gear i’ve used so far

i don’t know why it has taken me so long to write about the larger pieces of gear i’ve been using. it seems like it would have been a great thing to write about before taking off while i was being anxious and obsessive about it all.

i recently went out to a lake with some pals and managed to take some pics of some key pieces while in use, vs. on the floor of an urban abode.

first, the pack holding everything. it’s a ula catalyst made in utah. it really is a workhouse of a pack. i traded in all my other packs at next adventure to afford it. i totally over packed this sucker and it still held up super, keeping the weight on my hips. the folks over at next adventure were amazingly patient with me as we mixed up the sizes of the hip belt and the different straps. ula makes an “s” shoulder harness and a “j” design. at first i was kinda frustrated with all the different straps and such to cinch and compress, but i quickly found my way around them and appreciated every last one of them. i really liked the roll top closure with the different options of clipping it closed either with the side straps, or on top as you would a dry bag. i also used the hell out of the external mesh pocket for trekking poles, rain gear/wet gear, tent, and umbrella. the pack is still a bit bigger and heavier than i want to have, but it has been great for essentially carrying my whole life on my back.

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next let’s move on to my little home. it is a big agnes copper spur ul-1. i scouted it at pct days in cascade locks last summer. i climbed in and out of all kinds of shelters on demo. for me this tent has a really good living space to weight to price ratio. i watched for deals and sales and rei eventually had a great sale on all big agnes products, so i cashed in my rei dividend and picked one up last summer. it may look familiar because its test run was to the wallowas and central oregon hot springs. the reason i like this tent really involves the weight and living space. i did decide to get the ground cloth that goes with it vs. getting a piece of tyvak because i do like the idea of pitching it with just the fly, which i have done a couple of times when in need of some quick shelter from the wind and rain. i could also imagine using this set up if i needed to creat some shade since i can still get some good air flow to stay cool. i could also see myself using this quick set up where i wanted to go fast and light, where mosquitos won’t be an issue.

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i should say that i had and have some prickles about buying from big agnes this time around. they have always been a great company. their products are made in steamboat springs, colorado. they make high quality gear that is pricy but not completely out of range for an average adventurer. however, there is a cultural shift in the outdoor world that is annoying to me, and totally shouldn’t be. so on the side panel pockets where i usually store my glasses, headlamp, watch and such, they have added a place to run an earphone line so that you can store your device and listen to music, podcast, show…whatever. i know i shouldn’t be bothered by this, but i kind of am. i am trying to get away from all that, so why build in a way to stay connected? also, big agnes has started this mountain glow series where they add led lights to the tents and have linked up with goal zero (which i do use) to charge them via. i don’t know, i guess this is just too much for me – technology in the outdoors wise. people already use too bright of headlamps and blind me when i am out at night wondering around looking at the stars, why all the extra light? i know i should get over it. if it helps get more people out to fall in love with wilderness, great. i reckon i am just becoming a cantankerous old fart.

now, there are two things i am really excited about adding to my quiver of a good nights sleep. first, my sleeping pad. i have experimented with so many pads and up until now, i have stuck with thermolite self-inflating pads. i tried to use some of the ultra-lite like their neoair and another by nemo, all really good products, but not so much for me. so while at the same pct days i met the folks from klymit. they were super nice. they had several of their pads out to test. i had read about some of their lightweight pads that seemed kind of torturous in pics, but once i laid out on the static v, i was so happy! i can finally sleep on my side and not feel my pelvic bone get friendly with whatever rock i missed in clearing my sleeping space. on top of all that, it isn’t set up high where i feel like i am going to roll off, which i am prone to do whether its a bed or a sleeping pad. so when they told me i could get one for 1/2 price that day, i went for it. that night i rolled up my 3/4 thermarest i’d been using for years and blew this one up. it really did only take 15-20 breaths (even after a visit to the beer garden). and i slept great!

