You’re Not Ghandi

24 02 2012
Diamond Head

Diamond Head, Oahu

Originally published November 16, 2009

My grandfather, “Pépère,” is eighty-three years old.  We call him “Pep” for short, and the nickname suits him…he’s in better shape than I am.  A couple of years ago (and I do mean only a couple), while vacationing in Hawaii, he climbed Diamond Head on Oahu.  Now, Pep is a smart guy, with lots of common sense and life experience.  On that climb, however, he made a very common mistake for a novice (or overconfident, as the case may be) hiker: he didn’t bring enough water.

It all worked out okay for Pep, don’t worry.  He made it to the top, where some nice folks commented that he was by far the most senior person they’ve seen climb the volcanic crater.  But when he tells the story now, he puts a lot of emphasis on how hot he was and how he regretted not bringing more than a teeny little water bottle.

You see, kids, he didn’t follow Rule No. 5:

You’re Not Ghandi: Pack Food and Water

WaterNot packing enough food and water is a common mistake, even for experienced hikers.  It’s very easy to over- and underestimate your water needs.  If you’re new to hiking, you don’t have any frame of reference as to how much water you’ll need.  If you’re new to hiking in a particular climate, particularly one that is hotter/drier/more humid than you’re used to, you can’t use past experience to guide you.  If  you are an experienced hiker, you can sometimes get overconfident (which usually leads to not packing enough water instead of packing too much).

FoodThe same is true for food.  As an experienced hiker, there are times that I just want to head out on the trail and not take the time to pack anything to eat.  Having found myself hungry on the trail, however, shaky from exertion and wishing I had at least a Powerbar, I know better.  Remember that while hiking you’re going to use up more energy than while sitting around — and maybe even more than your normal workout routine.  You won’t usually find (thank heavens) a convenience store at the top of the mountain where you can replenish your supplies, so plan ahead.

Wait, wait.  I know you have questions.  Go ahead.

But, Her Side, I don’t want to have to carry too much!  Water is heavy!

Sure, but being dehydrated is worse than carrying a little extra weight.  And it will get lighter as you go (and drink it), or you can empty some out if it becomes clear you’ve overestimated your needs.

I’m only going to a hike for a couple of hours.  Do I really need food?

Yes.  You should have something, even if it’s just some fruit or a couple of granola bars.  After all, look what could happen on a simple hike.

Will I ever be able to refill my water while on the trail?

Sometimes.  On the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, for example, there are water stations at intervals of the trail into the canyon (which is a darned good thing because it is HOT there).  If you have a water purification system, you might be able to refill from nature (of course, that requires packing the water purification system, so…).  You can usually find out whether there are opportunities to refill before you go.  However, I wouldn’t skimp on the water anyway, just in case.

I was thinking if I didn’t drink too much water, I wouldn’t have to use the facilities — or lack thereof — while on the trail.  I think peeing in the woods is icky.

Get over it.  This isn’t a reason not to bring water or keep yourself hydrated.  Stop being such a wimp.

Fine, I’ll pack extra water.  But how do I know how much I need?  And is there an easier way to carry it?

There’s no mathematical formula that I can give you to tell you how much water to bring.  I can tell you that it’s always better to have too much than to not have enough.  Don’t despair, however.  You can, in fact, make it easier to carry.  Get yourself a hydration backpack.  Those things hold liters of water (usually plenty for a day hike, even in the heat), and aren’t difficult to carry because the backpack sits comfortable on your back.

Now, if only I had written this post before Pep climbed Diamond Head…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





Can You Show Me That In Purple?

23 02 2012

Shopping

Originally published November 9, 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.





There’s An App For That

23 02 2012
DSCN0100

My equipment for the Road Trip

Originally published November 2, 2009

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?





It’s Not Rocket Science

22 02 2012

Originally published October 26, 2009

As we discussed last week, when you’re camping and hiking (and road-tripping) on your own, your own observations, thought and instincts are your best tools.  You need to look around, be aware, and make judgments about the right balance between adventure and safety.  There isn’t going to be a Twitter update (or even, ahem, a useful blog) to tell you when the group at the local watering hole poses a specific danger to you, or whether that grizzly bear up ahead on the trail is content to keep out of your way.

That might sound a little intimidating.  Can I really think on the fly, you might ask?  How will I know if my instincts about someone I meet are steering me right?  How do I tell if the campground is a safe place for me to stay tonight?

I’m telling you today to stop questioning yourself.

You’re smarter than you think, and not everyone is evil.

You know the old saying: Common sense is a misnomer, because most people don’t have it.  Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not precisely true.  Common sense is common, it’s just that a lot of the time, people don’t bother to use it.

iStock_000010540973XSmallWe live in a world where information comes to us through countless sources.  Television, newspaper (whether in paper form or online), books, ebooks, radio, billboards, podcasts, magazines, Google reader, email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and in tiny digestible bites on that little screen in elevators.  While wandering through our environment, we get information from stop lights, digital temperature readers, weather forecasts with icons of sun and rain, traffic reports, and subway announcements.

