Photo Friday

13 11 2009

For the second week in a row, Friday got here before I was ready for it.  But since I kind of like the idea of posting a photo every so often, and Friday is as good a day as any, I think I’ll keep this up for a while.

Last week, I gave you a scene from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.  This week, I present to you a scene from Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona.  Yes, I was alone on this hike.  Yes, I am standing in the stream to take this photo.  Yes, it’s beautiful.  And yes, I got lost more than once due to stream crossings — but always managed to find my way back to the trail.

Oak Creek Canyon

Happy Weekend!

* By the way, I got some grief last week for lack of clarity in my comma placement.  So let’s be clear.  I didn’t call this post (or last week’s) “Foto Friday.”  The reason I didn’t is that one of my pet peeves is the intentional mispelling of words to make them “look cute.”  It doesn’t look cute, it looks dumb.  So be forewarned, if you name your private campground “Katie’s Kampsite,”  I am likely to cringe and look for somewhere else to stay.

Go Girl: Women on the Run

12 11 2009

Today over at Go Girl Magazine, I write about trying not to fall into Bryce Canyon while on a mule ride, meeting a cute young gentleman, and being distracted from fear.

Click here to read it!

There’s a Lesson Here Somewhere

11 11 2009


I have a case of the “I told you so’s.”

As I mentioned on Monday, this past weekend I was up in Vermont with some friends.  Two of my friends decided to go hiking.  As much as I wanted to go with them, when the choice came down to hiking or spending the afternoon with my sharp-as-a-tack and deathly sarcastic fifteen-year-old nephew and my four-and-a-half-year-old niece who is cuter than any button I’ve ever seen, my path was clear.

So the other two headed out alone.  (They both have names that start with “A” so let’s call them A and B for simplicity’s sake.)  Well, not alone, since they were together.  This was not a solo hiking expedition, and that part is important to the story.  A and B left around twelve-thirty and set out to hike the Little Rock Pond loop (trailhead in Danby, VT), which is an easy, 4-5 mile hike that runs along the A.T. and the Long Trail and loops around Little Rock Pond before returning on the same trail.  Before leaving, they packed a lunch, strapped on their hiking boots, shouldered their backpacks, and we all had a discussion that it would start getting dark around four-thirty, and they would be back for dinner.  We estimated it would take them ~2-3 hours to complete the hike, though none of us had done it before.

By five-thirty, it was full-on night-time, and they had not returned.  Dinner was cooking, and we all got a little concerned about their whereabouts.  I called A’s cell phone (I didn’t have B’s number), and it went straight to voicemail.  At that point, we figured that two scenarios were likely: (1) they finished the hike early and went into town, losing track of time, and A’s phone died; or (2) they got lost on the mountain.

Now, the second one was concerning, but it didn’t have to mean panic.  It was a warm night (particularly for early November in Vermont).  A is a very experienced hiker, with a good head on his shoulders (not to imply that B doesn’t have a good head on her shoulders, but you know what I mean).  The only member of our group who knew anything about the trail noted that, if they weren’t paying attention they could have missed the loop around the lake and continued north on the A.T. which would eventually spit them out in Wallingford.

By six-thirty, we had decided to mount up and investigate.  I volunteered to drive out to the trailhead and check for their car.  If it was gone, we’d know they were off somewhere.  If it was there, then we’d deal with the next steps and get them home safely.  Just as we were about to leave, they drove in.

It turned out that they had, in fact, missed the loop around the pond and continued north on the A.T.  Eventually they realized their mistake, but not until they had added significant distance and time onto their hike.  On the way back, they found themselves on the wrong part of the loop, and had to backtrack a short ways again to find the right trail.  They also had a bad moment when they were concerned they weren’t on a trail anymore at all.  To make matters more difficult, the sun set, and they hiked for a good long while in the dark to finally, blessedly, make it back to the trailhead.  I hadn’t been able to reach them by phone because A had used a GPS app on his phone that had drained the battery quickly, and B had left her phone in the car.

