Wendy and I have been attending concerts for so long, we can’t even remember how many specific ones we have been to together. Since I moved to Oregon in 2010, we have made it a priority to attend at least one summer show together, it’s one of our favorite traditions.
A cancelled concert is the reason we started backpacking together in the first place. Last year, when our Alanis Morissette concert got cancelled due to Covid, we turned disappointment into adventure and decided to take a two night, three day backpacking trip on Mt Hood. The whole experience helped us to reduce stress eating and drinking, and to love the bodies we are in. We kept active all Winter and set our goals for an even tougher challenge in 2021-the epic but tough Wallowas, in Eastern Oregon.
The most important lesson that I have learned in this year of Covid uncertainty is how to be flexible. When I went up to visit Wendy recently, and to see Sleater-Kinney and Wilco, she had some bad news. Due to a back injury, her physical therapist had advised against our September backpacking trip. Wendy was scared I would be disappointed, but I assured her that her health is more important than reaching a specific backpacking goal. I’ll be honest, we have all had a busy summer, and I am not be as ready as I want to be for the type of elevation gain we were targeting. I am pretty sure that even my dad was not ready, because he jokingly asked if he should text Wendy to say sorry you are hurt, but thanks for the trip being cancelled!
So we pivoted. We made a new plan to visit the Oregon coast together in January, and we will tackle the Wallowas next summer. We are going to continue to day hike, snow shoe, and cross-country ski our way into being physically ready for next year’s trip. Fingers crossed that no injuries sideline us, but if it happens, we will adjust like we did this year.
As Kenny Rodgers said on the record we played that night at Wendy’s: “You got to know when to hold em, know to to fold em, know when to walk away, know when to run”….. We’ve got time to meet our goals. What matters is getting there safely, and getting there together.
The truth of training in middle age is that you know you can’t just jump off the couch and do 10 miles. When Amber and I decided to take a backpacking trip last summer, we were both in what I kindly call a “fitness lull.” Though we’ve both had active times in our lives, COVID spring after a lazy holiday was definitely one of the least active ever.
So how to start training if you are out of shape and full of middle aged aches and pains? Gently. Remember that all movement is progress, and we are in no way looking for perfection. The goal is simply to acclimate our bodies to movement and added pack weight over time so that we have the highest chance of successfully completing our trip without injury.
I developed this plan using the old google machine and modeled it after the half marathon training plans that I used in the past (C25k is one I used as a runner). It is as simple as incrementally increasing hike distance and pack weight, with strength training to build muscle and yoga to help ease our aches and pains.
Last year we started at zero and had 12 weeks to train. This year, we have nearly 15 weeks to prepare for a 20 mile looped hike, that we will be doing in 3 days. We’ve also stayed active through most of the year, starting ahead of the game. This is definitely a bigger endeavor than last year, but despite that, I have only tweaked the training plan a little bit to reflect additional time and higher mile totals. Our plan is outlined below.
**Disclaimer** I am not a personal trainer or in any way certified to create fitness plans. I am sharing what has worked for Amber and I, and strongly advise that if you are considering starting backpacking or any other sport, you seek guidance from a medical professional.
The Two Middle-aged Moms’ bad ass backpacking training plan
Weeks 1-3: May 29-June 18
Focus early on building endurance. Choose easy to moderate hikes, with a 10 lb pack during each hike. We have been consistently hiking over the winter, so the hikes should not be as challenging, but the addition of strength training may make muscles more tender.
1 long hike (3-5 mi)
2 short hikes/walks (1-3 mi)
Yoga 1 x week
Legs 1 x week
Core 1 x week
Weeks 4 & 5: June 19-July 2
Continue to build on the endurance gained in the first two weeks. Increase pack to 12-14 lb and increase distance. You can choose more challenging terrain for your shorter hikes, but keep the long hike focused on distance and endurance for now.
1 long hike (4-6 mi)
2 short hikes/walks (2-4 mi)
Yoga 1 x week
Full body conditioning 1 x week
Legs 1 x per week
Week 6: Take a break! It’s the 4th of July week, and Wendy is in Alaska anyway, so she’s not following the training plan… get out on the water, play in your garden, and stay active, but don’t stress about training this week.
