2021 – From Workaholic to Playaholic, a podcast interview and more

I had an awesome career; however, I wasn’t very successful at the work/play balance. I was all about achieving goals, much like focusing on destinations such as mountain summits or some cool waterfall, rather than enjoying all the other wonders along the trail. In late summer 2014, I said goodbye to the office and hello to opportunities. A few years earlier I’d discovered this new passion called hiking and backpacking. Little did I know it would open doors to travel and living more nights in my car than my tent or house.

My home on wheels . . . Crazy cool (or just plain crazy) to realize I’ve spent around 400 nights sleeping in my car over the past 6 years, with 123 nights in 2019 being the record. Over the past 5 years I’ve averaged 150 nights annually away from home. Want to know all the details? I have an entire section on my blog dedicated to exactly this, Me & My CRV (link).

Meanwhile I’ve spent an average of 56 days per year over the past 6 years backpacking with 2015 being my banner year at 74 days. Those days closely mirror time spent in my tent. I’ve written several blog posts about my decade of lessons learned (link).

After listening to Zoe Langley-Wathen on a Trail Dames podcast (link) talking about saying YES more, I realized listeners might be interested in how I transformed my life by saying YES more as well. I reached out to Anna, Mud Butt, and as a result this podcast interview came to be (link).

As I prepared for the interview I thought about those little life events that became ah ha moments, eventually pushing me away from my career and into this new playground.

  • Perimenopause was not kind to me. I started the insomnia cycle which led to poor performance, lack luster enthusiasm, and spiraling health status.
  • Driving a forested road woke up so many senses and stirred a desire for something more.
  • Getting shot while riding my bike in a drive-by shooting was a serious wake-up call about regrets.
  • Watching family and friends face ailments that removed quality of life and their retirement dreams.
  • Finding adventure groups who knew how to fill their calendars with adult play.

Did I feel financially prepared to retire without income? Did I know what retirement would look like? Absolutely NOT! However I felt compelled to take this career break before my health declined further. I lived frugally and didn’t have debt. I decided to take a leap of faith. It didn’t happen immediately. For a few years I reduced my work hours while training my replacement and taking care of some neglected projects. When I couldn’t focus any longer, I knew the day had come. 

My last day of work was 8/7/14. I took a couple weeks to settle things at home before leaving for 3 weeks in Washington.

Those trips were affirmation of my decision to say YES to play more work less

This inReach map with over 2,600 check-in messages provides a good visual of my playground.

Travel Summaries:

Motivational:

Previous Podcasts:

 

 

2021 – Winter Wisdom . . . Quantum Leaps and Silver Linings

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s been to readjust expectations. Reflecting back to March when COVID-19 sent me home, I had to reimagine how I’d live under house/town arrest. I was continuously lowering my expectations about where and when I’d walk or hike or backpack. But as the weeks led into months I got better at making the best of my boundaries, my choices.

When my knee threw a temper tantrum in early September and I learned surgery was the only answer, I had no choice but to once again hit the reset on my fall plans. When my surgeon told me I’d be out a month or so, I adjusted. However when he told me during surgery it was going to be 6 weeks on crutches, that took some digging deep to toss all fall planning to the wind. Only at 6 weeks did I learn that was just Phase 1. Best case scenario I’d be able to start baby step hiking in April-ish.

So I settled in for a very long winter, and found myself faced with many disappointments and the need to lower expectations. Those ever important milestones were pipe dreams.

  1. When your surgeon says 1-5 days on crutches, but you learn otherwise during surgery.
  2. When your surgeon says 6 weeks on crutches, but you learn that’s just the beginning.
  3. When your PT says 2-3 weeks to transition off crutches, but that’s off double crutches. 
  4. When your PT says 8-12 weeks to transition off solo crutch, but that all depends.

My first big outing was a month after surgery. Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is about 15 minutes from my house and offers this view from the Visitor Center. With few people around this became a regular event. How far can I hop?

My front yard tree was a way to enjoy the changing of the seasons. I could spend time sitting on my front patio in the sun. Oh the sun, was a huge healer.

I gained a much greater appreciation for ADA access. It was challenging to find places to sit with paved flat access near parking. I’m grateful for this spot on the banks of the Sacramento River which is only a few minutes from my house.

By Thanksgiving I was ready to start working on solo crutch walking. My driveway was too steep so I figured out this solution. The cul-de-sac became my workout arena.

As my strength and endurance improved I found myself looking for more places to escape town. This pullover at Whiskeytown is a JFK Memorial. It includes a picnic table! Another area was the Brandy Creek boat launch area, where I spent many days with the SUP this past summer. I’m hoping paddleboarding will be an option come spring.

As I started my 10th week of rehab, I was finally able to start spinning. The stool came in handy for getting me on the bike. Having an inside gym has been essential in my rehab.

On December 12, I decided to see if the walker would give me better mobility. Well one day of use and the next I took my first independent steps! PT nixed using the walker but I enjoyed a one week break from the crutches.

Shortly after Christmas I was given solo crutch speed walking as my homework. This was my first recording. Hard to imagine feeling excited about walking less than a half mile (my tracker must have been wonky as there aren’t any hills unless you count speedbumps). Once again it’s all about expectations. 

Friends told me Shasta Dam was a good place for a picnic. They didn’t realize getting from the car to a table was more than I could do initially. But by early January I could crutch walk across the dam, making 1.5 miles round trip.

This is a neighborhood park and was a good place to test my improvements on a paved trail, with benches and picnic tables providing a nice .75 mile loop. At first I could only crutch to the first picnic table, then it was to the bench, then it was around the lake once and soon I could make it around twice. I even saw a muskrat or otter.

