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Pack Light

We don’t often think about the things we carry. In my work bag, I carry my phone, two notebooks, reading materials, and my favorite pens.

I recently swapped out my work bag for a backpack and stuffed it with sunscreen, lip balm, self-filtering water bottles, a sketchbook, a magazine, and a basic emergency kit. Then my boyfriend and I boarded a plane to Denver. The next morning—our first official day of vacation—we hit the trails.

For our first hike in Colorado we chose Carpenter Peak Trail in Roxborough State Park, a 6.3-mile moderate trail that features views of the red rocks, the plains, and stunning scenery of the pine forest. At the summit, we were rewarded with 360 degree views of the mountain range with its violet glow and snow-capped peaks.

Over the next few days, we explored Golden Gate Canyon State Park, where we hiked along Burro Trail to the top of Windy Peak, and Staunton State Park, where we traveled along Bugling Elk Trail to Chimney Rock—an unforgettable hike that led us along a rocky mountain trail to Elk Falls. The way back led us through Mountain Lion Trail (where fortunately we encountered no mountain lion, but did see a fresh paw print!) and Elk Falls Pond, where we spotted deer grazing in the field near the frozen pond.

Mid-week, we traveled to Manitou Springs to test our endurance at Manitou Incline—a mere 1-mile trail that quickly gains 2,000 feet of elevation. Eventually, the stunning views from the summit proved to be worth the struggle. Humbled by the Incline, the following day we visited Garden of the Gods, where we strolled through the easy trails and learned about the 300-million-year-old rock formations that line the paths. Later, we soaked in the hot mineral waters at Indian Hot Springs, a welcome retreat after the previous day’s climb.

Next, we hiked to St. Mary’s Glacier where a short but rocky snow-covered path led us to the frozen lake. Here we enjoyed our lunch on the “shore” with breathtaking views of the glacier. For our final hike, we drove to Chief Mountain where an unpaved winding road led us to the trailhead. The trail, though relatively short, was icy and snow-covered all the way to the summit and proved more challenging than expected. The peak, however, offered spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains, dense forests, and surrounding valleys.

We don’t often think about the things we carry, but after a week of hiking in the Colorado mountains, I felt lighter. Not physically lighter (as the scale proved after all that craft Denver beer), but the trip had lessened my load. Maybe it was the hiking, the way the simple act of walking allows our thoughts to unspool. Maybe it was the landscape, with its massive mountains that dwarf everything they cast shadows upon. Or maybe it's something inherent in vacation itself that causes a shift in perspective. The word vacation comes from the Latin vacare, after all, which means to be “free, or at leisure.”

I’ve always thought of myself as a light packer, but after lugging a relatively heavy suitcase all the way home, I made a pledge to carry less. Even my work bag is significantly lighter now (because who needs TWO notebooks?). So, in the spirit of carrying less, wherever your vacation takes you this year, may the path leave you feeling lighter.

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