Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Resolutions 2012 Edition

My NYR's for 2012 are going to be somewhat different than in previous years because life will be somewhat up in the air. Derek and I are starting the year with a four month long road trip then spending the summer working for North Carolina Outward Bound. After that? We haven't really made any plans...

To accommodate our crazy life for 2012, my NYR's will be necessarily finite (i.e. no goals like 'attend a yoga class every week').

NYR's - 2012
  1. Do ten pull-ups in a row -- This is actually one of my life goals. I know. This goal is contrived/stupid/arbitrary/pointless. There is nothing about this goal that will develop me as human being or make me a better person or even a better climber. I just think it would be totally bad ass to do. I actually came close to this in 2008 or 2009 (can't remember which year is was), when I did 9 pull ups in a row. Then I sprained my shoulder while bouldering, and haven't come close since.

  2. Lead a 5.9 trad route -- This has been a goal of mine for a few years now. Despite that and despite the fact that it is a fairly reasonable goal based on my skill level, I have put very little actual effort into achieving it. With our rock climbing road trip this year, I think 2012 is the year this goal will finally be achieved.

  3. Lead a 5.10 sport route -- Same details as goal #2...

  4. Quit Caffeine -- This will be the third year for this goal, and each year I've made some form of progress. I think that this year I will finally pull off the 'no caffeine' goal since I won't have ready access to coffee for the first four months. That could very well be the jump start I need to kick this habit for good!
  5. Perfect example of why I need to stop drinking coffee - I can relate to this cat.

  6. Visit my grandparents -- I was able to visit my grandparents this year when I went to St. Louis for the Rock 'n' Roll race, and realized it had been too long since I had last seen them. Derek and I travel pretty extensively in the U.S. so there really is no reason why I can't make sure to see Grandma and Grandpa again this year.

  7. Write a book -- This one is a BIGGIE. It is on my bucket list, and has been since I was a teenager (yes, I had a bucket list as a teenager. Don't be surprised, this is me we're talking about. I make lists faster than chain smokers go through cigarettes). I think I can may real progress this year for several reasons...
NYR #6 continued...

First off, I just finished grad school. I'm already in the habit of writing way more than is appropriate for a human being AND now I have free time that I'm not used to having.

Second, I'm quitting my job and going on a road trip. That means even more free time and plenty of road trip musings - a life ripe for writing!

Third, I believe I can set aside a good junk of May for this goal. In May, Derek and I will have moved to base camp at North Carolina Outward Bound, and he will have begun work. However, I don't actually start work until June - and I'll just have to help out with chores each day to 'earn my keep' so to speak (at least, that's my understanding of what will happen). So, the month of May = hard core writing time.

And Fourth, I have several 'manuscripts' in the works. Maybe it's a bit conceited to call my working drafts 'manuscripts' but the point is, I have stuff to write about. The key will be sticking with one of them long enough to finish it. I have a couple of romance novel drafts plotted out and one semi-auto-biographical non-fiction draft.

Our street about 4 days after the tornado
The non-fiction thing is my story of the April 27th tornado. I had started blogging about it on my old blog, and received a lot of comments that I should write it as a book. I have since been working on that, but I'm not sure that I really want to turn it into a book. I mean, what would I do with that? How would it be perceived by the people who would necessarily be mentioned in it? Would it get published? Do I really want that much detail about my life out there?

I know that if it did get published & sold, I would feel obligated to donate any profits to tornado relief efforts which are still active or maybe contribute to some type of scholarship fund at UA. And that would be pretty cool. But it doesn't really help me answer my other questions.

I'm open to people's feedback on NYR #6 - romantic fiction or the non-fiction tornado story? Would any of you read either?

I think that wraps up my New Year's Resolutions for 2012.

What about y'all? Do you do resolutions? What are yours for 2012?

Thanks for reading,

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Resolutions! Recap of 2011

Yes. I am one of those people.

I make New Year's Resolutions every year. And, I totally GEEK out with my resolutions - I make insanely detailed goals and plans to achieve those goals. It's like I do a SWOT analysis of my life.

Don't believe me? Check out my 2010 NYR's and 2011 NYR's.

Why do this? Well, I believe that going through this process each year is a positive thing for my personal development. I have the opportunity to look at where I've been, where I'm at now, and where I'd like to be in the future. In doing this, I have conscious focus for my direction in life.

Plus, it's just so cool! It's fun to see what goals stay the same throughout the years, and what goals change. It's also super awesome to discover that I've achieved some goals, even if they were achieved only by accident.

So, before I make my NYR's for 2012 - here is a recap of my 2011 resolutions and how I did...

Hang in there with me - I had 14 resolutions, haha!

  1. Climb 3 times per week at the gym (or 2 times if climbing outside on the weekend) for 30 to 45 minutes, including antagonistic muscle strength conditioning. -- I definitely did not achieve this goal. However, I did to more strength conditioning this year than I ever have, so I feel somewhat successful in meeting the spirit of this goal. I definitely became more well rounded in my approach to exercise this year.

  2. Lead a traditional 5.9 route -- Nope...

  3. Lead a sport 5.10 route -- Nope...

  4. Compete in the T-Town Pull Down -- YES!!! I placed 3rd in the women's intermediate division.

  5. Attend a group [yoga] class once a week -- I was pretty good about this during Spring 2011, and even got Derek and Sam Latone to go with me a time or two. But I don't think I went at all during the second half of the year since I stopped getting a free gym membership.

  6. Run 30 minutes at my target heart rate 3 times a week, when not otherwise training -- BAH. I definitely ran more frequently this year, but I did not achieve this goal.

  7. Train for and run competitively in any number of races, not to exceed a cumulative racing distance of 50K for the year -- I trained successfully for the St. Louis Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon and ran it with my sweet cousin, Greta. No overuse injuries, no issues. I had trained pretty well for the Ranger Run which I was going to do with my sister, but a week before the race a tornado wiped out our Tuscaloosa apartment along with many towns across the southeast. Needless to say, I dropped out of that race. I also dropped out of the Tashka Trail Run due to being sick.

  8. Knit and sew birthday and Christmas gifts -- um. nope. didn't do this at all. Actually, I had started putting together a quilt to give to Derek for Christmas, but that was one of the things that I forgot to grab when we were getting stuff out of our apartment after the tornado. So yeah, that stupid tornado screwed up a lot of my 2011 plans - but at least I'm alive to be annoyed by that fact! And we were very blessed in that we also were able to go back and get a whole van load of stuff thanks to some help from some awesome friends. I know so many folks who didn't have that option.

  9. Hand make birthday and holiday cards -- Fail. Didn't even try. Left all craft supplies behind post-tornado and never got around to replacing them. I'm okay with that decision. I'm blessed because I was allowed to make that decision!

  10. Sleep no less than 7 hours a night  -- Attempted this with moderate success. Definitely did not pull as many all-nighter's as I did in 2010. Now that I'm finally graduated, I don't think this will be such an issue.

  11. Read Thrive by Brendan Brazier, a nutritional guide for vegans -- DONE! You can read my review on my LibraryThing page.

  12. Step down as President of SAC -- Did that. Then took the responsibility back on to recruit new members for the next year, haha!

  13. Create new budget and set specific savings goal for the year -- Derek and I did do a budget, but we did not set a specific savings goal. Overall, we still did okay I guess since we will be able to pull off our post-graduation-road-trip starting next month!

  14. No caffeine. Seriously this time.-- This year was more successful that last year, but that's about all I can say

That's the recap! Tomorrow I will post my resolutions for 2012!! Did you do resolutions in 2011? How did you do?

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Recipe: Peanut Butter Pasta

When the opportunity presents itself, I like to eat good food.  When I'm in the field, I don't see why things should be any different.  In light of that, I'm going to be posting a few simple, field-ready recipes over the next couple weeks.   I encourage you to try them yourselves, in the woods or at home, and I welcome your feedback.  To get started, this week's recipe is peanut butter pasta or "gado gado."

