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!!

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.

Two Thru Hikes, 38 Years Apart: An Interview with My Dad

I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail earlier this year (2016).  My dad thru-hiked back before it was really even much of a thing, in 1978. Obviously, a lot has changed about the trail in 40 years, but just how much?  While we were on a little hiking trip on the AT in Georgia this holiday season, I asked him some questions to compile some comparisons between our hikes.
(Note:  I hiked northbound.  My dad flip-flopped somewhere in Virginia and walked south from Katahdin.  Also I didn’t record my dad speaking so I just paraphrased unless it’s in quotes.)

There aren’t many photos from my dad’s thru hike, but this is one.

Was hiking the AT fun?

Dad: “Yes.”

Me: Usually?  It wasn’t always fun, but I definitely had some of the best days of my life.  Not when I was so cold I started yelling nonsense at mountains or had poison ivy… but definitely when we were cresting the ridges in the whites or finding the hot tub in hot springs it was.  Maybe in 40 years I’ll think it was always fun.

How many people did you see?

Dad: There was a big northbound bubble, and I saw it coming south.  It didn’t last long, though.  I saw about 60 hikers a day for about 2 days and then no one.  When I was hiking north I sometimes saw 5 people in a day, but one time we fit 30 people in a shelter when it was raining.

Me: I thought it was super awful crowded in Georgia and the Smokies, then other times we would sometimes have around 20 people at a campsite or shelter, but never saw too many during the day.  Somehow even with crowd problems in some places there were also days-long stretches we saw literally no one.  It felt like when we got into town we suddenly had 50 friends.  Everyone told us we were ahead of the bubble, and somewhere or other there were over 100 people in one place, but that’s impossible to confirm.

What was your trail name/did everyone have one?

Dad: Pretty much everyone had one.  I started off with the name Semi, because I was slow going up hills and fast going down them.  I don’t remember who gave that to me.  Then I was Aznageel, because I wrote these stories in the shelter logs and that “seemed like a whimsical name” (it’s from a T.Rex song). They were the Snifforn Stories, some people I met would remember me by them.  The best trail name was probably Ann and Al Weed, who called themselves the tumbleweeds.  (When talking about people, he used their real names more often though.)

Me: Everyone except maybe 2 people I met used trail names, and I didn’t usually know their real name.  I was Mishap, because a guy named ETA said “after all your mishaps, you’ll be the first one on Katahdin if you make it through.”  We had probably 5 Tumbleweeds, and my favorite trail name was Sphagnum P.I., who spent a lot of time carefully inspecting mosses.

Where did you stay?

Dad: Hostels where we could, but there weren’t very many and they were usually something bare bones like an unstaffed bunkhouse.  We stayed in The Place in Damascus (it’s still there but there are other hostels too now), and the Jesuit hostel in Hot Springs (pretty sure that’s the Laughing Heart now, also Elmer’s was founded the year my dad hiked but he didn’t know about it), and somewhere in Rangeley.  We stayed in a lot of cheap motels and a BnB in Caratunk.  The shelters were there, some of them still had wire bunks at the time and almost no privies.

Me: We stayed in tons of hostels (at least…8?), in someone’s RV, in some random people’s houses, in some cheap motels, in a very nice cabin in Shenandoah as a treat, and in our friend Elle’s parents’ house.  A couple of times we paid more than I wish we did to go to a hotel and dry our clothes and not get trenchfoot when it rained for many days in a row.  People in New York were offering their houses to us with a frequency we couldn’t accept, for some reason. (Thanks, people in New York!)  Also, we obviously camped a lot, and toward the end I got over my aversion to shelters.

What did you eat?

Dad: So much macaroni and cheese.  Sometimes we put MnMs in it because we were desperate.  Oatmeal, peanut butter, always a block of cheese.  One time when my dad visited he brought these “Mormon dehydrated eggs” because, you know, Mormons have to dehydrate a certain amount of food to store just in case.  It was the best thing ever after oatmeal for so many days.  Also we picked so many berries we started carrying bags to put them in.

Me: My parents sent me boxes with dehydrated meals that were either homemade or Backpacker’s Pantry/Good-to-go meals.  I think they were all actually really good.  We ate a lot of tortillas and almonds, and I hate them now.  We didn’t bother to cook oatmeal anymore after a while, and ate granola with powder milk.  I ate so many snickers I think I kept them in business.  I think Wade ate a 1lb block of cheese all at once at some point.  I picked blueberries a lot, and put them in our granola.  We also ate ramps in the south.

What did you carry?

Dad: When we started, my pack probably weighed 90 pounds, but I had to go back and rethink some things. My pack was military surplus.  I carried a “crappy, no-name sleeping bag” and a wool blanket.  It was not great when it was cold, it was definitely a summer bag.  I had a Svea stove, some kind of old boy scout pot, a net hammock from K-Mart, a foam insulite pad, Georgia brand boots (with nails to hold the sole on).  For clothes I had a thin wool sweater and a windbreaker, and a single shirt and pair of shorts that I would just throw away and replace occasionally.

Me: At the start, my pack probably weighed 30lb, and Wade’s maybe 38.  They got probably 5 lbs lighter. My pack was an 8-year-old Kelty 40L thing I couldn’t part with, and I had a nice 20 degree sleeping bag with a liner.  I had a homemade alcohol stove that weighs nothing and started with a tiny, one-person pot for both of us, which we traded for something a guy at an outfitter gave us for free because he didn’t need it anymore.  I started with an air mattress, but it was about 3 times as big as me and I just got a 3/4-length thermarest instead.  I carried a down jacket, 2 shirts, shorts, a hat, and 3 pairs of underwear.  At some points I also had another thin jacket and long underwear, but I am more cold-natured and also started much earlier in the year.

