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Backpacking in Point Reyes National Seashore, June 2015

This year, I decided I would FINALLY learn to sleep while camping. It was a long time coming.

As I chronicled (extensively) in a few posts over the last 6 months, I’ve had trouble, so much trouble, sleeping comfortably while backpacking. Since my earliest camping memory, I’ve experienced post-sunset night time dread, imagining the forest coming to life around my vulnerable sleeping body. On top of this, would be the inevitable numb arm as I attempted to sleep on my side while using a less than comfortable pad. The result: 8+ hours of frustration and madness, followed by a very groggy day.

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Recently, Allison Nadler over at Trail to Summit published an excellent article with 10 tips for anyone taking part in an online hiking community. For the most part, I agree with almost every point she makes, and as someone who regularly visits these communities, it was nice to see someone voice some of the thoughts that I’ve also had.

While I love the internet (hence that I can write things on here and you can read it from anywhere, how neat is that), I absolutely have a love/hate relationship with the various online hiking communities that I take part in. As a pretty experienced outdoors-woman, I still find that I’m constantly learning new things from the internet forums, groups, and boards I skim on a daily basis. A little rusty on lightening safety? Someone is likely to share an interesting article at some point on this very topic. Didn’t know there was a fire closure on a popular trail? Well, now you do. However, it’s hard to miss that these groups are often full of repetition, especially as related to gear and logistics. In one group, it’s not uncommon for individuals to ask the same question multiple times a day (i.e “what sleeping bag should I get”, “where do I get permits”). Inevitably, there are an overwhelming number of answers, some of which may or may not be helpful for that specific person in his or her situation (after all, can I reasonably tell a 6’5″ man who sleeps warm what he needs without knowing more information?).

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When I was in school, or working full-time, this was a typical scenario in my household:

Me: “Oh hey, I just realized that next week is labor day weekend, so I have 3 days off. We should maybe do something”
Husband: “Cool, let’s do that. What should we do?”
Me: “Well, all the places I wanted to go require permits, and those were booked up 6 months ago. So, we can drive 4 hours to the mountains and maybe get a walk-in permit.”
Husband: “Yeah….”

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Earlier this summer, in between my move from Los Angeles to Portland, I got to spend an entire month living in my northern California hometown (i.e saving some money while taking my first real break from work in almost a year). I even got to stay in the house I grew up in while sleeping in the same room I had for most of elementary and middle school. For some this might sound like a terrible idea. There’s something about “going home” that can evoke different reactions in different people: for many it’s a return to a place (and time) they left to become adults, while for others it’s a return to something that played a part in who they would later become, good and bad. Sometimes it’s a bit of both.

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7 Posts in 7 Days

As you may or may not know, it’s Monday.

(I’m kidding. It’s 3:20 PM on the west coast, and I’m sure many of you are well on your way through the Monday blues by this point).

Seeing that it’s Monday, and I’m making a conscience effort to do more writing (in this case, blogging), I thought I’d kick off this week with a personal goal. I’ve always felt that in some ways writing can be approached like any other skill set. It requires practice and sharpening, and sometimes going back to your old work with a critical eye in order to learn how to improve for the future. Much like I’ve been practicing my backcountry navigation so I can do more and get lost less. Furthermore, as I find myself working freelance lately, it’s increasingly important that I get myself back into the habit of creating a work schedule.

So for this week, I’ve been thinking that I’d like to sit down and just WRITE something, anything, everyday. It doesn’t have to be amazing (trust me, it won’t be), clever, or particularly interesting. My grammar won’t be perfect, because it never will be. However, it”ll be enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to working out my brain muscles.

In other news: I *may* be planning an exciting outdoor adventure for early next week, permits allowing. It’s definitely going to push me past my comfort zone (i.e elevation gain), but as always, it makes great material for thought. More on that later.

Again, happy Monday. You’re going to make it!

 

What Kind of Writer Am I?

Back in March, I wrote about some of my career struggles.

