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There are a lot of things that make me happy in life, and similar to many other people, food is one of them. Hiking and backpacking also makes me very happy... so combining the two just puts a giant smile on my face. 

When I gear up for a backpacking trip, I can't help but be excited about the journey, the views and... the food.  It's important to plan your snacks and meals out ahead of time and to make sure you bring things you'll actually enjoy, because if you don't enjoy it, you may not eat it... and then you're just packing around extra weight. Eating in the backcountry doesn't have to be boring or bland. So from snacks to MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat), here's a list of some of my favorite things to bring while I'm out in the backcountry. Please note, I don't have any dietary restrictions, so if you're gluten free or vegan/vegetarian... or just a healthy person in general, my list may not work for you. Also, I will be calling out some of my favorite brands and items, but please note that this is not a sponsored blog post. These are just my personal preferences!

    SNACKS

Keeping snacks on hand is essential when you're out hiking. Often times you don't really know you're hungry until you're close to being hangry. So, just like staying hydrated and not waiting until you're parched, I think it's equally important to stop for a snack every hour or two when you're exerting yourself. Some of my go-to snack items are:

1. Jerky or meat sticks. I always bring jerky with me. Always. It's lightweight, savory and offers a pretty good balance of fat, protein and carbs. There are some really great grass-fed and/or lower fat options (like salmon or turkey jerky), but I'm a complete and utter sucker for Oh Boy! OBerto Classic Thin Style Beef Jerky. Hmmm, salty goodness. Jack Links is pretty good too, but at the end of the day... I'll pretty much eat just about any kind and think it's delicious.

2. Nuts. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, brazil nuts - yum. Nuts are relatively lightweight as well (assuming you aren't bringing a giant bag with you) and are impressively high in nutrients. They are a very satisfying and fulfilling trail snack. I'm currently digging Blue Diamond Oven-Roasted Sea Salt Almonds. They are like the Goldilocks of flavored almonds... not too much salt, and not too little. I'm also a huge fan of marcona almonds. If you haven't tried them, you should! The grocery store by my apartment has these incredible herbed marcona almonds and they are AMAZING. And amazingly expensive.

3. Dried fruit, fruit leather, fruit snacks. I bounce between dried mangos and banana chips to going full blown 5-year-old and bringing packs of Gushers with me. Dried fruit can be a good source of fiber, calories and energy, while Gushers are just ridiculously tasty. 

4. Bars. There are SO many options here, there are entire aisles dedicated to granola and protein/energy bars. Right now a couple of my favorites are KIND Caramel, Almond and Sea Salt, as well as Perfect Bar's Coconut Peanut Butter flavor. I'm pretty picky when it comes to eating protein or granola bars, but I've finally found a couple that I truly enjoy. 

5. Fresh fruit or veggies. Sometimes I bring real fruit or vegetables! Crazy, right? Usually it's just an apple or some little satsuma oranges. Oh and just because these are natural foods, please please please pack your orange peels and apple cores out. Other fruits or veggies that I may have on hand would be baby carrots, celery (with peanut butter) or cherries. Word to the wise, it's usually smart to leave bananas at home, unless you can ensure they won't get squished. Squished or not, that banana peel best be going home with you. I mean it. 

8. Energy chews. These are great because generally speaking, they are tasty and can really help keep you going on the trail. They can help keep your electrolyte levels balanced and some have caffeine as well. I really like Jelly Belly Sport Beans and Clifbar Bloks. I also recently tried a couple PROBAR Bolt chews and liked those a lot. 

7. Candy. Haribo Gummy Bears. Enough said. Although... Swedish Fish aren't bad either. 

 

MEALS

So when you move from day-hiking to backpacking sometimes people struggle with what to bring. First and foremost, dehydrated meals have come a long way and there are many delicious brands out there. My personal favorite is Mountain House, but they are known to be a bit higher in their sodium content. If you are a vegetarian, vegan or gluten free, you might look into Good-To-Go meals.

1. Breakfast. Well most of my day hikes or backpacking trips start in the early a.m., so I usually just hit the store on the way out of town. It's sort of become tradition for me. I stop at the store and start my pre-hike day with coffee, a toasted bagel and cream cheese or a breakfast sandwich, as well as a protein drink for the trailhead.

For breakfast in the mountains, my absolute favorite is Mountain House Breakfast Skillet. It's delicious by itself, but if you pack some small tortillas you can make little breakfast burritos! You can even spice things up by bringing a packet of hot sauce. I'll usually bring oatmeal along too for a quick breakfast, but I won't lie... I never get excited about oatmeal. Sometimes I'll bring Mountain House's Granola and Blueberries and eat it hot or cold depending on how chilly it is outside. 

2. Lunch. Lunch isn't always something I always plan out, because most of the time snacks are perfectly adequate. But when I know I'll need something more, a pre-made peanut butter & honey (or jelly) sandwich is a great option. Other than usually getting squished and being a little messy, they are a pretty great and simple lunch option. On my most recent backpacking trip, I brought leftover pizza for lunch on day one, and it... was... amazing. So put that in your back pocket. 

3. Dinner. My favorite backcountry meal, and hands-down my favorite meal to cook is the Mountain House Chicken Fajita Bowl. A previously discontinued item, they've brought it back and made some changes for 2017. I couldn't have been more ecstatic when I discovered this. It's pretty darn good on it's own, but there's a few things you can do to enhance the experience. 1) Bring an avocado (and a small switchblade knife to dice it up). Adding an avocado to the meal (after it's cooked) is SO GOOD. It's definitely worth the added weight if you ask me. 2) Pack little tortillas! As I mentioned above for the breakfast burritos, I usually bring a pack of 8 small tortillas and enjoy chicken fajitas with a friend. With the added avocado and tortillas, one chicken fajita bowl pouch is plenty for two people. 3) Want it spicier? Bring a packet of hot sauce! 

A few of my other go-to Mountain House meals are Beef Stroganoff, Pasta Primavera with an added packet of tuna fish or salmon, or the Chicken & Rice + an avocado. I'm excited to try the Mountain House Mac and Cheese (not the Chili Mac) and add a sliced up hotdog to the mix. Yes, I eat like a child sometimes and I'm ok with it, and no I don't really care to know exactly what is in a hotdog. As Cypher said in The Matrix... "Ignorance is bliss." 

4. Dessert. There are quite a few dehydrated desserts out there, from ice cream to apple crisp, and I've tried just about all of them. They are all pretty tasty, but... my favorite backcountry dessert is homemade rice crispy treats. They are lightweight and regardless of getting squished they are still ridiculously delicious. Plus, it's not a "heavy on the tummy" treat. 

 POST-HIKE

Post-hike "replenishment" is always something that I look forward to. I love freezing some water and/or coconut water prior to the trip and leaving it in a cooler in the car. Even on multi-day trips, I've been pleasantly surprised to find beverages that are still pretty cold. Sometimes I'll throw a good-ol' Twix bar in there as well. Aside from that, dried snap peas are tasty or I'll indulge with my favorite chip... White Cheddar Cheeto puffs. Throw on Pearl Jam's "Alive", roll the windows down and head back on the forest road towards civilization... feeling exhausted, dirty, hopefully not hungry, and extremely rejunvinated.