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some things i’ve learned using this now, is that less is more. i do like this pad better when not completely filled with air. also, the side rails do really work for me. so far i have not rolled off the pad unless i did so on purpose to cool my legs down on a hot night or during a particularly invasive hot flash. sure i can’t just throw it in my tent and let it self inflate while i do other chores around camp, but the good nights sleep i receive is worth it. oh, and i did get the insulated one which did pay off while in the high country a couple of times in test trips where the temp dropped into the teens and i was using 30 or 40 degree sleeping bag at the time.

now for the piece of equipment i am truly excited about, my new sleeping quilt. that is right, i made the switch from a bag to a quilt. i wasn’t sure if it was gong to be right for me at first, so i went to rei and bought and returned a couple different bags. i tested out some other bags at various gear shops and events. however, i am such a tosser and a turner, that i am never really comfortable in a sleeping bag. in addition, i prefer to sleep on my side or stomach, and bags just get all twisted up and the hood on the mummy bags have almost suffocated me a few times. however, most quilts are down filled and i just can not bring myself to do that. enter enlightened equipment! they are based (and made to order) in minnesota. so i got to pick out the colors, temperature rating, and insulation of my quilt. and to be honest, i tried to use some woman’s specific sleeping bags, but really? do they all have to be pink or pastel, or glow-worm green; so getting to pic the color was a huge plus for me.

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anyway, the quilts are super versatile. there is one small zipper at the foot box, so the quilt can be closed around the lower parts of the legs, or fully open…like a quilt or blanket you use at home. also, the foot box has a drawstring enclosure so you can still have it closed around the legs to hold in the warmth, but you can easily stick your feet out the end. this came in super handy on cold nights where i was so tired and wanted to cozy in, but my feet where on fire from the day’s walking and trying to heal the blisters. i spend many nights wrapped up, but with my feet dangling out.

another feature of this quilt is the sleeping pad straps. so there are two of them, one towards the bottom and one towards the top. the one on the bottom is great for just keeping the quilt in place. the top one i use on really cold nights when i want to make sure that i hold in all the body heat possible. mostly, so far, i don’t use the top one much except on the coldest of nights. the advantage of this system is the versatility. i don’t need a summer bag and a winter bag (well unless i go super high late/early in the season). this quilt is super comfortable regardless of what is happening temperature wise.

more pluses….it is so light! when it came in the mail, i thought the box was empty! it is easy to pack up… i just really like this sleeping situation. it is so nice to not feel like i am wrestling my way to get some rest and recovery. the only thing i am still trying to work out is sleeping directly on my pad. i don’t really like it that much. i currently use my sleeping bag liner that is stretchy, but i am looking at some of the pad covers, but some of them are made out of the silnylon too, so i don’t know. i like my liner, so i’ll probably just stick with it, but some quilt designers are recognizing this is an issue for some. mostly this is only an issue if i want to sleep naked, which i don’t do much because of night sweats and hot flashes.

the other major piece of equipment that i replaced was my cooking system. i’ve used my trusty msr pocket rocket and gsi minimalist system for so long, at least 8 years that i wasn’t even thinking of replacing it…that is until one of the folks at next adventure suggested the evernew cook system. the appalachian series is so light i can’t believe it, however what really sold me on it is that i can use alcohol, fuel tablets, or wood for fuel! so that means that i can mostly scavage small twigs and drift wood (almost always dry and ready to burn) for free! so much less fuel to carry and buy! i still have some fuel tablets from the little stove i used on the jmt a few years ago when i didn’t really cook much on that trail. i bought a little alcohol fuel for emergencies, which i did need a few (ok several) times on the rainy coast. but for the most part, if i thought ahead and picked up sticks through out the day, i could store them in places where they might be able to dry out enough to make dinner.

