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Hike Like a Girl Weekend Was Awesome. Now Let’s Make Some Societal Change.

Last week, I wrote in the High Country News about why closing the gender gap in the outdoors is important and steps women can take to reclaim the outdoors.

This weekend, I joined women around the country (and world!) in an effort to do just that. Hike Like A Girl Weekend, May 14th-15th, was designed to encourage women everywhere to push outside their limits. Whether that means going to a new area, going solo for the first time, or hiking an especially difficult route, women all around the country joined to show their presence.

Walking and marching have long been a part of protest. But if a protester walks in the woods, does it create any change?

YES.

On my hike, I saw women of all colors and shapes reaching for new heights. Although I was hiking solo, I eavesdropped on a few groups and heard women say, “Who knew that hiking could be so much fun?” and women say, “I never knew the mountains could be so beautiful!” These women’s minds were changed.

 

A photo posted by Minty Winty (@minty.winty) on

A photo posted by Teresa Baker (@teresabaker11) on

 

Hike Like A Girl Weekend changed women themselves, too. I heard so many people say, “I never thought I could make it all this way.” In fact, I was one of those women. My original hike (trip report to follow later) was an ambitious 6-peak, 8,000 foot gain hike over 25 miles. The full extension of the hike—which I’ve only done once, 10 years ago—adds 3 more peaks and seemed far out of my reach. But, on Hike Like A Girl Weekend, I surprised myself. I was faster than I expected and added on those last 3 peaks with relative ease. I found out I was stronger than I thought. I know other women discovered their strength this weekend, too.

 

A photo posted by JoAnn (@joannkelmaz) on

A photo posted by Katie McGinn (@kerinmcginn) on

A photo posted by Chelsea (@chelkyrie) on

While upping the number of women in the outdoors is a great help in closing the gender gap, a more equal and just outdoors world is impossible without cultural change. This means not just changing the way that women think about the outdoors, but changing the way that men think about women in the outdoors. It means changing media portrayals of women outdoors. It means changing perceptions of what it means to be an outdoorsy woman. It means, most importantly, removing barriers to entry for women in the outdoors, especially legal and professional obstacles.

I’m talking about how women get paid less than men—even in the outdoor industry: how women have to work harder to prove ourselves as able as men in a series of outdoor jobs, from rangers to gear sales reps to athletes. I’m talking about women rangers still getting harassed in this day and age. These are the real obstacles to society’s perception of women being equals in the outdoors.

Hike Like A Girl Weekend was Step 1. Now, asking demanding more for women is Step 2.

 

National Trails Day 2015

The <a href="http://www.nationaltrailsday.org/">National Trails Day</a> event in Boulder, CO sponsored by Backpacker in Heil Valley
The National Trails Day event in Boulder, CO sponsored by Backpacker in Heil Valley

The first Saturday of June is National Trails Day, an annual celebration put together by American Hiking Society to celebrate our public lands and national trail system. Each year, 150,000 people from all 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico participate in National Trails Day events. I was honored to participate in a National Trails Day event held by Backpacker Magazine in the Heil Valley outside of Boulder, CO. The event was fun, completely free, and everyone walked away learning something about trails. It was wonderful to see so many people of different ages and backgrounds all hiking together and enjoying nature.

Backpacker Magazine maintains the trail at Heil Valley
Backpacker Magazine maintains the trail at Heil Valley

What I love about hiking, is that it gives me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. Hiking is the great leveler—nature is a place where the CEO can be best friends on the guy out on his luck, the elderly can befriend teenagers, the one place in my life where I meet kids, and where Americans can connect with people from all around the world—foreigners here to enjoy the high quality and unique trail and landscape system found only in the US. In my everyday life, I rarely interact with children, and National Trails Day was so heartening to see so many kids getting out to explore the outdoors.

The Lichen Loop in Heil Valley is quite possibly the best designed family-friendly short hike I’ve been on. Way to go trail designers and builders!
The Lichen Loop in Heil Valley is quite possibly the best designed family-friendly short hike I’ve been on. Way to go trail designers and builders!

I know for a lot of people, especially families with small kids, the idea of hiking or going outdoors can be intimidating, especially if you never did it as a child or if you grew up in the city. If you’ve ever wanted to adventure, explore, and have fun in the outdoors, but aren’t sure how, I can’t recommend National Trails Day enough. It is great way to get out there in a safe and fun way, with experienced people who want to share their knowledge with you, no matter your experience level.