I'd love to hear about some of your favorite snacks or meals that you bring with you! Happy eating and happy trails everyone!

 
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Much later than expected, but it's high time for part two of this series. I think it's safe to say I'm mostly recovered from my broken ankle, after all... I've already backpacked to Havasupai. I'm not sure if I'll ever be 100%, but I'm probably in the 90-95% range, which is pretty awesome.

So I told you the story of how I broke my ankle, but then what?

   

 

SURGERY

On January 3rd, 2017 I went in for ORIF (Open Reduction Internal Fixation) surgery. Both my tibia and fibula needed to be stabilized in order to heal correctly. Aside from having my wisdom teeth out, this would be my first "real" surgery. I was anxious to get the show on the road, but I felt nervous too. Just the idea that a surgeon would be cutting in to my body and inserting metal objects boggled my mind. 

 

Just before going in to surgery! Dress for success!

 

What's that on my leg you ask? That was my peg leg! For anyone with a foot or ankle injury, this device is pretty amazing. I was able to walk/hobble around fairly easily and unlike crutches, my hands were completely freed up. The iWalk device made me feel (for lack of better words) human again. I did get some interesting looks though, for as you can see, it almost looks like I had my lower leg amputated. I highly recommend it though, even over the knee scooter.

So, the surgery went well. It felt like it was over in an instant, and my sister kindly took videos of my hilarious post-anesthesia rambles. The pain set in promptly 24 hours later when the nerve blocks and anesthesia were completely out of my system, and for the next few days I was on a pretty regimented medication routine. I was taking Tylenol, prescription strength ibuprofen, oxycodone, anti-spasm meds, stool softener (yep, it's a must) and SO many vitamins and supplements. The four weeks after I broke my ankle were the worst. Sleeping was challenging, the pain and swelling was obviously uncomfortable and I greatly disliked the feeling of having staples in my skin. But at two weeks post-op, the bandages came off, the staples came out and I got to see the hardware store that was now in my ankle. 

 

 

One 5" metal plate and eight screws.

After the staples came out. 

  PHYSICAL THERAPY

After the staples came out, my surgeon told me that I could begin physical therapy at any time. Which kinda blew my mind because I could barely move my ankle. It blew my mind even more that he wanted me to be 100% weight bearing in two weeks, when I was currently 0%. My surgeons words stuck with me throughout the entire process though. He said "the more you baby it, the longer it will take to heal" and he definitely has a "no pain, no gain" approach to recoveries in general. So I hopped on that train, while still keeping in mind that it's always important to listen to your body. 

When I "walked" in to my physical therapists office, just shy of three weeks post-op, the look on his face was priceless. Not only was he shocked to see me so soon (typically patients with my injury wouldn't come in until 6-9 weeks post-op), but he couldn't believe the aggressive approach my surgeon was taking. He'd never seen anything like it, but we were both really excited to give it a go and see what transpired over the coming weeks. The first few visits were just filled with things like ankle circles and using resistance bands to increase range of motion. The biggest hurdle was trying to get my heel on the ground. We wouldn't be able to really make noticeable progress until I was able to stand and bear weight. 

By four weeks post-op, to the day, I took my my first unassisted steps. Sort of diving in head first. Typically you're supposed to work up to it. People normally begin bearing more weight and walking with the crutches as support for several days, then moving to one crutch for a few days and then begin taking unassisted steps. I kinda just took off my peg leg, and went through the above process in about 30 minutes. I cried when I took those steps though. It was just such an emotional experience, plus the bottom of my foot felt instantly bruised from the weight of my body. Even though I took those first steps, it took another two weeks before I was fully walking around, but it was perfect timing. My physical therapist and I had a goal that I would walk into my six week post-op appointment and sure enough, I did. I had a mild limp, but all and all was getting around fairly well. My x-ray tech was absolutely amazed by what he saw, he told me that he sees a LOT of these injuries and that I appeared to be closer to 12 weeks post-op, not six. I had the BIGGEST grin on my face. I did this! Even before my surgery, I set the intention to have one of the fastest recoveries for this particular injury. And that day, I knew my hard work and positive mindset had paid off. I set goals, followed my surgeon and physical therapists instructions, did my exercises, pushed myself within limits, and I ate healthy and took a million vitamins and supplements. 

Being injured obviously isn't any fun, but it's eye opening. It's incredibly humbling when your life changes in an instant. Luckily this was only temporary for me, but you become acutely aware of all the things you take for granted, and you think of all those things when you can't drive anywhere for eight weeks, or when you're sitting on a stool in your shower ...but I digress.  

Three months after my surgery, I was staring at the most gorgeous waterfall I've ever seen. I backpacked the 10 miles down to Havasupai (no helicopter or pack horse) and felt such a huge sense of accomplishment, both mentally and physically.

   

It wasn't a piece of cake though, the last two miles both on the way in and on the way out were rough, and my ankle was weak... so it rolled very easily, which was terrifying and painful. But, this is how I chose to get stronger and to celebrate the entire experience. The human body and mind is an incredible thing and modern medicine is equally amazing. Be thankful for your health and when you get knocked down, stay positive and figure out what's in your control and what isn't.  How well you bounce back from something is partially up to you.

 

WHAT'S NEXT?

Most people leave their hardware in, but I'm fairly certain I'll be having everything removed. I'm not neccesarily bothered by the plate or the screws on a regular basis, but I don't like the idea of having foreign objects in my body for the rest of my life. My goal is to have a fantastic hiking and backpacking season and then to have the removal surgery right around the holidays in either November or December. From there, it will take about 4-6 weeks for the holes in the bones to fill in, but after that... I should be good to go!

Big thank you to everyone who checked in on me, both in person and/or on social media. The support and kind words I received were very encouraging. And an even bigger thank you to my physical therapist, surgeon, my sister and Amanda and Kui, they all played key roles from the very beginning to the end.

 

 

 
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I wanted to go backpacking alone for at least a year or two before I was actually able to muster up enough courage to do so. I'd been day hiking by myself for several years, but there were a couple things keeping me from heading out on a solo overnight adventure. The first thing was not having all the gear. I didn't own a tent or a stove system, along with some other necessary items. The second reason was all mental. What would I do out there... would I get scared, be bored or lonely? How would I protect myself against wild animals? What if I got hurt or lost? So many things ran through my head and kept me from venturing out on my own, but the idea remained in the back of mind for quite a while.

I knew I enjoyed backpacking, but I was always reliant on my male friends to have the all the shared gear, to drive us out to the trailhead (because I didn't have the best vehicle for forest roads), to set up the tent, boil the water, secure the food, etc. It sometimes felt like I was just a passenger, along for the ride... and I didn't want to be. I had this desire to own my experience.  I also wanted to be confident enough, that if there was ever a time I wanted to go backpacking but no one was available to join, or perhaps if someone bailed on a plan, that I wouldn't feel like I could no longer go. I didn't want my desire to get into the mountains to be dictated by anyone else's schedule. So I got the gear, I chose my destination and I went. But this isn't about me, this is about you...

     

 

SO WHERE DO YOU START?

