Cynthia Viola Photography

Adventure

Paleo Powered Backpacking

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A person does not simply exist but always decides what their existence will be, what they will become in the next moment.
— Viktor E. Frankl
Paleo Oatmeal for Backpacking

After my first Appalachian Trail adventure with a couple friends I fell in love with backpacking. I love meeting other travelers and hearing their stories. I love pushing my body to its limits just to see where the breaking points are. I love the challenge of figuring out just how little you can survive on so that you can cut weight and space in your pack.

I’m not exactly an ultralight hiker switching out my knife with a razor blade wrapped in tape, for example, but I get by with as little as I can manage. After my first two sections with my friends in North Carolina and Tennessee I learned what types of foods they, and most, backpackers carry: Dehydrated dinners, oatmeal, granola bars and trail mix. This was great and worked well for those two trips as well as my solo hike through Georgia. But I wanted to find some other options that fit my normal eating routines off trail, namely Paleo, for the next section I’ll be starting in 2 weeks.

The first switch was the dehydrated dinners. I met a couple guys on my solo hike who had found paleo dehydrated dinners and I knew I wanted to locate them for my next trip. There are a few different options out there but the cleanest seem to be Wild Zora. I won’t be trying them until I get on the trail in 2 weeks so you’ll have to wait for my final assessment. Other dehydrated meals like Mountain House are fine, but many of them are sickly sweet to me and I feel like I can taste all the preservatives.

Paleo backpacking Food

I was already using Paleoethics’ Recovery Matrix as my twice daily tea option. It’s loaded with amino acids, zinc and magnesium to help your body recover and sleep well, and it happens to be chai flavored so I love it. I’ll definitely use it again (although I’ll remove it from it’s pouch and put in a smaller, more flexible baggie).

I’ve recently discovered Paradigm protein powder and love it for my daily work out recovery. It’s as clean as it gets. While protein bars are tasty, they’re heavy and usually full of sugar. On a day-to-day basis I typically intake about 100 grams of protein so this will be vital to maintain that on the trail.

Karen’s Naturals have been a staple car snack for me for months now. It’s just dehydrated veggies and you eat them like you would popcorn or potato chips. Delicious. They’re also good to add to any other dehydrated meals to get a few extra veggies in. Similarly, dried seaweed is a delicious salty snack. I’ll remove it from it’s package as well though.

Tuna is a great source of fresh-ish protein on the trail, the little packs are essential though, as cans are heavy and you have to carry out all your trash. Bee pollen is good to add to tea or dehydrated meals to tame the allergies a bit being surrounded by blooming trees 24/7.

Paleo Appalachian Trail Foods

Next I wanted a more intentional oatmeal. There are a few pre-packaged dehydrated options out there, but I figured I could make it myself. Buckwheat is a naturally gluten free hot cereal and you can add any number of delicious and supportive ingredients. It’s not exactly “instant” in the way oatmeal can be ready in about 60 seconds, but it’s pretty close, about 8 minutes.

Homemade Paleo Instant Oatmeal for Backpacking

I made this at home first and also tried it out in my jet boil on the deck this morning to make sure it worked. At first I included coconut flour, but found it made it too thick and have since removed it.

For this Paleo “Instant Oatmeal” Recipe I used:

1/4 cup Buckwheat

2 TB Chia Seeds

1 TB shredded Coconut

1 TB Walnuts

1 TB Dehydrated Bananas

1 TB Dehydrated Blueberries

1 TB Brown Sugar

1 tsp Cinnamon

All mixed in a baggie at home and added to 1.5-2 cups of boiling water on the trail depending on your texture preference. Note, when not on the trail this is easily 2 servings. But on the trail I’ll force myself to eat it all before I take off in the mornings. It is an excellent source of carbs, protein, healthy fats, omega-3s, fiber and other vitamins.

You can easily add a number of other ingredients if you have preferences: different nuts, different fruits, powdered peanut butter, more or less sugar or stevia, these are just what I had on hand. I have just ordered some cricket powder to try as a healthy, sustainable, protein and B-12 source as well. TBD if it impacts the taste.

