Monday, June 26, 2017

Whine and cookies

Disclaimer time:  My ideas are my own and do not reflect those of the REI Coop or the AMC.  Enjoy,

So I decided to feel sorry for myself and whine.  It's what I do.  But it kinda resonated with many people.  I never thought it would.  Turns out many women feel the same way I do.  Am I comforted knowing I am not alone.  NO.  I am not comforted knowing other women (or men for that matter) feel so self-conscious in the outdoors.  That anyone would is upsetting.  Everyone, regardless of gender sexual orientation/identification, age, race, income, region, weight, abilities, etc should be allowed to enjoy the outdoors.  Period.  Unless they are doing harm, like harassing wildlife, starting fires, or pooping on the trail, the outdoors are free for all to enjoy.

But this is not always the case.  Some people are told they are not welcome in one way or another.  Like the overweight woman who is told to get in better shape to hike or criticized for using it as a way to lose weight.  The Black child who is looked at with suspicion or asked if he is lost.  The older gentleman or woman who is asked if their kids know they are doing this.  The woman hiking alone who is asked if her husband approves and what about her kids.The female climbing guide who is mansplained.  The Black gay woman who worries for her safety because of what she sees and hears on the trail.  The lesbians who claim they are sisters because they feel at risk at a campground.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

There seems to be an idea of who belongs in the outdoors and who does not.  There are ideas of gender, body types, fitness, speed, race, etc.  If you don't fit that mold, you are told to change or do something else.  Lots of groups also tend to cater to the fitness/speed ideal.  While there is nothing wrong with this, little else is offered.  Some fantastic groups like Trail Dames and Outdoor Afro exist, but they seem to be few and far between.  One of the reasons I tend to hike alone is that I hate that I am slow and struggle. I hike, I have achieved goals, it makes me happy.  I may never do book time, but I will make it eventually.  By the way, book time is considered slow.  Book time being 2mph plus 30min for each 1000ft of elevation.  I guess I am glacial.

Even before I started doing the backpacking class, I knew I wanted to help people, especially women, to feel confident.  I have to seen women struggle with clothing made for an ideal,or try to get a pack to fit that has been shrinked and pinked.  While it is incredibly awesome to have clothing and gear made for women, manufacturers need to realize that not all women are just smaller.  And my God, not all of us like pretty soft colors.  And YO, we need pockets.  Women come in all shapes and sizes.  Believe me, I have seen many things to complain about.  Many.  Lots.  However, until people speak up and demand change, nothing will happen.  So ladies, started emailing and demand pockets.  And ask for color coded straps.  Confidence with gear is one thing I can try to do.  What happens when they use the gear, I can't control.

I do seem to talk more about women, but the truth is, we tend to get the shorter end of the stick.  We are criticized for our weight, appearance, age, gear, relationship status, etc.  I am very lucky that I have friends who could care less about my gender or skin color.  I am beyond lucky and I know it.  I have encouragement and unbiased advice.  That is why I feel it is important to provide encouragement, even if it is describing a work around a tough trail.  And I guess just  doing it encourages others.  You know if they see me do it, they feel like they can.  Who knows.  I just want to end this idea of what is the ideal hiker.  The only ideal hiker is one who is prepared with the 10 essentials and knowledge.  That's it.  You can be male, female, transgender, Black, Hispanic, White, Asian, old, young, short, tall, thin, fat, slow, fast, amputee, wheelchair bound, it does not matter.  If you are prepared and knowledgeable, you are a hiker in my book.

