Oh, the Places You’ll Go

20 02 2012


Originally published September 18, 2009

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:


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:


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:


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.

Sometimes you feel like a walk…

7 02 2012

I’ve been out in southern California for the past week, scouting the area as a potential new residence. While much of this time has been spent visiting different parts of San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles, driving around, getting the feel of the place, I couldn’t leave without trying out the local hiking. The problem? I found that on my last day in the area, after nearly two weeks of traveling (I was in Austin, TX before this), I was sort of exhausted and not really up for the preparations or the doing of a long, difficult hike.

What I really wanted was a walk in the woods, or something like the woods. I asked around, and four separate people told me to check out Torrey Pines State Reserve for some easy, short hikes with fabulous views. Several others told me to check out Cabrillo National Monument, and I have a thing about National Park Service Sites. So I decided to do both. Today I’ll give you the skinny on Torrey Pines, and on Thursday you’ll get a recap of the visit to Cabrillo.

Torrey Pines is an easy 30-minute drive up the coast from San Diego, just north of La Jolla. The drive itself is pretty, especially once you get off of I-5 onto Carmel Valley Road. You enter through the North Entrance, pay your $10 all-day access fee (or find parking on the beach or on the road, if you can…I didn’t because I wanted to drive up into the park).

I decided on the Guy Fleming Trail, because I had another stop to make. It’s short, only ~2/3 mile, and mostly level, with only some brief climbs and descents, and a few stairways.

The first thing that worked for me about this trail was the views. I was promised fabulous and I indeed got fabulous. Going clockwise around the loop, you’re immediately greeted with a sweeping ocean vista, as the trail runs along the side of a cliff that drops down to the beach below. The waves at Torrey Pines are spectacular, and mesmerizing to watch. I found myself stopping every fifty steps or so to just look out at the water for a while. There are two designated “viewpoints,” but the entirety of the first half of this trail could be considered a viewpoint.

As an added bonus, there was a pod of dolphins just off the coast, so I watched them playing in the waves for a while. Then, I noticed that the birds — whatever kind they were, I didn’t have my binoculars and probably wouldn’t be able to tell anyhow…gulls of some kind? — were surfing. Seriously, they were gliding on the edges of cresting waves, and it looked like they were having fun.

The second half of the trail was inland, so the views were of the town of Del Mar instead of the ocean, but it was still pleasant. There were also some fun sandstone features, and I learned that the trail is named after the man who made Torrey Pines a state reserve in order to save the trees, which are a rare five-needled pine tree.

In all, the hike was nice, if merely a walk. It was perfect for what I wanted, and I could have spent hours just watching the ocean, so I felt like I got my money’s worth both literally and figuratively.

One word of caution: the road leading up to the trail is littered with people jogging and stay-at-home moms walking gigantic baby carriages. Because the road winds, it is hard to see the pedestrians lurking around corners, so please please obey the 15 mph speed limit, and go even slower around those hairpins.

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?

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


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.

Give Me Something Good to Eat

28 10 2009

iStock_000004282863XSmall[1]Ah, Halloween.  The one night a year when it’s perfectly acceptable to beg for, scarf down, and get sick from twenty-seven pounds of chocolate and nougat in one go.  (The one day a year when it’s perfectly acceptable to scarf down twenty-seven pounds of savory foods like turkey and stuffing and potatoes and is one month later, of course, because you need the time to recover.)

Now, I like chocolate as much as the next girl, and will probably head for the store on Sunday to buy discounted Halloween candy, even though I shouldn’t.  I won’t be taking any of this chocolate on a hike, however.   First of all, it melts in the heat.  Second, it provides quick but fleeting energy boost and in the end will just make you feel crappy.

So, you may ask, what is the right food to take on a hike?  We’ll talk in more depth about this as time goes on, but here is my general practice:

If it’s a short hike (1-2 hours) in familiar territory, I’ll usually just grab a couple of energy bars…what kind, you ask?  I have my preferences, but you’ll have to check back to find out another day.  For now, pick what you like, try different ones, see what works for you.