Backpacking on Appalachian Trail

When all is said and done, there is no “right” way to backpack. No perfect food arrangement. No correct gear. It’s just what works for you. If you’ve never backpacked before, I suggest a 3 day, 2 night outing to figure out if it’s something you enjoy and your body and mind can handle. You’ll figure out pretty quick if you’ve carried too much and you’ll find ways to minimize the next time. You’ll also figure out what foods make you feel good and which ones, while tasty, weigh you down or make you feel lethargic. I will always be a proponent of whole and sustainable food sources, but I’ll also always have M&Ms in my trail mix. Balance.

Good luck on your next adventure and feel free to ask any questions. I’m no expert but I’m happy to help in anyway I can.

3 Steps to a More Adventurous Lifestyle

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And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later
— Randy Komisar
Hang Gliding Photographer

I use this quote often, and if I’m honest, I don’t know anything about the author, but it resonates so fiercely I continue to do so.

It wouldn’t surprise anyone if I said I’m not cut out for the 9-5 lifestyle. Even when I’ve had other “regular” jobs they were never 9-5. Waiting tables and bartending often consisted of different shifts every week, with those changing 2-3 times mid week as others called out and I filled in. Working with teens more often than not involved late night phone calls (this was before texting was really a thing…I know, I’m aging), Friday night football games, Saturday shopping trips, week long camps and weekend retreats. Anything involving the church world was far more than Sunday mornings. It was taking a bag of groceries to families mid week when their food stamps ran out. It was late night texts talking people off the figurative ledge. It was frantic last minute schedule changes right before going on stage, a million emails, evening meetings and morning groups.

Somewhere in the midst of it all I picked up photography and just fit it in where I could. As the story goes, one day I realized the thing I loved most shouldn’t be the thing I push to the back of the calendar wherever it fits, but should actually dictate my calendar. Full time photographer and entrepreneur has been quite the dream job. I make my own schedule, travel extensively, meet tons of new people and live wherever I want.

Swimming with a Dolphin

Despite this perfect dream job, however, for a while there I was allowing the day-to-day of keeping up with the business side as well as family and house and garden and dog to overwhelm my deepest passion. And honestly, at the time I didn’t even realize it, I was so busy just doing stuff and keeping a full calendar that I didn’t give myself time to pause and reflect on what I wanted most. And what did I want most? As it turns out, adventure.

There is certainly no need for everyone out there wanting more adventure to leave their jobs, their families, their city or their dogs, and my decision to do so didn’t even involve adventure…I realized afterward that adventure was a driver. But here are a few little things EVERYONE can do to insure a little more excitement and exploration enter your calendar.

One: Decide

Take an uninterrupted hour or so to sit and decide if you even WANT more adventure in your life. Adventure has become such a buzz word lately, I’m finding that when people tell me they want more of it and I ask them what adventure would look like for them, they not only start off with the reasons why they could never do “something like that”, but they can’t even tell me what that “something” would even BE. So… WHAT DO YOU WANT? Do you even know? I have personally loved swimming with dolphins, hiking the Appalachian Trail and Hang Gliding the most. But with each of those, I DECIDED I wanted them first. If adventure is just this vague concept of something exciting, you’ll never do it.

Two: Plan

Figure out what said adventure INVOLVES. Do you have to travel? How far? How much does it cost? Do you have to take off work? Can you find a coupon? Do you know someone who might could hook you up with a friend’s discount or a place to stay while you travel to said location? If the cost seems insurmountable, what can you sell? Can you cut back on Starbucks and/or alcohol for 2 months to come up with an extra couple hundred? Is this something you do solo or does a friend join you? Maybe the whole family? Figure out what it involves and make a plan. Swimming with dolphins, for example, takes about 1 hour, costs about $250 with the photography package and a Florida resident discount, and, of course, requires that I be in Florida (or other similar beachy location). I found a time when I’d be in Florida anyway, found some friends I could stay with for one night, set aside the hour, saved the money and voila. Life long bucket list item: check.

Three: Do

Follow through. Once you’ve figured out the details, make a plan, tell the world (or a close friend) you’re going to do it for accountability. THEN. DO. IT. What began the catalyst of my adventures was a New Year’s Resolution to have 12 new adventures in 2018. That meant I had to make a list of about 20 potential indoor and outdoor things I might like to do, and then once/month figure out how to make one of them happen. Then, rain or shine, with friends or solo, I just did it. And I haven’t looked back since.

