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Oh, the Places You’ll Go

20 02 2012

691-1

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.

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Her Side’s First Contest!

29 01 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s missing from this blog, and I’ve decided that what’s missing is good, old-fashioned competition.  Yep, that’s right.  Now introducing…

Her Side of the Mountain’s very first CONTEST!

I want to hear your stories about hiking and camping.  They don’t even have to be stories about hiking and camping solo.  For this first contest, I specifically want to hear about the most incredible moment you’ve experienced while hiking or camping.

The winner will receive — aside from extreme bragging rights — a 5×7 photo, taken by me while solo hiking!  You can put it in your office and dream of being outside.  (That’s what I do.)  You’ll even get your choice, from one of these three photos:

Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah National Park, VA

Zion National Park, UT

Morning Glory Pool, Yellowstone National Park, WY

Pretty cool, right?  So, here are the rules:

  • Tell me, either by posting in the comments or emailing hermountain at gmail.com, the story of the most incredible moment you experienced while hiking or camping.  It doesn’t have to be a solo experience.  It can be about hiking or camping, it doesn’t have to be about both.  I’m looking for something that scared you, or inspired you, or an encounter with wildlife, or a triumph, or a failure, or a moment of revelation, or whatever you want.  Be creative.  (But not lewd, please!) 
  • If you need an example, look here for a post I wrote last week about a moment of revelation in the Smokies.  But you don’t have to send a photo.
  • Keep it short.  I’m not looking for a treatise, so keep your story to 300 words or less.  Preferably less.
  • You don’t have to be a writer.  I mean, make sure that the grammar and punctuation and spelling make the thing readable so I can understand it, but don’t worry if you don’t think of yourself as a wordsmith.  Just pretend you’re writing me an email.
  • Make sure I know how to contact you if you win by giving me your email.
  • I’m going to set a minimum here — I need to receive at least ten entries in order to give out the prize.  Otherwise, we’ll try it again.  This is your chance to get in while the getting it good!  As (hopefully) readership grows, your chances will be slimmer…
  • The deadline is next Friday, February 5, 2010.
  • In order to keep things fair, I’ll give the entries, without attribution, to a disinterested third party who will narrow the choices down to three, and then I’ll choose from there.

Any questions?  If not, then bring it on…

© Her Side of the Mountain 2010.





Puttin’ On the Ritz

30 10 2009

Giles

Costumes.  They’re an essential part of life — and not just on Halloween.  We (by we, I mean me and Giles, of course) love costumes, and embrace them from the moment we play our first game of dress-up as children.  Sure, on Halloween (and perhaps for the errant masquerade ball), we go all out and put together outfits in order to be things that we either couldn’t hope to be or wouldn’t want to be in our real lives.  But costumes are not just for Halloween.  I put on a costume every day that I go to work — suit, heels, proper accessories — and then I change into a different costume, usually involving jeans or yoga pants (I’m not into yoga, but I’m really into yoga pants), when I get home. 

Putting on the right clothing, having the right accessories, is our chance to be not someone else, but rather some particular version of ourselves.   Whatever you’re doing, if you can put on the costume, you can put yourself into the mental space necessary to focus.  I can write anywhere, but my favorite way to write is on a laptop in a cafe, preferably one where a waitperson will keep filling my coffee. 

This holds true for hiking and camping, as well.  While having the right equipment is necessary, it’s also fun, and puts you in the right frame of mind to tackle the outdoors.  Clothing that is hiking-appropriate, shoes that work for you, hiking poles/walking sticks, backpacks, water bottles, etc., are the trappings that make up the outdoors costume.

We aren’t talking about specifics today, it’s just food for thought: getting the right gear isn’t an excuse to shop (though that’s a nice side benefit), or some fakery that outdoorsy types indulge in.  It’s the costume.  And costumes are important.

What are the key parts to your hiking/camping costume?

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





Camping By Any Other Name

23 10 2009
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking a lot about camping.  Why mess with that now?  I thought it might be time to clarify what I’m talking about when I discuss camping.  In general, of course, I’m talking about pitching a tent and sleeping in it.  But more specifically, there are different kinds of camping:

There’s backpacking, in which you strap all of your supplies to your back and carry them to your intended site.  Sometimes these can be actual “sites” such as exist on the A.T., with shelters or raised platforms or designated cleared areas.  Other times you’ll have to clear your own spot (taking care to minimize your impact, of course). 