Just to recap: I HATE sitting at a desk for 40+ hours a week, despite the fact that my field is important and does great work for the world. I still believe this to be the case. Archivists make it possible for the rest of us to remember things, whether that be family history, an historical event that happened 100 years ago, or a financial transaction from 1996 (hey, that might be interesting to someone).

I’ve always felt that if I could only find the right career and job, I would finally feel content to work a full-time desk job. I just had to find that thing, get the right degree, and then everything would click into place. Guess what? That’s didn’t really happen, and almost a year after finishing my masters degree, I found myself working at a desk and wondering how I had ever thought that it would feel right (in my defense, it’s easy to ponder these types of question after you learn from them).

Fast forward to now: I’ve moved to Oregon, I’m no longer working a full-time desk job, and I’m happier than I’ve been in years. I’ve spent a lot of time pondering my next move, delving deep into what really makes me excited. What do I want the next 5 years of my life to look like? What do I want to do after getting out of bed in the morning? How can I get PAID to do that? What does this all even mean?

Through all of this, I’ve come to a shocking realization: I want to be a writer.

Interestingly, until the last few months, I had never even realized that being writer was something one could do. Sure, people write, but in my world they write peer reviewed articles that are published in esoteric scholarly journals, living on in the citations and quotes used by grad students and researchers. Since I have no desire to write those types of pieces (namely dense, academic articles full of big words and terms), I didn’t think I wanted to or even COULD be a “writer.” However, there is something I’ve always enjoyed about writing. The process of sitting down (on my own schedule, importantly) and fully exploring a topic is immensely satisfying. Specifically, topics that are meaningful to me, rather than those handed down in graduate school as part of an assignment.

When I recently mentioned this to my husband his response was equally shocking, “Well yeah, I’ve been saying this for years.”

So, where does this leave me? What am I going to write about? How am I going to make that happen? (I apologize for all the questions, as you might expect, writing also helps me to work out these topics).

While I deeply admire those individuals who take off in an adventure van and become “adventure writers,” at this point in time I feel sure that there are plenty of amazing people doing that already. I love that they’ve taken the risks to follow their bliss, and in fact, I love everything about the idea of being an adventure writer living out of a van. While I’ve definitely been doing some adventure writing, I also can’t discount some of my other interests beyond hiking and backpacking (yes, I have those!), some of which are related to my love of being outside. History. Archaeology. Environmental Science. Archives. Academics in general. In fact, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that perhaps I’m in an interesting and unique position: I’m a fully trained archivist with a graduate degree who is also passionate about the outdoors. I know how to write for an academic community, but I enjoy writing for non-academics more. That is: I’m an academic with an outdoor problem.

Why not write about academic “outdoorsy” things for a non-academic audience, and use those skills I’ve gained as a researcher and archivist? I’m not sure what this all means yet, but I’m really excited to explore it more.

In the meantime, you’ll likely find me working at your local outdoor retailer, happily enjoying my non-desk time.

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(Other than this desk time, which is okay).

 

 

 

 

Modern Hiker

 

If you don’t live and hike in Los Angeles, you might not be aware of an awesome hiking resource: http://www.modernhiker.com

If you DO live in LA, and you love local area hiking, you’ve probably used it before. Not only is it an awesome resource for finding new trails, but it’s also increasingly a great site for outdoor related news and gear reviews.

So, awesome news: I’m a new modern hiker contributing writer! Short backstory: Awhile back, Modern hiker announced that they were on the lookout for new writers, and had an application + writing sample submission form. I was at my full-time job as an archivist, still living in LA, and decided that I needed a break from cataloging for the day. As a lover of all things outdoors, and of WRITING about the outdoors, I decided it was worth a shot (and it burned some afternoon time while at work, which is always a plus).

A few months later, I was on board as a new writer. And even more good news! Modern Hiker is expanding outside Los Angeles to new locations all over the west, and initiating a total redesign of it’s site to provide an even better search engine and profile system to connect people to new trails and new hiking partners. Wow!