We rely so heavily on external sources of information, in conclusory format, that we’re spending less time and focus on internal sources of information: our own senses and observations.  I’m guilty of it too — when I wake up, I check the weather on my iPhone and often don’t even look outside until I’m ready to walk out the door.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t come to our own observations and conclusions about the world around us.  It’s just a muscle that most of us don’t have to exercise in our daily lives as we go about our routines.  So exercise it.  Look around, see what you notice.  Test yourself.  Get used to being observant and reaching conclusions based on your observations.  You can do it — it’s a survival instinct that naturally exists.  It’s just that most of us are lazy in our comfortable routines where we don’t have to be so vigilant most of the time.

iStock_000004361536XSmallFurthermore, while there are dangers out there, and while being cautious around people you meet while camping and hiking alone is smart, not everyone is evil.  While the stories of solo female hikers disappearing or running into trouble because of unsavory characters are frightening, they aren’t actually the norm.  They’re the exception.  In fact, most people you will meet aren’t evil.  They’re like you — interested in enjoying the outdoors, having experiences.  They might be downright good samaritans.

It’s good to be cautious.  It’s necessary to use your common sense.  It’s smart to not blindly trust everyone.  But give yourself — and others — a chance.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





Your Gut’s Telling You to Run, Run. OK?

22 02 2012

potential023

Originally published October 19, 2009

BUFFY: What did your instincts tell you to do just then?

RONA: Block his attack, keep him off balance, gain the advantage…?

BUFFY: No, they didn’t.

RONA: They told me to run.

BUFFY: Vi?

VI: They told me to run. They’re still sort of telling me to run.

BUFFY: Don’t fight on his terms. Your gut’s telling you to run, run. OK?

— Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Potential”

We all have instincts.  Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with someone you don’t know, and started to feel like backing away?  Something was telling you — signs the stranger is putting off, something he/she said, something you’ve noticed but haven’t consciously considered yet — that this person wasn’t trustworthy, or the situation wasn’t safe.

When discussing hiking solo as a woman — or traveling solo as a woman — there are a lot of “do’s and don’ts” to consider.  While some of these rules are phrased as absolutes, all of them can be broken if the situation warrants.  When to break the rules — or how to make decisions about something that isn’t covered by the rules — is something that you can only do by considering your situation and balancing the risks and the benefits of each choice.

Here’s one example: I have read solo female travel guides that advise women to never reveal that they are traveling solo, to always have some excuse, like they’re catching up to your group, or waiting for a husband/boyfriend.  This isn’t a bad idea, at least as a fallback.  The trouble is, it’s difficult to maintain (what if you’re at a restaurant, eating alone, or you’re walking behind a group on a trail, by yourself, etc.).  Also, it will deprive you of one of the great joys of traveling alone: meeting people.  That’s why it’s not a rule on my list.  However, it falls under the umbrella of Rule Number Three:

For God’s Sake, Use Your Head: Instincts Are Your Best Tool

Like with anything else, there is a balance here.  As a default, not revealing you’re solo status is wise, at least up front.  But sometimes it can’t be helped, and really, all you need to do is pay attention and trust your gut.  Don’t trust everyone blindly, but there’s nothing wrong with making friends while you travel, as long as you’re using your head and taking other precautions.

Here’s an example from my own experience: One day, I drove to Moab, Utah, with the intention of pitching my tent and spending the next day at Arches National Park.  When I arrived, however, I found that the park’s campgrounds were closed for renovation.  The private campgrounds on the side of the main highway made me uncomfortable.  They were exposed (as it was, after all, the desert), and there weren’t any tent-campers, only RVs.  It took me about thirty seconds to decide I didn’t want to risk being the only tent on the side of a major road, and I pulled into the Comfort Inn (or it might have been a Motel 6, I don’t remember).

Would anything have happened?  Probably not.  But there was something about the situation that said “don’t do it.”  And so I didn’t.

Several nights later, I had no trouble having a couple of beers with an older couple from California while watching football at a local bar (Pats v. Colts, season opener) and sharing with them that I was on my own.  I was camping that night, and I was just careful not to say out loud where I was staying — or even that I was camping that night — and since I was staying at a quite crowded campground, I was very comfortable.  My caution was less about the couple I was hanging out with (they were really nice people), but more that I didn’t want someone else to overhear.  In that situation my instincts were giving me the go ahead, with caution, and so I did.

Sharing your solo status, and meeting people, is only one example that falls under this rule.  Some solo female travelers don’t touch a drop of alcohol while traveling alone, afraid it will impair their judgment.  That’s a personal choice you have to make, but I wouldn’t advocate willingly impairing your judgment while traveling even if you were with a group.  Or in your home city, for that matter.  You may be in a more comfortable place, but there are still risks.  It all comes down to using your head — don’t do anything willfully stupid, and trust your gut.