Weeks 7 & 8: July 10-23
You should be feeling an increased ability to handle longer hikes. You can start to challenge yourself with more technical terrain and elevation gains if you feel ready. Pack weight should be over 15 lb.
1 long hike (5-8 mi)
2 short hikes/walks (2-5 mi)
Yoga 1 x week
Legs 1 x week
Core or Full body 1 x week
Weeks 9 & 10: July 24-August 6 Shit’s getting real now! Your long hikes are going to be for several hours from here until the trip. Increase your pack to 18-20 lb, and at this point, you should be using the pack you will be carrying for the trip.
1 long hike (6-9 mi)
2 short hikes/walks (2-5 mi)
Yoga 1 x week
Legs 1 x week (start to focus on real movements- do squats with the pack on! If your neighbors didn’t already think you were crazy wandering the neighborhood with your pack on, they definitely will now!)
Core 1 week, full body 1 week
Weeks 11 & 12: August 7-20
From here, it is mostly about adding weight to the pack and managing pain issues that crop up, to mitigate as much as possible before the trip. Your pack should be over 20 lbs and you should be carrying most of the items you will be carrying on the trip.
1 long hike (try to get over 10 mi if you can)
2 short walks/hikes (up to 5 mi)
Yoga 1 x week
Cardio (your choice-bike, elliptical, belly dance, country line dance, do the macarena-just something other than walking/jogging) 1 x week
Full body conditioning 1 x week
Week 13: August 21-27
Keep upping your weight towards the final pack weight (not more than 20% of your body weight), keep hiking, just keep going!
Long hike (up to 10 mi)
2 short hikes (up to 5 mi)
Yoga 1 x week
Cardio 1 x week
Full body conditioning 1 x week
Week 14: August 28- Sept 3
Home stretch! You need to be hiking with your full gear in your pack: tent, sleeping bag, cooking items, water, all the essentials you are planning to bring. Try to do short and long hikes back to back, if you have time, as this will best mimic what we will be doing on the trip. This is your chance to work out any kinks before the big trip!
Long hike (over 10 mi)
2 short hikes (up to 5 mi)
Yoga 1 x week
Cardio 1 x week
Legs 1 x week
Week 15: Sept 4-9
This is our taper week. Take it easy between now and the trip. You can do some short hikes with your day pack, but don’t push yourself. Still do the yoga if it helps those sore muscles!
Wendy and I have decided on our 2021 backpacking trip! Last year, we did two nights and three days on Mt Hood at Lower Twin lake via the Barlow trail approach. We covered a total of about sixteen miles (with a day hike on day 2) and gained about 2,000 or so feet in elevation during the trip. It was Wendy’s first backpacking trip and my first in twenty years, so we decided on a gentle route fairly close to civilization.
This year we are fitter, faster and ready for a bit more adventure. In September we will be tackling a 3 night, 4 day loop around two high mountain lakes in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa mountains. This gorgeous, wild country is the ancestral land of the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla nations. We will push our comfort levels as we travel 19.2 miles with a total elevation gain of 3,562 ft.
We will be joined by my badass dad, who is also backpacking for the first time in 20+ years. He is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys backpacking and will be showing us some field craft skills on trail.
So how do Wendy and I plan our backpacking trips? Here are a few tips for getting started:
Pick your route. Is there someplace really beautiful that you have always wanted to visit? Fire up Google and start searching for backpacking loops. alltrails.com and hikingproject.com have excellent options.
Consider how many miles you are capable of realistically hiking each day with 30-35 pounds on your back. You want to have plenty of time to relax and set up camp before the sun goes down.
Make sure your trail has plenty of accessible clean water sources. Hydration is critical on a multi-day trip, so make sure that clean water is nearby your campsites. Read trail reviews and don’t be afraid to call the local Ranger district and ask questions. This is one reason Wendy and I try to plan our trips around lakes.
Research the area you are planning to visit for any permits you might need, along with rules for pets if you plan on bringing your furbabies. Some places are so restricted, they only give out permits by a yearly lottery system. Get your permits ahead of time to make planning easier!
In our next post Wendy will share how she puts together the training plans that we use to prepare for our trip. Last year, starting our training early helped us to have a fun and successful trip without injury. Be kind and give yourself time to get ready.
Grab a bestie and find your perfect trail, there is adventure waiting for you!