So what this means for you is: and from now on, I’ll be sharing fun new hikes from my new home in Portland/Pacific Northwest area as well from my homeland of beautiful Northern California PLUS gear reviews on the modern hiker site (and will be linking them here as they are published, so you can find them too). You should also check out the site in general, because it’s really fun and you might find a new trail to explore (even ones not written by me!)

Also what this means for you: Modern Hiker is in a full blown crowdsourcing campaign right now, which you should check out. I think we are not only doing really important stuff (getting people outside more), but there are also really fun prizes for people who contribute. You also make it possible for people like me to share our love of hiking + writing. So if you can, contribute whatever you can (seriously, even if that means $5).

AND here is my first write-up from my lovely hometown on the Northern California coast. This will be a good one for you bay area lovers/residents. Enjoy!

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What I’m about to say might sound a little silly. However, I promise though that I’ll try and form this post into a semi-coherent and complete thought. You might even agree with me.

For a lot of reasons, I’ve begun to develop a very mixed reaction to the whole “adventure lifestyle” photography that we see with increasing frequency on social media. I think you know the type of photography and sharing I’m referring to. Let me paint a picture, and show an example that I am admittedly guilty of.

Scene: Beautiful mountain lake, mountain, or just generally gorgeous landscape shot. Tent in the foreground, sometimes with a person wearing the perfect vintage-yet-utilitarian outdoor styled gear and clothing. Deep reflection about nature, life, etc. The perfect example is the very talented Chris Burkard, whose work I really enjoy.

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And then there’s my own posts. For example:

So what’s not to like? Why the mixed reaction? Don’t get me wrong, I generally adore the fact that I can fill my eyes with these types of gorgeous scenes on a daily basis, all from the comfort of home. I love Chris Burkard’s work, I love that people get to see things via photography that they might never see in their own lives. I love that my friends can have a moment during the day to think “wow, our planet is beautiful.” However, here are moments when I have another more overtly negative reaction to this types of sharing, partially because of my own experience of having to work full-time, in an office, at a desk, while having access to all these gorgeous windows into the outside world.

Over many years, I’ve purposefully curated a newsfeed that is pretty dominated by outdoor related posts and news. Namely, gear companies I like to follow, other backpackers, and outdoor adventure lifestyle photographers I admire, all of whom regularly post a nonstop barrage of beautiful outdoorsy things. It’s fantastic, and has been a great resource for me as I mentally add things to my “must see” list. As mentioned, I also really enjoy sharing my own experiences via social media, both as a reminder to myself, and as a fun “look at this” post for my friends. In fact, I’ve had numerous friends plan trips to places I’ve been based on seeing a photograph I posted. This is all awesome!

The darker side of this type of sharing, of the non-stop feed of beauty I have access to at any time, is the lost opportunities for my own experiences of adventure. What do I mean by this? I mean, if you look at my own social media, I seem to get out a lot, which is true. However, there are days when I probably spend more time looking at other people’s adventures, feeling a little annoyed that it’s not my own. I don’t think this kind of reaction is true for everyone. We all have life commitments and various reasons for not getting out as much as we’d like, whether that be family or jobs, and I’m sure that having a glimpse into the “adventure lifestyle” of another person can be as inspiring to one person as it can be frustrating to another. For me, I experience a mix of both. I feel inspired to be outside more, to see more things, but also experience a pang of loss, and a deep sense that sometimes I’d rather be out there doing more and spending less time living vicariously through others.

Furthermore, I’ve found an interesting reaction by others to my own social media feed, which is something I’ve been feeling compelled to briefly address. On numerous occasions, close friends have commented on the frequency that I must spend outside. I’m there all the time! They wish they could do that too! Just to be clear: social media presents the “self” that we want to show others, rather than any reality that we experience on a daily basis. I don’t post about all the annoying things I have to do on a daily basis. The grant reports, the sitting at my desk feeling stir crazy. I only get out to backpack once a month sometimes, more if I’m lucky. It’s wonderful, and I feel fortunate to do that stuff as much as I can. That being said, despite what my Instagram tells you, I too have to balance everyday life with my constant urge to go hike pretty trails.

