Crazy View Farm Olympics

It’s the eye of the tiger
It’s the thrill of the fight
Rising up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor
Stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watching us all with the eye of the tiger

Now that you are in the mood for some competition, let me walk you through the weekend’s debauchery that took place at Cloud Nine Farm during the second annual Farm Olympics. We had been practicing for what seemed like forever – when in fact it was really only one week. The training was brutal, but it was nothing compared to the battle that awaited us at each event during the Farm Olympics. Six farms, each full of competitive spirit, participated in six events, which combined agility, strength and precision. The events consisted of straw bale tossing, thistle root pulling, row covering, icy fingers bag tying, precision weighing, and chicken catching. The teams presented two worthy opponents for each event and the stage was set for a bloody battle – filled with laughter and encouragement. 

Proud of our homemade Crazy View patches

Ulrikke and Val started off strong with a straw bale toss that would have made any competitor weak with fear. Alas, a couple of teams must have taken advantage of such fear and ended up tossing the bale over 20 feet. We were not discouraged, thistle pulling was up next and I happen to be a little obsessed with pulling thistle out of the ground. The clock began and we had two minutes to pull as much thistle as we could, but there was a catch, there were no gloves allowed. It was agonizing, but Chase and I gave it our all and pulled through the pain. The goal was to pull the longest, intact root. This may sound simple to you, but this will only prove that you have not picked thistle in quite some time and you may want to start weeding your garden. The roots can easily extend up to a foot into the ground; with one wrong pull you will yank off the tip and disqualify your thistle contestant. Experience proved to win over excitement in this event. Neither Chase nor I placed in the event, but we did have plenty of thorns in our fingers to prove our effort.

Measuring our roots with the other contestants

The third event was the row cover competition. If you are unfamiliar with row cover, it is simply a spun-bonded polypropylene fabric which is sunlight, rain and air-permeable. It captures warmth and protects plants from damaging winds, resulting in healthier plant growth and higher yields. Needless to say, in the rugged landscape of Montana they are a necessary part of sustainable agriculture. The competition was to cover a 25-foot row of crops and secure it with rocks. The winning team completed the task in a mere 37.0 seconds.

Now, that we were all warmed up, it was time to cool off. Farmer’s markets and CSAs are a large part of a farmer’s livelihood and both require that produce is clean and packaged. Produce is cleaned in freshly pumped well water, which means it is icy cold. After removing all of the dirt, it needs to be placed in plastic bags and tied in knots that are tight enough to hold but not so tight that the little old ladies’ arthritic hands have trouble opening the produce. The event had Ulrikke and Caitlen place their hands in ice water for two minutes and then tie a perfect knot in a bag of produce before any of the competitors. Crazy View Farm finally had a winner! Ulrikke managed to tie a knot with her numb, clumsy fingers before any other contender.

A farmer must know how much to charge for the produce that they are packaging and this is based off of the market price and the weight. The next event had Luke testing his skills at estimating an amount of produce and then getting as close to a quarter of a pound as possible. It turned out to be a difficult task and a long-time farmer ended up winning with a perfect 0.250 on the scale. The final event was catching wild chickens. The beautiful bantams had been running loose for the past few weeks and needed to be rounded up. I fancy myself a bit of a chicken connoisseur and thought that I would be able to win the event. However, my confidence could not conquer the chickens. I ran until my lungs burned. I chased the chickens through sagebrush and tractors with no success. Each one eluded my outreached arms. Luke faired much better than I and managed to wrangle up three chickens before the time ran out.

Storms clouds moved in from the North just as we were finishing up the day’s events. We had been jokingly warned not to win the Farm Olympics because the winning farm is crowned the host for next year’s competition. We came to the conclusion that this thought in the back of our minds must have been the reason we failed to win the gold – it was either that or accept defeat. Our evening continued with a wonderful potluck, warm company and two bonfires. I say from now on all weeding has to be done without gloves, in order to train our hands for next year’s Olympics. I will start tomorrow. 

If anyone would like to see the other photos taken at this event or get a copy of those included in this blog, I have created a Dropbox folder specific to the Farm Olympics. If you just send me an email, I will invite you to view the shared folder and you will be able to use any of the photos – all photos were taken by the talented Mr. Chase Vreeland.  

Participating Farms

The CSA Model on Crazy View Farm

Monday is our early day on the farm. We get the day started at 7:00am and we do not stop until all of the work is done. The day is busy because we harvest for the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Bozeman Farmer’s Market and MDF (Market Day Foods). Crazy View Farm works with three other farms to grow, pick, package and distribute produce to 78 CSA shareholders each week for 16 weeks (June – October). 