Peanut Butter Pasta

Pasta (penne or rotini work well)
Peanut Butter
Soy Sauce
White Vinegar
Brown Sugar

Vacuum-sealed/canned chicken
Bell Pepper or cucumber

The sauce can be prepared ahead of time if it will be used in a day or two.   Combine equal parts peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, and brown sugar.  Combine this mixture with an equal quantity of water.  The sauce should be smooth and creamy.

At camp
Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain, add sauce, heat through, and serve.

This meal is great as described above, but there are plenty of ways to add some pizzazz depending on how much you're willing to carry, when you'll be eating the meal, and your refrigeration options.  If you need to, you can substitute white sugar or honey for the brown sugar.  If you want some more protein, canned or vacuum-sealed chicken or dry roasted peanuts are great additions.  Bell pepper or cucumber served sliced on the side is a nice counter-point.  Alternately, diced broccoli or carrots mixed directly into the sauce provide a pleasant crunch and some fiber.  A sauteed onion, powdered or sauteed garlic, and powdered or sauteed ginger are nice flourishes in the spice department.  You can substitute rice for pasta for a gluten-free alternative.  Finally, as applies to most of my recipes, any amount of crushed red pepper or chili powder desired can help add a little kick and clear the sinuses

Friday, December 23, 2011

Trip Planning: Food

As much as I hate to admit it, food plays a major role in my day.  (Just look at one of my earlier posts on nutrition tracking.)  In order to train hard, I need to eat, and in order to recover well, I need to eat properly.  This is no different when I'm in the field or on the road.   But what to eat on a months-long road trip?  There's quite a few criteria that go into good road trip food, including caloric content, perishability, cost, and of course, taste.

Calories and Macronutrients
While we are on the road and in the field, we'll need at least 3,000 to 4,000 calories per person per day, probably more on the ice climbing portion of the trip since we'll burn so many calories just staying warm.  Typically, to maintain energy in the field, I eat a diet that is about 60% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 15% fat.  However, I also listen to my body and eat what sounds good at the time as appropriate.

What does this look like in practice?  On any given day, breakfast is usually granola, oatmeal, perhaps a boiled egg, or some combination thereof.  On a cold day, I'm more likely to fire up the stove and maybe even make some chai.  If time is of the essence (as it can be when alpine climbing), breakfast might be consumed in small portions continually while on the move.  Think bars, gels, gu, etc.

There is no such thing as lunch when I spend the day outside.  However, there are many, many snacks.  This could take the form of an apple, a bagel with cream cheese, a peanut butter banana wrap, a hunk of cheese, trail mix, last night's left-overs, an extra hard boiled egg from breakfast, or anything else that won't get too crushed in my pack and has a high calorie-to-weight ratio.  I might even toss some Gatorade powder in the water for a few more calories.

Dinner can be broken down into three parts:  a carbohydrate base, a protein-packed topping, and some kind of sauce to make things tasty.  Think pasta, cheese, and pesto or rice, beans, and salsa.  There are many variations on this theme, but that's the basic idea.  If I've done everything properly, at the end of the day the macronutrient breakdown should come out just about right.

Portability and Perishability
Since we'll have limited car and pack space and extra weight will cost energy in either gasoline or calories burned, portability of the food is at a premium.  For the same reasons, refrigeration is not much of an option either, meaning that perishability is also a concern.   However, as much as possible, we also want to eat "real food" as it adds lots of nutritional benefits like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  This has a few effects on food selection.

If it does not pack well, it doesn't come along.  Boxes tend to take up extra space, so nearly all food will be repackaged into plastic bags.  Therefore, anything that required packaging to still resemble food is left behind.  For example, I doubt we'll eat much bread or spaghetti.  Both smash and break too easily.  Instead, we'll have bagels, tortillas, and penne.  Eggs are probably the only surprise in this category.  They have too much fat and protein and keep too well to pass up.  If it isn't calorie dense or weighs too much, it also gets left behind.  I don't think we'll be consuming any "low fat" or "low calorie" anything on our trip.

The vagaries of food spoilage mean that there won't be much fresh meat or too many salads in our future.  Vacuum-sealed chicken or tuna and jerky pretty much cover it as far as meat goes.  However, there are plenty of other options in the protein department that keep much longer:  beans, lentils, peanut butter, eggs, cheese, and nuts to name a few.  Similarly, a week-old apple or onion will be looking a lot better than a week-old banana or avocado. 

Living on the road or in the backcountry means that food needs to be simple to prepare since I anticipate wearing myself out daily while climbing.  Luckily, I can just toss a two-burner stove on the tailgate of our Toyota Matrix and it's practically like having a kitchen.  When we're camped a bit farther afield, the MSR Whisperlite works wonders with one-pot meals. 

My usual food budget for these excursions is $5 per person per day.  This will go a lot further than you might otherwise think, especially if you avoid junk food.  For example, here in Tuscaloosa, the money you spend on one package of Oreos (about $3.50) will also get you one box of pasta ($0.92), one dozen eggs ($1.09), and one pound of apples ($1.19) with change to spare and about 50 more calories than the Oreos.  Of course, sometimes you really need some Oreos, you know?

"The best sauce in the world is hunger."  -Cervantes, in Don Quixote

While this is certainly true, that sauce is even better if it actually tastes good!  So, in honor of that, I'm going to be posting some of my favorite backcountry recipes over the next few weeks.  The emphasis will be on simple, tasty, cheap, portable, non-perishable meals with a healthy dose of carbs and protein.  Incidentally, I've found these same recipes to work just as well in the kitchen at home, too.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Climbing Lately

Recently, I've been a bit delinquent in posting up anything remotely resembling trip reports, despite (or perhaps because of?) the decent volume of climbing I've been doing.  So, here's my latest adventures:

Early in November, I headed to Sand Rock, Alabama with the intent to put up a new trad line that is potentially a first ascent.  This is quite debatable since Sand Rock has largely been "climbed out" and has a varied and considerable history, meaning that any line that can be climbed has probably been climbed at one point or another.  Therefore, when Sam Latone and I first scouted 60 feet of beautiful, compact sandstone, we were excited but skeptical.  To date, however, no locals or old-timers have been able to tell me of a previous ascent of that particular section of rock, located opposite "Dreamscape" and around the corner from "Wall of Horns."  If you're reading this, and you have any beta on the route's history, then by all means please let me know.

The opening moves on "Pardon Our Progress"
Susan and I joined a very sick Sam Latone and Stephanie Ballard for the project.  After a discussion about where exactly the line should go (there is no continuous crack system to follow), Sam scrambled to the top of the cliff and rappelled down the line to clean off debris and any loose rock.  The route, called "Pardon Our Progress," goes at 5.11 on trad gear.  I fell once on the first ascent and have not had the opportunity to go back, so it has yet to see a clean lead.  However, it is a beautiful line and well worth doing.

In the first crux on "Pardon Our Progress"
At Fort Bluff in Huntsville. Credit: Maggie Beck
A couple weeks ago, Sam Latone and I again set off to climb together, this time joining Sam England and his wife Maggie at a crag near Huntsville.  Most notable here for me was a redpoint in a day of a line called "Double Huck" (5.12a).  Also noteworthy, I ripped out a piece of gear on lead for the first time when I fell attempting to onsight "The Stranger" (5.11+).  I had placed a bomber #4 camalot followed by a less-than-bomber 0.5 camalot a few feet above, right below the crux.  I knew the piece was not great, but it made me feel a bit better to have it there at the time.  When I blew the crux sequence, there was the initial fall, a slight catch, a loud "pop," another fall and catch, and I found myself hanging off the #4 with the 0.5 dangling on the rope in front of my harness.  All future attempts at the crux made use of the #4, resulting in nice clean falls, but I did not get the send.

Garrett on the second pitch ledge of "Cloudy Day"
Last week, my younger brother Garrett came to visit for a few days.  He wanted to climb some multipitch, so we headed to Steele, Alabama for some more sandstone shenanigans.  We climbed the super-fun 2 to 3 pitch 5.9 "Cloudy Day."  Garrett also put a couple more trad leads under his belt, cruising up the short but sweet "Exit Stage Right" (5.7).