My point is: through sharing, social media can inform and inspire. For me though, it’s also a double edge sword. I find new places and learn new things regularly through social media. I also spend more time than I would like wondering how all these “adventure photographers” live such fantastic free lives. Lately though, I’ve learned something really valuable through my interaction with sites like Facebook and Instagram: it is whatever you want it to be, and you have the choice of what that meaning is to you. For me: I want to continue to be inspired by others, while spending more time DOING and less time wishing I was doing while scrolling through someone’s Instagram.

Speaking of which: Happy Monday! Get out this week, even if that means planning something for the weekend. It’ll be here soon!

 

I feel a bit ashamed to say it, but, I’ve sort of lost steam on planning a long thru-hike for this summer.

Oh no’s!

But you know what: That’s okay. If I’m lucky, I’ll have lots of years to plan big, gorgeous, and challenging hikes.

My summer plans have morphed as time has gone on. I had planned for a long time to finally hike the JMT this summer. I was finishing up a job, and planned some down time before I looked for a new one. Then, after a challenging new permit situation, and an impending big move to a new state I decided to put that on the back burner. THEN, I thought, “wouldn’t this be a great time to hike the Lost Coast Trail?” But you know what: I just didn’t have the energy to plan it, and after growing up just south of there (and backpacking in Pt. Reyes National Park a few weeks ago), I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of time gazing at our beautiful local coastline.

So, I’ve been spending some time pondering what this all means moving forward, while also fighting a bit of disappointment at my inability to get things together for a big summer adventure (but, I said it’s okay, right?). While I have a lot of moments of feeling like I’ve sort of wasted my much-anticipated backpacking season, I’m also looking forward to getting settled, and getting some solid 2016 plans in place over the next year. Moving is hard. Each time I move, I tell myself “what’s the big deal? Spend a few weeks putting stuff into boxes, and then you’re done.” However, by the end of the whole experience, I am exhausted and drained. In retrospect, it was a wise choice to put off the JMT until a better time in the future, as I think in the long run, it will be a more enjoyable experience to plan, train for, and complete the trail when the husband and I are in a more stable place location-wise.

Tentative thru-hikes I’m researching for next summer:

-Tahoe Rim Trail
-Colorado Trail (I’ve been wanting to do this one for a very long time)
-Section hiking part of the PCT and/or CDT
-Arizona Trail

So, the point of this whole ramble is: Don’t be too hard on yourself. Do your best, don’t get caught up in the “but all these people are doing all these amazing thru-hikes this summer” black hole. It’s all okay 🙂

Also, here’s a photo from my backpacking trip in Pt. Reyes a few weeks ago:

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Everyone, big news. At least, it’s exciting to me.

After not sleeping while camping for over 1/2 of my life, I think I’m finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. While I’m fairly certain I will never sleep as well in the backcountry as I do at home, because well, I have a mattress and a memory foam topper at home, I’m definitely seeing some improvement. Let’s have a quick run-down of what some of my findings are, and how this blabbing might help YOU sleep better in the backcountry.

My overall backpacking philosophy has shifted a bit, a topic I intend to more fully explore in an upcoming post. The short version: As a backpacker, you need to carefully examine your own needs and goals, and shape your gear list and trip planning around that. What do YOU want out of your trip? Do you want a more comfortable evening camp experience, or are you happy with a more bare bones approach? For me, I find that I fall somewhere in between. I don’t need a lot of extra luxuries in the evening, but I also have certain comfort requirements that need to be met for me to get a good night sleep. AND, that involves maybe compromising on my base weight and carrying some extra ounces. But you know what? That’s totally okay, because I’m more rested and I have a better trip anyways.