So what did I write?
It has to be said, so I am just going to say it. Alabama lady had a point about athletes being the only people able to hike in the Northeast, I say this as a fat, slow hiker. There, I admitted it. I am fat, overweight, by some measures obese. I don't get a lot of exercise because I have 2 jobs and some hormonal thing that kills my energy levels. I have lots of stress and I have a heart murmur. I might have asthma, but I will find out Tuesday. I know these are lame excuses for being fat, but it is my reality. I am just not fit enough to hike. I hiked for 4 hours, but could not get Old Speck. I did work. Getting kids to stay sane for the last 88 minutes of the school year. I drove 4 hours just to get there. And on less than 4 hours of sleep. I know, lame excuses. People with half of what I have do twice that. I do not know why I make destructive decisions not to do at least 30 minutes of cardio every day and eat "bad" food. How can I call myself a hiker when I do not act like one?
If you sense the sarcasm in this, you get a cookie...which someone needs to remind me that I need to buy. Please message me to remind me. I work with women who I know will get discouraged because they are larger or slower. I know what people will say to them because I have heard it before. I know some will spend tons of money and get discouraged. And maybe quit. Which is sad because, umm, hiking is an awesome way to get healthy. Not thin, healthy. Because weight is not the only thing that makes people slow. I have also heard many people say they cannot get onto hikes without the right pedigree. All this makes me sad. The trail has done things for me no gym or medicine could. It cannot replace medicine, or daily walking, but it made a HUGE difference in a life that was spiraling into an abyss. I am a better person because of hiking. I have made many awesome friends from hiking. I always tell women in my classes to find their tribe. It is hard, but essential. I hate that people feel like I often do, embarrassed and not worthy of the trail. And want to know something? After school, I could have gone home and slept. Saving maybe $70 in gas, tolls, and campsite. I could have taken a nap and eaten chocolates. But I drove 4 hours, started hiking late, didn't summit (shameful), hiked down in the dark and rain, and had no fun putting up my tent at near midnight. But I woke up and had tea by a river. I enjoyed fresh air as I began 1 of 2 crazy 8 hour days. I did not try, I did. I got exercise. I did something many will not even think about. I saw what I am capable of, what I am made of. I faced fears and was prepared for the unexpected.
And Ilse made my day. Not bad for a fat, slow hiker. Maybe one day I will be a real hiker. Until then, I will be hiking and backpacking.
Image may contain: outdoor and nature
Grafton Notch Campground FTW

And for the record, I did make it to Old Speck.  Kind of.  I have awesome friends. Thank you Ilse.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

2017 Seek the Peak

Sooooo, you know the deal.

Seek the Peak is a hiker event.  We hike to raise money for the Mount Washington Observatory.  And if I am going to fundraise for a non-social/medical/educational cause, this is it.  Many people, hikers and non-hikers alike, rely on the forecast from the Observatory.  They collect vital data to help us make sense of our weather and climate.  They also have a fabulous museum with cool exhibits.  As the highest mountain in the Northeast, it gets lots of traffic from people who want to see all it has to offer.

This is my second time Seeking the Peak.  Please consider a donation to help me support this great organization.  And yes, there will be pictures.

Karen's Fundraising Page

And from my last trip.  Scroll to the bottom for more awesome pictures.

2013 Seek the Peak

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Retail Therapy

You know the deal.  Contents of my blog are my thoughts only.  They may not reflect the ideas of REI, the AMC, MA DESE, Greater Lowell Technical.  You have been warned.

Yeah, it’s been a bit quiet in here.  I have done some hiking. No new 4Ks since Mansfield, but I did Pierce for February.  Did lots of little stuff.  A winter camping trip too.  Some adventures in Maine.  Trust me, get snow tires.  With school, work, and 2 wonderful bouts of bronchitis, I have been sidelined.  Try getting energy when faced with all that.  Yeah, I could cut expenses and quit REI.  Yeah, I hear you laughing too.  Let’s face it, that keeps me from getting out like the cat having issues.  Actually Willy’s IBD has kept my plans small, but working hasn’t.  I understand.  There are retail jobs, but there are completely different retail jobs.  That is REI.  It is retail, but it has been on the Forbes 100 list of best places to work for 20 years.  That says something.  We are #28, above Marriott.  And Marriott employees treat you like family.  But so do we.  

Springer Mountain register

Imagine this on top of your car.
REI is different. It is a cooperative started by friends who just wanted quality gear. Clicky the linky. Almost 80 years later, we are the largest consumer cooperative. Members drive decisions, not shareholders. Who are REI members? Owners. Our members help us make decisions about gear and how we spend our profits. Whether we help build trails in CA or offer funds to local outdoor organizations, we help others enjoy the outdoors. We are launching Force of Nature, an initiative to encourage women to go outside and be themselves without labels. Yes, there are other benefits. Up to 10% back in dividends on full price purchases. Discount on rental, shop services, rentals, lift ticket, classes, and adventures. And access to our awesome Garage Sales. Think running of the brides with used gear. Someone's dislike of a color can save you lots. And how much for so many benefits...$20, for a lifetime. Yup, a lifetime.

Taking #forceofnature to the kids.  No, they have not figured out where I work yet.
So what is so great about working at REI?  Well, where else can you dress up as Elf on the Shelf on Christmas Eve?  Who gives you 2 days off to play outside?  And who really wants to work on Black Friday?  I don’t. Haven’t since I started working at REI. We have it off so we can go outside and play. And guess what? Other companies are following our lead to enjoy the outdoors instead of all the craziness in the mall.  Yeah, there is an employee discount and ProDeals, but working at REI is so much more.  This is the one place where I feel like I am appreciated.  Where I feel like I have to do my best because people believe that is what I am capable of.  I feel like I make a difference and people are truly thankful.  I can get that in teaching, but this is different.  Kids have to be there.  Customers choose to be at REI.  

