Hiking Buddy Application

Note:  This is not actually meant to be a method of  judging people to be fit or unfit as hiking partners, it is just a slightly tongue-in-cheek idea I had after some conversations about What Makes a Good Hiking Buddy (an undefinable concept).  It might be a good way to get to know people before you hike with them though?

I put my answers at the bottom for fun.  Also if any of this seems oddly specific, it’s definitely in honor of one of my favorite hiking partners 🙂

  1.  Do you hike a lot?
    A. I don’t remember the last time I went a whole week without hiking.
    B. I hike when other people invite me or I am traveling.
    C. I guess I’ll look at the Grand Canyon or something.
    D. Ew, exercise?
  2.  How important is keeping up a quick pace to you?
    A. I love to time myself and try to beat my best time.
    B. I like to be able to hike fast enough to go farther and finish ambitious hikes.
    C. I love me some extended breaks.
    D. I literally couldn’t care less about speed.
    E. I gotta take my time and “my time” is a lot of it.
  3. Do you like bagels?
    A. Yes
    B. I can’t eat gluten or a bagel killed my family
    C. Why does there need to be another option?
  4. How do you feel about hiking in the rain?
    A. I love rain, especially on certain types of hikes.
    B. Maybe on occasion I’d choose to hike knowing it would rain.
    C. I can deal with it, but I won’t be happy.
    D. Why would you ever make me go outside in the rain?
  5. How prepared are you for cold?
    A. I know myself and own several warm layers.
    B. I can make it work for a day.
    C. I kind of hate the cold.
    D. I might die if you take me somewhere it is snowing.
  6. What happens if we end up hiking in the dark?
    A. I love night hiking sometimes, even on purpose, as long as the terrain isn’t terrible.
    B. Sounds like a scary but fun adventure.
    C. Uh… I’d rather not.
    D. I am legitimately terrified of the dark.
  7. What kind of snacks do you like (select all that apply)?
    A. Dark chocolate
    B. Clif bars
    C. Bread and cheese
    D. GORP
    E. Fruits (fresh or dried)
    F. Jerky
    G. Elaborate homemade meals
    H. I can carry cupcakes in my pack without smushing the icing
    I. I exist entirely on performance foods for runners
  8. How many hours can you hike in a day and still have fun?
    A. 0-4
    B. 4-8
    C. 8-10
    D. 10+
    E. What is a day?  I really like to challenge how long I can go without sleep.
  9. How much do you like to plan your hikes?
    A. I’m awful at planning.
    B. I’ll plan whatever is necessary for reasonable levels of safety.
    C. I like to do a lot of research, even about things where there is little danger.
    D. I will be pulling out some excel spreadsheets and maybe a powerpoint.
  10. What do you do if you feel something is unsafe?
    A. Macho man through it and say nothing
    B. Have a conversation with my partner and try to change strategy
    C. Let my partner carry on without me and go back
    D. Complain and never hike with the person again
  11. Which of the following skills do you bring to the table (select all that apply)?
    A. Recognizing and treating hypothermia and heat exhaustion
    B. Wilderness first aid
    C. Basic navigation
    D. Evaluating avalanche safety
    E. Communicating with European tourists (or locals when you are a tourist) using an elaborate system of hand signals
    F. Being self-sufficient on a backpacking trip
    G. Cooking things at camp that taste good even when you haven’t walked 20+ miles
    H. Actual mountaineering skills
    I. Taming chipmunks
  12. Do you like multi-day trips?
    A. Let me live in the woods for months.
    B. For a couple/few days.
    C. I’ll camp by my car.
    D. I like beds.
  13. How do you feel about singing while hiking?
    A. Bring on the sing-a-longs!
    B. There’s a time and a place.
    C. Ugh, shut up!
  14. What kind of nature knowledge do you have?
    A. I carry a magnifying glass so I can study moss.
    B. I know the names of all the birds and flowers.
    C. I can tell the difference between a false morel and a morel.
    D. I can find a few edible plants and recognize poison ivy…?
    E. What’s a squirrel?
  15. How do you feel about dogs?
    A. I only ever hike with my dog and my dog is perfect.
    B. I like to bring a dog that gets me tangled in trees constantly.
    C. I don’t have a dog, but BRING YOUR DOG I LOVE DOGS.
    D. I’ll be happy for the company if it can keep up.
    E. Kind of not that into dogs.
    F. I am terrified of dogs.
  16. What’s your biggest pet peeve in a hiking partner?  ___________________________________________________

 

My answers are: 1. A  2. B  3. A  4. A  5. A  6. A  7. A,B,C,E  8. D  9. B  10. B  11. A,C,D,F,I (definitely not G)  12. A  13. A  14. D  15. D  16. People who can’t handle unexpected problems, tied with the smell of tuna

I’m super interested to see your answers, if you want to post them below!!