Appalachian Trail Section Hiking

Fulfilling your wildest dreams doesn’t have to be so hard. With a little planning and a resolve to make it happen you can have hundreds of little adventures across your lifetime. There is no reason AT ALL to wait until you’re retired and frankly too old to physically accomplish what you want. We’re not even guaranteed tomorrow. What if you wait to have fun until you’re 65 and you don’t make it to 66? All those years working to finally live… for what?

My life has left me uniquely unfit for constraint
— Jamie Lannister (I'm a tad excited for Game of Thrones to come back)

A Lifetime of Adventures

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“Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you
— Tim Ferriss
Cross Country Road Trip

17states 

17 photoshoots

14 friends’ couches, air mattresses and guest bedrooms

9 weeks on the road

8000 miles 

7million squashed windshield bugs 

6 Airbnb homes 

5 new experiences

3 windshield cracks 

2 mentoring sessions

1 epic adventure 

Roughly $350

Big Bear Mountain

When telling people about my cross country trip this week I’ve noticed myself and others calling it the “adventure of a lifetime.” And while that is certainly true of my life up to this point, there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do a similar trip in a couple years. I don’t want to limit myself by thinking that my encounter with the dolphins will be the only one I experience in a lifetime. I hope to have many opportunities to have epic road trips, camp in the desert, snowboard in the rockies over and over again, and to someday again call Los Angeles one of my homes.

Big Bear Ski Resort

I don’t know where I’ll be living next year, I barely know what the next two months hold other than weddings and my plan to jump back on the Appalachian Trail. I do know I want to walk forward with hands out and palms up ready to catch whatever joy or pain may come my way and I want to live a lifetime of adventure.

Joshua Tree
Swimming with Dolphins in Key West

For those interested in what a trip like this COST, I’ve broken it down my expenses below. (I did not factor into this expenses like monthly bills, savings etc, as I would have spent those regardless.)

  • Total of Gas/parking/tolls/food/housing and extra adventures like Big Bear, The Grand Canyon, Sedona, Joshua Tree, Mardi Gras & Dolphins: $4,515

  • Minus the amount I always budget for Gas, food and adventures for two months and would have spent anyway: -$1500

  • Minus the income I made BECAUSE of shoots on the trip: -$2,675

  • =$340

It’s easy to think that epic adventures like this are impossible, but really we’re only limited by our imagination. And seriously, this trip could have been done for a fraction of that cost. I spared no expenses on food or the adventures I wanted to take. I could have been much more frugal, experienced fewer side adventures and/or prepared more meals in advance, but I wanted to experience the local flavors of each city, and I knew I’d make up the difference in shoots or dog walking.

I realize not everyone can make $2500 on the road as a photographer…but you likely have other skills you can utilize BEFORE the trip to save up that money in advance. Selling stuff on Craigslist, seriously how many shoes or hats does one person need? Extra side hustle jobs like dog walking, Uber driving, babysitting (I walked for Rover while in LA and will continue in NC) or other freelance work, and networking with friends and family (and don’t forget extended friends of friends) for free places to stay while you travel. (My best tool for this was Facebook. In the search bar type “my friends who live in (insert city or sate).” There might only be one and there might be twelve, it’s worth checking, and it’s always a great excuse to catch up with old friends. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Nine times out of ten people are MORE than happy to help you, they just don’t know how to unless you ask.

If there’s one book I could recommend to help someone take a risk and plan an adventure, it would be 4 Hour Work Week from Tim Ferriss. I listened to it twice while driving. I was already doing basically everything he talks about, but he puts it to words in a way that helps people who have traditional 9-5 jobs figure out a way to live their dreams and not give up their income.

Anyway if you need help brainstorming, don’t hesitate to ask!

If you want to read more about the trip itself you can check out either this post about the various landscapes I encountered or this one about life on the road.

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves
— Thomas Edison

When Men and Mountains Meet

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Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
— Mary Oliver

It is decidedly sad that Mary Oliver passed this last week, but the event did present the inclination for many of her followers and those who had never heard her words before to dive into them. Her intentionality with seeing the world and life around her as well as her acceptance of death have inspired many to do the same. I have found myself returning to her words many times on this cross country excursion. And, as I’ve paid attention, and been quite astonished, it is now my duty to tell about it.