The beautiful scenery from the peaceful morning National Trails Day hike
The beautiful scenery from the peaceful morning National Trails Day hike

For seasoned hikers, National Trails Day can be really rewarding because we can start off the summer right by volunteering to work on the trails that we’ll be using later in the summer. By volunteering at National Trails Day events, we have a chance to spruce up trails, give back, and put a little love and sweat into something that we care so much about. Later this summer, when we finally do hit the trail, it’ll feel good to walk past a spot that we worked on and know that we contributed to making a little part of the world a better place.

Backpacker Editor in Chief Dennis Lewon speaking to the crowd at the Boulder National Trails Day event
Backpacker Editor in Chief Dennis Lewon speaking to the crowd at the Boulder National Trails Day event

So whether you’re curious about what this whole nature thing is about or you’re already an outdoors junkie, chances are there is a National Trails Day event tailored to your interest. There are gear demos, guided plant and wildlife hikes, wilderness skills and training—and it’s all free.

Although National Trails Day has passed, there are National Trails Day events all through June.

Find an event near you at www.nationaltrailsday.org.

Interview with Adventure Sports Podcast

The Adventure Sports Podcast interviews all sorts of outdoor adventurers.
The Adventure Sports Podcast interviews all sorts of outdoor adventurers.

The Adventure Sports Podcast is an interview-based hour long, Colorado-based podcast that tells stories about all sorts of outdoor adventures. I had a lot of fun taking a break from my Denver-Colfax urban thru-hike to sit down with Travis from the podcast and talk about hikes, projects I’m working on, and why I love hiking.

Download the episode for free here: http://www.adventuresportspodcast.com/2015/05/ep-041-liz-thomas-long-distance.html

Any Season Overnighter: Opal Creek Wilderness, Oregon (family friendly)

I’m finally getting around to writing up about some hikes in 2014, and one of the most memorable happened on a cold, rainy mid-October day in Central Oregon. I was visiting my good friend, Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa, and our original plan had been to hike the Timberline Trail, but 50 mph winds and rain that resulted in swelling of Big Sandy River and the other creeks made us change our minds to the good-in-any-weather Opal Creek Wilderness: the largest intact stand of old growth trees (500-1,000 year old trees are not uncommon) in the Cascades.

 

When we pulled up to the Opal Creek trailhead, the parking lot was fairly crowded—with good reason. The trail itself starts with three miles of wide, family-friendly, easy-graded former gravel road to a rustic, adorable eco-friendly camp (the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center) that provides organic, vegetarian meals and adorable housing. For those with kids or family members who want to overnight in the woods, but don’t want a long hard walk or to carry a backpack, the hike to the Center may be the most perfect overnighter in the world.

On the way to the camp, we passed multiple brilliant blue swimming holes and cascades that would have begged a swim had it not been October. Not far from the Opal Creek camp is Opal Pool, a turquoise cascade, with an ideally placed bridge over it to take photos.

Though I knew Opal Creek would be beautiful, what intrigued me the most about the Opal Creek Wilderness was its history. Two miles up the trail at Jawbone flats, hikers walk past remnants of an old milling plant. It’s humbling to look at these huge metal forces of manmade-ness standing alongside the forest, which is slowly taking over the old plant. Together, they give a beauty to Opal Creek that is haunting.

The most striking history of Opal Creek, though, is its battleground status during the logging debates of 1990s. In 1993, a logging company applied for a permit with the Forest Service to log old growth forest in Opal Creek area. Environmentalists, in protest, chained themselves to trees and lived in trees.

Eventually the place was saved and in 1996, all privately held land in the area was turned into the Opal Creek Wilderness, Opal Creek Recreation area, and the Elkhorn River that runs through it was designated a Wild and Scenic River. To learn more about Opal Creek’s history, check out David Seideman’s Showdown at Opal Creek: the Battle for America’s Last Wilderness.

Opal Creek is the setting for another favorite story of mine: In January 2013, Allgood set aside a weekend to hike in Opal Creek with some friends, but at the last minute, found that he was the only person who could make it. He headed off nonetheless with his four-footed companion, Karluk. Unexpectedly, Allgood rolled his ankle, and years of backcountry medical training came back to warn him that this was bad. He knew he had to get to the car back. Yet the trail was covered in blowdowns. Karluk knew something was wrong, and Allgood says that he guided him through the blowdowns, waiting as the injured hiker hobbled along. As Allgood hobbled 20 miles on steep, wet, raviney, rooty, rocky terrain, Karluk provided companionship and encouragement. To read the story in Allgood’s own words, check out his amazing story of his dog’s backcountry skills and faithfulness.