This past weekend featured a trip to Little River Canyon and the Tennessee Wall with Tyler Upchurch and Josh Raborn.  We split town early Saturday morning, three of us and a good deal of gear crammed into Susan's Ford Fiesta, and headed to the Crazy House crag.  It was Josh and Tyler's first experience navigating the untamed, occasionally sketchy, and always difficult sport climbs there, but they both had some proud sends for the day on a handful of hard 5.11 lines.  I was just happy to be out getting a good forearm pump.

Tyler Upchurch on "Rocktoberfest" (5.11c)
That evening we drove up to Chattanooga and met up with our friends Stephanie and Hunter at the Tennessee Wall, sharing some pesto mac and cheese and Fat Tires around the camp fire as we shivered into the night.  The next morning it was up to the gloriously sun-drenched cliff line, where I was stoked to onsight "March Hare" (5.10a) as well as repeat a handful of other classic lines.

Finally, Tuesday night, Chris Latham and I had a dry tooling demo at First Ave Rocks bouldering gym in Birmingham.  We talked to a few people about Peregrine Climbing Guides' upcoming New Hampshire ice climbing trip, introduced a few more people to ice tools, and generally had a good time.  It has definitely definitely been a strong run of climbing in the last two months, which is good, because the last thing I did before leaving First Ave Tuesday night was partially tear the A4 pulley in my left index finger, so no more climbing for at least 2 or 3 weeks.  More on that later, though.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Trip Planning: Tranpsortation

A crucial piece of any expedition is getting there, and how you get there frequently dictates what you bring and the manner in which you pack it.  There are many options, each with their own caveats.  It's not usually the getting there that is problematic, it's the getter there there with all your gear that can create issues.   

Planes are great for long distances, but you'll need a car when you get there and you have to catch the deals.  Plus, you need to fly Southwest unless you like getting reamed by checked bag charges.  If you do fly, absolutely weigh each bag before hand to make sure they come in under the weight limit.  Also, avoid multi-stop flights to minimize the chance of losing your bags.  Don't even think about trying to fly with a stove, fuel, crampons, or ice axe.  (Well, think about it long and hard in order to figure out the best way for you, but it probably won't be easy or convenient.)  You can always try shipping things ahead of time to the post office care of general delivery.  If you're talking about a bush plane, well, you're way out of my league...

If you've been paying attention, though, you'll note that Susan and I are going on a roadtrip, which leads to my preferred means of transportation--the car.  I like to think of my car as my mobile home base, and it's important to get "the rig" properly equipped for the anticipated travel.

The Rubber
For the actual driving itself, consider where you're headed.  Do you need four wheel drive?  High ground clearance?  Mud tires?  Snow chains?  Studded tires?  Bear in mind that if you're traveling long distances that all of these things reduce fuel economy.  Plan accordingly.

Ideally, you also want to be sure that the vehicle is in the best shape possible prior to departure.  I like to have an oil change and inspection, relatively fresh, properly inflated, rotated tires, good windshield wiper blades, and a coat of rain-x applied to the glass.  Also, bring along a set of jumper cables and an ice scraper at a minimum.

When living out of the car, the two most effective ways to make life easier are 1) electricity and 2) organization.  If you don't have an A/C outlet in your car (our Toyota Matrix does), a power inverter is a must.  Bring chargers for the laptop, cell phones, and any other electronics on which you will be depending.  I like to stash all of these as well as some spare batteries in the same location in the car so I always know where to look when something dies.  That being said, don't make the mistake of leaving something plugged in when the car is off.  Similarly, turn off the dome lights or be ready to close the car doors every time you get in or out.  It's not usually a problem if your headlamp dies, but it's definitely an issue if your car battery goes.  You did bring the jumper cables, didn't you?

Staying organized while living out of a car definitely takes work, but it makes life infinitely easier.  I find a selection of Rubbermaid tubs and bins to be indispensable.  The under-the-bed size ones work well in the trunk or rear with the seats folded down and can make a nice flat surface for tossing other stuff onto for sorting, re-organizing, etc.  They are also great if you plan on building a custom bed platform for the back of your ride.  A few durable duffel bags and even a reusable grocery bag or two usually do a good job of taking up the space in the floor between the front and rear seats.  Anything that will be needed frequently or while driving should live up front or just behind the center console.  Things that usually end up there when I'm living on the road include a road atlas and other maps, change for road tolls, a headlamp or two, phone chargers, toothbrush, prescriptions, a pack of gum, duct tape, and a pen.

The ultimate rig allows you the option to sleep (relatively) comfortably.  If there's still a steering wheel in front of me when I'm dozing off, I don't usually consider that to be comfort.  Luckily, there are various decent systems for sleeping in the back of many vehicles.

The classic roadtrip vehicle is already equipped for the job--think a VW Westfalia, or perhaps a Dodge conversion van.  Even if you aren't driving a vehicle with dedicated space, if you drive a Jeep, SUV, hatchback, or even large sedan, you can probably rig a decent sleep system.  The basic idea is the same--fold the rear seats down and move the front seats forward until you have enough room to lie down.  Fill in any gaps and make things as comfortable as possible.

In our Matrix, the rear seats fold down nicely to be level with the trunk space, giving a large flat platform to work with.  Pushing the front seats all the way forward gives ample room to lie down.  Stuffing gear in the floor space between the front and rear seats continues the level platform and avoids sagging into what would otherwise be a gap in the sleeping surface.  The whole thing gets covered with a few sleeping pads and sleeping bags.  Finally, any other gear gets shoved up front.  The conversion process from "drive mode" to "sleep mode" only takes a few minutes, provided you don't have too much stuff to move around.

When I'm traveling solo, I just leave the gear on the driver's side of the car and sleep on the passenger side, requiring no conversion time.  This system can also be used if you need to get somewhere in a hurry.  The passenger can nap comfortably and switch with the driver every couple hours.

The Details
Sleeping in the car means you can often leave the tent behind when you would otherwise be car camping, saving tent set-up and providing a comfortable, equally warm, and possibly drier shelter.  If you'll be sleeping in the car in more public areas, it can be nice to have a little more privacy.

This can be reasonably accomplished with well-tinted windows and a sunscreen for the windshield, though prying eyes can still see inside with a little effort.  Another option that I have employed in the past is to run some cord between the "oh shit" handles above the passenger seats.  Then, simply draping a towel, blanket, or clothing over the line creates a privacy shade.  A friend of mine has equipped his rig with a piece of velcro glued above and below each window that has a matching piece of cloth cut to size.  This system also works well.

The other important detail to take into account is ventilation.  This easily overlooked point is made painfully obvious on a humid summer night or a sub-freezing winter morning.  (It's exciting to wake up and discover your windows are iced over on both the outside and the inside).  Window vent shades allow you to crack the windows while still protecting the interior from rain and providing enough ventilation to prevent condensation build-up.

With only a few small adjustments and a little time and effort, a car can be easily transformed into a road-ready rig.  For those willing to expend additional time and money, sleeping platforms, storage spaces, solar showers, and integrated mini-kitchens are just the beginning.  The limit is simply your creativity.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ladies’ Gear Review: Freshette

For our first Christmas together, Derek gave me two particularly memorable gifts. The first gift he had me open when we celebrated privately, and the other he had me open in front of his family. One of these gifts was a pair of diamond earrings. The other was a Freshette.

Guess which one he had me open in front of the family?

Yeah. The Freshette


Awkward family moment aside, the Freshette has been a gift used and appreciated more than probably any other. I love, love, love, my Freshette. So here is my gear review for you (ladies).

First, you may be wondering, “what is a Freshette?” The Freshette is a urinary director for women. It basically allows a lady to pee whilst standing like a man, primarily for outdoor situations. No dropping of the pants, no baring of the bottom to the cold air. Just the spread-foot-stance-of-freedom pee like a man. As you can likely tell, I’m a big fan of this device.  