The CSA Modelis an agreement between the farmer and customer that provides capital to the farmer during the planning and planting season to pay for seeds, growing materials, equipment, and labor. In return, the farmer provides CSA members with a weekly box of produce throughout the growing season. CSA members are invested in the farm for the entire season. They share in the harvest, when it is bountiful, but also share in the inherent risks and challenges of growing food – drought, frost, wind, hail, to name a few.  Shareholders, or families, pay $360 at the beginning of the growing season and receive a weekly share of the produce. That breaks down to only $22.50 per share, per week. Health insurance companies have learned that families and individuals who participate in CSA programs have lower heath care costs. Ask your health insurance provider if they offer rebates for their customers that are a part of a CSA. When offered, health insurance companies typically offer $100 rebates for individuals and $200 rebates for families. Even if your health insurance provider says no, it is always good to be pushing them to look for new ways of lowering the cost of healthy foods for you and lowering the health care costs to the insurance company. CSAs become a win-win scenario for both families and health insurance providers.

Cleaning lettuce heads and bundling up the carrots

Crazy View puts a concentrated effort into growing a majority of the greens that make up the weekly CSA share. Today we harvested basil, heads of lettuce, zucchini and eggs for the shareholders. All four farms work together to provide a diverse variety of produce to their shareholders each week. The other farms contributed fennel, tomatoes, squash, cucumber and onion to the share. If you think receiving fresh vegetables, picked at the peak of perfection and in your hands within 24 hours sounds ideal, then you should consider become a CSA member. It will not only feed your body organic, wholesome goodness but it will also teach you and your children about the vegetables that grow well in your area and when they are in season. If you are unsure how to find a farm in your area that operates a CSA, contact me and I will help you or attend the next farmer’s market in your town. Ask the farmers if they are operating a CSA program and how you can become a member.
Aside from the healthy vegetables and learnin’ that you will receive by becoming a member, you will also be supporting your local farming community. Think about it – you are purchasing your share in the springtime, the exact time of year when farmers need capital the most and you are removing the middleman. Rather than driving to the grocery store for every edible desire, you are going straight to the Farmer. By making this choice you are delivering the true value of the product to the Farmer. When you purchase your produce at a grocery store, the Farmer’s price decreases by every person that it takes to get the product from the Farm and to your plate. A portion of the value gets paid to the farmer, truck drivers, warehouse, marketer and grocer. I do know that it is convenient and efficient to get your produce from a grocery store, but I do hope that you consider purchasing a portion of the food you eat directly from the human whose sweat, blood and tears went into growing your dinner. 

The list of produce to harvest for the day

Washing, weighing and packaging

Farming Alongside Friends

The second day on Crazy View Farm was a Sunday and it was the perfect day for a long hike through the Crazy Mountains. Our fellow Wwoofers introduced us to the National Forest that protects the Crazy Mountains. We woke up early, made a tasty lunch for the hike and started driving into the wilderness. The majority of the farming in Montana is ranching, which means cows are everywhere. We came very close to hitting at least 15 cows on our drive into the mountains. They all roam along the dirt roads and when you cruise around a corner, they become quite a large surprise. Luckily, neither the Honda nor the cow was injured that day and thank goodness because we were informed that if you do kill a rancher’s cow, you are responsible for covering the cost of the cow.

Our hike took us across creeks, rushing with icy, mountain snow. We rested in meadows, covered in wild flowers and ready to be napped in. We walked up mountains, we walked down mountains, and then we walked up a couple more. Eventually, we decided that the supposed loop that we were on was longer than we dared venture on a day hike. We journeyed back to the car no longer strangers to these wonderful fellow wwoofers.

Back at the farm we began to learn the lay of the land. Crazy View Farm has been in operation for five years. They have five gardens across the property. The farm is most well known for it’s spectacular greens. Laurie grows more greens than I could describe to you here, but some of my favorites are the arugula, dino kale, red Russian kale, spinach and swiss chard. To put it into perspective, Laurie harvests enough greens to supply 78 families with weekly greens on their dinner table. She sells additional greens, along with hoards of other herbs and vegetables, at two weekly farmers markets and an online market.
A farm wouldn’t be complete without it’s requisite animals. Crazy View has two Border Collies – Mary and Jane. They are quite possibly the smartest dogs I have ever met. I am pretty sure they understand English fluently. It’s more than just knowing, “sit, lie down, fetch,” Billy and Laurie speak whole sentences to their dogs and the dogs know exactly how to respond. The dogs stay busy keeping tabs on the five horses, Risky, Beau, Luke, Barry, and Wiley. There are also thirty chickens of all shapes and sizes that lay eggs for eager customers. Laurie has a soft spot for all animals and when a mentally handicapped calf was born at a farm down the road, Laurie rushed in to save it before it could become dinner. The calf, Eddie, is one unique animal. He coughs like an old man who has smoked his entire life and follows up each cough with a snotty sneeze that drips down the hairs on his chin. Because he is still so young, we get to feed him daily with a bottle full of milk. Above all, my favorite animals on the farm are the three donkeys. They love attention and are never satisfied when I am done petting them. Lugs, the small, fury donkey, looks exactly like the Donkey on Shrek. Ruth and Rachel have soft, clean hair and love getting massages at any time of day. I made up the donkey massage method this afternoon, but I do think they enjoy the feeling.