Allgood and my trip to Opal Creek was his first time back since he broke his ankle, and while it was fun, it was not without trouble. After a climb up to Thunderhead Mountain, a rocky and windy summit that used to house a lookout tower, Allgood and I took a side-trail to a spring, setting our packs down by the intersection. When we returned to our packs, however, some local residents were not so happy about our pack placement: Allgood and Karluk was attacked by wasps. I escaped their wrath by running away. Allgood concluded, “Every time I come to Opal Creek, it shows me that it hates me because I’m in the lumber business.”

Although we packed gear and had every intention of turning Opal Creek into an overnighter, towards the end of the day, we had no luck finding a flat spot to camp. As we continued on our path, searching for campspots by headlamp, we realized we were ¼ mile from the car. Pretty soaked from the day’s adventures, we opted to head back to the heated car and hit up a Dairy Queen. Nonetheless, I felt humbled and honored to walk in the presence of not only such great trees, but in the footsteps of those who worked to save such a magical place.

All the good photos in here were taken by Allgood.

Thru-hike in a Weekend: Denver urban hiking the Highline Canal Trail

 

Urban hiking: the new frontier. Photo courtesy <a href="https://instagram.com/thejcarr/">Johnny Carr</a> (instagram: @thejcarr)
Urban hiking: the new frontier. Photo courtesy Johnny Carr (instagram: @thejcarr)

Despite my declarations that the Selma to Montgomery Hike took me over my Pavement Walking Quota for the year, this past weekend, I headed off again on another hardpacked adventure. This time, I completed my first significant urban hike in the town where I live, Denver. I’ve done a fair amount of walking in Denver before, but nothing to this scale and magnitude.

Highline Canal Trail sign in Aurora.
Highline Canal Trail sign in Aurora.

My long distance hiker friends Steven “Twinkle” Shattuck, John “Cactus” McKinney, Johnny “Bigfoot” Carr, Samantaha “Aroo,” and Nathan “Cookie” Harry, Swami and I started off on a two day, 66-71 mile long hike from Waterton Canyon—the start of the Colorado Trail—to near Denver International Airport.

The canal/trail starts in Waterton Canyon. Photo courtesy Steven Shattuck
The canal/trail starts in Waterton Canyon. Photo courtesy Steven Shattuck

The Highline Canal was created more than a century ago to bring water from the South Platte River to settlers and farmers. Now owned and operated by Denver Water (who even puts out the guidebook for the trail), it is now open to hikers, cyclists, runners, and equestrians. Because the irrigation ditch was leaky, an entire ecosystem sprung up around it.

On trail shenanigans. This rope swing that Aroo is playing on goes over the canal.
On trail shenanigans. This rope swing that Aroo is playing on goes over the canal.

Until 40 years ago, there was no public access to the canal—even as it remained a skinny natural park in the middle of the city. With the hard work of residents who lived anywhere near the 71 miles of trail, the canal opened to the public and is now listed as a National Landmark Trail. Now the trail is protected by the Highline Canal Trail Preservation Association.

Large cottonwood trees more than 100 years old line the canal. Photo courtesy <a href="https://instagram.com/thejcarr/">Johnny Carr</a> instagram: @thejcarr
Large cottonwood trees more than 100 years old line the canal. Photo courtesy Johnny Carr instagram: @thejcarr

Although this is an urban hike, the Highline Canal Trail ecosystem boasts 199 species of birds, 28 mammals, and 15 reptiles. I was expecting the trail to be mostly paved or gravel, but a majority of the miles were on dirt or had a dirt path next to it.

Although the route is mostly straightforward, many intersections require a map and guidebook. Photo courtesy <a href="https://instagram.com/thejcarr/">Johnny Carr. </a>instagram: @thejcarr
Although the route is mostly straightforward, many intersections require a map and guidebook. Photo courtesy Johnny Carr. instagram: @thejcarr

Our wildlife highlights included seeing a bobcat (a first for me and many of the other serial hikers with us!), great horned owls, two types of snakes, numerous deer, squirrels, praririe dogs, and rabbits. The HCLT underscored that though humans have claimed significant land from animals, that we don’t own it completely. Our habitats coexist.

Much of the trail is very pedestrian friendly. This crosswalk even had a two buttons to stop traffic–one for pedestrians to press and one higher up for equestrians to press!
Much of the trail is very pedestrian friendly. This crosswalk even had a two buttons to stop traffic–one for pedestrians to press and one higher up for equestrians to press!

