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The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir

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Adventure Travel

May 31, 2018

One Night on Earth

The below story is written by Dakota Arkin Cafourek.

A published writer and editor who is dedicated to a love of travel, storytelling, and the arts. The Outdoor Journal, will be publishing 3 of Dakota’s stories, and you can find links to each one at the bottom of this page.

Embraced in the unusual warmth of an autumn night, we stand four backpackers ready for a voyage, easily recognizable with oversized Ospreys saddled on our backs. I’m the sole female among our friends, but I can sip whiskey and pontificate hypothetical questions about killing my evil clone with the best of them.  

By Dakota Arkin Cafourek – Instagram @DakotaArkin

We’re at Büyük Otogar, the Grand Bus Terminal in Istanbul waiting for our 10 hour chariot to Cappadocia. The depot enormous, lined with buses destined across Asia and Europe in a “make your own rules” kind of chaos. Come morning, we will disembark amongst an entirely new terrain; a semi-arid wonderland penetrated by volcanic peaks.

Red-eyed on arrival in central Anatolia, locals invite us to tea and breakfast in their homes; a muslim custom set in the understanding that the prophet Muhammad was a traveler and anyone might carry his sacred spirit. It is a practice outside of our experience.

By Dakota Arkin Cafourek – Instagram @DakotaArkin

In a desert valley fringed by rugged cliffs shaded in golds and reds, the earth looks blindingly bright against clear blue skies. The village of Göreme is a pleasing string of artisans, restaurants and nargile bars. It’s no longer off the beaten path—a popular destination for trekkers and world travelers—but it feels like we are out of reach from the clasp of ordinary life.

Our rooms at the ShoeString Cave House Hostel are carved from stone and volcanic rock, edging a courtyard draped in greenery with flowers still in bloom. In the night, sitting on the terraced roof by the swimming pool closed for the winter, the four of us made sense of the world and choreographed the adventure that beckoned us in the sea of wild caves on the horizon.

The following days we would hike the Rose, Red and Devrent valleys; and when our legs trembled, we returned to draw in flavored smoke and play jenga at a local lounge.

Tonight, we are finally swapping our beds for sleeping bags and a ceiling of stars. The plan: set up camp among the 3,500 year-old cave dwellings that had been uninhabited since the early Christians of the Byzantine Empire. Built into the region’s unusual, tall and phallic-looking sediment pillars—volcanic deposits affectionately called fairy chimneys—were camouflaged cities, churches, and importantly, wine cellars.

We select our site before dusk with little food and liquid warmth in tow, a small climb from the trails to a stone enclosure with three walls to stifle the winds. I keep an eye on the lone cow and goat that seem to be joining us.

By Dakota Arkin Cafourek – Instagram @DakotaArkin

As the sun sinks in the west, so does the temperature. In the pitch black night, we crawl into our sleeping bags. Piercing moos and wails of animals whistle past in an eerie breeze, followed by silence. It was the first time it occurred to me that no one really knew where I was; a foolish risk or self-ruling determination that would be confirmed by morning. I looked at my three male comrades in deep slumber and let my own mind doze off.

Swoosh.

Boom. Crackle.

Strange hums and dragon-like snores echoed through our stonewalled cave, crescendoing and cajoling us alert. Shivering, my bones stiff from the cold inside of my sleeping bag, I maneuver myself upright. This was no strange dream nor a fabulous monster. The shining sun lay bare the mysteries of the night.

Outside our cave, we follow a narrow trail to a plateau to witness the sky fill with hot air balloons. Giant flames indeed breathed forth, swelling mammoth balloons into harvest moons you felt you could reach out and touch. Patched in hundreds of colors and patterns, they soared, becoming specks on the horizon. We stare out at the spectacle in wonder.

By Dakota Arkin Cafourek – Instagram @DakotaArkin

Our belongings packed and strapped to our backs, we leave the cave to sit empty once more. Perhaps another two millennia will pass before it’s used as a shelter again.  On our return trek to the village center, a mysterious red stream flowed downhill. It was blood and the streets turned crimson. What happened in the night, we wondered? What happened in the world we’d left behind for a mere evening? And there beside a cobblestone curb, I spotted my answer: the glistening white skin of a sacrificed cow.  It will be divided into three parts for the Feast of the Sacrifice, an Islamic holiday where one third of the sacrificed animal is given to the poor or those in need; one third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors; and the remaining third is kept by the family. Men, women and children sit together to divvy up the meat. Indeed the globe had been spun and I stood where my finger had landed.