Our past few days on the farm have been a welcome change from traveling cross country. My back and legs are sore, and I finally feel like I have a purpose once again. We have spent our days picking vegetables, weeding rows of crops, taking care of chickens and planting new seed. It is incredibly rewarding to approach a row full of weeds and know how good you can make it look with just a bit of effort. Yanking up thistle by the root leaves me with deep satisfaction that I have not felt in too many other places. The only difference between the work we completed in Canada and the work we are completing here in Montana is the company. In Canada, Chase and I spent our days together in the fields. In Montana, we spend our days with five other people. There is always someone telling stories and making us laugh to pass the time in the fields. Everyone comes from a different background and part of the world. They all have deep knowledge in certain fields and I learn something new everyday from my fellow farmers.

The size of our group here builds a unique sense of community. There are 8-10 people living on the property at any one time. We all share one bathroom, if you don’t count the compostable toilet outside. Dinners are cooked by one of us on a rotating basis over the week. We all sit outside on the deck to eat dinners, with tall, golden sunflowers in the foreground and the Bridgers mountain range in the background. It is wholesome goodness at it’s best. We typically spend the rest of the evening on the deck. All of us tell stories about our lives and we listen to the coyotes howl. 

Tonight was our night to prepare dinner for the group. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I had never cooked for more than four people at any one time, the meals that the others had prepared have tasted incredible and I had to have it done at 8:00pm on the dot. Chase and I prepared coconut curry with a homemade flatbread and salad. I should never have been worried. The meal turned out delicious and I am certain everyone would have still liked me even if it tasted like dog food.  

Wilsall, Montana – Home of Fabio, Joni Mitchell, and Good Looking Jerry

Our time farming in Montana started off with a bang – a literal bang as we watched John Wayne defeat the water-stealing James Kincaid in Riders of Destiny. We sat alongside all 200 residents of Wilsall, Montana and enjoyed a night of prime rib, auctioneering, and an old Western. We sat in the bleachers, overlooking the rodeo arena and the Crazy Mountains.  I don’t believe I have ever felt so old-fashioned American. I was swept up in the cowboy hats, boots, dust and sun. The Wild West is alive and well in Wilsall. It feels like a lawless country, where you are more afraid of your neighbor’s judging eyes than of the law.  This part of the country attracts folks from all walks of life. Within our first two hours we had met a man who had dated Joni Mitchel and married Miss Argentina – who ended up winning Miss Universe. We discovered that one of the individuals we are living with is the former drummer of the band Morphine. If you have never heard their music, check it out. It is a nice blend of rock and jazz. The artists and ranchers who make up this eclectic population have colorful backgrounds and personalities.

The night began as the auctioneer opened with a Scandinavian joke that would have made any Minnesotan laugh.
Lars:Say, Ole, I went by your house last night and noticed you kissing your wife in the window.
         Ole:The yoke’s on you, Lars, I wasn’t even home last night.

After a lively auction, and with dusk approaching, we settled into our seats for the movie. The screen flickered on and we watched an emotional, Oscar-worthy, memorial service of all of the citizens who had passed away over the last year. Live music accompanied a powerpoint presentation as we became familiar with the lives of all of the late citizens of Wilsall. It was incredibly sad and with the need for a little mood lifter, I began to look around at the citizens of Wilsall. Right off the bat, I noticed a Fabio look-a-like, a stroller carrying both a beer and a bottle in the cup holders, and observed a mother daughter duo who should audition for “Tweens and Tiaras.” Her spunky daughter was posing on the rodeo railings, inside tractor tires, and alongside the porta-potty, while mom shouted, “now this time make it a little more sassy!” We were introduced to a town favorite, Good Looking Jerry, who kept us laughing with another joke.

         Q:What’s the difference between beer nuts and deer nuts?
     A: Beer nuts cost a dollar fifty and deer nuts are always under a buck.
Our first evening at Crazy View Farm was filled with new friends, food, and laughter. Who could ask for a better night? We rode home in the back of the pickup truck and crawled into our comfortable camper for the best sleep I have had in a long time. Thank goodness for a real mattress after sleeping in a tent for the past month! 

Home sweet home in our camper!