If it’s a longer hike, particularly if it spans the lunch time frame, I’ll be a little more elaborate in the edible goodies I put in my backpack.  My favorite hiking lunch draws from a variety of categories: crunchy, salty, filling, light, and sweet.  I tend to stay away from gooey and dairy, because gooey is messy and dairy can spoil.  (These are technical categories, developed after decades of scientific study…I mean, developed in my head a minute ago.)

In seriousness, you want food that will give you energy, fill you up but not slow you down or make you feel heavy and lazy, and is satisfying.  Salt is also important because, as you sweat, you lose sodium, which needs to be replaced if you’re drinking a ton of water as well.  (See hyponatremia.)

A typical hiking lunch for me:

  • Sandwich (turkey, ham, other protein) with mustard and lettuce.  Tomatoes make the bread soggy unless you pack them separately and I don’t like tomatoes enough to make that worth it.  Mayo is a big no-no (the whole “dairy spoils” concept, remember?).
  • Tortilla chips or pretzels .
  • Grapes/cherries/apple/some other easy-to-eat fruit.  I don’t like bringing oranges because then you have to deal with the peel, and I think they’re messy and sticky, but some people don’t mind that.
  • Energy bars/granola bars

Obviously, this isn’t by any means an exclusive list.  In the future, we’ll talk more about food: brands, homemade recipes, and what to eat when you camp.  You’ll find what combination works for you.  What I have found is that the combination above is about right for me on a longer hike.  I have also found that I eat more than I think I will when hiking — I get hungrier from the activity — so I pack more than I might eat if I were just sitting around in front of a computer, like I’m doing right now.

Up next: in further honor of Halloween, on Friday we’ll talk about the importance of costume.  In the meantime, go beg for candy.

Living Deliberately

2 10 2009

by joanarc4

by joanarc4

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I have often found myself struggling to answer the question, “Why do you hike?”

It’s not because I want “get away.”  I’m a hyper-connected person.  I email, facebook, and twitter constantly.  I can hardly take the elevator from my computer down to get lunch without pulling out my phone to check messages that might have come in in the last thirty seconds.  When I hike, I’ll pull out the phone to snap a photo, and might even stop to upload it (hey, sometimes you need a quick break after a climb).  The notion of disconnecting sounds appealing, but this summer I spent a week on an isolated dude ranch in Montana (which was amazing, btw), and I will confess it was a challenge to be unable to get online or use my phone for that week, enough so that I considered taking the two mile walk to the main road to get some cell reception.

So that’s not it.

I like the activity of hiking…getting my heart rate up, working up a sweat, getting the endorphins flowing.  And I like that activity better than the same in a jog, or on an elliptical or doing a spinning class.

I like the air on a hike.  It’s better — cleaner — than the air in the city, or even in a town, where there are automobiles and houses and just…man-made stuff…all over the place.

I like the people I encounter when I hike.  They’re friendly, into the activity, but will say hello and observe the niceties of the trail (uphill has the right of way) better even than regular commuters respect the unspoken rules of commuting.

I like the beauty.  Hiking can get you to places of spectacular beauty that you just can’t find any other way.  Oh, fine, here’s one of my favorite hike photos of all time:

by joanarc4

by joanarc4

I like the sense of accomplishment, when, after a long hike, or a difficult climb, I can look back and say “I did that.  And I did it well.”

I like the quiet of nature when I find myself alone.  It gives me time to think in a way that I don’t always take the time to do.  I know myself better every time I solo hike.

And none of that really answers the question why.  Those are things I like about hiking.  The real answer, it seems, is this:

I hike because I like it.

It’s something I choose to do for me, for no one else.  It’s a deliberate choice to put something important to me, for however brief a time, above fulfilling work and home obligations, making time for others, and dealing with all the stuff that supports everyday life (laundry, dishes, paying bills, etc.).  It’s deliberate, and because of that, it adds that intangible something to my life.  It’s me choosing a way in which I want to live my life.

So that, when I come to die, I will not discover that I have not lived.

Why do you hike?