You can pee like a man. You can pee beside the road. You can pee on a building. You can pee off a cliff. You can even pee while hanging in a belay, though that one is a bit tricksy. I have not yet been able to write my name in the snow… If you are not an outdoorsy person, you may still find the Freshette useful in nasty gas station bathrooms while on road trips - but remember to be courteous and lift the seat.

You can usually find one for about $20.00 and after 4 years, I still haven’t had to replace mine.

Easily Sanitizes
The Freshette cleans easily with warm, soapy water in your bathroom sink. If you are on an extended camping trip where you may not be able to wash it, you can also clean it with sanitizing wipes. Sanitizing between each use isn’t necessary unless it really bugs you. If it doesn’t bug you, just shake off any excess fluid and store in a zip lock baggy to keep it separate from other items. I keep my Freshette with a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer in a small zippered pouch.

The Freshette is made of a hard plastic that keeps its shape. This allows you to slide it between layers of clothing and maintain more privacy. I’ve read of other urinary directors that are made of soft silicon. While I have never used those products, I can’t imagine them holding their shape well. The hard plastic of the Freshette also facilitates maintaining a seal to prevent leakage and makes the device difficult to damage if you accidentally step on it.  


Learning Curve
It takes some time to get accustomed to using the Freshette. I may or may not have accidentally peed on myself a couple times during this process… I recommend practicing in your bathroom at home a few times before venturing outside with it.

Standing Room Only
The package my Freshette came in stated you could use the thing while laying down and/or sitting down in a chair. You can’t. Don’t try it. Or if you do, just remember that the Freshette does not stop the force of gravity. Think about that a little before you try to tinkle.

Too Much Tubing
The Freshette comes with a clear tube to extend your ‘flow.’ I used it at first and then tossed it in the trash. It’s not necessary, it’s extra bulk, and it is prone to leaking.  


The Freshette revolutionizes the way you pee in the woods (or in ganky bathrooms). It is easy to clean and well worth the $20 investment.

Want Peeing Pointers? I have loads of advice on how to use a Freshette and stay fresh, but I really doubt most of our readers want to read about that! If you are interested in learning more, email me or leave a comment.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Versatile Blogger Awards!!!

Hiker Mom from Living the Fit Life has tagged us in the Versatile Blogger Awards!! Okay, I (Susan) have to confess - this MADE MY DAY!! I have seen the VBA's running around on other folks blogs and thought it would just be so cool if someone would tag me - so thank you Hiker Mom :) You really did make my day!

So, when a blogger is nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award, he or she is then supposed to post X number of random things about him/herself and then tag X number of blogs to do the VBA next.

I say "X number" because it's been a different number on just about every blog I've read, LOL. I'm going to shoot for a mid-range number. 4 random things for me, 4 for Derek, and 4 blogs...

Randomness about me:
  1. I am terrified of water. And spiders. And small tight places. And guns. And okay, just about everything. But not snakes. Snakes don't bug me one little bit. Well, except when they try to bite me. ANYway, moving on...
  2. The longest distance I've run without walking is 14 miles, and I did it in 120 minutes-ish. 
  3. I have lived in Missouri, South Carolina, Alabama, and Hawaii
  4. I have wanted to be a romance novel writer for pretty much forever
Randomness about Derek:
  1. Derek is terrified of nothing. 
  2. He hates running, but will do it to stay in shape and because I nag him to run with me
  3. He has lived in New York, Tennessee, Singapore, Malaysia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado, and Alabama... did I miss anywhere??? 
  4. Derek started up his own guiding company, Peregrine Climbing Guides. I picked out the name :)
 Four Blogs - TAG! You're it!
  1. El Blog de Los Montoyas
  2. Climbing Those Hills
  3. Much Ado...
  4. Wayward Straight and Arrow

Friday, December 16, 2011

List Making Queen

A couple of days ago, I posted on my need for a Body Reboot. Several of you had awesome words of encouragement and support - thank you! It is wonderful to have a such a cool community of bloggers :)

Moving on to today's post - yes, that is me. The List Making Queen. Few things make me feel as good as making a solid list. Today, I'm going to post my list of "To-Do's" for my Body Reboot. Following in Christi's Baby Steps, I'm going to keep it simple. Which is actually #1 on my list...

  1. Keep it simple. I’m really good at making ridiculously detailed plans that are pretty much impossible to follow. This list may look insane at first, but it's really basic and achievable. I think. I hope.

  2. Stop. Drinking. Beer. It scares me how hard this is for me. I don’t drink excessively or anything. When I am drinking, I’ll indulge on average in 1-2 beers over an evening maybe about once a week. Reasonable right? As in, that's downright typical & acceptable for casual drinking. But it is really hard for me to not have a beer when I want one. If I want it, I must have it or I feel deprived. As the daughter of an alcoholic, this is a F#@$ing scary realization. The fear of becoming an alcoholic has been a constant companion, nagging me in the back of my mind. Like my brother holding his finger an inch away from my face and taunting, “I’m not touching you!!” -- I can’t ignore it even if I close my eyes. I will hold this fear with me for life.

  3. Stop Drinking Coffee. Again. Unlike quitting beer, quitting coffee gets easier and easier each time I try. I think this has to do with the fact that each time I quit long enough to get over the headaches & morning sleepiness, my body has an immediate negative response when I drink coffee again - IBS roars through, reflux gives me wicked heartburn, I become irritable, I get the shakes, and I can no longer fall asleep at night. My most recent attempt was also my longest successful run without coffee, which I believe was due to two things: 1. being on the night shift at work meant that I was no longer exposed to readily made delicious smelling coffee, 2. I drank tea instead which soothed my insides and gave me a substitute for my addiction

  4. Take My Breaks. I have gotten into the habit of working through my lunch breaks so I can leave work early. While this gets me home free faster, it probably makes me feel worse overall. I actually get less time in the sunshine and instead of sitting for two 4 hour stretches in front a computer I sit for one 8 hours stretch.

  5. Get Up Early. With my inability to sleep through the night, getting up early seems counter-intuitive. However, it is only when I get up a little early that I manage to eat breakfast at home which helps me to eat healthy for the whole day and to resist drinking the fresh, hot coffee at work. It also gives me enough time to sit and enjoy some hot tea - further helping the ‘no coffee’ initiative and helping create a peaceful start to the day. 

  6. Do ANYTHING Active After Work. Keeping it simple, I won’t say “work out 30 minutes” or detail an exercise plan. I won’t even put a minimum time to be active. I’m just going to say “Do ANYTHING Active” each day after I get home. Could be a yoga routine. Could be a run. Could be a true Mountain Athlete workout. Whatever. I don’t care. I just need to get back into the habit. Once I do, I know I’ll start feeling better and then I can begin structuring my active time so that I can really train again. Hopefully it won’t take long for this to become routine again so that I can get ready for our trip.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another Woody!

The woody that I have been building with Chris is nearly done!  Last night, in a heroic surge of effort, Chris, Susan, my younger brother Garret, and I put up the 20 degree overhanging section of the wall.  All that remains is to finish filling in the corner space between the two sections, and then put some holds up.  Needless to say, I am quite psyched!

The 20-degree wall!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Body Reboot

My body needs a hard core reboot.

November started out as a fantastic month for me. I was on an evening schedule at work, so I would wake up to sunshine each day and spend the morning outside exercising with Derek. Then I’d have a yummy, healthy lunch before strolling into work for the afternoon and evening. With the exception of the Thanksgiving holiday, I didn’t really drink coffee or alcohol. And, until I got the head cold from hell, things were going pretty great. I felt fantastic, and I felt like I was really getting stronger - check out the massive shoulder muscle gains!

Now that it’s December, I’m back on my normal day shift. I haven’t really settled back into a routine of working out everyday. In fact... I haven’t actually worked out in... ehh....hmmm... crap. Since the weekend before this past one. Crap. And thanks to that along with some poor food choices, my body has pretty much fallen apart on me. I’ve had a headache for days. My stomach is constantly rolling. I feel tired and achy. My low back is being a total pain. Did I mention that I’ve had a headache for DAYS?!