 

1. WALK BEFORE YOU RUN. I'll start off by saying that if you haven't ever gone on a day hike by yourself, then I think it's smart to at least start there and get comfortable with that. If you've never been backpacking before, I would highly recommend finding someone or a group of people you can join first. There are so many organized groups and people getting outdoors, that going with someone and just getting familiar with overnighting in general is going to help dramatically when it comes to venturing out by yourself. 

2. GET THE GEAR. Backpacking isn't cheap, but it doesn't have to be expensive if you're willing to buy secondhand items. One of the reasons that kept me from overnighting  initially (not just by myself), was not having the appropriate gear. At first I borrowed. I borrowed a friend of a friends backpack and sleeping bag for my first couple trips. I wanted to make sure it was something I really enjoyed before I invested in it. I didn't get everything at once. It took some time. When you're ready to start purchasing gear, head over to your closest REI type store and chat with an associate. They are literally paid to help you choose the appropriate gear. Here's a list of most of the items you'll need:

  • Overnight Backpack: I have a few different sizes, but a good place to start would be 60-65L. You can always size down later if you become more of a minimalist. 
  • Tent: If you're purchasing a tent for yourself, a lightweight 2 person tent is an excellent option. You'll then have space for another person for future trips, and plenty of space for yourself. My first tent was the REI Quarter Dome, which I still have and love. I also have the Nemo Dagger and Blaze, which are great options. 
  • Sleeping Pad: Most outdoor gear stores will have sample pads blown up for you to try. Test several out and see what you like. I'm a side sleeper and like to keep my hips off the ground as much as possible, so I prefer thicker pads. Chat with an associate to get their take on the different options available.
  • Sleeping Bag: My first sleeping bag was the REI Women's Joule, which is a 3-season bag rated at about 22 degrees and I still use it to the day. I now have a couple other options and utilize those depending on the season and/or temperature. 
  • Stove system: I'm a fan of my MSR WindBurner, but there are a lot of different options for you. It depends on what you think you'll be making for meals. I usually bring snacks and dehydrated meals, so the extent of my cooking is really just boiling water. 
  • Water Filtration: You can purchase iodine pills, a Steripen or a water filtration system/pump. I use the MSR Outflow Gravity Filter mainly. It's incredibly lightweight and easy to use. I prefer to use the gravity bag at camp and a small steripen type set up for on-the-trail use.  
  • Clothing: It's all about layers. Being prepared and ready for extreme temperature swings and changing weather conditions will help to improve the experience. You can start a day in shorts and a tank top, and end it with two pair of pants, a base layer, fleece and an insulted jacket, along with a hat and gloves. You want to find a balance of bringing enough clothing, but also not overpacking. It's about covering your bases... not having a different outfit for each day. Items to consider: Tank top or t-shirt, shorts, long sleeve top and pants, thermal top and bottoms, hat, gloves, insulated jacket, soft-shell for rain and/or wind, and rain pants. If you have a good handle on the weather forecast you can sometimes omit the rain gear, but as most of you already know ... weather in the mountains can change quickly.
  • Food: How much food you bring will vary based on the duration of the trip, but let's say you're just heading out for a single night. You'll want snacks for both days of hiking, a light lunch, dinner and breakfast for the next morning. 
  • Ten-Essentials: It's important to have these with you at all times when you're in the backcountry. Instead of going through these one by one, I'm just going to direct you to REI's website. Hopefully you are already familiar with the Ten-Essentials, but if not, I encourage you to know these and understand why they are important. 
  • Other items (in no particular order and some more optional that others): Water bottle or hydration reservoir, eating utensil, mug, toiletries, pillow, solar lantern, large ziplock baggy for garbage, bug spray, trowel and toilet paper (or my favorite - Coleman Biowipes), camp shoes or sandals, small travel towel, blister kit or moleskin, camera, external battery charger + appropriate cables, nylon cord (for hanging food), headlamp, stuff sacks and/or compression sacks, hammock, pack cover, extra gas canister and a camp chair or sit pad. 

3. WHERE TO GO? When I'm going on a backpacking trip by myself, I make sure to pick areas that are popular amongst the hiking and backpacking community. Just because you're going by yourself, doesn't mean you have to be alone. In fact, you might not want to be. Being able to see a tent and other campers in the distance may give you some peace of mind. It might also be a good idea to head out to an area you are already familiar with. Maybe there's a day hike you went on that you'd like to revisit? 

4. ANIMAL SAFETY & GENERAL PROTECTION: Many of the questions I get are about bear safety and how to protect yourself. I think the first thing to do is to research the area you are in or heading to and figure out what you're potentially dealing with. Learn about what to do if you encounter or are bit by a rattlesnake. Know the signs of a mountain lion and what do if you see one. Take time to understand bears, their behavior and what to do if you come across one. Food-storage and proper safety are huge. Do not cook near your tent and do not keep your food in your tent. This isn't just to keep bears away though, this goes for all wildlife... from mice to mountain goats. If you want to take bear spray with you, by all means. Whatever makes you feel safe and more at ease is priceless and worth the extra weight. I however, do not take any with me. Although Washington has plenty of bears, in all my years of hiking, I have only seen one while on the trail. It was a Grizzly, but it was quite a distance away and there was a river between us. Here are some links that might help in regards to learning more about the wild animals you could potential encounter. 

Bear Safety

Mountain Lion Safety

Moose Safety

Snake Safety

As far as other animals go; I've seen deer, elk, mountain goats, marmots and a ton of critters. However harmless they might seem, it's always best to keep your distance, to not make sudden moves and it's very important to not feed the animals. I get a lot of questions about mountain goats, and for the most part, they are beautiful and harmless creatures. Many are so desensitized to humans that they will tromp right through your camp and get fairly close to you. It's a neat experience, but just because they seem tame, doesn't mean you should try to pet one or walk up to it. Make remember to do your business away from camp, as mountain goats are drawn to our urine. 

Other forms of protection (because let's be honest... there's still the human element), are entirely up to you. If you want to bring mace, a knife or if you know how to use and own a handgun, bring it. When I'm in the backcountry I'm there to push and challenge myself, as well as to recharge and reconnect with nature. I live in Seattle and I am more uncomfortable and afraid walking downtown at night than I am in the mountains. The people I encounter in the backcountry are energetic, cheerful and happy, and most are there for the very same reasons that I am. Generally speaking, I feel as though I'm amongst friends, even if I don't know them. 

5. TELL SOMEONE YOUR PLAN: It's important when day hiking or backpacking (especially alone) to have a plan and stick to it. Know where you're going, what time you're leaving, the route you'll take (if there are various options) and when you plan on returning. I usually give all that information to my sister and at least one outdoor capable friend, and when I get back into service, I shoot them a text to let them know I am safe. 

 SO YOU'VE GOT THE GEAR, YOU'VE DONE YOUR RESEARCH, YOU'VE MADE A PLAN AND YOU'VE TOLD SOMEONE WHERE YOU'RE HEADING... NOW WHAT? 

Before you leave home, test everything. Make sure you can set up your tent, that your sleeping pad doesn't leak and that you know how to use your stove and water filtration systems. You don't want to be trying to set up camp and reading instructions at the same time. Know before you go and tackle any confusion and frustration at home. 