Solemates: Adventures in Having Far Too Many Feelings About Shoes (And No Shame About That Pun)

I have a pair of shoes.  Basically just the one.  I also have a couple of fun pairs from over the years that are totally impractical, climbing shoes, and a pair of mountaineering boots for when it’s really cold, but otherwise everything falls on my trusty single pair of shoes.  I had a pair I loved.  They were perfect.  We did everything together.  Over 1000 miles of movie montage moments: walking to work; hiking on rock, ice, snow and mud; carrying heavy exhibits and working in the shop; standing around at the crag; I even ran in them the approximately two times a year I pretend that I like running.

But they were wearing out.  Chunks of foam were falling out– I ignored them.  They looked gross, but I pretended not to notice.  They developed a hole in the sole, and I even covered it with gaffe tape for a bit.  But it was time for them to go.  And the style had been discontinued a year ago.  As someone who spends essentially all of my time on my feet, it was an emotional realization.

I expressed my pain to others.  “My mom really likes this brand,” they would say.  Meanwhile, another person owned shoes of that brand that wore out very quickly.  “Don’t you want ankle support?” not realizing they were talking about the most important thing I owned.  None of them understood that bond I have with my shoes.  It just wasn’t as simple of a purchase as they were making it out to be!

Of course, when I went to REI, a couple of salespeople tried to convince me that I just couldn’t use one pair of shoes for everything.

“I want them to survive a little snow but not be waterproof, so they dry out,” I’d say.

“Sounds like you need different pairs of hiking shoes for different seasons,” they’d say, as if this was a reasonable approach that every sane person uses for their footwear decisions.  “And why don’t you have different street shoes than hiking shoes?”  It was like telling me to settle for a few casual acquaintances and surrender my best friend.

Eventually, I settled for a durable-looking set of trail runners, sticking stubbornly to the non-waterproof version that was only available online.  I wore them 10+ miles every weekday on pavement, to the shop, on a rock climbing trip, to climb a mountain through a bunch of slush, and on a run in a local park.

Two weeks later, they were falling apart.

Two weeks!  I returned them to REI.

“I hate to do this because I wear shoes so hard, but I just bought them and they’re peeling a bunch.”

“How long has it been?”

“I’m not sure, maybe two weeks?”

He obviously didn’t believe me, so he looked it up.  “Good lord, it has only been two weeks, what did you do to them?!”

I walked, trusting and barefoot, to the shoe department to try again.  Immediately a serene-looking man offered to help.  He had a British accent and was angelically backlit.  “What do you use your shoes for?”  he asked, after I explained I’d just wrecked a pair far too quickly.

“Everything.”  And he didn’t correct me.

After he suggested some refreshingly reasonable options which still just didn’t feel like The One, I noticed he was wearing sandals and hazarded, “do you just wear sandals all the time?”

Apparently he did.  Also apparently we had all of the same foot problems and both loved walking barefoot.  We had a really embarrassingly lame conversation about high arches and toe splay and stuff really no one cares about and he brought me some “minimalist” running shoes to try on since it would feel like walking barefoot.

“Can I really wear these all day, for everything?”  I asked skeptically.

“I’ve run marathons in them,” he assured me, with a yoga teacher smile. “It’s like being a kid again, you can feel everything.”

They were so comfortable!  I knew that these types of shoes caused some people a lot of pain.  I knew that it was a big risk to buy these shoes and wear them to do literally everything immediately.  But cults just have a way of sucking you in, and the minimalist footwear thing did just that to me, in that moment.

I walked outside and started focusing on walking mostly on the balls of my feet.  It was different, but I was ready to get to know my new best friends (and cultlike footwear lifestyle).

