Ultralight Jerk is a social media account that likes to poke fun at the ultralight backpacking community through their accounts, but in a very un-jerky move, they decided to donate the proceeds of their “Cut Toothbrushes Not Switchbacks” shirts to ONDA and the Oregon Desert Trail! In just over a day they’ve raised almost $1,000 for us. Impressive! There are 12 days left of the fundraiser, so head on over to https://www.bonfire.com/cut-toothbrushes-not-switchbacks/, get a shirt and help support our conservation and recreation efforts.
We’ve been out on a variety of adventures over the past few months: rafting a section of the John Day River with friends, hiking in the Badlands Wilderness (doing part of the Badlands Challenge), and I spent a long weekend in Arizona /New Mexico for the Continental Divide Trail Kickoff in Silver City last month. Kirk and I also spent a few days backpacking in the Spring Basin Wilderness so I could scout the area for my first ONDA volunteer trip of the year.
A very invasive weed Dalmatian toadflax. Beautiful but no good.
The Spring Basin Wilderness is surrounded by the John Day River on two sides near the small blip of a town, Clarno. It is also a short sightline away from that infamous former cult site of the Rajneeshees. All cults aside, it is a beautiful small mountainous area that is absolutely covered in flowers in the Spring, and it just happens to be 10 years old as a wilderness area (thanks ONDA!). I would be leading this first trip of its kind to talk more at length about hiking off trail (there are no trails in Spring Basin… Just a few old 2-track roads that have almost disappeared), discussing responsible recreation, and hiking a series of routes to document some loop hiking options for the BLM to potentially publish in the future.
As most of eastern Oregon lacks trail systems, hiking off trail is often the only way to explore an area, so why not spend some time trying to help some folks get more comfortable with it? It could only lead to future adventures.
I drove down to the area on Thursday night, slowly navigating the curves of the highway amidst a thunderous lightening storm. Flashes struck on all sides (the rain could have been described as torrential) and at one point hail covered the road in white. Oh joy… What a start to the trip! I slept in the car at the trailhead, and by morning all was calm and the lightshow from the night before had moved on.
The plan was to meet my 11 volunteers at noon, but even though this wilderness was called Spring Basin, there was no reliable water to be found. I loaded up my backpack with 4 gallons of water, grabbed a shovel (for digging a group latrine) and hiked in the 1ish mile to a camp spot I had scouted on the previous trip.
The climb up into Spring Basin is a brisk 800’ of elevation gain in 1 mile, and if that won’t get your blood flowing I don’t know what will! Almost as good as coffee.
Morning mission accomplished, I hiked back to the car to wait for the volunteers to arrive from around the state. By noon we were sitting in camp chairs and orienting ourselves with maps, then with maps and compass, then with gps devices. In a place like Spring Basin, it is fairly easy to orient yourself without any extra devices as the views are extensive. We loaded up packs and hoofed it into our camp spot with lots and lots of water on our backs.
The volunteers were a mix of thru-hikers, section hikers, avid photographers who often go off trail for that perfect shot, and some folks new to off-trail hiking and navigation. All in all, a good mix of skill levels, experiences to share, and a willingness to learn.
That night we talked all about responsibly recreating in an area with no trails or no infrastructure… a lot of the best practices revolve around responding appropriately to the terrain and conditions, making good decisions, and trying to travel with respect for intact habitats and those that live in them.
Saturday we broke up into four groups and each hiked a loop of sorts through the wilderness. The rain came back, and we tried to celebrate with the cupcakes I had packed in to celebrate the wilderness birthday, but rain blew out the candles, and my packing job smushed the frosting. They still tasted good after a day of hiking, and we toasted with a couple small boxes of wine I had packed out for the occasion.
A long night of rain had us hunkering in our tents, but a brief reprieve in the morning provided a dry hour for breakfast and packing up.
A few of us hit the Antelope Café for coffee and pie on the way home, and helped to bring the fun weekend to a close! I hope to do more trips of these kind in the future…in the high deserts of Oregon the best exploring is off-trail.