For all of you who are waiting for us to get back to the purpose of our blog – farming – you have only to wait a couple more days. Our next organic farming journey will take us to Crazy View Farm in Montana.
After four days in Steamboat Springs, at the beautiful Dry Lake Campground, we left for Utah. Our days at Dry Lake consisted of watching moose, trying to avoid the rain, and trying even harder to start fires. The rain never made it through the shell of our tent, but it did soak us to the bone a of couple times. Next time we get back to Colorado we will arrive with an all-wheel drive vehicle – a Subaru if I am lucky.  There were countless trails into the mountains that we wanted to explore, but they required the proper vehicle and my poor little Honda Civic just couldn’t quite make it. So, after preparing a few impressive meals at the campsite and attempting to take a sponge bath in the woods we were off to civilization once more to visit one of my oldest friends, Nichole, in Utah.

 Upon our crossing into Utah we were shocked, it felt like we were in a desert wasteland. It turns out, we were in the Dinosaur Diamond, where you can stop and explore archeological sites and hunt for your very own fossils. The beauty of Utah began when we went passed the Strawberry Reservoir, a massive lake that spanned as far as I could see. As we cruised down Provo Canyon we were again struck with the feeling of insignificance when compared to the millions of years old geological formations around us.
We arrived at Nichole and Jason’s lovely home and they treated us to a delicious, filling meal. For the past week I had felt like I was living the “starving artist” lifestyle. We had been living on one main meal a day, which might work for Mr. Chase Vreeland, but was making me a very hungry gal. Thus said, we curled into our cozy bed and fell fast asleep, with a full stomach. There is no better feeling than falling asleep in a warm bed after shivering in a sleeping bag for the past seven nights.
Today we ventured out into Provo Canyon. We hit our first hurdle the moment we stepped outdoors, the temperature. It was hot. We had become accustomed to the mild temperature in the Colorado mountains and now had to adjust to the sunny, dry heat of the valley. Alas, we were instantly cooled as we began climbing the rocks of Bridal Veil Falls. The mist of the falls was icy cold and showered us with refreshing, natural air conditioners. I have seen waterfalls in Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, and of course Niagara Falls, but nothing has compared to the moment I spent under the Bridal Vail falls. It wasn’t because of the sheer size of the waterfall, it wasn’t the largest fall that I had seen, but it was the closest I had ever been to such a force of nature. I stood under the fall and looked up for what felt like forever. All of my thoughts seemed to disappear and all I felt was the cool water landing on my skin.

The next place of interest on our agenda was Vivian Park. Jason and Nichole had given us very detailed directions to reach the “Hippie Rock.” The Hippie Rock lies in the middle of the Provo River and is surrounded by currents that swirl down and around. We parked our car and headed East on the railroad tracks until we saw The Rock. Lucky for us, there was a gentleman there who gave us the full lowdown on the rock. His name was Ryan, he likes to drink lots of beer, smoke even more cigarettes, listen to Eminem and hang out at the rock on his days off from working as one of the Head Chefs at Panda Express. There is only one way to swim to the rock without being injured by the current and Ryan showed us the way. There is also only one place you want to jump off the rock, without slamming into other rocks, and Ryan showed us the way. He also informed us that the best way to jump is to begin spinning in the water once you land, so that the force of the current will whip you around even faster. Ryan also has a dog, whose name is Snoop-a-loop. I am not quite sure if I had more fun jumping off the rock or getting to know this slightly loony man, Ryan. As I write this, I am starting to understand what made Ryan so off. As he informed us, he spends every moment of his free time at the rock. Now, believe me when I tell you that the water around the rock is cold. I am from Minnesota and I know what lake water cold feels like, this was much colder. This was melted snow water cold. It wasn’t the type of water that you get used to, it’s the type of water that numbs your limbs. It may even numb your brain – at least that’s my Ryan theory.

The next time you hear from us, we will be back on the farm. We are excited about our next farm, because they are very active in the farmer’s market scene. I can just imagine having the time of my life passing vegetables to eager customers and coming up with recipes for the newly harvested produce. 

Steamboat Springs, CO – loving the springs, loathing the rain

It’s raining, it’s pouring, I wish I was snoring. Yesterday, we found the perfect campsite. It is only $10 per night, there are only seven other campsites around us and it is located in the middle of the Rocky Mountain wilderness. We have multiple hiking trails that lead up mountains, down to fresh creeks, and along the edge of mountains so that you can see everything that is going on around you. We had scouted out the campsite the day before, only to find that it was full. We spent the night at an awful, family, pet-friendly campsite only two miles from Steamboat Springs. It was only awful, because we have become accustomed to staying in pristine wilderness, where I feel like I have to whisper at times because I don’t want to disturb the lives of the animals in the forest. This place was a different story.