What I do on my walk to work

A couple of months ago, I finally got a job where I can walk to work. Every day I walk about 3 miles each way through the beautiful downtown areas of Seattle. I struggled with writing about exactly what I love about walking to work, so I’ve just decided to share a list of ways it has significantly improved my quality of life.

  1. Wake up (enough to wait a couple more hours for free coffee)
  2. Remember what I am going to do that day
  3. Catch up on people I meant to text and forgot, thoughts I meant to think and forgot
  4. Call my parents
  5. Get a little workout
  6. Connect with my body by moving
  7. Watch flowers bloom and die, sometimes see the sunrise
  8. See concert posters for events I might be interested in
  9. Have a spontaneous encounter with a friend, who walks with me for a while
  10. Run errands, like buying groceries, without making a separate trip
  11. Go places after work without having to worry about parking
  12. Buy flowers for my partner on my way home
  13. Be alone
  14. Process my feelings
  15. Avoid sitting in traffic
  16. Get to know my city and see its daily movements
  17. Look at the super cute pink elephant car wash sign
  18. Have at least a couple of dog encounters
  19. Take a different route or hang out in a coffee shop I’ve never been to
  20. Pick my partner up from work and walk home with him
  21. Listen to music
  22. Engage in some awkward dance-walking
  23. See random moments in strangers’ lives
  24. Calm down by spending time doing something interesting but not frustrating

What It’s Like to Walk the Same Block 100 Times, and For a Lot of People to Know About It

Last Monday I had the interesting experience of doing an informal performance walking around a single city block 100 times (about 20 miles), and of it becoming more publicly visible than I anticipated. It was supposed to be a personal, ephemeral thing where I could immerse myself in something repetitive and reflect on it after, and maybe find out what it was like to interact with strangers in this vulnerable context.

Instead, it turned out that so many people who didn’t see it in person were affected by it.  I received messages from urban planners on Facebook about the importance of walking, and I was recognized by strangers days after the event.  This wasn’t what I intended, and I could have handled my interviews better, but I do love that this act was almost totally shaped by chance and other people’s actions/interpretations.  It was a fun way for me to think about at what point I am making art, how intentional I should be or should not be about it, and how actually nice people in Seattle are on the internet.  I decided to just publish my thoughts while it was happening, since my experience is probably the most interesting result of this experiment.

Lap 1:  It’s a nice day.  There are layers of stickers on everything, so I feel like it’s going to be a challenge to focus on something other than the stickers, street art, and posters.  There are a lot of typically Seattle things to notice here: a glass fish, an Elvis statue, some drunk people.  I should try to actually talk to some people today, I doubt anyone is actually going to go out of their way to talk to me.  Maybe I’ll ask this lady to take a picture of her dog.

Lap 5:  I finally get the courage to take a picture of someone’s dog.  I see some carpet cleaners (or something like that) getting their supplies out of their van, joking around.  They seem cheery for a Monday morning.

Lap 18:  I really have to pee, so I stop in the bar to use the bathroom.  At this point Wade is with me still, and I can hear him talking to the bartender.  “What is she doing?”  “She’s walking around the block 100 times.  I’m just hanging out until my job interview.”  “…Okay.”

Lap 22:  There are some people spray painting… something… by a trash can.  A couple guys coming and going and joking around.  I can’t tell what they are doing but don’t want to stare.

Lap 23:  One of the something-painters looks up, gestures to the other.  “Is that her?”  “Yeah.  It’s gotta be.”  I confirm that I am the girl with the posters and take their picture.  They are maybe painting some audio equipment?

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Lap 27: Stopping at Lost Lake for a bunch of potatoes.

Lap 28:  I notice some daffodils by the Rancho Bravo.  Also that their planters still have stickers with instructions on them.  Some new abandoned boots have materialized on the sidewalk across the street.  Hairstylists out for probably their second smoke break obviously notice I’ve passed multiple times, don’t confront me though.  This makes me feel super weird and vulnerable.

Lap 31:  Someone stood the abandoned boots up neatly on the corner.  A girl is carrying daffodils.

Lap 32:  One of my posters has been moved by someone putting up a ton of concert posters where it was.  I thank him for moving it instead of taking it down.  He smiles and looks confused.

