On Chasing Pointless Dreams

It’s 5:00 am, Sunday morning. There’s a pinkish tinge in the sky, light enough that my headlamp isn’t doing much, but not light enough to distinguish the small variations in vegetation that differentiate trail from not-trail at tree-line. I’m standing on a steep hillside, feet wedged into muddy gaps between the roots of knee-high grass bushes of some sort, where the map says there’s a track. I’m sobbing without any actual tears, and yelling loudly. At no one in particular, since I figure the guy ahead of me is a mile or so gone by now and hope the one behind isn’t any closer. I’m so blinded by frustration that I don’t make the simple decision to backtrack 100m to the hut I just passed and look again for the trail. Instead, I just keep stumbling and swearing my way through the bushes towards the ridgeline, where I can see the pole line I’m meant to pick up at the top. Each time I check the map, I notice that I’ve advanced very slowly towards Pole 333, while time, specifically the time I felt I needed to be at Pole 333 in order to have a shot at the course record, is advancing quite rapidly against me.

I eventually reach the pole line, take in the bright pink sky and note that it really is truly magnificent, but I don’t currently have time or energy for magnificence. My every thought is focused on the ground in front of me. I want to run, my legs want to run, but on the other side of the disappearing night, I had bolted down a steep and rocky ridgeline to outrun a thunderstorm and rolled my ankle in the process. (Note: I had actually sprained it, but I’ve never sprained an ankle before, so I didn’t know this at the time) So each step has to be carefully planned- planting it perfectly flat is okay, but there’s not too much perfectly flat ground to be found. Mostly it’s rocks, either loose or deeply embedded, waiting to snag toes. The toe-snaggers hurt worst of all. So I pick my way across, in fits of jogging and walking, moving up an agonizingly long but gentle climb. I crest a ridge and see the green tent marking the penultimate aid station in the distance, and it’s 5:45. I’d wanted to be there at 5:15 am.

I think about the 25 hours and 89 miles behind me. I think about the months of Keira repeats and physio and foam rolling and planning. And I decide I probably won’t make it to the finish in time to beat the course record. I also decide I owe it to myself, and to the 30 young girls who will ask about the race on Monday, to fight for it anyways, until the very minute I cross the line.

—–

The Course

Alpine Challenge is billed the “toughest 100-miler in Australia,” and with the exception of the newly-created piggybacking GSER100, I have to imagine it is. It was hard for me to imagine an Australian race matching up to the bigger elevations available in America, but I have to say, this course makes Cascade Crest look…. easy.

The course is essentially a large 60 km loop with two side loops (40km and 60km) attached. The main loop (and 60km race course) starts with a beautiful descent and steady climb in the first 25 km before rolling along in the high plains (read: open grasslands and ridgelines with views all around) for most of its remaining length.  The 100-mile course turns off after the first big climb to summit Mt. Bogong in a 40 km loop with two large climbs and two steep, technical descents. Then you get 20 km or so of theoretically-pleasant flat or rolling running, before taking off on the 2nd side loop, which is 60 km of soul-destroying descents and steady climbs. More than half of the elevation change for the whole course is in this loop, mostly packed into 50 brutal km. Then you finish with more rolling up and downs, tagging Mt. McKay before heading across alpine grassland (read: least stable surface ever) and down a ski run.

There’s 1 mile of pavement in the entire course, and maybe 15 miles of fire track (half of it is loose, uneven, rock-filled track of 4WD dreams, not smooth gravel like you might expect). The remaining single track is sometimes beautifully smooth, other times barely distinguishable from surrounding bush. The track had been mostly cleared of downed trees which would have made it significantly more unpleasant to run.

The Prep

I’ve been focused on this race since March. Originally, I wanted a Hardrock ticket for 2018 and 2019 lotteries, but then as I learned more about the race my goal evolved into testing myself against what looked to be a very hard course.

I changed a few things in my training for 2017 that I think served me well. They are both obvious.

First, I increased my weekly mileage by increasing the frequency and consistency of my running. I averaged 44 miles per week over the year (vs. 35 in 2016), and 68 MPW in the six weeks before taper. I was battling hamstring and glute issues most of the year, but I was able to manage them (although not fully resolve them) while still increasing mileage. Because of this, I did fewer long back-to-back sessions, which I was anxious about. In retrospect, it was smart not to unnecessarily fatigue my legs.

Second, I did interval work- tempos of 5-20 minutes once or twice a week. I wasn’t sure if this was working, but based on the cardiovascular strength I felt all day, I must have done something right.

I planned the race well. Initially, I thought 26 hours, since it’s the same elevation gain as Orcas, but I hadn’t actually looked at finishing times, and when I saw only a few guys had ever finished under 26 hours, I adjusted my expectations to 30 hours, maybe 28 hours on a great day. (Having done the course now, breaking 26 hours is totally do-able, and I think without an injury, I could have gotten close)

I broke the race into four arbitrary sections, based entirely on approach: (1) Start – Warby Corner 2, (2) Warby Corner 2 – Pole 333 1,   (3) Pole 333 1 – Pole 333 2  and (4) Pole 333 2- Finish. My plan was conserve energy in section 1, run in section 2, employ every bit of mental strength to stay positive in section 3, and just get it done in section 4. For the most part, this is exactly how the race played out.

The Race

My goals were A) finish the race and get the lottery qualifier, B) run under 30 hours, and C) place as well as possible.

Section 1- Start to Warby Corner 2 (64 km)

I started the day feeling relaxed and ready for a long day of suffering. I was worried about the tightness I’d been having in my hip flexor and lower back, and sure enough, I started to feel it at about mile 2. I stayed calm and positive, knowing I had the mental drive to finish no matter how long it took. I enjoyed the easy descent before settling into a cruise up the first climb chatting with a few others. I was surprised to be more than hour ahead of my predicted split at Warby Corner, but I was feeling great mentally, not taxing my heart at all, and enjoying the day, so I kept going. The descent to Big River was slow but John, the guy I’d come up to Warby with, caught up with me on the climb towards Mt. Bogong and we chatted and hiked up to the checkpoint. Summits in the Australian alps are never that exciting, and Mt. Bogong was beautiful but I wasn’t keen to hang around. We took off down the spur, picking our way across a rocky ridgeline. I was running with a few guys at this point, and it was all sunshine and smiles and chatter. I felt amazing- focused, excited, and strong. I was still sticking to my plan to not push anything, and settled in to an easy pace as we climbed back up towards Warby Corner. The final mile or so was an easy flattish fire trail run across the plains, and I jogged this most of the way. The clouds had burnt off by now, so I was feeling the heat and trying to regulate my pace accordingly.  

Section 2- Warby Corner 2 – Pole 333 1 (64- 85 km)

At Warby Corner for the second time (64 km), I refueled on chips and watermelon (trying to stay electrolyted) then took off on the high plains section. I had planned to run as much as possible between 64 and 88 km, given that it was mostly long flat stretches or gentle climbs. I stuck to this plan, and despite the blazing sun, kept moving forward at roughly 12-min miles. I reached Langford gap a few seconds behind another woman, whom I assumed to be the leader of the 100 miler. I quickly grabbed food and dry socks from my drop bag, as the heat combined with wet socks from river crossings was starting to stir up some gnarly blisters. I said thank to volunteers and took off just ahead of the other woman. We traded places a few times between Langford and Cleve Cole Hut, before I stopped for a few minutes to fix my blisters. (I never caught her name but realised after the race that it was Nicole Paton, the women’s 100km winner). 