So happy to be at a quiet, woodsy campsite again

We arrived late, which meant there were only three campsites left. Of course, this means they are also the three worst campsites. We picked campsite 122, thinking it was the best of the worst. Let me paint you a picture of the noise that surrounded us – standing at the front of our tent and looking to the left you will see the bathroom, the only bathroom in the campsite. Needless to say, it was a busy place. To the right of our tent was the playground, complete with screaming kids day and night. In front of us was a family with a barking German Shepard who was tied up the whole time and would tempt all the little kids to come play with him, but then leave the kids screaming when he would growl and try to wrestle them down. But, the loudest part of all arrived in six cars at 8:30pm and managed to squeeze into the two remaining campsites. A family of no less than 30 barreled out of their vehicles ready to celebrate someone’s daughter’s Quinceañera. We were in the midst of getting to know a great couple from Austria when we watched the family arrive and we both looked at one another and laughed, knowing it was probably going to be a long night. They were familiar with such noise, as they have been traveling across the U.S. in their Volkswagen van. They had encountered quite a few crazies in their countless nights parked in Walmart parking lots. Their van is the greatest way to travel across the country. The top pops up for a sleeping area, it has a cooking stove built into the body and it gets 30 miles per gallon.

The night at the pet-friendly campsite made us realize how much we wanted stillness once more in our lives, so we packed up our tent early the next morning and drove into the mountains, back to the campsite that had been full the day before. Lucky for us, there was a beautiful empty campsite waiting for us when we arrived. It was the first time on this entire trip when we knew where we were going to sleep for the night before sunset.  It felt great. We nestled our tent between a few tall pines, started a campfire and relaxed. After a delicious lunch we started to explore the trails around our mountain. Twenty minutes in we had already spotted two moose, a mother and her baby, filling up on grass near the creek. I have never seen a moose before and to have seen one in the wild was incredible. We watched the two of them for quite a while before we started hiking once again. The mountainside was in it’s prime. There were flowers everywhere we looked, violet, yellow, white, blue. The flowers were scattered amongst thick forests of birch trees. The colors looked painted into the landscape against the white trunks of the trees.

Chase had way too much fun chopping wood

After our walk we had a magical hour back at our campsite. Chase wrote a few lovely and scary poems,  I did yoga and we settled on a plan for dinner. Our magical hour came to an abrupt end when we felt the first drops of rain, just as we were chopping the carrots. We decide to scratch our dinner plan and head into town, hoping the rain would be short lived. After a delicious Tex-Mex meal we left town and went to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, the best hot springs I have ever experienced. There were multiple pools of mineral waters that ranged in temperature from lake water to boiling hot. We tested them all and felt like we had discovered the best place on Earth. When it started to get dark, clothing became optional. We opted to keep our clothes on and felt a little prudish watching all the naked people wandering in and out of the pools. The minerals in the water made our skin and hair feel healthy and clean. It was so peaceful that I didn’t even squirm too much when I would step into a weedy, algae patch of ground. As the temperature of the air cooled down, the steam from the pools rose and engulfed us in a ghost like fog. At one point, we looked up the waterfall behind us and saw two deer drinking from the pool. We left the pool just after 10 when a game of naked Marco Polo broke out and we were a little worried about what our hands might touch under the water with so many people darting back and forth.

We fell asleep in our tent warm, clean and relaxed. As dawn started to break this morning, we heard the rain begin to fall. We kept falling asleep, hoping it would stop, but it only rained harder. As we dashed from our tent to the car in search of our rain gear, we were uncertain if our car would make it back down the dirt-road that leads up the mountain. Since I am sitting here in the library writing this, it means we did make it down the mountain. But, we are still hoping that we will make it back up to our tent today.

Clothing optional hot springs

Boulder and Beyond

I was finally able to get to know Rhett’s fiancé, Haley, during our week-long stay in Colorado Springs. It felt like a vacation from a vacation staying at their home. They have spent so much time painting and updating it since they purchased it last year, and the time has paid off. We felt cozy and welcomed the entire time we were in their home. They showed us around their city, fed us delicious Gyros, taught us to play Sequence, and cooked us yummy meals – all while celebrating the upcoming arrival of their baby! Chase loved wrestling with their two dogs, Panic and Wookie. I think I finally met two individuals with more energy than Chase! We hiked a few trails while we were exploring the area, each of which made us love Colorado a little bit more. 

After an incredible week, we left Colorado Springs and headed North to Denver. The night before, we had watched Bizarre Foods: Denver with Andrew Zimmerman and he had gushed over the authentic Mexican restaurant, Chubby’s for their infamous green-chili smothered burritos. We took it as a sign that we were meant to dine at Chubby’s and sat down with hungry bellies. Now, the green chili sauce was okay, but the overall burrito experience was nothing like Mr. Zimmerman promised. The sauce tasted thick with flour and the bean burrito was salty as the sea.