Lap 33:  I see a parking enforcement person giving the carpet cleaners a parking ticket.  The daffodils by Rancho Bravo are gone.

Lap 36:  The painting guys have some baseball cards now.  I really don’t understand what’s going on.  They smile at me.  I stop in the same bar bathroom.  My bladder is so small… I’m glad the bartender is nice.

Lap 41:  A guy walks up to me and asks if I’m the girl with the posters.  He asks if he can interview me, and I agree but don’t understand why.  He explains who he is, and I’m halfway through a video about what I am doing before I realize I’ve totally heard of Dan Savage before.  I feel embarrassed for not acting appropriately impressed, also have no idea what to say in a video.  Is this random act even meant to be public in this way?  I thought I would have some awkward conversations with people who frequent this block; should I have expected this to happen?  I also look like shit because it’s raining.  Whoever Mr. Savage is with wants to know what kind of shoes I’m wearing.  They don’t make them anymore.  They disappear into an unmarked door.

20170320_135829

Lap 42:  I feel compelled to text people I know about what happened.  This is legitimately distracting, and I wonder if he will post something that will make people harass me in the street.  I am trying to focus on looking at the block again.

Lap 48:  One of the trees has a label saying what kind of tree it is.

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Lap 50:  I see the carpet cleaners back at their van on a break; they are laughing about the parking ticket.

Lap 62:  I feel like I should talk to the hairdressers, who are on another smoke break.  I could maybe take their picture.  I can’t do it because they just look so hip and annoyed with me.

Lap 64:  I get some messages with a link to the article with me in it, and I take a break at the coffee shop to watch the video.  I don’t really want to get sucked into reading internet comments, but I do, and I respond to some of them.  Someone finds me on messenger to tell me they want to walk with me, but they can’t because they live across the country.  A very overly excited guy sees my poster and tells me he just love loves what I am doing.  He hasn’t seen the video though.

Lap 68:  I get some high-fives from random commuters on their way home.  A couple in all Patagonia stuff tries to have a philosophical discussion with me.  The carpet cleaners have caught on and ask me what lap I am on.

Lap 70:  A guy who looks like he might be into The Grateful Dead asks if this is “some kind of neo-Fluxus thing.”  I tell him maybe.  It was mostly just a way to spend my day off.  I think he’s disappointed because he thinks I don’t know what he’s talking about.  Dan Savage comes back and asks me to answer questions by email later.

Lap 76:  Wade comes back and brings Paul.  They help me find new things to photograph, like an awful suit and an umbrella hanging from a power line.

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Lap 80:  Some people getting off a bus who I also saw in the morning ask me why I am doing this.  I get a beer.  I am a little overwhelmed by the dozens of people I have had to explain myself to.

Lap 82:  I haven’t eaten much, so I kind of really feel my beer.  Some people come and find me after seeing the article and walk a couple of blocks with me while waiting for dinner with a friend.  I try to make sense while talking to them.

Lap 90:  More high fives.  It starts to rain.

Lap 97:  I get ice cream at Molly Moon’s.

Lap 100:  I see some stores closing.  No one is talking to me anymore.  I go home.

5 Leave No Trace Practices You May Not Know, and Why They Matter

When I was hiking the AT, I learned a lot about the problems with heavily used trails. It’s difficult to convince people to practice good outdoor ethics without sounding preachy, but this is an issue close to my heart, so I decided to take a stab at spreading awareness. These are some of the problems I find people are most unaware of, or just tend to ignore because they see them as unimportant.

So next time you’re outside, keep these things in mind! I think knowing why rules are important can help you remember them. 

