Empower Your Estrogen Moab, Utah Rock Climbing, Rappelling and More 2015!

Ladies! For Your Eyes ONLY



Attention all ladies! Close your eyes and picture this! It’s midmorning, the sky is bright and sunny with not a cloud in the sky and yet you are about to make a surprise entrance intro a crowd of unsuspecting people in a way worthy of the introduction scene to a Mission Impossible movie! Imagine the feeling of rappelling off a 120-foot sheer rock down into a crowd of unsuspecting onlookers taking the easy way on a hike from the parking lot. As the crowd looks up with amazement suddenly a badass team of comrade’s rappel in, showing the rest of the world it’s a hell of a lot of fun to the take the unconventional route!


Now, imagine that priceless feeling you only get when you have just really pushed yourself outside the normal limits of life and done something so amazing, exciting, daring and bold that even your mother would be impressed? On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t tell your mom! That’s the kind of feeling the girls who put these weekends together love! Our goal is to arrange the most adventure packed, giggle fest of a girls weekend that you have ever had and while we do that we are going to see new places, do new things and tap into our inner wild child just because most of us have long lost touch with that part of ourselves. Can you see the look of astonishment on the faces around you as you nonchalantly smile to the amazed strangers and give them that “ya, we just did that kind of satisfied rock rappeller look?”


Picture you and a dozen of your 30ish-40ish-50ish suburban PTA soccer mom comrades on the adventure trip of a lifetime because you are part of the next Empower Your Estrogen Adventure! Spots are very limited and fill up very quickly so if you have made the New Year resolution to kick it up a notch in your life this is the opportunity of a lifetime and just what you have been waiting for.


Empower Your Estrogen founders Jackie (Bucketlistblogger.com) and sister Vicki (IronGirl) have partnered with the worlds best and hunkiest guides at Front Range Climbing Co to offer this once in life time opportunity. The adventure will begin Thursday morning April 24 and continue through Sunday April 27. We will backcountry camp in the stunning Moab, Utah desert under the brightest starry nights you can imagine. We are going to Moab for a four day weekend of badasery big time, full of rappelling off Moab’s spectacular 120 foot arches, rock climbing the stunning bluffs, hiking, camping, bonding, and celebrating our womanhood while we recharge our batteries and make new life long friendships! Nightly campfire chats while we sip a celebratory glass of wine and indulge in a little chocolate treat while we crown the Tough Tiara winner of the day have proven to be one of the many highlights. It’s like a girls retreat and an adrenaline charged slumber party all wrapped up in one!



Our guides at Front Range Climbing Co will take care of everything from transportation from Colorado Springs to Moab, Utah, provide all our food, and make all the special arrangements. We will be with professional guides every step of the way and they will provide all the climbing gear, ropes, and instruction that we need to make sure everyone on this adventure can participate in creating life long memories.


Front Range Climbing Co will customize the trip to our exact needs and offer us adventures that everyone can participate in. You need no special knowledge or prior climbing experience to participate. On our own custom Tough Girl scale this adventure would come in at rating of a 6-7 so you have plenty of time to dust off your old hiking boots and get your spring zig back into your zag!


The Empower Your Estrogen Moab, Utah Rock Climbing and Rappelling Adventure 2015 is offered at the staggeringly great deal of $379, includes transportation from Colorado Springs to and from Moab, Utah and all food, technical gear and instruction. You will need to provide your own basic backcountry gear such as a backpack, sleeping bag, small 2 man tent, hiking boots and comfortable outdoor clothing. That’s it! We make it really easy!

All you have to do is say “HELL Yeah and call today to register!”


Call 719-632-5822 Front Range Climbing Co today to register! Remember, there are only 10 available spots on this trip offered at the blow out price of only $379 all-inclusive per person. I guarantee you because this is the coolest trip of a lifetime spots will fill up quickly and only the first 10 to register will get to attend!

As an added incentive if you register and pay in full before February 24, 2015 you get the discounted early bird price of $339! That’s a savings of $40!!!

If you register and pay in full before March 8, 2015 you get a discounted price of $359! That’s a savings of $20!

If you register and pay in full before March 8, 2015 you get a discounted price of $359! That’s a savings of $20!


What are you waiting for!!!!!! CALL Right now! 719-632-5822 and say these magic words “Hell Yea!”

Cancellation Policy:
Full refund available with no penalty prior to March 24. After March 24, 80% refund unless we can fill your spot.

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No Pain No Gain I want to Climb The FANG!


No Pain, No Gain, I Want To Climb the FANG!!

I know you have heard this saying before; I think we all have at one time or another. The words do ring true, in more ways than one.

A few years ago I took a leap of faith and tried rock climbing as an impulse as a part of my bucketlist. It started innocently enough when I got a Groupon in my email and it caught my eye. My thought process went something like this; “Oh cool, look at that neat picture of the guy rock climbing in Garden of the Gods Park” “Wait look at that, they say anyone can do it?” “I wonder if that means I can do it?” “It looks really intense but I’d love to be able to say I had gone rock climbing.” “Hmmmm… OK, I am in” I literally called the guide company and described myself to them and made them confirm that yes I could do this.

While I was rock climbing my guide started telling me about ice climbing and as the unexpected adrenaline junkie that I am, my interest was piqued. This time the thought process went like this; “I really like this rock climbing thing, ice climbing sounds really extreme but pretty impressive” “Do you really think I could do that?”
“well, if he thinks I could do it than maybe I can” “ Hmmmmmm… OK, I am in” I asked him three times that day if I could really do this. He said yes.

Next thing I new I was ice climbing and loved it even more than rock climbing although in ways it is tougher, it really feels good when you have conquered a frozen waterfall with only your own strength and mental problem solving skills. While we were taming this waterfall I was thinking; “ Darn this was really cool. I can’t believe I did this. It was hard but in a good way. I was really challenged by this waterfall of ice.” “I am so glad I decided to give this a try!” He was right, I could do this!