Like one of my favorite literary characters Bridget Jones, (it was a witty book by Helen Fielding before it was a mediocre movie), I have always been a little bit fat. I wasn’t chubby as a kid, just strong-my dad used to have his military buddies pick me up to see how heavy my muscular body was.
Then puberty hit. In the 4th grade I was the only girl in class to wear a bra and I remain curvy to this day. I have grown to love my booty and boobs, and the little belly that sit-ups never quite deflated. In my twenties, I determined that my sweet spot in weight was about a size 12 (keep in mind that I am 5’9). I kept fit with a combination of martial arts, yoga, and hiking.
So how did I get fat? The true, scientific answer is that I consumed way more calories than I burned. The less cut and dried answer is that I dealt with motherhood, an unhappy marriage, and a busy career by eating all of my feelings. In the course of my marriage, I ballooned up to a size 22W and gained new health problems like high blood pressure. My weight wasn’t the reason we got divorced, but it was a symptom of the bigger problems between us.
Six years later, things are getting better. My ex-husband and I co-parent our 15 year old son with kindness and compassion for each other. I have an excellent therapist who is working with me on self love and happiness-so I can find other ways to deal with my feelings. These days I am a 16W and still losing weight slowly and steadily.
The backpacking trip that Wendy and I went on last year sparked a passion that kept me active all through the winter months. I was a size 20W when we started training and the idea of being so big and putting on a backpack again was daunting, but I was determined. It was one of the best decisions of my life and I enjoyed both the training process, and the time spent with my bestie on trail.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you are too big for adventure. Talk to your doctor, they can help you determine the right training program for your body. There are so many wonderful tools to help you get fit, you don’t need fad diets or expensive programs. My Fitness Pal has a free calorie tracker and a TON of good material on fitness. The James Smith Academy has a free unlimited trial, with great information on fitness and nutrition and really affordable personal training options. Plus, his insta @jamessmithpt is both hilarious and full of real talk about getting healthy.
Get outside and love your body, and all of the amazing things it can do. Take breaks, start slowly, and enjoy the journey. There’s a big, beautiful world out there waiting for you. See you on the trail!
It took me years to fully appreciate the desert. When I was eight, my family transferred from an air force base in rural Newbury, England to a posting in Tucson, Arizona. I loved the gentle green hills and rainy weather of England (probably why I ended up in the PNW as an adult). The transition from a tiny school in a village full of thatched cottages from the 1600s, was a tough one as I navigated the hot and crowded concrete hallways of my new American life.
So how did I get through the transition? My family spent countless summer days hiking in the desert foothills of the Catalina mountains. We traded oak trees for saguaro cactus and ended each scorching Sabino Canyon hike in the ice cold waters of Sabino creek.
Recently, I had the opportunity to return to Tucson while helping a friend move, and decided to revisit my old stomping grounds.
These days, I have a better appreciation for the unique beauty of the desert. The way the blue sky opens wide, and the clean lines of the granite foothills. There is a stark and wild beauty to this landscape, but there are dangers here too.
From snakes to sunscreen; here are a few tips to keep you safe while hiking in a desert environment:
Always map your hike, and make sure that your emergency contacts know where you are going.
Carry a backpack with the 10 essentials. REI has a great list here.
Bring plenty of water and a way to filter water in case of an emergency.
Wear a hat and bring a long sleeved shirt to provide additional protection from the sun.
Wear good sunscreen and bring extra to reapply.
Start in the cool of the morning and plan on being back before the hottest part of the day.
Avoid hiking with headphones. Rattlesnakes will let you know if you are too close, but you have to be able to hear them.
If you are climbing over flat rocks on a sunny day, tap the rock with a hard object and listen for rattlesnakes before moving forward.
Keep your eyes on the trail and stay alert, especially if the trail has cactus on it.
If possible, wear ankle high boots on your hike. Leather ones offer the best protection from snake bite. Trekking poles are a good idea as well, as they offer stability in rocky terrain and can be used to move aside small and feisty critters.
Know your limits and the signs of heat exhaustion. Rest in the shade if you get overheated and stick your wrists in cold water to cool down.
The most important rule of the desert is to leave no trace. Trash takes longer to break down in a desert climate, so it’s important to pack out all that you pack in.