Our time in Denver greatly improved after the burrito as we wandered through the art museum and the gardens that surround the capital. With our parking meter ticking away, we visited our friend Laura at Wazee and 16th to check out frames on the Warby Parker school bus. As we all know, the world is incredibly small and I had actually seen the founder of Warby Parker, Neil Blumenthal, speak at the Chicago Innovation Fair in 2012. I was able to briefly speak with him after the presentation and was motivated by his drive for the type of success which is defined by both financial and social profits. He wants to make money and he wants to do good in the world. His company, Warby Parker, designs and sells prescription glasses through their online store. For every pair that is sold, Warby Parker works with non-profits across the developing world to fit blurry-visioned individuals with proper eyewear. Warby Parker has also differentiated itself in the eyewear industry with their $95 price point – which includes both frames and lenses. Yes, you read that right, I did not miss a 3, 4, or 5 in front of the $95. The prices of eyewear have been artificially high for years, edged upward by the almost monopolistic grasp that the company Luxottica has on the industry. Luxottica manufactures almost all eyewear available on the market, then slaps one of their many brands on the frame – Ray-Ban, Oakley, Vogue to name a few. They also own the distribution channels –LensCrafter and Pearl Vision, as well as the insurance company EyeMed.
Warby Parker’s classic frames are well-made pieces of art that have been gracing the faces of the trendy New York crowd for years. The cross-country bus tour that is sweeping the nation promises to expand their market and ease the pocketbooks of all who step out of their comfort zone and make the switch to buying glasses online. I know it sounds strange at first, but Warby Parker makes the process as painless as possible. After entering the website, you simply select a few pairs of frames that you might like and the next thing you know they arrive at your door ready for you to try on in the comfort of your home. Warby Parker covers the shipping costs and you are under no obligation to purchase the frames  – just make sure you remember to return them. When you do find a pair that makes you look great, Warby Parker works with your eye doctor to ensure the proper prescription and fit. All of this for only $95! For a girl who has worn glasses since first grade, which were splattered with a pastel rainbow of ugly colors, paying $95 for glasses is a savings of over $200. Hopefully that didn’t sound too much like a commercial. We just had the best time trying on frames and taking pictures in the Warby Parker bus and I want you all to save money! The bus will be rolling through Uptown in Minneapolis August 9 – September 2.

Chase’s good friend from Brainerd, John, lives in Denver with his wonderful wife, Brittany. They recently purchased a home just 10 minutes from downtown Denver and they asked Chase to make a new piece of art for their new walls. We delivered the artwork and went to a local bar in the Highlands neighborhood for good beer and even better company. They opened their home to us for the night and we were honored to be the first guests to sleep in their guestroom. Knowing that such a great couple lives in Denver makes us love the city even more – we are keeping it on our short list of places to live in the future.

Early the next morning, we said goodbye to our friends and drove towards Morrison, CO to see the Red Rocks Amphitheater in all it’s geological glory. We have not yet been able to catch a concert here, but Chase did try to test the acoustics of the place with his flute, only to be told that no one can perform on the stage unless you are asked to perform. Such a setback did nothing to diminish the awe of Red Rocks and only made us want to return and witness a concert in such a magical setting.

Our next stop of the day was the city which is now on the top of our “next home” list – Boulder. We have come to the conclusion that we do not want to live in too big of a city, but we do realize that jobs are more plentiful in cities and Boulder’s population of 100,000 seems just right. We meandered down Pearl Street, wishing we had just a little more than nothing in disposable income, but were entertained by the handful of musicians, magicians, and robots that performed for audiences up and down the street. In fact, as many times as we wish we could buy some artwork or cute clothes, we know that if we had the money to buy these things, we probably wouldn’t have the time that we have to just see everything and anything we want. The rain seemed to hit all Boulder-ites with surprise and we realized how rare a heavy rainstorm is in this part of the country. One little boy seemed outraged when his parents wanted him to walk home in the “cold, wet rain!” Next, we met up with a fellow “Girl’s Weekend Out” friend, Blair, who works at a wonderfully progressive advertising agency in Boulder. She served us beers from the company bar and we caught up with one another in oversized, plush couches that are meant for employees to brainstorm in.

You would think our day might be complete, but alas we were only just beginning. After spending a few hours in Boulder we continued north to the town of Estes Park, which borders the Rocky Mountain National Park. We didn’t have a clue where we were going to sleep the night and every place we drove through was full. Finally, with the sun close to setting and the cold beginning to creep in, we found a small campsite at the end of road. Literally, the road felt like a highway until it abruptly ended at the campsite. It was approaching 9:00pm when we finally found a campsite and began to get organized. Our growling stomachs someone managed to set up the tent and get dinner started. This campsite is the first where bears have been a concern and I wasn’t taking any chances. Chase loves his late night snacks and when I saw him going in for the granola, I couldn’t help but worry that he was going to be some lucky bears snack in the middle of the night. So, he cleaned up the crumbs as best he could and we slept with bear spray next to us all night. As we climbed into our tent, we could see our breath, white and cold, and I hoped my sleeping bag would keep me warm throughout the night. This was the first night that we had actually worried about being too cold and I wasn’t ready to let the cold win. I layered on two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, two long-sleeve shirts, a fleece jacket, a hat tied tight on my head and snuggled into my sleeping bag. Since I tend to be uniquely week when it comes to cold, I did wake up shivering a few times but managed to get back to sleep quickly after cuddling up with Chase. However, he informed me this morning that all of the times I thought I was cuddling up with him, I was really pushing him off of the air mattress and onto the cold, hard ground.