Being the list maker that I am, I have identified the following contributing factors to my total body failure:
  • ME. I take full responsibility for lacking the discipline to maintain my own health this month. But the rest of this list definitely didn’t help...
  • I wake up in the dark and come home in the dark. No matter how much I mentally prepare myself for this each winter, it leaves me depressed. I openly admit that. And depression sucks.
  • It’s a lot harder to stay motivated without Coach Derek to tell me what to do during my workout. I really love working out with him. If I could hire him to be my personal life coach I would. Since I can’t afford a personal life coach, I’m glad I married him instead (okay, I might be glad I married him for other reasons, too. i.e. I love him and all that mush)
  • I come home exhausted and grumpy from working in front of a computer all day. It’s much easier to work out when I wake up naturally than when I get home after the 7:45AM to 4:45PM servitude that is our typical American day.
  • The head cold from hell never really went away. I am still coughing up phlegm from my chest. Seriously.
  • Final Finals. I am soooooo glad to be done with grad school. But in finishing grad school, I ditched out on some weekend opportunities to get outside & climb so that I could stay locked in the library and finish up my finals with style. I don’t regret this decision. I wanted to finish school well. But it did contribute to the total body failure.
  • I fell off the no-coffee-no-beer bandwagon. Now, I don’t think coffee and beer are evil - I think they are absolutely fabulous. In fact, I LOVE coffee and beer. Unfortunately, my insides do not feel the same way - and these two beverages stimulate some horrid acid reflux along with less than pleasant IBS. When I indulge, I constantly feel the need to vomit and I have a horrible time sleeping. And eating. And moving. In order to maintain my health, I really shouldn’t drink them.
All of those bullets mean that now I feel like the south end of a northbound donkey.


I need a reboot. I need to reset my system and restart my routine. And above all, I need to be disciplined and actually stick to my healthy habits. My next list will be how to fix this!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Today, my good friend and climbing partner Sam Latone leaves for Antarctica for the next two months.  In honor of the occasion, I thought it would be appropriate to share a piece I wrote early this year about him.

“Why do you climb?”

And here we go again, I thought.  The same tired conversation rehashed among every circle of climbers on the planet, from the gym to the campfire to the online message board.  Opting out of this one, I sank back into the torn seat of the struggling Volkswagen Jetta and allowed my gaze to follow the glowing white line on the road.  The distant horizon lay shrouded in the blackness of the post-climbing nighttime.  With my head cocked uncomfortably on my shoulder, facing the window, buried in the seat, I half-listened out of my exposed ear.  I allowed my intimate focus on the luminescent streak painted on the ground hurtling past me to lull my drowsing body into a fitful doze.

In the back seat, Camille shifted, leaning forward ever-so-slightly, adopting the posture of one unable to hear over the din of a not-quite-well-maintained car barreling down the interstate at speeds well in excess of the posted limits.  I could feel her posturing directly behind me as her entire body indicated her desire for a pithy response to an otherwise superficial question.  I sensed Sam’s eyes tracing over me from the driver’s seat, assessing my mood. 

The question was directed at no one in particular.  Since no one in particular was answering, and there were but three of us in the car, my vocal forfeiture left Sam alone to tend to the curious, eager Camille and her inquiry.

“I climb because the rest of my life is too easy,” Sam stated simply.

Intrigued, I imagine having cocked an eyebrow to myself at this comment.  In reality, I am quite certain the only indication that my interest was piqued was in my continued wakefulness. 

Silence, again, briefly.  Camille graciously posed the mandatory follow-up question:

“What do you mean, Sam?”

“I mean that my life is too easy,” he repeated.  “Look at how we live today.  We have everything just laid out for us.  There’s nothing left to survival anymore.  I guarantee that if I spent all my time trying to find food and water, and building shelter, and fending off wild animals, and all that stuff, I wouldn’t bother to go climbing.  Not only would I not have the time, I wouldn’t want to.  It would be too dangerous and I would have plenty of other stuff to keep me busy.  I wouldn’t need to go climbing.”

Need? I thought.  Maybe this conversation is going somewhere.  Perhaps we really will discover my friend’s intrinsic motivation to climb

I realized it was my turn.  Sam’s statement demanded some kind of response.  Our recently-concluded day marked Camille’s second climbing experience, hence her question.  This left me to address Sam’s assertion that climbing reintroduced the challenge of primal struggle into his life.  He addressed me:

“Hey, dude?”

I turned slightly toward the center of the car, rotating my left shoulder a hair, raising my head so my chin stubble no longer snagged the fibers on the collar of my t-shirt.  “Hmm…?” I intoned in the voice of one speaking from a world of dreams.  With that I returned to my former repose.

Choosing not to vocalize a response, I felt simultaneously that I agreed with Sam on some level while rejecting the entire conversation on principle. The jackass in me was coming to light. Only a true climbing snob would ignore this overplayed discussion that was likely a first-time experience for all others involved.  My willful disinterest highlighted my unjustified contempt for what I considered banal.  At the moment, though, my concerns were rather limited—sleep, and perhaps food.

The conversation soon turned to a discussion of the relative merits of internet pornography, masturbation, feminism, women’s rights, prostitution, and a host of candid disclosures about individual and collective human sexuality.

*          *          *

Fast-forward nine months.  This was Sam’s final semester as an undergraduate and my final semester in my master’s program.  In precisely seven days classes would resume for the spring, signifying the beginning of the end.  We intended to fill five of those days with climbing.  In a place like Alabama where the five-year snowfall total was two inches, climbing was a fairly reasonable expectation if the January weather cooperated.  Unfortunately, the weather pissed on us instead.

Mercifully, it did not piss on us in the way characteristic of actual urine.  This was instead much colder.  Nothing is so demoralizing as rain with an ambient air temperature of 34 degrees Fahrenheit.   The subsequent decision to bail out was a much simpler one than if the temperature had been favorable enough to somehow make palatable the idea of waiting for the rock to dry. 

Sam had recently returned from a semester at the National Outdoor Leadership School, where the fires of his unquenchable motivation were further stoked to truly begin his career as a trad climber in earnest.  I could not have been more thrilled with this turn of events.  Since moving to the state of Alabama, I had met precisely six climbers who knew how to place gear.  Three of these individuals climbed predominantly on a top rope, I personally taught two of them how to place gear (one of whom was Sam), and the remaining individual had recently skipped town.  In other words, Sam would be featuring prominently as a potential partner in my immediate future.

As we drove home from our first official overnight trip together, Sam renewed our long-extinguished conversation without warning.

“I want to tell you that I realized something since I’ve been gone on the course:  I was wrong.  I don’t climb because my life is too easy.  I climb because my life is too hard.  Climbing is how I get away and relax.  It helps me focus, because I can’t not focus when I’m climbing.  I need that sometimes.”

Again, I did not have a response.

*          *          *

I can state with absolutely no reservation that Sam is a bad-ass.  Within one year of beginning his climbing career, Sam was sending 5.11 sport lines, leading moderate trad, and placing in the open division of bouldering competitions.  More to the point:  when Sam first began his venture into trad climbing, he built his own rack.  He literally built it.

I was met with wonder when I watched as Sam’s rack emerged from the depths of his pack the first time.  He had a pile of hand-tied shoulder slings and an assortment of nuts made in the old-school way—by hand, in his basement.  He had purchased a selection of machine nuts, smoothed off the interior threads, and slung them with 5mm cord.  Even more to my amazement, he proceeded to place the aforementioned nuts in the rock and clip his slings to them with booty carabiners.  And then, both impressed and dismayed, I watched as he climbed above them.

