Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Ant Hill

Friday September 9th, 12:15 p.m:   I run out the door leaving my edamame spaghetti half eaten on the counter in an effort to hustle. Chewing on protein and veggies these days has welcomed healthy eating habits back into my diet after nearly 5 months of eating sugar, starch and carbs on the PCT. But today, I ignore my wasteful nibbling routine and all that comes with it and consciously decide to be a slob.  I'll clean up later. I grab my water bottles, pack, snacks, jacket, and keys, then hop in the car.  Before long, I’m at the crowded parking lot.

12:20 p.m: I drive in circles looking for a place to park amongst over 150 cars. I strap on my Altras in an effort to huff up the trail.  I’m here partially because I enjoy this lovely treadmill, and partially because I don’t want my trail-shape from the PCT to disappear.  Huff and puff with gusto, I must(o).

12:21 p.m: I pass the first of many groups of people. I usually enjoy seeing people getting outside and exercising their hearts, lungs and spirits, but this is a massive amount of hikers and part of me feels saddened by the quantity.  It’s no longer a trail, it’s more like an ant hill.  I’m here on a Friday afternoon, it’s one of the most popular hikes in the Seattle area and most of these folks are taking it easy and enjoying the day.  There is nothing wrong with going slowly, but today I’m trying to get my heart rate buzzing and push my athletic thresholds. I tuck a smile on my mouth and remember the words to a Zac Brown song that helps me put things in perspective. “Keep your heart above your head and your eyes wide open, so this world can’t find a way to leave you cold, and know you’re not the only ship out on the ocean, save your strength for things that you can change, forgive the ones you can’t, you gotta let ‘em go.” The lyrics and melody make me feel better and I feel my shoulders drop a little.

12:26 p.m: I get stink-eye from a group of older women who are somewhat disgruntled that I am passing, despite my attempts at kindness, smiles and comments on the beautiful day.  What is happening?

12:27 p.m: Blue dog poop bag, trailside left.  Gross.

12:35 p.m: 32 people passed and I’m only 1.1 miles in.  I’m not running, just going my PCT pace, which is about 3 miles per hour. Somehow I'm feeling guilty about going this pace.  Suddenly, an older man announces my arrival to his friends with “Speed-Demon, coming up on our heels!” I smile and thank him for offering me some space to pass.  As I walk away I hear him mumble to his friend.  He thinks I’m out of ear shot but unfortunately for me, I have the hearing of a owl, “Some people just don’t know how to enjoy these hikes slowly.” I didn’t have the energy or the sass to tell him that I’ve been on this trail many times and I AM enjoying it, just at a different speed. It feels hurtful.

12:42 p.m: Trail runner cruises by me!  YES!  Now he can be the bad guy. I feel my shoulders drop again.

12:45 p.m: Green dog poop bag, this one old and worn.  “Beautiful knot at the top, though,” I think.  Still, gross. Why aren’t people picking these things up? The trails are decorated with them every where I go these days.

1:15 p.m: Arrive at my destination feeling tired of feeling guilty. “I have a fast pace, let it go.”  Some self-talk helps me rationalize my mood and I settle in to a very secluded spot that I’ve worked hard to find.  It’s away from hikers who are talking loudly, away from the hoards of people, away from the commotion and common areas.  I just want it quiet.  I open up my lunch and start nibbling. 

1:16 p.m: Two girls arrive on my rock, trampling through the back way- a restoration area- to get there.  To be fair, they probably didn’t see the tiny sign.  Two happy, but loud young gals park themselves within a foot away from my picnic and start yapping about their problems at work. I learn all about their co-workers and their boss without ever saying a word. “I just need to go home,” I think loudly in my head.  Seriously?  I catch myself saying that in THIS place- this gorgeous, rugged, mountain-y, perch with a crystal blue lake in view. What is happening to the Northwest? What is happening to me?  I’ve heard it said that too many rats in small spaces will eat each other. Is that happening here?  Have we officially reached the rodent-eats-rodent phase of hiking in Washington? Sure, I could have hiked elsewhere, but this trail is close to my home.  This is my treadmill and the number of people at my outdoor "gym" seemed to have spiked recently bringing in what feels like busloads of people.