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i did go to antigravity gear and got their appalachian kitchen upgrade. mostly this involves a couple of cozys for soaking and post-cooking simmering, a little ring that goes under the alcohol stove for increasing its already efficient efficiency, and a container to soak your dried food while you are walking so that the cooking times are quicker, thereby using less fuel. it is a great system and i am enjoying the learning curve involved in figuring out this whole new way of cooking. and if i am too tired at the end of a day to work all this out, i just boil some water and make miso soup, tossing in some crumbled soy curls and dried veggies and nutritional yeast for a quick dinner.

the only thing i think i will change is maybe a bigger pot. the pot it comes with, 500 ml, is perfect for most meals, but if i want to cook up some pasta, or saute some veggies first, i think a little bigger pot might be nice, especially in the morning. this is the time i actually really like to use the stove most. i like to boil water for a hot beverage whether it is for coffee or tea, and then a warm breakfast on a cold mountain morning really helps warm the muscles and spirits for a day’s adventure.

shoes. so i was really trying to only get gear that was made as locally as possible. not just designed, but manufactured and made by people as close to me as i could find (and afford), and that pay people doing that work a wage that supports them beyond just getting by. the gear wasn’t too difficult, but clothing and shoes is a whole different issue. then one day i discovered carson footware. these are minimalist trail running shoes that are designed and sewn in portland oregon! so i called them up and asked if i could come down and check them out before ordering on-line. i was able to bike (also it is right off the max line, so it is easy to get to) out there. the woman who greeted me and helped me find the right size (their sizing philosophy is the most consistent i have ever found in shoes) and style, was also the person who sewed my shoes! in fact shoes were being sewn by another person while we talked. when i went and picked them up about 10 days later i got to meet the owner. he was great! i explained what i was trying to do and he was so supportive.

sliding into these shoes is like putting on a nice pair of slippers. they stretch and form to my feet even on long days where my feet really swell up. they dry quickly and are fairly breathable. the traction is fantastic. i didn’t slide once, even where the mud and landslides were happening all around me. i’ve read that they have just added a soul with even more traction. there isn’t really much padding, so if you need that, this isn’t your shoe. however, if you like zero drop and having solid contact with the ground….go get ’em!

i did get a goal zero charging system (thank you to my aunts who gifted me this in support of this venture). it has been great. i charge my phone, my headlamp (a petzel), ipod, and tablet with it. in fact i still use it even though i am in an apartment. i put it out and charge up the venture 30 and then use it all week to charge up my phone and headlamp (which i use as my main headlamp while biking around at night in ashland) also, for reading at night at home instead of turning on a lamp. there is just something comfortable about using a headlamp. maybe it is the red light that i use most often.

so i think that is it for most of the big switches in gear acquired. some other choices i made? i decided against a gps system. so much money upfront and additional investment in digital maps and batteries or charging time, and subscriptions to satellite use. yet, i did get an abc watch. it measures the barometric levels, altitude, and has a digital compass. this one also informs me of the tides; in addition it keeps track the moon phases (which helps even more with understanding the tides), alarms, stopwatch and timers, temperature sensor and some other things that i don’t understand. the barometric reading and patterns have come in really handy in reading when storms are moving in and out. it is also helping me develop some internal understanding of weather patterns. the compass is great for setting bearings and following a route, but really, on the coast…not much needed there. also, the external ring of the casio pro trek is a solar charger, so i don’t even have to plug it into anything nor change any batteries. i just have to make sure that every-once-in-awhile it is exposed to light.

but i digress a little for not getting a gps unit is that “they” still suggest having paper maps just in case of tech failures. plus, i have a phone with gps that shows me where i am even if i don’t have cell reception (a fun note: while on the coast it often pinpointed me as being actually deep in the ocean hahaha). if i end up getting super remote and alone i will consider getting a spot locator that will send help when needed. then i won’t have to deal with satellite subscriptions and all that. there are so many apps for smart phones now, that i don’t know how long gps units will be helpful for folks not going way off the beaten path. also…i really like maps. i love to pour over them and see what is where and what all the options are. for example, if i hadn’t had other maps while doing the jmt, i would have never found the hot springs that were just a short detour off the trail. why? because they are not on the official route. so mix and match. and have fun.