Finding flat places with decent pavement was a challenge. The neighborhood streets were traveled regularly on one of my twice daily jaunts. I found first blooms. We already had a 75-degree day; too warm, too early for my liking.

What once was a ranch was absorbed by a philanthropic organization to preserve green space, as urban development found itself stretching boundaries. I really like this trail system as it’s free of bikes, scooters and dogs. It was a safe place for crutch work. It includes several ponds so it’s also great for birding. Fruit trees have been maintained and are now available for public pickings.

We have a 17-mile paved trail with easy town access. Many places are too busy with bikes, kids, dogs, scooters and now fast motorized versions for safe crutching. Others are too hilly. So this spur that I call Avenue of the Giants has become one of my spots.

Another area is part of the rail trail. It’s further out of town so somewhat less busy. I believe this trail system is now about 17 miles one way. When I first started using these trails about 20 years ago often you wouldn’t see anyone. This has become a perfect example of “if you build it they will come.” I’m glad to see the community more active. As I neared my 4-month post-op mark, I was up to 4 miles averaging 2.4 mph.

Being able to walk for 2 hours opened up possibilities like walking through an oak savannah where I could enjoy reflections like these in Turtle Pond.

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area doesn’t offer much in terms of ADA paths, but this one to Crystal Creek Falls was worth a visit. It’s amazing how much you’ll seek out options when you need to escape urban noise.

Whiskeytown was devastated by the 2018 Carr Fire. This bridge was recently rebuilt to give access to historic Tower House and some gentle dirt trails I’ll use during a future rehab phase.

Hopefully this nearly worn through crutch shoe signals freedom. I’ve made quantum leaps over the past 4 months. From hopping to sliding to weeble wobbling to gimp limping. Neighbors have been monitoring my progress and say my limp is barely visible while using the crutch. PT continues to tell me you can lose the crutch when you can walk without a gimp independent of the crutch. It’s all about regaining strength to support my body in balanced walking. My biggest challenge right now is single-leg squats.

Weather has been a silver lining. For the most part we’ve had plentiful sunshine which is such a boost for my emotional health. I’m hoping this turn of weather will signal freedom from the crutch and good soakings for mother earth, something else much needed.

I’ll share a few other things we all take for granted until we can’t. Who would help you? Who will you help? I raise my hand!

  1. Showers – I didn’t get a shower chair instead using a patio table in a stall shower. It took a long time before I was able to move from the chair to the edge of the bathtub where I could swing into the tub and then stand up to take shower. It took more time before I could use the stall shower.
  2. Hands – Not being able to carry things was frustrating. I’m glad I had my backpacks, thermos and plastic containers. I was so glad when I was reduced to one crutch and had a hand! That first cup of coffee in a ceramic mug was the best.
  3. Limitations – There were certain things I just couldn’t do. The first week I couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes so doing simple things in the kitchen was nearly impossible. Doing laundry, changing the sheets, taking garbage out, etc required help from friends. Home delivery of groceries was awesome although I still needed help putting stuff away for quite some time. Tip: you need to ask! friends aren’t mind readers.

What happened? CA – Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Parks Creek Trailhead . . . Let’s Go Swimming (scroll to near the bottom of post)

What really happened? 2020 – A Summer of Surprises (scroll to near the bottom of post)

I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom I found in a recent book I was reading. When I saw my surgeon at my first post-op appointment, he told me my rehab would be a practice of patience. He reminded me at my second, and will probably say it again at my third appointment. My PT tells me no two injuries are the same and everyone heals at different speeds and therefore the right time to get rid of your crutches depends on your ability to walk with a normal gait. PATIENCE! I seriously don’t know how people get better if they aren’t disciplined and/or motivated. I’m doing at least an hour of home PT exercises daily plus walking with my crutch 2-4 hours. It’s a full time job!

I challenge you to look around your communities for trails and ADA access green space areas that you might not normally use but that would be appropriate if you were in my situation. Mark your maps! One of the hardest things for me is finding quiet. I haven’t been successful in that endeavor yet. I know I need to get further from roads and development. That’ll come into play soon. Fingers crossed that I can spend February and March regaining strength, balance and mobility so that by April I can start hiking on progressively more difficult trails. I’m still optimistic about being back to full or modified full condition by summer so I can adventure again! It’ll be really hard to reset my expectations further. If I’ve learned anything it’s that I can dig deep. I can call upon my mountain climbing mantra, one step at a time.

2020 – Where Did Jan Jaunt?

The year 2020 started like any other. By late February I was ready to begin my spring jaunt. I started in Northern California and worked my way through Arizona.

In early spring Pandemic concerns sent me home to far Northern California where I spent the next few months adventuring locally.

Fall and winter were a bust following my injury in early September. I’ve focused on the silver lining that the timing of this body failure was better now than next spring. I’m continuing my rehab and will say goodbye to 2020 as I celebrate my 3 month post-surgery recovery. I’ll still have another 3-4 months before I can start hiking. Just like climbing a mountain, it’s one step in front of another.

It wasn’t the year I had planned but there were enough good bits to make it memorable. It’s easy to focus on what wasn’t but as I reviewed my photos, I was reminded to focus on what was. In this case I still enjoyed 63 days of hiking, snowshoeing and backpacking. I spent 30 nights in my tent and 25 in my car. I marked off more areas on my local maps, and swam more in alpine lakes than I can ever recall. I added paddleboarding to my activity list as well as filled my days with walking, biking and jogging.

