Thursday, October 13, 2016

So you want to start your own business? What I've learned...

Deciding to start your own business is like deciding to take up mountain climbing as a hobby. You have to be a tad bit fearless and crazy. I should know as I’ve done both. Yogi Magee LLC wasn’t ever initially intended to become a brand or money making venture. Originally I only needed an LLC as a way to get paid at a yoga studio where I was taught. Magee is my last name so I played off that for my “business.” I lack a formal business education so my only goal four years ago was to teach fitness classes to bring in extra money.

My experience starting on climbing Colorado’s 14ers (the 58 peaks over 14,000 feet) was similar. I was looking for a quick weekend hike and my husband suggested Grey’s and Torrey’s. He said they were popular 14ers near us and we could knock them out in a day. The hike and 4am wakeup was grueling and I wore all the wrong things from yoga pants to tennis shoes. I made the summits but wasn’t a mountaineer. At the top someone was discussing how this was their 34th climb and I was in awe that there were so many more mountains out there to conquer. A spark was ignited and a passion found. If these women could climb peaks in their free time then I would try as well.

Just as I saw others succeeding hiking mountains I started to see my fellow yogi’s reaching their summit dreams as well. Some were opening their own studios, others were leading teacher trainings and many more were teaching workshops. I was passed over several times to co-lead retreats at the place I was teaching because I never voiced my desire to join. So I started thinking about what inspired me and how I could create an opportunity for myself and for others to join on my expeditions. The more mountains I climbed and posted about on social media the more attention I received. Others wanted to hike with me and the realization came I had a niche. What if I could design a retreat that combined yoga and hiking in a place I could only afford to visit if I were being paid to be there?
Telluride was my dream. So Telluride I chose for my inaugural retreat.
My first stab at running a retreat was like my first few 14ers. Yes I was successful but looking back there were so many errors. I didn’t have a website, just a blog as a way to sign people up. I had a graphic designer friend create my logo and another business driven friend who drew up registration forms and waivers for me. I created a Facebook page but I only had a few followers and not enough content for the site. I used Paypal and accepted credit cards which meant I lost 2% or roughly $10 on every transaction. Just like I underestimated mountains I underestimated my costs and I charged way too little for what I was offering. I knew I could pull it off I just didn’t understand how to go about doing so and I prepared to make mistakes. A summit to me was a summit no matter how I got there.

Telluride Yoga + Hiking Retreat 2014 launched my Yogi Magee Expeditions name and gave me respect among the yoga community. I sold the retreat out and had 14 people I didn’t know sign up. The feeling I had when I announced the retreat was full was the same feeling I had when I summited a 14er: that I had done something most people would never be able to do.

I designed a fall retreat in Aspen that same year because I felt overconfident lightening would strike again. Two people signed up and I had to cancel my retreat. I was asked to co-teach a retreat in Belize April 2015 and we initially had so few people sign up I almost had to step down because it wouldn’t have been economical. I launched my second Telluride retreat in March of 2015 and only 6 people signed up.

I thought I was a failure. My magic was gone.

When you start climbing 14ers you know inevitably at some point you may have to turn around from a summit. Eventually your weather good luck runs out and you get chased off a peak by snow and lightening. However, that doesn’t mean you give up altogether. The mountain will still stand there for you and invite you back another day. I’ve met people who have tried 3-10 times to climb the same peak and they still keep coming back. Once you’ve tasted success you don’t stop seeking it, you pursue and press on no matter how difficult it may be. You can appreciate a summit even more when it’s taken you many failed attempts to reach the top.

So I treated my business the same way. Instead of seeing having only a few people sign up for my retreats as a failure I saw it as an opportunity to network and inspire one-on-one. I brought an assistant in to take photos, I bought my domain name and built my own website. I invested in constant contact to keep every precious email address filed and I started a Yogi Magee Instagram to attract more followers. I teamed up with another yogi who had strong connections and we launched a wildly successful Glamping Retreat and went on to sell out an adventure retreat in Nicaragua. On mountains there’s often more than one way to get to the top and I decided if one way wasn’t working for my business I’d try another.