I reached Pole 333 (85ish km) feeling a bit low- the heat of the day had sapped some of my earlier enthusiasm for the endlessly rolling high plains, and the uneven terrain of the pole line was getting frustrating. I headed down into the morbidly labelled  “Mortein Alley” – the 60 km section where “runners drop like flies”. I felt smug when I saw the sign, but I had no idea what was ahead.

Section 3- Pole 333 1 – Pole 333 2 (86 km – 145 km)

First, there was a brief descent to Cobungra Gap, then a steep climb up Swindler’s spur. I was extremely hot despite it nearing 6 pm, and realised I might have been falling behind on hydration after baking in the sun all day. I focused on climbing at a sustainable effort (something I’d deliberately practiced in training) and eating and drinking. I made it up to the Loch Car Park aid station (102 km)  just after 7:30 pm.  The volunteers were extremely kind and helpful, and I heard chatter of thunderstorm warnings (“with potentially damaging hail”) on the radio. I knew they would hold me at the aid station if they thought thunderstorms were coming, so I got out quickly before they could change their minds. I was in a rush, having realised how close I was to 26 hour pace and not wanting to waste any time, let alone get held at the aid station, eager to get going again. So, of course, in my haste I left the aid station without my poles and spare headlamp batteries. Luckily I hit a hill in a few hundred meters, turned back and only lost 5 minutes or so in the mistake. I was annoyed at myself, but I got on with it.   I took off towards the summit of Mt. Hotham, then descended to the road to pick up Bon Accord Spur.

I’d heard things about Bon Accord Spur. I’d heard it was hard. It drops 3800 feet in 3.7 miles, but a mile of that in the middle is a rolling plateau, so it really drops 3800 ft in 2.7 miles. In fact, the final mile and half loses 2100 feet. This is not easy running if there is a good trail for footing. If said trail is narrow, overgrown, and full of loose potato-sized rocks and sticks, it’s basically a death trap.  

But let’s start the top of the spur, which involves a small climb along a ridgeline before beginning the brutal descent. It was past sunset, 8:30, nearly dark, and it was moody. I could see rain all around, and was thankful there was none on me. Until there was rain on me 20 seconds later, and then it was hail, and as I scambled to get on my rain jacket, a crack of lightning off to the North. It was far enough away, but given how fast the rain moved, I didn’t want to wait around. Lightning struck again, this time to the West, and again, South. I reached the turn off for Bon Accord spur and could see the treeline a few hundred metres below. I ran, fast, recklessly, fueled entirely by visions of getting fried by a freak lightning strike. I was below the treeline in 5 minutes, and the worst of the storm passed quickly, but the adrenaline took a while to wear off. As soon as it did, I noticed that my ankle was really really sore. Any uneven step made me wince in pain, but cautious about developing a compensatory stride and hurting myself worse, I just focused on moving slowly. At the time, it was the toughest descent I’d ever encountered, although it would become the second toughest in a few hours. I reached the Washington Creek crossing 45 minutes later than expected, despite my burst of speed at the top. I was disheartened, upset, and only became more so when I realised the rest of the “downhill” to Harrietville started with a few hundred feet of climbing.

Eventually I reached Harrietville, where I initially confused a loud karaoke party for the aid station. Once I located the correct tent, I loaded up on water and prepared for a long climb. It was 10:45 and I hoped I could make the 12 km, 4400′ ascent to the top of Mt. Feathertop in 3 hours. I set off, helped to the trail head by a random guy decked out in fluro and pink who was just out being moral support for runners. Seeing as I’d been alone for 6 hours or so, and would be for the rest of the night, it was great to have the tiny extra bit of human interaction.

I climbed in the dark, putting on music for the first time. I tried to stay positive, but noticed my hiking pace was slowing, particularly on anything uneven. I hit a low on my way to Federation Hut, when 100 m felt more like 1000 m and I was whiny BEFORE making the final steep 1km ascent of to Mt. Feathertop. To my surprise, I’d caught up to Viv and his pacer at the start of the grunt but they quickly outpaced me, and I didn’t see them again until after sunrise.

It was blow-you-sideways windy, 1:30 in the morning, and I was scared of more thunderstorms blowing in, as the trail angel from before said there were a few around. I hit my second worst low of the entire race- I was uncomfortable, scared, and tired.

There was no view as a reward, no tag to grab or bib to punch- nothing for your efforts except knowing you’d done the right thing. I headed back down, alternating between trying to run and being forced to walk by pain in my ankle. It took me almost as long to descend Feathertop as it had to ascend it.  I started to worry about Diamantina Spur, which drops 2300 ft in 1.8 miles (not counting the 6 or so small rises and falls along the way).

I soon reached a signed turn off to the river, only 3.5 km away. What followed was almost an hour and a half of cursing, bumbling, and slowly, slowly inching my way down a “trail.” My ankle was, obviously, in pain, but I’d lost a fair bit of my sense of balance as well, and just staying upright took 100% focus. I was so grateful to have poles for this section, and don’t think I would have been able to get down in one piece without them.

I finally reached the river, and set out on a nice section of logging road towards Blair’s hut. I relied a little too heavily on the Avenza map and let myself pass the very obviously signed turn off, wasting about 10 minutes and an extra km or so in the process. When I finally crossed the river, I struggled but eventually picked up the correct trail. One last climb to go.

I had focused a lot of concern in my planning on the Feathertop ascent, and ignored this final long climb, which at 750 m or so, wasn’t small. It also seemed to be the steepest of all the climbs. After climbing for much longer than anticipated, I reached Weston’s Hut, so close to the top of the climb, and soon after found myself entirely off trail and sobbing in frustration.

I knew there was meant to be trail, but I was too tired to find it, too tired to make a better decision, and so I just bashed my way to the poles. It wasn’t smart, it wasn’t efficient, but I did get there. I reached Pole 333 (91 miles) at 5:55, more than half an hour after I’d anticipated getting there. The preceding 16 miles had taken me almost 7 hours- the slowest I’ve ever moved in a race. I thought there was essentially no chance of getting the final 9 miles done in just 2 hours given how I felt, but I committed to running as much as I possibly could.

Section 4- Pole 333 2 – Finish (145 – 160 km)

I took off along a pole line, shuffling, and eventually reached a fire road, along with a few hundred foot climb I was not expecting. I tried not to think about how the unanticipated climb would affect my pacing, and alternated jogging and walking until I reached the top. A long, and painful descent to Pretty Valley Pondage followed. The aid station volunteers let me know that I had plenty of dirt road ahead (yay! But also, only half true!) and that the final peak, Mt. McKay, was not quite as far away as it looked. I quickly grabbed some blueberries, water, and set out up a gently sloping road, just ahead of Viv, who was in a low point. I felt great climbing Mt. McKay- the smooth dirt road meant no serious ankle pain, and the gradient was soft enough to run most of it. I reached the top in 45 minutes, giving me 45 minutes to make it back down from the peak and to the base of the ski lifts.

The initial descent on the dirt road felt great, but then, cruelly, we were sent across “the desert” which was just a pole line with no beaten track. The clumped grass underfoot was wildly uneven and as much as I wanted to and needed to run, my body wouldn’t let me. I hobbled across, assuming Viv would fly past me at any minute. After a km of torture, the pole line finally let out on a dirt access road. 3 km to go, 23 minutes to make it before 8 am. The dirt road went quickly, and the final descent towards the finish, on a ski run called Last Hoot, was steep, grassy, and not nearly as fun as it might have been uninjured. Running hurt, but walking was not an option.