So, next thing I know I am facebook stalking my favorite guide and finding myself fascinated by his wickedly impressive array of ice climbing pictures when one ice wall caught my attention. I couldn’t pull my eyes away. The bottom line was that I was looking at the most impressive climbing picture I’ve ever seen. “OMG that is so cool. God I wish I could climb that one.” “Wow it looks hard, I am sure that one is way beyond my abilities.” “It would feel so good to know I climbed something that impressive.” “There is no way in hell I could get to the top of that monster. Look how tall it is, it must be several hundred feet high” “I wonder………” “Maybe……..”

Fast forward to a facebook conversation with my buddy the ice climbing guide. “Hey Dan, you know that really cool picture you have of the tall skinny cascade ice. That is amazing. Ummm. How hard was it to climb. Oh ya…. Ummm. Do you think I could maybe climb that someday?” “REALLY?” “Are you sure, you do remember me right?” I thought maybe I should send him a picture of me just to be sure. I didn’t.


That was it. The little seed was planted and suddenly it grew and grew. I certainly didn’t expect this one little seed to turn into something so impressive. In fact, when I planted this seed I kind of just haphazardly tossed it out there. I didn’t take care of it properly. I barely even covered it with a grain of dirt. I was sure this one wouldn’t take. I nurtured several other little seeds that I was much more certain would grow but they never really took off. Instead, this one little casually tossed, sadly neglected little seed started to take root. No matter what the odds were against it, this little seed kept getting stronger. That’s kind of what happened here. I mean, a year ago I would have bet every last penny I had that not only could I NOT handle the physical challenge of rock climbing, let alone ice climbing which I had never even heard of, I would have bet that it certainly wouldn’t be anything I actually liked. Will wonders never cease?

I tried it. I liked it. I went back for more. I recruited friends to try it with me. I think I even impressed my husband who knows me better than I know myself.

Now don’t make the mistake of assuming it was easy. This was far from easy. It was scary, it was intimidating, it was overwhelming, it was an adrenaline rush, it was physical, it was cold, it required real mental brainpower, it took perseverance, it didn’t always go the way it was supposed to, I got stuck, I thought about quitting, I questioned my sanity, I stuck with it and tried again and again when I couldn’t make the pick stick, I tried not to look down or really even look up because it was easy to freak out. I just kept trying and then all of a sudden I looked up and I had done it. I was at the top of the ice. I looked down at how far I had come and realized I had done this all by myself. I was hooked.

Jackie and her Guide Dan

It is hard to describe in words what it felt like to do something I really didn’t think I could do. Especially when that something required concurring with crampons on my boots and an ice pick in my hand. Who would have guessed!

Jackie Picking on the Ice

I guess it made me feel strong. Strong mentally and physically, I liked the rush I got when I finally reached my goal and stood on top. I liked the fact that I had done something really impressive all by myself.

Thinking about this as I soaked my tired sore bruised up body it dawned on me, it’s the stuff in life you have to work the hardest at that you really appreciate and feel good about. If it’s easy, anyone can do it.

Going out on a limb, I called my buddy up and spoke the words I had previously only dared to speak. “I want to climb that one, will you take me?” Guess what he said? Yes. Good Lord now I am going to really have to do it! While I haven’t had a chance to actually climb The Fang yet, it is high on my list of important things to do in life. I am hopeful when I get the chance my buddy and ice climbing guide Dan will be there to help me make this dream come true! I will keep you posted, I promise! One day I hope to conquer “The Fang” let’s see if I actually make good on this one, but for now the little seed is growing…


So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

PHOTO Credits Matthew McKinley (thanks for the share!)

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The Lost Art of Pie Making

Lost Art of Pie Making

Lost Art of Pie Making

Grandma, Mom, my sister and me

Grandma, Mom, my sister and me

My grandma had the most amazing ability to take water, flour and lard and with a few strokes of her wrist, her farm strong fingers could whip up a ball of soon to be flaky piecrust. How she could create something so heartwarming and soul soothing with just these three ingredients always amazed me. As a young girl I took this for granted, as we so often do. I guess I just figured she’d always be there, in her apron, working in her farm kitchen and somehow I never saw the urgency of spending more time with her there or of learning her art. Instead, I would breath deep the soothing aromas emanating from the kitchen while I scampered by trying to escape with my cousins to the fields, barn, trees, creek and adventures that lay beyond the kitchen to make mischief and fight imaginary battles defending the castle on the hill or the fort in the trees.

Don’t get me wrong, I would not trade my memories of running free on the farm, creating imaginary forts under the shade of the trees, swinging on the lone rope in the long abandoned barn or laying in the alfalfa field smelling the sweet smells of summer and watching the birds fly overhead for anything, but I do wish that I had taken advantage of those treasured kitchen moments with my grandma and mastered the time proven art of pie making.

Now that my grandma and her beloved farm are only dusty memories in my mind I am forced to use my sensory skills to conjure up the sights of grandma working back and forth on bare kitchen floor, the ancient boards worn smooth but uneven with the magic dance of cooking, the smells of the fresh baked pie cooling on the counter in the summer breeze, or the sounds of grandma washing dishes, opening and closing the oven door or adding wood to the cracking fire in the wood stove. I remember so well the sound of her striking a match across the steel in such a quiet yet confident way as if to tell the stove I am the queen of this kitchen and I will show you what we must do.

Instead of living with my secret memories or with regret of lost grandma kitchen time I traded years ago for time spent running free and wild on the 200 acres of sand hills ranch, I have decided to proactively solve this with a creative solution. I added learn to make a pie to my life long bucket list. I turned a regret into a goal and have decided to give it a new twist so that I may create new memories with my youngest daughter. We are going to learn together!

After our recent move to a new state, I am taking advantage of the fact that my social teenager hasn’t had a chance to pack her schedule with friend activities yet and I signed us up for a class at the local community center titled “Making decorative pie crusts” What the instructor didn’t know, or falsely assumed, was that I already new how to make the pie crust I just needed to know how to make them decorative. It was a little like putting the cart before the horse so to speak by attending, presumptuous at a minimum. Nevertheless, we proudly walked into class and with false confidence claimed our spot at the cooking counter marked with a single rolling pin.