The bottom line is that you have a head.  Use it.  You have instincts.  Listen to them.

Or, as Buffy says:potential051

Your gut’s telling you to run, run. OK?





Can’t Is A Four-Letter Word

21 02 2012

470px-Henry_ford_1919

Originally published October 5, 2009

I am looking for a lot of men with an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.

— Henry Ford

When I was a kid, teachers would often say: “Can’t is a four-letter word.”

This never made any sense to me.  Of course “can’t” is a four-letter word.  Just count the letters, it’s obvious.  It just didn’t make any sense in context.  The statement always came up when I (or some other student) claimed they couldn’t do something like long division, spelling a long word, climbing the rope in gym class (okay, that last one was me).  It wasn’t until much later, when I figured out that “four-letter word” was another way of saying “swear word” that I got it: “can’t” is a dirty word, because by saying you can’t do something, you’ve assumed defeat.

The attitude factor of success is a well-known topic of inspirational speeches, articles, and self-help guides.  When researching this post, I was looking for some key quote from some key historical figure who accomplished some feat that the world said couldn’t be done.  There are a lot of them.  I chose the Henry Ford quote above because I thought it was funny, but history is replete with tales of crazy individuals who had some dream and were told by everyone that what they wanted to accomplish was impossible.  Without those crazy people who ignored the word “can’t,” we’d probably still be living in caves.

In the end, your confidence that you can do something does not guarantee success (Amelia Earhart, how are you doing these days?).  However, your confidence that you can’t do something guarantees your failure.  Which brings me to the second Good Stuff principle:

Don’t Assume You Can’t Just Because You Never Have.

Last Monday, we talked about Rule #2 (Don’t Overestimate Your Abilities).  However, it’s important to remember that when realistically assessing your abilities, don’t limit yourself to things you’ve already done.  What you’ve already done can serve as a framework for what you’re comfortable taking on while hiking and camping solo, but it doesn’t have to be the outer boundaries.

Push yourself, just a little bit.  If last time you hiked four miles, when you see a five mile trail don’t assume you can’t handle it (you probably can).  If last time you only brought along ready-made food, don’t assume you can’t have a campside cookout (you can, and we’ll talk about food soon).

If last time you hiked with a group, don’t assume you can’t do it alone.

Give yourself a little credit.  If you don’t, no one else will, either.





Anything You Can I Can Do…Maybe

21 02 2012

rosie1

Originally published September 28, 2009

Yes, we can.  (Wait, haven’t I heard that somewhere recently?  Nah…)

I live alone, and one thing I have learned is that while I can do many things (rewire an electrical socket, figure out a plumbing problem, use a drill, kill any manner of bugs without freaking out), there are other things that I just can’t do on my own (hang a fifty-pound chandelier from the ceiling in my dining room — thanks, Gary and Erik).

The simple truth is that, as an average woman, there will be things of the physical sort that are just more difficult for us than they would be for a guy.  Maybe a couple of us could handle it, but the whole point of this blog is to talk about solo camping and hiking.  As I keep saying (so it must be important), the best weapon you have as a solo hiker is to be aware of the risks and be prepared to handle them.  So that brings me to Rule Number Two:

Don’t Confuse Enthusiasm With Ability: Realistically Assess Your Abilities and Plan Accordingly

This rule could also be called “Don’t Overestimate Your Abilities.”  What it means is that I think it’s great if you want to camp out on your own and tackle the outdoors because your boyfriend/husband teased you that you wouldn’t last ten minutes without your manicurist once you chipped a nail.  However, I don’t suggest that you decide to prove him wrong by shouldering a fifty-pound frame pack and hiking twelve miles into the back country that is known for its aggressive population of grizzlies, if you’ve never slept outdoors in your life.

Solo camping and hiking is not the time to attempt some grand feat that you’ve never before come close to even considering, when that could land you in some serious trouble.  If you go with the boyfriend/husband (or a girlfriend, or your mom, or whatever), then at least there’s someone around to help when you realize that you need to dump half your pack or else collapse from fatigue.  There’s someone to encourage you when your muscles start screaming.  There’s someone to go for help when you step wrong and twist your ankle.

Rule Number Two doesn’t mean you can’t challenge yourself.  It simply requires that you realistically assess your abilities and limitations, and plan accordingly.

The key here is being realistic.  Are there some women who can rebuild a transmission?  Sure.  I’m not one of them.  Could I learn?  Probably, but right now I can’t do it.  When I was on my road trip, I knew that if something happened to my car, I’d have to get help.  When my tire blew out while I was flying down Rte. 40 in New Mexico, I called AAA to come and help.  Good thing, because the guy was also able to direct me to the nearest town that had both a hotel and a tire place that would be open in the morning.

Just be realistic.  Don’t be afraid to push yourself, and try new things, but have an escape plan ready in case you need it.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.