Assuming you've been backpacking before and have the logistical aspects handled, now it's just about overcoming mental obstacles. I remember my first solo backpacking trip being filled with internal struggle, and you can read that story here. When you're out backpacking you'll have a lot of time to yourself, but hopefully you are someone who sees that as a good thing. You'll have time to explore, photograph, read, write or draw, or to just take it all in and be one with your thoughts.

As for sleeping, as long as you've done everything you can to ensure proper food storage and safety, then you should be able to rest easy. But even if the fear of animals is minimized... it doesn't necessarily mean you'll sleep well, so I have a few additional tips to take into consideration. When I'm out backpacking, either alone or with friends, I usually bring a variety of medications with me. Often times after a hard day on the trail, I'll have some pretty intense hip pain that worsens when I lay down and try to rest, and in those instances it causes me to wake up frequently and to not rest soundly. So, I'll take one Aleve and one Aleve PM to help ease my aches and get me to sleep. I also bring Melatonin in case I'm not feeling achey, but still want to help myself fall asleep. Melatonin is natural and isn't like traditional sleep-aids, it just helps you fall asleep. I've also brought Sleepy Time Tea with me as well and had a cup of that before bed. It worked wonders! ...but it also meant I had to get up in the middle of the night to go the bathroom. My intention is never to "drug" myself, but to be able to fall asleep and hopefully get a decent night of rest. A couple other medications I bring with me are Excedrin and Benadryl. I find Excedrin to be excellent for tension headaches and Benadryl (which also can help with sleep) is good to have on hand in case of any kind of allergic reaction. Quick story, a bumble bee once crawled in my sandal and stung the bottom of my foot. It was incredibly painful and swollen and caused me to limp. A fellow camper ran over with a med-kit and crushed a Benadryl up with a rock, added a touch of water and made a paste, which he then applied to the affected area. Within a few short minutes, the swelling and pain were significantly reduced. ...ok, back to sleeping soundly.

Another item I always bring with me are ear plugs. This started mainly because I've had a couple tent mates that snore, but now I bring them with me every time. I may not always use them, but I like to have them on hand. If the weather turns and it's raining or windy, it can sometimes be really loud against the rainfly. Or, if you're near other campers, you may want to drown out the sound of their voices. Additionally, another potentially helpful item is a sleep mask, especially on full moon nights. It's pretty incredible how much the moon can illuminate your tent and keep you from sleeping soundly. I have one from Sea to Summit and it's perfect for backpacking and any kind of travel. 

My rest is important to me, whether at home or in the mountains. I hate when I can't sleep and the night seems to last forever. It can make for a rough hike out the next day and just generally feel pretty miserable. You just have to find what works for you and if any of the above make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, then by all means, leave them at home. 

One other thing to mention is a spot beacon. I don't have one just yet, but might just click "buy" once I'm done with this post. A spot beacon allows you to send out an SOS, and some are capable of sending check-ins to your friends or family....which will not only help give YOU peace of mind, but anyone back home that might be concerned about you.

 

OTHER QUESTIONS PEOPLE HAVE ASKED

 

1. HAVE I EVER BEEN SCARED WHEN I'M OUT ALONE? The answer is yes. I once was hiking back to my car in the early evening hours and I heard gun shots in the distance. I immediately stopped and assumed it was hunters, but then my imagination ran away with me and I thought a murder could have been taking place. LOL. I didn't know whether I should make myself known or hide in the bushes! I cautiously kept moving but also kept an open ear.

2. WHAT IF YOU HURT YOURSELF AND NEED EMERGENCY RESPONDERS? This is one reason to not choose destinations that are not well-known or popular. I broke my ankle while out hiking alone and had no service, but I was lucky that a couple hikers were a few minutes behind me on the trail. I undoubtedly ruined their night, but they were able to help me and eventually make the call for help. A spot beacon would be a great thing to have in a situation like this.

3. DO I PREFER TO BE OUT ALONE OR WITH OTHERS? I enjoy both very much, as each experience is different. I'm as much an introvert as I am an extrovert. Backpacking with someone else or a group of people is extremely fun and social, and obviously there's safety in numbers... but being out alone is generally more therapeutic and fulfilling for me. When thinking of different trips I want to do, there are some I wouldn't opt to do alone. Maybe there is a fair amount of route-finding and previous trip reports mention getting lost or confused. I save trips like that for when I know I'll have someone else joining me.

Hopefully after reading all of this, you feel a bit better about the idea of getting out by yourself. Start small, start easy. If you've been wanting to try backpacking alone, but have been too scared to go for it, just know that this isn't something you should force on yourself. You should want to go, but also remember... you don't have anything to prove. This is just about you gaining confidence, being self-suficient and hopefully learning a little more about yourself. Any more questions?? Just ask! But also, you should really check out all the information REI has to offer on their website. There's a lot to sift through, but if you really want to get out there, then you should want to invest time into doing your own research. Lastly, don't forget to brush up on LNT! Happy adventuring friends!

 

 
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Two women hike up to the top of a peak, separately. The first woman has a ponytail and a hat on, takes a few landscape photos and a big grinned selfie with her iPhone, has a snack, hydrates and then heads back down the trail. The second woman has her hair in a bun, but takes it down once shes reaches the summit. She puts on a lightweight jacket, has some water and a snack and then spends 15 minutes setting up her camera and tripod to get a scenic shot with her in it. Both women post to social media and both women tag a brand or sponsor.

Question: Who's adventure/life/Instagram feed is more "real?"

Answer: Who cares? Both women made it to the top.

Teton Gravity Research published an opinion piece by Carolyn Highland titled “Is This Real Life? Outdoor Women on Social Media.” If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so and form your own opinion. The author attempts to address the lack of authenticity on social media and targets “the everyday-woman-turned-outdoor-model.” Is she talking about me? Probably, although she didn’t call me out specifically. I didn’t make the example list, seeing as she was seemingly hung up on blondes with long hair. That’s probably because it’s a well-known fact that brunettes and redheads are more real. *wink* I kid, I kid. But in all honestly, I easily fit in the same category of women being offered up as examples of what should be questioned.

I think the article is confusing right off the bat though... the author talks about being awe-struck by a vast landscape featuring a woman in a brightly colored jacket and leggings, to then asking the reader to take pause to notice that often times these enviable women aren't wearing appropriate clothing for the outdoors. She goes on to describe a more "hipster" type of female in jeans and a mountain sweatshirt, wrapped in a wool blanket, but then visually showcases Brooke Willson with flushed cheeks, wearing a blue shell out in the snow. The author asks a lot of questions and some of them have merit, but her lack of tact by calling out specific outdoor women really takes away from the overall message and begets negativity.

Let's look at a few of the questions/issues that were raised. First up, hair.

  

"Hair, that despite having hiked up to pointy mountain peaks or remote alpine lakes, is still down, clean, and perfectly coiffed. I don’t know about you, ladies, but when I drag my ass up a mountain my hair is typically braided and either stuffed under a hat or wrangled by a headband, and it is usually a sweaty, tangled mess."