First attempt at Rolling my pie crust

First attempt at Rolling my pie crust

Thankfully the instructor, in an effort to save class time, provided each of us with a fist size ball of professionally done pie crust and then proceeded to jump into the art of creating fancy looking pies with perfectly done fluting and intricately woven lattice or braded edging!

We floured, rolled and cut our piecrusts and I was delighted to see my daughter proving she was a natural! While my piecrusts were uneven or rolled too thin hers seemed rather artfully perfect in their innocence!

Grandma wasn’t there to teach us but I am pretty sure she was watching down on us that day. I might get an A for effort, or for being a dreamer, but I think my youngest made it clear the art of pie making skipped a generation, I am just glad the family name will be said with pride at future family gatherings and Thanksgivings!

Making Memories

Making Memories

My youngest and I have been practicing all fall and while we don’t have it mastered yet our taste buds are enjoying the challenge! Inevitably, we are still confounded with crusts that are either too dry or too moist to achieve that look of perfection, and when we did get close to the right texture we were frustrated to realize our crust was too small for the pie tin, but like Grandma taught us, we just keep a smile on our face and worked with what we had. As I reflect back over the years and the many lessons learned on the farm, I am comforted by the realization that the best lesson Grandma ever taught me was to recognize and be thankful for the blessings in my life and to appreciate what I had. So many of the younger generation seem to never be satisfied with what they have, always wanting instead what everyone else seems to have. Like a dear friend of my mothers recently put it “Your family never seemed to have a lot of presents under the tree but they had so much love that no one seemed to notice.” Hopefully, in my own little family I have somehow managed to share that lesson also! Our pie crusts might not be perfect and we might not have all the newest and greatest material things in life but hopefully we have so much love that no one seems to notice. At least that is my prayer for my children.

So my friend, what’s next on your list?

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Bucketlistblogger Needs to Refill Her Own Bucket

Bucketlistblogger Needs to Refill her Own Bucket

sunset 1

It’s a simple pleasure, one that is far too often taken for granted, not even noticed in our busy lives, as we rush here and there, but a Colorado Rocky Mountain sunset can be as spectacular as anything I’ve ever seen. It can also help me refill my own energy bucket!

As a busy business owner, my daily quest to share my passion for health and fitness, and help clients in their own sports nutrition journey, takes a fair amount of energy. So does my greatest joy being a mother and wife. Sometimes I too, can start to feel overwhelmed with to do lists, grocery shopping, meal prep, work, and family obligations, not to mention my own fitness goals and training. Just because my husband and I own a sports nutrition store doesn’t mean we aren’t real people and deal with the same day to day challenges you do.

Periodically, when my own energy starts to feel low, I have to remember to pause and give thanks for the simple pleasures in life, like watching a Colorado sunset, somehow it helps me fill back up my own energy bucket.

This might sound strange, but I believe we give to others from our own “bucket of energy” and like a simple math equation, if you give away without refilling your own bucket you are soon going to have a problem and your bucket will be totally empty leaving you nothing to give to others. How we all refill our own energy buckets is a very personal thing. I’ve been a slow learner over the years with this lesson, but I am starting to get it. I have learned that if I stop every now and then and give to myself my bucket stays full and I have the passion and energy to give to others. For me, refilling my bucket can be as simple as an afternoon nap, a ride in the mountains with my family, a hike or simply slowing down to enjoy a Colorado sunset.

It may not be fancy, and it may not be large, but my patio is just big enough for two rockers and a cup of hot coffee in the morning or a small glass of red wine in the evening. My patio perfectly frames my front seat view of Pikes Peak and the front range. I really couln’t ask for more.

While rocking on my patio in the evening, I see the blue Colorado skies as the bright ornages, saucy pinks and teal blues mix against the black outline of the mountains, like a bright box of sun melted Crayons.

When the sun sets on a summer evening I love to watch the sky light up behind the mountains, casting a fast moving kaleidoscope of colors as darkness begins to fall. Soon the sky lights up in a spectrum of rainbow colors, blue as far as the eye can see. As darkness falls a calmness settles over me, allowing me to end my busy day with a simple ritual that always seems to set my day right, even if it went wrong! It helps me refill my bucket.

Simple, pure, peaceful. It helps me remember why I am doing all this in the first place! As night sets I retire knowing I am ready for another day.

Sunset 3

So my friend I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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Butterflies and Horse Shit

Butterflies and Horse Shit

Butterflies are delicate, beautiful creatures that effortlessly seem to float in the air dancing from wildflower to wildflower.

They seem perfect, dancing only in the wind with each other like the new found love between lovers.

Newlywed love is like this, it gathers attention where it goes, it wraps the lovers in a cloak of intimacy and makes the world seem shiny, new and beautiful.

Last week as we vacationed with great friends and celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in the Rocky Mountains we embarked on a hike to a waterfall and mountain stream. My love for wildflowers was indulged as I found myself on the trail winding slowly higher and lined with Columbines, Primrose and Chickweed. The farther from the road we ventured the more butterflies seemed to dance around us around each new bend.

The combination of fresh mountain air, tall Ponderosa Pines tickling my senses, majestic peaks, charming birds and flirty butterflies brought out my romantic side. The perfumed mountain valley lined with wildflowers was intoxicating. Caught up in the moment it was easy to feel the love of great friends, and a charming husband, in fact, it was perfect and felt like a scene in a movie “The Sound of Music” that is until I stepped in a big pile of horse shit unceremoniously dumped in the middle of the trail. Black flies hungrily circling like miniature vultures. I found the irony along the trail amusing to say the least!

“What the heck?” I thought as I jumped off the trail into the tall grass.

“Where did all this come from?” I questioned my friends. “How can this perfect scene be marred by something so stinky and smelly?”

That’s when it hit me – what a metaphor for married life! Life isn’t perfect – it can be beautiful one minute and then messy, stinky and even smelly the next!