We were very glad to see them, listened with interest to their story, and were glad it wasn’t more harrowing (no injuries, bad weather, animal encounters, etc.).  After telling the tale, A rolled his eyes and said, “I feel like such an amateur.

Hearing the adventure, I couldn’t help but think about what I have been writing on this blog.  I have been saying that solo hiking is only more dangerous than hiking in groups because you have only yourself to rely on, since most anything that could happen to a solo hiker could happen to non-solos.  I have been outlining basic rules for safety, must-have equipment, and always always always emphasizing the importance of using your head.

It turns out, I’m right.  (There’s the “I told you so.”)  I’d like to thank A and B for providing this real-life, illustrative example so that I could write about it today.

Here’s what A and B did right:

  • They dressed warmly and in layers (November hiking in VT, remember?)
  • They wore appropriate clothing and footwear
  • They packed a flashlight
  • They consulted a map before they left to get an idea of the direction they should be traveling and how long it should take
  • They asked someone who was generally familiar with hike for some information
  • They told people where they were going, and when they expected to be back
  • They made themselves aware of when the sun would set
  • They kept their heads and acted without panic (or much of it) to get themselves out of trouble

Here’s what they did wrong:

  • They didn’t pack extra food
  • They didn’t have a first aid kit
  • They didn’t pay enough attention to the trail itself to notice that they ended up on the wrong one
  • They didn’t place enough emphasis on how much time they had before it would get dark
  • They left a phone in the car, and let the other one drain of battery
  • They were overconfident about the ease of the hike, which lowered their vigilance

This last one is perhaps the most important of all.  This list is not meant to be overly crtitical.  Had I decided to go with them, might I have shrugged at extra precautions?  Maybe.  Like I said, A is an experienced hiker.  He’s an experienced solo hiker.  He’s an experienced de facto trail leader.  This should have been a simple hike: not too long, not too difficult, pretty clearly marked.  In total, not much went wrong.  No one got hurt.  No one was exposed to the elements.  They didn’t actually get lost in the woods, because they were always on a trail, even if it wasn’t the right trail.  And yet, because of a couple of wrong turns, the hike took much longer than intended and left them in darkness.  As simple (and as quick) as that, the easy hike turned into something difficult and harrowing.

The truth of the matter is that A and B had never been on this hike before.  It was unfamiliar.  Even if it was billed as an easy hike, they should have considered the unknown factor when preparing, and not made any assumptions.

And that’s why preparation, precautions, and using your head, both before and during your hike are the key to staying safe, whether you’re hiking alone or with companions.

Yeah, I’m gonna say it again.

I told you so.

Ed: A tells me that he actually estimated the hike would take them 4 hours, not 2-3.  That brings into relief that, starting the hike after 12:30, with darkness falling around 4:30, on a 4 hour hike, is cutting it too close even if you know the trail. 

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Can You Show Me That In Purple?

9 11 2009


This past weekend, I was up in Vermont with some friends visiting some other friends.  There was hiking (more on that later), conversation, a little Guitar Hero, and plenty of fresh air.  There was also some shopping, mainly at a Michael Kors outlet.  My shopping companion, A, writes a fashion blog, and she and I got to talking — again — about potential crossovers, since we both like to hike and shop.  She mentioned she’d like to do something about hiking fashion.  I endorsed the idea.

Then I came home, took a look at what was on schedule for today’s post, and smiled.  Sometimes the world sort of comes together.

Last Monday, we talked about an important Rule: Pack the Right Equipment.  The Good Stuff version of packing the right equipment, of course, is that you have to first obtain the right equipment, and that means…

Yep.  That’s right.  Shopping!

I know that sometimes, particularly when you’re dealing with highly technical outdoor or sporting gear, obtaining the right equipment can be daunting.  I can hear your questions, because I’ve had them too: Where do I even start?  How do I know what I need, and what’s right for me? 

Well, I have been there.  I have stood in the middle of an outdoor store, staring at the racks of shirts and pants and jackets and boots and tents and canteens and gadgets I couldn’t begin to identify, and wondered what to do next.