Something had to be done about this.  While I respected Sam’s do-it-yourself attitude, I was a bit concerned about what his do-it-himself style could do-to-himself if and when he fell.  With some reluctance I dug through my trunk of aging gear, consulting with my wife about particularly sentimental items, attempting to recall the origins of each piece (if we even knew).  By the end of the process, I had assembled a Franken-rack of used but usable gear.  After stripping off all of the questionable soft goods, the perfect hand-me-down beginner rack was ready.  The conglomeration included a set of solid-stem forged friends of dubious origin, the largest and smallest tricams, half a set of nuts in roughly every other size, three random hexes, a couple lockers that still mostly worked, and a handful of carabiners with the word “Chouinard” stamped on the side.  Confident that I would, if forced, climb above and maybe even fall on each and every piece of gear in the collection, I presented Sam with the fruits of my labor. 

Only later, right before leaving for his NOLS course, would Sam stop by to thank me.

“I want you to know that the rack you gave me is more than just a rack.  It represents so much stuff, man.  I can just look at something and try to climb it.  With this, I can climb anything—I can do anything.  It’s freedom.  Thanks.”

Once again, I did not have an answer for Sam.

*          *          *

In a few months time, Sam and I will be driving across the country to Indian Creek, Utah, for nine days.  In the meantime, our training sessions have been devoted to jamming our hands into a wooden crack trainer to the point of bleeding in preparation for the anticipated sandstone splitters.  Looking at the backs of my hands as I write this, it is difficult for me to justify my obsession.  Shaking hands is downright painful at the moment.

I informed Sam that I would be taping up my hands for future training sessions.  While we are both generally opposed to the practice (mostly due to laziness on my part), I informed him my ego was big enough to take the hit if it prevented my recently acquired flesh wounds from growing ever larger.  After a few good-natured jabs at my expense, he said, “I may be scrappy and strong, but you’re wiser.  It’s a good partnership.”

I certainly agree that it is a good partnership.  But I wonder who is actually wiser.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gear Review: Montrail Mountain Masochist

I do not claim to be a runner.  I leave that to people like my wife who somehow seem to think that running for long periods of time is "fun."  Don't get me wrong; I think running is okay, but it's definitely not what I call "fun."  I do it to maintain my cardiac fitness for long days in the mountains.  

Since my training plan is ultimately tailored to long climbing days, my running usually happens on trails for moderate distances.  Running 3 to 6 miles is not uncommon, and I have been known to run more than that for endurance depletion workouts.  When running, no piece of gear is more important than your footwear.  Here's what I'm looking for in a trail runner:

The Montrail Mountain Masochists
Perhaps more than anything else, the overriding concern I am looking for in a trail runner is traction.  The tread and the rubber should have sufficient grip to stick to a vertical pane of wet glass.  The last thing I need 4 miles deep into the woods is to slip on the trail and get injured.

Weight and Durability
Weight and durability usually come as a trade-off.  When I'm out for a 10 mile run, it's great not to have to carry extra weight around on my feet.  However, I also have a tendency to use my gear until it falls apart, so I appreciate when a piece stands up past its normal lifetime.

Fit and Support
Also important are fit and support.  With all the aggressive movement that occurs inside a running shoe, good fit goes a long way in preventing blisters and other over-use injury.  Further, my trail shoes need to offer appropriate support so that my joints don't feel as though they're being sliced open lengthwise with a red-hot screwdriver.  

There are many things I like about my pair of Montrail Mountain Masochists.  First and foremost, they fit.  I've tried on more than a few pairs of shoes, and Montrail's shoe lasts, whether in boots, trail runners, or climbing shoes, fit my wide foot better than many other brands.  With this fit also comes a decently cushioned platform.  It's certainly not the same thing you'd see on a pair of street runners with the word "air" in the name (and it shouldn't be!), but I've yet to have a problem on hard-packed or even crushed-gravel trails. 

The shoes are fairly lightweight, coming in at 10.8 ounces, significantly less than my usual all-purpose Five Ten Camp Four approach shoes that weigh in at nearly a pound.  The light weight owes much to the mesh that composes most of the shoe, which also makes them quite breathable.  Montrail offers a Gore-Tex version of the shoe, which may be appropriate for the light-hiker version of the model, but I find it completely useless in a running shoe.  No matter how great the liner is, I've yet to find a piece of Gore-Tex footwear that was as breathable as mesh.  If I am running, though, I'm already going to be generating a lot of foot sweat.  In other words, if I run through water without a Gore-Tex liner, my foot will be getting wet.  However, if I run at all in a Gore-Tex liner, my foot will just be wet with sweat due to a lack of breathability given the high-output nature of the activity.  For my money, breathability wins the day.  The Gore-Tex is just not worth the extra $10 to $15 you'd pay for it.

The Mountain Masochist offers a relatively durable platform as well.  After more than 150 miles I have not noticed any significant wear save for some slight sole separation just beginning to show near the heel of one shoe.

My biggest complaint with the Mountain Masochist is the (lack of) traction!  In general, Montrail's proprietary Gryptonite does a decent job of adhering to dirt, rock, and organic matter.  It is certainly not the best I've seen, but it's not sub-standard. 

However, the second you introduce any water into the mix, it's game over.  Whether it's rain, mud, a puddle, or even just high relative humidity, it seems the Mountain Masochist can not stick to anything with a few drops of liquid on it.  Yesterday, while running back to my apartment at the tail end of my run, I literally fell over on the sidewalk.  I put my foot down with slight lateral motion to move aside for someone walking by and found myself with my left cheek on the pavement (that's face cheek, not butt cheek, by the way). 

This was not the first time I've ended up on the ground because the shoe failed to stick on a wet surface where other footwear would have been fine.  Ultimately, the lack of wet-surface traction is an unfortunate reality of what would otherwise be my new favorite pair of shoes.  The Mountain Masochist loses major points as a trail shoe, where good traction on all types of surfaces is a must.

The Montrail Mountain Masochist is a decent contender in the trail running department, especially for those with wide feet.  The shoe is light, breathable, and durable.  Unfortunately, the positive features of the shoe are overshadowed by a severe lack of traction on wet terrain, leading to a search for an alternative with better grip.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Trip Planning: Where to Stay?

While we are on this road trip, we will effectively be what many people might refer to as "homeless," in the sense that we will not have a house, apartment, dwelling place, permanent address, or anything related.  We will have a storage unit for our bed, kitchen table, and dresser, but it turns out they don't let you live at your storage unit, even if you are rightfully renting it.

I'm sure at this point some of you are thinking, "That's why hotels exist," and, "What about campgrounds?"  These are certainly useful options for the intrepid traveler and are great when you're on the road for a short time, but they don't always do the job very well when you're on a budget and out for weeks at a stretch.  Luckily, there are a few alternatives. While you're actually on the road, going from one place to another, a lot of useful habits can be gleaned from truck drivers.

Truck Stops
You will soon discover that truck stops are your friend.  They are typically a relatively safe place to sleep (though you have to watch out for the occasional crazies).  Many offer showers and sometimes laundry.  If you're at the nice commercial ones like Flying J and Pilot, the bathrooms are usually pretty clean and you won't get weird looks for brushing your teeth there.

Rest Areas
Lacking a truck stop, rest areas may or may not be a good place to make a quick stop.  Technically, you aren't supposed to stay at them overnight, but there are plenty of people who do.  The trick is to find one that is relatively untraveled (but still has a couple semi-trucks parked there overnight), sleep underneath a light but not right in front of the bathrooms, and arrive late and leave early.  It's not the best for a good night's sleep, but if you just need 5 or 6 hours sleeping in the seat of your car until you're ready to drive again, it's a good option.  I have yet to have any trouble with them.

Middle of Nowhere
Another quiet option if you're traveling out west is to pull off the interstate and park in the middle of nowhere.  Similar to the rest stop plan, this isn't going to afford a great night of sleep, but it works in a pinch.  I was quite surprised to discover on my first big trip out west that there are exits off the interstate with literally nothing there.  We pulled off the interstate in the middle of Oklahoma, parked on the side of the road, crashed for about 5 hours, and woke up at dawn to see a line of semi-trucks parked behind us that were not there when we went to sleep.

