Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Summer That Wasn't

I'm calling this the summer that wasn't. This has been the strangest summer in the Alps. In fact, it hasn't felt much like summer at all. Non-stop rain, clouds, even snow and hail multiple times. I keep thinking summer is right around the corner, but as the days go by, it's starting to look like it's just going to be a no-show this year. 

I'm also calling it the summer that wasn't because if you didn't document it (I've been just as bad at keeping up on my journal as I have at keeping up on this blog - though I have been a pretty regular poster on instagram - @downlowuphigh), did it even really happen?

Answer: YES. It did happen, and it happened in a really great, way. 

I'm here for another three months or so. I'm hoping that things keep happening.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Over it

Last week I finished my master's degree and my 20's, two things I had been working on for quite some time (3 years and 10 years, respectively). It felt good to finish both. It has been a moment of a lot of change in my life, and yet things are still very much the same. It has cause me to spend quite a bit of time reflecting, and as usual, that reflection has incited a lot of gratitude.

There were a few things I would have liked to accomplish in my twenties that I didn't, but that just means that I have a lot to look forward to in my thirties. I'd love to climb the Matterhorn and the Grand Teton. I'm looking forward to paying off my student loans and saving for more meaningful projects. I long with anxious anticipation for the day I will get married, have kids, and show my family the world and the the wonders of the great outdoors, and teach them about its creator. I'd also really like to learn German this decade and maybe some other language if that goes well.

A little farther down my list I'd also add trekking to Everest Base Camp and breaking a 2:00 half marathon time, but those are just icing on the cake kind of dreams.

I had a really awesome thirtieth birthday. Probably my best birthday ever. I don't remember the last time I felt so loved and cared for by so many people at the same time. It was a great way to kick off a new decade.

As I look forward with some excitement and some anxiety, I can't help but look back, as well. If things fall into place in the same beautiful, surprising way things did in my twenties, I have a lot to look forward to. In moments like this a line from a favorite hymn often comes to mind: We doubt not the Lord nor his goodness. We've proved Him in days that are past.

With so many good days behind me, I think it's normal to expect many more ahead.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tax Day

During grad school over the past three years I have done a lot of contracted work. When you do contracted work, taxes are not taken out of your paycheck for you. I kind of think this is the way it always should be done, because taxes would be a lot more uncomfortable for everyone, so we'd probably do a better job of holding those who spend it accountable. But I digress....

In 2013 I knew that tax day was coming, but I just tried not to think about it until I no longer avoid thinking about it (which is a very adult, logical response to that kind of situation, I'm sure you'll all concur), and then I figured it all out and spent part of the summer paying off my bill. Resolved to not relive the same uncomfortable experience stemming from my lack of preparation. From that point on, I started saving 10% of everything I earned through contracted jobs, thinking that even if it wasn't enough, it would at least be a good start. It felt good to be a little more responsible. 

But let's get real, responsibility, at least in certain areas, has never been a real strength of mine. 

I got back to the States in August and started my last year of grad school two days later. I darn near immediately felt like my whole self was going to explode, which wouldn't have been pretty. I bit off more than I could chew, but we all do that sometimes, and when we do, what's the solution? I just wanted to hang out with my friend, Coco. I guess we all probably have people we just click with. My buddy, Coco, is that to a T for me. It's crazy how well we get along and read each other. When I could tell things were getting crazy back home, I just thought, man, it would be great if we could hang out. I just wanted to chat and chill with someone who got it. The problem was that we don't live in the same country.

Never one to let reality get in my way, I determined I was going no matter what. I some point in the last decade I subconsciously made the decision (I say that because I have no idea when this became my attitude) that I was going to pretend that the Atlantic Ocean doesn't exist (no offense, Atlantic). A very significant percentage of the people I care about most in this world live on the other side of the body-of-water-that-shall-not-be-named, and I finally just got sick of it and said, "Hey, if I'm going to maintain those relationships the way I try to maintain my relationships here, well, then there can't be any of this, 'I would if I could', or, 'If only I was a bit closer' nonsense." So I still send birthday gifts, even though the shipping usually costs more than the gift, and I make it a point to be at weddings and to just be available in general, and I wake up at 4:30am for phone calls because it's the time that works best, and I just try to play it off like it's no big deal because really, in the grand scheme of things, it's just some water, right?