I truly cannot get over the variety of mountains I have come across these past few weeks. Beginning of course in my hometown, with the low rolling and misty blues of the Blue Ridge on the east coast. I have photographed them often, but usually only to adjust my lighting before asking a couple or family to step in front of the lens and allow me to capture the mountains merely as a nice backdrop. When they are allowed to be front and center, the varying shades and subtle shifts of light become far more evident.

Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone NC

Next the arid, multi-colored deserts of Arizona, surrounded by cylindrical spires that look built rather than evolved. I, of course, expected to see and experience the Grand Canyon, and it was, just as magical as everyone says. Vast as far, and farther, than the eye can see, and with edges that make you wish you were a bird so you could simply run and leap off the side!

The Grand Canyon

Perhaps the unexpected nature of stumbling across Sedona on several friends’ suggestions, I think, made it a bit more magical to me, however. The spontaneous schedule shift, extra driving to an unknown location and last second scheduled sunrise yoga session on the side of a cliff is simply something I won’t soon forget. I chose to hike alone first, early in the morning in order to get to the top of the mountain before the sunrise to capture a few shots and simply sit with the cacti as the light slowly and determinedly crept across the hills altering slightly everything it kissed. When I met up with the others for the yoga session, it was only 35 degrees as the wind whipped up the face of the cliff but the air was so crisp and the light so empowering you felt the temperature more as a welcomed tingling in your bones rather than something to shy away from.

Sedona Sunrise Yoga Session

Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains I’m quite accustomed to the deep deciduous and ever-greens of winter, summer and spring followed by the outrageously vibrant oranges, reds and yellows of the fall. Something I’ve never experienced in nature before this trip, however, are the lush blue pastels painting Sierra Nevada alongside these lonely, dry, salty pink hills. An unexpected shift in the weather sent me driving north through the desert before crossing the rockies into San Francisco, and I could not be more grateful for the extended reroute. I spent hours just sitting and staring at these colors. There was something so tranquil about the undisturbed quiet reflection of the mountains. I wanted to stay all day but the pending snow storm was going to trap me if I didn’t move on.

Nevada Mountains

So move I did. By the time I got to the top of the mountain in Lake Tahoe, it was snowing and my little car was starting to give me questioning looks every time I stopped to capture a photo. The Rockies were not unlike the Blue Ridge in the color and selection of trees, they were simply immense. Snowcapped evergreens blanketed the mountains in every direction making me excited to come back in a few short weeks to snowboard at Big Bear.

Rocky Mountains

The cliffs of Big Sur surrounded by its icy turquoise surf was certainly the most unique bunch of mountains I came across. A place I’ve been dreaming about seeing for years, I was a little worried when signs mentioned several closed sections (due to landslides from the storm I’d avoided a couple days prior), but I was able to see everything I’d hoped to and more. The vineyard valleys that followed provided a startling spring green compared to the rest of the trip, but only emphasized the vast beauty across the country.

Big Sur California and Monterey California

Next, the fire scorched trails through Malibu, bursting not with pain, but new life from the ashes. A first glance at such scarring almost makes you want to look away, but further inspection shows the beauty breaking through because of the pain. Most forests do better after a fire, so while it’s hard to look at (and certainly not ideal for areas near homes and businesses), it’s all a part of a healthy process of growth.

Malibu Forest Fires

Finally as I flew into Seattle I was honored with the chance to see a blanketed Mount Rainier both from above and below the mist. It’s extraordinary to experience life from multiple perspectives. From above she looks alone and lonely, from below, however, you see the multitude of trees and the city to keep her company.

Each set of mountains has had it’s own beauty and it’s own story. This world is ever changing and brimming with diversity, much like us. May we be brave enough to keep it that way, both in the forests and our cities.

Mount Rainier

If you’d like to see the entirety of the images from the trip, feel free to leave a comment here or shoot me an email. (cynthia@cynthiaviola.com) I’ll be selling digital downloads and prints if you are so inclined. Thank you for supporting this grand adventure.

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable
— Mary Oliver