22 June 2017

What Happens When You Don't Drink Coffee

I'm a 33 year old woman, have lived in Seattle for the last 15 years, and I don't drink coffee.

Go ahead and let that sink in. I know you need a minute.

Coffee, to me, is this mysterious elixir that has enchanted everyone else, yet I possess a strange immunity to its gravitational pull. My mom needs coffee to function in the morning and my dad carries the same cup of coffee around with him all day and nukes it for 30 seconds every hour or so. I certainly didn't come by this preference honestly.

The truth is I've never liked coffee. I don't think it smells good, I certainly don't think it tastes good, and I never enjoyed the hassle of having to deal with it as the very first thing you do every. single. day. I like that I wake up in the morning annoyingly perky without it.

I'm also cheap - my other more selfish reason for not joining the coffee cult. When I was in college I didn't like beer (did anyone?). Given to social pressures, I felt it was important to at least try to like beer. My tastebuds were persuaded over $3 pitchers of High-Life my junior year, and BOOM! I was a beer drinker. Now I love beer. I think it's tasty and delicious and the elixir of life, and I imagine the way I feel about drinking one at the end of a long day is similar to how you feel about your morning cup of jo.

The downside of liking beer, of course, is that I have to pay for it. Beer is expensive and so are my hobbies, so I continue to choose not to teach myself how to like coffee even though I can clearly see how much joy it brings so many people.

When you tell people you don't like coffee, one of three things happen: 

  1. You receive a look of horror that morphs into a look of repulsion before an insult is hurled at you related to the state of your mental health. 
  2. You are asked a series of questions: Why? How is that even possible? But how do you wake up in the morning? Does your life even have any joy?
  3. You are offered a cup of tea instead.
I don't like tea.

Beer and water. Wine. Occasionally a gin and tonic with lime. I'm a pretty simple girl. Unless I win the lottery, then I'll have an Oprah moment and it'll be COFFEE FOR EEEEV-RRRRYYY-OOOONE!

What's your shocking secret?

15 June 2017

Be Your Own Spirit Animal

Sarah McCroy embodies being your own spirit animal.

I was in Target when I first saw them. Unassuming. Hanging discreetly on a clearance rack. Discounted not once, but twice, and waiting for just-the-right-someone to take them home. 

I knew instinctively I was that someone

Without even trying them on, I walked to the front counter, paid $7.99 + tax, and was on my way.

I don't know what possessed me, but my life took an unexpected turn that day and I've never looked back. I transformed from a boring, legging-less nobody into the proud owner of lion-elephant-cheetah leggings. I had no worldly idea when I would ever wear them, but I knew they were awesome and my back-side was feeling neglected, so I bought solely because I felt strongly that, if I didn't buy them, I would regret not doing so at a future date. And the only thing worse than buyer's remorse, is NOT-buyer's remorse.

Conveniently, I had recently started wearing a tutu when adventuring and the colors complimented each other perfectly, so I packed my yellowish lion leggings next to my pink tutu as an alternative to your standard long underwear for an impending trip to Norway. With 7-ski days planned north of the Arctic Circle, I knew I'd put these Target Discounts to the test.

I was humbled by their performance. They kept my legs warm, dry, and chafe-free! And bonus feature: due to the seaming of the pants, every time I took a step it looked like the lion was winking at you (if 'you' are the person skinning behind me and 'you' have an unabashed desire to stare at my jiggling inner-thighs).

Jiggle away. Photo by Carley Ewert.

Thinking perhaps the performance was some Norwegian Voo-Doo, I brought the lion leggings back to the states for another test drive, this time on Mt. St. Helens for Mother's Day. Once again they performed like a dream. I had unlocked a magical backcountry combo: leggings + tutu. My inner wildchild was unleashed.

From then on I wore leggings with a tutu whenever weather allowed. I could claim it was for performance or some other reason, but in all reality, those leggings made me smile. Four years later they still do. I put them on and feel overcome with a sense of silliness and it helps me remember to not take life so damn seriously all the time. 

Recently someone called me their 'spirit animal' on Instagram, which I take as the highest of compliments. Their comment got me thinking: what if we all became our own spirit animals? Why do we care so much what people think or what people will say we we choose to do/wear/participate in something outlandish? Why does it matter? What is the point of doing whatever it is we are doing if not to amuse ourselves?