The HCLT was such a cool way to see the city and general metro area of the place that I’ve called home for the past few years. We ventured through neighborhoods I didn’t even know existed, and places I had never been before. The route finding was not as straightforward as one would think for a bike path in the city.

Utilizing a beaver dam during a cross country route. Photo by Johnny Carr. instagram: @thejcarr
Utilizing a beaver dam during a cross country route. Photo by Johnny Carr. instagram: @thejcarr

There were intersections that required navigating, and we were happy to have our map and guidebook. Additionally, certain sections went through private property, and we had to navigate—sometimes even cross country through fords and swamps—in order to keep the route on open land.

Fording a creek during the cross country part.
Fording a creek during the cross country part.

The HCLT ended up being not just educational, but a lot of fun, providing some clear bonuses, especially compared to most other thru-hikes. We had pizza delivered on trail and actually had to pass up many restaurants and convenience stores because we were too full.

On trail pizza delivery! PC: S. Shattuck
On trail pizza delivery! PC: S. Shattuck

It was easy for friends to join in for a few miles and Twinkle even met a friend randomly who was going for his morning run right on our trail. Because we could take advantage of the limited amount of gear required for an urban hike, we packed heavy food and beverages and ridiculous luxuries like Frisbees. Traditional trail towns rarely have ethnic food, but on the HLCT, Cactus and I had Pho for lunch—a first for both of us on a long distance trail.

Time for frisbee on trail. PC: J. Carr.
Time for frisbee on trail. PC: J. Carr.

Much like my Selma to Montgomery hike last weekend, I was struck by the level of economic inequality the trail highlights. In the Cherry Creek Village area, we woke to houses that I didn’t even know existed in Denver—Hollywood-esque mansions, castles, villas. By the end of the day, we were walking through immigrant neighborhoods in Aurora and Section 8 housing in Green Valley Ranch.

Easy resupply along the HLCT. PC: J. Carr
Easy resupply along the HLCT. PC: J. Carr

 

In my everyday life, I would never visit either of those neighborhoods, and yet the HLCT brought me through both. No matter how much our modern society tries to insulate social classes from one another, that such disparate places are close enough to walk from one to the other underlined for me that Denver is one community and not just a collection of rich and poor neighborhoods.

Walking for hours with friends. PC: J. Carr
Walking for hours with friends. PC: J. Carr

The best part of the Highline Canal Trail was the opportunity to have 48 hours to talk with, laugh, joke, and accomplish something cool with friends. For two days, we set aside the distractions of the modern world and just lived. I’ve enjoyed urban hiking for a couple years now, and it was so cool to expose the idea to some of my thru-hiker friends. I was so touched that they not only took it seriously, but had a great time. At a time of the year when long mile days and thrus aren’t as possible, we got to feel like we were back on the PCT again—if only for a weekend. On Monday, we all woke up and went back to our spreadsheets, but even as we squirmed in our desk chairs, relished the memories of a weekend well spent.

For more info on the High Line Canal Trail, check out these links:

Twinkle (Steven Shattuck)’s write-up about our hike

Denver Water’s High Line Canal page

Highline Canal Trail mapped in Googlemaps

Walkride Colorado Interactive Map of the Highline Canal Trail

Highline Canal Trail Guidebook (this is available at multiple locations of the independent Tattered Cover Book in Denver Metro)

Highly informative Wikipedia Page

Greenwood Village’s Trails Map

Douglas County’s Highline Canal Map

 

How to Train your Feet for Hiking Season

Altra Zero Drop shoes have quickly become a hiker favorite.
Altra Zero Drop shoes have quickly become a hiker favorite.

If you’ve ever thought about switching to Altra Zero Drop trail running shoes for your backpacking season, now is the time to start getting your foot accustomed to the shoe. I find that switching to hiking in the Altra Lone Peaks has increased my stability, reduced my strike impact, provided comfort for hours of hiking, eliminated long term hiker issues like plantar fasciitis, and increased my efficiency. That being said, hitting the trail with a brand new pair of Altras if you’ve never worn them before may not be the best idea because there is a transition time associated with switching over to a Zero drop shoe.

Lone Peak 1.0 in Escalante. Photo by <a title="Rocky Mountain Ruck" href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake Morrison.</a>
Lone Peak 1.0 in Escalante. Photo by Barefoot Jake Morrison.