This morning Chase crawled out of the tent, while I was still trying to open my eyes, and told me to get up and out of the tent fast – there was something incredible for me to see. Just behind our tent, only 5 feet from where we were standing, was the biggest, most beautiful buck deer I had ever seen. His antlers were wide, covered in velvet and he was happily munching on the grass that surrounded our campsite. After we took all the pictures we thought we could take, a doe and her two fawns emerged from the woods. We could almost touch their noses we were so close and they just kept eating grass and looking up at us if we made too much noise. Our welcome to the Rocky Mountain National Park could not have been more stunning and as we leave our campsite today, we are sad to say goodbye to our lovely deer family. 

America the Beautiful

Hello again friends and fellow travelers – it has been a bit too long since our last entry, but that does not mean that we have been resting on our laurels. We simply took our sweet time driving through South Dakota and along the way realized just how little of our own country we have explored. I have always felt drawn to travel through South America, Europe, and Asia in order to be surrounded by new cultures and languages. And while I will always feel this familiar draw to explore beyond our borders, I will also place a greater priority on seeing the countrysides and cities within the United States of America.
South Dakota
Our journey across the corn-covered land of South Dakota began with a bang, when we realized that the speed limit is 75 mph on highways. We took a lunch break in the largest city in South Dakota, Sioux Falls. The lovely spot that we discovered is the namesake of the city, Falls Park.
Driving through the city, we followed a semi-truck filled to the top with pigs. We were on the same route as the truck all the way to the stockyards, when the truck turned into John Morrell, a pork processing plant. I have taken a recent interest in the pork industry and was eager to learn more about John Morrell. It turns out, John Morrell is owned by the U.S. company, Smithfield Foods. Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest pork producer and processor with annual revenues of $13 billion. Chinese meat producer, Shuanghui International announced in May that they would like to acquire Smithfield Foods. Once this deal is approved, it will represent the largest acquisition of an American firm by a Chinese company in history. China’s expanding middle class has a growing appetite for pork and once the transaction is complete, Shuanghui will be poised to gain substantial market share. The potential takeover has raised questions from U.S. government officials regarding food safety and security in the United States. Others question if the true motive behind the acquisition is more than just profiting off of consumers, but rather that China has polluted so much of it’s own resources with it’s rapid economic expansion that they now are looking elsewhere for access to clean resources. Either way you interpret the takeover, it is absolutely an industry that I will continue to follow in the future.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Alright, that was quite the tangent. Let’s get back to the cross-country adventure. Our first night in South Dakota found us sleeping high upon the rocky riverbank of the Missouri River. The endless heat and mosquitos seemed to disappear as we stepped onto our campsite and felt the swirl of the wind. We began to set up our camp and got our first taste of all the free things you can get by being friendly. Our camping neighbors to the left offered us their campfire, cooking utensils and a can opener. The neighbors to the right let us have all of their firewood. We cooked a delicious tinfoil pouch dinner, walked along the rocky shores of the river and fell asleep hoping the wind wouldn’t blow us away.

Snake Creek Recreation Center, Platte, South Dakota
View from our tent
The next day we awoke and had to make the hardest decision of our day, “where should we go next?” We decided to stay off of the main roads and take the beautiful highway 44 to the Badlands. We don’t tend to plan our days out ahead of time, we don’t know our route before we start driving, and we definitely don’t know where we are staying for the night. While this strategy, or lack thereof, may not work for everyone, it is the only way that works for us.
Keeping track of our route
As we were driving to the Badlands, I was researching places for us to stay for the night and stumbled upon the little known Sage Creek Campground located in the Badlands. We learned from a fellow traveler that it is free to camp in all U.S. National Forests/Grasslands. This makes me very excited, because I love finding ways to take advantage of the tax dollars I have paid to the government.
We entered the Badlands and were instantly awe-struck at the alien beauty of the landscape. At first glace you feel like you have entered a desolate planet, far from Earth. But, as I looked deeper, I noticed a general bobbing of heads near the ground which turned out to be hundreds of prairie dogs standing on their hind legs and then leaping down into their homes in the ground the moment they sensed danger. I witnessed my first herd of buffalo run across open prairie. Antelope climbed across the cliffs. The grasses rippled in the wind like waves in the ocean. I have never seen, or never noticed, so many shades of green in my life. I appreciated the color green so much more as I watched it being swallowed in layers of rock.