i still have not replaced my water filter system. i enjoy pumping water. i don’t like the chemical taste of treatment drops or tablets, and i don’t trust the pens. the gravity bags coming out and micro filters that are being developed are probably great, but my good old fashion katadyn has never let me down. i do keep a bottle of gse drops incase i am felling unwell, or i feel that the water may not be the best even after a filter, but i have only ever used the drops when i fee like i am getting sick…like catching a cold. i have had this pump for like 20 years and it has never ever let me down. sometimes i let it down. like when i left it out one night and the water left in it froze. and really pumping my water is a kind of meditative activity where i get to know my water source and those around it better. i really like pumping water as the sun is setting or rising. water sources are so busy during these times.

what else? most of my pics are either from my phone or a canon powershot sx160 is. i’d like to upgrade to a really nice digital slr, but that is going to have to wait until i get famous. so get use to this camera. its great. i have been using canon cameras since i was in high schools, so over 30 years, and they have always done what i envisioned.

you already know i use the pstyle as a standup urinary tool. prior to menopause, i used the diva cup for menstruation in and out of the woods. i don’t use a trowel for digging a cat hole. i either use a tent stake that i keep in the carrying case of the pstyle or a stick i find lying around. it isn’t hard to determine how deep 6 inches is once you get use to it. but also, i try to dig a little deeper hole just to be sure. i don’t use t.p. i have been working on some other techniques. some involve using smooth rock that i collect through the day, rub clean and then leave in the cat hole. i have also used a special water bottle to create a kind of outdoor bidet, which in nice and clean feeling. but i feel like these issues are super personal. there is no right way, but there are certainly some wrong ways. so study up on leave no trace principles and find a way that works for you.

if you have questions of other things i may or may not be using and why or why not, let me know. i’m not much of a gear head, but i do like learning new skills and how to use different tools. it is fun to develop the best tool to take out into the world, and that is the good ol brain. learning to adapt to different resources and situations and how to use what is handy and available to make things even more enjoyable without inflicting more human interference is a wonderful skill to continue to develop. i look forward to pushing myself even more in this area.

 

some questions answered

i know its early for a first break, but believe it or not, i need a break. i have been going non-stop since i quite my jobby job. there was just so much to do and people to see and stuff to work out, that i didn’t get a chance to just process all that was happening. i kinda figured i’d do it on the drive to kansas and back, but nope. i was just focused on driving and making plans with the people i was meeting up with there. then i thought i could chill out on the way back. you know, take the more southern route through colorado and stop at some hot springs, have some beer, write… but i was just so tired and exhausted, mostly emotionally exhausted to be honest. when you leave your dream job, it can be troubling. the last 6 months of working there was really hard on me.

i don’t know how to explain it, but it just stopped feeling like the collective was working together. many people thought they knew what the co-op needed, but couldn’t hear what anyone else was saying. there were lots of power dynamics happening and i got caught in the middle. then there was the disagreements on calling the cops or not when people felt or were perceived to be violent in one way or another, especially the people experiencing homelessness or some form of mental illness. i guess on most levels i (as a white human in this country and especially in portland) i feel pretty safe emotionally, physically, and mentally. in most of these instances my concern was for the safety of those acting out, and on those around who don’t typically feel safe. calling the cops makes very few people actually feel safer….anyway, my dream job was no longer my dream job, which made me create and follow through with a new dream. so that is what i am out here doing.

so here i am in seaside taking a break after only 2 days out and 20 miles in. i am going to catch you up a bit. so here are the answers to the question i get most often. after this, probably later today, i will tell about the last couple days.