Shelter on the A.T.

Shelter on the A.T.

I’ve never done real backcountry backpacking.  In Ireland, I spent a few weeks with a frame pack strapped to my back and camped there, but it was by no means backcountry.  In high school, on two successive class trips, I camped in the woods at Chewonki, in Maine.  (Chewonki rocks.)  The first time, we pitched our canvas tents on raised platforms, cooked over a roaring campfire, and didn’t shower for a week.  The second time, we canoed and sailed around the Penobscot River and camped on islands and didn’t shower for a week.

Chewonki

Chewonki

Then there’s car camping.  Car camping does not mean that you sleep in your car (though, certainly, that’s a viable option in extreme circumstances).  Rather, it means that you pull your car up to a designated site, and set up there.

Car Camping

Car Camping

Most of my camping experience is car camping, as I note in Read This First.  There is a wide spectrum of campgrounds out there and the amenities you can find at these places.  I’ve seen places with swimming pools and movies and tennis courts and arcades.  Some have Wi-fi.  Others are more limited, with a small supply store and showers.  Some campgrounds in National Parks (though certainly not all) are primitive: no running water, showers, hook-ups, dump sites or facilities of any kind other than perhaps an outhouse.

A buffalo at the Sage Creek primitive campground in the Badlands, SD

A buffalo at the Sage Creek primitive campground in the Badlands, SD

There is also RV camping.  I have never done this.  I don’t really consider this camping, per se (but then, some people don’t think car camping is “real” camping, so who am I to judge?).  RV camping is, of course, when you pull your RV into a spot and park it there.  A lot of private campgrounds (and some in National Parks as well, although there are fewer of these), have dedicated RV sites.  They have bigger parking spots and often have “hook-ups” where the RV can plug into electrical outlets and sometimes even cable and internet.  Like I said, I’ve never done it, although I am intrigued.  It is, after all, a stereotypical American vacation.

RV Camping

RV Camping

So, thinking about all of these options, it got me to wondering:

What is the best type of camping experience?

I don’t really think there’s an answer to this.  I camp for a couple of reasons.  First, I enjoy it.  I like pitching the tent, and waking up in the morning and being a little bit self-sufficient.  Second, it’s a great way to stave off loneliness while traveling alone.  There is a certain comraderie that springs up between campers at campgrounds.  Think about it — it’s easier to meet people sitting at the next picnic table than in the next hotel room.  Third, there’s a transient nature to camping — the packing and unpacking and setting up and breaking down — that fits with and enhances a hiking road trip.  You don’t have to break your connection with the outdoors just because the sun goes down, and it feels nomadic to carry your shelter with you.  Finally, it’s an inexpensive form of lodging, which on long trips (or any trips, really) can be a huge bonus.

With all that in mind, then, what do I look for in a campsite, when camping alone?  Generally, the following: 

  • Bathrooms. 
  • Showers.  They aren’t a deal-breaker (unless I haven’t stayed in a place with a shower for a couple of nights, then I must have a campground with showers), but it’s a pretty strong preference.
  • Attendants.  Some campsites in National Parks, such as the Sage Creek primitive site pictured above, and the campgrounds at Bryce Canyon, aren’t manned.  You pay by finding an open spot, sticking your money in a box, and taking a little tag.  Or you don’t pay, if it’s free.  This is not to say that no one will come around and check on things, and this is also not a deal-breaker, but I really like it when there’s someone manning a front desk in case I have any problems. 
  • A pretense of seclusion.  I know I said that camping is a great way to meet people, and it is.  But I also prefer sites that have some wooded areas so that you can at least have the illusion of privacy between your tent and the one next door.
  • Other people.  When camping alone, at a campground, this is important to me.  At the primitive Sage Creek site pictured above, I arrived after a long drive on an unpaved road during which I had to stop my little sedan several times to wait for Buffalo to move along.  When I pulled in, I told myself that I was in the middle of nowhere and would go back and find somewhere else to stay unless there were other people there.  There were — one other solo tent-camper, and a couple of horse trailer/RVs.  So I stayed.  However, in Moab, UT, I chose not to stay at the campground on the side of the highway where only RVs were present.  It’s just a matter of balance, but having others around is a safety measure.  Also, sometimes they give you bacon (no joke, it happened to me twice on my road trip).