I have recently found myself saying: “I am only limited by my imagination,” and it’s true! I have an incredible opportunity at ONDA to dream big and then make it happen. This past weekend we celebrated 10 years of a wilderness area that ONDA was pivotal in helping to designate, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness. Over the past two years I’ve led some trail work trips with volunteers to help build some new trail…new trail that helped to link together other existing trails…and that work helped to create a 50.1 mile network of trails in the Badlands (9 of which are along the Oregon Desert Trail).
Then I had the idea of creating a challenge to hike all 50.1 miles. Turns out there wasn’t a map with all the trails and mileages, so I made one. And now it’s live!
The Badlands Challenge: hike all 50.1 miles in the wilderness; write a desert hike-u (haiku) and identify three new species (new to you!). Read all about it here.
Since I started working with Six Moon Designs five years ago it was always a bit of a mystery to me why more hikers weren’t familiar with the lightweight cottage gear company. Ron Moak started the company before most of the ultralight movement hit mainstream, and the products were well designed and much more affordable than some of the alternatives on the market.
It’s my new tent too this year, and I practiced setting it up on a recent trip to the Oregon Coast Trail last month.
I used the Deschutes tarp on the CDT in 2015, and it’s the same set-up, but with mosquito netting in a fully enclosed tent. Mint!!! I can usually ignore the bugs, but sometimes you just need to totally get away from the blood suckers, so I am excited to have this one-person tent to add to my collection.
I also started using their new Minimalist backpack too.
Stay tuned as I put the gear to the test this year… And check out their full lineup when you have a chance: www.sixmoondesigns.com
And for a one-time 10% off coupon code use GoWild12 at checkout
Kirk and I had been planning a grand month-long adventure to celebrate our 10 years together, fortunately coenciding with our recent purchase of a truck camper from my folks. The plan: load skis, gear, food, books, games and movies for a ski trip around the Pacific Northwest.
Snow parks were our nightly destinations, and nordic trails mapped out the daily adventures in the never-ending freshies.
I thought I might do a lot of writing, blogging, or making videos with the years of go-pro adventure footage I’ve been taking on hiking, packrafting and skiing trips…I even set myself up with a sweet little mobile studio…but I didn’t do any of that.
It was a month of being. Of being in the moment.
We had adventures!
We skiied our way up Washington state…hitting spots from Lake Wenatchee to the Methow Valley. We popped into Mt. Rainer, St. Helens and Olympic National Park, and did our best to avoid getting the truck stuck in the snow. We had ocean views from our camper, soaked in hotsprings, and even hit two long-distance trails (skiing on the Pacific Northwest Trail and beach walking on the Oregon Coast Trail).
The fire spread in a blink of an eye and soon feathers were floating down around me like fat snowflakes. My down sleeping bag was the casualty in my momentary lapse of judgement that morning. I simply hadn’t let the alcohol dry on my hands when I lit my beer-can stove, and the moment my hand was on fire I waved it around (note: don’t do that) and splattered flames onto my sleeping bag.
It was day 100-something of my PCT thru-hike, and the only thing I could do was get out my patch kit of dental floss and a sewing needle to close up the 10 inch burn hole. Gathering as many feathers as I could, I stuffed them back in the gaping space that was once my sleeping bag and went to work.
You know what? That sleeping bag got me to Canada and I still have it. Its frankenstein mint-flavored patch job is still there. It still keeps me warm.
Don’t get me wrong, I love new gear. I have since purchased other sleeping bags. I have a -20 degree bag that was mandatory for the frigid nights during the two years I worked as a wilderness therapy staff in the deep winter of Central Oregon, I have a 40 degree quilt that I use for warmer summer nights when leading trail crews along the Oregon Desert Trail. There is a glut of cheap gear outlets, websites, and sales around the holidays, but I would love if we put more emphasis on reusing old gear, fixing our patches, zippers and waterproofing and making do with what we have.