  

Well, my hiking hairstyles usually range from a ponytail or bun, but sometimes I hike with it down. A little finger combing once I'm at my destination and BOOM... outdoor Pantene hair commercial, although I can assure you, it's not clean. I do bring a travel sized hairbrush with me on backpacking trips though. Tangles and knots the next morning are no joke. Ok, but seriously, why does this matter? For me, it's not about showing you my hair as much as it's about not showing you my dirty, sweaty, makeup-less face. Does that make me or my adventure any less authentic? Hopefully not, but it does mean I have some insecurity issues. I'll deal with those later.

  

"While the relationship between a brand and an ambassador is obviously mutually beneficial for both parties, it does call into question the authenticity of the photographs. Did these women merely go outside wearing that shell or those shoes or that hat because their sponsors requested content? Did they choose to take certain pictures because it would earn them money?"

  

Social media and advertising... it's a thing, so let's talk about it, openly. I have a confession. I am an Influencer. *Gasp* I didn’t start out that way, but as my account grew, some brands took notice of the fact that I loved the outdoors, got outside frequently and had an eye for photography. Let me be CLEAR, I would still be going outside regardless of being an Influencer. I consider myself very lucky that my love for the outdoors has turned into something that earns me a little extra cash and quality gear and apparel. I am very selective on what projects I agree to, as they need to seamlessly fit into my outdoor lifestyle. There is a downside of being an Influencer though…. I have to give up a little of my “me” time when I’m in the mountains and there is a level of work involved. My time and my creativity is precious and I don't give that away freely to companies. Bottom line, I'm able to make a little extra money that helps me pay my bills, in exchange for promoting products and brands that align with my own... all while out doing something I love. Becoming an Influencer is new and strange thing in my life, but overall it has been a positive experience and I've been able to engage with some really great brands.

  

"And worked in there in some way is the plug for the brand the women are sponsored by, a Tentree hat here, a Kammok hammock there, an Orukayak over there. The relationship between these companies and their ambassadors cannot be ignored."

  

The author of the article highlights some inspiring women to check out, all of which are professional or sponsored athletes who tag brands and promote products in their images, yet their authenticity isn't questioned when they tag The North Face, LaSportiva, Action Cam or Noka Organics... and it in no way should be. There is no doubt in my mind that these women are indeed awesome and have clearly been successful in pursuing their outdoor and fitness passions, but calling out the relationship between brands and Influencers and saying it can't be ignored, and then promoting professional athletes who are also sponsored by brands seems a bit contradictory.

  

"There are plenty of women on Instagram who are getting out there and getting rad in a real way, professional athletes and regular ladies alike. Climber Emily Harrington, skier Angel Collinson, and ultra-runner Rory Bosio all curate feeds that are down-to-earth and authentic, while at the same time being awe-inspiring-ly epic. They post photos of themselves practicing their sport, of the landscapes they see and the people they fill their lives with. They post photos of themselves when they are sweaty and dirty and bare-faced and real."

  

Maybe you can't see the sweat or the dirt on my face and body, but it's there. Maybe the fact that I wear a touch of makeup when I'm outside is sad, but I do... and none of that makes me or the person I present to the public any less real.

Ultimately I think the article is trying to spark a conversation about the motivations behind why some women are getting outside and to encourage followers to take a closer look at what's authentic and what is not. If you read my "For the Love, or For the Love of the Gram" blog post then you know I raised a similar question a while back. I believe I understand what she is trying to say, but unfortunately I think the piece lacks the appropriate research, consistency and tact to successfully make a compelling argument... and it's too bad she solely aimed it at women. I think if she and TGR really wanted answers to the many questions that were raised, they went about it the wrong way.

As long as people are being responsible and respectful to the environment and those around them, then what does it matter? Leave No Trace, and outdoor ethics and etiquette are a FAR bigger and better topic than the one I'm currently writing about.

  

"I think it comes down to whether your Instagram is about your life, or if your life is about your Instagram."

  

You might read that and immediately think "yes, so true," and I agree... I hope nobody is so wrapped up in Instagram and social media that they forget to really live their life, but I don't think that is what is happening here and the examples given in the article in no way reflect such a statement.

Whether you hike up to the top of a peak because you wanted a good workout, needed some time in nature or wanted to take photographs of the sunset and your new down jacket, the reasons may be different, but is one really better than the other? Chances are it's a combination of hobbies and passions that got you outside in the first place. At the end of the day, your feed is yours and mine is mine. Instagram is about sharing photography, life, passions, interests and hobbies, creativity, art, the outdoors, the indoors, our pets, community, friends, family, travel, etc., etc., etc.... It's whatever you want it to be. If you want to post pictures of your breakfast and a gym selfie, great. If you want to post pictures of your dirty legs after a bike ride, great. If you want to post a picture of your hair spilling out from under a beanie that you're promoting... in front of a remote alpine lake, GREAT! And if you don't want to post anything at all because you think social media is a waste of time and energy... more power to you.

Everyone is different and we all find inspiration in various ways. Let's stop dissecting what everyone else is doing all the time. I personally don't care what brand someone is working with, if their hair is clean or dirty and I don't care if their love for photography or for climbing mountains is what got them outside. At least they got there. Respect yourself, be kind to others and pretty please, from the bottom of my heart, care more about the environment than getting that perfect tent shot. That's all I can hope for.

 
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My Mountain Therapy by Holly Johnson - 5M ago
    

Well, it finally happened. I injured myself while out hiking. Not that injury while hiking is an eventuality, injury can happen anywhere... but I think the chances are a little higher when you are consistently placing yourself out in the elements, bouncing from uneven surface to uneven surface. My life has undoubtedly changed over the course of the last month, and like most accidents... it all happened in an instant. 

I set out for a late afternoon/sunset hike on Dec 21, 2016. Rattlesnake Ridge is an easy (for me) off-season hike that I like to do a few times a year. I like it because it's only about 50 minutes from Seattle and it's a wide, well traveled trail with few obstacles. I dislike it because it's incredibly popular and if you hit it at the wrong day or time (which is more often than not) then you'll just be one more in the giant parade of people heading to the top. But if you time it right, it's a great little hike with a lot of bang for your buck.

While I was driving out to the trailhead, I realized that two important pieces of my hiking equipment were forgotten... my poles and my microspikes. Typically they are in my car, but I'd taken them out a few days earlier to join a friend on a wintery hike and I'd just forgotten to put them back in. Let me just say this right now, I'm pretty confident that if I'd had them with me, I would probably be able to walk right now. It sucks to say that and to know my injury was preventative, but forgetting things is just something that sometimes happens. This wasn't the first time that's happened, and it most likely won't be the last. I kept driving though. I figured I would just see how conditions were and turn around if I needed to. Once I was on the trail I noticed tons of people coming down from the top, some wearing no more than running shoes.... "ok, I'll be fine." And I was. There were a few patches of compact snow/ice on the trail, some big, some small, but for the most part the trail was dry, and I made it up A ok. I even saw one guy trail run the whole thing.

I pushed myself and made it to the top in good time, took some photos, met some lovely ladies (Amanda and Kui) and we watched a beautiful sunset from the top, but the fading light meant it was time go. I took off first with Amanda and Kui close behind me, and hit a small patch of snow/ice and slipped in the classic 'feet out from under me' kind of way. Embarrassing, but whatever. At that point the girls put on their microspikes (because they are wise) and I got up and took off down the trail. I wanted to get to the bottom ASAP. It would be dark soon and the temperatures were probably somewhere in the mid to upper 30's, but would be dropping soon. 