I keep climbing knowing that even if I reach one summit there’s still more for which I can strive. If you fall in love with mountains you better prepare to have your heartbroken, and the same is true for running your own business. There’s peaks and valleys and sunshine mixed with hailstorms. Sometimes it all happens at once. Yet I’ve learned from my own adventures that never starting in the first place is the real failure and if nothing else I’ll look back and say at least I had the gumption to try.

Friday, September 16, 2016

A summer of adventure a lifetime of summits to come

As we approach the last weekend of Summer I’m looking back on all the amazing adventures that I not only had with my adventure wife Dawnelle (#adventuresofnatandd) but with the many other familiar and new faces. July was an epic month which started out with a trip to Crested Butte for the 4th of July where I had the chance to climb Gothic mountain.

Upon my return I packed my bags and headed for Aspen with D to hike the 26 mile 4 pass loop which has been on my horizon pretty much forever. I’m grateful for Marty Silvernail who let me borrow not only his pack but stove, pots, pans and water purifier which made our lives that much easier on the trail. Neither of us are backpackers and by the end of the trip our shoulders and hips were raw from all the weight.The four pass loop was just as challenging as it was beautiful and we finished in 3 nights and 4 days which was almost too short to take all the beauty in. Next year we’ve already made plans to do the same trip in reverse….
west maroon pass

Frigid air pass

Trail rider pass

Buckskin pass
Into the wild we go to loose our mind and find our soul

The next adventure week Dawnelle and I treated ourselves to well-deserved massages and pedicures. I had a knot the size of a baseball on my back that needed to be worked out and our feet were beyond hopeless and best left in the hands of professionals. The wildflowers were in peak condition mid-July so we spent our next adventure week exploring Herman’s Gulch under the threat of rain. While it felt nice to take a week to relax and recharge there was certainly something nice about reconnecting with nature. It’s harder than you think to acclimate back to a life of technology and noise so the break to the woods was a great reset.
Herman's Gulch

Chad and I also celebrated our 7 year wedding anniversary with a trip to Telluride to hike Wilson Peak and finally make the trek to Ice Lake Basin
peak 44

wilson peak

island lake

looking down on ice lake basin

Finally at the end of July I had time to fly out to visit my sister in Alexandria and meet my new niece Lauren. It was my sister’s last few weeks of maternity leave so Charlotte and I did our best to be good house guests and help out. We spent time at the pool, ordering lots of food to eat in and walks for ice cream.

Before you know it the time to turn the calendar to August came. Dawnelle and I started the month strong with an adventure date to Fierce45 since they have childcare and she had just gotten her son back from the grandparents. We worked muscles we forgot we had and left ready to eat the entire city of Denver. 

Her son was still out of school the next week so we all went to the Boulder Res for a stand up paddle boarding excursion. I can confidently say that’s my least favorite place to SUP. They charge a $40 fee if you want to bring your own (you have to buy their permit which is only good for as long as the season lasts) and so I had to rent a board for the hour. Couple that with the fact there’s boats on the lake making waves and it’s certainly not an ideal spot.

I was leaving the next week for my Telluride Yoga + Hiking retreat so Dawnelle and I met at LoHi steak bar for a quick happy hour and catch up session. My retreat was an amazing experience and it was the biggest group I’ve ever had joining me. For the first time we had two men come – a boyfriend and spouse of two of my guests which added an extra element of fun as many times one or the other would be the only male in the group. We hiked to the hidden Little Hawaii, I enjoyed watching everyone overcome fears on the Via Ferrata and we had a perfect day at Hope Lake. Despite the cooler temps and afternoon rain showers we practiced yoga on the mountain top every day and were only interrupted by a wedding and engagement once…

Home for a few days after Telluride and it was off to Alaska for the ultimate summer experience. Alba, Dawnelle and I had registered for the Lost Lake Run six months prior and were now ready as we’d ever be to run 16 miles. The race sold out in 5 minutes and were a few of the lucky 700 people to gain admission to the event. I must say I’m betting we were also the only ones from out of state. While in Alaska we also hiked Flattop Mountain and drove to Homer for the best fish and chips (just for the Halibut!) I’ve ever had. We arrived home tired, bruised and full of excitement for another race to come in the future….once my toenail isn’t black anymore.