Repair – Reuse – Recycle
We do it for cans, paper, glass. Lets do it with our gear.
When I moved to Bend over a decade ago, I was stoked to see we had two used gear shops in town; I had outfitted myself entirely from used gear sales for my 2006 PCT thru-hike. Then I noticed a gear repair booth set up at various outdoor events. Even better! My thrifty nature was directly related to spending all of my money on long distance hikes, so along the way I looked for ways to get the most out of my gear and my dollars. Repair, reuse, recycle.
Kim has repaired several tents for me. I thought these would be intensive repair jobs; the zippers weren’t closing and seemed mangled, dirt and grime and years of backcountry use convinced me they needed to be replaced all together. It turned out to be quick and cheap and easy. New sliders on the zippers, was that it??
Before you throw out or donate that down coat with the burn hole, or that backpack with broken buckles, look into fixing it. I would imagine many mountain towns around the country have gear repair shops. Heck, even if you want to resell it on Craigslist, you will get more moolaa for it if it’s in good shape. Even if you break out the mint-flavored dental floss to sew up a tear, do it. Lets not throw more money down for things we don’t have to. Save it for that pizza and beer after hiking 100 miles through the Wind River Range, or after paddling a week in the Boundary Waters.
If you don’t have a gear repair shop near you, ship it to Kim. She works on a variety of gear, tents, backpacks and bags, motorcycle clothing, luggage and zippers. Find out more here.
Repair – Reuse – Recycle
Lets make fixing our gear the first step before buying something new.
Oh! And you don’t always have to have the fanciest gear… One of my favorite pieces of gear is a trash bag. It’s a rain skirt, pack cover, ground cloth, rain coat, stuff sack… You name it.
I’ve been working with local Bend company, Food for the Sole, for the past year as they are getting their dehydrated adventure food business off the ground, and man are they killing it! I wrote a blog post for them recently that had nothing to do with their delicious vegan and gulten-free meals, but after hearing the term JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) I just had to write about it. JOMO is the antidote to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
The drive to contribute to society and make a difference for the betterment of the world has been a pervasive theme in my life and those around me. It could have started when I joined the Peace Corps as a fresh-faced college grad. It could have roots in childhood when I was surrounded by my parents and their inspiring and idealistic friends, or it could have ties back to the volunteerism stressed by schooling and community groups over the years, but a part of me thinks it came about much more organically.
I believe my greatest foundation comes from a childhood spent climbing trees, building forts in the neighbor’s corn field, and riding bikes to the nearest swimming hole. It was time spent outside. Deep time.
As a child of the 80’s, our generation was blissfully unaware of the future where the masses would be closely tied to the machine in our pockets, where a legion of “online friends” would influence everything from voting to vacation destinations. FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, is real, and is really impacting modern life. For fear of missing out, the phones are never far from wifi, and the tablets tuned into the 24/7 news cycles. The selfies are often sunny and the posts paint a picture that hide the more boring traces of reality.
I recently became acquainted with the term JOMO, and think it has the potential to flip our modern agnst around to instead embrace the Joy of Missing Out.
Thru-hikers know JOMO. Deep in the folds of mountain ranges where the 4G peters out and the sunlight filters in, we have to engage with the world around us. We watch aspen leaves shudder in the wind, and ants slowly build their kingdom. We know the pace of human breath and rhythmic beat of footsteps on trail.
All this can be experienced on a day hike or weekend excursion, but for true release from the need to be connected to the world of metadata and algorithms, I think we need more deep time.
Deep time: a long time spent in nature. A month is good, two is better, three to four months? Freaking fantastic. Deep time resets our internal clocks, resets our need to be observed and applauded all the time, resets our connections.
By embracing the Joy of Missing Out you are blissfully unaware of the latest movies, political maneuvers, memes and music, but you are blissfully aware of the full moon, the slow move of the seasons, and the transformation of your body that comes from walking every day, all day, through a landscape.