Part of my plan for continuing to live like this forever and ever is that I want to always have a bit of money tucked away for last minute trips (i.e. funerals, weddings, etc). But being a grad student isn't the most luxurious lifestyle on the planet, and so my aforementioned tucked away money has yet to exist. 

I know what you're thinking....what does all of this have to do with TAXES, Nicki?!! Chill out. I'll tell you. It turns out that the price of a ticket to Frankfurt, Germany was just about nearly the same amount I had stashed in the deep, dark corners of my bank account ready to hand over to the Federal Government on April 15th of this year. And I don't even really like the government that much. 

So I bought the ticket. Of course I did. I totally would, and I totally did. And I'm so glad I did. 

I was just reminded of this whole episode as I paid my taxes two days ago on the very last day possible and put it all on my credit card. I'll have it paid off it a matter of weeks, so I'm not sweating about it, but it still wasn't fun to pay it - until I thought about why I was paying it now, and thought back to 10 days of peace and good old fashioned fun with my best friend and some of the people nearest and dearest to my heart (but not all - most are still here in the States) in the middle of what was otherwise a crazy, hectic, and not so fun semester.

Oh, and we drove 8 hours from the airport in Frankfurt to Revel, France to surprise her mom on her 68th birthday. It was awesome.

Sometimes there's just no substitute for the real deal.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


What's your definition of fun? I'm starting to think that mine needs some redefining.

This weekend included:

  • Almost 20 hours in the car
  • 4-5 hours of sleep Friday night
  • a 13.1 mile run in the hottest place on earth (Death Valley) Saturday morning 
  • Vomiting from dehydration on the side of the freeway
  • Stiff legs, head aches, and sore feet
It was so much fun. 

As a 19 year old college sophomore in 2004, my dear friends Kelly and Steph pushed me to train for my first half marathon. It was hard. I didn't reattempt another half marathon for 4 more years, but I eventually went on to run several more. 

Yesterday, a few weeks short of my 30th birthday, and 10 years and a few days after our race in 2004, we met back up and ran another half marathon. It was a tough one, we weren't as ready as we would have liked to have been, but it was a lot of fun. I'm so glad we did it. I'm extremely grateful for these two ladies in my life. They are good, active, and so enjoyable to be around. 

In the picture above we are holding the race shirt from 2014, and the sweatshirt from 2004.

Stay tuned for our next race in 2024.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

All in a day's work

I feel blessed to have a job that I don't think I ever could have dreamed up. Last summer a videographer spent the week on one the trips I guided and did some filming for us to use to market this trip. It has been really fun to show some of his work to friends and family members and give them a better idea of what day to day life looks like while I'm abroad. You can check it out here:

For the full version, follow this link and enter the password "haute":

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Art of Boredom

I was on a two week long hike with some friends nearly 3 1/2 years ago. We did nothing for two weeks but hike. With hours of nothing to distract us besides our occasional panting, we filled the time with conversation and silent reflect. Even upon arriving at our destination each night, we rarely had access to the internet, and phone service was even more scarce. There were a few odd books at each hut or hostel along the way, and some board games, but we never really bothered with them. We would sit and chat some more, as if the countless hours of conversation during our daily hike wasn't enough, write in our journals, and get to know the other hikers we'd be sharing a roof with for the night.

At one point during the week, one girl in our group began talking about her younger, teen-aged brother and how he was constantly plugged in - listening to music, playing video games, surfing the web, etc. She said, "It's like he doesn't know how to just be bored".

It was the first time I had considered boredom as being a positive.

Boredom, in the way we discussed it that afternoon, is just the ability to be comfortable with nothing but you and your own thoughts. It's stepping momentarily away from the fast pace of life to just meditate and think. It's filling your own mind with thoughts instead of letting it be filled by whatever is being thrown at you. It's good for the soul.

As I've thought about that conversation, and how easy it is right now with school and work to be constantly stimulated, I've decided that one of my goals for the new year is to spend more time bored.

Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. - Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Climb On

Hello there, blogging family. I have neglected my blog these past few months in a way absolutely unprecedented in the Invincible Summer's nearly 6 year history (6 years?! Yeah, I know, right?). The last five months have been tumultuous, to say the least. They have been so unexpected that I started having random flashbacks to that one year when I lived alone in a studio in a high school in France for 7 months and had to take to talking to myself just fill up the empty air (okay, just kidding. I totally talked to myself before that).

