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.





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.





Can’t Is A Four-Letter Word

21 02 2012

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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.





Oh, the Places You’ll Go

20 02 2012

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Originally published September 18, 2009

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

–Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I promised that I wouldn’t talk only about the don’ts and the warnings, and so here we are, finally, at the first post about The Good Stuff.

But, Her Side, what exactly is The Good Stuff?

Why, I’m so glad you asked.  The Good Stuff is the other side of the Rules.  In the Rules, we’re talking about things you should think about, prepare for, caution against, and learn about in order to make solo camping and hiking as safe as possible.  And you do those things, making this activity safe, so that you can go out and enjoy yourself.  So that you can leave your worries at home and focus on…wait for it…

The Good Stuff.

The first one is very simple.  It’s so simple, in fact, that you’re probably going to roll your eyes.  Ready?

The Power is in the Possibilities.

I know, I told you it was simple.  But just give it a second, let it sink in.  While you’re taking a moment, look at this photo:

DSCN0293

by joanarc4.

That’s Delicate Arch in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.  Pretty spectacular, right?  Oh, wait.  While I’m thinking about it, here’s another one:

DSCN0585

by joanarc4

That’s the Great Smoky Mountains on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.  You can really see why they’re called that, right?  Oh, just one more, for the heck of it:

DSCN0413

by joanarc4

That’s the Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah.  Yes, there you hike in the river.  It’s amazing.

So have you thought about the possibilities yet?  Hiking lets you see incredible views, be in incredible places, and feel incredible things.    And that’s just possible locations you can find yourself when you hike.  Why should you have to wait to gather a group to explore those possibilities?

What are some other possibilities?  I know that when I set out on my road trip, I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I was worried I’d be lonely, or not be able to handle the driving, or take care of car problems, or handle the physical activity.  You know what?  I found out I could do all of those things.  When I returned to “normal” life, I was suddenly more confident that I could handle all the ins and outs of daily life on my own, too.  So another possibility is conquering your fears, squashing your insecurities, and getting to know your own capabilities.

It’s a rush.

One more thing, and then I’ll let you think of your own possibilities.  I’m going to quote Dr. Seuss again:

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the [gal] who’ll decide where to go.

–Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go

Where do you want to go?  It’s YOUR decision, when you hike and camp solo.  So what’ll it be?

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





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.





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.





I’m As Free As a Bird Now…

8 02 2010

“Look, I won’t go far, okay?  If the apocalypse comes, beep me.”

— Buffy, BtVS, “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”

Last summer, I spent a week at a dude ranch in Montana, riding horses, shooting rifles, panning for gold, hiking, incredible wildlife viewing, and generally hanging out.  Montana is a great place to hang out.  That’s because, out on the ranches, even those that are “close to town” by their standards are far away by the standards of us city dwellers.  The ranch where I stayed had a driveway that was over a mile long between the main road and the first ranch buildings (the corral), and that’s considered short.

I mention all of this because, while I was on the ranch for a week, I had no access to email or my cell.  None.  There was simply no signal out there.  You could get a sort of sketchy signal on the main road, so if I was truly desperate, technically I could have walked out there.  Believe me, I considered it.

I’m hyper-connected.  I am checking email constantly, texting, making phone calls, on Facebook, etc.  I’m also one of those people who gets a LOT of incoming communication.  I go a day without checking messages, and I have hundreds to weed through (both work and personal), and that’s mighty overwhelming.

Last week, we talked a little bit about bringing your cell along when you solo hike.  I mentioned the big caveat, which is that it won’t always work out there in the wild (or on a Montana ranch), but I urged you to bring it along anyhow.  I’ve noticed, however, that there is a common reaction to this suggestion: But I’m going out into the wilderness!  Isn’t bringing a cell phone defeating the purpose?

No.  Not at all.  And here’s why:

Your phone has an off button.

Simple, I know, but oh-so-important.  The phone is a safety precaution.  (And, if you’re like me, a way to snap a photo and upload it for everyone’s viewing pleasure, whether at the moment or at a later time.)  I don’t check my email on hikes.  I don’t make calls.  I tend to silence my phone or turn it off entirely.  I have it just in case, but I take the opportunity to completely ignore it, and my hyper-connected life.

It’s good to disconnect every so often.  You can do it at home, too — try going 24 hours without answering the phone, checking your email, or turning on the television.  I call it “going hermit.”  It’s unbelievably serene (if you can find the 24 hours to do it).  All those voices and nagging wonders about what’s going on slowly quiet down, so that even when you get back to the bustle you feel more in control and less rushed.

Hiking and camping is the perfect opportunity to disconnect.  Bring the phone.  Make sure it’s charged.  And then turn it off until you need it.  You won’t be sorry.