Happy trails y’all! Have you ever hiked in the desert? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments.
We have all heard the term, “pack it in, pack it out” and I think that most of us do our best to live by those words. Sure, there are the occasional trail newbies that simply are not prepared for what might happen on the trail (my sister once saw a shirt with feces smeared on it left behind on a trail-that was definitely an unprepared soul!), but I like to think that most of us take our trash out with us. Taking your trash is just the start of good trail stewardship, however.
I’ve got a pooch that goes with me on almost every hike. She is always in her harness and leashed to me. She often carries her own trail pack. I have seen many unleashed dogs on trails, even those where keeping dogs on leash is the rule. Everyone thinks their own dog is well behaved, and many are. What about the dog you may meet that is not well behaved? It takes just one bad encounter to ruin everyone’s hike. Remember, trails are not dog parks, and are often wild areas with wildlife that deserves protection from your animal. The best way to be a good trail steward is to leash your dog at all times.
And, let’s not forget the other big issue we have with dogs: the poo. No one wants to carry a stinky bag of dog dookie with them, I know, but if you want to hike with your four legged friend, it is a sacrifice you need to make. If you are caught off guard without a bag, then please at least make an effort to dig a hole and bury it. It is inevitably always me that ends up stepping in a mess left behind by someone else’s dog. And if you do bag the feces, TAKE IT WITH YOU! Feces by itself will eventually biodegrade-that plastic will not. There are not magical trail fairies that pick up the poo you leave in a bag.
Stay on trail
Most trail users don’t give a lot of thought to the trails they are hiking on and few question the reason a trail takes a particular route. Most trails actually have a lot of thought put into them by the forest services, trail associations, and different parks and recreation groups that create trail systems. Paths are chosen to minimize erosion, allow easier access, preserve wildlife habitats, and ensure trail safety for all users.
Trespassing, accidental or otherwise, is a problem for the stewards of trail systems, especially if people trespass onto private property. The friction between private land owners and trail systems is often the difference between land owners allowing easement through their land to access trail systems, or completely prohibiting access by putting up fencing and cameras.
That is not to say that people don’t get lost. I’ve been misled by trail apps that show a trail that isn’t there, or isn’t the official trail. This is why following official trail maps and signage is the best way to be a good steward of the lands you hike. Don’t go trailblazing; you are more likely to get lost and very possibly piss somebody off that may then restrict access to the wild lands you love.
Leave it better than you found it
If you are following the above guidelines, great! Your commitment to positive trail use is a great example for others. What do you do upon encountering issues on your hikes? If you find garbage, do you grumble about litterers and keep walking? If there is a large branch on trail, do you step over or push it out of the way?
It can be easy to look at these things as issues caused by other people and the responsibility of trail maintenance crews. I have to admit for a while that was my reaction. The more I have been outdoors, though, I have realized that I can do the very simple task of bagging trash and taking it out with me, or clearing the path if I can safely manage it. I pack extra dog bags with me, so I never touch garbage directly with my hands, and I dump it upon reaching the bins at the trail head.
I understand not everyone has the means financially or the time to dedicate, but if you do, I highly encourage getting involved. Many local trails and parks are managed by small non-profit groups, or on ever decreasing state and municipal budgets. Often trail maintenance is a luxury and simply keeping toilets clean and trash removed is the priority.
This is where you come in! If you have a favorite park, natural area, or conservation district that you enjoy, see what you can do to support it. Many have memberships for small yearly donations, and may utilize volunteers to help with trail work and fundraising efforts.
I recently became a member of the Dishman Hills Conservancy. I spent the summer training for our backpacking trip on their trails, so I wanted to give back. And because my life wasn’t crazy enough, when I got an email recruiting for volunteer stewards this fall, I signed up for that too. My duties mainly consist of hiking the trails often, noting any issues and resolving what I safely can, and submitting a report after each hike. It feels good to be involved in giving back and supporting wilderness conservation in my area.
I hope these tips have provided some ideas on how to be a more thoughtful user of your local trails. Enjoy your time outside!
*If you happen to live in the Spokane area, please check out www.dishmanhills.org and consider getting involved. Dishman Hills is completely free for access by the community.