I rounded the corner to see the finish chute, and I was greeted by Justin, a few volunteeers, and Viv’s crew. It was an unceremonious finish, but I was overjoyed. The clock read 7:58. I’d managed to do the last 15 km in 2 hours, despite the climbs and shitty surfaces. It was good enough for 15 minutes under the course record. I did a little victory whoop, and then went to sit down. In that moment, I was more proud than I’ve ever been in my life. It was, in the scheme of things, a pointless thing I’d accomplished. But the value of these silly goals is not the achievement of them; it’s the experience of chasing them: finding things within yourself you didn’t know existed, and feeling the satisfaction of giving your absolute best effort to something you love. 

Timm'sTrack 100 &160km-34.jpg
Crusing along the high plains early in the afternoon.

The Aftermath

Despite running on it for 50 km and walking around a bit on Sunday, by Monday there was no doubt that I’d sprained my ankle. A quick trip to the doctor and an xray confirmed a sprain but luckily no stress fracture. A week later, it’s still tender at the joint but the mobility is coming back and I can get out for walks.

The post-event depression stayed away for a few days, but now with the inability to run and the lack of success in the Hardrock lottery, it’s starting to hit hard.

The Takeways

Experience is so beneficial in 100s. Knowing what to expect mentally helped me move more quickly out of low points.

Smart volume makes a difference. My legs and lungs felt strong even at 90 miles, despite shorter long runs in training. I don’t know anything else that this could be other than higher mileage overall.

Eating is key. Anytime I felt crappy, if I ate, I was better in 20 minutes.

It isn’t over until it’s over. Finding that final bit of strength and courage to battle for something I really wanted made me so proud.

The Gear

Ultimate Direction AdventureVesta (the best pack ever)

Outdoor Research Helium II jacket

Black Diamond Z Poles

Salomon SpeedCross 4

Trusty Red RaceReady shorts

Team 7 Hills Pearl Izumi singlet

Black Diamond Polar Ion headlamp

Ultimate Direction cap

Stance socks

Smartwool PhD hiking socks

Nutrition

This is what I remember eating. I averaged 150 cal/hr most of the day, maybe a bit less at night. No stomach issues all day.

5 Stroopwafels

80 Natural Confectionary Dinosaurs

3x ziplocs Potato Chips

5x Salted Caramel GU

1x Snickers bar

2x Granola bars

Watermelon

Advertisements

Eulogy for Lucy

We woke up the Saturday before Christmas at 6:00 AM to windows layered in frost and an inch of fresh snow on the ground. The wind and rain that made Friday so nasty were gone, replaced by bitter cold and a tease of sunshine. We drove the 7 miles or so from our campspot on the FS road outside of Tusayan up to Grand Canyon Village, where we parked at the Bright Angel Trailhead to cook some breakfast before setting out to run down to the river and back up. It was just past 8 AM, probably 15F outside, so we crawled in the front seats to treat ourselves to a little car heater action while we finished our coffees. Justin cranked up Lucy, turned on the heaters, and about 20 seconds later, the engine shut off.

For 2 hours we (mostly Justin, honestly) tried to get the motor to turn over again. We hoped at least that we could get her started one more time and then drive to a mechanics to find out the real issue and get a fix, saving ourselves a tow. Eventually, we bit the bullet and called a shop in Flagstaff that came with a decent recommendation from the mechanic at the Grand Canyon. They were happy to tow us for $250, which considering it was a 4-hr round trip drive, seemed like a decent deal. We had a few hours until the truck showed up, so we were able to sneak in a quick run down into the canyon a mile or two and back up. It was hard to think about running or anything else except getting the car in shape, and I was in a pretty bad mental state coming back up.

Our tow truck driver Alfred was a friendly local guy, and the 80 miles back to Flagstaff passed pretty quickly as we chatted about cars, politics, airplanes, and traveling. He dropped us at the shop and wished us luck. Within a few minutes of starting the diagnostics, the mechanic came back with some bad news: one of the bearings in the timing belt pulley had seized, shredding the pulley and the belt in the process. It’d be an expensive fix to replace the whole timing assembly, but we had no choice. He mentioned that there was a small chance that the ruptured belt might have slapped the engine valves and damaged them, but he hadn’t seen it all that often on Subarus, especially if it broke at low speed, so he didn’t think we should be too concerned.

Except, the valves were damaged, and to replace them required taking out the whole engine block, several days worth of labor and a couple thousand bucks as well. There’s no way to know that until the timing assembly is repaired, so we still had to pay for that, only to find out that Lucy was drivable, but with imminent engine failure. I lost it in the lobby of the auto shop when they told us. Lucky for me, Justin kept it together and settled up with the mechanics so we could get somewhere and figure out our next steps.

We could have taken a risk, kept pushing on east with only 3 cylinders, but she was rough to start and we knew there was a 50/50 chance we’d end up stuck out in the middle of nowhere, needing another tow, and probably 200 miles from a rental facility.

Later that night, as we were sorting out a plan over beers , Justin compared it to having to decide to put down your pet. She’s still alive, but old and sick, and it’s just not practical financially to keep her going. It’d be easier if she just kicked it, wouldn’t start, wouldn’t move, and we had no choice about it. Instead, we had to drive her around a few more times, pull everything out of the back, and leave her behind in the de facto junkyard at the shop. Our plan right now is to drive a rental back to SC, buy a used car there, then swing back through Flagstaff and get the rest of our stuff (including our new-ish roof box) on our way back to Seattle. Driving across the country in Lucy felt like an adventure- not always seamless or Type 1 Fun, but still an adventure. And maybe it’s just our current level of sadness, but driving across the country in a rented sedan feels like a level of hell.

It’s been tough emotionally, which is only compounded by the expenses we definitely weren’t expecting. Money is only money, and there are much bigger problems in the world, but when you work hard and save and make sacrifices, it almost physically hurts to lose it unexpectedly.

There will certainly be more challenging times in our lives together as a couple, but losing Lucy feels like the end of the season of adventure we’ve been living. Her demise snaps us back to the reality of our situation: for all the fun we’re having, we’re not employed, money isn’t endless, and you have very little control over most of the plans you make. We will get another car, and have plenty of adventures in it (and hopefully fewer headaches), but Lucy will always be special. She’s the first car we’ve owned together, our first shared project, and the place we’ve made a lot of memories in. We’ve put a lot of love and energy and miles into her, and always assumed she’d kick along until our adventures this winter were done.  We left her parked facing the mountains.

 

wp-image-1855234770jpg.jpeg
Mammoth Lakes, Lucy’s favorite place
wp-image-1125999923jpg.jpeg
Summer gear + 2 music student passengers = cozy
Washington-4
Proud of the platform!
wp-image-218230107jpg.jpeg
Lucy handling the crazy roads of the Lost Coast
wp-image-659377424jpg.jpeg
When we almost risked Lucy’s life by accidentally camping in a homeless encampment
20160704_095248
Starting our big summer journey crossing the Columbia
CCC-136
Test drive before the summer madness began
11703296_10104130552850779_282163706089587721_o
Alicia’s inspirational trip to Copper Ridge
IMG_1334
Thanks for keeping us safe at night Lucy!
IMG_1303
1st time we slept in Lucy was before this hike up to Goat Lake, July 4th 2013

Getting Out of Bali

Bali. The word alone conjures images of palm-fringed tropical beaches, poolside lazing, and dense jungles permeated with the sound of “Om.” It’s the Caribbean/Mexican getaway equivalent for Australians, a cheap short flight to cheap tropical bliss. *For the unaware, Bali is an island in the Indonesian archipelago, not it’s own country. On Instagram, it’s the vacation spot you’ve always dreamed of: 5-star luxury at 2-star prices. And for Justin and I, it was the focal point of our SE Asia trip, because it was here we were meeting up with our friend Katherine (Spee) from Seattle. For almost a year, “BALI!” had been the rallying cry when the 3 of us were struggling to get through a late night at the pub. We’d dreamed a lot, planned little, and were excited to explore a new place together.