It was only a few short minutes later that I hit another patch of snow/ice and well... I don't entirely know. I think I started slipping and sliding and when trying to recover my balance I rolled my ankle and fell to the ground. It happened so fast, it's hard to say exactly went down (other than myself), but what I remember the most was the sound. It sounded like I'd stepped on and broken a stick. I actually looked around for said stick, but surprise surprise, there wasn't one. I know I cried out in pain... I mean just rolling an ankle usually hurts enough to warrant a yelp. I sat on the ground for a moment, waiting for that initial pain to subside, and it did a little. I tied to get up, but it didn't work. I started to try again and realized my ankle was... floppy. It was just limp and my second attempt at getting up failed just as miserably as my first. I couldn't get up... but I could scoot. So I scooted down the trail about 20 feet before giving up and waiting for Amanda and Kui to find me. I checked my cell phone and had no service. Not a great feeling in a situation like this. A couple minutes later the gals showed up and I said "so... I think I injured myself. I may have broken my ankle." Both gals immediately sprung into action. Amanda stayed with me, asked me questions, took a quick look at my leg (she's in the sports medicine field) and found a relatively suitable walking stick. Kui took my backpack and headed down the trail, originally with the idea of just grabbing a splint out of Amanda's car and coming back up to us. With the help of leaning on Amanda and maybe a little help of the walking stick, we were able to hobble down the trail. We probably only made it 3/4 of a mile over the next hour+ and it was exhausting. Thankfully, Amanda got cell service and received a text from Kui saying she made it down to the trailhead, called 911 and that Search and Rescue were on their way. Immediately I felt like an asshole. It's hard to not think about the "what if's" in a situation like this... "what if I hadn't forgotten my gear, what if I'd stayed home, what if I'd been hiking slower and more carefully?" Well, most likely I wouldn't have a broken ankle, but as we all know.... ya can't go back. 

Once we knew SAR was on the way, we took a seat. We probably should have kept going, but I was worn out and it most likely would have taken another two hours to make it all the way back to the parking lot. Amanda gave me a vest that was in her pack to keep my legs warm and she even broke out a jetboil and Top Ramen and we shared some hot broth and noodles! So basically, I hit the jackpot in regards to having the best possible person there to help me through this situation. Amanda had also called her husband Jon to help coordinate getting my car back to Seattle. See what I mean...? Jackpot. She was/is wonderful!

Search and Rescue showed up at about 7:15pm and it was overwhelming. There were about 20 of them, all volunteers. They asked my name, age, what happened, etc. They were able to get my boot off (amazingly) and splint my ankle. I remember starting to cry... first, because it hurt, but second, because my foot/ankle were SO swollen. SAR built a gurney for me and attached this single off-roading tire to it, and after getting me all strapped in and covered up, groups of men, and one woman, took turns steering me down the trail. It was a bumpy ride, but overall they did a pretty great job of keeping me level and stable. Silent tears streamed down my face as I stared up at the trees going by. 

Once at the bottom of the trail, I was greeted by even more people. There were tons lights and vehicles (including an ambulance) and finally they set me down in the middle of all of it. A sheriff was there and took my information down. I was asked if I wanted medical treatment and to go to the hospital. I declined. Why you ask? I knew I had something majorly wrong, but Amanda and the volunteer SAR medic both said that most likely, all that could be accomplished due to the swelling were x-rays.  So instead of going to the hospital... in a very expensive ambulance, I decided on visiting my nearby Urgent Care first thing the next morning. 

Eventually I was discharged and we were free to leave. Amanda drove me home, while Jon and his friend Matt drove my car back to my apartment in Seattle. They all helped me get upstairs to my apartment, which was an ABSOLUTE DISASTER. Word of advice: You NEVER know when three complete, but incredibly kind strangers are going to be carrying you into your apartment... so make sure it's at least somewhat tidy. Amanda even helped me take my pants off, because yes, I couldn't do it by myself. All I could do was painfully hop around, lay on my bed and think about how different my life was going to be over the course of the upcoming weeks/months. 

The next morning, my buddy Jason came over and took me to an Urgent Care only a few blocks away from where I lived. I hopped inside...

Me: "Hi, I think I may have broken my ankle"

The receptionist: "Ok. Do you like... for sure... know it's broken?"

Me: "....noooo, that's why I'm here...." 

Seriously? Come on dude. Aside from that though, everyone was great and seemed competent. X-rays were taken and I quickly discovered that I was correct. I had a bimalleolar fracture, which basically just means that I broke two bones in my ankle. I broke the lower end of my tibia and fibula bones, and would absolutely need surgery. Again, silent tears streamed down my face yet again when I got that news. I was given crutches, a hard boot, a prescription for pain meds, a referral for an orthopedic surgeon and I was sent on my way. Due to the how enormous my foot was, no surgery could be performed for nearly two weeks.

That was the worst part. The waiting and knowing that I wasn't healing. During that time, you're just injured. Every little aspect of your life is affected. You're sad, in pain, medicated, you can't wear normal clothes, getting dressed is challenging, can't bathe normally, sleeping is tough, you can't drive, can't run to the grocery store, can't take out the garbage, etc. I mean, hey... it could have been WAY worse, and I remind myself of that regularly, but it's still a difficult life change. There have been some things that have really helped to keep my spirits up, my motivation high and just some things that have just made a difficult time in my life, a bit easier. It's all about adapting right?  I'm just incredibly thankful for Amanda's help and that she and Kui were there on the trail that afternoon. Had I left the top of Rattlesnake Ridge after them, my night would have looked a lot different. I'll be investing in a spot beacon very soon...

Here are a couple pictures showcasing some of the swelling and bruising that I dealt with. Yikes.

  

The bruising covered my entire calf and the bottom of my foot.

Bruising all the way up to my knee and a great view of my Frankenstein/Zombie foot. 

 
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People backpack by themselves all the time, but when you've never done it, it can be a bit daunting. I was comfortable day hiking alone, but the the idea of backpacking alone was different. First, I didn't have all of the gear, but secondly and more importantly, I didn't know if I was mentally up for the challenge. This last weekend I went on a day hike and I revisited the place of my first solo backpack trip, and it brought back memories...

I decided I would go on my very first backpacking trip alone in August, 2014. I made the decision sometime on a Friday afternoon, did some quick research, found a destination, and as soon as I was off work I hopped a bus and headed to REI. I needed a few things in order to pull this together.... like a tent... and a stove... and some other essentials. I walked into REI, feeling ridiculously out of place in my skinny jeans and high heels, but I approached an associate and asked for help. $400+ later I had what I needed for a successful outing. I put my tent together that night on the floor of my living room/bedroom ( ...studio life) and then I opened up the Jetboil and attempted to read and follow the operational instructions. Terrified that I might blow myself up, I made my friends Wes and Jason Face Time with me, so they could teach me how to use the darn thing. True story.

The next morning, at my own leisure, I packed up and hit the road for Park Butte Lookout. I made it to the trailhead about 1pm on Saturday and it was just starting to lightly rain. Confident in the latest weather report, I put my boots and backpack on, and off I went. My far fetched hopes of being able to stay in the lookout that night were quickly squashed by a sign that read "Lookout closed August 16-17 for painting and maintenance". Lame, but oh well... that's why I bought a tent.

