Winter is gloomy and season affective disorder is a real thing. The best way that I combat it (besides taking vacations to somewhere warmer like I usually do for my birthday in February) is getting outside. When I think about getting outside in the winter, and winter sports, I usually think of snowboarding and skiing. In addition to that, this year I tried something different.
I love hiking and normally reserve it for the warmer months. I had honestly never thought about hiking in the winter. All of the ice and snow and cold air would make it pretty difficult and uncomfortable, right? Then I came across the Winter Hiking Series at my local REI store in DC. If you don't know, REI provides all kinds of outdoor classes and events (and transportation!) everywhere that they have stores.
I try to do something outside in nature every weekend that I'm home and even when I'm traveling. I perused the REI events site trying to find something that would take me outdoors in January and found their Winter Hiking Series, which involves a day-long local hike led by an instructor and they give you tips along the way on hiking in the ice and snow. I signed up to go on the White Oak Canyon (in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia) trip and my first step into the woods, I fell in love with winter hiking...
It doesn't snow that often in the DC area but we got lucky that weekend with the snow starting to fall during our hike and giving the woods a light dusting of white. It was beautiful, serene, and peaceful. Shenandoah is usually packed with hikers on nice days but in the winter, it is pretty much empty and you have the trails all to yourself.
The hike started out pretty easy but got much more difficult as the snow came down and covered the ice on the trail. Ice is hard enough to walk on but even harder to gauge when it's covered with snow. Our guide was pretty good at pointing out the ice and going slow, hiking poles helped too, but a few people in my group still fell on their butts. It definitely got much more difficult coming back down the trail on icy snow, but we made it, and it made the hike all that more challenging and rewarding.
My next favorite part of winter hiking, is the frozen waterfalls. Waterfalls are amazing to see normally, and frozen they are stunning! You can see the partly frozen waterfalls of White Oak Canyon behind me in the picture above. It's unique to see frozen layers with some water still gushing underneath. Even more unique is to see a huge fully frozen waterfall like the one below.
That's Palisade Falls near Bozeman, Montana. It's hard to capture the majesty of a huge frozen waterfall in a picture but you can kind of see the scale above with me standing in front of it. You can walk straight up the waterfall (and even climb it) and it feels like it may break and swallow you up at any moment. My friend Chelsea and I took this side trip to explore the waterfall during our ski/snowboard trip to Big Sky, Montana. Read Chelsea's full post about it on her blog Her Life Adventures.
Winter hiking isn't always snowy and icy and can be quite gloomy, as well. I went to San Francisco in early March, it was raining the entire weekend but we still took the plunge and got outside to take a stroll on the Lands End trail, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Wet and covered in mud, we finally got what we came for when the Golden Gate Bridge peaked out from the gloominess as Karl the fog lifted for a second (pictured above).
Winter hiking can be cold, wet, and gloomy, but is completely worth it to get outside and get over that seasonal affective disorder. Plus, you see some cool things once in a while, like frozen waterfalls! Be prepared and read my tips below.
Tips for Winter Hiking
I know that winter is almost over in the Northern Hemisphere but there's still plenty of places with snow and time to get out there and see some frozen waterfalls or start your Spring hiking season early. Would love more winter hiking or outdoors ideas in the comments below.
You may have noticed that I haven't written on this blog in a while (since 2015) and that I recently updated this entire website. What inspired this was looking through my iPhone photos, I was trying to find a good picture of nature that I took myself that I could use on my various social media pages. The vast views of nature - whether it be beaches, mountains, or plains - inspire me and motivate me to continue to preserve nature in my work.
I came across the picture above that I took nearly a year ago in Patagonia. It shows the massive Grey Glacier leading into Lago de Gray, with majestic mountains in the background, and gray sky forming into painted clouds. It really is a beautiful picture and perfectly captures the magnificence of Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.
Beyond beauty, this photo also captures the fragile balance of nature. The icebergs in the foreground are the remnants of a huge chunk of the glacier that broke off a few months before my visit. Just 30 years ago, the glacier still came up all the way to where I am standing taking that picture. See these satellite images of Grey Glacier taken by NASA in 1986. I selfishly thought to myself, I'm glad that I saw this before the glacier recedes even more, and turns into just Lago de Grey.