Dakota Arkin Cafourek is a published writer and editor. Dedicated to a love of travel, storytelling, and the arts, she serves cultural institutions in New York City and East Hampton, NY.

The Outdoor Journal has published more of Dakota’s work, such as Living Small: A Road Trip Across America and Idyll in the Highland Mountains.

You can find more of Dakota’s work on her website (iamdakota.me) or follow her adventures on Instagram @dakotaarkin.

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Travel

Sep 25, 2019

Hiking in the Tetons: When a Teenager Discovered the Power of Nature

On a family camping trip in Wyoming, a future environmental journalist writer witnessed nature’s raw power.

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WRITTEN BY

Millie Kerr

As soon as we began ascending Wyoming’s Hoback Peak, black clouds appeared on the horizon. My family had only been camping for several days, but I’d come to expect the sky’s mid-afternoon mutation. The problem was, our guide had us climbing the region’s highest ridge, not traversing lower ground as we had on prior days when thunderstorms were a near-certainty. Every step up the mountain amplified our distance from clusters of trees, whose towering crowns and fallen trunks offered protection from direct and ground lightning.

“Should we turn back?” I asked my father. My lone ally on this treacherous vacation (our first and last llama trek) shrugged, “Not unless Loren pipes up.”

From the moment I met him, our guide Loren reminded me of a juvenile golden retriever refusing to be trained. His boundless energy betrayed naïveté, or was it something else?

We continued hiking upward. The higher we climbed, the closer we came to those ominous clouds, now enveloping the sky.

I was only fourteen—and a wispy sliver of a girl—but I never let age nor size get in my way. “Loren,” I shouted, “The storm’s coming. Shouldn’t we go back now?”

He paused for a moment, sniffing the charged air, and responded, “We’ll be fine. It’s not heading our way. Onward and upward!”

Within minutes rain began to fall, morphing into hail as lightning struck the apex of a nearby mountain, an alarming reminder that we trekked vulnerable terrain. Entirely exposed and the tallest objects in sight, we’d become mobile lightning rods.

To find cover, we needed to make our way to higher or lower ground, and I ascended more slowly than the others. In a pinch, they might be able to scramble to safe cover, but what if I couldn’t keep up?

The storm quickly escalated, and I knew that I had to descend even if it meant traveling alone.

“Loren,” I yelled into the wind, “Can we please turn around now?” to which he answered, “We have to get to higher ground to find cover. Follow me, everyone, and hurry!”

My mother and brother rushed after him. I tugged at my father’s shirt, begging him to retreat with me, and he acquiesced.

Without discussing the consequences, he relayed our decision to the rest of the group, urging everyone to join us, but Loren insisted that anyone able to continue to follow him to elevated turf, to more expansive tree cover than what we’d find below.

I’d already lowered myself to the ground, preparing to inch downhill like a crab. My dad rebuked then joined me. Two slithering bodies covered in mud, we ignored the painstaking switchbacks plodded the previous hour, reaching a nest of trees within minutes. We removed our packs and perched atop hefty logs; thunder, lightning, and behemoth hailstones raging all around us.

Then we held hands and prayed and waited for the storm to pass.

When it did, my father and I emerged to altered terrain. Tromping across icy slush, we spent a seeming eternity looking for camp. The llamas, our packhorses for the week, had scattered, and our tents were blown over, their contents dispersed like bits of city garbage.

We located the jittery animals and tied them to nearby trees before setting to work on our tents. These tasks afforded a momentary distraction from nagging questions: Were the others safe? Had we made the right decision? When would they come back, and what if they didn’t?

Suddenly, movement on the horizon. My Dad and I jogged up the banks of a mild ridge, peering into a vast post-storm haze. “Mom! Jeff!” I shrieked.

They shouted back, but with their calls came the distinct sound of laughter.

“It was no big deal,” Loren bragged minutes later as he wrenched off his jacket and mud-soaked boots, “We found cover in no time. You should’ve stuck with us.”

At the time, he seemed to be posturing—saving face—but over the years, my perception shifted: I no longer see doubt on Loren’s face. The man wasn’t merely a risk-taker—he was arrogant. He stared directly into the eye of a storm as though he were its equal match, as though his survival that day made him stronger than nature itself.

You can follow Millie on Twitter and Instagram.

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