That’s about all I need.  I generally have no interest in pools/movies/arcades etc. when camping, because I use camping as lodging and not as a destination in and of itself.  A couple of nice-to-haves are a supply store and laundry facilities, but again, not terribly necessary.

So now it’s your turn.  What do you want in your campgrounds?

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head…When You Need A Better Tent

21 10 2009

It always rains on tents.  Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds, for the opportunity to rain on a tent.

— Dave Barry

While I don’t know if there is really some gravitational pull between tents and rainstorms (actually, I do know — there’s not), it does seem to rain at least sometimes on the very nights one chooses to pitch a tent.  Unless you enjoy getting dripped on while you sleep, or worse, sleeping on wet ground, it’s important to have a good tent that will keep you dry.

I have a little two-person tent that I got for free by collecting points in a promotion years ago.  I did no research on the brand (Wenzel); I was a poor student planning a lengthy road trip on the cheap and there was nothing cheaper than “free.”  Here is my tent:

Tent

That’s at Grant Village in Yellowstone National Park, by the way…but we’ll talk about that another time.  Since I had done no research on tents, I was a little apprehensive about how waterproof this free tent would be.  I found out the night that photo was taken.  It poured.  I mean, it rained cats and dogs and buffalo and small dinosaurs.  Inside my tent, however, I stayed completely dry.  When I crawled out of the tent the next morning, the guy who was cooking bacon outside of the RV across the way said, “Hey!  There’s a person in there!  We were wondering if you got washed away!”  I thanked him for his concern and ate a piece of his bacon.

But I digress.  Mooching yummy breakfast meats from fellow campers is not today’s topic.

So, Her Side, you may ask, how do I find the right tent?  Well, I’ll tell you.  You find the right tent by asking yourself the following questions:

What is the right size tent for me?  There are one-person tents on the market, and some solo camper/hikers prefer these ultralight, ultrasmall shelters:

1person

It’s cool looking, right?  The major drawbacks of these teeny tents is that, while the descriptions may claim you can change your clothes inside, I think that would be a feat of contortionism.  Also, I’m a little claustrophobic, and so I would feel uncomfortable in such a tiny space.  So it’s not for me.

A standard two-person tent is nice because it’s a little roomier, but still small and lightweight.  For serious backpackers, the extra weight might be a dealbreaker, but for casual campers, this isn’t usually an issue.

What kind of footprint should I use?  (And what’s a “footprint?”)  A footprint is a separate piece of material that goes between the tent floor and the ground.  It’s important for a couple of reasons.  First, it will keep you drier and more comfortable.  You know how when you sit on the ground in the morning, your pants get wet?  The same thing will happen to the floor of your tent while you sleep.  Sleeping in a puddle is not fun.  The footprint adds an extra layer of protection between you and the wet ground.

Second, a footprint protects the wear and tear on your tent floor.  The footprint will take the abuse from the ground and keep the grit away from the tent floor, protecting it from punctures and the like.  Because a footprint is a separate item — and usually sold separately — it’s easier to replace than the tent floor (which you replace by throwing away your tent and buying a new one).

One important thing to remember is that the footprint should be slightly smaller than the tent.  Many tents have recommended footprints or companion footprints.  I use a tarp, and fold it to slightly smaller than the tent itself — it’s even more durable, and multipurpose, and since I’m not carrying it on a backpack, the extra weight isnt a problem.  Why slightly smaller?  Well, if it extends beyond the floor of the tent, and it rains, guess where that water is going to run?  If you guessed, “between the footprint and the tent floor and pooling under me while I sleep,” then you win.  There’s no prize, but feel free to gloat.

What features should I look for?  I’m assuming that, like me, you’re casual camping during the warmer months.  For winter camping and more extreme conditions, you should speak with your local camping supply store clerk.  For standard late spring/summer/early fall camping, the following should suffice:

  • Lightweight, alluminum collapsible tent poles that are easy to distinguish from one another (the ones connected by a bungee practically set themselves up)
  • Mesh areas for venthilation and allowing relief from summer heat
  • A rainfly that extends enough beyond the mesh areas to protect from the rain but allows for air flow
  • Reinforced, durable material where the tent poles attach (loops, corners, etc.)
  • The ability to stake your tent.  I like freestanding tents for ease of set up, but sometimes you have to stake it down.

Thanks, Her Side.  I found the perfect tent.  Now, how do I take care it? 

