Something Very Different

17 03 2010

I’m taking a break from writing about hiking and camping today to engage in some blatant self-promotion…I mean, give the readers a glimpse into other facets of my personality.  Here’s something that y’all who don’t know me personally don’t know about me:

When I’m not on a mountain or in a canyon, or planning my next dude ranch trip, (or, heaven forfend, at work) I write fiction.  Usually in the cover of darkness — think of me as a fiction-ninja.  In recent years, I’ve won a couple of contests for short stories and what-not.  I am perpetually working on twenty-seven novels* that fall into a wide variety of genres, from literary to romance to thriller to YA to YA-thriller-romance.  I don’t write sci-fi or fantasy, unless coerced.

Yesterday, I was published for the very first time not as the result of winning a contest, in the Boston Literary Magazine.  My piece is technically a drabble (which is a story of exactly 100 words) though it currently appears in the “Quick Fiction” section.

What makes this even more fun is that my friend and fellow writer Carrie Heim Binas is also published in this issue, in the Drabble section.  Check her out, too.

We’ll be back on topic on Friday!

* Not an exact number…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Hi, My Name Is

15 03 2010
No it’s not Slim Shady, but that’s what you were thinking. Right?

I’ve lived my entire life in New England.  New Englanders are a hearty bunch: they know how to prepare for hurricanes and nor’easters, trudge patiently through piles of snow and slush, and wait out an eighty-six year World Series drought.  New Englanders aren’t known for being particularly friendly, however.  They keep to themselves, don’t trust strangers and newcomers, and mind their own business.

This is why I was surprised, upon visiting other parts of the country, to have random strangers smile and say hello to me on the street.  I kept thinking, “do I know that guy?”  I just wasn’t used to the idea that a person would interact willingly with the strangers around them, even in passing. 

This interaction with strangers is even more pronounced on the trail — the hiking trail, that is.  Outdoorsy people are a friendly bunch, and it’s considered appropriate to exchange greetings with hikers you pass along the way.  In addition to being friendly, it’s also safety-related; when a hiker nods and smiles and says hello, he’s really saying, “Everything going all right?”  And when you nod and smile and say hello back, you’re really saying, “Everything’s fine, thanks for asking.”

Last week, we talked about the importance of choosing the right trail — and that applies to campsites, as well — in order to find the right balance between your enjoyment of nature and your comfort with the level of solitude you’re facing.  I personally like trails where I can meet other people, and so here we are at the Good Stuff part of picking the right trails:

Meeting People On the Trail (and at Camp)

As always, there’s caution to be taken here, and using your head, and all that other stuff we’ve been talking about for the past six months.  It’s understandable to be a little shy about interacting with others you meet, and cautious about sharing too much information.  That’s just good sense.

However, there are lots of good people out there on the trail.  In particular, if you’re on a relatively populated trail, your chances of running into a serial killer are slim.  He wouldn’t pick that trail — too high a chance of getting caught.  Someone smiling at you might just be being friendly and checking in (in fact, that’s probably what they’re doing).  If you’re very nervous, pick out the people with kids to talk to; they’re too busy making sure their kids don’t fall off the mountain to be dangerous.

Here’s another benefit to making friends on the trail: sometimes, you need someone to give you a push.  One day, when I was hiking the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon in 110 degree heat, I was in bad shape.  I had another mile and a half to the top, and while I had plenty of water, I felt like I had to stop and rest at every switchback, because while hiking alone, all I could hear was my labored breathing and my heart pounding.  I sat on a rock in a brief piece of shade to take a break, and after a moment a man sat down on the rock next to me, asking if I minded.  I shook my head, still breathing heavily.  We started chatting.  He was alone too, and asked if I’d be his company for the rest of the hike.  That last mile and a half absolutely flew by.  We talked about nothing I can remember, but we didn’t stop again until we reached the top.  Having someone to push, and be pushed by, made that last portion of the hike much more enjoyable (and take much less miserable hot time!).

Meeting people can work in camp, too.  I found that I was more likely to strike up conversations in the morning than at night, in particular if I was moving on that day, because it felt less risky.  Retired couples in RVs in particular like to share their bacon with the daring, interesting girl who slept in that little tent.

Besides, meeting people is fun!  So just smile and say “Hi.”  You might end up with lifelong — or trail-long — friends.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Photo Friday

12 03 2010

Yep, that’s a buffalo.  Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.  Happy Friday!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Who Wants Free Stuff?

10 03 2010

We all want free stuff.