Hopefully you’ll be blessed to fall in love and share your life with your best friend but take this advice, sometimes your path life will be smooth and breathtakingly, almost painfully beautiful, and sometimes, usually when you least expect it, life is nothing more than a pile of poo!

Surviving it together and still liking each other at the end of the day takes patience, courage and a good sense of humor, just remember to laugh along the way, stop and smell the flowers and watch where you are stepping!

Celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary was a great bucketlist adventure!

So my friends, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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Take the Plunge

If you are going to do it, then take the plunge and really do it-don’t hold anything back. “Go big or go home” as the saying goes.

This applies to almost every aspect of life, and it is much harder than it sounds, but it is worth repeating every now and then. Don’t do something halfway and then wonder why it didn’t work out. It doesn’t matter what the “It” is.

In the past 6 weeks life has left us with our heads spinning, but we have done some radical stuff around our house. We agreed to sell our house, sorted, purged, sold stuff, gave away stuff and then we boxed and moved/stored 25 years worth of family treasures. We dealt with the Colorado fires (which hit very close to home) and then I resigned my job so I could work full-time with my husband at our business. That’s an awful lot for just a few weeks, and we were appropriately exhausted!

I wrapped up my job, and then we headed on a week long vacation in Crested Butte with dear friends to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversaries. I have never needed a vacation as badly in my life!

I am now several days into my rejuvenating week long vacation, and I feel like a new woman! I am rested, relaxed, decompressed and properly chilled out! Even better, I have had the time to live out several bucketlist adventures!

The first adventure on the list for the week was to go white water rafting on the Taylor River in Colorado. We chose Three Rivers Outfitters to put our trust in and were very well taken care of and entertained!

When you white water raft in Colorado on a Class III, very technical river, you get assigned to a river guide, fitted with a dry suit (that was not very dry) equipped with a snug life vest, and then properly prepped with the “Safety Speech” where they terrify you with explicit details how to position yourself if you fall out of the boat, and how to rescue another rafter if they have the misfortune to fall out! Then you board the inflatable raft and go for it!

Our guide was a very friendly young man named Nick, who was a recent college grad, EMT, river guide and certified avalanche rescuer. I liked the fact hat we was so multi-talented and ready for any disaster-besides that he was fun!

Nick coached us how to paddle our oars together, taught us our commands: left 3, all 1, all back 3, right 2 and all 1, until the four of us fell into a rhythmic synchronized dance that would have impressed any Olympic team!

I guess 35 years of friendship and 25 years of marriage teaches you to work together well as a team! Anyway, Nick was impressed, and we proved to be an apt team of middle-aged rafters!

One of the biggest tricks to staying in the boat, I soon learned, was to wedge your toes under the seat in front of you as much as possible, so that if the raft took an unexpected jolt you could counterbalance yourself. I was terrified to get tossed from the boat and end up floating like an inflated blueberry Umpa Loompa (note the dry suit) so I wedged my toes in until I damn near hit my kneecaps! The first set of rapids tested my skill and I quickly learned to adjust to the unexpected and powerful flow of the river.

At this point, we rocked and rolled our way down the river with Nick at the helm, and the four of us providing the muscle power. It felt good to work together, and I learned we were good at anticipating each others’ moves, and we quickly learned to appreciate the combined power of our joined efforts.

White water rafting is all about learning to read the river anticipate its obstacles and go with the flow!

I quickly learned you couldn’t fight the power of the river. Instead, you have to learn to work with it. One person can’t row and guide the boat- it takes a team working together.

The huge rocks in the river were fascinating and intimidating also. We learned to read the river, from its smiley faces to its frowns. Smiles are good; frowns are bad; I liked the simplicity of that message.

Nick would direct us where to put our power in carefully coordinated and clear directions so that the raft worked with the river, not against it.

The rocks would divide the river forcing the rushing, frigid, snow runoff water to go around it, thus creating hazards, obstacles and dangerous pockets.

I was struck by the symbolism of this lesson. A river is much more powerful it its energy is not diverted, but instead channeled in one clear direction. It makes navigating much easier and your results are more powerful. The odds are much better you won’t crash and burn or end up going where you don’t want to go.

As I rafted down this gorgeous river I realized the potential strength in our recent decision to join professional efforts to work together to grow our business as a team. Alone we were vulnerable, divided and forced to navigate the dangerous waters of business separately, but together we would be undeterred, our efforts doubled by the combined power and singular goal. It was a leap of faith, but I knew there on the river we’d make the right decision for us.

As we paused mid-river for a break, Nick encouraged us to take “the plunge”; we decided to go for it as a team. Each of us stood on a rock in the middle of the river, guided by Nick, we leaned back into the unknown and took the plunge into the icy, powerful waters. It took out breath away as we hit the 58 degree water, but as we rose to the surface we were rewarded by the knowledge we had overcome our fears and we’d worked together to achieve our dreams.

Don’t be afraid to take your own plunge!

So my friend I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven

Photographer Unknown

Recently, in a restless moment, I decided to dive into a challenging item on my Bucket list. Somehow restlessness = challenge in my line of thought. Maybe I just needed to have another one of those “let’s see what you are made of” adventures just to give me the courage to keep fighting the daily challenges of selling a house, parenting a middle school child, starting a new business and running a church! Believe me, each one of these is a major undertaking in itself, and lately, I feel like I am working my tail off, but not getting where I want to be. This is frustrating. Anyway, I think that’s why I decided it was time to hike the Incline in Colorado Springs.

Friendly Conversations
A week or so ago, I was chatting with co-workers and my boss and mentioned I wanted to do the Incline this summer. We left the conversation at that and moved on to more pressing matters like electrical pumps and finance committee reports and meetings, until Thursday around 4:00 pm when my boss walked in from meetings and asked “what are you doing at 7:00 am tomorrow?” Talk about a loaded question! I paused. “I don’t know, what do you want me to be doing?” I timidly threw back at him, trying to leave myself an out in case he was looking for “volunteers” for some kind of major spring cleaning activity around the church.

