Wait…I’m supposed to what?

27 04 2010

I know I owe y’all a post, which is coming tomorrow, but for now, have a funny:

With thanks to Kelly Ferguson, author of basketcase comix.

Who can explain why that’s so funny?  (Hint: it’s a take on a well-known hiking/camping credo.)





A Request…

31 03 2010

For the past almost seven months (yikes!), I’ve tried to pass along advice, information, funny stories, and helpful hints that could inspire you to try solo hiking and camping.  Now, it’s time for me to ask for something in return.

You see, I’ve never been to California.  (I’ll wait while you gasp in disbelief.)  I know, I know, it’s a tragedy.  Even on my cross country trip I just didn’t make it that far west.  I promised myself that, one day, I would fly out to San Diego, rent a car, and drive to Seattle, hiking, camping and sightseeing along the way.  I just haven’t managed to make that happen — but things are about to change.

I’ll be spending some time in San Diego this spring and summer for work, and will probably be able to squeeze in some leisure time to explore by extending my trips for weekends here and there.  I know I must see Joshua Tree, of course, and if I can manage to get north of LA, I know Yosemite calls, as does Death Valley. 

But I need specifics!  What trails/campgrounds/nature sights do you recommend?  What’s a not-to-be-missed?  What is your sense of how these trails and campgrounds would suit a solo female (population, skill level, security, etc.)?  What can be accomplished in one- or two-day trips from San Diego?  Heck, I’ll take restaurant recommendations too…

Thanks!  And as I explore this area that is new to me, I’ll keep you posted!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.





Two if by Sea

24 03 2010

When I was preparing for my road trip, I discovered that there are different types of lanterns, and they all have their own benefits and drawbacks.  I honestly had no idea what I needed.  I spent a while talking to a clerk at an outdoor gear store, and ultimately chose a Coleman lantern.

I made the wrong choice. 

This is not to say the Coleman lantern isn’t a perfectly fine lantern, and one that would be right for many people.  But for me, a solo camper, it was wrong.  While in the store, the clerk explained the benefits of the Coleman (and other liquid fuel lanterns) which include the fact that it produces a good, bright light, I could share the fuel with my (borrowed) Coleman camp stove, and it was very economical.

Once out actually camping, however, I discovered it wasn’t right for my situation.  I had to figure out how to light the mantle, and the lantern got very hot.  The main problem, however, was that since I couldn’t use it inside the tent, I only used it if I was hanging around outside my tent at night, and I didn’t do that more than twice.  As a solo camper, I was either going to be hanging out at other people’s lit campsites or in my tent once it got dark…especially once my body adjusted to going to sleep early and waking up at dawn, which happens naturally when you camp for long periods.

So I learned my lesson.  And now, so can you.  My recommendation for the solo camper — especially one just starting out — is to go with a battery-powered lantern, preferably a self-charging or an LED lantern.  There are drawbacks, sure, but you’ll get more use out of it than a liquid or gas fueled lantern. 

Here is a quick run-down of the different types of lanterns, so you can think on it and make your own choice:

Liquid and Gas Fuel

Liquid fuel lanters use Coleman fuel, unleaded gas, or kerosene — some newer lanterns can use both Coleman or unleaded gas, which is a convenience.  These lanterns are a longtime favorite of campers, because they produce a very bright light (much brighter than battery power), and therefore can light a wider area.  The drawbacks are that they get very hot, you’ll need to deal with this mantle business, and you can’t use them inside your tent.  Cost of Coleman fuel canisters is under $10 for two, and they will provide hours of burn time (though the estimates vary from 4 – 14 hours).

Like liquid fuel lanterns, gas fuel lanterns produce a very bright light.  Like liquid fuel lanterns, gas fuel lanterns get very hot when used, and cannot be used inside a tent.  Like liquid fuel lanterns, gas fuel lanterns use canisters and mantles.  If you’re going to go with a liquid or gas fuel lantern, choose the one that shares fuel with your stove, for convenience sake. 

Cost of liquid and gas fuel lanterns varies from around $50 to $100. 

