Humility and Community

2 03 2012

Originally published May 17, 2010.

What goes around comes around.  Karma.  The Golden Rule.  Give and take.  Pay it forward.  Quid pro quo.  Cause and effect.  Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

No matter which way you put it — based in science, religion and spirituality, psychology, human nature — the concept is the same.  Your actions (and inactions) have consequences.  As a child, we are taught to treat other people as we would like to be treated.  Share your toys, so that if you want to play with someone else’s toy, they will want to share with you.  Comfort someone who is upset, so that when you need comforting, they will be there for you.

As an adult, these simple concepts become weighted with complexities: politics, familial obligation, autonomy and independence.  Once upon a time, when people lived in small communities and knew all of their neighbors, the logic in considering the consequences of your actions was simple.  If you wronged Joe, Joe would remember, and tell everyone else.  If you helped Joe when he needed it, Joe would remember, and be around to return the favor.  Nowadays, our communities, where they exist, are disjointed.  We have sub-communities of family (whom we may rarely see), the office, perhaps the neighborhood (but that is increasingly rare in cities).  It becomes harder to connect your actions with direct consequences because of the diminished contact and commitment we have with those around us.  We find ourselves either having to work harder to convince ourselves to lend a hand, or work harder to establish and become part of a true community.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: hikers and outdoorsy people have a natural community.  It comes from having a similar interest, but I also think there’s a certain type of personality that revels in being outdoors.  I have never come across a hiker on a trail who was unfriendly.  We say hello, check in to make sure things are going all right, offer to snap a photo, give advice about the trail, and so forth.  I have never found a community so willing to share information and help each other out, even though we’re a bunch of utter strangers who know nothing about each other aside from the fact that we yearn for the trail.

A few weeks ago, I talked about Rule No. 10, asking for help when you need it.  The “Good Stuff” side of Rule No. 10 is that, when you ask for help while hiking and camping, you don’t need to be embarrassed that you couldn’t handle something on your own, because chances are, the person you’re asking has asked for help themselves.  For every time that you need assistance, you’ll find opportunities to give assistance to someone else.

The wonderful part about all of this is that, with each instance in which you lend a hand or ask for one, you’re reinforcing the community.  While you still may not see immediate or direct effects of your actions — i.e., that guy you helped may not be the one to help you out when you need it — because, as a community, we have all needed assistance at one time or another, we’re happy to repay the favor in whatever direction it’s needed.  Then, we can trust that when we do need a hand, there will be one available.

It’s the cycle of hiking life.  Embrace it.  And the next time you need help, just remember that you’ll be able to help someone else around the next corner.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

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Hi, My Name Is

1 03 2012
No it’s not Slim Shady, but that’s what you were thinking. Right?

Originally published March 15, 2010.

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.





Planning is Half the Fun

28 02 2012

Originally published January 20, 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.





Happy 2012!

6 01 2012

Well, hi there, Happy Her Side Hikers!

Yes, I’m back. I was on a self-imposed hiatus for some time for personal reasons, but it’s a new year and time for a fresh start.

Yay, snow!

First, I wanted to alert you all to some big events coming up. Tomorrow, January 7, is Winter Trails Day. What is Winter Trails Day, you ask? It’s a day where all over the country (where it’s winter, I guess) you can find a location to try out snowshoeing and cross-country skiing for free! Here in the Boston area, the Weston Ski Track is hosting, so get on down there and fall in love with snowshoes.

If that wasn’t enough, on January 14-16, the National Park Service is hosting a FREE weekend in the National Parks in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. day. There are lots of parks to choose from, so if you’ve never been to a National Park or if you haven’t been in a while, next weekend is the perfect weekend to change that.

Second, here’s a preview what’s coming to Her Side in 2012:

60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Boston: I found this book, by Helen Weatherall, published by the American Hiking Society, that details hikes close to Boston. It came out in 2008, but it’s new to me. The hike descriptions are my favorite kind: chatty and interesting while still providing information necessary to figure out what you’re getting yourself into and where you’re going. The hikes in this book range from Boston’s Freedom Trail (more of a walk in the city than a hike, but since I love the Freedom Trail I’m not complaining) to 8 mile hikes in state forests. Join me as I tackle these one by one (or two at a time, in some cases) over the coming months. First up, I’ll venture into one of the seaside hikes next week (don’t you love the beach in the winter?), take lots of photos, and let y’all know how it goes. Time to break out that winter hiking equipment, which we’ll also talk about.