Finally, there's Wal-Mart.  The rumor is that one of the Walton's is psyched on RVing, so camping is allowed at Wal-Mart parking lots if it doesn't interfere with traffic to/from the store.  Plus, Wal-Mart loves it because you pretty much always go into the store when you wake up to use the bathroom, get a drink, and hopefully buy stuff.  While I am not a huge fan of Wal-Mart, I have no problem taking advantage of sleeping in the parking lot, using the water and toilets, and not buying anything.  In my head it's my way of "sticking it to the man," though I'm sure in reality it doesn't matter either way.

The above strategies are useful cards to have up your sleeve, but they're not what I consider as my "plan A" for long-term stays.  For that, I prefer free camping.  Enter the BLM and USFS.  These two government agencies regulate and administrate vast tracts of public lands that we pay taxes to support.  As a tax-payer, I choose to take advantage of the free camping options.

US Forest Service
On the east coast, U.S. Forest Service lands frequently come with lightly regulated free camping.  Check the specifics for the area you are planning to travel, but in general, you can camp anywhere you want on Forest Service land within the following regulations:

1)  You are at least 200 feet from all water, roads, and trails.
2)  You are not immediately/obviously visible to other land users.
3)  You do not build any fires except in preexisting fire rings.
4)  You do not occupy the same place for more than 2 weeks at a time.
5)  There are not posted restrictions that otherwise prohibit camping where you intend to stay.

And this is the big one:

6)  You are actually on Forest Service land!

My typically strategy is to identify USFS land on a map, find the nearest road into it from where I am at, drive along it until it turns to gravel, and then start parking at pull-offs until I find one that has a campsite within a short walk from the road.  This requires a small time investment on the front end (and daylight never hurts either!), but you will frequently be rewarded with fairly well-established sites within easy walking distance from the car that are perfectly legal.

Bureau of Land Management
The Bureau of Land Management dominates the scene on public lands out west.  The acreages they regulate are sometimes unfathomably large and frequently might as well be considered lawless for all practical purposes.  BLM lands are multi-use areas, open to human-powered recreation, off-road vehicle travel, ranching, hunting, fishing, potential mining, development, and industrial uses, and all manner of other things.   However, depending on where you go, the vast expanse of the land may mean that you won't see another soul for your entire stay.

Camping regulations on BLM land are similar to those on USFS land, and except in special cases, camping is totally free.  My tactic for BLM land is pretty close to that on USFS land:  drive until I'm afraid the car won't make it back out the way we came, park, walk a couple hundred feet, and camp.  It works like a charm.

With both USFS and BLM free camping, you can count on absolutely no facilities, which makes it all the more important to come equipped with your own water.  You should also adhere to Leave No Trace practices, especially with regard to trash, food garbage, and human waste.  Finally, you should have the skills necessary to take care of yourself in the expected conditions since help or civilized amenities may be many hours away.  Keeping those things in mind, I greatly enjoyed the feeling of freedom of camping and recreating off the beaten path.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Trip Planning: Budget

Like everything else in the world, our upcoming road trip can be boiled down to two things:  time and money.  It's the eternal trade-off.  If you're making money, you've rarely got the time to spend it.  If you've got the time, you've rarely got the money to spend.  Hence our plan to make money, then make some time to spend it.

More to the point, what any expedition needs is a realistic budget.  In our case, this is just our personal stash, but maybe you're one of the ambitious or sponsored types who gets grants or expenses paid or something like that.  (Of course, you probably don't need to be reading this blog about budgeting for expeditions if you've already figured out how to get other people to give you money...)

So, what are the budget essentials for any good road trip?

You can't live without it.  If you're planning on cooking all of your own meals, you can typically get by on $5/person/day, give or take.  This assumes that you 1) buy in large-ish quantities 2) put some thought and planning into your food purchases.  This also does not take into account "luxuries" like beer, dessert, or "outrageous" expenses like cheap Mexican food.

If you are taking off on the great American road trip, without a doubt, one of your largest costs (if not the largest cost) will be gasoline for whatever automotive transport you decide to take.  I suppose you could walk, bike, hitch-hike, or hop a freight train, but barring those modes of transportation, your means of locomotion will cost money.

The biggest consideration here is the number of miles you will travel, the fuel efficiency of your vehicle, and the price of gas where you're going.  This last one is important if you're some place where the cost of living is relatively low (ie. Alabama) and going somewhere the cost of living is a bit higher (ie. everywhere else).  Also bear in mind that while Google may tell you that there are 782 miles between your starting point and your destination, Google did not account for the 20 mile one-way fresh-veggies-and-beer run you made from your camp in the middle of the woods to town, nor did it consider your unplanned 15 mile drive to the nearest pharmacy for more ibuprofen.  In other words, give yourself some buffer here lest you nickel and dime yourself into being too broke to go home.

This one will depend on the length of your road trip and how frequently your insurance bill needs to be paid, but rest assured you'll want to have some for your health and your car at a minimum.  (You might also consider traveler's insurance, accident insurance, rescue insurance, and a host of other options.  The American Alpine Club offers a variety of insurance plans for its members).  Of course, having insurance doesn't exactly fit the "dirtbag" ideal of many American climbers, but if you've ever ended up hospitalized on a climbing trip, you can appreciate the value of insurance.

Bank Accounts
Depending on the length of the trip, it may also be advisable to set up a new bank account or two for expedition-specific funds.  This usually doesn't come at any cost and is easily done at the bank or even online.  Having a separate account to draw from makes it easy to track your spending on the trip and actually follow the proposed budget instead of going to town every night because you're too tired to cook in camp.  This also makes it easier to keep your "real life" funds separate from your "road life."  All of your regular auto-drafts (insurance, rent, car payment, that sort of thing) can come out of the usual place and your trip funds remain intact.  You did set up automatic online bill pay for all of your regular expenses before leaving, right?  Taking the time to get 3G or wireless signal on occasion can also save headaches from unforeseen financial snafus. 

Don't forget about things like lodging if you want to get away from the tent on occasion.  Also, consider things like showers, road tolls, Starbucks, gelato you couldn't pass up, emergency gear repair, and anything else that might sap your funds.  It's not a bad idea to have just a little cash in reserve.

Once you've got all these needs covered, there shouldn't be much spending of money while you're actually out on the expedition.  As my co-workers at the North Carolina Outward Bound School say, it's hard to spend money while you're living in the woods.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Am I a Runner?

Foreword (Or Forewarning): There are a lot of links to previous posts in this post (including links to posts in my prior blog). One of my friends says that type of hyper-linking drives her crazy. I just wanted to reference prior stories in case you are interested... and yeah, I wanted to drive her a little crazy. :) I'm a good friend like that.

Am I a Runner? 
Saturday is the Tashka Trail Run. Several months ago I decided I was going to race it. For real. Run my-heart-out-fast real. And I wanted to WIN the 50K (why I thought I could do this when my half marathons have all been like 3 hours…. Whatever. I had several months to train).

I started training. I was serious about it. I ran on the course rain or shine. I paid more attention to my nutrition. I did speed training - and actually finally improved my speed!

Then I had the midnight mad dash to New Hampshire just before a hurricane hit to rescue Derek after he had emergency abdominal surgery. And I took a week off my running to make that trip including the 4 day drive home with him. And then I took another week off. And another. For no good reason really.

And then I realized I was screwed.

I needed to train my droopy bottom off hard core to have any chance of running competitively for the 50K and here I took off for almost a month of my training time. $#i*!!!!

So I reevaluated. One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2011 was to only run a race if I had really trained for it. It was part of my overarching “healthy balance” resolution. Realistically, it would not be part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle for me to run an ultra that I hadn’t prepared my body for.

So I said, “I’ll run the 25K instead.” And again, I wanted to WIN it! This was a much more realistic goal anyway. The week before my half marathon in St. Louis, I ran a 14 miler on mixed terrain in 120 minutes (roughly an 8:30 pace).

I started training again. I trained hard core. I also added in training for our ice climbing trip coming up – doing weight training and developing muscles I never knew I had.