In 2018 I wrote, “this year will be mostly remembered for the fires, so much lost especially too many lives. Such a good reminder to live life fully, without regret, making each day count.” I can revise this for 2020 by saying, “this year will be mostly remembered for COVID-19, so much lost especially too many lives. Such a good reminder to live life fully, without regret, making each day count.” I feel like I broke my life rules this year and promise to get back to living without regrets in 2021.

Travel Summaries:

Introducing the Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation, a missing hiker resource

It’s a fact, hikers go missing. Most for a few hours, some overnight, others longer and then there are those who remain missing for far too long.

Having been involved with a few incidents I’ve learned getting the process started can be frustrating. First, when do you contact authorities? Second, who do you contact? Third, how do you get the word out and coordinate the search? There are a ton of details. It becomes overwhelming quickly.

As hikers, we can help by leaving crumbs to expedite the search. I wrote this post a few years ago specifically to help Search and Rescue (SAR): Dear Friends & Family, If I become a Missing Person . . . I was motivated after Sherpa (Kris) went missing on the PCT. The search was delayed unnecessarily which may have contributed to the fact that he is still missing. His stepmom, Sally, has been a warrior in the process and continues to advocate and mentor. 

I’m excited to join Sally in announcing the Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation

Mission Statement: With safety and compassion as our core principles, the Fowler O’Sullivan Foundation provides assistance to families of missing hikers, connects them to vetted resources, facilitates searches on their behalf once official efforts have been suspended, and supports initiatives to prevent future missing hiker cases.

You can participate in several ways.

  1. If you are an Amazon Prime member, make your purchases through Amazon Smile (link) and select Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation as your charitable organization. It doesn’t cost you anything. It’s a WIN WIN! 
  2. Make a tax-deductible donation (link). Your donation will help our continued search efforts of missing hikers or those missing in the wilderness and help fund our preventative projects geared towards hiker safety. 
  3. Volunteer (link). Are you interested in joining our team? Do you have search or investigation skills? Are you interested in image viewing, mapping, research, communications, fund raising, base camp, ground search or other SAR related skills? Training available.

This was Sally’s introductory message:

When Kris first went missing, We didn’t know what to do. Who to call. What to expect or what we were up against. It was the kindness of a stranger, who had been through the same thing, and reached out to me with some advice, that helped us take the next steps. Since then, paying it forward to other families that are suddenly in that same position has been so important to me. Thanks to some amazing selfless people that have been involved with searching for Kris and for David O’Sullivan, our families will be able to pay it forward in honor of our sons for many years to come.

It is my honor and privilege to announce a new and amazing Non Profit foundation that has been created in honor of Kris and David and all missing hikers. The Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation has been created to help families of missing hikers navigate through the very difficult process of searching for a loved one. It will provide suggested steps to take from day one and if needed, also offer help, guidance and coordinate search efforts, after the official SAR efforts have ended. The Foundation will also focus on safety and prevention. There are many amazing Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR) initiatives in the works already! In honor of Kris and David, they will also be giving away at least 2 InReach GPS devices to PCT hikers in 2021 and hopefully for years to come.

The Foundation is also excited to be a part of the Amazon Smile program, where you can simply click on this link and sign up and .5% of all eligible Amazon purchases will be donated to the Foundation.  I signed up recently and it was very easy to do! (Link)

Thank you to Cathy Tarr for getting this amazing, life changing NP organization off of the ground! It is NOT an easy task and she and her amazing board members have been working countless hours on this for over a year now. Please click on the link to the Foundation to learn more about what they plan to do to help other families like mine. There is a menu bar on the top right that will take you through the different segments of the Foundation as well as introduce the wonderful people responsible for making this happen.

I have always said the silver lining to losing Kris, are the changes for the good that have happened and the amazing people in this group, and now we will be able to pay it forward to others in a professional and comforting way. I am so very grateful and I know Kris is beyond proud to be honored this way. 💕
Thanksgiving started early…..the perfect time to make this launch!

http://www.fofound.org

One last thing, since we are in the season of being thankful and giving, consider a donation and/or volunteering with your local Search and Rescue organization. I consider this a given if you carry an emergency transponder. Don’t wait until you need it to contribute to those who might need to help you.

2020 – A Summer of Surprises

Spring was filled with much confusion. I was in Northeast Arizona when the COVID-19 restrictions began. Traveling wasn’t fun. I felt ostracized and unwelcome. Once I realized this wasn’t going to be a short-term problem, I scurried home and spent spring recreating locally while struggling to process this current reality. I wrote a lot. It will be a good reminder of this time in my life.

My county officially declared itself ready to move to Stage 2 pandemic reopening on May 6th. In celebration I ran away and visited a waterfall.

With temperatures climbing to the low 90’s, I took my #stimuluscheck inflatable SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) for it’s maiden voyage on Trinity Lake.

Little did I know how the SUP would help me set new challenges. Why not try to paddle around the perimeter of Whiskeytown Lake? GAIA proved to be a helpful tool, working as well on water as on land.

Living near this lake for several decades I’ve spent plenty of time along it’s shores and hiking the trails but this was my first summer ON the water. I learned about the old highway that runs under the lake and is still visible (the shadow line on the right). How is it possible for pavement to remain intact under water for decades?

While in general the joy of hiking wasn’t present during my paddles, I found satisfaction swimming, watching fish, frogs and birds, discovering the creek inflow channels, and imagining camping on one of the little islands.

Spending the last six summers in the mountain states, I’d forgotten how hot it gets in Redding starting in June; my melting point is around 80F. It was easy to start questioning my decision to stay local. Several times I considered running away.