Tasty Trail Food: Last year, two people gave me this book, by Laurie Ann March, that details make-at-home treats to take with you while backpacking. Because life gets in the way, I never got around to trying it. Some of the recipes lend themselves more to camping in the backcountry rather than simply packing lunch or snacks for a day hike, but I’m going to give some of these a try and let you know what I think in terms of ease of preparation and location of ingredients, ease of packing and carrying, and tastiness. Also, since I somehow ended up with two copies, I’ll be hosting a contest a little later on this year, and you can WIN the other one!

Also, in early February I’ll be taking a trip to San Diego to audition the area as a potential new place to live, and I’ll be sure to get in a good hike while I’m there. Suggestions welcome!

So I’m pretty excited about all of this — are you?





Questions Answered! Secrets Revealed!

26 05 2010

On Monday, in a moment lacking inspiration, I offered to answer some or your questions.  In no particular order (except the order in which I felt like answering), here we go!

Adelaide of Dressed in Dirt asked:  Ok, here’s mine: when did you first start hiking solo and what motivated you to do so?

My solo hiking was borne out of necessity, and a desire to not be a wimp.  Oh, and a need to keep up my image as a cool, independent woman who backs down from no challenge.  Back in 2004, I graduated from law school and found out that I had two and a half months between taking the bar exam (at the end of July) and starting my job (mid-October).  While my first thoughts were to panic about availability of cash, my second thoughts focused on travel.  Immediately, I seized upon the fantasy of driving around the United States, especially since I had really only ever seen the eastern seaboard, Denver, and Chicago.  Going alone was a little scary, but I thought I was up for the challenge…and after all, who else could leave their jobs/families for 6 weeks and go with me?

But what to do while driving around?  Realizing I had to find some way of picking where I was headed, I thought about different themes for the trip, and immediately knew I wanted to visit National Parks.  I wanted to hike.  But…I had never been hiking alone.  Was it safe, especially since I’d be in unfamiliar places all by myself, thousands of miles from anyone I knew?  Was I physically capable?  Did I have any idea what I even needed?

And there it was.  A challenge.  I sort of thrive on challenge.  Telling me something can’t be done — or that I can’t do something — is a sure way to make me find a way to do it.  I decided that I could hike and camp alone if I set my mind to it.  The best part was, if I hated it, I only had to turn around and drive home.  So I did my research, mustered up the courage to ask a lot of questions of the helpful REI clerks (who were, really, all too happy to walk me through the stores and help me try on backpacks and show me different types of hunting knives, I might add), and gave it a try. 

The rest, as they say, is history.  Or herstory?  No, I didn’t just say that.

Sara asked: We’re moving out west this summer (Albuquerque, to be exact). Neither Bryan nor I have ever spent any time in that part of the country, and we’re looking forward to exploring it. Other than the grand canyon (which neither of us has ever visited and will only be two hours away), any good suggestions for day/weekend camping/hiking trips? Any favorite places in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, or souther Utah?

Oh dear.  How I love the West.  How I love, love, love the West.  This could spawn an entire series of posts.  And since that’s the kind of idea I like, I’ll launch into that in the near future.  For now, please consider the following:

  • Southern Utah is my favorite hiking destination yet.  Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon are spectacular, amazing, incredible, and totally different places only an hour and a half from each other.  See my two posts about Zion, and also reader Andra’s blog about her recent trip that included both parks.  On the Utah/Colorado border is Moab, Utah, home to Arches National Park, another one of my favorites.  This is desert hiking at its finest.  Between Moab and Bryce are Canyonlands and Capitol Reef.  With smaller parks as well, southern Utah is a playground for campers and hikers.  I’m not sure if it’s a weekend from Albuquerque (a day’s drive or so), but it’s worth a trip.
  • In Arizona, there are a few suggestions I could make (aside from the Grand Canyon, which is a given).  First, you might want to check out Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which is between you and the Grand Canyon.  I’ve never been, but there are self-guided and guided hikes, and a campground.  Second, this isn’t a hiking or camping destination, but you’ll definitely want to go see Meteor Crater, which is also between you and the Grand Canyon.  It’s a very well-preserved…yes, meteor crater…and it’s really really really big.  I promise it’s not as kitschy as the website makes it look.  Third, try venturing into Oak Creek Canyon by Sedona, Arizona in the Cococino National Forest.  Tons of hiking, fishing, camping, and watersports available all over the area. 
  • Ah, Colorado.  I haven’t spent much time in southern Colorado, so you’ll have to check it out and report back.  Or maybe I need to do some “research.”
  • Finally, New Mexico itself.  I haven’t spent any time camping or hiking in New Mexico.  I meant to, but on my road trip New Mexico was where I blew out a tire on the highway and ended up spending the night in a teeny little town, eating at a Denny’s, and then getting a new tire when the tire shop opening in the morning.  Check out the NPS page for New Mexico for ideas; there are quite a few National Monuments, including Petroglyph, near Albuquerque.