Can deep time in nature help create a better world? Can extended time in nature breed empathetic humans who want to contribute to the health of their communities? The wilderness doesn’t need us. The mountains don’t care if we are hiking or climbing, but this indifference to our comfort demands our respect, and we must rise to the occasion to stay safe, warm, and contented while outside. When spending deep time on a trail, we realize our connection to all around us, we are not separate from the woods, we are part of the woods. That respect has ripple effect. Yes. I do think deep time can change the world. At least it will change us.
Our public lands are feeling the pressure of this government shutdown as record levels of trash and poop are building up in some of America’s favorite places (Joshua Tree National Park, Yosemite National Park, Crater Lake…) The federal workers who are mandated to care for these lands have been furloughed, and volunteers have come in to start picking up the trash in their absence.
Yet this poopy phenomenon is, sadly, nothing new. Ask PCT hikers in Southern California.
Ask kayakers about popular road-side river boating areas.
Go to any primitive car camping spot with a well established fire ring.
Chances are there will be trash, poop, and tp all over the place.
I was car camping on some BLM land near Bend this weekend, and while I was reading about the levels of trash left by grown adults who know better in our national parks and becoming outraged, I looked outside to see trash spread out over the sagebrush and lava rock right where I was camping.
Bring on the #hikertrashchallenge. It’s time to stop the madness and do more. Please pick up some trash on the public lands closest you, and if you like a good instagram post like me, use the hashtag #pickupyourhikertrash. Lets see what we can do.
So lets recap:
#1. Don’t litter
#2. Bury your poop
#3. Pack out your toilet paper
#4. Pick up trash (even if it isn’t yours)
I’ve greatly enjoyed many aspects of hiking and creating routes over the years…among them? No rules, more solitude, more freedom, and more exploration!
When I started working to develop the Oregon Desert Trail one of my first thoughts was that the ODT was awfully close to some other long trails in the Pacific Northwest like the Pacific Crest Trail and lesser-known Idaho Centennial Trail. Having spent hours pouring over Google Earth imagery and topo maps, I decided to find/make connector routes to both trails. Then I realized the Google Earth imagery available for SE Oregon and SW Idaho was from just a few years ago and that the satellite views were so good that I could see individual cows, the dark green hint of a water source, and the clear paths of dirt roads and trails from the comfort of my office chair. I made some gps tracks thinking one day I would have the time to ground-truth the route myself, or that some adventurous hiker would want to go hike it all in the name of exploration. Water wasn’t guaranteed, routes in and out of canyons weren’t guaranteed…there are definite reasons to go hike something you plot on Google Earth BEFORE you announce it to the world.
Then Ras and Kathy Vaughan reached out last winter to inquire about the Oregon Desert Trail. They mentioned their intent to connect the trails together to make a giant loop of a hike (adding on the Pacific Northwest Trail), and I mentioned my armchair route scouting to connect the ODT with the other two trails. They seemed eager to give the route a go, and understood it may not totally work on the ground, but with their hiking resume, I figured they could figure it out.
It was an ambitious plan. And they did it! My ICT to ODT connector was just under 100 miles, and the ODT to PCT connector was about 50 miles.
I got to meet Ras and Kathy by chance this June when I was down in Fields to do some scouting for a ODT reroute, and then later in Bend when they stopped by the ONDA office. (I just happened to route the ODT to PCT connector to come by the Oregon Natural Desert Association office!)
And then people started telling me they heard about the loop from NPR! Ras and Kathy were interviewed on the show Think Out Loud, and you can listen to it here.
I still want to hike it myself, and there are edits to make to the route as you will hear in the interview, but I’m so inspired by the drive of these two to strike out into the unknown and embrace the fact that things will go wrong, you will not anticipate all the challenges, and ultimately success comes down to making good decisions and making the journey itself the destination.
It’s pretty exciting to look for adventures beyond trails, there are unlimited possibilities out there when you start creating routes of your own.