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.

 

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.)

Things I Love about Walking Long Distances

You don’t have to be a thru-hiker to notice some surprising physical and psychological benefits of walking.  Some of the most magical effects of traveling on your own power include:

You sleep better.  One of my friends on the Appalachian Trail once said, “My favorite part of the day is when I get in my sleeping bag.”  Okay, maybe she meant that she was tired of hiking, but the sleep you get after being active all day is unbeatable.  Endorphins not only make you happier during the day, they help you sleep better.

You see more.  When you’re walking, you’re more likely to notice bugs, plants, migrating birds, unexpected roadside art, vistas.  You can walk many places you can’t drive, or even bike, such as hiking trails or local park paths and alleyways.  On a long-distance trek, you’ll see the in-between parts of America that you would normally never give a second glance, the roadside diners and strange country stores.  You’ll have time to look for the scenic route in small trails or less-trafficked roads.

You waste less.  Obviously, walking is a win for the environment compared to driving, but you’ll also save money.  In addition to eliminating the need for gas money, walking is its own entertainment and will provide a vacation in itself without expensive attractions.  When traveling by car, time in transit feels wasted.  But traveling by foot, the means is the end.  In a way, your time is used more meaningfully as well.

You build confidence.  Walking long distances and/or on tough terrain definitely makes you physically stronger.  But you gain mental strength as well.  It’s empowering to be able to get where you want to go using only your own body.  And if you can climb that huge mountain in the rain by yourself with a duct taped shoe, what can’t you do?

You have interesting interactions with strangers.  I have always been surprised by the amount of friendliness I have seen when walking to my destination.  People will want to share a meal or conversation just because you have an interesting story.  From my experience, being in a car makes us want everything to happen instantly,  but when you are putting in a lot of effort to get somewhere, a break for a chat is more welcome.  From waitresses to fellow backpackers to Airbnb hosts (some of whom make great conversationalists and some less so), you’ll probably meet some people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

You become more mindful.  Slowing down gives you plenty of time to reflect. If you’re alone you can think, meditate, sing, or truly enjoy music. If you’re with a friend, long walks are the perfect time for uninterrupted, fluid conversation.  Carrying your belongings also brings an opportunity to be mindful about what you bring and what you truly need.  Most importantly, I’ve always found I feel more grounded in my connection with my body and its relationship to the world.

Walking Around Puget Sound: Part 2

This is part 2 of this little story.  For part 1, click here.

img_20161125_090824The first day, google maps estimated I would walk 25 miles to get to my first Airbnb host.  I was still thinking in hiking terms, so I started at 6AM thinking there was no way I’d finish before dark.  It was strange walking around with a backpack in the dark.  I couldn’t tell if people in Seattle thought I was homeless or just walking very far home from a bus.  Eventually, though, I started to see people putting out signs for their coffeeshops or walking their dogs.  As I got closer to the water, I saw people with rollerboard suitcases obviously just off a boat of some kind and fishermen drinking hot chocolate under a shelter.  Getting out of the city center was a little strange, but eventually I found a bike path into West Seattle and got to the ferry dock.

I chose to take a route down Vashon Island because it looked closer to the coast, which usually means more scenic… right?  The ferry to Vashon was leaving in 20 minutes when I got there.  I walked past a bunch of cars and waited in a room with one high school age girl to board the ferry on foot.  I went out on deck to look at the water.  Amazingly for Seattle this time of year, the sun was out and the water was sparkling.  Seagulls were everywhere.  I stood in the wind for a while and then went inside to read my accidentally relevant book, Sarah Canary, which takes place, largely on foot, around Puget Sound.

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When I got to Vashon Island, a man who had been standing next to me on the ferry dock offered me a ride into “town” (which obviously would have defeated the purpose of this trip).  My Airbnb host was texting me offering potential routes.  So far, everyone was being much nicer than expected.  I decided to walk along the coast as long as possible before rejoining the main highway.  I walked along some beautiful beaches and some vineyards which were closed for the season.  I soon saw what everyone meant by “town.”  It was a small, beachy town center with endearing public art and lots of boutiques.  I stopped at a cafe, where I got a hard cider and charged my phone.  My host offered a route hiking through the forest on the island to her house, but I decided to stick with the highway route because I didn’t want to leave the coast yet.

Whatever the other route was like, the small highway did not disappoint.  I had been walking on sidewalks or bike paths up to this point, but now I was on a broad shoulder of a country road.  It was a beautiful combination of beach-town and rural, with VW vans with crazy paint jobs, run-down shacks on beaches, and countless farmstands. I saw this awesome statue of Cool Gary, who is apparently a local legend.

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By the end of the day, I was getting a little tired and leaning against a yacht club fence to take a break.  Still, I hiked my 25 miles before 3PM and arrived at my host’s house.  My hosts were an older couple who provided some welcome conversation and friendliness and their secluded rural home.  They even treated me to dinner because I had no other real means of getting hot food.  I fell asleep at 9:00 and slept for 10 hours, happy to be in a bed after a hard day.

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