 as i begin to share my adventure plan with people i am invariably asked how did i come up with this idea. or how long have i been thinking about doing this, or some variant of this. and when i am out walking around thinking, i am reminded of so many times i’ve wondered about doing this, and some of the inspiring (in one way or another) people who’s stories i have heard about. the main ones that come to mind are: utah phillips, woodie guthrie, (and all the riders of the rails that they talk about), everett ruess, and to a lesser extent john muir and thurou (to be honest and somewhat sacrilege, i don’t really like muir. yes, he started the protecting the “wilderness” areas and all that. however, they were super racists and displaced the people of that land that already cared for and had a relationship with the land. so  i find him and all the worship he gets annoying). people ask me about the peace pilgrim and other folks who walked across the country with a pointed purpose. i have certainly been affected by them and their convictions, but not really. then i am asked about the book and movie wild. sigh, i was not inspired by either, but i get why people are. there are so many thru-hikers who’s blogs and books i have read, and thankfully there are more and more female identified folks writing and getting published, and they have been super helpful and lent to the dream. however, they all, at some point, ask why can’t this be life? i ask just because the trail ends, does that mean i have to stop walking? i say no, well until the money runs out and i have to stop for a minute and make some more. so yes, thru-hikers have been inspiring, but this is not a thru-hike.

so, i’d say ruess has been my biggest influence. i stumbled upon ruess after one of my very first backpacking trips. we did a few days up in zion national park. once we put on a clean (for me dry since i jumped in the river as soon as we crossed the bridge), consumed the biggest salad and coldest beer i could imagine, we then stepped into a cute little bookstore. here is where i found a book called “everett ruess: a vagabond for beauty” by w.l. rusho. mostly it’s a collection of ruess’ letters, journal entries, poems, and woodblocks. i fell in love with his story. and for sure i fell in love with the romantic notion of a young person stepping out of the city in search of….well beauty. that introduction had to be 12 years ago.

i’ve read and reread this book and lent it out so much its falling apart, held together with a rubber band. it wasn’t until i moved to portland that i ran into anyone else that had heard of everett. seems most people have heard of him from the book into the wild. kroukhou spends a good deal of time talking about him as he pieces together the story of chris. i still haven’t been able to bring myself to read that book. i saw the movie and was somewhat annoyed. i do really like the soundtrack. but for some reason, the thought of reading this book just repulses me. this happens sometimes. it happened to me with “wild”. i forced myself to read it like a child who doesn’t want to eat their dinner….just like that child that submitted, i wish i hadn’t. so i may never read it, but i am curious about it, so who knows….

anyway, the questions all the above people bring up for me are fairly basic. 1) is a modern-day everett, guthrie, utah, vagabond rail rider even possible and if so what does that look like? 2) where are the women, people of color, queer folks? where are their stories? or do they end (and therefor never told) by a lynching, prison, violent death, institutionalization? also is there a level of survival that keep non-white men from having their stories told from an adventure format? also also…this had been the life of the traditional people of this land befor the arrival of the european conqueror. what is the privilege that “allowed” the exploitative life of people like thurou or ruess and especially muir? what is the difference between the utah, guthrie folks compared to the everett and muire and chris?

poverty for sure. mental health for woodie guthrie (any doubts? read his autobiography). those two groups of white men have access to different privlages of american culture. some, like utah philliups, are trying to fight against this oppressive regime of a colonizing culture. many of those riding the rails where looking for seasonal work, migratory work. leaving lives that they couldn’t fulfill, all kinds of stories of people who capitalism leaves out. people who don’t want to or can’t for various reasons, live in this world.

for some reason, i feel like i fall into both and neither camp at the same time. i want to adventure out into the wilderness in search of beauty. the beauty of nature of the people who know the land. to find the beauty of people i have very little in common with besides a love for the outdoors. but i also feel like i don’t fall in line with the status quo. i believe that the bigger, better, faster life-style that is getting even faster and faster as we are lulled into a false sence of security. i’m tired of people telling me what it means to be however i am identifying today, and i only feel that it is getting worse. that the more we refine how we identify, the more specific we get in our specialty, the less we are able to see the bigger connections. the less we are able to develop empathy for people we do not know. the less we are able to put together the connections that make us all homosapians, animals if you will.

i just want to explore/experience/get to know the people and the places that i move through. this is getting harder and harder to do in cities. they are all getting so homogenous. it doesn’t feel as genuine anymore. the gentrification of the cities is beginning to feel the way it did when non-queer folks showed up at the gay & lesbian bars. coming by because it was cool, the music was good for dancing, the people beautiful, but they wanted to feel safe and wanted to be like their neighborhood bars, so they took it over and offended most everyone. then, since that queer space is now safer for white folks to move in and be trendy, hip and happening, those queers, other creatives and the rest of the folks living there at near or below poverty level, get pushed out. that is how portland feels to me now…and what is happening to the “up and coming” cities around the country. so i could move to another city again, but name a place this isn’t happening.