In any event, enjoy Albuquerque.  When am I coming to visit?  Or meeting you at one of these places?  🙂

Dad (yes, my dad) asked: Tell us about your youthful adventures at Alton Jones, Chewonki and backpacking in Ireland. And don’t forget Mark Trail.

Well, that’s not a question, Dad.  Those are suggestions.  But they are much appreciated.  I’ll share one anecdote for now, and file these ideas away for future posts.

When I was maybe fourteen, my ninth grade class spent a week camping at Chewonki in Maine.  I was not a camper back then.  The woods scared me.  Animals scared me.  Dirt scared me.  Bugs scared me (okay, bugs still scare me).  One night, the girls in my group were misbehaving and hanging out in one of the boys’ tents.  Eventually, everyone fell asleep.  Except me.  I realized I still had my contact lenses in, and had to take them out if we were going to spend the night.  So after debating with myself awhile, I very carefully snuck out of the crowded tent, made my way in the pitch black forest to my own tent, located my lens case (in the dark…I couldn’t find a flashlight), removed my lenses (in the dark), and proceeded to try to make my way back to the boys’ tent (in the dark, now without my lenses, meaning I was basically blind).  I was trying to walk quietly, to not wake anyone up, and slowly because I was mainly guessing where I was going.  I put my left foot down onto something that felt weird and soft — and it moved!  It ran.  I am not kidding.  I caught myself, choked back a scream, and ran myself — over a small sapling and smack into the platform with the boys’ tent.  Trying not to panic, I climbed into the tent and settled myself back in.  Of course, me banging into the platform had woken up everyone inside the tent, and we girls decided to go back to our tent to sleep, so we wouldn’t get caught in the morning.

To this day, I don’t know what I stepped on.  A raccoon?  A skunk?  I don’t know, I don’t care, and it scared me silly.

Thanks for the questions, everyone!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.





Humility and Community

17 05 2010

What goes around comes around.  Karma.  The Golden Rule.  Give and take.  Pay it forward.  Quid pro quo.  Cause and effect.  Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

No matter which way you put it — based in science, religion and spirituality, psychology, human nature — the concept is the same.  Your actions (and inactions) have consequences.  As a child, we are taught to treat other people as we would like to be treated.  Share your toys, so that if you want to play with someone else’s toy, they will want to share with you.  Comfort someone who is upset, so that when you need comforting, they will be there for you. 

As an adult, these simple concepts become weighted with complexities: politics, familial obligation, autonomy and independence.  Once upon a time, when people lived in small communities and knew all of their neighbors, the logic in considering the consequences of your actions was simple.  If you wronged Joe, Joe would remember, and tell everyone else.  If you helped Joe when he needed it, Joe would remember, and be around to return the favor.  Nowadays, our communities, where they exist, are disjointed.  We have sub-communities of family (whom we may rarely see), the office, perhaps the neighborhood (but that is increasingly rare in cities).  It becomes harder to connect your actions with direct consequences because of the diminished contact and commitment we have with those around us.  We find ourselves either having to work harder to convince ourselves to lend a hand, or work harder to establish and become part of a true community.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: hikers and outdoorsy people have a natural community.  It comes from having a similar interest, but I also think there’s a certain type of personality that revels in being outdoors.  I have never come across a hiker on a trail who was unfriendly.  We say hello, check in to make sure things are going all right, offer to snap a photo, give advice about the trail, and so forth.  I have never found a community so willing to share information and help each other out, even though we’re a bunch of utter strangers who know nothing about each other aside from the fact that we yearn for the trail.