1:35 p.m:  I move to a different spot, get out my camera and start taking photos which makes me happy. I still feel guilty about my pace, my attitude, my solitude search, everything except taking pictures. Today is just that kind of day. But, I’m happy.  In this moment, I’m very happy and so glad to be here.  Sigh.  Finally.  My spirit is lifted, despite it all.

1:50 p.m: I traverse down a talus slope when I step aside to let a group of 8 teenagers, seemingly drafting off each other, pass by.  One decides to go straight up the talus field, abandoning the trail for his own route and sending boulders crashing onto the trail below him.  He’s cutting the switchback and showing off. Now he’s endangering everyone underneath these giant rocks. I shout up and politely ask him to stay on the trail.  It falls on deaf ears.  He has a Bluetooth speaker blasting out of his backpack.  He’s that kid. I feel disheartened, again.  Is having tunes cranking out of your backpack necessary for hiking these days?  I guess I didn't get that memo. Your beat are better with headphones and they don't disturb anyone else.  "Sheesh...I'm getting to be a cantankerous, ol'-duff," I think.

I’ve lost track of time…I’m deep in thought:

I walk back the way I arrived and smile at everyone I see in an effort to make myself feel better about the stampedes of people on the trail. They too are here seeking solitude and I too, am contributing to the ant hill. I pay special attention to give the uphill hikers the right-of-way, as it should be. Folks don’t know the rules, but why?  This weighs heavily on my mind and I wonder why we don’t have a local non-profit to help hikers understand some basics. The closest non-profit I can think of is the Leave No Trace Foundation.  But, they are national and spread out all over the country- we need them here and now. “I wonder what resources they have?” I almost say this out loud. A booth at a trailhead on a busy weekend would be awesome!  Oh how I wish they could do that on Seattle-area trails! Problem, solution, problem, solution, my mind is racing…I need to volunteer…what can I do to make this better…how can I help? There are so many new hikers, that don’t understand outdoor ethics and no one wants to be the wilderness police on their enjoyable romp.  But, a non-profit with a gentle voice might be the answer. Education is the solution. 

I find my way back to my car and think deeply all the way home. I won’t give up.  I won’t. I feel my shoulders drop to their normal location and embrace my endorphins.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Soon I will disappear into the desert

This morning, I prepared two postage boxes bound for my first couple of stops along the PCT.  As I threw in last minute goodies, I let my mind drift off to the ambiance of the towns, how I will feel when I arrive and what this whole adventure has in store for me. It’s one thing to say you are hiking the PCT, it’s another thing to do it.

            I’m no stranger to long distance hiking.  I know the weird aches and pains, like the one that plagued my foot’s arch near Twilight Lake two years ago as I made my way through Washington State on the PCT. I know the chafing, the rashes, the cravings for salad/bread/dairy, the loneliness that comes from missing friends and family and the mental challenges that, in general, come with this kind of odd, body-taxing endeavor.

            Yet, California is a different beast. I’ll be walking for roughly 3 months through a state home to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United State and Yosemite National Park, known for it’s massive granite walls and rich John Muir history. I’ll be passing through the home of active scorpions, ticks, pit vipers, tarantulas, tarantula hawks (wasps), mountain lions, and black bears.  I’ll be walking in downpours, in hot sunshine, in lightening storms, sideways sleet and slushy snow. I’ll be crossing creeks and rivers up to my thighs, and shivering as I lay in bed each night. I’ll be using a dirt hole for a toilet and a rather uncomfortable ultralight camp pad for my bed. I’ll be crossing brown desert hillsides, meadows filled with cow dung (and those who created it), pine tree-laden peaks and long stretches of boring forest service roads all in the name By now you might be shaking your head and wondering how someone could possibly conceive that as  pleasurable, or even slightly enjoyable. Enter hikers. To quote Jimmy Buffett, “we are the people our parent’s warned us about.” 