and i fear that this is what is happening to the trendy trails like the pct, at, cdt. i fear that as more and more people descend upon the major trails, they will become like the interstate highway systems where people cross the country faster and faster and we forget to stop and get to know the people, plants, and animals of the land. and what is the up and down stream effects of all this activity on some trails? also, it has become a major commodity and purchasing of latest and greatest gear. the gear industry is exploding, but who makes it and for whom are they making it? this is a rabbit hole of sorts that i will go down later.

i think that this is one of the appeals of everett ruess for me. he floundered. he knew he didn’t know lots of things and didn’t pretend to. he talked to people as he encountered them, but doesn’t seem to seek them out. he, indeed was very privileged even during the times of the depression of the early 1900s. we seems to have been known to walk into any place and make himself at home. he didn’t seem to know how to be a stranger which is indeed a privilege of the young and the cis white hetero male. he seems to have made friends with some of the indigenous folks of the canyon lands. and then he just disappears. some think that the mystery of his disappearance has been solved. national geographic has a huge article on it, but in the end it is still in question. i like the idea that he and his donkeys just rode off out of range. maybe went on into mexico. perhaps just blended in with one of the indigenous villages in the area.

so how has this inspired or fed my ideas of this adventure?

i want to travel around this country. i do not want to travel on the roads.if i did i would do a bike tour, and i don’t want to bike over the mountain ranges and i don’t want to walk on hot stinky roads. i want to meet the people in the small towns along the ranges. i want to meet more people who are living and working in the forest, wild spaces left in this country (and not in this country). i want to hear their stories. i want to walk the land with them. in a time when we think we are so super divided, and we certainly are for fear can indeed to that, i think if we take the time and move slowly enough to get to know one another in ways that feed empathy for how we each got to where we are, we will find that there is not so much reason to fight. we might learn that most of our most basic fears are the same…we shall see.

i’ll resupply as i pass through towns.

no i am not afraid of bears, cougars, or other wild life…snakes are a phobia for me. white men do make me leery. as i camp on the coast, i have realized i am afraid of sneaker waves, midnight high tides with a sneaker wave (am i sure i pitched my tent far enough back?), and cars on the beach running my tent, and subsequently me, over. i guess the thing i am most afraid of is being stuck in an institution of some kind (prison, hospital…). i’m a little afraid i may never come back for one reason or another, but mostly wonder what and why i would return. and no, i don’t know that i will return to portland to live.

i don’t have many plans outside of what will happen after the oregon coast trail. i will check the snow levels around that time and decide then. i have a few ideas in mind.

no i’m not actually walking across the country, but kind of around it and up-and-down in a kind of migratory route.

not taking a gps unit. getting lost is kind of the point, but also, i’d already need to have back up paper maps, so why don’t i just use those anyway. when it comes to having all the cool gadgets and such, i ask myself what would people do before these existed? well, they developed skills and such. that is what i plan on doing.

yes, i will have my cell phone (and can download maps and trails onto it), but it will have the most basic of plans and such to stay in touch. i also have this here tablet to write….

i hope to connect with local (to where i am at the time) trail groups and organization and hopefully do some trail maintence or work with them in some kind of capacity. 
yes, i will stay vegan, however, i have gotten some wool blend base layers for so many reasons that include not wanting hypothermia, weight, comfort on hot and cold days, synthetic gets stinky and is being made of oil really any better? cotton is nice, but its heavy and doesn’t dry quickly, however, i do have a cotton shirt to sleep in because it was designed by someone i know and its super soft.

gear-list….i will make one soon, i promise. while i am here at seaside i will do yet another shackdown…i want to lose 5 to 10 pounds still from my pack…speaking of, i am going to make some lunch…..