I’ve become quite heat intolerant so I found swimming and paddling to be better options than hiking and biking. I spent time in cooler climates like this paddle at Castle Lake.

Life on the road gave me the opportunity to run from weather or fires and smoke. Staying home, meant daily checks of the air quality starting mid July. This was my last day of paddling. Soon enough instead of buying backpacking gear I was buying an air purifier and dragging out my N95 masks, for smoke rather than COVID-19.

But with smoke comes beautiful sunsets.

Rewind to May. I found the bike a better option than walking the nearby paved trails. I was thankful as the community reopened, the crowds mostly disappeared.

I also enjoyed blooms in my yard, watched over by my friend and namesake, BeeKeeper aka Queen Bee.

And then it was finally time! My local forests sort of invited participation with this statement, “We ask the public to please recreate responsibly. Law enforcement and/or search and rescue operations may be limited due to COVID-19 issues. High risk activities such as rock climbing, etc., or backcountry activities that increase your chance of injury or distress should be avoided.” Maybe a little selfish, hiking and backpacking in my local wilderness areas was a decision I didn’t take lightly, but one imperative to my personal well being. Trails were open, and with careful planning I selected options with few cars at the trailheads and rarely a human sighting while on trail. I didn’t stop anywhere along the way, no restrooms, no gas, no food or drink. I’d return home to resupply, do laundry and grab gas before hitting the repeat button.

Looking at this list makes me realize I didn’t have a wasted summer. It wasn’t anywhere near the #epic summer I had planned, but at least I got out. The biggest regret I have is giving up a month of opportunity. I suffered from the heat and was miserable during my early July jaunt on the PCT in the Russian Wilderness. I decided I needed to wait until fall. In retrospect I realize what I should have done was find places where I could lounge around lakes during the heat of the day. It’s not my style, but then again neither is staying home feeling sorry for myself. Once again, maybe I should have run away?

By mid August fire season was in full swing.

Air quality sucked. I was stuck inside left to wonder whether my fall hiking plans would be only a dream.

FINALLY, the week before Labor Day weekend, we had a weather change and were gifted a break from the heat and smoke. So off I went to find my happy spot, and yes more swimming. Did I say this was my summer of swimming?

And just as I was ramping up for some fall fun, my body decided otherwise. Little did I know this would mark the end of my 2020 season.

I spent September learning a lot about knee anatomy, followed by knee surgery in early October. For six weeks, it’s crutches and 8 hours a day in a CPM (continuous passive motion) machine, so basically 24×7 in bed. Oh fun!

With the mild temperatures I’ve been able to enjoy outside Vitamin D breaks. The sun is a huge mood booster. It looks like fall is due to arrive by the end of the week.

I took advantage of my downtime while I was cooped up inside, hiding from heat or smoke, to write my series on a decade of lessons learned.

I also worked on a few DIY projects.

Lastly I’ve been busy contributing to other communities, including my interview with Jester (link).

In Susan Alcorn’s recently released book, I’m one of the women interviewed and hear I have a dedicated chapter (I’m still waiting for my complimentary copy to arrive). It’s a little nerve wracking not knowing how content will be used and edited, especially in a project like this one. “In Walk, Hike, Saunter, long-distance hiker Susan Alcorn introduces you to 32 experienced outdoors women who consider hiking to be an essential part of their live. The common theme of Walk, Hike, Saunter is that there are many paths to incorporating hiking into your life. Whether hiking is one of many things that you enjoy doing, or whether you find hiking such an passion that you don’t mind living out of your car in order to pursue it–you can reap the rewards of exploring the world on foot. The women, all 45 and older and in the prime of their lives, are all superstars–shining examples of the richness that hiking can bring to our lives.” The book is currently available in paperback but at some point in the future will be an e-book as well (Amazon link).

I’m also happy to be contributing to the PCT Foundation Document (link). It’s a very interesting project. You can learn more and add your two cents if interested.

My blog will probably be fairly quiet for the next few months as I go through rehab. I’ll be spending a lot of time in my home gym, although I’ll be dreaming of being elsewhere. January will be my 3-month post surgery mark and April 6 months. I’ve been forewarned that patience is the key to achieving the desired outcome, which to me means full function of my knee.

My goal is to keep smiling, stay optimistic, work on creating photo journals from my blog, do lots of rehab and be ready for some #epic adventures in 2021!

Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links may be included which provide me a tiny kickback to help pay for this site. 

Links:

More Miscellaneous Jabberings

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Preparing for the Unexpected


Lessons Learned:

  1. You can’t plan for everything.
  2. Accidents happen.
  3. The unexpected is to be expected.

Injury:

If you hike enough miles, you’re going to get injured. Knowing how to minimize injuries helps as does finding the balance of what to include in your first aid kit, because yes weight matters. These are a few of the injuries I’ve sustained.