Then I realized that getting outdoor gear is just like any other shopping.  You figure out what your mission is (dress for a formal dinner, swimsuit for a trip to the beach, backpack for day hiking), do a little preliminary research to figure out what’s out there, how much you want to spend, and what you need (everyone will be wearing cocktail attire, you are finally brave enough to try a two-piece, you want something that will carry your first aid kit and has a hydration sac), and then the fun begins.

Go to the store.  Rifle through the selections.  Try things on.  Look in the mirror and envision yourself on the trail.  See if there are any sales.  Talk to the salesperson and get recommendations.  Ask if you can get this in purple.  (Because sometimes things are just better in purple.)

See?  Fun.

MK BagOne word of warning: Once you’ve gotten the hang of shopping for outdoor gear, it really does become just like any other shopping.  You might find yourself, as I do, wandering into an outdoor store and poking around for something to buy there even if you don’t need it — or seeing something you love but absolutely don’t need, and having to talk yourself out of it, like A and I did yesterday (so long for now, Michael Kors Astor Grommet hobo bag…).

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Photo Friday

6 11 2009

No, I didn’t spell Photo with “F” because it’s one of my pet peeves.  But here is your photo for the day:


This is at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.  We’ll talk more about it next week.  Have a happy weekend, everyone!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Ho Hum.

4 11 2009

One of the questions that I am regularly asked about solo hiking, camping, or road-tripping is: “Don’t you get bored?” 

The answer: Sometimes.  But not as often as you’d think.

Now, I should say up front that whether or not I get bored does not necessarily have a bearing on whether you will be bored.  I was always one of those kids (and am now one of those adults) happy with a book and my own company.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy being social, interacting with crowds, and being in the company of others.  I do.  But I also like having time to myself.  So I am probably less likely to get bored than someone who needs other people around all the time.

Still, fear of being bored shouldn’t stop you from giving the solo thing a try.  You might be surprised at how interesting you are to yourself.  Or how creative you can be when left alone for a while. 

Here are some ideas for how not to get bored while striking out solo:

Other people.  Yes, yes.  We’re talking about solo camping and hiking and road-tripping.  But just because no one you know right now is going with you, that doesn’t mean you’re entering some bubble where no other person exists.  To quote Willow, in response to Oz’s news that he has to go somewhere and not be around people for a while: “People?  Kind of a planetary epidemic.”

In National Parks, there are often tours and guided hikes that you can join — even informally.  I’ve been known to just tack myself on to the back of a tour (which, when I start asking questions, makes other people look at each other and think “who the heck is that?”)  There are likely to even be other solo travelers you can link up with for a hike, dinner, maybe even a portion of your trip.  Don’t be afraid to be friendly and make friends (of course, using your head and trusting your instincts all the while).

BooksRead.  If you’re like me, there are stacks of books you’ve been meaning to read, but you don’t take the time to do so.  I read snatches of books on the subway, but truly taking the time to lose oneself in a book is rare in this age of constant connection and communication.  When you’re packing for a long hike, go ahead.  Bring a book.  Read for a little while during your lunch break reward.  Read with your headlamp in your tent at night (though, from experience, I’ll caution you not to read a fast-paced cop/murder thriller while camping alone…you won’t get any sleep that night).  Read under a tree on the banks of the Mississippi.  Read in a bar. 

Side note: Oddly, I’ve had more people approach me while I’m reading than not.  Perhaps because it gives them an opening line.  I don’t know, but I’ve met more people over a book than while sitting and staring at a television or noodling on my phone.  So maybe reading can accomplish two things!

SingingListen to music.  So you’re on a road trip.  You’re by yourself.  You’re cruising along on a big empty road out west.  Where better to indulge your love of singing loudly and badly?  No one is around to hear you — or even see you (and if you’ve ever stopped mid-song in heavy traffic to see the guy in the car next to you pointing and laughing, you’ll know why that’s important).  Go ahead, put on your guilty pleasure music, that stuff you don’t want anyone to know you want to listen to.  Who’s judging?