A few weeks ago, I talked about Rule No. 10, asking for help when you need it.  The “Good Stuff” side of Rule No. 10 is that, when you ask for help while hiking and camping, you don’t need to be embarrassed that you couldn’t handle something on your own, because chances are, the person you’re asking has asked for help themselves.  For every time that you need assistance, you’ll find opportunities to give assistance to someone else. 

The wonderful part about all of this is that, with each instance in which you lend a hand or ask for one, you’re reinforcing the community.  While you still may not see immediate or direct effects of your actions — i.e., that guy you helped may not be the one to help you out when you need it — because, as a community, we have all needed assistance at one time or another, we’re happy to repay the favor in whatever direction it’s needed.  Then, we can trust that when we do need a hand, there will be one available. 

It’s the cycle of hiking life.  Embrace it.  And the next time you need help, just remember that you’ll be able to help someone else around the next corner.

 © Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.





Women Leading Women

28 04 2010

Part of the purpose of this blog is to encourage women to believe in themselves, to challenge themselves, and to take the time to reconnect with themselves.  Sometimes, however, doing something on your own for the first time is scary.  If you know you want to try outdoors activities, but charging into the woods alone is more than you can handle just yet, there are other options.  Lots of them.  I’ve talked before about local classes and group hikes to join.  Today, I want to address another phenomenon that has grown in popularity in recent years: women’s adventure vacations.

Google “women’s adventure travel,” and you’ll be overwhelmed at the number of companies out there offering active trips for women.  These outfits encourage solo travelers, and focus on the comraderie and community that develops between women in a non-competitive environment.  They take women up mountains, down rivers, and into canyons…and can give you the opportunity to learn about outdoor adventure without having to worry as much about relying only on yourself.  The list below is just a few of the companies offering these trips.  (Disclaimer: I haven’t taken any of these trips, so can’t endorse a particular company.  However, I can endorse the idea, which is what I’m doing.)

  • Adventurous Wench: Started in 2003 by founder Deanna Keahey, this women’s active travel company specializes in trips for solo women.  While you’re welcome to bring along a sister or a friend, AW seems to cater specifically to solos looking for company.  Trips currently advertised include hiking in Sedona, Ireland, or Napa, hopping around Greek Islands, and confronting wildlife in Costa Rica.
  • Canyon Calling: Founder Cheryl Fleet decided to start Canyon Calling when she realized that women traveling alone bonded easily with other women travelers and were more willing to open up and show interest than in co-ed groups.  Starting with a trip through Northern Arizona, the company now offers trips all over the world, including Alaska, Australia, Peru, and the Swiss Alps.
  • Adventure Women: Founded in 1982, Adventure Women specializes in group trips for women over 30.  Founder Susan Eckert explains, ” [o]n an all-women’s trip, women tell us that they can be totally and unequivocally themselves.”  The company is currently offering trips to places as varied as Kenya, New Zealand, Egypt, and Montana.
  • Adventures in Good Company: This eleven-year-old company specializes in active outdoors trips for women in Europe, Africa, and North and South America.  Trips include backpacking, kayaking, riding, climbing, and other outdoor activities.
  • Call of the Wild: When Carol Latimer lost her secretarial job in 1978, she decided to start organizing wilderness tours, and Call of the Wild was born.  This company specializes in trips for women from all walks of life, traveling together or solo, who want outdoors adventures.  Currently offered trips include backpacking in California, day hiking in Hawaii, and doing all kinds of things in Guatemala (among others).

For something a little different, check out the Women’s Wilderness Institute.  This organization provides “wilderness experiences and outdoor adventures for women and teen girls in the Rocky Mountains and the deserts of the Southwest.”  This organization is different because it primarily offers trips that are “courses,” in hiking, backpacking, mountain climbing, fly fishing…even “Wilderness Yoga.”  The focus is on instruction, guidance, and growth, teaching women and girls skills to build their self-sufficiency, confidence and strength.

So take a look at what’s out there.  Women are leading women into adventure everywhere you look.  If you’re not ready to commit to an extended trip, look into your local adult education centers and wilderness clubs for day hikes and courses, or short overnights.  Go ahead, dangle your toe in the water…and see how long it takes before you start heading out on your own.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.