  1. Do not make new campsites in alpine zones.  Camping is usually rife with small rules/guidelines that depend on the type of use seen in the area you are camping in.  Many times, camping somewhere no one else has camped is an acceptable and low-impact activity, as long as you minimize your effect on the campsite (no fires, avoid moving many large objects, only stay one night, etc). But in alpine zones, the plant life is very different.  Alpine plants are more fragile and take much longer to grow with the limited resources available to them.  Mt. Rainier National Park recommends only camping on permanent snow or on grounds that have been used as a campsite before.  Camping in alpine meadows may not seem very different from choosing a campsite in a low-altitude forest, but in reality the impact can be many times greater, especailly these alpine zones are home to many rare species.
  2. When possible, don’t build a fire except in an established fire ring (and definitely don’t build new fire rings).   This one can be hard to swallow for people who love building fires, but fires are less important than they traditionally were for keeping warm and preparing food.  Building a fire isn’t always a huge problem (unless it’s actually forbidden), but camp stoves can be very light and much more convenient.  Plus, you avoid creating a fire risk, removing wood, and burning the ground.  Creating a fire ring and not dismantling it when you’re done is sometimes seen as a public service, but in reality, it just encourages people to build fires where it should not be specifically encouraged and creates work for trail maintainers, who often come through and remove them.
  3. Pick up after your dog.  Sometimes, leave no trace is about being kind to other visitors as well, and no one wants to step in or smell your dog poop.  And in some heavily used areas, the effect can be worse than a little grossness.  Dogs can poop near water sources used by backpackers, they can transmit disease to wildlife, and the nitrogen in their waste can contribute to altered soil chemistry and encourage growth of invasive species.  Pack it out, or on a multi-day trip, at least dig a proper cathole for your dog. (Notably, getting your dog a backpack can allow it to carry its own waste!)
  4. Don’t throw trash on the ground just because it’s “compostable.”  Not only are discarded orange peels ugly, but on a larger scale they can start to have a negative effect on wildlife.  Food trash is still something not normally found in the area, and animals may eat it and get sick.  It also contributes to animal behavioral problems, like annoying birds that stay too close to popular lunch spots and harrass people, or squirrels who get into everyone’s stuff at camp.
  5. Hang your bear bag.  On some level, most people know they are supposed to do this, but it can be annoying to do and so it is easy to rationalize skipping the chore if you don’t know of any bear danger nearby.  The problem with this is that this guideline isn’t just meant to protect you, but also other hikers in the future as well as wildlife. Not hanging bear bags in an area without bear problems can create them. Eating your food is bad for wildlife in general, plus it creates behavioral problems. Bears who develop these will likely be killed as a result. And future hikers may be annoyed or even hurt by the indirect results of your choices. A way to help mitigate this problem is to practice your bear bag strategies before you enter the backcountry and find out what works for you,  so you aren’t throwing rocks at trees late into the night.

What I Learned from Your Survey Responses

The answers to this survey were so diverse and thoughtful, I put off writing this for a long time because I was trying to figure out a way to do it justice.  The responses were surprisingly diverse, with people from every region of the US, an equal number of past thru-hikers and aspiring thru-hikers (20% of each), 40% people who don’t hike often, and a few people from Europe.  An unexpected issue with the survey was the number of people who didn’t answer arbitrary numbers of multiple-choice questions (I expected this with the open-ended one but got more/better responses than I imagined), and because of this combined with the modest sample size I think the results are not going to be statistically super scientific.  That being said, here are some of the things I noticed/my favorite responses.

Trail Maintenance
Around 30% of respondents named at least one trail club.
 The most mentioned was WTA (only 4 mentions, one of which was me) and the rest of the answers were totally unique.  People named big clubs, local park organizations, or said simply “there are none in central Kansas.”  I think this is pretty good, considering only around half of respondents hike at least once per month.  Only 40% of previous thru-hikers in the survey do trail maintenance, though.  We can do better!

Beautiful Reasons for Hiking
Spiritual reasons
were the most often cited as reasons to hike, as well as getting away from other people, communing with nature, and mental clarity.  Some of my favorite reasons mentioned were “chasing waterfalls” and “meeting people with dogs.” Sphagnum P.I. gave a good description of what you see when you are on foot and in nature: “There are endless discoveries waiting out there, whether they’re bugs, birds, plants, or people. The speed of walking to a destination allows chances to see everything in a detail we can’t get by any other mode of transport.”

Why We Walk
For hiking, the most important factors among those listed were a good workout, an interesting destination, and a lack of crowds.  This makes sense given the number of people who specifically mentioned that they hike to get away from people.  Convenience of location and availability were surprisingly middle-ranked for most people; I thought they would be major factors.  Three people put “the hike is close to my favorite pizza place” as the number one factor.  I can get behind this.