Fear not, though—the benefits of switching over are HUGE for long distance hikers. Zero drop shoes help align the feet, reduce the impact of each foot step, and increase your stability. The foot shaped toe box—increases balance and efficiency, while reducing blisters and chaffing, maximize shock absorption and allows toes to spread out naturally. What this means for hikers is day-long comfort, increased stride efficiency, and less foot pain.

Baileys traverse in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by <a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake.</a>
Baileys traverse in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Barefoot Jake.

So, why should you start transitioning to Altra shoes now instead of say, a few days before my hike most thru-hikers (myself included) do the bulk of the trip planning? Because we’ve all spent years wearing high-heel like elevated trail runners, our feet have been trained to be lazy (in scientific speak—has neutralized our Achilles and lower calf muscles). If you hit the trail doing 15s, 20s, or 30 milers in a zero drop shoe when you’ve never worn zero drop shoes before, your Achilles and lower calf muscles are going to feel the burn. The muscles in your feet are going to be confused. It’s best to give yourself at least three weeks to strengthen your legs and feet before your hike.

Bobcat, Malto, and me on the Wonderland Trail in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Swami at <a href="www.thehikinglife.com">the Hiking Life.</a>
Bobcat, Malto, and me on the Wonderland Trail in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by Swami at the Hiking Life.

Pre-hike training schedule:

Before you get your shoes (or during week 1): Walk around barefoot in the grass or the beach or your bedroom for 30 seconds, adding a 30 seconds per day. Week 1: Wear Altras around the office and running light errands (they sell a “work appropriate” show called the Instinct Everyday that has many of the same features as the running shoe, but looks like it’d work with a suit). At first, the Toe Shaped footbox may feel too roomy and weird. After a few days, your toes will start relaxing and will start spreading out naturally.

Sandstone in Moab in the Superior 2.0s Photo by the <a href="http://therealhikingviking.com/">Tom Gathman.</a>
Sandstone in Moab in the Superior 2.0s Photo by the Tom Gathman.

Week 2: Do a very short hikes (whatever that means to you). Start without your backpack and give yourself a rest day to assess how your feet, joints, Achilles, foot muscles, and lower calves feel. If everything seems great, slowly increase the mileage and add weight to your backpack, being sure to build in days in between for rest and recovery. On a thru-hike, it’s near impossible to take zero days every day, so let your body take advantage of rest days between hikes to build muscles and strength. Let your body also take advantage of the muscle building fuels that you can get from living off trail. Building muscles on trail when you’re living on instant mashed potatoes and ramen is going to be a little bit more difficult.

Escalante in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo by<a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake</a>
Escalante in the Lone Peak 1.5s. Photo byBarefoot Jake

Barefoot Jake. Week 3: Up your mileage slightly, being sure to take days off in between. Take note of any excessive soreness or discomfort and rest up more. Week 4-6: Do a few hikes of the approximate length that you would wish to start a thru-hike. Take some days off between. Assess how you feel. Try doing that distance with a full pack of gear.

Glacier walking in the Lone Peak 1.5s in Olympic National Park. Photo by <a href="www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake.</a>
Glacier walking in the Lone Peak 1.5s in Olympic National Park. Photo by Barefoot Jake.

With this training system, your feet will get stronger and reduce the chance of getting bone fractures. Your lower calves will be ready to hit the trail (relatively speaking). And you’ll enjoy the natural alignment benefits of wearing a Zero Drop shoes. Wearing Zero Drop shoes is like long distance hiking: once you start doing it, you’ll have a hard time thinking of life the same way. If you’ve ever thought about it, I highly encourage starting now before hiking season gets into full swing so that you can maximize the benefits when you’re on trail.     (P.S. I’m not a doctor. Legal says that you should consult with your physician before doing anything physical or changing your life in any way).

Urban Hiking Denver with Walk2Connect

<a href="www.walk2connect.com">Walk2Connect </a>hikers explore the Denver area as urban hikers.
Walk2Connect hikers explore the Denver area as urban hikers.

Since urban hiking Los Angeles last year was, I hadn’t ever really gotten around to urban hiking back at home in Denver. Sure, I did a lot of in town walking, but I ambled for transportation and not as part of a hiking group. This weekend, that viewpoint changed when I met with Jonathan Stalls from Denver’s Walk2Connect, an organization geared towards changing how people think about pedestrianism. In 2010, Jonathan walked for 8.5 months from Delaware to San Francisco with his dog as part of KivaWalk. He took the lessons he learned from that journey to create Walk2Connect, a Denver-based group that leads urban walking adventures. Despite extreme weather over this “long distance” urban walk, I learned a bit about how walking in the city can be used to connect people to self, place, and others.

