Her Side’s First Contest!

29 01 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s missing from this blog, and I’ve decided that what’s missing is good, old-fashioned competition.  Yep, that’s right.  Now introducing…

Her Side of the Mountain’s very first CONTEST!

I want to hear your stories about hiking and camping.  They don’t even have to be stories about hiking and camping solo.  For this first contest, I specifically want to hear about the most incredible moment you’ve experienced while hiking or camping.

The winner will receive — aside from extreme bragging rights — a 5×7 photo, taken by me while solo hiking!  You can put it in your office and dream of being outside.  (That’s what I do.)  You’ll even get your choice, from one of these three photos:

Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah National Park, VA

Zion National Park, UT

Morning Glory Pool, Yellowstone National Park, WY

Pretty cool, right?  So, here are the rules:

  • Tell me, either by posting in the comments or emailing hermountain at gmail.com, the story of the most incredible moment you experienced while hiking or camping.  It doesn’t have to be a solo experience.  It can be about hiking or camping, it doesn’t have to be about both.  I’m looking for something that scared you, or inspired you, or an encounter with wildlife, or a triumph, or a failure, or a moment of revelation, or whatever you want.  Be creative.  (But not lewd, please!) 
  • If you need an example, look here for a post I wrote last week about a moment of revelation in the Smokies.  But you don’t have to send a photo.
  • Keep it short.  I’m not looking for a treatise, so keep your story to 300 words or less.  Preferably less.
  • You don’t have to be a writer.  I mean, make sure that the grammar and punctuation and spelling make the thing readable so I can understand it, but don’t worry if you don’t think of yourself as a wordsmith.  Just pretend you’re writing me an email.
  • Make sure I know how to contact you if you win by giving me your email.
  • I’m going to set a minimum here — I need to receive at least ten entries in order to give out the prize.  Otherwise, we’ll try it again.  This is your chance to get in while the getting it good!  As (hopefully) readership grows, your chances will be slimmer…
  • The deadline is next Friday, February 5, 2010.
  • In order to keep things fair, I’ll give the entries, without attribution, to a disinterested third party who will narrow the choices down to three, and then I’ll choose from there.

Any questions?  If not, then bring it on…

© Her Side of the Mountain 2010.

Wordless Wednesday

27 01 2010

I didn’t make that up, I stole it.  And now I’ve lied, because here are some words.  Today, you get a photo since Her Side is in triage mode at work — but don’t worry, I’ll work extra hard and Friday won’t be a Photo Friday!  Here is the Grand Canyon, in September 2004:

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

A Word About Why

25 01 2010

Since I began writing this blog — actually, since I started solo hiking and camping — I get the inevitable question:


I’ve talked a little on here about why I like to hike, and what I like about camping, but I haven’t yet addressed the big question.  Why solo?

I’m not sure I have a final answer to this question, but here are some thoughts:

  • I love the outdoors.  I really love the outdoors.  I didn’t always — I grew up in a family happier in a movie theater or reading books than even eating dinner out in the backyard.  Over time, however, that changed, and there’s something about being outside that is invigorating — and not just outside, but out in nature.  Maybe it’s the fresh air.  Maybe it’s the feeling that you’re not contained in anything but the big blue sky above you.  Maybe it’s some primal instinct to connect with the Earth.  I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know that I get antsy and depressed and stressed when too much time goes by between jaunts out into nature.  Being alone out there lets me “commune” at my own speed.
  • I like to get away from the crowds.  I’m a city girl.  I’m a social person.  I talk a lot.  This means that I spend a lot of time talking with people in person, on the phone, over email, instant messenger, texting, etc.  I spend a lot of time in the midst of crowds, on the street, on the subway, in stores — even in the park.  Sometimes it’s just too much, and there are two choices: stay in my house, or get away from the city and into the woods.  Both are viable options, but the second one is a lot more fun.  Getting out into the woods alone is a time to breathe and recharge for the next whirlwind of social activity.  Being alone on the trail ensures that I can avoid the constant need to socialize if I want.
  • It gives me time to think.  Being busy — in career and socially — means I spend a lot of time thinking.  However, I spend a lot of time thinking about what has to be done and the most efficient way to do it rather than real reflection and introspection.  Being alone out on the trail with the calming effect of nature and no demands on my time and attention gives me a chance to slow my brain down and actually think about important life things — without the temptations of the television, music, email, etc. to distract me.
  • It gives me a sense of accomplishment, independence, and freedom.  This is really the most incredible thing — if you’ve ever accomplished something you didn’t think you could do on your own, you’ll know the feeling.  When it’s something traditionally viewed as a male activity, that feeling is even more intense.  Suddenly, you’re one with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, rubbing elbows with Rosie the Riveter and sharing war stories with Amelia Earhart.  Women are taught that from a young age that they need to be taken care of, and to realize that that’s not precisely true is a proud moment.  I have that proud moment every time I successfully complete a solo hike or camping trip.  Solo camping and hiking is on another level from just being master of your finances, knowing how to check the oil in your car, or successfully replastering that section of the bathroom wall where your towel rack fell out (ahem).  Solo camping and hiking taps into a more primitive feeling of self-sufficiency, independence, and freedom. 

