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 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!

Why do We Walk? (Super Fun Survey)

This survey is finished!  Read about the results here.

Hey- I need your help!  If you fill out this survey, I can get more information to write about walking and its cultural importance and relevance to conservation efforts!  If that isn’t fun enough and you want it to feel more like a Buzzfeed personality quiz, you can tell me in one of the comment boxes and I’ll give you a PERSONAL AND HANDCRAFTED vague, generally positive assessment of your personality.  🙂  Click the cute button to participate!

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Anyone should fill out this survey, even if walking isn’t a big part of your life.  I can’t afford Survey Monkey’s logic options to not show you irrelevant questions, but none of them are required, so feel free to skip some if they are totally irrelevant to you.

 

You Should Go Snowshoeing this Winter!

I just went snowshoeing this weekend, and after seeing this article about the practical benefits of snowshoeing, I thought I’d add my own, less objective reasons to snowshoe.  I think it’s one of the most underrated activities out there, maybe because it seems like hard work (which it is, but it’s fun work!)

img_20161210_111258347

  1. It’s cheap and low-commitment.  The Just Trails article covers this.  Snowshoes are not expensive, easy to learn to use, and not super huge, so it’s easy to try out snowshoeing or have it as a minor hobby without expending a ton of effort on it.
  2. You’ll see parts of nature you wouldn’t otherwise see. On this short hike, we saw bunny tracks going into holes!  We also saw some hardy birds and perfect snowflakes that looked just like miniature versions of the paper ones we made as children.  It’s another side of nature that comes out at winter, it’s quieter and pristine (and sparkly).img_20161210_122326614
  3. You can also build snowmen or have snowball fights!  If you live somewhere like Seattle where it doesn’t snow much in your city but there’s snow nearby, snowshoeing can be a great excuse to get out and do those things you want to do in the snow.  Make a snow angel, try to build an igloo, or build a weird animal out of snow!  We made a snow chipmunk.img_20161210_131436186
  4. It’s a great workout.  Seriously.  If you want to sweat the most you ever have on a hike, find some fresh powder and try to walk on it.  Even in snowshoes, your feet will sink over a foot.  It’s a little like trying to walk in a swimming pool.  Sure, you won’t go as far, but you’ll feel like you did!
  5. It’s build-your-own-adventure! Often, there is no trail.  You need to be careful of water or tree wells, and unless you are somewhere very popular (which is cool too) you will need a GPS, but you are more free than ever to explore the landscape because defined trails aren’t as necessary when deep snow is protecting all of the life from your impact.  Also, in many places you will see few to no other snowshoers, so it’ll feel like following your own path instead of a groomed trail. It is important to follow rules from the place you are snowshoeing regarding where you can go, heed avalanche warnings, and follow reasonable safety procedures as detailed here.
  6. But it also doesn’t have to be!  If you’re a beginner or have kids, you can snowshoe on super-well-established trails where you will see tons of people and have no danger of getting lost or caught in an avalanche.  A lot of cross-country skiing locations also have snowshoeing.  There is something with the right level of adventure for anyone.img_20161210_112912077
  7. It’s super meditative.  This is my favorite reason of them all.  Snowshoeing is more relaxing than hiking because the landscape becomes so visually simple and clean.  You hear so much less in the winter (so you really notice what you do hear) and you smell only that strange clean smell of snow.  And you are almost always alone.  Moving slowly through an entirely white landscape is a great way to clear your head and reconnect with your body.

Do you have any other reasons you love snowshoeing?  I hope you get out in the snow this season!

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