  • Blisters – Thankfully now that I have my sock/shoe combination perfected I rarely get blisters but when I feel a hot spot or discover a blister my treatment includes covering the spot with Leukotape-P. Leave it on until it falls off. If it’s a blister, I’ll drain it first using a needle, floss and alcohol wipe. If it’s night I’ll wait to tape until it drains overnight leaving the floss extended through the blister and removed in the morning.
  • Tendonitis – This is one of the most challenging injuries to deal with on trail. You can try stretching and resting but truly the only cure is longer rest that you can provide hiking so the goal is to get off trail. I’ve learned to tape to prevent one type of tendonitis I’m prone to get in an ankle when hiking very steep terrain.
  • Cuts/Scrapes/Abrasions – Most of these can be ignored. For more serious ones, I carry antiseptic wipes, triple antibiotic ointment, gauze and leuko tape. The worst cut I sustained was hiking in snow when I sliced open my palm on a rock. I used my buff to apply pressure and stop the bleeding, then used steri-strips to close the wound. Cactus and yucca are my worst enemies. For the times I’m in areas of jumping cholla I carry full size tweezers and a comb.
  • Stings/Bites – While these tend to be more irritating than serious for most people, I get bacterial infections and am sensitive to bee/wasp stings and biting flies in particular. I now carry benadryl and pepcid as the combination recommended by my doctor. I’ve used a few times and it works. I also carry some type of anti-itch relief as bites drive me bonkers. In areas with ticks, I carry a tick key and do regular checks. Thankfully I haven’t ever had a seriously embedded tick and in fact have had few encounters.
  • Black Toenails – Once I switched from boots to trail runners these became a bygone memory. I also use a narrow heel lacing technique to keep my foot from sliding forward as well as wear shoes with a wide toe box.

Accidents:

I feel like for the amount of miles and types of terrain I hike, my accident rate is about the best I could hope to achieve. My goal is to be as careful as possible but I know I take risks I shouldn’t however it seems most of my accidents happen on easy terrain.

  • Broken Ribs – I was hiking out after a few days on trail with a friend. We’d done some off trailing and taken some risks. But no, two miles from the trailhead, I slipped on a bit of sand that was on a waterbar. There happened to be a limb that grabbed my ribs as I slid to my butt. Gravity worked against me between the pack and the limb. I was able to hike out and drive two hours home. The next few weeks were painful and limiting but I didn’t need medical intervention, just time.
  • Broken Wrist – On my 9th day of hiking on a section of the PCT in Oregon, I walked off the trail. It was flat and wide with no obstacles but I think I just lost my focus. This incident was bad as my wrist dislocated and ended up not only broken in three places, it also became my one and only inReach activation with SAR involvement.
  • Slips and Falls – These happen more often than I’d like to admit. I remember falling off a log during a water crossing that could have had serious consequences. For me I’d rather walk through water with my shoes on than attempt rock jumping or a log balance beam. I’ve also learned how to use my hiking poles to brace myself during steep downhills, as well as adopting the crab and dog techniques knowing four points of contact are better than two.

Ailments:

I’ve been lucky and haven’t ever been sick on trail. I carry something for stomach issues and diarrhea. Thankfully I’ve never had giardia either. The worst I’ve had is soft stools which can make for quite a mess requiring extra wipes so I plan for that situation. Using a bidet is helpful.

Weather:

I’ve learned to check point-specific weather, like the forecasts available on NOOA, the day before and morning of a trip so I can pack accordingly. I also use the weather feature on my inReach, although I’ve found it to be 50/50 on accuracy.

  • Lightning – This has been the most scary weather to experience on trail. I spent so many hours in the lightning prevention position when hiking the JMT. I was glad I’d done some advance research.
  • Rain, Rain, Rain – Multiple days of rain is my least favorite weather. I’m a sunshine gal and don’t enjoy hiking in the rain and definitely don’t like dealing with wet gear. But to avoid hypothermia, it’s important to add a few items to your pack and know best practices.
  • Snow – The biggest concern for me is damage to my 3-season tent, so I make sure to knock off accumulation during the night. I’d rather hide out in my tent than hike through a wet snow storm. Hypothermia is real and my quilt keeps me toasty warm especially if I avoid getting wet and chilled first.
  • Wind – There are a few concerns with wind, the first is dust in my eyes which I try to remedy with eye drops which I always carry. Strong winds can damage tents so I try to set up with the narrow end facing the wind. I’ve also learned to use my hiking poles for extra support. One of the worst is blowing sand. It’s nearly impossible to avoid and will seriously damage zippers.

Equipment/Technology Failures:

  • Phone – Of all my gear, this is probably my most dependent item and the one I cringe at losing or breaking. I rely on my phone for navigation and although I’m usually prepared with a paper map and compass, the phone is my security blanket. I try to take extra precautions to protect this precious resource but the reality is stuff happens. My phone fell out of my pants pocket once when I was climbing rocks. Thankfully I was able to find after backtracking and amazingly it wasn’t broken. Sometimes apps stop working or I forget to download maps for offline use. I carry a back-up battery to help keep this important item charged.
  • Tent – Zippers seem to be the first item to fail. Keeping them clean helps but in buggy areas having them fail is a serious irritant. Most of the time you can clean and tighten to extend the life. Other times you need the zipper replaced. Losing stakes is probably the most common but thankfully you can usually find a substitute items such as rocks.
  • Hiking Poles – For me four legs are better than two so broken or lost poles are a bit of a nightmare. Sometimes you can repair other times you can use a stick. One surprise was when carpenter ants ate the cork during the night. I used a glove to cover the handle until I could get to town.
  • Water Filter – I remember the time I filtered the wrong direction through my Sawyer Squeeze tainting both my filter and clean bag. Thankfully I had water treatment tablets with me so I treated the water in my clean bag which then allowed me to backflush my filter. I always carry a few tablets because treating water is essential in my opinion and since I hike solo most often I need to be self sufficient.
  • Stove – I’ve run out of fuel or had a bad canister of fuel. Sometimes igniters fail so I bring a mini lighter which would also be used for an emergency fire and for sterilizing a needle. What do you do if you’re solo, you cold soak. It might not be the most tasty meal but it’s nutrition.
  • Air Mattress – Eventually even when super careful, most likely your pad will develop a leak. If you can find the leak, it’s pretty easy to repair in the field. Tenancious tape is a great multi-use repair item. I’ve never had success finding leaks even in the best of situations. In every case I end up returning to the manufacturer for replacement. You might just have a few uncomfortable nights, but you won’t die.