Now, I could have just taken the trail 3.75 miles up to the lookout, but I decided to veer off on a side trail, for some extra distance and additional scenery. I knew the two trails would meet back up a few miles later. For whatever reason it seemed logical at the time, even though it had already begun to rain harder. After about two miles, I was soaked and wondering why in the heck I was A) outside B) on some side trail when I couldn't see a damn thing C) neglected to purchase a pack cover the day before. Needless to say, I was in a great mood. After another half mile or so I stopped in the middle of the trail and just stood there, thinking. I began hiking again, but stopped a couple minutes later. I took my pack off and at sat down. "Is this what I want my first solo backpacking experience to be? I'm a big girl... I made the decision to do this, but I'm also mature enough to admit that I don't HAVE to do this." I literally sat there asking myself questions like these for a solid 15 minutes... and with those thoughts, I got up, put my pack on and started making my way back towards the parking lot.

It didn't take long before I stopped, yet again.... and stood there. With a frustrated sigh, I turned back around and started heading up the trail. I made the decision to at least get to the main trail junction. Then, I would decide which direction to go. If the weather had shown any sign of improvement by the time I got there, I would keep going. If not, I would head back down to the car and be satisfied with the amount of effort I'd put forth. Would you believe that just as I was approaching the main trail I saw a patch of blue sky? Well I did.

Park Butte, HERE I COME! 

That chunk of blue sky lasted all of five minutes before it disappeared and started to rain again. "You've got to be kidding me." I'd committed though. A mile later I reached a campground... which was full. I asked the campers if they knew of any other spots further up, and was told there was one campsite that was probably still open just before the lookout. Onward and upward. Another half mile on the trail and there it was... the open campsite. I put my previous night of practice to use, got my tent up and started the Jetboil - this time without the help of my buddies. The weather may have blown, but there I was... backpacking all on my own, setting up my own tent and boiling my own hot water. I heard voices up ahead, most likely coming from the lookout that I still couldn't see. With my dinner in hand, I headed up to check it out and meet the painters that were staying there.

This very nice elderly couple invited me in, and began talking to me about the unexpected weather, their painting and maintenance projects and the history of the lookout. They had been taking care and helping to maintain the structure for years. They told me to have a look around.... and reminded me to just to be careful of wet paint. The lookout was absolutely charming, both inside and out - with it's wrap around porch and windows on every side. If only I could have seen out of them. I started to heading back down to my tent and just then, the clouds began to part...

   

I know photos never fully do moments like these justice, but I'm confident my words will do even less. It was beyond incredible and everything I had experienced up until that point seemed so trivial. I watched the sun go down with a sense of gratitude that I hadn't experienced in a long time, and I felt special... the folks at the campground below never broke out of the clouds. They never got to see what I saw that evening. 

   

I went to bed once it was dark and awoke to clear skies the next morning. I successfully boiled water again for my coffee and breakfast, broke camp and began hiking out. I was proud of myself for my thought process the day before and proud that I'd pushed through it, because it was absolutely worth it. Sometimes the clouds never part, but when they do... even for a short period of time, it makes you feel like you were supposed to be there. You were supposed to be reminded of something...  beauty, your own personal strength, magic, God... something. For so many reasons, that was an experience that I will never forget.

 
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When I think about the people closest to me, aside from family, more than half of those individuals have come from social media. I have been introduced to some incredible folks through Instagram, Facebook, OkCupid (yep, that's right), and other various sites or apps that allow you to connect with others. The world is literally at our fingertips and if you haven't taken advantage of that, you've been missing out.

In all my years of meeting people "online," I've never had a truly bad experience. Sure, I've had some unique encounters and connected better with some over others, but overall it's been positive and helped me to become a more well-rounded person.

So, how DO you meet people through social media? I think it's pretty easy, but I've had many people inquire about it. Let's take Instagram for example... Elise (@roundtheworldgirl) was one of the first people I met in the hiking community. She had a beautiful feed, clearly enjoyed being outside and active, and she seemed like a genuinely interesting person... and let's be honest, who isn't mesmerized by that hair? After a few comments back and forth, I told her to let me know if she ever wanted to go hiking together. One direct message and an exchange of telephone numbers later, we were planning a weekend backpack trip. A few weeks later my friend Jason (who I met in "real" life) and I met up with Elise, and we set out on one of the most memorable backpacking adventures I've had.... and Elise and I have the scars to prove it.

I think there are varying methods of meeting people online, depending on the platform and your intentions, but for the most part the same general rules apply. It is important to find common ground - an interest you both share. For me, I'm drawn to people who look happy, are active in the outdoors, and who engage with me in a fun and friendly manner. It's important to interact with the person and start chatting, whether it's through comments or direct messages - but this HAS to be mutual. If someone isn't being responsive, it's probably best to move on for the time being. Do not come out guns a blazin' and ask someone to meet up that you haven't developed a friendly foundation with. Generally speaking, it's too much, too soon. We're already meeting strangers, don't make it any weirder than it has to be.

I also think it's important to communicate electronically in whatever way makes you feel the most comfortable and for however long you need, whether it's a couple days or a couple months. There are messaging tools in place to make chatting easier, so you can keep your personal information (like you telephone number) out of the equation, if you so choose. Lastly, pay attention to any gut feelings and/or red flags you might have. If your spidey sense is going off about someone, maybe it's best to hold off on getting together. I think we often know when something doesn't feel right, and at the end of the day, you are meeting a stranger, so make sure you let a friend or two know what your plans are and who with, or better yet... turn it into a group event. After that, be open, be yourself and have fun! ....go ahead and apply the above strategies to your online dating life - my advice comes free of charge.

The nice thing about Instagram is that for the most part people post photos showcasing their lives and their passions, and for us outdoorsy folk.... we all share the same desire to connect with nature, and that says a lot about someone's personality and what's important to them. Even if we lead very different lives, we are connected in a meaningful way. It blows my mind to think these wonderful individuals wouldn't be in my life if social media didn't exist, and if we weren't wiling to take a chance on meeting a stranger. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of these people will be in my life for years to come, and that many more will be walking into it as time passes on.

I would love to hear your experiences in regards to how social media has expanded or not expanded your social circle. Feel free to share in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

 

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Photo Taken by Jason Zabriskie

  

"Are you wearing less makeup?"

I met up with my boss from a previous job a few weeks ago and she asked me that. I hadn't realized it, but she was right. I was wearing less makeup. She commented that it looked good, but it got me thinking about how much I have changed over the last year. In my early Instagram days, prior to focusing solely on the outdoors, I would post images of random things... and one of those random things was pictures of my high heels. Yep. That's right. I'm literally laughing out loud as I write this, remembering that one of the pairs had spikes on them. Not goth spikes, more like... fashion spikes...  I'm hoping there is a difference.