I fully realize that my own travel to these beautiful and far away places contributes to pollution, climate change, and environmental degradation. I reduce my impact in many ways: eating less meat and no dairy; giving up a car and biking/metro-ing instead; shopping less and reusing more (still working on this one!); and of course, working in an industry that provides a significant portion of carbon-free energy. But travel is one thing that I'm not willing to give up.
Therefore, the least that I can do is share the things that I learn from traveling, in hopes of inspiring others to live sustainably in the ways that they see fit. The original name of this blog "Living" is still very appropriate, living sustainably, mindfully, and with positive impact. Everyone is living in their own way and I'd like to share my way of living. Welcome back to the blog!
I'll leave you with another beautiful picture of Grey Glacier leading into Lago del Grey.
I spent this year exploring new places, learning about new cultures, challenging my thinking, making lifelong friends at INSEAD, and starting a new career at the IAEA. Here's to a great 2015 and an even better 2016!
When thinking about my first post on this blog, I wanted to write about something that defines me. My grandmother passed away recently and it had me thinking a lot about my family and where I come from. My grandparents raised my father to be be his own person, and he raised me the same. My independence and my need to challenge ideas and norms define me, and I get those, in part, from being a refugee.
My parents grew up in what is now known as Slovakia, and what was then part of the Soviet Union. In a small town (really, a city in their terms, but small town to me), my parents met through friends. My mom played basketball for the city and was able to travel and see other parts of Europe, while my dad yearned for a way to break out of the communist regime and see what else the world had to offer.
In Spring 1986, when the Chernobyl accident happened, my mom got pregnant with me (I know, it's ironic that I’m a nuclear engineer). Discussing the possibilities for a while, my mom and dad decided to leave the country. They packed nothing, didn’t tell anyone, and left in car with money hidden in the tire. They safely crossed the border, using a fake alibi, and eventually settled in a refugee camp in Austria. My dad got a job doing manual labor and I was born soon after.
While slightly different back then, the refugee system was still essentially the same. You worked and you waited your turn. You lived in a house with other families and you didn’t contact your family back home - in fear that they would get questioned and threatened by the authorities.
Speaking of fear, can you imagine escaping a country? Facing the risk of being arrested and not know what will find you on the other side? And while pregnant? Leaving was not an easy decision and took bravery to execute. However, you can’t change your circumstances without risk and the ability to take action.
And the family you left behind, they’re worried and afraid, and I can still sense some resentment in my family for us leaving. My grandparents came to visit us secretly in the refugee camp after I was born. My grandma jokes (jokes now) that my mom was afraid that they would take me away, back to Slovakia.
After two years in Austria, my parents and I finally got our chance to start a new life. We were sent to Boston and the US refugee program set us up with an apartment and a job for my Dad. We started learning English and integrating into society. Once we could live on our own, we moved to Florida to be closer to some distant family, and for the weather.
I started school in Miami and had to be in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program until I caught up to my American classmates. My two younger sisters were born in Miami and my parents then applied for citizenship. After a few years in the US as contributing members of society, we became citizens.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union broke up and Slovakia gained back its independence. It joined the EU and is now a fully integrated member with a stable economy. Things are much better than they used to be and my cousins live good lives, working around Europe.
I probably would have ended up with a great life if we hadn’t left Slovakia, but I don’t think that I would be the same person. My adaptability, curious mind, need for adventure, and sense of entrepreneurship come from my unique upbringing in a different country. I feel the need to do great things because my parents took great risks to make sure that I grew up in a country of opportunities.
While America may not seem like the utopia it used to, it is still the easiest place to start a business, make something of yourself, and be who you want to be. America is a land of immigrants and that’s what makes it so unique and successful. It takes risks from both sides, from the immigrants and from the host country, but the risks are worth it because the nation and people are richer, in culture, life, and wealth, in the end.
I’m living back in Austria now and feel like I’m reliving my parents' escape. People are trying to seek better lives, only to encounter closed doors and racial discrimination. Back then, people didn’t want the communist refugees and my friends still joke that I’m a spy.
I am an entrepreneur, I work for the United Nations, my family is from Slovakia, I’m American, and I am a refugee.
This post is dedicated to my grandma,
"Babička" Mária Kollárová
May she rest in peace.
After the retirement of my Healthy Fit Goddess blog earlier this year, I'm finally back! I'm excited to blog on a more personal note, sharing my experiences and ideas in entrepreneurship, healthy lifestyle, and travel. I hope that you keep following me as I build this blog and please send me your comments, ideas, and inputs!