“How about hiking the Incline with Father Mark?” he asked.

“Whoa” I thought, “I didn’t see that one coming. Tomorrow at 7:00 am was only 15 hours away! Who is Father Mark? I have work to be doing! My daughter has no school what do I do with her? Can I really make it up to the top of the Incline? I hope this Father Mark guy is a patient kind of man!” All these thoughts raced across my mind in the next nanosecond.

“Hmmmmm, I don’t know, can I call you tonight and let you know.” I tired to leave the door just a tiny bit open in case I experienced a major panic attack.

I went home, conducted a detailed research of the Incline just to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I found some beautiful pictures online and a few really intimidating ones. My reaction was that you should almost be tied off with a rope to be on that kind of a slope, no safety net or belaying friend below to save your tail if you fell. I made my decision. I called my friend and begged her to join me in this misery fest!

Father Mark
Next came the awkward call to Father Mark. He has never met me or even seen a picture of me, he has no idea who I am, what kind of shape I am in, or how old and decrepit I am. Talk about a man of faith!

I gave him a call and started asking questions like what kind of shoes, is there snow at the top, what are the temps, how do you get down if you get to the top, do you haul water, where and when would we meet, the easy stuff. Then I tossed him the hand grenade of all questions. “How long do you think it will take a first-timer?” I realize how unfair of a question that was, I mean, he has no idea if I have ever hiked to my own mail box, much less done anything more challenging. “I would say at least an hour, more if you stop to rest,” he answered. (Heck yes, I am going to have to stop and rest, I thought) He said he has friends that he does the Incline with that are runners and they do it in 28 minutes. He however, admitted that it took him 45 minutes to do.

That was it; we struck a deal and made our arrangements. Now all I had to do was get some sleep.

Next morning Susan and I hit the road at 5:45 am and met Father Mark at the base of the trail. We grabbed our gear, Camelback, jacket, snack, toilet paper, camera, phone etc and off we went. It wasn’t until we got to the first set of steps that I realized Father Mark had hauled nothing. He was going very light. Hmmmmm. Fighting the urge to question him about his choices (I believe in the Boy Scout mantra of Always Be Prepared) we forged ahead.

As I stood at the base of the stairs and looked up, it was impossible not to be intimidated. The old cog railroad left an impressive scar on Pikes Peak Mountain from the base straight up as far as the eye could see. The top was currently cloaked in a light fog, so the stairs just sort of disappeared into the sky. It was striking. It was a Stairway to Heaven. (“Stairway to Heaven, Led Leppelin, 1971) How cool.

Next, I noticed the little bitty dots of moving people on the stairs. It was 7:00 am on a Friday morning, and I was amazed at the large number of other crazy people dreaming of overcoming the Incline.

Faced with only two choices at this time, either start going up or run for the parking lot. I took a deep breath, the last time I did so without my lungs being on fire, and put one foot in front of the other.

At this point, my dear friend Susan, mentioned to us that we would be going up 5000 steps, gaining 2000 feet elevation in just over one mile. The majority of the stairs are at a 40% incline, but there are very steep parts that hit 65%. Holy Guacamole!

As we walked on, my mind began to process my new reality. Yes, it was extremely pretty, the stairs were blanketed on each side by a veritable forest of Christmas trees. Tall Ponderosa Pines everywhere were stretching to the sky and gently swaying in the breeze. Huge boulders were randomly scatted on the hillside, adding to the amazing beauty of this place.

The people on this trail were interesting. They were all friendly and most seemed kind. Each was faced with their individual demons to face down on this journey to the sky, so most walked on in a determined, thoughtful, and consistent, paced manner. By nature of the steep percentage of grade, the people on the trail that day all had assumed the same posture. They leaned into the stairway, trying to get their equilibrium in balance with the slope of the mountain. They looked down at the trail immediately in front of them, intent on taking the next thoughtful step. The reality is that you had to do this. The steps were not created to be a nice, easy, winding stairway with beautiful curved banisters, that would allow you to stop and enjoy the sights along the way, and keep you safe at the same time.

No, this trail was engineered for a cog railroad supply train. It was created for function; it had a job to do. The steps were old, cut railroad ties, nailed into place with huge steel spikes. The amount of space between the steps was uneven at best, some required huge strides, and others equally unexpectedly short. Some of the steel spikes were uneven with the ties and presented a trip hazard. The trail was not nicely covered in cement or other smooth material; it was loose gravel and slipped easily under your feet. There were no benches on the side for peaceful meditation and reflection, offering a nice respite from the journey. The spring mountain snow melt had caused deep gouges of runoff that had seriously further scarred the trail. Volunteers had attempted to shore up the really vulnerable spots with pieces of leftover wood, but at the best it looked insecure, at the worst downright dangerous.

Anything at altitude is a challenge, and anyone who has hiked even the flattest trail can tell you it is different when the air is thin and your lungs have to work overtime to bring in and process the oxygen needed to breathe. I have even hiked a trail to the top of a 14,000 ft mountain, (we call them 14’ers) but that too, is different than the Incline. On the mountain trail, the path wanders in small S curves, picking its way through the challenges of the individual mountain terrain. This trail just went straight up.

As I slowly worked my way up the mountain, I quickly realized the ticket to success. Breathe, exhale, step, lean in to protect yourself from a fatal fall backwards, watch the step you are on, and the one coming up next. If necessary, lean down, to the point you are almost on hands and knees, use your hands to pick your way up. Don’t stand up and stop to review your progress. Your blood pools and you immediately feel as if standing upright is actually leaning back. Your balance is off, and it is really easy to loose your equilibrium. The same advice goes for standing up and looking upward. It messes with your brain and your equilibrium. You feel as if you have not made any progress at all, even though you know that you have been working hard, and putting one foot in front of the other.

Sometimes, the view from this angle is distorted anyway. It can look like you are almost there and when you experience this “fake top” it is really discouraging, as you climb over the crest, thinking you will be greeted with the beauty of the views of the summit, and instead, are faced with a second,, seemingly endless trail of stairs.