We’re ready to set off on this adventure!
We’re ready to set off on this adventure!

Although originally 17 people signed up for the excursion, temperatures in the 20s kept all but the bravest warm at home. Our trip started at a Denver-landmark, the independent bookstore Tattered Cover. After meandering through downtown and crossing the pedestrian bridge over the South Platte River, we caught a few more hikers who met us at the bikeshare station in front of Denver’s enormous flagship REI. From here, we headed on a 13 mile Platte River trail to the historic town of Littleton.

When construction closes down roads, planners always designate well-signed reroutes for cars to get back on track. When bike paths or sidewalks get closed down, though, these closures can be especially inconvenient. A break in the route around 6th avenue led us into residential and industrial parts of the city. We wandered for more than a mile to get back on route. At one time, we realized the path continued on the other side of the river with no pedestrian-accessible bridge in sight.

Despite the cold, we warmed up with walking and camaraderie.
Despite the cold, we warmed up with walking and camaraderie.

This detour may have been a bummer if we were in a car, but at 3 miles per hour, we had time to appreciate how the city transitioned away from the commercial and residential parts of downtown. We could afford to notice the colorful murals vivifying industrial buildings. We were treated to the aromas of large scale bakeries.

Back on the path, we spotted riparian wildlife of the South Platte unfazed by the weather.  Using birding guides, we identified great blue herons, buffleheads, and the ever present Canada goose. Soon, snow started coming down hard on us, but we were warm from the walking. It was invigorating to explore the city in such weather and to have the path to ourselves.

Serenity can be found in the city if you know where to look.
Serenity can be found in the city if you know where to look.

The best part of the Walk2Connect experience was getting to meet new people and talk in a relaxed, low pressure atmosphere while enjoying the beauty of the city. As we finished our walk at the famous Littleton breakfast café, Toast, I felt a bit like we were all on a team that went on a long, snow-filled adventure. Our waitress had noticed us walking earlier that day and it was neat to share our adventure with her.

Before this hike, somehow, the distance between Denver and Littleton had seemed vastly larger in my mind because I had only ever taken that trip by car. Indeed, I would have guessed the distance between the start and end point as 25 miles. Walk2Connect allowed me to realize with others how small and linked the city actually is. I look forward to exploring new places in Denver with them soon.

 

Outdoor Retailer Chic: Latest news in Outdoor Fashion (?)

Clearly picking up on the gender imbalance of OR attendees, Gracie’s bar calls “having a beard” a fashion trend. What about ladies and people like Trauma?
Clearly picking up on the gender imbalance of OR attendees, Gracie’s bar calls “having a beard” a fashion trend. What about ladies and people like Trauma?

I missed the memo on the dresscode for the Winter Outdoor Retailer show. Down puffy jackets are the dresscode here so much that the local restaurants are playing on the uniform to attract customers.

Ladies’ fashion at OR as rocked by the beautiful Liz from Turbopup and some other randos who didn’t realize I was taking photos of them.
Ladies’ fashion at OR as rocked by the beautiful Liz from Turbopup and some other randos who didn’t realize I was taking photos of them.

Meanwhile, of the 25,000 people here, the dress is gendered: men are wearing jeans and trail running shoes while women are wearing tights and high boots.

I guess I dressed like a man accidentally?

Bikini-wearing girls in hot tubs weren’t the only novelty at OR. Really tall men were there for the womenfolk.
Bikini-wearing girls in hot tubs weren’t the only novelty at OR. Really tall men were there for the womenfolk.

Given that there are scantily-clad models walking the floor at OR, the pressure for ladies (who make up less than 50% of the attendees here) to look their best is pretty high. To compensate, I’m wearing my “going out” make up.

Men’s fashion this season at OR features puffies+jeans. Although brightly colored running shoes were common, dress shoes and cowboy boots (see above) are also popular. Either way, a backpack is a MUST.
Men’s fashion this season at OR features puffies+jeans. Although brightly colored running shoes were common, dress shoes and cowboy boots (see above) are also popular. Either way, a backpack is a MUST.

The guy OR attendees here are debuting men’s fashion trends for this fall—“rustic-hipster” with a skinny hipster silhouette thing going on.

What’s up with the guys in suits? Older East Coast types must sell gear, too.

