28 April 2016

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again

PorterPants as I call him. Lovingly captured hiking by Lisa Bowers.
You wouldn't know it from looking at this photo of my favorite little buddy, but a few years ago I didn't like dogs. Or red wine. Or riding a bicycle, carrying things up hills, or sleeping in tents.

During that same time I had a colleague who got rid of her television, and I just could. not. fathom. what she was doing with all her extra time. I mean - I had a TiVo! Those shows were stacking up and I just had to watch!

But people change. Sometimes the change is a battle. We stick to our first impressions even though they aren't always right. We hold tight to negative experiences and refuse to try new things. We let memories from the past cloud potential future happiness.

I'm here to say change is good. Take Porter for example: I met his dad Q in a running group where we became fast friends. He told me he had a dog....I pretended to be interested. Truth be told I didn't want to admit to Q (and probably myself) that I was afraid of dogs. In case you don't know, I suffer from shortness, and one of the side effects of being short is that you're generally short for your entire life. Grades K-8 I was always the shortest in my class. As a result, lots and lots of dogs were also bigger than me, and I remember a few occasions growing up where I was jumped upon and consequently knocked to the ground by an unruly canine. It was traumatic to say the least.

I was also handicapped by having grown up with cats. Cats are easy - they mostly ignore you, poop in a box, and can be left for days without so much as a check in. They were never big enough to knock you over (at least not the house-cat variety native to Montana). I knew what to do with cats. Cats were my speed. Dogs not so much.

Sleeping in tents and LOVING it! Photo by Imran Rahman.
When the time came to meet Q's mutt, my nerves were high. Q assured me Porter would be gentle (he was), taught me how to say hello (squat down to the dogs level and let them smell you first), and provided instructions and treats to see a few tricks (sit, shake, high-five, lie down). I was not mauled or bitten, and it was not terrible. I felt my heart open just a tiny crack for this adorable creature.

Fast-forward three years and I am one of TWO dog nannies for Porter (and his recently-reunited sister Cally). He comes to work with me two days a week most weeks, and I'm a dog sitter when his dad, mom, and live-in nanny are out of town (yes, I know that sounds ridiculous). My life is better because of Porter, and in a way he has served as a catalyst to continued friendships with the rest of the humans who care about him.

Friendships are forged over shared experiences, and when we deny ourselves opportunities because of existing bias we shut the door on future community. 


I didn't like dogs. Now I do, and my life is so much richer as a result. I could preach for hours about the value of opening yourself up to new experiences - about how trying something once isn't really enough anymore. I could write a mini (and semi-drunken) novel about how I came to love red wine or why I'll go kayaking again even though I don't really enjoy it or why I continue to ride a bicycle even though I'm really, really bad at it, but I hope my life - and this blog - serve as a living example of how change can be good.

If you - like me - find yourself in an unfamiliar/uncomfortable situation, here are my challenges to you:
  1. Admit that you're scared. To me dogs were terrifying. They're big and powerful and I was afraid to admit my fear. I was scared I would be judged for lack of experience. What I found was never ending support and understanding. Don't assume you know how people will react to fear. 
  2. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Change can only happen when we make a tiny bit of space for something new. Opening up only gets harder as you get older - remind yourself it's a small cut and not a big, gaping wound. It makes the initial step easier.
  3. Ask for help. Accept compassion. I'm an Irish-Italian Taurus. I blame genetics for basically all of my shortcomings. But despite my preconceptions towards greatness, I am not the best at all things always. Struggling is not naturally, but when I ask for help and accept compassion, I'm much happier and more successful than when I don't. You will be too. 

With each baby step in a new direction comes a new challenge. A new opportunity. Don't you want to find out what's waiting for you?

21 April 2016

How To Be A Good Adventure Buddy

Like I said. Kit DIALED!

Experienced adventuristas often forget what it was like to be 'the noob'. We have our kit dialed, know how much food to pack, and can go from no plans to leaving on a two-day ski trip in 30-minutes without breaking a sweat. But we were all beginners once, and each have someone to thank for taking us out for our first hike, bike, ski, or climb.

Whether you are new to the outdoors or a grizzled mountain-man, follow these guidelines to be a good adventure buddy for your partner(s): 

Be honest about your prior experience. A few years ago I put together a "newbie day" for a few of my new-to-backcountry friends. One of the trip members told me he "had a few days in the backcountry", which translated to "I've skied in the side-country once and have to rent a splitboard to go out with you".  His lack of experience wasn't a problem - this was a newbies day after all - but by exaggerating his experience level he put me and the other party members at risk. Had I known his real ability I simply would have picked a different objective. But I didn't know, I didn't pick a different objective, and he didn't have a good day. Bummer all around.

Ask questions before the trip. Debating between a puffy or a fleece? Need to borrow crampons? Not sure if you need to bring water? No problem. Let your partners know. I have answers and probably have extras. Don't buy stuff you don't need when you can easily borrow, and don't NOT bring something because you were too afraid to ask. Playing outside is serious business. When you venture into the unknown, you enter an unpredictable world of potential hazard: twisted ankles, sudden snowstorms, lost gear, a car towed from the trailhead.... Unexpected things happen all the time - it's part of the appeal. Take time to put a good plan in place. It'll make your experience better in the long run.