Battery Powered

The major drawback to a battery-powered lantern is that it doesn’t produce a light anywhere near as bright as a liquid or gas fuel lantern.  If you get one that is non-rechargeable and runs through a lot of batteries, it’s also not the most eco-friendly device.

The major benefits, however, are that it is clean, safe, and easy to use, and — major bonus points here — you can use it in your tent.  Battery powered lanterns also tend to be less expensive than liquid or gas fuel lanterns, between $20 and $50.

There’s not much to be done about the brightness of the light.  However, there are now several kinds of battery lanterns that are a little friendlier to the environment.  LED lanterns cause less drain on batteries, lasting longer (and creating less battery waste).  Self-charging lanterns use a wind-up or hand-crank to recharge the battery.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.





Let There Be Light

22 03 2010

While on a tour of Wind Cave National Park, the guide stopped us deep in the underground caves — caves we had reached via elevator — and shut off all of the lighting.  I have never seen dark so dark as that.  There was no light source whatsoever, so there was absolutely nothing for our eyes to adjust to.  It was eerie and unsettling.

We city girls live in a world where nighttime isn’t anywhere near that dark.  At night, streetlights and lights from buildings create a haze and glow that settles over the city, casting shadows but never really going full dark. 

In the woods, it is a different story.

When the sun goes down, you’re father away from the ambient light of metropolis, and the darkness grows thicker, almost tangible.  I have sat in a campground with my hand six inches from my face and not able to see it.  Try setting up your tent after dark, or even at dusk — or worse, try eating in the dark.  Not being able to see your plate is frightening to those of us who are slightly picky eaters.

The bottom line is that when you camp, you need a way to light your space.  I recommend three forms of lighting:

  1. The lanternLanterns are good when you need a little ambient light, and don’t want to move a focused beam around.  There are a variety of lanterns available, using different kinds of power.  We’ll elaborate on this topic for Wednesday.  For now, suffice it to say that there are lanterns that are powered by some form of fuel like kerosene or butane or propane, and there are those powered by batteries or electricity, some rechargeable.  There are benefits and drawbacks to all kinds.
  2. The flashlight.  Having a good, powerful flashlight is important.  I like Maglites because they are durable and powerful — however, they also weigh a ton, so if you’re backpacking you may want a lighter choice.  The Mini-Maglites are good for your day pack, because they weigh a lot less.  Flashlights with LED bulbs instead of regular bulbs are more durable, last longer, and expand battery life.  There are also flashlights that you shake or wind to produce power, but I haven’t tried these personally.
  3. The headlamp.  This is key.  The first time you arrive at a campsite after dark, you will understand why.  Having to set up a tent or make dinner with a flashlight clutched between your teeth or under your chin so you can use both hands is extremely difficult and annoying.  The solution?  A light that straps to your head, so when you move your head the beam moves to where you need to look.  Ingenious.  Don’t skimp on the headlamp.  Get one that is good quality and will last a long time, and that fits comfortably.  It’ll be the light you use the most frequently whilst in the great outdoors.

© 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.





Announcing Contest Winner!

16 02 2010

Well we didn’t get ten entries, but the entries we got were so good I decided to go ahead and award a prize anyway.

In order to be sufficiently fair, I gave the entries to a neutral third party — a fellow hiker/camper who has no idea who any of the entrants are — and asked him to pick the winner.

In the end, Neutral Guy was so impressed he picked not one, but two, insisting that it was a tie.  So, without further ado…drumroll, please…the winners are:

1. Jennifer Floyd, for her tale of triumphing over adversity, conquering the Boundary Waters, and not clocking her father with her oar.  Neutral Guy said, “I like the ‘I f-ing hate this/ok, keep paddling/now I remember this fondly’ tone of this story.”

2. CityGirlWhoRarelyCamps, for her tale of being awed by the night sky while at summer camp as a child.  Neutral Guy said that “there is not much better than being out at night somewhere where the sky lights everything up.”

Congratulations to both of you!  Select your photo, let me know which one you’ve selected, and I will send along your prize!

Thanks to everyone who participated.  I loved hearing your stories, all of them, and they got the juices flowing on some ideas I have of my own.

You can read all of the entries here.

© 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.