We knew that there were a lot of hustlers and touts in Kuta, the town you fly into, and that the overdeveloped strip running from Kuta to Seminyak was the equivalent of Myrtle Beach, SC. So we planned to stay here for just one night before heading north to Ubud, a land of lush rice paddies and yoga retreats (we’d heard). To be fair, the tone for the start of our visit was set by our journey from the airport to our homestay.  Spee had arranged for the driver she used the day before for a tour to pick us up at the airport. We said SURE! When we arrived, we had a text that quoted $10, which we knew was too much, especially when we looked up the location of our homestay and it was less than a mile from the airport. But by the time we saw his price, he had already been at the airport waiting for us for an hour. So we went with it. It took 20 minutes to get out of the parking garage (at this point we would have already walked to our homestay), and then he proceeded to drive the wrong direction while telling us about how much people usually tipped him and tried to get us to commit to a ride later in the evening to go eat chicken or something silly like that. To finish the ride, when Justin accidentally gave him 220,000 instead of 130,000 (the 10,000 and 100,000 is easy to confuse), he didn’t comment or offer change, just took the money and ran. Needless to say, we didn’t use his services the next day.

But we were at a homestay which was beyond peaceful and beautiful, a traditional family compound with a few luxury hotel rooms built inside, complete with a swimming pool, temples, and a delicious breakfast. We relaxed a little. There was air conditioning, a good shower, and a comfortable bed.

After a joyous reunion with our beloved Spee, we went for a walk to find some lunch. Without a map to guide us, we wandered where we knew, the overcrowded strip the driver had mistakenly gone down earlier in the day. It was impossible to go more than 20 feet without being a) honked at by a taxi, b) grabbed at for a massage, or c) having to dodge a large sweaty sunburnt Australian. Nevertheless, we found a nice meal at a fancier coffeeshop and then retreated to the peace of our homestay pool.

The next day we headed to Ubud, and despite an easier transport situation, we were less than impressed with the deluxe family bungalow we’d rented for the 3 of us. It lacked air conditioning, and they were building a new unit right next to the pool, so the soundtrack of peaceful frogs and birds was interrupted most of the day by hammers and powertools. There were monkeys though- an endless source of amusement and mild danger- they would snatch any food you brought outside of the eating area, no negotiations allowed.

This was how all of the Bali we saw was: mostly a sensory overload, with some really wonderful moments sprinkled throughout. I recognize how ridiculous it is to complain about the tourism industry as a tourist. But it was hard to feel relaxed at any time, as you were constantly hassled with offers for transport and massage. The few moments of peace to be found, I feel guilty to report, were mostly in decidedly upscale Western places, like the yoga studio with $10 classes (they were really good!), or the restaurants charging $8+ for a main (also, really really good!). And the process of getting somewhere calming (walking down crowded roads, negotiating taxi fares, etc) was so stress-inducing that it almost made it not worth the effort.

We spent most of our time on Bali proper in Ubud. I’m not sure how I feel about Ubud- it was a paradise on the one hand, but one that imported so much of what made it great that it felt completely inauthentic. There were plenty of artisans around the area, and some genuine and beautiful artwork. But the combination of tourist shit and yoga retreats and upscale art shops resulted in an overall feeling (and a look) that this was a place where white girls go to “find themselves” by doing exactly what they do at home: go to yoga, drink overpriced cocktails and espresso, do macro/vegan/raw diets, and shop. The place was flooded with hundreds of girls that looked just like me, people trying to sell you stuff, and rich older white folks. It was, to say the least, not what we came to Indonesia for.

We hoped Nusa Lembongan would be better. The island lies 15 km or so off the coast of Bali and has a reputation as the new tourism hot spot. We booked a nice place (way above our budget), mostly because I felt guilty about the place we stayed in Ubud. Our plan was to have beach time, sun time, and relax without the pressure of taxis or tours or massages. Our resort was one of those perfect places that really lives up to the photos. We were pleased, and soaked ourselves in the luxury. We’d eat a nice breakfast looking at the water, then ride scooters around the backroads and beaches before returning in the afternoon to sunbathe and read and get ready for dinner. There wasn’t much to do on the island except swim and read and eat (although I was able to get in some good runs!) so after a few days and the necessary snorkeling trip, we were done there as well. Also, we’d pretty much spent through our splurge money and were ready to get back to the cheaper way we’d been traveling all along.

We literally had to look back on Bali, from the shoreline of Nusa Penida, to see what we  missed about the island. While all we saw when we were there was endless towns and scooters and traffic, when we looked from afar there were huge peaks and jagged coastlines, all cloaked with green jungle. We knew there were trekking opportunities, but Spee and Justin were both keen for beach time, and we were all so tired of being hassled to take tours that organizing a trekking tour (the only way to do it) seemed like a terrible idea. This was almost definitely a mistake, we realized while staring at the towering summit of Mt Agung from the shores of Lembongan. We were too caught up in how much we didn’t like the typical Bali tourist trail to seek out the places that might appeal more to our tastes. We aren’t tourist trail people, and our big mistake in our Bali trip was trying to pretend like we were. Fortunately for us, with roundtrip flights only $400, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to come back and find something to love.

 

4 Little Reminders on Living a Good Life, Courtesy of Thailand

We’re back traveling again! After a few weeks of catching up with family and friends in Australia, we packed most of our things into the garage in Jamberoo and loaded up our backpacks with the bare minimum clothing and supplies for 7 weeks in Southeast Asia. Rather than do a day-by-day recap as we did with the summer leg of our trip, this time I’m going to go with general themes as they come to me, and weave in the highlights along the way. To start with, four life lessons (and one awesome life hack) that have cropped up in the 6 days we’ve been in Thailand.

(If you’re just here for photos, scroll straight to the bottom!)

Lesson 1: Prepare for the worst, but assume the best.

We needed this one before we even got to the airport- there were warnings about customs shutdowns due to a labor strike, so even though our first leg was domestic, we arrived two and a bit hours early. We packed LOTS of healthy snacks (including Alison/Eve’s delicious muffins!), as airport food in Australia basically works out to $140 for a burger. We were also flying Jetstar (aka Southwest Airlines Down Under), so we steeled ourselves for delays or other problems, but didn’t go into the experience expecting a horrible day. And that’s how it worked out – we were way under our baggage allowance, no aircraft issues, and even very little turbulence. This was not the case with our Bangkok flight, where we experienced the scariest drop I’ve ever had on a flight and everyone screamed and panicked for about 4 seconds, and we were hungry most of the time because we had not preordered food and the only vegetarian options were an egg sandwich and Pringles for $15.

This lesson cropped up again in our Bangkok journeys: we planned to get hassled, and we did, but we assumed that everyone was just working hard to try and make a living, so learned to politely say “No Thank You” in Thai and they smiled and left us alone. We packed lots of Immodium, but still ate whatever looked tasty whether it was cooked or raw or not (still not sick!). And we figured our $8 shoes from the market might give us blisters, and they did, but we had the band-aids already in our bag!

And yesterday on my run exploring some back “roads” (they’re mostly undriveable except with a dirt bike), I passed by a man with a machete on the edge of the forest. I was a little worried to run back that way, because remote+man+weapon is the plot of every Lifetime murder movie, but I picked up a big heavy rock and practiced pretending like I was answering a phone call. I came around the corner where he’d been and saw him and his wife sitting and enjoying a picnic break while bundling up the firewood he’d been cutting probably all afternoon. I smiled at them, and he said to me “good exercise running” and we laughed and I bounded down the hill.