You’ll notice that, on my list of reasons, is not that I can’t find people to go with me.  This is sometimes true, and it’s what broke the seal on solo hiking for me in the first place: I was sick of waiting around for a time when my schedule meshed with someone else’s for a whole day and they wanted to spend it out in the woods.  But that was then.  Now, I solo hike and camp not because I can’t find a companion.  Now, I go solo deliberately because I’ve found that it does something for my soul that no other activity does.

That photo at the top?  It’s a quiet moment on a trail.  There’s really nothing like it.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Photo Friday

22 01 2010

When I drove all over the US, I got as far out west as Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona.  I was on the road for almost 6 weeks. 

I knew I was closer to home when I started hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee.  It smelled more like home, because the greenery was more like what I was used to than the plant life out in the West.  I stood on the trail, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and, for a second, I got a little homesick.  I had been on the road for a month, after all.  I missed my cat, and my roommates, and my friends, and my family.  I missed my bed

Then I opened my eyes and remembered why I was having such a great time, and instead of being homesick, I thought, “I can’t believe this trip is almost over!”  Here is that moment of realization:

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Beginnings and Endings

21 01 2010

Today, on Go Girl, I talk about football, meeting folks on a road trip, and mothers who worry.

Check it out!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Planning is Half the Fun

20 01 2010

If you read last week’s post about Rule #7 (Tell someone where you’ll be), you may be grumbling a little.  I know, I know.  You’re spontaneous.  You can’t be held to a plan.  You need adventure, and that means heading out into the great wide open with little more than a desire to explore.

You, being spontaneous.

This is fine, as an attitude.  I actually encourage it, and embrace it myself.  But a desire to be spontaneous, to let the east wind carry you to the door of your next unknown adventure, doesn’t mean that you can’t engage in at least some planning and preparation.  Remember, when we set out on this journey together I said that solo hiking and camping can be safe — with a little preparation and precautions.  With the preparation, you can stop worrying about danger and get on with the enjoyment…which is kind of the point, right?

Besides, planning is fun.  When I was a kid, I would watch, fascinated, as my dad spent the better part of the year planning our annual vacation.  He would pore over travel guides from AAA, send away for brochures and amusement park maps (this was pre-Internet), make lists and add up prices and plot courses and analyze maps.  He had so much fun doing it, I sometimes wondered if he had more fun planning the vacation than actually being on it.

I inherited this planning fascination from him.  When I took my long road trip, I spent a couple of months planning — researching equipment I would need, places I wanted to go, people with whom I could stay, sites to see, etc.  I looked at driving times between parks, mapped out routes, looked at websites on American roadside kitsch.  (Of course, I didn’t have this blog to help me…)  It was scary — because I wasn’t certain I could do it — but it was also exciting.

Look how much fun they're having!

Here are some good things about planning and not leaving everything to spontaneity:

  • Anticipation: Planning lets you have fun with your trip before you go, because you can imagine yourself on the trip and get excited for it. 
  • Eliminating Potential Problems: No, you can’t foresee everything.  (Unless you can, in which case you know what I’m going to say next.)  You can anticipate potential issues that might arise and make provisions for them ahead of time.  If you know you’re going to be in a place where the weather is cold, for example, you can pack warm clothing and avoid a) frostbite or b) maxing out a credit card buying new clothes.  If you eliminate these issues before they happen, you don’t have to worry about them while you’re supposed to be having fun.
  • Find stuff you never would have seen otherwise.  Okay, this goes both ways.  If you don’t plan at all, you might miss something unbelievable because you didn’t know to look for it.  On the other hand, if you stick too hard and fast to your plan, you run the risk of missing something unbelievable because you didn’t take the time to notice it.  Balance, my child, is the key.  But the point here is that by planning, you might run across something truly interesting that you wouldn’t have otherwise stumbled across on your own.
  • Know what you’re getting into.  This is probably the most important benefit of planning, at least from a safety perspective — and is also connected to eliminating potential problems noted above.  If you know that the hike you’re planning is 5 miles, and moderately strenuous, you can guage how much time you need.  If you have the right map, you can figure out if you’re on the right trail or get yourself un-lost if you make a wrong turn.  All of this makes for safer, and therefore more fun, solo hiking.