Rumor on the street is the Bureau of Land Management directors at the Show were rocking the suits. DC types…
Rumor on the street is the Bureau of Land Management directors at the Show were rocking the suits. DC types…

Ladies fashion for fall is going towards what the OR Daily calls “demure earth tones,” which IMHO, is no good for taking photos of women in the outdoors (blends in too much with the background). I guess outdoor designers aren’t actually planning on women going outdoors…just looking like they do.

Nothing says clubbin’ and late night like an ultralight pack and softshell.
Nothing says clubbin’ and late night like an ultralight pack and softshell.

Unlike Summer OR (where people actually bring extra clothes and even costumes for going out), the best style for hitting the (mostly) free evening entertainment at the Show is in an ultralight pack.

On living to 28: A Birthday Reflection

Bear Glacier in Olympic National Park was what I thought would be the last “dangerous” thing I did at 27. Photo by <a href="http://www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake Morrison</a>
Bear Glacier in Olympic National Park was what I thought would be the last “dangerous” thing I did at 27. Photo by Barefoot Jake Morrison

Twenty eight isn’t a particularly old age, but as a pre-teen, it was an age I never thought I would reach. I wasn’t an adventurous or fit child—a topic I stress during my hiking presentations in an effort to inspire the inactive—yet, I was sure that I would die at 27—or younger. I had no real justification for this premonition. I was plagued by no major health problems. Perhaps it was because Kurt Cobain and Janis Joplin snuffed it at 27, or because I’d be that age at the Mayan’s predicted apocalypse. My rapidly approaching demise continued to be a belief I accepted as fact for the next 15 years, and as my hobbies became more and more dangerous, it seemed like my premonition had become merely a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Multi-pitch climbing in Red Rocks, Nevada. Photo by Leo Popovic
Multi-pitch climbing in Red Rocks, Nevada. Photo by Leo Popovic

Despite rock climbing falls, vehicle collisions, numerous strolls above treeline during lightning storms, and biking a LA highway at night without a headlight, somehow, I survived. One year ago today, as I celebrated my 27th birthday in Denver over vegan Chinese food, I knew my days were numbered. The idea that I would live another year, or another 70, was inconceivable.

Taken just a few years before I started thinking about mortality, I enjoy a particularly beautiful sunset with my best friend at the local pumpkin patch. Photo by Carey Mastain
Taken just a few years before I started thinking about mortality, I enjoy a particularly beautiful sunset with my best friend at the local pumpkin patch. Photo by Carey Mastain

For nearly two decades, dying before 28 was a tenet of my existence. As a teenager, I was consumed with dreams of freedom from school and parents and of the epic adventures I wished to do in my remaining decade and a half. I had never heard of thru-hiking or even considered that long distance walking was a thing people did, but my teenage self was fixated with capturing a feeling which I could not describe in words, a feeling that many years later, I found by thru-hiking. Now, I would describe that emotion using words like: flow, freedom, self-sufficiency, mind-body-place connection, and elevated heart rate—but even those descriptions don’t seize the true meaning. We use words to communicate ideas to other people, yet, in the case of this emotion, although words fail me, I’ve still been able to communicate it with a few people. When I describe this feeling to other thru-hikers, they know what I mean, even if words fail them, too.

Conducting research in the Eastern Sierra, California (age 19) Photo by Kat Thomas
Conducting research in the Eastern Sierra, California (age 19) Photo by Kat Thomas

With the knowledge that my trips around the sun were limited, I spent my time in college seizing opportunities that maximized my immediate happiness while also providing financially for medium term goals. By this time, I had learned what thru-hiking was and walking the PCT was on my ever-increasing bucket-list. During my summers in college, instead of pursuing a job-ensuring networking internship at Goldman Sachs like my colleagues, I lived alone at a research station in the Sierra, sometimes going days without talking to another person. The job put me in a place I loved where I could hike and climb, but it also provided a moderate income that allowed me to squirrel away for my big hikes.

At age 20, I lived in Botswana for a few months. Photo courtesy Valerie Johnson
At age 20, I lived in Botswana for a few months. Photo courtesy Valerie Johnson

As a hiker, I’ve heard the whole round of criticism from friends and family wondering what I will do about retirement, how I will manage to get enough funds together to buy a house, and when I will have kids. They say I’ve been so busy hiking and living in the moment that I haven’t saved for the future. Sometimes I would respond, “What if I don’t make it that long?” Instead of worrying what will happen to me decades from now, I’ve lived for mid-term aspirations. Living in the day can lead to recklessness, but living in the decade—living as if the next decade is all I’ve got—has taught me to live a goal-oriented life. I’ve been more places and seen more things in my 28 years than I ever would have had I thought I’d live longer. An imminent death motivated me to do all that I could ever want to do such that, when I finished the Triple Crown weeks after my 25th birthday, I wondered what could occupy the rest of my existence.