So be smart, but expect the good in situations and in people. It’s hard to remember in our culture of sensationalism that things do usually work out for the better.

Life Lesson 2: A little kindness goes a long way

Within 3 hours of being in Thailand, we had our first Really Nice Encounter. Arriving at our guesthouse around 9 pm, in the pouring rain, we looked for the closest place to eat, and ended up having some pretty darn tasty basic noodles. We didn’t yet know restaurant ettiquette, so we just smiled a lot and said thank you over and over again. Upon leaving the shop owner noticed we had no umbrella and ran over to grab his from his laundromat next door. We tried to pay but he smiled and gestured to bring it back and put it in front of his door tomorrow.  Sure, it was just an umbrella, but in a place where you expect to pay a little extra for everything, this simple gesture was felt deeply, and set the tone for the rest our Bangkok adventures.  Also, I have to give a shoutout to the housekeeper at Once In Bangkok guesthouse where we stayed, who was the kindest and most welcoming host I’ve ever met. She insisted we have tea and cookies when we arrived, and when we left, told us to stop by for a cool shower before boarding our overnight train, even though we’d already checked out of the room.

Although the Thai people are incredibly warm and friendly, we haven’t encountered that many with a good mastery of English. Justin’s old Jamberoo buddy Sheridan (who lives in Bangkok and was an amazing tour guide and question answerer) let us know that since speaking English is a sign of wealth and success, many shopkeepers and everday folk are embarrassed if you try to speak to them and they can’t say anything back. So we spent a few hours learning the most basic of Thai phrases (and how to say them politely), and coupled with a smile, we’ve gotten a long way.

Life Lesson 3: Keep an open heart and an open mind

I can’t take any credit for this one- but I can give credit to Jeff Dow, an old climbing friend and serious world traveler/good-doer/world-changer, who gave me this exact advice before I took off to Europe, where I met Justin, so clearly it’s worked for me so far in life. Keeping yourself open to things means allowing yourself the freedom to change plans, and trying to tackle each new experience as a learning opportunity free from judgement. So far on this trip, the mantra has also been open mouth. We’re trying to eat as closely as we can to the local food (while still avoiding meat) and it’s mostly worked out well (except when Justin thought he was ordering vegetables on his papaya salad and ended up with a dark brown salty fermented fish version instead). On our second day, we grabbed noodles on the street for breakfast and the guys waiting for their food insisted we put the dried shrimp on top. Admittedly, I was grossed out, but I smiled, sprinkled a few on, and it was super tasty!

Coming to Koh Phangan, we were put off by the pushy taxi drivers lining the pier, so we decided to grab some snacks and sort out the transportation situation after we ate. We figured it would work out one way or another. So we walked a little ways down the road and came across a German couple with a young baby trying to go the same beach as us (far on the other side of the island) but having difficulty because there weren’t enough people to justify the driver going over that way. After some necessary haggling, we ended up sharing the ride with them, and having a great chat about traveling and Thailand and the great cities of the world.

Lesson 4: Money is just money.

We did not budget well for Thailand. Operating under the assumption that everything was cheap (it is, but it isn’t free), we assumed $50/day would be plenty enough, without making any actual calculations. When we got here, we blew through $280 in 3 days (admittedly, with some shopping and a big splurge on a nice dinner), and started to panic. We figured it’d be cheaper on the islands, but we realized that because we’d booked nice accommodation at $25/night, we had only $25 to work with as spending money for 3 meals and water and fun. Now, a cheap breakfast runs about 120 baht for 2 ($4), lunches are similar (120-150 baht- $5) and dinner for 2 is minimum 300 baht ($10)  if you want to eat at a nicer place.  So on meals alone, you’re looking at $20, and that’s not including alcohol (big beer- 100 baht, $3, cocktails 100-150 baht, $3-5), or water ($0.50 for 1.5 L). And then there’s transportation and fun things, like scooters ($7 a day, not including petrol) and paddle boards ($3 for an hour) and snacks!

At first we let this stress us out. Then we realized, at worst, we were spending $10 more a day than we planned. Even if we did this every day for the next 40 days, we’d spend $400 above budget. That’s a couple of good shifts at the pub. So we’re letting it go a little bit, having fun, and spending our money on what matters to us:
– A/C – because sleeping at night is crucial to maximizing the day
– Active activities, like paddle boarding and scooters to go check out far peaks
– Bucket list things like chartering a boat for deep water soloing & cooking classes
– Good food, but not for every meal– we buy fresh fruit and pastries from the market for breakfast, add instant coffee to cold water for iced coffee,  and pick up snacks (nuts, chips, red bean buns, mmmm) and most of our beer at the market. This saves about $5 a day, and we feel a little better about getting that third entree at dinner.

The entire reason we put in all the time and effort before taking this trip was to have a great time on it. I don’t think we’ll ever look back and say, man I’m glad I didn’t spend $5 on that awesome activity, or boy, that $1 coconut-pineapple-mango smoothie was definitely NOT worth it.

And the BONUS Life Hack:

You can turn your shirt into a bag. Take off the shirt. Tie the bottom of it into a knot. Now, put whatever you would rather not hold in your hand (like a 2 L bottle of water) in through the neck of the shirt, and use the arm holes as handles. Voila! A shirt-bag. You’re welcome world.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Want to see some more awesome pictures? Go here: http://www.jrichardsphoto.net/blog

Lucy Goes Wandering… It’s the Final Countdown!

 

A period in which we made last minute changes, drove a lot, watched a lot of Arrested Development, made a lot of Arrested references, counted down days and hours, reunited with old friends and made new ones, and finally packed up the tent for last time (at least for a few months). It’s been a long road- 2 months and 2 days- and I have to admit, there were some tears shed. But there’s adventure ahead, and so far in life, big leaps of faith have worked out well for us. On Wednesday we fly to Australia, for weddings and family and more reunions, and then off to Thailand/Malaysia/Indonesia for 2 months of relaxing and finding different things to do besides run all the time. The road continues on, it just gets sandy for a little while.

August 18- After a lazy morning of coffee shop and editing, we headed to the Bozeman Hot Springs for some relaxation (okay, and a real shower). For $8 each, we had access to a dozen or so pools of varying temperatures, both indoors and out, plus saunas, steam room, showers, and a big screen above the indoor pool showing the Olympics. It wasn’t Scandinave at Whistler luxury, but overall a cheap and happy way to kill an afternoon without any serious physical exertion. We napped on big chaise lounges in the sun, dipped, soaked, and enjoyed. Then we decided driving sounded too strenuous, so we headed into Bozeman to catch their Thursday night music in the streets thing; it was awesome! Hit up a divey place for cheap happy hour drinks, took them with us to enjoy the band outside, grabbed some dinner and headed off into the sunset towards Idaho.


A last minute change of plans found us skipping McCall and going straight for Bend, OR instead (a 500 mile detour). Why? Well, when we realized McCall wasn’t going to work out, Justin immediately brought up the fact he hadn’t gotten a sticker in Bend. Also, his good friend Nick lives there, and I think he was jonesing for some adult company that wasn’t, well, me. 2 texts later and we were on our way. We slept in Idaho Falls, at a city park that allowed overnight parking and also apparently a lot of on the DL M4M hook ups for the LDS crowd (according to Craigslist). We got out early.

August 19- This was a boring day! We drove 600 miles or something stupid like that. We got annoyed with each other, got annoyed with driving, ate some good pizza in Boise, and continued on to crash at an RV park in Burns, home of that silly armed occupation early this year.