A lot of stuff happened, but for time's sake, let's just blame school. It's the least complicated scapegoat, and the least likely to land me in some hot water for posting about it in a public forum. I had probably the worst semester of my 12+ semester college career, which is really saying something, since I don't like school to begin with. The indoctrination and onesidedness of my education classes finally became too much for me, and I maybe let me pride and righteous-indignation show to the point of getting called into an instructor's office and given an official printed and signed letter telling me that if I didn't step in line and act a little more professional, I would fail out of the program.


It's rough realizing you're in the position of exactly zero power. Let's just say that after the three-year personal tour of the public education system that has been this master's degree, I'm pretty sure I'm going to be homeschooling my own children one day.

That being said, there were plenty of good things that happened these past few months, and despite being way, way over grad school, I've managed to keep my chin up and keep some perspective. I wish it were over, but you know what? It will be soon. I have a really good life, I really can't be anything other than grateful. This, however, is all kind of beside the point... the point is why I haven't been blogging lately and how I'm coming to the light and repenting of my ways.

I love writing. I'm a religious journal writer, and though lately this blog has felt more like an empty space to post pictures than anything else, the real reason I keep blogging (I feel like a contestant on survivor - 99% of my blogging friends seem to have taken a permanent hike in the direction of faster, hipper [read: instagram] social media outlets) is because I like to write. So, I thought I'd jump back in with a post that's more about the words than the images. Though, don't you worry, there will be many, many pictures.

It's the last day of 2013, and I can't let this year slip away without looking back to an extremely important experience that came into my life 10 years ago, in 2003.

In 2003 I was 19 years old. I had just finished my first year of college when I got a job at a ranch owned by BYU-Idaho called Badger Creek. Badger Creek is a ranch that hosts a variety of outdoor church camps for teenagers through out the summer. I had visited Badger Creek once before in 1999 as a 15 year-old participant in one of said summer camp programs. I fell completely in love.

I've always loved the outdoors, but growing up, my family didn't ever spend an exceptional amount of time in nature, with the exception of the occasional barbecue in the mountains and a handful of car-camping trips. I never made the link as a kid, but as an adult looking back, I realized that all of my favorite childhood books had a similar theme: survival in the outdoors, adventure, and running away from home (The Hatchet, Sign of the Beaver, My Side of the Mountain, etc). Badger Creek allowed me, in a way, to live out the adventures I loved reading about so much. I was determined to go back and work there during college.

Fast forward 4 years, and after wrestling with what I should be doing the summer and 2003 and where I felt I needed to be, I turned in an application for a position at Badger Creek the day before they were due. My interview went well and I was offered a spot.

I maybe had some feeling for the kinds of activities I would be involved in working at Badger Creek, seeing as how I had spent a week there some years before, but I never could have imagined what kind of experience awaited me. It changed me.

For 11 weeks I lived and worked side-by-side with 20 or so other staff members. We ate together, worked together, sweat together, played together, sang together, laughed a whole lot together, slept under the stars together, pulled pranks together, and grew a lot together.

I was the youngest member on staff that summer. The other staff members were all giants in my eyes, and I wanted to be just like them. They were super cool, and fun, and spiritual giants. They new so much about the outdoors, how to climb, whitewater raft, and pack a backpack for an overnight adventure in the mountains. With them I tied my first figure-eight, climbed my first 11,000 foot peak, learned how to start a fire without matches, and learned a lot about living a Christ-centered life and how to share the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those around me. They challenged me, taught me what I was capable of, showed me how to live life with real passion and wonder, and kept me focused on what's most important. They became my best friends.

10 years have come and gone, and I have had many wonderful, deep, important experiences to add to my list since my summer at Badger Creek, but those three months often come back to my mind, and seem to stand out among all my other adventures. Maybe it's because it was, in some ways, the first. It was my first big adventure, and I feel like it prepared me for all the rest. It prepared me for my mission to Switzerland and France. It gave me the skills that helped me acquire other jobs in the outdoors. Most of all, it opened my eyes to what is possible, and taught me that it's okay to dream big.

I'm grateful for the pattern that Badger Creek set forth for my life at such a pivotal time for me. It is this: work hard, play hard, and put people first. Above all else: Carpe Diem. You have the power to make your life extraordinary.