Navigational Errors:

Getting misplaced isn’t fun. I take this very seriously and try to be as prepared as possible so I can stay found and avoid wasting time and energy wandering around, although it happens occasionally. The key is not to panic and try to return to the place you were last on trail or in a known location. I’ve had this happen when having to negotiate my way around down trees or other trail obstacles. If I’m flustered the next step is to take a break where I can eat, drink and study maps. Thankfully I’ve never needed to activate the inReach but it’s my security blanket just in case.

Trail Conditions:

My rule of thumb is to be prepared to turnaround. I’d rather reverse direction than die attempting something I consider beyond reasonable risk whether that be eroded trail or sketchy snow, scree or swift water crossing. I also take extra precautions for major water crossings by stowing my electronics and down gear in waterproof bags.

Wildlife:

I’m always alert to wildlife signs especially bear and big cats. I see plenty of prints and scat but haven’t seen a mountain lion. I regularly see bears but they’ve all acted as bears should and ran once they saw, smelled or heard me. In some areas mountain goats can be a problem. Although they hung out in or near my camp in several places in Washington, they’ve never bothered me. Deer can be pests; they might steal your clothes or hiking poles for salt. Mice are a huge problem in some places like Washington, and as such I recommend hanging your food in a rodent safe bag. Rattlesnakes cause me far more concern than bears.

Creepy Peeps:

These have been few and far between and I’ve never felt endangered until my recent dog bite incident. I recall one sketchy hitchhiking incident that we bailed from before getting into that uncomfortable situation. I always have my radar on high alert near roads, trailheads and campgrounds, and avoid camping in those areas.

Links:

2020 – A Decade of Lessons Learned . . . Eats Drinks and More


Lessons Learned:

  1. I prefer simple and don’t mind repetitive.
  2. Food is fuel; fuel is power.
  3. Try before you carry.
  4. Quantity, quality and quickness matter.
  5. Homemade is best.
  6. It’s an evolving process.
  7. Repackage for weight savings and portion control.

What I take depends a bit on whether I’m prepping from home or on the road, whether I’ll be out for a few days or multiple weeks, and whether I’ll be mailing food in a resupply box.  Basically I’m lazy but I prefer homemade meals and I’m budget conscious. I don’t cook, instead I use boiling water to rehydrate. Figuring out how much food and drink is part science part art. It’s a formula each person needs to figure out for themselves. The biggest challenge is adjusting your personal formula for conditions and situations such as:

  • Day 1 vs 5 vs 21 (hiker hunger kicks in around week 3)
  • Base elevation
  • Temperature
  • Calories burned

Breakfast:

A few times a year, I’ll make huge batches of muesli. I’ve started using Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli as the base, then add flax, chia, brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon, nuts, etc. I fill snack size ziplocks using a wide mouth funnel. In camp I pour into a 16-oz Ziploc Twist N Loc Container, add hot coffee and let it sit 5-10 minutes. Yes, I said coffee. I use the Starbucks VIA packets and add one to full pot of water boiled in my Jetboil. It’s my two-in-one prep. I can drink hot coffee while waiting for my cereal to hydrate.

Lunch:

I tend to favor wraps. Most often I’ll bring hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks or extra sharp cheddar and tortillas. I usually throw in a bag of spinach or slaw and maybe an avocado or hummus/avocado spread. It’s convenient that these come in single serve containers now. They say refrigerate but I’ve traveled with them in my pack for several days without issue (except in extreme heat).

Dinner:

Keeping it simple I have a few items I rotate between with all repackaged in snack size ziplock bags. The requirement is calorie dense, tasty and suitable for quick rehydration with boiling water.

  • Mixed grains, beans and greens – I usually make and dehydrate a huge batch with rotating spices.
  • Idahoan potatoes – I prefer the 4 cheese variety and usually buy the family size.
  • Rice noodles with pasta sauce – This is my favorite meal. I make my own sauce and bring a cube of Lotus rice ramen which I crunch up and add to the dry sauce and then rehydrate together.
  • Other meals – I like to dehydrate what I normally eat at home. This might includes some of the following:
    • Turkey, barley, vegetable soup
    • Beef stew with potatoes and carrots
    • Teriyaki turkey, rice and veges
  • Knorrs rice sides are a reliable option. If I don’t have time to prepare meals in advance this is a regular in my rotation.

I’ve had terrible luck rehydrating pasta so as much as I like macaroni and cheese or other noodle-based dishes, they stay home. There are plenty of other options such as rice, quinoa, barley, couscous, and ramen.

Snacks:

Hard boiled eggs are my favorite. You can now buy them in 2 packs at most grocery and convenience stores.

For other protein options I usually brings nuts and might bring jerky or peanut butter. I prefer salty to sweet snacks.

I’ve tried lots of bars and have found I don’t like protein bars. I try to buy my favorites by the box when they are on sale so I always have them conveniently available. My current favorites are:

  • Nature Valley Almond Butter Biscuits
  • Nature Valley Crunch Oats n Dark Chocolate
  • Nature Bakery Fig Bar
  • Luna Bars (Lemon, Blueberry and Peppermint)

Drinks:

I don’t like sweetener in my water and will only go that route for really bad tasting water. I tried several options while on the Arizona Trail and found I preferred cold vanilla coffee, grape or orange flavoring, and recently discovered Cusa powdered teas. I suffer in the heat and have found Himalayan Pink Salt Crystals preferable to electrolyte tablets or drink additives.