And about three weeks ago, I got a cold. Not just any cold. A freaking stupid lung hacking wheezing snot slinging exhaustion inducing stupid damn cold. And I have not run further than 4 miles at a time since. And that one four miler? Yeah, I didn’t actually finish it because I hacked up a lung so hard at mile 3.5 that I started dry heaving.

Yes, my body thought it needed to try to vomit in order to get the phlegm out of my lungs. 

Where is this story going? Well. The deadline to sign up for the Tashka was December 3rd. I didn’t sign up.

I’m not running it at all. And while my brain is telling me that was the right choice based on my lack of good training and continued lung hacking, the rest of me feels like a TOTAL FAILURE. The rest of me feels like, if I were a REAL runner I would have signed up and ran my heart out. The rest of me feels weak.

The rest of me is asking, am I really a runner?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Trip Planning: Packing

There is nothing with which I have a love/hate relationship so much as logistics.  Logistics (and really, the associated planning) is arguably the most important element in the success of a trip or expedition.  This little-appreciated point has been well-known for quite some time, especially in the military.

“An army marches on its stomach.” –Napoleon Bonaparte

“Amateurs talk about tactics, professionals study logistics.” –Gen. Robert H. Barrow, Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps

Those who venture to the less-explored corners of the planet understand a similar reality:

“You show me an adventure and I’ll show you a lack of preparation.”  -Roald Amundsen, Antarctic explorer

“Prior planning prevents poor performance.”  -The “5 Ps” of Paul Petzoldt, founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School

The unavoidable fact is that planning takes work, and it’s often not the kind of activity that those of us who play and work in the outdoors would really like to do.  Logistics is a (necessary) pain in the ass.  Simple questions like, “Where are we going?” “When are we going?” and  “Who is ‘we’?” must be answered.  Then there are the more complicated ones:  “How much fuel do we need to take for the stove for three people for 6 days in winter (plus one extra day just in case) at moderate altitude in moderate to severe weather conditions assuming we need to melt snow in addition to cooking?”  The answer to this question is not too difficult if you’ve done it before, but then toss in a couple judgment calls, and things get tricky.  A better re-statement might be:  “How much weight are we willing to carry in fuel for 3 people over 6 days assuming that everything goes perfectly and we’re really stingy with our stove use (and are we willing to suffer the consequences if we run out or get weathered in for a day or two)?”

Needless to say, the 3-month road trip that Susan and I have in the works has required me to do my homework (and there’s still more to do).  There have been questions of where we’re going, when we’re going there, where we’re staying, and who will be joining us for what parts at what times.  There have been maps to scour, guidebooks to peruse, route descriptions to read, and ascent plans to create.  There have been packing lists to write, gear to order, weather almanacs to reference, and ice conditions to monitor. There have been emails to draft, advice to ask, mail to get forwarded, family and friends to notify, a separate banking account to open, and the all-important health insurance to secure.

This would all be a lot simpler on the front-end if we just spontaneously packed up and left.  While my particular brand of planning might be a bit obsessive, I ultimately know that all the prep work will make life much easier once we’re actually on the road.  Even when I’m just going out for a day trip, I still like to have my gear packed the night before.  If you’ve ever let your “fly by the seat of the pants” friend be in charge of food for a trip and had ramen with canned tuna and hot sauce for breakfast, you understand the importance of good planning.  If you’re never had that sort of experience, count yourself lucky but heed the lesson.  Let’s just say that tuna and ramen doesn’t taste that great when it comes back up the second time.  Similarly, if you’ve ever tried to fire up the stove without a lighter, you can appreciate the utility of a thorough packing list.

So, here’s my idiot-proof packing plan:

1) Make checklist.
2) Make pile of gear.
3) Check gear off list.
4) Grab anything that's missing from the pile.
5) Put the pile in the appropriate bags.

While it sounds incredibly simple (and is!), it’s always the actual doing that’s the hard part. I can't count the number of times that I thought I could just pack on the fly the morning before a day of climbing and forgotten my helmet, my harness, my shoes, or any other number of things.  So, if you're looking for packing list ideas, you can find the start of our packing list here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gear Review: Five Ten Camp Four Approach Shoes

There has long been a search for the perfect approach shoe--the mythical creation that can hike heavy loads, scale 3rd class scrambles with ease, confidently ascend 5th class like a climbing shoe, and last forever.  While the Five Ten Guide Tennie has definitely been the go-to approach shoe of choice since the mid-1990s, I find it doesn't quite meet my durability needs.  As a climbing guide, I wear my approach shoes pretty much everyday I am working and nearly as frequently during my personal time (since I'm usually climbing).  Consequently, the shoes I value are ones that can take a beating.  Here's my criteria in an approach shoe:

The one thing that separates an approach shoe from a hiking shoe is its ability to climb well.  If it doesn't climb well, then you shouldn't have paid extra for the sticky rubber.  As a guide, I need to have shoes that offer supreme performance on technical hiking terrain, such as talus and low-angle rock, where I might be short-roping.  Further, I should be able to lead at least 5.6 in my approach shoes, which is useful on everything from alpine rock routes to quickly setting up multiple top-ropes for a day at the crag.

Since approach shoes are suppose to serve as the one shoe for multiple jobs, they should hike reasonably well.  In other words, comfort, ventilation perhaps, maybe water resistance, and a good rocker are all things to consider.  Depending on the objective, comfortably supporting a large load may also be relevant.

Lastly, approach shoes need to be durable.  It is not uncommon for a guide or avid recreational climber to wear out a pair of approach shoes in a season or less.  The problem is that approach shoes typically feature climbing rubber on the sole, which is less durable but much stickier than the rubber typically used on a hiking shoe.  Consequently, in the face of significant use, the soles of approach shoes tend to wear out, de-laminate, shred, peel, crack, and anything else imaginable fairly quickly.

Enter the Five Ten Camp Four.

I have been wearing the Camp Four's since the summer of 2008.  In four solid seasons of climbing and guiding, I am barely into my third pair, which is a testament to their durability.  Even after I have retired them from climbing use, they still end up on my feet just to wear around town as general footwear.  I have been quite impressed with how long my Camp Four's have held up to the rigors or climbing, scrambling, and hiking on all types of terrain.

What really determines the worth of an approach shoe, though, is how well they climb.  I have comfortably led up to 5.8 and top roped 5.10 in my Camp Four's with no ill effects.  The Stealth S1 all-purpose rubber that coats most of the shoe is great for smearing (in fact, I think it's easier to climb slab up to 5.8 in a good pair of approach than it is in climbing shoes since you can paste so much more rubber on the rock).  The inside toe edge of the sole is made of a separate layer of Stealth C4 climbing rubber that affords good purchase on smaller holds.  Finally, I feel totally confident in these shoes on semi-technical terrain, especially while short-roping.  When I'm not wearing them, I'm frequently taken aback by how much more my feet slip while scrambling up talus.

Leading in the Camp Fours
On the hiking side of things, they perform quite adequately.  The leather uppers are fairly waterproof when intact and will shed light rain and walk through a couple inches of water without soaking through to my socks.  They also do just fine kicking steps in snow for summer rock routes approached via isothermal snow pack.  The rocker definitely helps when slogging a big load, up to about 50 pounds.  Otherwise, they are generally comfortable to wear all day and require almost no time at all to break in.

While I love the Camp Four and the versatility they afford me, since they are so versatile, they do not excel in any single area.  They climb well, but not as well as the Five Ten Guide Tennie or similar shoes, and they require a bit extra foot strength when edging.  The can certainly hike a long way, but under heavy loads (50+ pounds) or longer distances (12+ miles in a day) my feet begin to suffer a bit.  Finally, for whatever reason, the shoe laces consistently break.  I usually have to change one or both laces out in the life of a pair of shoes.

Though Five Ten has since started marketing the Camp Four as a "light hiker," the truth of the matter is that they are still one of the most rugged approach shoes on the market.  Great for everything from hiking to scrambling to climbing (the folks at Outdoor Gear Lab/Super Topo love them for big walls), the Camp Four really is my "go-to" shoe.