#OptOutside 2016  Mt. Hight.
Mt. Mansfield
Somewhere on the Kanc.

Plus I work with awesome people.  I mean really great people.  We work together and help each other.  We take on different roles to help our customers.  What if a customer has a question we can’t answer?  We get on the radio and find an answer.  We have fun, turning stressful situations into something to laugh at.  We dress up on Halloween, wear jerseys on Sundays, and everyone was in green on St. Patrick’s Day.  We have store get togethers, camp outs, and movie nights.  I mean, this is retail. How many people want to hang out with the people they work with? This is more like a family. Did I mention the food?  Makes the holidays bearable.  

Sasquatch says find me.

Pizza and Elf!

Laser tag with style.
Santa's spy.

Are there days where I wish I didn’t go in?  Of course.  Bad day at school.  Lack of sleep.  Being sick.  Too much hiking beforehand.  Just feeling crabby.  There are those days.  But I put on a smile and get to work.  And there are those customers, very few and very far between, but they are there.  It seems like all they want to do is make you feel awful.  Since last October, I have only had that happen once.  But remember, I have awesome coworkers (and customers).  So 5 minutes later, you are laughing.  Do I make mistakes?  YUP.  But we are very good about fixing them and making sure they do not happen again.  And I am learning new things. I started training in clothing and footwear.  I even do a class now.  Women’s backpacking, like you didn’t already know.  And I got Rock Star for my birthday month.  Kinda like employee of the month, just better.

So how long will I work a second job?  I don’t know. I really don’t want to leave.  This is a great place to work.  I like the people I work with and it is a nice break from the usual.  If nothing else, it makes me go out and interact with people.  Plus I get to know about all the new gear that is out.  I have something special.  What started out as a way to make ends meet when I took a new job is a wonderful part of my life. How many people can say they have two jobs that allow them to enjoy their passions?  

Some of my REI family.  

Random meeting with peeps from the Cranston, RI store.  We are a LARGE family.

Yes, he found his way home.
Please buy HydroFlask tumblers.  Pretty Please.  Give one to all your friends.  Cool colors too.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lame post about lots of mountains

The paper says yes
As I recover from a very long work week, I realized I missed posting about a whole lot of hikes. A whole bunch.  And the AT too.  It was not like I was so busy outside, but with school starting, a sick cat (mostly, he is just a jerk), and work, all my free time has been resting or planning. And a night or two with some Hooliganz.  And being sick. I mean really, do we need to have a new infectious plague every week?  At some point my liver will run on Vitamin I.  It is a short week, so maybe I will have energy, while preparing to go to Maine and break out the trail to South Crocker.  Again.  UGH.

Yeah, lots happened.  

The AT (I have friends with good phones)

That's Moxie Bald you damn defacing thrubies 

Flags on the 48 (Halfway up courtesy of Casey)

Finished Baxter 4Ks on North Brother

Mansfield (awesome shots courtesy of Alvaro)

breaking trail in October (not quite South Crocker)

I have the rest of the Maine 4Ks and Ellen/Camels Hump in Vermont to finish the 67.  I can do it by my birthday.  If the logging roads are open Thursday/Friday.  If not, I am going to have some long ass trips, possibly involving camping in winter.  I can do this.  I better stock up on 5hr energy and coffee.

Friday, August 12, 2016

24 hours in Baxter

The signs are there if you pay attention.


In college, trips to Maine meant trips to LL Bean.  Then it was trips to Ogunquit.  Acadia was next.  Now it is 5hr drives to Baxter.  And yes, this time it was a spur of the moment trip up.  But it was so worth it.  I would not have forgiven myself if I stayed home.  The weather was perfect, there was a space in the Roaring Brook bunkhouse.  So I packed up and got ready to make the drive up.  I even filled my water bladder so I would not have do it in the morning.  Maybe the third time would be a charm.  I knew some friends who were going up too, would I see them?  So after realizing that getting gas at the Bangor Mall exit was a bad idea (hint, take 95 South for one mile and turn around), I drove the loneliest 50 miles ever.  I have no idea whether a Sasquatch would jump out at me or run me off the road.  The speed limit is 75, so anything is possible.