            It will take me under three hours to fly from Seattle to San Diego and nearly 4 months to walk back home. During this time, my busy brain will be buzzing and, as always on long hikes, I’ll solve the world’s problems, find a cure for world peace, and come home with a zillion new ideas to change, improve and re-create the “you-name-its”.  

I realize there is some chance things may go sideways.  Even the best laid plans  sometimes have a way of curling under their own weight. But I intend to put my best foot forward (literally and figuratively) and give it the ol' college try.
It’s nearly a week until I set sail. May the forest be with me. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

3+ amazing tips that will eliminate blisters!

Ahh, those stinky hiker feet! We’ve all had ‘em and we’ve all suffered the consequences of having to share a tent next to someone whose pigs are oinking. But it’s not just the unpleasantry of the wear and tear on the olfactory system that can cause vexation (afterall, the essence of trail-toe, is, well…to be gross and honest…better than some aromas). No, it’s usually not the offensive smelling tootsies that will ruin a trip, but rather, the bulbous welts that arrive on the toes, heels or foot pad after miles and miles of trail-schlepping with a backpack. Blisters are a real buzz kill, but did you know, they are a fairy easy thing to prevent?  Here are some awesome bulbous-blister-busting-bursting tips!

A wise person once noted, that three things together cause a blister:  Moisture, Friction and Heat. If you eliminate any of those three things, you won’t have one.  Sounds easy right?  Sure. 

1)    It’s getting’ hot in here, so take off all your…socks: The second, and I mean second you feel a hot spot (known as a slight skin discomfort or annoyance) stop immediately and take your socks off. Let your feet dry out and then slap some moleskin or or athletic tap on the effected area.   Don’t hesitate to do this, even if you are very early in the hike. If you are stubborn or incredibly goal oriented, this will be really hard for you. I speak from experience, where my headstrongness has led to hobbling ((fist shake)) .

If you are on a multi-day backpacking trip, stop every couple of hours and let your feet air-out. Heck, even if it’s a long day hike and you are blister prone, air them out at your destination. If you read this article and can only take away one thing....yep, this is it!

2)    Rub a dub, dub:  Chafing or agitation can turn a foot into the oyster-creating-a-pearl scenario. All it takes is a grain of sand or grit to find it’s way in between your toes and before long your nasty little pearl is born. If you experience any rubbing stop immediately and take off your shoes.  If you are near water, plunge your pigs into the creek and do your best scrub-a-dub. Tip toe back to a good perch and wait for your feet to dry completely.  You might also keep some wet wipes with you if you are travelling in a dry landscape to perform a similar cleansing.  

If it continues to happen, you may have ill-fitting shoes. Sure, they looked cute in the store, and maybe even had a nice “clop” when you strutted around the footwear department, but the struggle on the trail is real, Betty. Always buy your footwear with more wiggle room than you think you’ll need.  If you are mostly a fair weather hiker, you’ll find that warm days and/or lots of walking will make your feet swell and thus, cause rubbing where you thought there was none.

Who says feet aren't pretty?!
Another tip...have you tried trail running shoes?  If you are someone who is still in the antiquated mindset which screams “I must wear big boots because I have bad ankles,” it’s time to reconsider. Some scientific math wizard with too much time on their hands decided that every pound on the foot equals five on the back. Sure, I buy it.

Trail runners are lightweight and designed to limit pronation (twisting) on rocky, uneven surfaces- in other words, they are made for trails and for you! They are much lighter than boots, allowing you more control of your feet and their placement which prevents ankle rolls. Unless you have serious bone or joint maladies, your ankles WILL adjust to them, it just requires a little training.  Before I started using trail running shoes, I too was skeptical.  Back in the day, I had sprained, strained and twisted more ankles than I could count, so I was justifiably worried that these were not the solution for me. Trust me, your ankles and feet will figure it out as mine have.