I’ve been tooling around the interwebs recently, and have stumbled across a number of contests.  Even though I could keep them to myself, and increase my chances of winning, I’m going to share them with you all.  My reasons for doing so are selfish too, of course.  The way I see it, if you get a free tent or a free GPS device, it might inspire you to finally get out there and get hiking and camping, and then you’ll keep coming back here and reading.  Right?

GPS For Today is giving away a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger Tracking Device.  It’s a “come rescue me” beacon.  It won’t tell you how to get yourself unlost, it will tell rescue services to come and find you — and where to find you.  It also lets you send out an “okay” beacon so that loved ones will know you’re safe on longer treks.  GPS for Today is giving away the device and one year of service, and provides a number of ways to enter.  The blog itself, in its own words, “explores the applications of GPS technology for every day life by examining current usage while anticipating what GSP will look like into the future….  We are here to try to anticipate some of the potential uses of GPS technology, exposing the potential abuse while we praise the possible use.” 

Women’s Adventure Magazine has a bunch of giveaways going on right now, for a series of outdoor adventure gear.  This includes: GORE bike pants, a Sierra Trading Post tent, a Marmot Catalyst jacket, a Nikwax package, an assortment of items from the Gear Playground, and an Osprey courier bag.

Pyramid Breweries, a western beer company, is giving away a 5-Day Whitewater Rafting trip (with airfare) in Hell’s Canyon, Idaho.  I think this sounds awesome.  Unfortunately, it’s not open to residents of every state.  Most of the states that qualify are out west.  So, readers, if you live in one of the states that qualifies, enter, and when you win, invite me along, please.  Many thanks!  (**this find courtesy of Hiking Lady.)

Good luck!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

The Road Less Traveled is Overrated

8 03 2010

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Taking the “road less traveled” is the metaphor we use when we want to muster up the courage to do something out of our comfort zones, congratulate ourselves for choosing the more adventurous alternative, and justify not sticking to boring routines.  As a metaphor, it’s inspiring and comforting at the same time.

Taken literally, however, choosing the “road less traveled” might not always be the wisest decision.  For example, imagine that you’re driving into a blizzard in Vermont.  You could choose to take the interstate most of the way, along with all of the other cars persistently slushing through the precipitation, or you could go the shorter, windier route through the mountains that, during nice weather, is much more pleasant.  Here’s a hint: the road less traveled is a pain in the ass.  (Based on a recent, and very true, story.)

When solo hiking, you may think the road less traveled might be just what you’re looking for.  You want solitude and serenity out in nature, without hordes of other hikers spoiling your meditations, and what better way to achieve that than to find that trail no one else seems to want to hike?

As a casual solo hiker, however, someone who is just dunking a toe into the shallow end to see how it feels, the road less traveled can be scary.  Choosing the trail where you’ll be by yourself might seem ideal at first, but once you’re out there you may change your mind.  It might not be as well-maintained as the more-traveled routes, causing you to question whether you’re still on the trail.  If you’re truly out there on your own, and there is little likelihood anyone will come by, then there won’t be anyone to help you out if you need it.  Finally, you face higher chances of surprising wildlife — hint: surprising wildlife is usually a bad idea — lulled into complacency by the infrequent sightings of humans.

Does that mean that, as a beginning solo hiker, you should only choose the most populated hiking trails?  Not necessarily.  As always, kids, the key here is balance.  That brings us to Rule No. 9:

Choose the Right Trail.

As you get more comfortable solo hiking, and get a sense of your comfort level, this will get easier and easier.  That’s because your comfort level is precisely what should dictate what trail you choose — and not the dire warnings and scare tactics of naysayers. 

While on my Road Trip, I started out picking only those trails that seemed to get a lot of visitors.  I was alone, in the sense that I didn’t have a travel companion, but I wasn’t yet comfortable being alone in the woods, or the desert, or wherever it was that I found myself on that day.  After a few hikes, I became more confident, and soon I wasn’t paying all that much attention to how popular the trail was.  Even so, and to this day, I am comforted when there are a couple of other cars at the trailhead, because I know that, somewhere out there, I’m likely to run into someone.  On the other hand, I dislike hiking on trails that are so populated I’m constantly staring at the heels of the person in front of me.  Happily, it’s easy to find balance once you know what to look for.  Here are a few indicators:

  • How many cars are at the trailhead?  If you’re having trouble finding a place to park — especially if the parking area is large — you’re going to be hiking amidst a sea of other hikers.  If there’s not another car in sight, you’re probably the only one there.  And if there’s a school bus, turn tail and run (or is that just me?).
  • Is the trail highlighted, discussed, or merely mentioned in guidebooks?  The most popular trails can be spotted from miles away because they are considered must-sees and mentioned everywhere you look, while others are less well-known and publicized. 
  • Once you’re on the trail, can you see any other hikers?  Hear them?  If not, that doesn’t mean they aren’t around the next bend, and you can usually tell after hiking for a half hour or so the level of travel on the trail by how many people you meet.