August 20- Went for a run in the high desert on our way into Bend, and it was hot and sandy and flat and borrrrring. Probably enjoyable mid-winter when all the trails closer to town are snow-covered, but not so much on a nice summer day. Then we caught up with Nick and his amazing girlfriend Katie, who was generous enough to host us for the second time this summer. Beers on the back porch, then a float down the Deschutes, a barbecue, then hopped on bikes to check out some of the breweries and night life scene around the Bend area. First night in a bed since we left the exact same one back in early July. It was as satisfying as it sounds. 


August 21- Woke up at 9 to a fancy breakfast and some really really nice coffee (told you she was a great hostess!) and then the four of us headed out to the National Forest to do some mountain bike riding. Rode some easy singletrack from Big Eddy to the village at Sun River, then road back. It was my first time on a mountain bike, and after working out the jitters and the capabilities of the bike in the initial miles, I was in love! I think if my knees ever blow out, I could get seriously into endurance mountain biking. After our ride, we dropped the bikes back at the rental shop (Pine Mountain Sports- nice and helpful except when the tech isn’t hung over and forgets to attach your pedals and they fall off on the side of the road). Showered back at the house and headed over to catch Lord Huron and Trampled By Turtles in the oddly-awesome venue of the local fancy athletic center. 


August 22- Said goodbye for now to our sweet friends and after a few errands around Bend (groceries, hostess gifts, fuel, magic ginger beer), we headed north towards Hood River. After a few hours of driving, a mildy-annoying search for camping, we ended up at a trailhead and relaxed for the afternoon. Of note, while searching for camping, we stumbled upon a photo shoot for some outdoorsy company/venture- a guy coiling rope, a girl stirring an (empty) pan, with lots of products lying around for future magazine identification. It was like our lives, but commercialized and reenacted over and over with big reflectors all around.

August 23- Woke at our unscenic trailhead and drove into Hood River, so we could cook some breakfast somewhere nice with access to bathrooms and water (this has become the daily grind). Went for a walk, stretched in the soft morning sun and watched the people walking along the Columbia. Across the river was Washington, and seeing our home state stirred excitement for the final leg of the journey. We’d planned to run with our friend Ben, but he was stuck waiting for a fridge delivery, so we headed to Punch Bowl Falls for what turned out to be a 10/10 run for both of us, with a great swim on top of it all.


On the way back to Hood River, I suggested Justin could climb Mt. Adams, and he said he’d been thinking the same thing. After grabbing a coffee and doing some research into the climb, we wandered around town for a while and finally caught up with Ben at the distillery/bar where he works. He made us some very incredible cocktails (perks of knowing a real professional), and we schemed an Enchantments run next week (with me as shuttle driver, since someone has to and I’m the one doing 100 miles this weekend). We took off when business started to pick up, cooked up a quick dinner in the same spot we made breakfast, and then drove up to the South Climb trailhead. 


August 24- An eventful day for Justin but an uneventful one for me. He climbed Mt. Adams and was back to the car before I’d even finished my campsite pedicure, and way before I’d made lunch and cleaned up the camping stuff. 6.5 hors roundtrip to climb and descend 6700 feet with snow fields and talus and scree and all that. I was shocked, and super impressed. All I did was tie flies and go for an hour long walk and drive. Camped in the Yakima Canyon (one of the most underrated spots in this whole state), in the same spot we’d stayed for my birthday weekend and just a few miles from our first solo night camping on the road trip. It felt very full-circle and warm and comforting. 

August 25- Made our way up the canyon and out to Easton, but way too early in the morning and ended up with an entire day to kill. After an unsuccessful fly fishing lesson (I’m a bad student), we made some lunch, Justin napped, and I hung out at the beach on Lake Easton. Several swims and hours later, I got my butt kicked at handball (a great reminder of why I’m a runner and not a tennis player) and then we paid a visit to the always-delicious Dru Bru for some editing/reading /imbibing time, and finally out to the camping spot so kindly secured by the race organization for runners to use this weekend. Sure, it’s a weedy gravel parking lot, but there’s a toilet, and some shade, and we don’t have to move ourselves for 4 days, so it’s about as good as it gets.

August 26-28- Cascade Crest weekend, detailed here, but we ended the weekend with Thai food and beer and a shower at Joel and Liz’s place in Bellevue.


August 29- Lazy morning, hobbling around, petting Molly and drinking coffee, then I went to one last XC practice and said hello to Miles and V and Silver, and of course all the kids. Beers at Chucks with Liz and Joel and Colton and Margo and Andrew, which was as amazing as it sounds, except I tried to eat everything and ended up sick. Stayed with Margo and Andrew and gazed out their awesome window at our pretty home city.

August 30- Made our way out to Leavenworth, slowly but surely, stopping for errands and coffee and such along the way. Got our site, got beer and a pretzel, and then made a delicious curry and tucked in for the evening before the sun even set. At some point I had wanted to hike, but it was smoky and cold and my legs still hurt.

August 31- Ben drove up from Hood River late on Tuesday night after work so he and Justin could do the Enchantments, and I played shuttle driver and tried to amuse myself in between drop off and pick up with restorative and productive activities. I was not very good at this, and would make a terrible stay at home mom. I did get two new books and lose a fly up a tree within 10 casts of getting to the river. I drove back to the trailhead, went for a walk up the Snow Lakes trail, got rained on, so I ran down, then stretched by the river and wrote a long term training plan for Hardrock 2018 (I clearly had too much time on my hands). Then we went out for a nice beer and dinner and said goodnight.

September 1- Early wake up for a long trip out to Orcas Island- left at 7:45 and got to Moran State Park at 2:30. After some silliness with campsite assignments, expertly handled by Ranger Jeff (who we knew from Orcas 100), we settled down and went for a short run around Mountain Lake. Legs felt a little tight but better than expected, and a good stretching session afterwards got rid of all the long car ride stiffness. It was drizzling slightly as we made an early dinner, but our last night in camp, so we didn’t mind. Chatted with a lady next to us who was celebrating her 70th birthday- she took up climbing in her 50s and still climbs Mt. St. Helens every summer and still plans to do Mt. Baker! She was full of life and lamented having to put a 7 in front of her age, because she said “I’m not really 70!” Drove into town to watch the start of the Seahawks game and get out of the rain, but made it back just at dark to crawl into the cozy tent one last time.

September 2- A lazy sleep in morning, then coffee and an emotional chat about leaving the mountains. I’ve been fluctuating between excitement and anxiety and sadness, but the closer it gets, the more the balance shifts towards the happier side of the spectrum. Cruised around for bit of baby/wedding shopping before meeting up with others out on the island for the wedding. We’re sharing a lovely little house with a peek-a-boo view out to the bay, walking distance from Eastsound, and more importantly, it has a great kitchen! Hosted a barbecue that started out little, got big, got silly, and then got little again. I finally drank some Rose, which I’ve been craving since about Aspen. We slept in a very soft, very plush bed (actually, two beds, two twins, which meant so much space compared to sharing a tent or Lucy!)

September 3- A morning yoga class, a solo brunch at the co-op and a lazy afternoon before a gorgeous sunny wedding by the bay.. a pretty perfect day. There was dancing, drinking, and all sorts of bread and butter eating.

September 4- Post-wedding recovery meant sleeping, running, and grabbing a good coffee and slice of Spanish tortilla in town. Headed back to Seattle on the late afternoon ferry and crashed with Lara and Jeff after a good catch up.

September 5- Labor Day! Had plans but everything was closed, so we ran and shopped and barbecued with friends instead. Tried to polish off the last of our bar box, and although we didn’t quite succeed, we put up a good effort. Ate a ridiculous amount of ridiculously good food.

