Eight months ago, I embarked on perhaps the most significant Bravery Mission of my life. Following my experience with the Las Vegas mass shooting in October 2017, I was called to reexamine what it meant to be given the gift of breathing each day. I promised myself I’d bravely follow where I felt the Spirit leading me; to soak in each moment of joy and beauty.
In April of 2018, I went back to Camp Fontanelle and felt a familiar spark in my soul — a sense of peaceful joy that had disappeared in the days following the Las Vegas shooting. I built a campfire that chilly afternoon with a dear old friend, who had grown a gruff ginger beard. I noticed a wild glint in his eyes as he told me of his adventures, and I wanted that too.
Later that day, I was offered a camp job on the spot. Honoring the promise I’d made myself, I accepted the job and moved back to the forest. The future seemed hazy as I left a good job at a church, but I had faith rooted to my bones that goodness awaited.
And oh… what an adventurous trail I’ve been hiking since then.
I spent my fifth summer at Camp Fontanelle, serving campers and doing work that brought fire to my spirit. My inner self was rekindled and I built (many) fires. Joy was woven through each day spent at Fontanelle again, and that joy was only elevated as the summer ended.
Over the last five months, I’ve been given the opportunity to continue trundling down this little unknown life path with that same ginger-bearded man.
A year ago, a belief threaded to my bones after years of cuts and stitches — my heart was becoming too cold, too hard to ever allow somebody to come through the door. I let the voices of liars tell me that I’d self-sabotage the good stuff each time.
Through the autumn season, Ethan handed me a shovel and he grabbed one too. He’s helped me dig out the rot and I’m realizing that there’s no room for Fear in this relationship. Just warmth, safety and planting roots. He has taught me about patience, faith and the beauty of slowness, all while making each day an adventure. I keep telling him that he’s a good one, and I really and truly mean that. I’m honored to care so much for the one who goes barefoot to feel the earth beneath his feet—and he also talks to the trees, just like I do.
In August, Ethan and I took a three-week road trip adventure. We traveled from place to place in Utah, living out of the tent I bought myself for my 25th birthday, and cooking over our camp stove for each meal (thanks dad). I showered exactly three times in those three weeks, though I did jump in the Colorado River a few times to cool off. We even found the freezing headwaters of the Rio Grande high up in Colorado’s mountains—you bet I took a chilly dip.
That adventure was one of the best I’ve ever had. There is simply something about Utah’s desert and canyons that makes a person come alive. At one point while hiking at Fisher Towers in Moab, Ethan said, “The earth’s old bones seem to stick out more here.” He was right, and those words have become the title of the book I am writing (hopefully to come in 2019).
I discovered that Canyonlands National Park is my favorite place in the world. We only explored the Needles District this time, hiking through Chesler Park and Elephant Canyon. I gained a new sense of respect for the desert here, as Canyonlands is considered one of the most remote and wild National Parks in the US. There were only a handful of hikers here, so we essentially had the entire district to ourselves. I felt like I was exploring a new land, a different planet. We didn’t spend nearly enough time at Canyonlands, and I’ve officially added off-roading through the Maze district in Adventure Car to my bucket list.
Ethan and I also put our camp counselor skills to the test at Arches National Park, as we night hiked through the Devil’s Garden. The moon only barely illuminated our trail; our feet carrying us up steep rock fins as we searched for a handful of the park’s many arches.
We stopped at Hovenweep National Monument, which just might be Utah’s hidden gem. Once again, we essentially had the entire place to ourselves (aside from one other hiker), and we experienced the magical dark skies there. We explored Native American ruins and hiked a trail that was covered in magnificent teal, red and black stones.
On our way to Utah and back home, we made spontaneous stops in Colorado at Mesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes NP, and Rocky Mountain NP. Definitely worth the time, and we managed to check off three bonus parks on our list!
In early October, I went on a three day canoeing adventure to do a test-run for a new camp this summer. We canoed over 30 river miles, battling a mean headwind, rain and cold temps — but I discovered that canoeing makes me feel alive.
From paddling down the Elkhorn River to hiking ten+ miles a day in Utah, I realized that I don’t have just an explorer’s spirit — but also an explorer’s body. I can handle what the earth presents me. My legs can take me up canyons and I can scramble over steep rock fins. My arms and shoulders can plunge the paddle into the water for hours each day. Even just two years ago, I never imagined I’d be going on these adventures.
(Stay tuned for 2019 — Ethan and I want to hike the Cowboy Trail in the spring. It runs 321 miles between Norfolk, NE and Chadron!)
In other news, one of the Laing ladies got MARRIED! Miss Emmy became Mrs. Kuhlmann, and I adored seeing her so happy. Our family was simply overwhelmed by joy that day—and we also threw her a heckin’ great bachelorette party at the cutest cabin a few weeks before the big day!
This year I was able to invest more into my creative work and KATEWORKS business — I added new stickers and weavings to my shop, and I have even more ideas up my sleeves. Retreats and workshops are in the works, as is an e-book on being an Everyday Explorer. I’m wiggling in happiness that I’ve had opportunities to spend more time on what’s important to me, as I take steps on making my business more sustaining.
In big freelance news, I spent a year doing the illustration and design work for a board game called Machinations: A Game of Devious Schemes! Aaron Bostwick, a camp pal, asked me to bring his vision to life, and we just officially published the final product this month. You can read more about it (and order a copy of the game) at machinationgames.com.
Anthem for a New Year //
Put your sleeping fears to rest—the strength lays in the lionheart. Listen to Fear knocking on the old oak door... acknowledge he’s creeping around with a desire to wreck havoc, but demand he stays in the woodworks today. Let the wild wiggle, grow some roots, and explore the earth with feet in the dirt. There’s so much to see.
Happy New Year, dear friends.