And yes, they remembered me.  Kinda nice.  But they are all nice up in Maine.  Must be in the water or something.  And another nice surprise, I had the bunkhouse to myself.  Nice, but I do not know how to use the gas lamps.  That’s OK, I have headlamps.  The wind made it kinda creepy at night.  It was hard to sleep as it was.  There is a reason that air mattress is 8 bucks at Walmart.  And it is too  big for the space.  It worked OK.   I got some sleep listening to the Catholic radio station.  My antenna broke, so choices were limited.  I was hoping for a French lesson.  And the weather band helped me learn more than I ever wanted to know about the weather trends in the area.

So I mosey myself to get ready.  I was up at 4:40, but I took forever to get ready.  And I prehydrated, that might have slowed me down. So, I get on the trail and join the Chimney Pond Trail Conga Line.  No lie, 20 of us started together.  There are several options from Roaring Brook.  Helon Taylor for Pamola and Knife Edge to Baxter (Katadhin), Saddle and Cathedral from Chimney Pond to Katahdin.  I took a few bypasses to Hamlin Ridge, skipping Chimney Pond.  I almost got here last month before my toes spasmed.  I used my Oboz this time, so my feet were happy.  Took some great pics at the view and noticed the swampy area was completely dry.  I got my feet wet there last month.  And people, for the love of God, pack out your damn TP.  Finally made it to the bypass, complete with a beaver dam.  Dam beavers. It was messy, but doable.  Then blueberries..  Oh the blueberries.  Easily spent a good half hour eating blueberries.  On to Hamlin Ridge, a few steep pitches and you are above treeline.  And the fun begins.  

Those fluffy clouds tried to beat me up.


Damn beavers.

Going up to Hamlin is much like Lafayette.  You think you are there and NOPE.  You see the top, but it seems to get further every step.  It’s one of those rocky trails with a scramble or two for fun.  I budgeted 2 hours for the 1.1 mile to the summit.  I did not take into account the wind.  MAN OH MAN, the wind.  I met a friend who turned around because of the gusts.  Some reached 60 or more IMHO.  I thought it would slow down, and it did for a while.  But they came back with a vengeance, and sometimes no warning.  You have 5 minutes of nothing and the BLAM, you are blown into a boulder.  Step, step, step, hunker down.  Step, hide behind cairn.  I was terrified a few times, but did not want to go back down that ridge.  I wanted to be on top and go back to safety.  I had met a nice older couple from VT on the way up.  We kept a pretty similar pace, but they were smart and took more breaks.  I kept thinking that if they keep going, I should too.  So I did.  Hiking in Baxter is hard enough, but the wind made me slower and more careful.  It took forever, and the time kept flying, as did stuff off my pack.  But I finally made it.  Over 3 hours, but I made it.  I got on my knees, said a Hail Mary and Our Father, and took it all in.


My kingdom.  Just had to say that.

I was so happy not to do Knife Edge.
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?

Are we there yet now?
Soapbox:  I was so happy I was not on the Knife Edge.  I mean, I have no desire to do it and after this, I feel like I had the life changing experience people say I am missing.  It’s a choice.  If you want to, do it.  If not, don’t.  But don't tell people they are missing something.  They have their reasons.  Show some respect.  Would you tell someone with a peanut allergy that they are missing out on peanut butter?  Let people hike their own hike.  Some people have a more adventurous manner, some don’t and just want a smaller, just as liberating challenge.  We are all different.  I don’t put down people who do Everest or climb rockfaces.  Why put down someone who does not want to do that?

It was better that I dreamed of.  And yes, still windy.  It seemed more windy.  Right in my face too. And I had to ask, "is this all you got?" Apparently not  The couple from VT made it up too.  We took pictures of it all.  There was another group, but I think they might have turned around.  Lots of people were going down the ridge. We made our way down to the Saddle on the Tablelands.  AH, the tablelands.  I remember them being a nice flat and level dirt path to a steep pitch and Katahdin.  I do not remember boulder fields.  I hate boulder fields.  I made it, but still, the hate lives on.  Now the top of the Saddle is a slide.  I hate slides, but I was not going back down that ridge.  The Saddle is protected from the wind, but it is steep, gravelly, and loose scree.  The first half mile was trying not to slide to my death and the navigating some large rocks.  FUN, not.  A mile in Baxter is honestly 3 miles in the real world. I was not the only person struggling, many were.  It is steep and unstable in some parts.  Of course, there were people on a mission to get past the slow people.  I lost track of the VT couple which  was sad.  I always meet great people hiking, and I was only halfway down the Saddle.  