Sage Creek Campground
That’s our little tent on the left

My Honda Civic was tested on the 12 miles of dirt road that led us to our campground. We set up our tent in the dry, hot, arid land and hoped that it was staked into the ground well enough to withstand the prairie winds. With the flies biting, we hiked to the top of a nearby cliff and watched the sunset. Our first night was sweltering and although we didn’t quite wake up “refreshed,” we were excited to explore the Badlands. There is a 25-mile highway that winds through the geological formations and has an excellent Visitor Center. The extent to which the white man hurt the Indian is appalling. We learned about the massacres that the white man committed to both the Indian people as well as their livelihood, the buffalo. How could an entire nation stand by and watch as 60,000,000 (yes, million) buffalo were hunted close to extinction? I cannot help but wonder if there were any outspoken individuals at the time that saw the benefit of living with nature, rather than just taking from nature. Early settlers could pay $18 dollars to the federal government and receive 160 acres of land. If they were able to inhabit and farm the land for at least 5 years, the title would pass to the settler permanently. Thousands of new settlers attempted to survive on the Plains but the majority could not handle the everlasting winters, dry summers and deadly winds. Was there not one new settler who saw their Indian neighbors as wise? I can only hope that man learns from his mistakes and that if I am ever face to face with such atrocity, I will stand up for humanity and the environment.

As evening approached on our second night in the Badlands, we hiked around the hills, watched herds of buffalo drink water by the creek and made our own ceremony on top of a hill to the Indians that lived on this land. Chase played soulful music on his flute to ensure all of the hills would hear his song. As night fell upon us, we laid on our backs, on a tiny space of ground and observed the starry night above us. The sky was black, the stars shone like diamonds, and the vastness above had us thinking about time. The layers of color in the Badlands are geological representations of history. Each color represents a different environment in history, going back 70 million years. When you think about how long it has taken to create such beauty that surrounds us on Earth and then you look up and see the beauty in the sky that lives for millions of years, it truly makes you feel insignificant. To me, the feeling of insignificance is one of comfort because it ensures that no matter what path I take in life, time will continue. It reduces the pressure I feel everyday as I try to decide what mark I want to make in history. No matter what I decide to do, it likely will not still be around 70 million years from now.

The second night tested the strength of our stakes once more as the wind howled down the hills and into our valley of tents. Our tent shook and swayed from side to side. I woke up to the sound of thunder, climbed out of the tent and witnessed the sky turning pink all around me from lightning in the distance. The darkness would engulf me for only a moment as I stood in what felt like the center of the Earth and waited for the next round of light. I could see the sporadic glow of lightening along all of the edges of the Earth. Although, I did not sleep much that night, I did feel alive as I sat and watched a dramatic ballet of light dance around me.

We awoke early and set our sights for the infamous Black Hills of South Dakota. I am utterly shocked at the beauty of South Dakota. I was under the impression that its land was covered with corn and grain. I have never been so wrong. Being in the Black Hills feels like living a rugged mountain lifestyle. The roads wind around cliffs and alongside rocky lakes. We found the perfect campsite at Horsethief Lake. With nary a fly or mosquito in flight, we explored our pristine surroundings with a little walk around the lake. 
Campsite at Horsethief Lake
View from our tent

By road, we were only four miles from Mount Rushmore but to drive there you have to pay a whole $11 for parking. With our tight purse strings lifestyle, we searched for a more economical option. Our map pointed us to a 4-mile trail that would take us right to the entrance of Mount Rushmore. The hike had us climbing rocks, prancing through meadows and singing in forests. All in all, it is the only way that I will get to Mount Rushmore in the future. Mount Rushmore is a wonderful testament to one man’s vision. Suspended 400 feet above the ground, the builders carved 90% of the sculpture with dynamite. The detail of the sculpture is so fine that you can see wrinkles and moles carved into the mountain. The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, wanted this creation to show the virtues of a democratic nation to future civilization. I am proud of our country for supporting an art project as large as Mount Rushmore. 

As we descended back down to our campsite, we thought that we ought to reward ourselves for saving $11 on parking. We drove into Hill City and planned to have one drink at a local bar. However, we happened to meet our new friends Andy and Malory and ended up drinking the night away, eating a steak dinner, and sleeping in our car on the side of Main Street. The next morning was a rough one. We awoke at 6:00am from the sun shining in our car windows and drove off in search of a place to nurse our hangover. Unfortunately, the two campsites and the first four hotels were booked. We finally found an open hotel room, shut the blinds and slept most of the day away. The next morning we woke up refreshed and headed towards Colorado. After a short seven hour drive we arrived in Colorado Springs where we will be spending a week with Chase’s brother and his fiancé.  

Mount Rushmore
8 mile hike to Mount Rushmore
Loving the woods