To commemorate all our summer of adventure, fun, friendship and new experiences we cemented our happiness in the ultimate form of expression: a tattoo. I only have an Om symbol and two arrows but I must say the mountains are my new favorite tattoo. Alba and Dawnelle got them on their ribcage whereas I chose my forearm. This was Dawnelle’s first tattoo and perhaps her only one so I felt flattered I was able to convince her to get these beautiful mountains for an adventure day. My mom had arrived in town as well as my brother so they got to witness the event as well before we all had lunch and cocktails afterwards.

My brother arrives in town every year to hike a 14er so for Labor Day we drove down to Westcliff while my mom babysat to hike Crestone Needle. My brother has climbed 6 other 14ers which is pretty good for not living in Colorado but he’d never hiked anything as challenging as the needle. Luckily my friend Randy joined to help guide us to the top of the peak so we didn’t miss the gulley crossover where people frequently die when climbing. We had less than ideal conditions once we started going for the top and nearly every group we saw was turning around on the peak but the fog wasn’t threatening so we pressed on. Our original plans to hike both mountains were thwarted but it’s a good thing we didn’t backpack in because the heavy rains at night would have washed us out. As we lay in our new camper I could only thank the heavens for our well thought out purchase. I’m getting to old to camp in the mud!

After eyeing North Maroon since 2013 when I first saw the bells I finally had my chance to stand on its summit. Dawnelle and I circled the bells the whole time we were hiking the four pass loop and I told myself I’d be back for the mountain. Even though North Maroon isn’t classified as a true 14er it’s one of the 58 and I knew I’d never feel complete until I rang both. Randy was supposed to join our adventure but he messed his ankle up so it was up to myself and my husband to lead the way and get Margaret, Courtney and Kelsie to the top safely.
I have a healthy fear of the mountains and climbing this class 4 peak was no exception. I spent enough time researching and obsessing to know we could make the hike so we camped off Independence Pass and off we went at 5:30am Saturday morning. With a gorgeous day ahead we rightfully encountered plenty of others who were making the climb and several who were coming down from the traverse. Overall I believe North Maroon to be easier than south although the second gulley was just as steep as it looks in photos and there’s lots of potential for rock all every turn. The class 4 crux of the route was a lot worse coming down than going up but thanks to Chad’s spotting we all made it with no issues. I will say the crux of Crestone Needle was harder and the route finding on the needle wasn’t nearly as good as it was on north maroon. However the rock on the needle is more solid and it took us a lot less time climbing up and down over 12 miles than it did for n maroon hiking 9.5

heading up the second gulley

Oh yes and there was also the 2nd annual Glamping Retreat with my OG bestie Margaret:

What a summer. I may not have flown or taught as much over the past 12 weeks but I can say it was totally worth all the schedule rearranging and hassle. I must thank everyone who subbed for me, picked up my flights, my parents for flying out and babysitting and my husband for picking up the slack. If it wasn’t for my adventure wife Dawnelle I doubt I would have ever gone to Alaska to run 16 miles or taken time out to hike the 4 pass loop. My retreats introduced me to more amazing women who have become my lunch, HH dates and hiking partners and I thank myself every day that I was brave enough to take a chance to do something no one else was doing. It’s never easy to step outside one’s comfort zone and I’m filled with gratitude for everyone that steps out with me and motivates me to push harder and climb higher.

After I came back from Alaska my husband made the remark that my adventure days were coming to a close. He wasn’t putting the kibosh on them he simply thought that after the Lost Lake Run my adventure wife and I couldn’t possibly have more to do. On the contrary, I told him, Dawnelle and I have a lifetime of adventure days ahead. Our goal is to keep creating, keep inspiring, find new hobbies and then pass our passions on to others. Summer may be over but a 
whole new season of expeditions begin….and yes there’s much more to come. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

To go where there are no trails...