I felt more pressure in my previous job to dress in a trendy and stylish manner (although I'm still wondering what I was thinking with the weaponry). I worked at an advertising agency in the heart of downtown Seattle and there were a ton of young, pretty, trendy women, who all knew how to look and dress the part. I would speed walk in 4" heels to H&M or Nordstrom on my lunch break - which lead to many spontaneous purchases and a LOT of buyers remorse. I had two different lives. There was fashionable Holly with a full face of makeup, and then there was mountain Holly. At that time "Mountain Holly" struggled. I felt like nature was no place for fashion, makeup, hair brushes or vanity... or at least it wasn't supposed to be. I knew I shouldn't care about my appearance, but I never felt fully comfortable letting go. I loved the idea of being so versatile, but I was unsuccessful at executing either version of myself properly.... because neither were truly me.

I left my downtown Seattle job almost a year ago, and although I still work in advertising, my current office vibe is so much more relaxed. My lunch breaks are now spent eating, as opposed to shopping. Not feeling obligated to dress in a certain manner and being away from the downtown scene of fashionable women has really helped me to explore and discover my own style, and figure out what suits me most. Call me vain, but I do care about my appearance, both in and outside of nature and I'm glad I have learned to accept that. I wish I could tell you that I feel my most beautiful when I'm in the wilderness and 100% natural looking, but I don't. I never have. ...and let's just acknowledge that hiking clothes for women used to be pretty darn boring. Figuring out that I was neither the super trendy, fashion forward girl, but also not your raw, no-makeup wearing mountain woman was a bit liberating. I've allowed myself to say it's okay to blend these two worlds. For example, when I go backpacking, I now bring what I call my "lady bag," which has a travel sized hairbrush, tinted moisturizer, colored chap stick (I'm a big fan of Maybelline's Baby Lips) and all the fixings for my eyebrows... what can I say, I feel naked without them. Some people might judge me for that, but looking slightly put together makes me feel more comfortable and confident, and it's certainly not harming anyone.

It's important to find what works best for you. For me, I had to try out both ends of the spectrum to realize the best versions of myself were somewhere in the middle. I still like to look nice on a daily basis, but in a more true to myself and casual way - which means, I have a lot more plaid than I did before and I'd rather collect puffy coats than high heels. I've also embraced my femininity in the mountains though and I think it's helped that brands like Eddie Bauer are picking up on the desires for women, like myself, who want more feminine trail attire - without losing too much in the way of functionality, if at all. So from the women who want to bring tutu's, dresses and lipstick into the mountains, to the women who think that is ridiculous and wouldn't conceive of tacking on the additional weight of a hairbrush and basic makeup items.... I say, to each their own. You do you, and I'll do me. I've been slowly purging items from my closet, from the hideous hiking pants that zip off below the knee, to an assortment of faux fur vests and ridiculous shoes. None of it is me, and so it must go.

....ok ok, I kept one vest. It's just so cute and cozy.

Oh and in case you were wondering, the spiky heels were thrown out long ago... and as far as I know, no one was harmed in the process.

 
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Photo Credit: Kyle Frost

It may not always appear that I have, what I consider, a regular life... but I do. When you look at my Instagram page, you'll see picture after picture of mountain landscapes, as well as images of my friends and I in our element. A little over a year ago, I decided to dedicate my Instagram feed solely to photos from my hiking and backpacking excursions. Pictures of family functions, my niece and nephew, holiday parties, karaoke night, etc., that was what Facebook was for. However, the continuous stream of outdoor photos on my Instagram account seems to confuse some people. They think I'm out in the mountains all the time, because that's all I post. I've received many comments, direct messages and emails from people telling me they want to change their life and live like I do. They ask what I do for work, how I'm able to make a living hiking, how I afford to travel so much, etc. They want to know how they can say goodbye to a standard job and bounce around from mountain to mountain and make a living at it. I get it. Who doesn't want to find a way to turn their passion into their profession? I know I do, and I'm still trying to figure out how to blend the two.

To clear up some confusion though... I live in a studio apartment in Seattle, about 10 minutes from downtown. I work as an executive assistant for an advertising agency and I am lucky enough to get to walk to work...  and we all know I love walking. I work Monday through Friday, and most of my vacation time is used to extend weekends during the hiking season, but that's just it... weekends. Saturday and Sunday are the two days I am able to devote to my outdoor addiction. My family lives in the state, so I have obligations from time to time... and if you've read my previous blog post, you'll know that rainy forecasts keep me indoors. Aside from that though, I'm a weekend trail girl, and most of my adventures take place in my home state of Washington.

The other thing to admit is, I am not a badass, in any way. I'm a regular hiker. I groan when I throw my overnight pack on. My legs burn when hiking uphill, my knees ache when hiking downhill, and my feet are destroyed from the many miles I've put on them. I definitely wouldn't call myself "sure footed" and I get scared and feel uncomfortable on exposed peak scrambles. I've turned around from a summit as well as pushed through and made it to the top. I have no idea how many hikes I've been on this year, nor how many miles I've covered and I have nothing to prove. I don't need to bag a specific number of peaks, sleep outside a certain amount of nights (go Jason go!) or trek any set amount of miles. It's not about that for me. I hike. I backpack. That's all. I won't fool you into thinking I'm out "climbing" mountains, because I'm not. I don't even properly know how to use an ice axe, but I can assure you that you won't see me posing with one in a photo until I do.

I'm just a regular city girl with a love for the outdoors, but even that love only goes so far. After hiking all day in the Wind Rivers, with about 3 miles to go I said to Aaron "Alright! I've reached my nature limit! If I don't see a rock for a WEEK, I'll be the happiest girl in the world." ...and it was the truth, at the time. So there she is, that's the real me... but to be fair that girl is also accompanied by the girl that squeals with excitement when she sees a mountain. I absolutely love the outdoors, but I have the same aches and pains that most others do. I crave a hot shower just as much after being outdoors for two days as I do being out for five. I have a fairly standard job during the week, and I like to offset city living and cubical life with fresh air and mountains on the weekends. Sadly, I do not have the means, nor enough paid vacation to travel the world yet, but I hope to change that soon...  and I don't know what I want to be when I grow up, only that I never want to stop trying to figure it out.  

 

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My Mountain Therapy by Holly Johnson - 5M ago
 

Sometimes, you just gotta go with the flow. You might think you're going backpacking the coming weekend, have a plan all laid out with routes and permits, but then you get invited on a last minute trip to Hawaii and everything changes.

I already had the additional day off, had the pet sitter lined up... I just had to get there and join Aaron. I'm blessed to have a pilot for a brother-in-law, so I used a buddy pass to get out there (which was genuinely stressful) and I purchased my flight home - just to be safe. I mean, who wants to get stuck on a tropical island... right? Riiiiiiight.

Anyway, I hadn't been to Oahu since I was 15 years old and it was lovely to return... although I still maintain that Kauai is my favorite island. We went on several short hikes, played at the beach, drank a smoothie out of a pineapple, watched a few sunsets, met a cool dude named Phil... I stalked some sea turtles from the shore and I accidentally poured soy sauce on my banana pancakes. #epicfail

It was a whirlwind of a trip. Two and a half days in a beautiful place with an amazing person. This has easily been one of my most favorite summers and although it's not quite over, I feel like this was an excellent way to wrap it up.

Embrace spontaneity, as it's a wonderful and exciting thing. I definitely need to incorporate more of it in my life. That said, I think my backpacking plans for this coming weekend are pretty solid. .....or are they?

 

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