How much water? That’s a challenging question and one I discuss further in my post “water, water, water.”

Related Posts:

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CA – Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Parks Creek Trailhead . . . Let’s Go Swimming

After a wonderful smoke-free three-day window spent at Bear Lakes in the Trinity Alps (link), I had another day and a half available to play. It wasn’t quite enough time to visit a planned area that I’d saved for these conditions so I decided to see if one of my favorite areas was crowd and smoke free. As I drove by the Deadfalls Meadows Trailhead I was delighted to see zero cars. What would I find at the more popular Parks Creek trailhead? Two cars and smoke-free skies. Decision made!

I headed out knowing I had lots of options. I could lollygag and spend time swimming and enjoying the sun, or I could summit Mt Eddy, or I could hike miles and miles on the PCT, or I could explore some off-trail areas. So many options and I loved having the freedom to choose. I considered each hour a gift, knowing the smoke would most likely return. Nearby the Red Salmon Complex fire was burning in the northwest corner of the Trinity Alps.

I was delighted to find a few late season blooms.

There were signs of fall including colorful seed pods.

Lower Deadfall Lake was at the lowest level I’d ever seen. There was a couple camped nearby. Even though the lake was shallow, I found sufficient depth for swim #1.

Middle Deadfall Lake is spring fed so it tends to be more inviting.

I wandered around the lake finding the perfect spot for swim #2. Surprisingly except for the PCT southbound thru hiker I met near the main trail, I had the lake to myself.

The thought of obtaining drinking water from these lakes is gag worthy. So many swimmers and bathers during the summer months. Thankfully the springs were still flowing. One of the benefits of previous visits and map reading.

The pond between Middle and Upper Deadfall Lakes was not on my swim list.

I found the “crowds” at Upper Deadfall Lake, where I ran into three couples. Knowing views from Mt Eddy would be under a veil of smoke I skipped that hike on this day, opting instead for a walk around the lake and swim #3.

I found some blooming gentians.

Amazingly I’d lollygagged away most of the day and it was time to make my way to one of the unnamed lakes.

Something bad happened on my way to this campsite. My knee made a loud popping sound and I couldn’t support my weight. I sat and rested for a while tried again and after about an hour was able to hobble to camp. I worried all night about my ability to hike out unassisted. This is one of the negatives of solo hiking. I didn’t have a history of knee problems and was quite concerned that it wouldn’t resolve during the night. Plan A was to attempt walking out on my own. Plan B was to text a couple of friends who lived nearby to see if they would carry my pack while I attemped walking without the weight. Plan C would have been hitting the SOS on my inReach, an option I wanted to avoid if at all possible.

Little did I know the orange colored sunset was foretelling about a change in conditions. This is the view the next morning toward Upper Deadfall Lake and is the section of trail where my knee failed me.

Thankfully slowly and steadily I was able to begin my hike toward my car. The full moon was setting. I’d enjoyed the glow during the night which surprisingly escaped the smoky veil.

The Trinity Alps were now invisible.

Sadly this would be the end of my summer/fall hiking season. Upon returning home I went to a walk-in clinic for x-rays, followed by a visit to my primary care, then a referral and visit to an orthopedist, an MRI and finally surgery scheduled for early October. I have a radial tear of the posterior horn medial meniscal root with a 1cm gap.

So after avoiding all indoor establishments since late March when the COVID-19 pandemic began, September was all about potential exposure in the highest risk places. But heck since I was already taking risks, I decided to get my hair cut; that was a boost to my happy factor and will certainly help with healing and recovery.

Adventure Date(s):

  • September 3-4, 2020

Resources:

Links:

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CA – Trinity Alps Wilderness, Bear Lakes Trailhead

My goal was to find Wee Bear and Little Bear Lakes on this my third trip on the Bear Creek Trail. These are both off-trail lakes requiring navigation and bouldering skills.

With nearby wildfires, smoke had been problematic. I’d saved a few shorter distance trails for times when I could exit quickly if conditions changed. After a week of horrific air quality, we had a couple days with improvement and indications wind would be in my favor. Checking Purple Air and Air Now sites have become a morning routine during fire season.

Big Bear Lake

In this summer of 2020, the Trinity Alps saw unprecedented visitation levels. I was concerned and had several alternative plans if I found a full trailhead. Thankfully on this day, luck was on my side. No cars and I only met two day hikers on my first day of this three day trip.

This has become my summer of swimming. I had plenty of time to indulge after this 4.5 mile 2,800′ elevation gain hike especially since I had the lake to myself for the afternoon and evening. Lucky me! Little Bear Lake can be accessed via the gap shown in the below photo, but it’s not the recommended way. I wandered part way around the lake and quickly found myself blocked by brush that I wasn’t willing to fight my way through.

There are plenty of places to wander around and above the lake. In fact the granite benches host the majority of campsites, including views of Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy. It was a great place to watch sunset and sunrise. Catching alpenglow is one of my favorite reasons to camp.

Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy visible from the benches above Big Bear Lake. The granite mountain to the right is the scramble to Wee and Little Bear Lakes.

Wee and Little Bear Lakes

The trail shown in the below photo is from Big Bear Lake and provides one starting point to the off-trail lakes. There is also a cairn on the main trail below Big Bear Lake. Basically you want to angle your way up this rock face. You’ll find cairns marking a variety of routes. There is no right way, as I say, “pick your poison.” One of my resource guidebooks says “the goal is to bisect the top of the ridge at approximately the midpoint near some dead trees.”