Culebra Peak is the only privately owned 14er in Colorado. Once a year for two short months, the Texan who owns the land opens the gates to hikers. There's no set calendar date his website launches for sign up but rather "sometime in May." I took to reading threads for information on when registration for permits would begin. My adventure wife Dawnelle had read the book I'd given her, "Halfway to Heaven," about a guy who hikes all the 14ers in one summer and decided Culebra was the one mountain she'd climb with me. The $150 price tag was her motivation to hike with me, she thought it'd be unique to conquer a mountain with no trails.

You don't turn down an offer like that.

The site was initially hacked and shortly after registration opened the dates for summer showed full. Your only options are Friday - Sunday in June and July so it's a very short window to pick a date. I read rants on about people who were upset they didn't get a chance to get a permit and I felt heartbroken as well. I had been checking the website every day in May and was sure I wasn't going to miss my chance. Then at the bottom of a thread on Culebra was a comment that the website was back up and running and dates were still open. I remember sitting at lunch by myself and nearly choking on my food looking at Cielo Vista Ranch's site - there in June and July a few dates were open. I called Dawnelle and asked if she was still in as quick as my fingers would dial and I booked our Friday spots right away.

We had permits. We were in.

Except there was only one permit left for Friday and 5 left for Saturday. I didn't recognize this when I booked so I had my date secured a day before Dawnelle. I emailed the hotmail address on the website and begged to let us hike together. I heard nothing back. I called a number I found on for the ranch (there's no number on the site) and didn't hear back. I emailed three more times and finally heard back a week later.

Yes it was OK if we showed up together, just show up in the same car and bring our receipts and waiver.

Hiking a private mountain is the most surreal thing I've ever experienced. I'm accustomed to permits and registration fees and following state and federal land laws and treading lightly. I've never paid a private party for the experience of checking a mountain off my list of 58 peaks. We drove almost clear to Taos and showed up at the gates of the ranch the Thursday before the hike. According to instructions the ranch hand would be there at 6am sharp Friday to open the gates and if you weren't there you were left behind. We weren't sure where to camp because beyond the gate was a sign that said, "Camping" and a port-a-potty but there was also a no trespassing sign on the gate. Which one made more sense? There was no cell phone service at the ranch so we drove back into the tiny town of Crestone and checked websites for any clue on where to unpack our tent. After much debate we concluded that we were allowed to camp inside the gate so we drove back and set up our site. 

There were no other cars. There was only a tiny sign on the gate saying Cielo Vista Ranch. Imagine our confusion. I knew the ranch only granted 25 permits a day and since Friday was sold out there had to be more people arriving. We tailgated at my truck, made dinner and hung out until finally a few more cars showed up. No one camped but us and one gentleman even refused our offer of hamburgers and beer at our tailgate. You'd think a small group of people that were all there for the same reason would have more interaction but people were treating it more like the night before the Hunger Games.


Well game on.

At 5:30am Ron arrived. He's a carhart, cowboy hat and boot wearing ranch hand who's got the fortunate job for working for a bunch of lawyers at Cielo Vista. His job is to let us in, keep dogs out, collect proof of payment and make sure we don't cause him any trouble. We all followed him to a tiny cabin with sparse furniture and crowded around a table while he gave us the lowdown. Dawnelle and I were the only ones who made coffee before we left camp and the others were eyeing us suspiciously. I made friends with Ron in the parking lot though because he was impressed by my huge Ford truck and the fact we were the only ones who camped.
"People who sleep in their cars are dumb" he remarks.

"Make sure you sign out, " he tells us at what feels like an awkward first day of camp. "I've got a lot to do and I don't want to be out looking for you while you're home drinking coffee."

Then he turns us loose.

