans to be solo on my birthday. My boyfriend was going to be working all day and I resolved to spend the day in Joshua Tree National Park (where he works). When we got to the visitor center, he got me one of those Junior Ranger booklets, and I thought it would give me something fun to do along my day. I hopped on the first shuttle bus and stared in awe at a surreal landscape that to me never gets old. The day felt exciting. There were some clouds, but it was also sunny. I was there early, so I was the only person on the otherwise hugely visited trails. After a few little hikes, I decided to find some rocks to play around, so I made a stop at Hemmingway and started scrambling up and around until I found a nice nook with a big platform-like boulder to settle in. Once there, I just sat, occasionally hearing voices, watching the clouds go by above my head.
At some point I pulled out my Junior Ranger book and started to fill out the activities which weren’t all as easy as I had expected. But they left me with a realization that I didn’t want or needed to do anything. I was just in the best private spot to take a nap. I just laid there, watching the sun move towards the opposite horizon, looking back over 3 decades of my life and how they brought me to this moment of stillness, connection, and gratitude. And for the rest of my time there I was just chilling in my happy place.
Gabaccia, Joshua Tree
A Night to Remember:
After a glorious visit to our first National Park, we were elated. A day full of vast landscapes with rocky, stone-filled land reminded me a lot of what I imagine Mars to look like, just slightly less red. Crater ridges protruded like mountains. Their sides plummeted deeply, creating narrow canyons at their bases. The earth crumbled when I touched it, like gravel breaking away at my fingertips. Yellow wildflowers grew sporadically, as if someone planted them each and every morning just for visitors. Katie said it would be beautiful, and oh was it so. I made a mental note to thank her for the suggestion after my trip was over. We found a spot to set up camp off a questionable dirt road. We didn’t know it then, but that would be the first of many potentially sketchy dirt roads. This was the first camping spot we visited, but we knew it was perfect at the very site of the fire pit and river access down a short, semi-steep dirt trail.
It wasn’t long until we were swimming in the calmness of fresh, unfamiliar water while music played faintly by my car parked above. We floated on tiny camping mattresses even though we could touch, occasionally splashing one another playfully. When we finally got out, we only dried off slightly with a towel and let the sun do the remaining work.
We began to set up camp, cooking pasta and quesadillas on our camping stove. We ate dinner while watching the sun dance across the sky slowly until the mountain in the distance covered the burning sphere. Scarce penetrating light remained, casting beams across the horizon. Opposite the setting sun, the earth was illuminated with the most vibrant golden rays from the mountaintops down to the rippling waters. There laid the reflection of cotton candy skies, colors floating in every direction that I didn’t even know existed in the atmosphere.
Soon the skies grew dark and the sound of serenity took over. Music still playing, we flow-wanded to the tunes. We felt the rain coming, we tried to escape into the tent only to feel even more trapped. We surrendered to the open skies and exited the shelter, only to find the storm was passing ever so quickly as if it hadn’t rained at all.
We laid a blanket down and then our heads. For a while we relaxed, taking in nature’s nightlife. I felt safe. Hours passed, a series of talking, listening, and utter silence. Sharing sides of us neither had anticipated even being self-aware of. The emotions were rapid and real, laughing until our bellies hurt a little more and crying until our hearts hurt a little less. I held his head in my lap while we poured out more than we were prepared for. Our words intertwined into masterpieces of admitting more hurt than humans should encounter and more strength than some ever will. We painted pictures with words and the skies painted pictures in stars. Words weren’t needed to know how grateful we were for one another, but we spoke them anyway.
We were silent for a while towards the end of the emotional hurricane, laying closely, listening to the sounds of life. Everything seemed more alive and calm all at once. Something changed and I realized everything in my life had led me here, to more beauty than I had ever imagined possible. We sat in awe of the universe, glimmering brighter than I had ever experienced. The array of colors in the dark night skies captivated my vision, mind, heart, and soul. The universe blessed us with the most incredible light show. I could see all sorts of galaxies, constellations, and planets. The first shooting star passed, and shortly after another.
Eventually, I lost track of the numerous fire balls darting across the endless sky. I remember thinking I could make a wish on one, but it seemed all of my dreams had already come true. Instead, I wished that all of his would too.
We got up a while later when we realized how cold it was. Until that point we hadn’t paid the temperature any mind. We tried to lay in the tent, but the open skies brought comfort that the nylon structure couldn’t provide. We rolled around for a bit. We held one another. And then we dragged the air mattress outside and watched the sun rise slowly in the distance. We laid with the blanket in the open air for some time. I might have even slept a couple of hours. I awoke feeling just as content as I did when I closed my eyes. I couldn’t help but notice what a peaceful feeling it was to know I was exactly where I was meant to be, on exactly the right path. It was a new feeling, and I was suddenly proud.
He swam in the river while I wrapped myself in the blanket that still smelled like the East Coast. I stuck my head out and breathed in new air, releasing the scents I longed to rid myself of for years. I’ll never forget how I felt watching that sunrise just about opposite of where we watched it retire some hours before. Sure and calm. The skies looked creamy as the golden hues from the rising sun engulfed the earth and all of its surfaces, endlessly trying to sneak into unlit crevices, my heart one it had already concurred.
I have always wanted to explore the arctic circle’s dramatic landscape of mountains cascading directly down into the oceans. Where small villages are nestled into coastal nooks and crannies to protect them from the harsh seasonal shifts. I would be overjoyed to take my hiking boots and my camera to combine being immersed in the present moments of awe, while also being able to capture the colors and shapes of a land so far North. My abroad travels thus far, have consisted of more urban and cultural learning experiences, and it would be unique for me to combine my adoration of nature with traveling someplace less explored.
Lauren Valentin, San Francisco, CA