The first photo taken of me on a long distance trail. The gateway to the approach trail on the Appalachian Trail.
The first photo taken of me on a long distance trail. The gateway to the approach trail on the Appalachian Trail.

To my failure, finishing off my bucket list—which included walking the Triple Crown—became such an obsession that I sometimes made poor decisions in its pursuit. I surrendered a social life in the now to save money for walking. I compromised the quality of my hikes so that I could hike this summer instead of waiting for more favorable hiking situations. I hiked with people who made life difficult because I didn’t think I could achieve my goals alone, and if I didn’t walk now, then when? I sacrificed the quality of my life—arguably, my reason for living—to knock a goal off my list, and am ashamed of it. This is the danger of rushing life’s goals.

I could die at any moment…
I could die at any moment…

As years pass and I continue to breathe, I have learned to add to my bucket list and revise and amend it as my interests change and as I meet my old goals. Even though I’ve made it to an age I never thought possible, I could still die at any moment. Yet, there is some security it knowing the old omen was wrong. I’ve spent my first 28 years learning about the value of living in the relative moment, but also the danger of focusing on narrow goals. Instead, perhaps, I will spend the next 28 aiming for a broader mission, this time, striving simply to live well.

My new favorite training spot

The line straight up the Incline is visible from the parking lot
The line straight up the Incline is visible from the parking lot

 

Famous among Olympians, ultra runners, and other hardcore athletes, the Colorado Springs/Manitou Springs based Incline Trail is among the hardest miles one can hike anywhere. The Incline trail follows an old cog railway route up Pikes Peak, gaining 2000 vertical feet in one mile. I’m always up for a challenge, so went out to the Incline this past weekend with my friend Pi, an accomplished long distance hiker and ultra runner and his friend Frederick from Sweden.

When we got there at 11 AM, the parking lot was full. From the base of the Incline, you can see the steep cut in the mountainside where the trail goes straight up covered in brightly colored outdoor attire-wearing people. Although some people on the trail are clearly in shape, few people are running or even jogging up the Incline. I’m most impressed by the diversity of people: far from my impression of the Incline as being a extremists’ training ground only, the path also is visited by families, couples, people in jeans and t-shirts, and dogs.

 

The rail lines on the Incline keep going and going and going
The rail lines on the Incline keep going and going and going

The Incline features more than 2,000 “steps” made of old wooden railway lines and the occasional rusted pipe. The steps are far from even—some are only a few inches higher than the last and some beg for me to use my hands on the way up (at least when my legs are too tired to do it all themselves).

My friend Pi finishes the Incline
My friend Pi finishes the Incline

For almost the entire hike, the top—and all the uphill to it—is visible. The hardest part about the Incline is mental; by seeing how much more is left, it can feel a bit like the end will never come. I love hiking the Appalachian Trail because the trees and twistiness of the path keep the future a mystery. With the Incline, the future is uphill and everyone there knows it. A false summit was a bit disheartening—nothing like pushing hard to come up over the bend only to realize there is more to come. But the reason it looked like a summit was because the trail flattened out at this point, a reprieve to keep pace while lowering my heart rate.

Chow time on the Incline
Chow time on the Incline

When I finally reached the top, I was exhilarated. I loved watching all the people come over the top with big smiles. The thirty people on top made it feel like a party of people overwhelmed by their accomplishment.  Far better than a gym, we all shared the camaraderie of taking on the same challenge. The stunning view of Pikes Peak in the background and the Garden of the Gods below us made the finish feel all the more festive.

 

The trail down from the Incline goes through cool rock formations and has a great view of Pikes Peak
The trail down from the Incline goes through cool rock formations and has a great view of Pikes Peak

Although the Incline is about 2 hours from where I live, I’m already planning a second trip. It was inspiring to watch old timers and Incline regulars go up and down the path. I can’t wait to have the Incline down pat—to study and know every step and where to place my feet and relish pushing myself just as hard, but watching my time go down. The incredible toughness of the terrain, the community, and the support of strangers I felt going up the wooden railbeds was not unlike the feeling I get while thru-hiking. Yet the easy access, diversity of people, and promise of BBQ when the day is over made it unlike any other place I’ve been before.