Let me tell you what it's like to hike a mountain with no trails - it's like watching children being turned loose on a playground. Part of what makes this mountain so special is they only allow 25 people a day for three days a week two months of the year. They prefer no one follow one another because they'd rather not see the mountain be destroyed. It sounds counter productive but it's actually brilliant. You see on regular 14ers a group call the CFI maintains the trails. Over time the trails become bigger because people don't walk in single file lines. Then on the trails rain and water start to flow down these trails making them muddy making people even more likely to go off trail. The more people on a trail the wider it becomes and the more the mountain is impacted. The CFI will then have to go in, reroute the trails and close the old one to let the ground have time to heal which can take years. 
No trails means you're welcome to climb wherever you like. We saw people to the left and right and decided that the most direct route was straight up. It had rained the night before and the fog lingered in the morning. Ron had asked us if we all had GPS because people would regularly follow the wrong drainage down in low visibility putting oneself 13 miles off track. I certainly didn't want to be lost on this private property but I also didn't have a GPS so I did the next best thing - photographing our route up. Other 14ers have cairns built to show the way but on this one all but one is forbidden. At the very top of the climb before you started the ridge walk there was a very large cairn that Ron told us marked the way down towards the parking lot.

"Don't down climb before the cairn, " he said. "You might end up in New Mexico.


Despite starting after everyone else since we parked at the lower lot we started passing people once we reached the ridge. The clouds were coming and going but no threatening thunder so we pushed on. The thing about paying for a mountain climb, one you undertake without a guide, is that there's a part of your brain that tells you to press forward. You can't get a refund for rain so you might as well go as long as you can as far as you can as safe as you can. There wouldn't be a second chance. Once on the rocks the route became more clear because you could clearly see where others feet had pressed the rocks into place making a trail of sorts. We climbed until we were then in the clouds and visibility was gone.

Out of the mist we saw a girl approaching us. "Is this the top?" we asked. 

No, she said, we still had another 20 minutes to go. Onward we climbed into the fog until we determined, via a rock wind shelter, that this was, indeed, the top. Our initial plan was to hike the Centennial Red Mountain via the connecting ridge but the weather wasn't holding out for us. Dawnelle had forgot gloves and was wearing my socks as gloves and her minimalist shoes had become wet so her feet were cold. The wind was howling around us and clouds were moving in and out. When you're not hiking a popular peak there aren't the crowds you'd normally see so you have to consider if you get lost or stuck how long will it be before anyone notices?
at the summit

making our way down

So we climbed down. 

Despite not being a technical peak, Culebra was certainly a challenge. No trails means no solid ground through the tundra and we found ourselves side stepping rocks and marmot holes that one wouldn't normally have to worry about. The grass was slick so I took to walking in a zig-zag pattern on the way down to mimic switch backing. Fortunately the clouds had started to clear enough that the parking lot was in my line of site which took the guesswork on the down climb. It took about 5 hours round-trip for us to climb and though I would have liked to start earlier you really have no choice because the ranch chooses the 6am time. We met a couple on our way down who gave us a ride to our car then we had lunch before packing up and signing out at the cabin. On the sign out sheet is the printed code to unlock the gate which you must manually do yourself on the way out. The wet dirt road we traveled on made me glad I'd brought my truck with 4wd or we would have never made it to the trail head that morning. Driving home took longer than the hike and as afternoon clouds rolled in I looked at the Crestone's driving by and was glad we weren't on a more treacherous peak.
always causing trouble

weather improving slightly on the way down

So was it worth it? To me, absolutely. To have the chance to hike a 14er that could, at any given time be closed off to the public forever was worth the $150. The sense of solitude you have on a peak that only 23 other people are climbing that day, all through their own routes is unlike any other peak I've experienced. If you're going to hike all the 14ers or just want a special experience I'd say the drive, the primitive camping and the cost to get there are all validated. My only regret is the mountain is only open to hunters in the fall because the surrounding aspens on the property would make a beautiful fall colors hike. I'm so thankful I have someone in my life willing to take upon a journey such as Culebra Peak. In truth I would have saved it for close to last out of principal for paying for a hike. But then you realize how many other hikes, gorgeous hikes all over the state are free and it suddenly seems like a small price to pay to have the place to yourself.

Who knows, maybe I'll even do it again...