So pick the trail that’s right for you.  If you’ve never solo hiked, you might want to try a couple of well-visited trails to build your confidence rather than seeking true solitude right away.  And it’s okay for even experienced solo hikers to generally prefer to run into at least a couple of people during an 8-hour hike.  Chances are, you’ll find plenty of spots on the trail where you’re on your own and can soul-search and reflect in solitude to your heart’s content.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Daydreaming About Zion Again

5 03 2010

As promised, Her Side presents:

Zion Trip Tips: Part Two

On Wednesday, we talked a little about what to do in Zion National Park itself.  Today, let’s explore outside the boundaries of the main section of Zion Canyon.

Staying in Springdale, on Zion Park Boulevard, is convenient and fun.  The main street is lined with hotels, motels and private campgrounds to fit all manner of budgets and persnicketiness.  I have stayed at the Driftwood Lodge, and found the staff delightful, the rooms clean, and the views incredible.  A major benefit of staying on Zion Park Blvd., however, is its proximity to the west entrance of the park, and the free shuttle that runs along the Blvd. and drops you off at the entrance (where you can switch to the Zion shuttle with no fuss).

Zion Park Blvd. also has a wide assortment of art galleries (paint, photo, and sculpture), artisan shops, rock and crystal stores, and souvenir shops, so you can poke around to your heart’s content.

Hungry?  No problem.  Check out Zion Pizza & Noodle Co., with mouthwatering pizza, pasta and beer (and next to a friendly outfitter so you can plan your excursion to the Narrows after you’re stuffed full of carbs).  In the mood for something spicier?  Stop by the Bit & Spur for margaritas, microbrews, Tex-Mex fare and pool.

Once you’ve had your fill of the main area of Zion National Park (though that will never happen, so perhaps I should rephrase), it’s easy to venture farther afield.  The other, less-visited section of Zion is Kolob Canyons, located a 45-minute drive northwest of the main canyon.  Kolob has a very different feel from the main canyon.  It is quieter, more peaceful.  Arrive early, bring plenty of food and water, and embark upon the 14-mile out-and-back hike to Kolob Arch.  You’ll first descend nearly 700 feet into the canyon, and then trek across barren desert, lush forest, and wild fields before reaching your destination 7 miles in.  The entire round trip takes approximately 8 hours.  It isn’t a particularly strenuous hike but it requires endurance and preparation, since the Utah heat can make you grossly underestimate your water needs.  Also make sure to bring your snake-bite kit.  Chances are, you’ll encounter at least one rattlesnake…but it’s a hike well worth the effort.

Finally, for something completely different, drive the hour and a half to Bryce Canyon.  Bryce is spectacular in its own way, a giant bowl of orange and white hoodoos that will take your breath away.  If you can manage it, plan to arrive before sunrise, station yourself at Sunrise Point, and surrender yourself to awe.  Once the sun has risen, descend into the canyon and take the Peekaboo Loop.  It’s only 5.5 miles, but because of the steep descent at the beginning and ascent at the end, it’s considered a strenuous hike.  Early in the morning, the trail will be clear of the horse and mule riders, and you’ll be able to enjoy the way the sun hits the hoodoos and they appear to glow from within.  **One note: roadwork on the Zion — Mt. Carmel Highway is about to start, and park officials are warning travelers to expect delays or seek alternate routes to get to Bryce from Zion, which would add significant time to the journey.

One additional planning tip.  The internet is your friend.  Check out these websites:

Whatever you choose, Zion (and Bryce) are a great destination for a hiking vacation.  Enjoy!  (PS — Now that I’ve posted this, I’ve decided I need to get back out there, so I’ll be planning my own trip, which will be my third visit.  If that isn’t an endorsement, I don’t know what else to say.)

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Let’s Get Mechanical

4 03 2010

Today on Go Girl, I tell you ten things every solo road-tripping girl should know about her car.

Click here to read it.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.