Everyone has that annoying friend. The one who wants to go cavorting around the outdoors during cold, windy, nasty weather. The friend who is always bugging you to stop making cookies and binge watching Netflix so you can join them in trekking up a mountain on some windy, rainy, insane adventure.
Confession time. It’s me. I am that friend.
I come by it honestly. My father was a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the Air Force during the 80’s and 90’s and money for indoor entertainment was not a big part of the family budget. My parents were avid campers and backpackers, who had grown up exploring the backcountry of the Sierra Nevadas, so most of our free time was spent out in the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico, where we were stationed.
The best lesson my parents ever taught me about how the outdoors was this: good gear makes it possible to enjoy the outdoors in ALL weather. Feeling miserable can kill any sense of adventure.
I am not sponsored by any of the brands I am recommending, these are just my opinions.
Winter Rainy Weather Gear Essentials
Breathable base layer shirt. My fave is a Merino wool blend I got from Costco 7 or 8 years ago. It cost less than $20 and it still works great.
Vest for core warmth. I tend to use fleece, because I get hot pretty quickly.
Waterproof shell with pit zips for venting. The pit zips are key. When hiking in a downpour, you need to vent your body heat, to avoid getting cold and sweaty.
Wool hiking socks. Wool will stay warm even if they get wet. Smart Wool are my favorite, but the Merino wool ones that Costco sells 6 for $20 are great as well.
Ear covering headband. I don’t like to wear a full hat during a rainy hike, because it bunches up all weird under the hood of my rain jacket.
Windproof gloves. These are key in keeping your fingers warm and dry. Costco sells some that are windproof and waterproof, for less than $20.
Battery charger. Lightweight ones are less than $10 on Amazon, charge it up and put in your backpack before you go. You will need your cell in an emergency.
Daypack. ALWAYS take a backpack with the 10 essentials on any day hike. During the 2017 Eagle Creek fire 140 day hikers got trapped overnight. During winter, the essentials are even more important.
Mask/Gaiter/Buff. Don’t be a jerk. COVID rules are not new anymore. Cover your nose and mouth when passing others on the trail.
Snowy Weather Gear Essentials
Breathable base layer shirt and bottoms. You need both tops and bottoms in the snow. I sometimes use good, breathable workout leggings when snowshoeing.
Vest for core warmth. For snow sports I use a lightweight down vest that is breathable but warm.
Waterproof shell with pit zips for venting. As with rain hiking, you will want to be able to vent your armpits. When tromping through the snow you get hot fast. Sweat will make you shiver.
Wool hiking socks. For the same reason noted above, wool socks will keep you warm even if they get wet.
Waterproof pants or bibs. Some prefer insulated, some do not. The most important thing is that they keep you dry. Bibs are easier to handle because they don’t ride down, but you will have to take a bunch of layers off to use the bathroom.
Warm hat. I usually take my shell off within the first mile of a snowshoe trip, so having a warm hat keeps my heat in.
Good insulated boots. They don’t have to be name brands, but make sure they are well made and comfortable.
Micro Spikes or YakTrax. When there isn’t enough snow to do a proper snowshoe, having these in the pack is critical for safe navigation on compact snow and ice.
Windproof gloves. It’s critical to keep your hands warm and dry. If you tend to get too warm, try layering up the windproof with a simple set of cheap magic gloves underneath so your hands can still be covered if you take the windproof off.
Battery charger. Cell phone battery life is impacted by the cold, so having an extra charge is even more important, especially for a long hike.
Daypack. ALWAYS take a backpack with the 10 essentials on any day hike. If you get lost in the winter snow, having those emergency supplies will be critical.
Mask/Gaiter/Buff. Bonus in the cold weather-along with minimizing the risk of spreading COVID, this can help keep your face warm if it’s a really chilly day.
If at all possible, support a local outdoor store first. Family run businesses have great customer service and real lives are improved when you give them your dollars.
That being said, not everyone has the means to shop exclusively at small shops. If you can’t support a small shop with ALL your gear, consider using them first for the pieces you CAN afford to buy there.
Both REI and Eddie Bauer have excellent gear and great member rewards programs that add up to huge savings. Steep and Cheap is the outlet for Backcountry.com and they have amazing deals. Don’t be afraid to shop the clearance sections! Curated is another great option if you have a lot of questions and want good gear at a great price. They do the work for you!