Books on tape.  So this is a bit of an anachronism.  No one listens to books on tape anymore, or even books on CD.  It’s audiobooks, thank you very much.  Whatever you call them, the end result is that someone is reading a book to you.  If you aren’t sure you’d like this (for example, I hate being read to), pick a book you know you’ll like, or go with a recommendation from a trusted friend.  The key to a good audiobook is a) being interested in the book; and b) having it read well.  This second one is probably the most important, and now with iTunes and other online purchasing of audiobooks available, you can listen to snippets and see if you can stand the voice.

Podcasts.  Do I really have to explain this one?  There are bazillions of them.  Surely there’s one out there that will hold your attention.

WritingWrite.  If you keep a journal, you should have plenty to say while traveling.  If you write other things, like poetry or fiction, use the time to compose your epic.  Okay, so I’m a writer.  I am not, however, a journal-er.  I have never been able to keep a journal, something that has bothered me my entire life.   When I travel, however, it’s so important to me to record as much as possible so that I can use it in later writings (hey, like this!).  Alice Steinbach, in her lovely travel memoir Without Reservations, describes an ingenious method of keeping travel notes: send yourself postcards.  Yes, you heard me.  Do it every day.  Find a postcard you like at a place you stop, and that night, write out a sentence or two.  Something that made an impression, or something that someone said, or something you saw.  If that feels too weird for you, pick someone back home and send them a postcard every day.  The nice side benefit of this is that it also focuses your memory and forces you to reflect on what you have seen and done.

Learn something.  No, I don’t mean study physics (unless you really want to).  There are plenty of things to know, and one of the fun things about solo camping, hiking and road-tripping is that you can choose precisely which things you want to know more about.  As noted above, the National Parks often have guided hikes and tours, ranger demonstrations, and even museums.  If there’s nothing scheduled, chat up a ranger — they are usually glad to share their knowledge and expertise.  Go to a museum (even a non-National Park museum!) and wander at your own pace.  Grab the audio tour.  Find an old-timer sitting on a porch and ask him about his childhood.  Learn something.  And then, when you get back, you can impress your mom with stories.

You know what?  Sometimes you’ll be bored.  At least you’ll be bored while doing something interesting on the grand scale, rather than just sitting around your house.  And then you’ll find something else to do, and you won’t be bored anymore.

What about you?  How do you stave off the boredom while traveling alone?

There’s An App For That

2 11 2009

My equipment for the Road Trip

How many times have you looked out the window at gloomy skies and decided to take an umbrella, not because you might need it, but because if you don’t bring it you feel you’re tempting the rain?  That’s Murphy’s rule of packing having its wacky effect on your life — and your packing decisions:

If you don’t pack it, you’ll need it; and if you pack it, you won’t need it.

Any time you pack for a trip, you have to balance bringing what you think you might need and bringing the minimum necessary to make the travel easier.  When it comes to packing for a solo camping or hiking, however, this balance is trickier — you want to have the equipment you’ll need to deal with problems that arise, but you don’t want to have to lug around too much.

Which brings us to Rule Number 4:

Pack the right equipment.

The right equipment will be the most efficient equipment for your intended journey.  Just like you wouldn’t pack flip-flops and shorts for a ski trip, you don’t need a camp stove for a short hike.

Keep in mind the purpose of your trip when you’re considering equipment.  When car camping, if I’m going for more than a couple of nights, I might bring a camp stove and cooking equipment.  Most of the time, however, I pack food that can be prepared without the rest of the equipment, to limit what I need to take.

The equipment checklist can help you think through what you might need.  There are some things I never leave behind:

  • Water
  • Food
  • First Aid Kit
  • Cell Phone
  • GPS

On longer hikes, I also always bring an extra layer of clothing.

Just keep asking yourself what your intended trip will be like, and when in doubt, particularly in regards to safety items, food and water, it’s best to err on the side of inclusion.

Within reason, of course.  You probably won’t need that evening gown or…sorry…the Louboutins.

What equipment can’t you live without?