The fabric on a trail running shoe is much more forgiving than say, a stiff boot or mid-ankle hiker, so rubbing is just less common and blistering potential is diminished.

Getting used to them before you head off on a long backpacking trip is the key.  AND…don’t forget the trail running shoes' trusty companion- the trekking pole! The trekking pole is a good way to keep your posture upright and prevent stumbling when the going gets rough, literally. Interview any long distance thru-hiker and you’ll find that all of them go the distance sans big, clompy boots. Give trail runners a shot, hot-shot!

3)    Come on let’s sweat, SWE-AT!: That one took you back to the big hair days, huh? Now, where was I. Right…sweaty pigs. If you are someone whose feet are always miserably hot, hot hot, you are likely prone to getting blisters. Wet feet not only feel turr-ible, but they are also much more likely to spring a welt than feet whose light moisture can be wicked away with a sock. Here’s the good news.  There’s hope for you my bi-ped perspiring peeps!  
      A sock liner, or a sock that is tight to your skin can work as the preliminary moisture shortstop, as if it were a second skin. Slide that sucker tightly under your regular sock and wa-la, it's as if you've grown a dermis layer!  Or try this…a company named Wright Socks, has created a sock that has two layers built-in to help with all of the above. It’s a slippery little stinker that slides on comfortably and prevents blisters by doing its job of eliminating all three blister-creating elements.  They are so sure it works, they offer 100% satisfaction guarantee.

You could also try wool socks which have crazy-beautiful natural wicking properties and can even make those with hot hooves, happy.   Get out there and as always, thanks for playing.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

7 Great Tips for Staying Warm at Night in the Backcountry

If you are a “cold sleeper” or one of these people who can never get warm, you and I have a common bond.  Since campfires are often prohibited in sensitive areas, or in hot, wildfire-laden summers, the task of getting warm before bed can be tricky. The scenario plays out the same every summer…the sunny day has disappeared into a slightly damp, mildly-windy evening and now you find yourself curled up in your sleeping bag, chilly and trying to wiggle every-which-way-ta’-Tuesday to scare up some warmth. My clickity-clacking teeth have been there many times and it can be downright miserable! Those who have internal thermostat issues know how hard it can be to increase your body’s temperature once night falls at camp and your sweaty, sun screened, bug sprayed self is desperate to count some sheep. If you are anything like me, your carcass is tired, dreamland is within grips, but you’d give anything for an electric blanket! To combat my frigid malady, I’ve had to learn a few tips which help me find the sandman, and may do the same for you.

Take damp clothes off immediately. Many of these tips may have you exclaiming “well, DUH!”, but trust me when I say as a guide, I saw sweaty hikers setting up camp, time and again before taking off their perspiration soaked shirts.  Take off your sweaty “everythings” and change immediately when you get to camp into a dry set of duds. Ladies, this is very key to us because wet underwear like sports bras stick against the skin and are often soaked after hard trail days.  Soggy underwear will zap heat like a water to a fire, plus it’s just not comfortable when you stop moving.

Don’t sleep in too many clothes. A sleeping bag in and of itself cannot generate heat, correct? Again, I hear a collective “DUH”, but stay with me.  Therefore, a sleeping bag is not warm, unless you and your snuggly self can radiate enough heat to trap it inside the down/synthetic fibers and let the bag do what it was designed to do!  Sleeping in a puffy jacket and thick fleece pants may only trap the heat in those garments rendering the sleeping bag rather useless.  Instead, bring a thin to medium set of sleeping clothes, such as long underwear, and you might find you sleep toastier.

Drink hot drinks before bed. And, I don’t mean toddies. In fact, alcohol can actually have the opposite effect of staying warm. Instead, heat up water for a cup of tea or cocoa and let the cozy beverage rush over your tongue and into your tummy until it’s gone. Afterward, dive into the sleeping bag and notice how much warmer you feel.  Of course, be sure to empty your bladder before you do, or you might be back to square one at 2am.