-I’ve touched on a few of these topics in one of my previous posts (a few months ago, eek!), but with all of this in mind, where are some of my findings:

1. A pillow is a must. For years I did the whole “just put some clothes in a stuff sack, and then suck it up and make it work” thing. But, you know what? I just can’t. So, I tried a few pillows, and I’ve finally found my perfect one. It doesn’t stick to my face, make lots of crinkly sounds, and actually feels kind of cushy.

2. Find a pad that doesn’t make you feel like crap. Sure, I could carry a lighter/thinner pad, but what’s the point if you’re going to feel horrible the next day. At that point, the ounces you saved aren’t really that important if you’re not enjoying yourself. So, my suggestion: Try a lot of pads. I’m not saying you need to carry a 4 lb air mattress, but if you find something that totally works for you, and you can compromise on some weight, it’s probably worth it.

3. Have a bedtime routine. Just because you’re in the backcountry doesn’t mean you have to throw your bedtime routine out the window. Like tea before bed? A good book? You can make that work in the backcountry too.

4. Years ago, I read an article in backpacking magazine that suggested keeping a similar bedtime compared to the one you have at home. I sort of agree with this, to a certain extent. It feels weird to me to go to bed at 8pm, even after a long day of hiking. So, even if I get in my bag early, I’ll generally read for awhile, until I fall asleep at somewhere around my normal time.

5. Again, I say this often on this blog, but you need to TROUBLE shoot. What is keeping you up? Make notes, and the systematically figure out if you can solve those problems. I’ve found that wearing ear plugs has really helped me, since I’ve always been ultra sensitive to night-time noises (I’m definitely one of those “everything is walking around my tent” people).

Perhaps some of that will help you find a better nights sleep in the backcountry. I’ve found that with more sleep, I’m a much happier camper (literally), and that is a wonderful thing.

 

 

Updated Gear Lists

Hello hello readers! Turns out I’m alive, and somehow survived packing up my apartment and moving out of LA. Whew.

I finally got around to updating my gear lists for a bunch of backpacking trips I’ve done in the last few months, which can be found here.

I hope you enjoy, and look forward to more regularly scheduled posts by me, since I’m now fun-employed (and really loving it, I’m ashamed to say). Lots of new adventures on the horizon, and I am unbelievably excited about it.

Until then, here’s a sweet photo from my trip last week through Point Reyes National Seashore:

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I guess I could also trouble shoot my backcountry fashion too…

I said I’d give a little update on my backcountry sleep issues, so I’ll do that now while also imparting a little problem-solving wisdom for all your backcountry woes.

It never ceases to amaze me how strange it is that someone who loves backpacking and the backcountry as much as I do, still can somehow not actually sleep during those trips. I’ve had since middle school to figure this out, but as I detailed in a previous post, I’ve spent the last 15+ years  continuing to suffer from sleep deprivation and dead arm, while also spending a lot of money on new things that will supposedly help. New pad? Yep, spent a lot of money on that. Multiple sleeping bag styles tested? Oh yes, I did all that (I’ll never forget the Nemo spoon shaped bag, the quilts!)

Here’s the thing. I have a theory, which is that crux of ANY backcountry conundrum we might face as backpackers might sometimes be amplified by the lack of follow-up to really solve the problem (note: and by issue I don’t mean serious health related problems like acute mountain sickness. I mean the things that just generally make us uncomfortable and the experience less enjoyable). At least, I think this is certainly true for me. When I say “backpacker” in this context, I’m not necessarily talking about thru-hikers, or even those spending multiple consecutive weeks on a trip (though, you thru-hikers are backpackers too, don’t worry). I’m more referring to the type of backpacker I’ve had to become over the last several years, because of school and work commitments, which is namely a weekend/long weekend backpacker with long distance aspirations. Here’s what happens:

1. I go backpacking on a 1-2 night trip
2. I get terrible sleep, and am in a state of sleep deprived madness by the end of the trip
3. Somehow, I drive myself home without wrecking the car
4. I get home, eat all the snacks, catch up on all the sleep, and then I go on with my life as a I unwillingly drag myself to work Monday morning

Sure, while I’m on the trip, and maybe sometimes after, I’ll think, “I should really figure this whole sleep thing out”. But, then I’m home and sleeping in my own bed, and the urgency to actually SOLVE that problem goes away. Furthermore, you can sometimes pull it off on a one to two night trip. Maybe you feel like crap by the last day, but you go home and recover, and go about your business.