Time for a new sign.
One more gust and this would have been x-rated.

Big K.

WOAH, that is a long way down.
As I prayed (yes, I did a lot of praying going down the Saddle.  Some of those prayers may have been laced with ungodly words) and picked my way down, I stopped to let another hiker through and to my absolute shock, it was Roberta.  OMG, no way.  I knew she going to be at Chimney Pond and I planned to leave a note for her.  This was just amazing, we could never have planned this.  We made plans to have dinner at Chimney Pond.  I continued down but that last half mile is rocky and still steep.  Sigh.  Met the cute ranger for Chimney Pond on the way down too.  I finally made it.  I figured I would use the privy before trying to find Roberta, who I was sure was asleep by then.  First was occupied so went to the other one.  It was a double stall.  Peed like a racehorse on diuretics.  There is no privacy above treeline.  You either hold it or hope you have enough time to take a quick pee and that the wind does not blow it back on you.  Of course, I had to take pictures of the signs in the privy.  And I kept thinking that the person next to me must think I am a nut.  So I leave, as does the person next to me.  And yes, it was Roberta.  Seriously, you cannot make this stuff up.  Yup.  I am sure we ruined someone’s quiet wilderness experience, but hey, we were enjoying life.  

Photo by Roberta.  We both had no clue what was about to happen.

Photo by Roberta.   I gotta get of those tripod thingies.
So we had a nice dinner by the unreal Chimney Pond.  I love Carter Notch, but this was just otherworldly.  It was as if we were no longer in Maine.  She did Knife Edge.  Yes, with those winds.  If there is anyone I believed could do it, it is Roberta.  Nice calm yoga teacher by day, badass hiker outside the studio.  We had a grand time, enjoying every moment and the strange coincidence that we met where we did.  Yeah, I was not going to get back until dark, but really would you pass up dinner with a friend in such a beautiful place?  We’ve been friends on FB for a while and how funny that we meet on a trail in the middle of Maine Wilderness.  It was like we were too schoolgirls who met after 30 years.  And thanks to her, I realized bunchberries can give you a nice boost and that I need to hydrate more.  The bunkhouse was full, but I had my winter bivy and was tempted to stay the night, but I knew I had to go.  So we said goodbye and the people at the campground were probably rejoicing that one of those loud ladies left.

Roberta and I enjoying life thanks to her photo skills.
Going back, I realized how dry things have gotten.  I believe this is the third worst drought, at least in MA.  There were bridges over dry stream beds.  There was not much mud the whole trip.  It was getting dark and I heard all sorts of noises.  The only animal I saw was a deer in the trail.  She moved aside so I could pass.  Things were beginning to hurt.  I took some Vit. I at Chimney Pond, but my feet did not care.  And I had to pee again.  So I make my way back, pee, and get ready to go home.  It was 8:30 and there were still some cars in the day use lot.  Why I took my phone off airplane mode, I do not know why, but I did find that there are a few places on the Tote Road what get text service.  Even for 3G.  Oh the Tote Road at night.  My poor car must hate me when I say we are going to Baxter.  Oh well, she is a tank.  

I decided just to drive home because I wanted to save some money and I had things to do.  I didn’t do them because my body took a whole two days to punish me.  The only tough part is the 75mph zone with the speeding trucks and shadows that look like moose.  I was on a hiker high, so no drowsiness.  I did take a nap, but I was fine for the drive.  Except the peeing.  I do not take hydration lightly.  Everything was just fine until I hit the MA line.  The bathrooms are closed at night and no portable toilets.  And ONE lane to 495.  Oh and no one told the speeding trucks.  It was interesting, but I watched from the rest area trying to find a place to pee that is acceptable to civilization.  No such luck.  So I get into the traffic and speed home.  Let me tell you, commuters can fly at 5am.  Luckily I missed the usual tie ups and made it home just after 6, as my neighbors were going to work.  Breakfast and sleep.

It is going to take more than 40 minutes to get home.
Yes, that guy has a tent on top of his van.
When the signs are there, sometimes you just have to take the chance and do something awesome.  I did.  This was attempt 3 (first was no go with weather and leftover flu).  It was the charm in so many ways.  There were just so many wonderful things that happened on this trip, I lost count.  I could not have asked for a better trip.  If you listen and are open, life tells you have to do things that will make you happy.  It may be risky.  You may be living on ramen for weeks, but you have to take those chances.  They do not come around too often.