I am not trying to make this sound impossible. It isn’t impossible. I am also not trying to make it sound easy. It isn’t easy in any way.

I did not expect to be so struck by an almost surreal spiritualness on this journey. But time and time again, I was hit by the revelation that this adventure was a striking metaphor for my life as a Christian, trying to follow Jesus Christ. I am buying a Stairway to Heaven, like my favorite rock song of all time says. I don’t get to “buy” with money, my way into heaven, or anything else that truly matters, I have to earn it, all by myself, one step at a time. I am buying my stairway with thoughtful intention and the dedication I put into focusing my efforts on this path.

The Incline, to me, visually represents my own personal Stairway to Heaven. It is not impossible, but it is not easy. The journey is beautiful, but not paved in gold; it sparkles in a simple, real kind of way. I was experiencing God’s beauty and raw simplicity at the same time. In my view, free will sometimes makes it hard to follow God. God gives me the free will to make my own choices, but then I have to live with the consequences. If I had chosen to run back to the parking lot, when I first gazed up at the base of the stairway, I would never have had this experience, I would not have had this personal revelation, nor would I have experienced the knowledge, that I had traveled a difficult road and made it to the top.

Likewise, I would not have had the revelation that God does not promise a life of riches, or even a stairway made of pretty railings, and beautiful carpet beneath our feet. God promises a way to heaven. The reality, is that the way is challenging in ways we cannot expect, the progress is hard to see along the journey, there are false summits along the way. Just when you think you’ve made it God offers something a little more to overcome.

Continuing with the revelations I experienced that day, is that free will is dangerous. One of the most significant struggles I experienced was at the halfway point. The Barr trail is the safest and most logical way back down. The actual Incline is way to steep, narrow and slippery to retreat the way you came up. The problem, is that the Barr trail runs parallel to the Incline, and it only intersects at the midpoint and the summit. In other words, you can bail out at the midpoint, and go back down, knowing you had a vigorous and challenging hike, but you have only gone halfway. What you can’t do, is go on up the Incline past this point, and then give up. The only way down is up, once you’ve made the decision to keep going. That was a difficult point for me.

I struggled. I came to climb the Incline; it was harder than I thought, in ways, but easier, than I thought in others. At the midpoint, I was struggling, but I was doing it. I wanted to go to the top, but this was really hard. Maybe I should cut my losses and take the out at the mid –point? Maybe I should train for a few months, and come back and try it again when I was more prepared. Maybe, I didn’t really even want to get to the top. Did I really need to reach this summit? Maybe it wasn’t really all that important to me. Maybe I could find something easier. I seriously second-guessed myself. My mind and my heart waged an internal war. In the end, I made the commitment to continue to the top, no matter what it took, to get there. Having no other way out but to finish the goal you set for yourself is really scary.

Stairway to Heaven
At that point it was clear, I had no extra energy to continue this inner battle. If I was going to continue to the top, it was going to take every bit of physical, mental and spiritual strength I had. It was at this point, that I finally let go of all this other stuff. I only thought of the end goal, I certainly did not look back. I think this is often how life goes for me. I knew I did not have the luxury of going further and then saying “ah this was a bad idea, I need to get myself our of this situation.” Instead, I had to make the commitment to simply get to the top of my Stairway to Heaven.

Once I let go of all these doubts, I went on automatic pilot. I focused on the task at hand. I stopped trying to chat with my fellow hikers, I stopped letting my mind wander. The fact is, it was at this point the trail got really hard. It became consuming to carefully pick your way up. As I got lost in this section, I found myself surprised when I realized how far I had actually come, progress I had made with out all the internal doubt and noise. Very interesting.

In ways it was harder than I thought, but in ways it was easier. I had friends along the way, and Father Mark was very sweet. The higher we climbed the more he stayed by my side, quietly talking about this and that, keeping my mind off the struggle. He was there to place a hand behind my back, more than once, as if he was there to catch me if I fell. When I had to stop to breathe, he would provide a piece of history or other information so that I did not have to feel compelled to talk and recover at the same time.

It hit me as we finally neared the top, by breaking this journey down to single thoughtful steps, and by committing myself to this journey, I had found a peace and courage with my goals in life. One of the reasons I came on this adventure was because I was feeling restless, I had been working very hard in my everyday life, but was not feeling the success of all my efforts. I was starting to doubt myself and question myself. I was letting free will get in the way of my success. The Incline helped me get squared away mentally and spiritually, once again. It was just what I needed. I felt like it clarified, for me, why I was living my life the way I was, and God revealed to me in a very visual way that he is not only there right beside me on the journey, he is there to catch me if I fall, and if I just keep focused, on just what I have do to, at that time, I will in fact, achieve my goals.

I am confident this experience came to me on a beautiful Colorado April morning just when I needed it the most. God showed me I would always have just what I need; at the time I need it the most, on my journey.

I am glad I went. I am glad I climbed to the top of my Stairway to Heaven. It renewed my faith in my own spiritual journey.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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Lean Mean Fighting Machine

Kickboxing is an interesting sport, one I have never paid an ounce of attention to until now. I signed up for Ferrell’s Extreme Body Shaping Classes because I knew it was time to get off the couch and get back into they gym in some sort of fashion. I signed up because I liked the concept of 6 one hour classes per week combining cardio and strength training along with quality instruction and lots of motivation, the kickboxing part just came along with the package. I signed up to try something new and to help me meet my goal for the new year of leaning down, waaaaaayyyy down.

The first night of class we were all taught how to wrap our wrists, the idea being we would need extra support to protect our wrists when punching. I was pretty sure this was unnecessary since I have the upper body strength of a slug. It seemed the risk of real injury was fairly remote, at least in my mind.

Next, we put on our HUGE boxing gloves, suddenly I felt more like Mickey Mouse than Muhammad Ali, but if nothing else I am game to try something new so I too put on my massively over-sized gloves and stood alert waiting for my next set of instructions.