I’ve slowly come to the realization that this doesn’t really work in my favor. Why? Because, as much as I love almost everything else about backpacking, I’m starting to just expect the shitty horrible feeling at the end. It’s sort of ruins the experience, and then I get questions like, “why do you do that, if it’s not enjoyable?” And I don’t like that question. So much about backpacking is enjoyable. I love planning routes, traveling those routes, being in camp, AND I really enjoy peeing in the woods. So, it’s just unacceptable that I also continue to associate those experiences with the horrible shitty tiredness that happens by the end. Sure, it’s normal to be tired after carrying 25 lb of stuff up a mountain, but you’re just that much more tired if you ALSO didn’t sleep.

So, in light of this, I’ve  been trying to come up with… A list! While for me this is sleep specific, I think it can actually be applied to a lot of troublesome backcountry issues that people might deal with (don’t like your food? Afraid to poop in the woods?). So, here it is:

1. Remember the specifics of what bothers you. If necessary, bring a (small, lightweight) notebook and jot down some thoughts as it happens.
2. Once you’re home, review those notes. Decide if there are some “low hanging fruit” options that you can initially fix. Feet cold? Bring warmer socks. Hungry? Bring more food/different food. Sometimes, you’ll already have the gear and the ability to solve some of those things right away.
3. Troubleshoot the things that are a bit more tricky. This doesn’t always mean that you have to run right now and spend a ton of money on new gear. Do some googling, read through some of the many excellent backpacking books out there. Many places will allow returns of items as long as they are either in new shape, or almost new (for example: I got a new pack at REI last month to try it, took it on a one night trip to Joshua Tree National Park, and then returned it because I didn’t like it). Don’t assume because you bought something that you are required to keep it. If it doesn’t work for YOU, don’t keep it.
4. Experiment. Don’t assume that because you made some changes that they will magically be the solution. Don’t go out for a weekend, sleep terribly, make a few changes, and then assume that you’ve now solved these issues for your month long JMT hike. If you have to, sleep in your backyard or go on a short overnight trip. Do this as often as you need to!
5. Try your best. Sometimes, you’re just not going to have things be perfect (you’re sleeping on an inflatable pad after all, not at home).

Back to sleeping. Here’s what I’ve noted:

Not managing cold drafts with quilt
-Neck is hurting from inadequate pillow
-Light sleeper easily awoken by outside noises (especially wind blowing on the tent).
-Feel really crampy waking up at night, even after using what I consider to be a pretty darn comfy air mattress on some trips

Some successful solutions so far:

-I’ve started actually using the quilt pad attachment straps (HUGE help). It really keeps all that hard earned warmth inside the quilt. I don’t know why I just thought of this
-Wearing a balaclava when it’s cold, and utilizing the neck cinch on the quilt
-Wearing ear plugs is a huge help. I slept through part of a night in Joshua Tree, where the wind was making a lot of noise, and I didn’t even notice it (that being said, I didn’t sleep well because of other other issues I mentioned above).
-At home I sleep on my side, with an extra pillow in between my arms for support. So, on my last snow camping trip, I used my down pants + stuff sack as a mini backcountry hugging pillow. It wasn’t fantastic, but it was way better than having nothing. In theory, I don’t usually bring these on 3 season trips, so I think I’ll have to come up with something better for next time.
-I somehow fell asleep on my BACK. YES, MY BACK. And, I actually slept so much better after that happened. So, I need to see if I can somehow get myself into that habit more….

So, there you have it. Be proactive. Don’t let something that might be fixable ruin what is suppose to be a great experience.