Facebook Marketplace and apps like Mercari feature great deals on used equipment. Some smaller outdoor shops also offer used equipment on consignment. If you live close to a ski resort, keep an eye out for ski swaps in Fall. In addition to downhill skis and snowboards, you can also find used snowshoes, x-country skis, and insulated gear at a great price.
I’ve been somewhat active most of my life. I am no athlete, but I’ve done a couple half marathons (slowly) and many a 5k. I’ve even done several “mud runs”. While training for these things, I was a regular drinker. For the mud runs, I was on a team named for a notorious liquor and drank *during* the event. I share this because until middle age, I didn’t think much about how that might be impacting my performance, aside from the occasional run while hungover (miserable-do not recommend!). In middle age, my body’s ability to recover from a hangover has gone to shit and it takes nearly 2 days to really recover.
Aside from my pregnancies, the longest period of sobriety I’ve attempted was 30 days. I made it to 34 before I went back to drinking. I’ve been working to moderate my drinking for a few years now, increasing the days I don’t drink, reducing the amount of drinks, and overall trying to make alcohol work for me.
For years, I dreaded the idea of stopping drinking entirely, because I had associated alcohol with fun times in my life-wine tasting with friends, happy hour with the ladies, brewery hopping with my husband. In 2020, COVID took most of those opportunities away. It also sent my anxiety through the roof, and I started using alcohol daily as a crutch.
Our backpacking trip this last summer is what helped me get back onto a healthy track and gave me a reason to reduce my drinking again. I could not have done that trip without seriously reducing my alcohol intake, and it made me really consider the possibility of removing alcohol from my life for an extended period. I wonder what I can accomplish without my liver constantly having to remove poison from my system.
Since I love a good round number and a fresh start, I have decided to make 2021 my year of sobriety. I am feeling really positive about this, at only a week and a half in. I have found some fabulous things that help me stay on track. I have started a daily yoga regimen on YouTube (Breath by Yoga with Adriene). The other big help has been craft non-alcoholic beer. These days, there are options well beyond O’Douls to fill in cravings without sacrifice to health. My favorite craft NA beer is Free Wave IPA by Athletic Brewing, but I haven’t had any from them that I dislike. It’s great to have an option that supports a healthy lifestyle and still allows me a beer with friends (when we can again get together with friends, that is!)
Happy new year, and cheers to health and wellness!
During our inaugural trek, we gathered a few key pieces of wisdom that we would like to share.
Forest maps, GPS and Trail websites do not always match. Sometimes you have to guess-timate your mileage and call it good.
Ice cold creek water is manna from heaven on a hot day when filled up from a filtration bottle.
Always bring more pain medication (and underwear) than you think you will need.
The hike ended up being shorter than we had intended, but this was not a bad thing given our newbie status. We had a hard time tracking altitude without an altimeter, and between GPS failures and inconsistent trail maps-the mileage is a good guess. At the end of the day, regardless of what your tracker says you put in, the real test is how much fun you had and how sore your feet are.
Our original plan was to hike into upper Twin Lake on Mt Hood and camp there. However, when we reached the pristine little alpine lake, we noticed that there was no outlet. Since swimming was part of our game plan, we decided to press on another mile down to lower Twin lake.
We found the perfect camp spot, right on the water, and proceeded to set up our middle aged mom base camp-complete with hammocks. The next few days were filled with swimming, intense day hikes, a wildfire scare and a lesson in what NOT do with with your cat holes.
Stay tuned for more pics of our trip and what we learned along the way!
It has been H-O-T in eastern WA this last week, requiring earlier hikes in an attempt to beat the heat. My latest brilliant idea was to wake up before dawn to catch a sunrise on the trail.
Unfortunately, the sun rises really early and the 45 minute drive to the trailhead did not help with making this goal. We still caught lots of early morning sun, active birds and chipmunks, and saw several rafters of wild turkey (yes, rafter is the official name of a group of turkey, at least according to Google). We climbed slowly for the first mile and a half, and much more steeply after that. I seem to always pick the steeper start to my hikes, even when I’m not trying.