There are a few campsites near the junction with water available from the Big Bear Lake outflow creek. The books indicate this is an EASY scramble. For some it might be, I found it fairly challenging.

This is the mountain you’re traversing. I’ll take granite boulders and slabs over scree any day. While you’ll find cairns dropping you down lower you want to avoid the brush. I stayed high on my way to the lakes and a little lower on my exit. I found the high route much more forgiving as the lower you go the steeper the slabs.

This photo shows the notch you want to reach and why you want to find the mid sweet point so you don’t waste energy going too high or too low.

This is an example of the steep slabs best to avoid, which can be easily done if you stay higher.

On the way back I followed cairns which dropped me lower. I found myself working a lot harder on this mid route.

Wee Bear Lake is more a pond than a lake but it’s very photogenic.

Little Bear Lake is a much superior swimming lake to Big Bear with slabs for diving platforms and debris free exit.

It took me about an hour to reach Little Bear Lake from Big Bear. After a few hours of swimming and relaxing I was inspired to see if I could ascend the ridge separating the lakes.

Although there is a trail traversing the lake, once again I quickly got stopped by thick brush so I backtracked and found another way which included this view of Wee Bear Lake, Mt Shasta and Mt Eddy.

These ramps made for a gentle ascent.

Success! There’s 28-acre Big Bear Lake, depth 73 feet.

Looking down at Little Bear Lake.

The lower ridge in this photo is the unnamed peak you traverse around between Big and Little Bear Lakes.

First kiss of sun on the peaks surrounding Little Bear Lake.

Morning reflections on Little Bear Lake.

The jagged spires surrounding the Bear Lakes are a recognizable sight in much of the Trinity Alps and Castle Crags Wilderness areas. It was so nice to see blue sky after a couple weeks of smoky skies.

Bear Creek signals the return to the main hiking trail.

I enjoyed a few late blooms along the trail like this fire weed.

Possibly Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris).

Red Columbine

There was indication summer was ending and soon fall would take center stage.

Adventure Date(s):

  • August 31 – September 2, 2020

Hike Details:

Tips:

  • This can be a busy trail. If the trailhead is full you might want to consider other options especially if you want to camp.
  • In late August, nights were pretty warm. I was glad I’d brought my new summer quilt (link).
  • Always pack first-aid supplies. This was a bleeder. It wasn’t very deep but it bled for 3-4 days.
  • Do your part and pack out what others may have left behind. I walked past this hat several times before I noticed it. I also carried out a bag of used toilet paper, two fishing rod tips, a GSI cooking pot lid, and one sandal plus some micro trash. It’s the right thing to do!
  • I was glad to have my headnet as there were face flies at lower elevation. I met some hikers on their way in as I was exiting and they were very jealous.

Resources:

Links:

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CA – Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Cabin Creek Trailhead (aka Squaw Valley Creek)

What has become known as the fifth season on the west coast is in full swing. Fire and smoke season is one I’d sooner skip and have successfully run from and avoided for several years. With 2020 being the year of COVID-19, I made the choice to stay local. My new normal was checking the Air Quality Index every morning. On this day, I saw some green to the north and decided I best take advantage of this rare window.

The skies were white with smoke. The visibility was limited and I considered turning around several times. I needed out of the house so onward I went. I’d chosen this trail as it would be more of a meander than a strenuous hike, one where I could lollygag along a creek and just enjoy being outside. I of course was worried about crowds since that’s become a norm this summer. Thankfully upon arrival there was only one car at the trailhead. For this smoke sensitive asthmatic, the air quality seemed acceptable.

When I first started hiking about ten years ago, this was the Squaw Valley Creek Trail, but due to political correctness, the offensive word has been removed from most named places. However this hike is still along thus named Squaw Valley Creek. Cabin Creek is a secondary stream further downstream so it doesn’t really make sense to change the name but whatever it is it is.

I was introduced to umbrella plant aka Indian Rhubarb along this trail. It’s probably my favorite water plant. Seeing signs of changing seasons reminded me fire season won’t last forever.

It was a hot day so I was grateful for easy creek side access where I could stay wet and refreshed.

This waterfall provided a perfect lunch break backdrop. Interestingly, Squaw Valley Creek (still named as such) originates on Mt Shasta at South Gate Meadows the destination of my previous hike (link).

There was evidence of recent trail maintenance which is always much appreciated.

If there was any negative to my day it was face flies but thankfully I came prepared with my headnet.

Soon enough bug season will be gone, just like fire season and summer.

Until then I’ll be grateful for this day when I escaped the smoke and enjoyed creek lullabies, a soft trail, bird song, the smell of pine needles and freshly sawed timber. I may have only walked about 1/4 mile on the PCT this day but it brought back the most wonderful memories of when I walked from Burney Falls to the Oregon border.

Adventure Date(s):

  • August 28, 2020

Hike Details:

Tips:

  • I hiked this as an out and back, but there is a loop option. I tried the loop several years ago and found it choked with poison oak. I didn’t go that far this time so don’t know condition but something to consider. I’ve been warned of rattlesnakes in that meadow as well.
  • There are a couple of eroded sections of trail and at at least one place where some rock scampering is required.
  • For additional hiking from the trailhead, consider the PCT north or south. The nature trail near Ah-Di-Na Campground is worth a visit although a bit of a drive or a 10+ mile jaunt.

Resources:

Links:

I participate in the Amazon affiliate program and may receive a commission on qualifying purchases linked in this post. It doesn’t affect your price but it helps support this site.