For walks around town, the most important factors were that the walk took people somewhere useful and that it was less than five miles long.  Weather and attractiveness of the route came next.  Some of the least important factors were someone to walk with and walks less than a mile.  I was encouraged by people’s willingness to walk more than one mile!  Some people mentioned specific problems that kept them from walking, such as lack of trees and confusing intersections.

Walkability and Urban Planning
On average, people rated their neighborhood 57% walkable
, even though a lot of the respondents were from rural/suburban areas.  Predictably, people in the northwest and northeast as well as Europe rated their neighborhoods most walkable, and the midwest did worse (except someone who loves walking around Columbus, Ohio!  You go Columbus!)

A couple of people made the totally valid point that public transit and bike lanes/paths make a lot of difference in the navigability of the city.  Of course, in order for buses to work, a city has to make it easy to walk to the bus stops, and bikes and pedestrians often share paths, so these things go hand-in-hand.  They are just as important for making a city feel livable, for sure.

Several people mentioned a need to encourage making “walking a part of our culture again” (Mouse) and that cities tend to be “designed with cars in mind” (Kathy).  Many felt that they had no idea how to advocate for walkability or that these concerns were largely ignored.  Some people expressed excitement about new developments to aid in walkability or expressed specific concerns, such as a person in Spain who was distressed about the lack of available dog poop bags to help with a waste problem.

If you want to help make your community walkable/bikeable, here are some simple things to do in your community  and some political advocacy tips.

 

Three Very Different Books About Walking

This book was a meandering but accessible description of why, culturally, we walk and how this has changed over the course of history. Everybody walks (well, almost), so the culture of walking is relevant to almost every field of study and every person. Walking, as Solnit says, is “an amateur act,” and it may be because of this that it is not examined as often as it could be. This book seamlessly combines Solnit’s personal experiences, science, and cultural analysis to examine how walking as a human activity has evolved. From Greek philosophers to ridiculous theories of bipedalism that postulate that it evolved in order to display the penis as a “threat display organ,” it covers a lot of ground from a lot of angles. It encompasses such diverse phenomena as pilgrimages, walk-a-thons, flaneurs, mountaineering, and English gardens. Notable (to me at least) is the almost complete absence of any discussion about thru-hiking and its culture, though it does mention the evolution of hiking as a pastime and Peace Pilgrim, who hiked the AT. Solnit mentions the trend, especially in America, of public spaces designed for cars endangering walkability in many cities. “When public space disappears, so does the body as… adequate for getting around.”

A book entirely about urban walkability, this treatise beats into your head the thousand different ways walking improves the economic, physical, and psychological well-being of a town.  Though somewhat dry and repetitive at times (yes, I understand that parking requirements are bad), it is very factual and well-researched.  The facts behind proper urban planning are so counter-intuitive, books like this are crucial to prevent politicians from making backwards decisions to earn the vote of an uninformed public.  Most normal methods of improving life for drivers, Speck tells us– such as widening roads, building more highways, and free parking– actually not only decrease walkability but also make traffic worse. If everyone were to read only one book about urban planning (which, honestly, is already being optimistic), it should be this one.

On the other end of the spectrum, Herzog’s book details an entirely impractical walk in the middle of winter from Munich to Paris. He believed walking to see his friend, Lotte Eisner, in the hospital would help her stay alive.  Herzog’s account is a stream-of-consciousness journal not originally intended for publication, and it is both mundane and magical.  His walk is far from hospitable, he has a difficult time finding a place to stay (which he frequently resolves with the questionable practice of breaking into people’s unoccupied vacation homes), and people often treat him like a vagrant.  He recognizes the pedestrian-unfriendly landscape- “you pass a lot of discarded rubbish as you walk”- and the all-too-relatable physical challenges of walking- “I had no idea walking could hurt so much.”  Even as he goes slightly crazy and has “long dialogues with… imaginary persons,” he notes the movements of birds, the activities of people in the towns, and other mundane things with matter-of-fact and beautiful language.  A short and digestible book, it has something intangible in common with his films and could make anyone want to embark on a poetic feat of human endurance.



You can click on any of the titles to buy the book on Amazon. The links are provided for convenience, but I figured I’d set up the commission system just in case anyone wants to buy them (gotta pay for that domain, yo).  So if this article did make you want to buy one of these books doing it here would be greatly appreciated!