The trail was really quiet at 6 am, aside from wildlife. We only saw a single trail runner in the first two hours of our hike. We reached the summit, called Knothead, with a few breaks on the way to allow my heart rate to slow down again. There, we were treated to views of the Spokane River and surrounding area. Being August, there is haze from several fires noticeable at the summit, but the air quality remains officially in the “good” category.
No hike can be perfect, though, and in my early morning, not fully awake stupor, I failed to take notice of the many signs stating no dogs, until we were already several miles in. I had hoped that we could just finish the trail quickly and be on our way, lesson learned, no harm done, and never to return with my dog. This was not our luck, however, as a flip-phone-carrying self-appointed trail guardian approached us on our way down from the summit, snapping a photo of the wonder mutt and myself violating trail rules, and letting me know I could face $100 fine if caught. (What is the male equivalent of a Karen? Is it a Kevin, a Ken? Either way, he was one!) I thanked him for his concern and kept walking.
Despite breaking the rules, it was still a beautiful and challenging hike. One of these days, I will catch my sunrise, likely during our upcoming backpacking trip. In the meantime, I will make sure to pay a little more attention to the trail rules.
Mt Spokane / 8.31 miles / 850ft elevation gain / 27lb packs
The best part about hiking as grown-ass women is that there is no competitive rush to get down the trail as quickly as possible. We meandered. We dawdled. We picked huckleberries until Amber’s mess kit was full to the brim with sweet, purple gems. We took pictures, we stretched. We took off our packs and rested when we got tired and sweaty.
The elevation gain was about 850 ft and there were tons of rolling hills. This wasn’t really a problem until mile 5, when our feet started hurting and our packs felt like they had doubled in weight.
The South side of the trail loop offered sweeping views into North Idaho, and Newman Lake, even with the haze of fires from the Okanogan valley. Indian Paintbrush and bright purple Lupine wildflowers sprouted up everywhere, and in the deep patches of shade, the pine trees smelled amazing.
Back at the house, we toasted our tired feet and shoulders with ice cold huckleberry hard seltzers from No Li, a local Spokane brewery. Did it take us all day to go less than 10 miles? Yes. Did we regret the slow pace? Not one fucking bit.
Get outside. Go at your own pace, and most importantly-bring a friend you can laugh your ass off with!
There is no way for me to write about Alaska without coming off as a complete tourist. This blog is for those of you interested in being Alaska tourists like me, checking out the amazing parts of Alaska with a guide, on a tour, or by train. It is an amazing accessible version of Alaska, as it was enjoyed by our entire family. It was also the vacation that made me fall in love with Alaska.
During the height of the COVID lockdown this last winter, after holidays spent online instead of together, my husband’s family decided we needed to plan a family vacation. Vaccines were finally starting to come out, and we felt confident that by summer, we would be able to be together as a family again. We chose Anchorage, Alaska as our destination.
From the moment we left the airport, looking at the mountains around us as we drove north of Anchorage to our vacation rental, I was enamored. The mountains are everywhere! At our rental house, we looked over the Eagle River Valley and straight into the Chugach Mountains.
Our first adventure day was a guided ATV tour with Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours. We drove through forest, sand dunes, flats, and crossed water multiple times. For a bunch of people very new to ATV and side by side UTV, they made it simple and easy. They provided all the gear we needed, snacks and a hot lunch, and tour of absolutely beautiful country to the Knik glacier.
I had never seen a glacier in person. It was a sight to behold. Luckily for me, it was the first of many glaciers I would get to see on this vacation.
Our second adventure day was a full one! We had booked a train ride to Seward on the Alaska Railroad, and then a 5 hour boat tour of the Kenai Fjords. Waking teenagers up to be somewhere by 5:45 am is never fun, but especially not when on vacation.
The trip made up for it though! Our 4 hour train ride meandered along the coast, into mountain valleys with views of glaciers, waterfalls, and rivers. We saw moose, bear, and bald eagles.
After four leisurely hours on a train, we boarded a shuttle to rush to the Seward harbor, to then rush to find seats on the boat for the ocean part of our trip, to see yet another glacier!
I have never been a fan of open water, despite my love of paddle boarding. I paddle on flat lakes and relatively calm parts of rivers. An ocean vessel is a very different creature, especially one running a little late and hauling ass out to sea.