September 6- Hustled to get everything done (everything meaning move out of storage unit, pack half of worldly possessions to Australia into four bags under 50-lbs, put the rest into the back of Lucy, pick up Garryana bottles from Westland, get a Seahawks jersey, and not kill ourselves).  Amazingly, we finished up at 2 pm and had time to relax and go say goodbye to a few pub friends before a bittersweet dinner celebrating Margo and Andrew’s new apartment (and our departure). Hugs and a few tears all around, but good plans made for future fun reunions!

September 7- Breakfast of crepes on the first day of school for Jade and Lara and breakfast again up in Marysville. And what a breakfast. And then we said goodbye! And airport! And tears.

 

Lucy Goes Wandering: It’s already mid-August???

I think last time I checked in, we were in Jackson, having a down day and enjoying some coffee in the comfort of shelter from rain and such. In the week since then, we’ve had more than a few dips in beautiful bodies of water, relaxed more than I thought I was capable of, delved into fly-tying, battled the hoards of people at Yellowstone, and finally made it to the mythical Bozeman, which is turning out to be as great as reported (although maybe not quite Mammoth-level).

(All good photos below are by Justin)

August 12: Went for an incredible hike up towards Disappointment Peak, where the views of the Tetons cemented my resolve to get back into climbing when we’re settled in Australia. I’d originally just planned to go up to Amphitheater Lake, but made it up quickly and had some time to kill, so I kept heading up. Most of the approach towards the saddle below Disappointment was Haystack-level Class 3 scrambling, but there was a tiny sketchy traverse on the way up (2 low-Class-5 steps across a 30′ face) that I tried to avoid on the way down. Things never look as hard from above as they do once you’re on them, and I ended up downclimbing a lot more Class 5 stuff than I’d missed, albeit with 15-20′ of exposure instead. Luckily a crew of hikers watched from below in case of a slip, as I merrily implored them to NOT come the way I was, and let out a chorus of expletives each time I reached a move I wasn’t happy about. I flew down the switchbacks back to the car, then Justin and I checked out Teton Village and spent the evening at Snake River Brewing- good beer and really really really good pizza! As we left we heard some rowdy sounds coming from the fairgrounds and went to investigate. A rodeo was on, and being mostly over, we were able to walk in for free and catch an hour or so of barrel racing, bull riding, and shenanigans like dance contests and frisbee tosses.

Yellowstone-2Yellowstone-1

August 13:  We found it hard to leave Jackson.. there were endless hikes to do, the camping was prime, and plenty of creature comfort in town (if you could avoid the tourist crowds). Also, we’d been out late at the rodeo and waking up early to tackle Yellowstone didn’t sound appealing. So we slept in late, hung around camp reading, and then went into town to book some things for Thailand. Then we grabbed some groceries and headed out to the Snake River to enjoy the sunshine, make some lunch, and take a few trips down the quick moving river from one put-in to the next. As low-key as it was, this ranked as one of the best afternoons of the trip so far- no time crunch, no schedule, plenty of food, only sunshine and fun on the agenda.

 

August 14: Woke up at 5 am and packed up to head to Yellowstone, getting on the road by 5:45. We knew the park was 40 miles away but didn’t know that it was another 40 slow miles to Old Faithful area, so instead of arriving before 7 as planned, we actually arrived around 8:15. Checked out Black Sand Basin, which was calm and nice, then headed to Old Faithful area to grab another coffee and walk around the geyser basin. Before 9 it was fine, and walking just a quarter mile removed us from most people, but by the time we were back at the car around 10:30, the crowds were building. An eruption was scheduled for 11, so we made some sandwiches at the car and went back to watch the iconic Old Faithful. More impressive than the geyser itself were the masses of people, and the infrastructure built to accommodate those people. With trepidation, we headed to see Grand Prismatic, the one thing on my bucket list for the park. It was a mass of cars, honking, brake lights, people cutting around each other in search for parking spaces, pulled off to the sides of the road, yelling… absolute chaos. It was almost impossible to walk on the boardwalk because so many people with selfie sticks were taking photos. People’s hats and other trash had blown into some of the geysers, marring the natural beauty. Justin took some photos to document the madness and we booked it for the calm of a riverside campsite on the Taylor Fork of the Gallatin River. I set up a hammock and started reading Super Sad True Love Story, which I then devoured before bedtime- something I haven’t done since high school probably.

August 15: Checked out Big Sky, which was essentially a new age shopping mall development. Like Bellevue but built into the mountains. Nothing about the town seemed genuine, and it was all construction trucks and luxury SUVs, so we left quickly and retreated to our hideout along the Taylor Fork for an afternoon of camp chores and fishing and running and swimming in a perfectly cool creek.

August 16: Bozeman-bound! After a lazy morning around our Taylor Fork campsite, drove the hour into Bozeman and looked for a spot for Justin to do some edits while I delved into Cascade Crest planning (NOT the fun part). Found International Coffee Traders near campus and they had great coffee and $1 homemade ice cream sandwiches. YUMMMM. Walked around downtown, browsed books and dresses and fly shops and eventually made our way to White Dog Brewery, and then over to MAP Brewing, where I had a Midas Crush, which has been the best IPA of this entire trip. Citrusy, complex, rich and clean. We’ll get a growler before we leave. Then made the long drive up to Fairy Lake Campground and rejoiced in the rarity of FREE developed camping.

August 17: Woke up early to a soft pink sunrise and set about making coffee. No matter what the exact camping set up we’re using, it always takes almost exactly 50 minutes to go from crawling out of bed to starting up the car via brewing coffee and making brekky. After 7 weeks, I still think we should be able to do this faster, but alas, we don’t. Made the quick drive over to the Fairy Lake Trailhead and started up towards Sacagawea Peak. Justin was tackling the entire Bridger Ridge route, 20 miles and ~6500′ of elevation gain over technical and exposed terrain. I planned to do the first hour and half out, then head back to the car and drive to the southern trailhead and pick him up. The trail was gnarly but gorgeous, and I was equally jealous and mom-level-proud to be handing over the long adventure run reins to Justin for the day. I watched him disappear across a talus slope and focused myself on getting back to the car without breaking an ankle or getting eaten by a grizzly.

I grabbed some groceries in town, then set up at the trailhead and tied a few more flies while I waited for Jus to finish. I saw him coming down by the huge M that’s been installed in the mountainside and ran up with water. He’d been out an hour longer than expected and I knew he’d be dehydrated. Spent an hour or so recovering by the car, cooked up some egg sandwiches, then headed to the lake by MAP brewing to swim and relax for a bit. I rented a paddle board and went in circles around the little lake, then swam back across to the beach with two elementary-aged girls who’d decided to swim across and then gotten themselves freaked out and stuck on the far side of the lake. Met up with Justin again, swam back across the lake to the brewery, enjoyed an IPA and some fries, then headed to another brewery (Outlaw) which was, sadly, near a Target and some strip housing and was not nearly as good as MAP. Then camp, our second campfire of the trip, and a chance to tuck into a new book! 

 

Taper means time to learn a new skill: fly tying! I’ve got a long way to go!!

 

10 Essentials and a Few Luxuries for Life on the Road

Traveling for a long period of time is an incredible experience. You get to explore places as quickly or as deeply as you want, you learn to live with less and appreciate more, and if you enjoy the outdoors, you get to play in them daily. But it’s not all sunshine and mountains. There are days when your adventures get rained out, days when you feel the dirt seeping into your bloodstream, days when your traveling partner becomes the most annoying person on the planet. Those days only make up 5-10% of an entire trip, but surviving them is key to enjoying the experience of traveling as a whole (and also not committing murder, blowing your budget on hotel rooms, or dying of dehydration). This list, though by no means comprehensive, is intended to help mitigate the small stresses that accumulate and cause shitty breakdown days, thus leaving you with more time to enjoy your journey.

wp-image-2016571769jpg.jpeg
GOAL: More of this.