Finally, planning doesn’t have to mean you give up spontaneity entirely.  Planning can provide merely a framework…and then you can decide to stick to the plan or not, depending on your whim.  And if you do decide to switch it up at the last minute, you can text/facebook/call/leave a note like we talked about last time…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Photo Friday

15 01 2010

Happy Friday, everyone!  The photo below was taken in September 2004, during a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  I can’t for the life of me remember what trail this is.  I *think* it was near to Bear Lake, but the water in the photo is not Bear Lake.  Any help?

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

I’ll Be Over the River and Through the Woods

11 01 2010

You’re out on the trail.  You’re moving along at a good pace.  You’ve taken all your precautions.  Unfortunately, something goes wrong.  You trip, injure your ankle, and you can’t make it back out.  Bad luck, you also picked today to hike a trail where you haven’t seen any other hikers, your cell phone isn’t getting any signal, and you never got around to getting one of those “come get me” survival beacons.  Is all hope lost?

Nope.  You’ll be fine.  Because you followed Rule No. 7:

Tell someone where you’re going to be.

This sounds obvious, but it isn’t always.  It’s also (unlike the first aid kit rule) negotiable.  There are many times that I break this rule because I just don’t think about it.  When I was on my road trip, I was hiking practically every day, and was alone for most of the trip, so there wasn’t anyone to tell (and this was pre-facebook and twitter, and in the early days of accessing the internet via cell phone…I was still hunting up internet cafes to check my email).  When I go to the places near me for “quick hikes” on trails I am very familiar with, it often doesn’t occur to me to mention my intended destination.  And sometimes you don’t know where you’re going to be until you go, because there are multiple trails and you want to check them out before deciding which to commit to.

This is all right.  Like most of what I talk about here, this Rule is a matter of balance.  Going for a walk around Walden Pond, or on a highly populated trail, simply doesn’t pose the same risks as going somewhere difficult and secluded.  It is a good idea to make your intended hike known, however, and to get into the habit of doing so.  That way, if you don’t come back, someone knows where to start looking.

Remember when I told the story of my friends A and B who got lost in the dark?  One thing they did absolutely right was telling us where they intended to be.  We knew what trail they were taking, and we knew when they were expected back, so when they didn’t show up, we knew exactly where to go and look for them.  (Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.)

Now, in 2010, it is very easy to tell people where you’re going.  Here’s how:

  1. Call someone.  “Hey, Mom, how are you?  How is Dad?  Listen, I can’t talk, because I’m on my way to the Canyon Loop Trail in the Betasso Preserve.  It should take me a couple of hours — I’ll call you on my way home.”  See?  Easy.  And you make Mom happy by calling.
  2. Text someone.  Don’t feel like talking?  “hkng Laurel Falls tday b bk by 3.”
  3. Email someone, or a couple someones.  “Hey girls, I’ll be hiking to Crow Creek Falls in the Helena National Forest tomorrow, starting around ten.  Let me know if you want to join!”
  4. Facebook/Twitter it.  This lets you reach lots of people, and also is sort of second nature to many of us now.  “Jane Smith is going to hike the North Pawtuckaway Mountain Trail today.  See y’all in 3-4 hours!  Should I post photos?”
  5. Leave a note in your car at the trailhead.  I wouldn’t put it on the dash and be obvious about it, but leaving it in the driver’s seat, where someone could find it easily if they were looking, is not a bad idea, particularly if you didn’t decide where you were going until the last second and don’t have any cell reception.

And that’s it.  So simple.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Photo Friday

8 01 2010

Today, I need serenity.  Not Serenity (well, maybe that too…you can’t take the sky from me), but something peaceful.  So I unearthed this photo of Yellowstone Lake, taken in September 2004.  Pretty, ain’t it?  Or should I say, “shiny.”

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

A Different Kind of Gold

7 01 2010

Today at Go Girl, I talk about meeting Mike in Montana, a gold miner and self-taught law scholar.

Click here to read it!