Our very fit instructor turned on loud music with a driving beat and started warming us up with a series of jabs, hooks and kicks. Within 30 seconds I felt like I was going to die. Hell, just holding my gigantic gloves up by my face seemed like a workout to me; within moments each glove started feeling heavier and heavier by the second.

In telling this little story, to describe my efforts as, awkward, is really being kind. I was taught to be a “little lady” and growing up with only a younger sister the need to defend myself from someone pulling rapid punches at my face was just not ever a problem.

I would start out ok, hands up, jabbing away, only to realize soon my tired arms had dropped and I had left my entire face exposed to the nearest bad guy willing to throw a punch. Then, talk about coordination, you are supposed to keep your feet moving constantly so you are not an easy target. Don’t you remember Muhammed Ali’s old saying “fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee?” Picture him or Mike Tyson bouncing back and forth on their feet, dancing away from his opponent all the while holding his gloves up to his face, always protecting and waiting for his opportunity to jab and cross, striking before his opponent even saw it coming.

Now that you have that image in mind, transpose this one, me dressed in my dusty workout pants and baggy t shirt standing in a gym with 40 other people, trying desperately to be invisible in the back of the room, and still peer out periodically around my associates to try and follow my deft moving instructor. Alternatively, I would forget to keep my hands up or forget to move my feet. My stance appeared more like a tree trunk rooted in soil than a dancing butterfly and my jab about as harmful as a wet noodle. Now, picture me breathing rapidly, sweating profusely and averaging 4 steps behind the group at any given point in time. Ya, I looked good.

Sensing I might be a natural at this sport, I continued my efforts to keep up.

Next the instructor had us move huge punching bags out into the center of the room. I realized what I was really up against when I pushed with all my might and it merely laughed at me. Seriously, I watched as my peers pushed, tilted and rolled their pads into the middle of the room. Trying again, I threw my entire weight against it hoping to knock it over and instead it bounced back at me like Bozo the Clown, nearly knocking me out on the rebound. At this point, a buff looking female classmate had mercy on me and quickly maneuvered the punching bag into proper position. Well, ok, time to move on.

Our instructor resumed his stance and proceeded to demonstrate a series of sidekicks and alternating punches. He outlined what he expected. Gloves up, I danced in place nodding my head that I was ready to go for it.

I threw my punch with all I had, danced back on my heels and brought my knee up for a menacing sidekick designed to disarm and disorient. The bag didn’t even move. Really, not even a tiny bit. I looked around the room, people were waylaying into their bags, loud smacks could be heard and bags teetered back and forth from the force of the kicks. Mine stood still staring back at me. Daring me to try it again.

After several exhausting minutes of this our instructor paired us with a partner. The plan was to have us stand on opposite side of the bags, alternating our punching and kicking. My partner was a stout man who had done this before. He nodded I could go first like a gentleman, so I grinned and threw the first of my punches, I hit with all I had, jab, jab, hook, upper cut, jab, side kick, side kick. I think I looked like I was having a seizure. The bag didn’t even twitch. Gasping for air I stepped back, impressed with my furry. I waited for my partner to go at it. Nothing happened. Finally, after a few seconds my partner peered around the bag, looked at me and said, “oh I guess you went already”. Then he proceeded to beat the living hell out of our bag and I soon found myself defending my face and head for fear the bag would fall over onto me, certain to kill me instantly. Seriously, he hadn’t even realized I had gone, what the hell!

Day one at Ferrell’s Extreme Body Shaping had me extremely whipped.

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Leader of the Pack

I thought I knew what a good leader was until I went on a dog sledding bucket list adventure with my son and niece this past weekend. It never ceases to amaze me what I learn about others and myself when I step out of my comfort zone and try something new. It is almost always enjoyable and I usually learn a thing or two.

I thought a good leader was strong physically, mentally sharp and willing to make decisions for others. Boy was I underestimating the job!

What I learned is that a really good leader doesn’t have to be the strongest physically of the group, he/she doesn’t have to always be the smartest in the group either. While physical and mental characteristics all play a role, often, there is something else going on behind the scenes that makes all the difference in the world.

I guess dog sledding is no different. What I learned is that dog sledding could not happen with just one or two of the dogs. The only way these animals were going to pull a sled with two grown adults in it up a steep hill on snow and ice was if they worked together as a team. Each dog played a special and intricate roll in the success of the journey. Life is a lot like this too. We do not operate as a vacuum in this world; we rely on friends and family, spouses and coworkers to get the job done of life. Each of us has an important roll on the many different teams we are a part of in life.

Before I went on this little adventure I naively thought the lead dog must be the only one in charge and that he/she would be the physically strongest and mentally the sharpest. Instead, I learned that the lead dogs are special, but more because they have some innate gift that allows them to be willing to go into the unchartered waters ahead of the pack. Realize that pack dogs like to stay in a pack. They like to follow each other. It takes a special dog that is willing to be the “first in line” so to speak -to lead.

The way it was explained to us is that dogs by nature like to follow each other and the lead dog must be willing to go first. This is counter intuitive for Husky dogs because when they are in front they feel like they are running away from the pack, not necessarily leading it. Hmmmm. Light bulb moment for me. It is funny how this happens! The times in my life that I have taken on a leadership role were very scary. I never knew if I was making the right decision, or if I was heading the group in the correct direction. I remember questioning if I was doing the right thing or if anyone would actually follow me. Leadership can be a very scary.

Humans feel this way too. I think. When you are following what everyone else in the word is doing. it is easy to have confidence. You think to yourself I must be going in the right direction because this is what everyone says I should be doing or this is what everyone else is trying to do him or herself. You try to catch the person in front of you. You try not to fall behind. You don’t veer off the beaten path very far. Often, if we find ourselves following the person in front of us and pushing ourselves to stay ahead of the person behind us, we end up losing sight of where we are going and why we are going there in the first place. If you are in the middle of the pack you can’t see the scenery ahead of you. All you see is the tail end of whoever is in front of you. You feel pressure to keep up the pace and stay in line.