Inherent Assumptions:

1) You have NOT purchased a $50,000+ vehicle/camper/trailer in which to travel. If you have, you probably have a lot of these already included in your fancy schmancy rig. This one’s for us poor folks.

2) You already know the basics of what you should bring on any trip (stove, tent, toiletries, etc.)

3) You, in general, are traveling on a budget, and do not plan to eat out every meal, stay in hotels, or go paragliding in every town.

4) You plan to be outside, a lot.

 

The 10 Essentials:

1) A strong, yet flexible organization system. You will access your stuff a dozen times a day or more. In order to not have this drive you insane, you need to know exactly where everything is and be able to get to it in less than 30 seconds. Our system was detailed in my very long post about kitting out the Subaru, but the essentials are this:

– Like with like. Our boxes were: toiletries, first aid, cooking equipment, pantry food (rice, sauces, cans), backpacking goodies, hats, and then a bag each of clothing.

– Most frequently used stuff is easiest to reach.

– Each person has their own box for personal gear/equipment

– Hard sided containers are easy to arrange and take in and out, but some soft sided storage is good for weird spaces or things that fluctuate in volume (clothing, snack foods)

 

With good organization, you can even carry passengers and a trombone

2) Means for separation from traveling companions (if applicable). If you’re traveling alone, more power to you. If not, read on. No matter how much you love your traveling companion, you will eventually drive each other crazy. The stresses of being confined to a small space and sharing decision making build up over time and at some point, one or both of you will break. Expect and plan for this- on a regular basis, spend a day doing different things (a bike comes in handy, but you can also arrange for drop offs), then come back together and recap. You’ll appreciate your time together more, and still feel like you’re your own human.

3) Water carrying capacity of 10 L or more. 10 gallons would be better. Water can be surprisingly hard to find, especially if you’re traveling through remote areas or away from towns. Having a big container that can be filled and used for several days cuts down on the chances of realizing you don’t have enough water to make coffee. A container with a pour spout can double as a shower- a hot shower if you leave it baking in the sun for an afternoon.

4) Folding table and chairs. Why? I can’t exactly characterize the superior comfort of cooking at a table vs. on the ground, or sitting in a chair vs. on the ground, but trust us that the $50 investment will pay off the first time you reach a dispersed site and want to hang around for a few hours.

Cooking on a table even looks better!

Also, you can take the chairs to outdoor movies, concerts, riverside picnics, etc. Make sure to test out the table before you commit to it- some are more stable than others, and a wobbly table is a pain.

5) Good maps and guides. Navigation and planning are equal parts fun and infuriating. While Google Maps is great, being able to see the big picture on a paper map is pretty priceless. You can usually pick up a basic state road map at visitor’s centers, and use Google to fill in on the go. For hiking and trail running, a combination of NPS/USFS brochures (often available for download online and in paper at visitors centers) and a good GPS app on a mobile phone has worked well for us. I highly recommend both Gaia (DIY and on-a-whim navigation) and Trail Run Project (better for established routes). A guidebook of free and cheap campsites is helpful (The Wright Guide is no-frills and awesome) because free-campsites.net is not comprehensive and doesn’t work when you’re in the middle of nowhere without cell service.

6) A Utah-heat-proof cooler. I’m not saying you have to buy a Yeti (but if you do, you won’t be disappointed), but a $20 Coleman was NOT cutting it for us. Shelling out for a cooler that holds ice for more than 2 days means, obviously, buying less ice, but also, less food waste, an ability to be out of a town for longer and still eat fresh.

7) TOYS. Cards, books, dice, Frisbee, bikes, blow up floats, etc. Bring as much fun stuff as you can without crowding out your car. Hopefully, your journey will be a mix of big epic adventure days and downtime. Toys not only expand your fun quotient on off days, they create socialization opportunities with other humans, and you’ll be able to float down a river on a whim*, or take a bike ride in a new town, without bothering to rent anything. Plus, cards, books and dice might save your relationship when you’re confined inside by rain for days on end (see below).

*I’d almost consider a watercraft or flotation of some sort a mandatory item in itself. An inflatable kayak or SUP offer loads of fun opportunities, but they take up space. We bought these two little floatation tubes for $3 apiece and they’ve lasted 3 summers of fun. Small and light enough to throw in on a fastpacking trip, but they’ve survived shallow rivers and bushwacking down banks too.

 

 8) A place to escape from the rain. If you have a van, or other space in which you can stand up fully, congratulations, you have this one covered. For anyone else, do not underestimate the power of rain to dampen your spirits. Rain itself is great, but cooking in the rain, setting up in the rain, hanging out in the rain… none of those things are great. You need either a good, easy to set up shelter system (a cheap tarp and some paracord comes in very handy!), a solid rain jacket, or a separate part of your budget dedicated to indoors activities on crappy days (happy hours, museums, movies, etc).

tetons-4.jpg
Rainy day escape: Arrested Development and cold leftover fried rice. (Note: tupperware is also duct tape delivery device for backpacking trips)

9) Duct tape. If I have to point out the merits of duct tape to you, you probably aren’t emotionally ready to travel.

10) An efficient coffee making system. I’m not stretching for a tenth item here. I regard coffee very seriously as a make-or-break your day item. For early morning starts, long drives, and to battle general laziness, coffee is essential. And if coffee takes too long to make, then you will try and skip it, and you will end up regretting it. A simple pour-over drip cone has been the easiest for us, but if you want to go SUPER easy, you can do instant coffee. For lazier mornings, we also have a plastic French press, but a daily ritual of cleaning out the press gets old, so it sees less frequent use. (Yes, if you read that carefully, we have 2 coffee making systems. This is serious business.)

GSI java press
Essential: Backpack-Friendly French Press

 

 

 

 

…And a Few Luxuries:

1) A Mini-Bar- Beer and whiskey are essentials before essentials, along the lines of a tent and sleeping bag. However, it is very easy to step it up a notch and keep your fancy tastes from ruining your budget by packing along the necessary ingredients for making your favorite cocktails on the road. We love margaritas, Manhattans, and Negronis, so our kit has: sweet vermouth, Campari, bitters, simple syrup, lime and lemon juice, decent gin, decent tequila, decent whiskey (but that’s on the “bedside table” for nightly access), and some very good Westland whiskey for special occasions. Being able to concoct something resembling a margarita on a sunny afternoon, or making a perfect Manhattan on a cold evening, is a luxury well worth the cubic foot of space the box takes up. Plus, having a little bar means it’s easy to make friends around a campground.

The minibar box. Cardboard separators keep the small liqueur bottles from rattling and breaking.

2) A Foam Roller- While other massage tools may be smaller (and we brought those too), there’s something nice about the way a session on the foam roller works out the kinks from a month of sleeping on hard surfaces.

3) A computer- Sure, you can book things and navigate and make plans from your phone. BUT. A computer makes things easier. It makes it possible to watch a downloaded movie on the 3rd straight day of rain. It makes it easier to write blog posts about watching downloaded movies on the 3rd straight day of rain. Unless your goal is complete disavowal of technology, a computer is worth it.

 

I’m not saying that bringing all 13 of the things listed above will make your trip a perfect success, but hopefully you’ll get a few more hours of fun out of a day. Let me know what you think some essentials to happy wandering are- this list is as flexible as our travel plans!