Wear a hat to bed. Want to join me for a nightcap?  No seriously.  Years ago before central heat made it to homes, people wore nightcaps to bed to take off the chill. They knew what was up with staying warm at night- these folks had it dialed!  Channel your inner pioneer and fire a toque over your noggin’ before catching some zzzs. Just be sure you get one that fits comfortably that isn’t too tight or too small or you’ll wake up with lines across your forehead and a headache that will make you want to throw the hat off the nearest cliff. 

Sleep with a hot water bottle. If the weather takes a turn or you get very wet and are having a hard time taking the chill off of your body, fill a hard-sided plastic bottle with a secure lid (key words), with warm (not hot) water. Most hard sided water bottles can handle the heat provided it’s not scalding.  Let that warm little rascal hang out in your sleeping bag by your feet then spoon it like you mean it.  Be sure to triple check the lid to ensure this shenanigan doesn’t go sideways.

Choose the right sleeping bag. Go to any outdoor retailer and you’ll stand there like a deer in the headlights when it comes to sleeping bags.  Green ones, red ones, light ones, heavy ones, right zipper, left zipper, half zipper, double, mummy, bleeeeaaaahhhh! First, do your homework and make sure you know approximately what you want. 

Start with the bags innards. Goose down bags are more comfortable in a wider variety of temperatures, are more compressible and are usually lighter than their synthetic counter parts. Unfortunately, they are more expensive and if they get wet, oh baby, they stay wet with a vengeance! I highly recommend those with goose down bags get an ultralight waterproof stuff sack for it to live while you are out trail traipsing. Synthetic bags on the other hand are tougher, cheaper and better in wet conditions, but they are less compressible and usually heavier.  I’ve always had goose down bags because I don’t want to carry one single ounce more than I need, but that’s me and you are you (DUH).  Do what you do.

Next, look for EN temperature ratings.  This rating is the lowest possible temperature that you might experience on the trail.  To that, add 10 degrees if you are a cold sleeper.  It’s a good rule of thumb that usually works for most folks who are fearful of buying a bag that won’t keep them warm. Temperature ratings are not exact science- if it was, every coat out there would have one. Plus, people have different metabolisms and we are all our own beast. Most manufacturer’s tout some kind of crazy metric/testing to arrive at the number.  Look for loft and read, read, read reviews!

Select your gender. Women’s bag are all over the place and a really good option if you deem yourself a female. Because women tend to sleep colder than men, more filling is added to the chest and the foot box, where women tend to loose most of their heat. Their temperature ratings also tend to be more lenient because they know, that a shivering woman, is a force to be reckoned with (I speak from goose-bumping experience). There really isn’t such a thing as men’s bags, but rather a unisex category.  Don’t necessarily buy a women’s bag, just because you are a woman. Some gals have broad shoulders, tall statures or are just strong, burley Bettys.   In the store, climb in both women’s bag and unisex bags before you determine what feels most comfortable.

Be a little mummy. When I worked for REI people commonly mention how claustrophobic they felt in mummy bags and sure, they aren’t for everyone, but if you want to stay warm, they do one heck of a job trapping that warm body air and keeping it inside the bag. A wider bag or a longer bag requires more of your toasty goodness to heat the bag, thus, making it harder to stay warm.  Plus, mummys are often lighter and have great draft tubes (stuffing filled tubes near the zippers which prevent cold air from coming in). For me, it’s a no brainer, but then again, I’m comfortable scuba diving in the dark waters of the Pacific Northwest and enjoy riding elevators.

As a last resort, hand warmers and the buddy system. You know those little disposable hand warmers that heat up instantly when you tear the pouch open?  Those little puppies are great at heating hands and toes in a pinch (well, not pinched toes, but you get me). The downside to them is that they are heavy to pack in and pack out.  But…if you are desperate, I’ve seen worse ideas.  Tent mates are warm too.  Just having another body sleeping beside you rises the temperature inside the nylon walls and helps you regulate your own temperature. It's like your own built-in "friend heater" complete with a laugh to keep you company. Perfect, I say.