It didn’t take long for me to start feeling a little nauseated. I was encouraged to buy dramamine (smartly available from the ship’s galley) and it did the trick for me. It also made me very tired, so I spent quite a bit of time napping awkwardly against my oldest son’s shoulder. The more steel-stomached members of the family had a great time out on the deck, enjoying the ocean breeze and salty air. We were greeted by a family of orcas that played with us a while, we saw some long fin whales, watched sea lions bathing on the rocks, and puffins flying low above the water at what seemed to be amazingly fast speeds for their little wings.
We also got to see the Aialik glacier calving ice into the sea. The weather was wet and cold at the glacier, despite the day being mostly sunny for the rest of the trip. The mass of people on the crowded boat stepped out into the wet and cold for a viewing of this massive wall of ice.
Upon our return to the harbor, we hurried back to catch the train in time to spend another 4 hours ambling our way back to Anchorage. There were naps, lots of wonderful candy filled hot cocoa for the kids, and more viewing of anything we might have missed the first time. I would take that train ride over and over again if I could. I learned they also have a train to Denali, which I would love to check out another time.
Our days in town were spent doing the tourist shopping-and-eating thing. Like most tourist cities, there are lots of kitschy shops to waste your money for souvenirs. There are also multiple breweries in the downtown core to grab a bite and a brew. We enjoyed both 49th State Brewing and Glacier Brewhouse on our days downtown.
The place to not miss on a visit to Anchorage is the Alaskan Native Heritage Center. The Heritage Center gives just a glimpse into the historical and modern day cultural practices of Alaskan native tribal members. Learning about the different Alaskan Native tribes, experiencing their culture through their dances and song, was an honor. The village sites are an opportunity to learn of the traditional ways the different tribes lived their lives before colonization. Alaska’s frontier story is the white man’s version of history, and there is so much more to Alaska than this. The Heritage Center is true Alaska, run by tribal members, supporting the people and preserving their culture. There are Indigenous artisans at this location also, presenting an opportunity to support a local artist and bring home a one-of-a-kind item.
We have already planned another trip to Alaska in the winter months. My husband and I will be returning in March to experience the Fur Rendezvous (aka Fur Rondy) and watch the start of the Iditarod. Our hope is to get a fuller experience of Alaska aside from one week in the summer. Can’t wait to share those experiences with you all!
Even using the words “outside the comfort zone” feels like a self-help cliche. I’ve come to realize that a lot of the changes I have made in my life in the last year (that all of us have been forced to make during this pandemic), fall within this cliche.
Taking up backpacking and training alone, with only my dog for company most of the time? A little scary, but at least I have bear spray! Leaving my home for 3 days in the woods with only what I can carry on my back? Scary, but being with my best friend made it less so. Pooping in a hole in the ground and trying to avoid being seen by people while doing it? Very scary!
Amber and I also stepped way outside of our comfort zones when we signed up for a 15k Ruck, the Badger Mountain Challenge in Richland, WA.
It needs to be clarified that we are not runners. I did have a stint of running in my 30s, but back issues and arthritis stopped that. We decided to try the ruck, after learning it was a 9.3 mile hike with a 20-30 lb pack on our backs. We’ve done that before!
Most who have done a ruck know these races are based on the military ruck march, and many have a very strong military feel (i.e. GoRuck). Luckily for our civilian butts, Badger Mountain is not this kind of event.
We gathered up our camping backpacks (at 55 and 60 L respectively), loaded them up with weight, including canned and other other non-perishable foods to donate at the finish line. We grabbed our snacks and trekking poles, and headed to the start line.
It is true that we looked a little out of place, and we took it slow and steady. Despite it, we trekked ahead, and finished the race (in very last place). It was a challenge, but fun. Being at the back of the pack brings benefits like meeting the owner of a local running store as he cleared race markers behind us. We are already talking about doing it again next year!
The lesson of this race and the last year has been to force myself past discomfort. I’ve discovered that’s where I really enjoy living my life, once I push past my initial fears. I have had to stop worrying about what others may think, and do what makes me feel good about myself, my body, and my life.
As stated above, I am no elite athlete. What I have focused on this last year has been getting out in nature and moving my body. That’s what is important. If I’m lucky, you might be inspired to do the same.
Two long time friends, in the midst of raising teenaged boys, seeking solace in nature and friendship.