Who were your friends?  What did they do in real life?

Dad: I don’t remember many. There was Lucinda and her dog Sunshine.  I almost didn’t remember her name, only the dog’s… There was a blind girl thru-hiking, who made us feel really bad when we took the easy way up Albert Mountain and we saw her coming up the steep side with her seeing-eye dog.  Helen and Jerry were some grad students, and Helen and I wrote a few times after the trail. I met Allen, who was a chef, in Maine.  He smoked so much pot. I specifically remember someone I met who was hiking north when I was hiking south, and we called ourselves the “thru-hiking slugs.”  I think we could have hiked together.

Me: We met a lot of other engineers, some retirees, some people who owned their own businesses and took time away, some people with seasonal jobs like a farmer and someone who packed boxes for Amazon.  We met a couple of people who just finished high school and some people who were about to go to grad school.  I don’t want to list a bunch of people’s names because I’m not sure if any of them would mind, plus there are so many!  We met so many wonderful people.  We hiked with some of them for a day here and there, saw some randomly throughout the whole trail, and stayed with some on purpose for weeks at a time.

Did people think you were weird?

Dad: Absolutely.  Most people knew what the AT was but had no idea how or why we were thru-hiking.  There was not trail magic.

Me: In so many places we felt expected, but random passerby would still ask us 1000 questions sometimes, and you would occasionally find someone who had no idea what you were doing. A lot of businesses were geared toward thru-hikers, though, and people went out of their way to give us free stuff, almost like we were travelling monks.

Do you think hikers followed Leave No Trace principles?

Dad: As far as I know, no, because it wasn’t even a thing at the time.  I just thought about not leaving an impact like based on the boy scout motto.  Most people didn’t carry cathole shovels because they were heavy, and there was always a decent amount of trash at shelters.

Me: So many hikers picked up a ton of other people’s trash, but because of the trail being so popular there was still sometimes trash at shelters.  I think most people tried to follow LNT, but there were some people who just didn’t care, and quite a few people got really lazy about bear bags, even in areas with a lot of bears.  There were a lot of bear problems this year.

What was your favorite thing about hiking the trail?

Dad: The exercise.  I had a lot of solitude and I liked that.  I also miss the smells.  There was a hail storm in the middle of a bunch of hemlock trees, and it smelled like Christmas.  I remember it to this day.  And earthy smells, even the smell of wet dog.

Me: I think I liked the simplicity of goals and routines, and the fact that everyone around you was doing the same thing.  Also I miss chipmunks, newts, and tiny snakes.  And my friends.

I also found some things that were still there after all of these years.  I ate at the same restaurant my dad did in Rangeley, Maine.  He also always told a story about seeing a sign for pancakes that were free if you broke the pancake-eating record (which of course he did), right off the trail in Maine.  It’s not owned by the same person, but I’m fairly sure it was what is now Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camps.  I also had pancakes there, but only twelve.
If you have any more questions, let me know. 🙂  My dad is just a call away.

My dad and his friend George, probably in NC somewhere.

Seattle’s Own ‘Peace Pilgrim’

While on a walk in downtown Seattle, I saw a cart that said, in bright red decal letters, “equal and unconditional love for all our fellow creatures” and “I am walking across the world.  I do not have any money and do not want any.  I just need food and water.”  I wondered whose it was and wished they were with their cart so I could ask them about it.  We kept on walking.

Eventually, we saw the owner of the cart ahead of us, pulling the heavy-looking green monstrosity behind him.  We asked him if he needed any food.  He said, “actually I am not hungry right now, but I can talk.”  He said he was walking across the world to encourage people to love each other and find peace, and that this was the only way to “get out.”  (He never actually said explicitly what we are getting out of, but I’m sure there are many things we can all agree we as a society need to escape.)

Despite my immense respect for the original Peace Pilgrim (actually also part of Appalachian Trail lore as well), I had cynically wondered if this guy would just be an incoherent crazy person, or someone making up a story to get attention. In fact, he was a clean, cheerful former aerospace engineer with a Canadian citizenship and Chinese accent who was very passionate and cogent about what he was doing, but who admittedly made it hard to get a word in edgewise.  His name was Bing Bing Lee.

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“Sometimes, I play music.  Sometimes I sing.  I’m not very good at playing music, but I have these maracas.  Everyone can play maracas.”

He had actually just started two weeks before, maybe 200 miles away in Washington.  He said he had originally wanted to start in China because it was his home, but he was afraid of “disappearing” if he disagreed with the status quo in China.  He said “America is the best country in the world, despite so many problems” and that he thought it would be easiest to spread his message here first and go to China last and live there.

His big plan was for 35 years, but he had planned only the first 5 years in detail, going down the west coast, then up the middle, then down the east coast.  “I won’t go to Maine,” he allowed. “I need to spread my message to as many people as possible and there just aren’t many people in Maine.” After he finished with the Americas, he was hoping he would have enough exposure that someone would lend him a sailboat.  It couldn’t be another kind of boat because he wouldn’t want to create any pollution.

The beautiful thing about his message is that, even if he only gives his spiel about how much better humankind was without money or how a silicon valley career isn’t the path to happiness to a few people in every city, his actions really do perfectly describe his message without many words.  He is giving up everything material, except his clothes and tent and maracas, to give himself to the world and live off of the kindness of others, with no expectation.  Of course he isn’t the first one to set out to do this, but this does not lessen the degree of commitment required.

It’s impossible to say whether Bing will actually make it around the world, but I hope I can find out what does happen to him.  As far as I can tell, he is fully committed to his journey and really doesn’t have a backup plan.  “If I die because I have no money, I guess that is just what will happen.”  I hope that the world continues to feed and house him as it seems to have been doing so far, and that he has a chance to share his story.

 (This guy did give me permission to share his photo and story.)