  • Before any camping trip, particularly if I haven’t used my tent in a while, I set it up at home.  This is important for three reasons: 1) to make sure it’s in good shape, no tears or issues to deal with; 2) to make sure I have all the pieces and nothing is missing; 3) to remind myself how to set it up and break it down with minimum fuss.
  • Use a footprint to protect the tent floor from wear and tear, as discussed above.
  • Clear the ground of rocks/sticks/debris before you set up the tent, to minimize risk of puncture.
  • Take off your shoes before getting into the tent.  This helps protect the tent floor from internal abuse, and it also keeps the grit and dirt outside (it’s a pain to clean the inside of the tent).
  • Be careful with sharp objects inside/around the tent, to avoid punctures.
  • Sweep/shake out the tent when breaking it down.
  • Don’t pack the tent while it’s wet.  Sometimes this is unavoidable, but if you must pack the tent wet, try to set it up again as soon as is practical to let it air out and dry.

That’s about it.  Now, I’m going to go look into this whole “tents attract rain” theory…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.





The Best Part of Waking Up

14 10 2009

3343279270_015d40d9a2No, it isn’t Folger’s in your cup.  Admit it, that’s what you were thinking — or rather, singing — in your head when you saw that title, right?  Right?? That slogan, popular when I was growing up, perhaps because it was popular when I was growing up, is one of those that was permanently embedded in my brain, just like it is embedded in the brains of every member of my generation.  (That and “Mama’s got the magic of Clorox bleach.”  But this blog isn’t about that.)  Okay, that paragraph went in a direction I didn’t expect.  Let’s start again.

Ahem.

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog so far talking about solo hiking.  Suggested hikes, rules for safety, musings, benefits, and so on.  That means it’s time to talk a little about solo camping.  When I decided to write this, I asked myself, what do I like best about camping?

The answer: waking up in the morning.

Some background as to why this is important (and a revelation to me):  I hate waking up in the morning. No matter how much sleep I have gotten, no matter what exciting thing I have in store for me on that day (okay, maybe with the exception of Disney World), when the alarm goes off in the morning, the first thing I want to do is go back to sleep.  I could blame it on the fact that I don’t usually go to bed early enough.  I could blame it on my bed, which is very, very comfortable.  I could blame it on the knowledge that, once I do wake up, there are too many things demanding my attention.

When camping, however, I wake early.  Some pessimists may point out that it’s because sleeping on the ground is not as comfortable as sleeping in a bed, and so it is less appealing to stay asleep while camping.  This is certainly true.  But there are other factors that contribute to waking early while camping:

  • You to go to sleep early.  For one, that’s because there’s not as much to do while solo camping once it gets dark except to read.  (Someday, I’ll tell you a story illustrating why you should never, never, ever read a scary book about murderers right before going to sleep while solo camping.)  For another, because you were probably up early the day before, and spent the day hiking or engaged in some other physically draining activity, so you’re actually tired enough to want to sleep early while camping.
  • You tend to eat better when camping and hiking — or perhaps eat more efficiently — and drink more water.  Say what you will, but I have seen firsthand that change in diet and hydration alters sleeping habits for the better.  I/you sleep better, so I/you wake more easily.
  • You are less stressed.  Once again, this effects quality of sleep.  You’re less likely to toss and turn worried about the next day’s deadlines while out in the woods, and therefore have a better night’s sleep.  (Except after having read a scary book about murderers while solo camping.)
  • The light wakes you up.  I don’t know about you, but at home, my room stays fairly dim in the morning until I open the shades.  The tent does not block light — it’s not really designed to.  That means that you’re more likely to realize early on that it’s morning.
  • Fresh air wakes you up.  I find that fresh air, particularly if it’s a little cool and damp out, delivers a zing to your senses.  And since, while camping, you’re surrounded by fresh air, you wake up more easily.

So while camping, in the early morning, I’ll open my eyes and see that it’s day (or at least dawn).  I’ll get a breath of fresh air.  I’ll feel rested.  I’ll get excited about another day of hiking or other fun activity.  And I’ll sit up and stretch.  Then I’ll open the tent flap and poke my head out, and that’s when there’s a full-on rush, better than any caffeine, from greeting the day and the outdoors at the same time.

Sunrise by joanarc4

Sunrise by joanarc4

What’s your favorite part of camping?





Oh, the Places You’ll Go

21 09 2009

691-1Congratulations!
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.