Definitely NOT carrying the right amount of stuff.
Pack enough stuff. If you stayed at home for a day, you would need to get dressed, eat, and presumably use items to do things. The same goes for the backcountry. You need to clothe yourself, feed yourself, and use items to do things. I tend to have a standard packing list, with a few add-ons depending on the objective. Make a list of what you'll need, lay it out on the floor, and double-check your list as you stuff it into your bag.

But not too much. The heavier your pack, the slower you will be. Being slow means you are hiking for longer, and can potentially fall short of your objective due to turnaround times. I looked for some science to back me up on the weight to hiking speed ratio, but I was overwhelmed by math so you'll just have to take my word for it: it makes you slower. Bring only what you need within a comfortable margin of safety. That said, I normally bring one more layer than I think I'll need. Mountains are unpredictable. Safety is imperative.

Speak up when something is troubling you. If you aren't comfortable, you won't have a good time. Being outside is about Type I Fun (most of the time), so embrace the experience and use your voice to advocate for yourself. If the conditions are sketching you out that's an immediate cause for concern. Tell your partners. They'll talk through it with you, and make a decision that's best for the group. If you just need a break - to address a growing blister, adjust your backpack carry, feed your face - by all means ask for it. No team should have to turn around because someone let an annoyance fester to the point of catastrophe.

Feed yourself. Each individual is their own delicate snowflake with unique metabolic needs. Some of us need to eat a lot. Some of us do not. If you don't know where you fall on the 'hangry spectrum', bring more food than you think you'll need. Then feed yourself. A LOT. You should be sticking something in your face at least once an hour or you'll risk bonking (which is bad). Bring a mix of things: simple carbs (for immediate energy), and more long-lasting foods like mixed nuts. If you continually find yourself hungry on the trail - eat more! It's an easy fix.  

Remember you are responsible for your own good time. I used to be a very negative person. I liked to complain, and I really liked it when I could influence others to complain with me. I bonded through negativity. Long story short: it was not a good way to ingratiate myself into the company of new people. I adopted a new outlook, and I embraced being responsible for my own good time. If you do need to complain every now and then, that's fine, but try to complain with a solution in mind. No one likes a Negative Nelly, but a Negative Nelly in a onesie suggesting beer floats at the end of the grueling day - well, everyone wants to hang out with that guy.

The Group. Experts at being That Guy.

14 April 2016

Reasons to Buy an Adult Onesie

Photo by Greg Sheehan. Buy your own today!


-end of list*

*see also: keeps you warm at night, adds flair to any packing photo, allows you to make friends easily, keeps people you shouldn't be friends with away from you, has ample belly space to enjoy the biggest of meals, pairs well with flip flops OR down booties, lets you achieve your dream of finally having a tail, comes with POCKETS to keep your adult-needing valuables close at hand, allows you to become a human-sized action figure mascot, assures you will never be left unsupervised because - any time - day or night - everyone will know exactly where you are!

07 April 2016

Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming: A Final Petra Update

Back in December 2015, when I really started to feel like myself again, I composed a "Petra is GONE" blog in my head. The update was to be titled "Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming" and it was going to be about poop.

That's right. I was going to write a blog entirely about poop. My poop to be more specific. Number of times a day, duration of sessions, consistency, odor, discomfort before, during, and after.... and so on.

But I've thought better of it. The truth is - now that pooping isn't an issue - I really don't care to discuss it. I know this saddens some of you. and relieves others (pun intended). If you let out a sigh of disappointment just now, let me assure you that the thought of reading about someone else's poop is far more appealing than the act of actually reading about someone else's poop.

What's the point of my rambling? Many of you continue to ask me how I'm feeling (thank you), and are curious to know more about Petra's exodus. I'm happy to report mostly good news.

A quick recap: I traveled to Thailand in December 2014 and contracted a parasite (whom I named Petra). I didn't know Petra had taken up residence in my belly until late-April 2015, at which time I took a very heavy round of antibiotics to evict the illegal squatter. She was a fighter though, and a second round of antibiotics was needed. They made me feel GREAT at first, but the inevitable fall came after a meteoric rise. My stomach was completely off kilter - both from Petra and the antibiotics - and I was advised it would take 2-3x her residence duration to get my tummy back to normal. I was sick for five months, meaning the expected recovery time was 10-15 months.

Well, right on track at 12 months post-Petra-discovery, I am finally feeling better. The "microbial imbalance" - which had so adversely affected my mood - seems to be more or less gone. I still have days where I wake up pretty unmotivated. I sometimes have more trouble than I'd like concentrating. My tummy hurts occasionally. But really, who's doesn't have problems? I can blame those ailments on oldness, work-induced ADD, and eating-entirely-too-much-chocolate, respectively.

Overall, I do not feel 100%, but to me that's good news. I feel pretty damn okay right now, so if it's just going to get better, I have no complaints at all.

Moral of the story: If you go to a third world country, don't drink the damn water. Even if it's hot and you just want a slushy. DO NOT DO IT! I would not wish a parasite on my worst enemy. Or, I would wish a good one, like a tape worm or something, where at least you get some weight loss for all of your suffering.