Compare this to being the dog at the end of the line. This guy doesn’t have to think for himself at all. He merely goes where they have gone before him. This mindlessness allows us to focus more on our physical strengths. If I don’t have to use my mind to make all my own decisions, I can rely more on my muscles to just get the job done. The dogs that pull these sleds are much the same. Our guide personally introduced us to each of the eight dogs on our team. He shared with us their names, their personalities, and why they held the place on the team they held. The two dogs that were the last pair were referred to as the “meatheads” in fact, one of them was unable to see out of both eyes so he “sensed where he should go” and often banged into the female to his left because of his poor eyesight. This guy mainly went on feel and just followed the energy in front of him.

I thought the “alpha” dog would be a lead dog but I realized this is not necessarily true. Alpha dogs are so busy trying to keep everyone else in line that they often don’t watch the trail ahead and make good decisions. Looking back and trying to correct all the dogs behind him/her prevent the alpha dog from truly acting as a leader. While these dogs are strong physically and mentally, they spend too much energy trying to control those around them. Another light bulb moment…. hmmm. The real gifted leaders were the ones who were able to just make a decision and head in that direction. They were confident they were on the right path, at the right pace, heading in the right direction. They understood that the rest would fall into place behind them, and that they did not need to control everything that went on behind them. They also inherently understood that for this risk they would be rewarded with the most beautiful scenery and that they would get to experience all the joys that lay ahead on the trail. I think they also knew they would not always make the correct decision. As the brake man on one run I had to jump off the sled because the dogs cut the turn too sharp and the sled almost collided with the tree.

The true leaders of the pack were the dogs with heart and courage. They were willing to feel like they were running away from the pack, a somewhat scary feeling at times I am sure, and they were willing to focus only on what lies ahead on the trail. They did not waste any time or energy trying to control others behind them and they were not willing to just blindly follow the decisions of others. They were willing to put it all out there and make the decisions for the group. They set the pace and decided how fast to take the twists and turns on the trail, they were the ones willing to encounter the obstacles first, and face the unknown challenges that lie ahead. They were willing to take a stand and make a decision, and then they didn’t look back. The real beauty of this is that while it must have felt counter-intuitive and more than a bit scary they sure did enjoy the best view and they got to see the sunset in the trees on the trail and feel the fresh powder snow beneath their feet. I think this was a well-deserved benefit.

My job on the adventure was to take turns serving as the break man on the sled and correct the dogs when the leader was making a poor decision, like taking a corner too fast. It was up to me as the brakeman to help push the sled and the team up the most difficult hills and to encourage the dogs when the hill seemed too high to conquer. When I took my turn riding on the sled I had to relinquish all control to the dogs in front of me and the brakeman behind me. I did not get to make any of the decisions. I found riding in the sled the most difficult of all. It is hard to give up all control on the journey.

Personally I decided that I don’t like blindly following along in this world letting others make all the decisions for me but it is scary to be willing to be the lead dog and run away from the pack. Sometimes it is nice to just be inbetween.

I also realized that good leaders are the ones who are willing to step back and let someone else lead every now and then recognizing that we all have off days and would just rather follow along that take all the risks.

Dog sledding was really cool and I learned far more than I thought I would. I think that is the sign of a grand adventure.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?’

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No Mental, No Dental!

Last weekend my sister came for a visit and as we sat drinking coffee early one morning on my deck she innocently mentioned that she had recently just discovered her new health insurance lacked Mental health coverage and Dental coverage, I about spit out my coffee, as the realization hit me full force. This was a problem, no mental, no dental; this would not do, not at all.

Deciding to take matters into my own hands, I immediately mentally adjusted our weekend schedule. If she had no mental, then I would have to provide a little mental adjustment for her of my own. If she lacked dental, I would have to take that into consideration also. Not good.

I immediately started planning; we had much to do and very little time to do it in!

I whipped out my iphone and with a few keystrokes had us scheduled for a little giggle fest-a pole dancing class on Friday night. Then I checked the weather and blocked out all day Saturday for a much needed mountain drive through Estes Park to do some fall leaf peeping, followed by a Sunday adrenaline rush with a little ziplining adventure at Royal Gorge.

Estes Park is a truly amazing place, especially in late September, for some reason the animals that reside in the park are much more visible in the late fall, not to mention the way the crisp mountain air bites at your cheeks and golden hews of the Aspen’s dance on the hillside in their full fall glory.

Vicki did not remember visiting the park when we were young kids so each twist and turn of the road was a happy surprise for her. The view of Trail Ride Road slowly winding its way up the mountain to the Continental Divide provided her with amazing vista’s of rugged mountain ranges, field after field of fiery red and golden yellow leaves dancing in the wind and wild mountain lakes tucked into the sides of massive mountains in the distance as far as the eye could see.

There is something about a fall drive in the Rockies that helps clear your mind, replenish your batteries and fill your lungs with enough fresh crisp air to last all winter long.

We managed to see Elk munching in the yards and ditches of the town of Estes Park, as comfortable with the tourists as the snow on the mountains. We caught a glimpse of a large male Moose grazing just behind the tree line and we saw the most amazing mountain vista’s that grew more impressive with each curve of the highway.

Along the way we sang to vintage classic rock and enjoyed the ride with her windows down in her very cool red Jeep. We sang along with Bob Segar and Bon Jovi. We talked about our dreams, our fears and our struggles. We laughed and ate sandwiches and sipped our Diet Cokes and we concentrated on the simple joy of breathing in the fresh woodsy smells of the mountains. That was all we had to do. No problems to solve, no fears to overcome, no deep revelations to discover. We just drove around a beautiful mountain park in the height of a gorgeous September fall day with the windows down and the music up in her cool red Jeep. Life was so simple. Life was good. We are blessed to have each other as sisters and friends.

By the end of the day, our mental therapy needs had been met and our energy levels were restored. The mental part was taken care of.

Now for the dental, I think I will send her the pictures of our glorious September Rocky Mountain drive with a package of floss and let her figure the rest out for herself.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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