The Lion Leggings. In Norway.

In the last four years, I've amassed an impressive legging collection (Mario Car, Skeletor, and the Sphinx to name a few...) and have unabashedly worn the lion leggings close to 50 times. That brings my cost-per-use to less than $0.30 per wear. And isn't that what we all want? Stuff that makes us happy AND makes us feel like we've won the shopping lottery?

That's why I'm telling you, right now, to go out. Find something that brings you joy - something that makes you feel like your own spirit animal. Breathe in and blow your cares away knowing that you get to define your own happiness. Smile. 

Rest easy knowing that sometimes life is only about a lion winking at you from your inner thigh. 

08 June 2017

What’s the worst that could happen?

Imagine that yesterday you loaded the car with bright eyes and high expectations for a 10-day road trip. You smiled while locking your front door and hopped behind the wheel to start on your journey of exploration in the American southwest.

This morning, you woke up in the back of your truck next to a roaring river in a national forest in Oregon. It's awesome. Looking at a map, you decide to drive to the top of Crater Lake to explore what’s open of the Crater Rim road on your bike.

You’ve just finished unloading your bike when it happens. Even though you can’t see it, you know instantly how your life has taken a terrible, terrible turn.

A bug has flown into your ear.

Calmly, you call your companion to have a look.

“Hey, Kristina. I think there’s a bug in my ear. Will you come take a look?”

She pulls your head down, tugs on your earlobe, looks intently inside, and declares, “No, I don’t see a bug in there. I think you’re good.”

“Okay, I guess it flew out.”

No sooner have the words left your lips when you realize you are wrong. Very, very wrong. The bug is still in there and is, in fact, burrowing further into your ear. Dark thoughts go shooting through your mind. What if the bug never comes out? What if he crawls to your eardrum and starts munching away? What if he is a pregnant SHE and decides your ear is the perfect space to lay, oh say, 2,000 eggs?

“Oh God. It’s definitely still in there. I can feel it crawling around!!!”

You turn your head to the side, betting that the bug is more likely to crawl up than down. It’s moving again, but you can’t tell in what direction.

“Hey! Do you see it? Look at my ear and see if you can see it coming out!”

Your companion casually glances your way and doesn’t see anything. At your urging she looks again (she might not have been taking you as seriously as she should), and exclaims that YES! She does see it on the side of your face now. It has escaped! YOU ARE FREE! Having controlled your urges to squish it inside your ear, you now paw manically at your head and run to get as far away from the perpetrator as quickly as possible.

Congratulations. Your calm under pressure means you get to go on your bike ride. You did not murder a bug in your ear and as a result you do not have to go to the hospital. Happy Trails!

01 June 2017

5 Things I Learned When I Moved Twice in 12-Months

The good news is Jordan bought a cute house in this crazy Seattle market. The bad news is we had to move, and moving is the worst. Moving twice in 12-month is even worst-er.

We booked movers and packed boxes and pre-painted with the best of intentions, but nothing ever goes as planned and our noon-4pm move turned into a 3pm-8pm affair fraught with thunderstorms and houseplant homicides. To protect you from the same fate, I’m sharing the things I learned about myself (and can assume are true about yourself) in this moving process:

  1. You will turn you into a crazy person. Have you ever seen that diagram proving how humans don’t like change, and how change of a big enough magnitude will push us into irrational behavior? A move will do that to you. Instead of planning for the best-case scenario, go ahead and anticipate the worst case scenario now and then multiply it by 3. That will better prepare you for what’s to come, and hopefully keep you sane by comparing your nightmare to the nearly-as-bad reality of what’s happening to you. 

  2. You will have too much stuff. No matter how much you purge, you’ll end up with boxes full of crap you will never use or look at again. The amount of stuff I’ve tossed since moving has been astounding, and I’m only about 1/3 unpacked. Try to not buy so much stuff and you won’t have to deal with this problem.

  3. You will fit into one of two categories of packers: optimizer or dumper. The optimizer seeks to fill the box to its highest possible capacity, filling each nook and cranny with an item even if said item doesn’t match the other things in the box. The dumper will literally dump drawers into a box with nary a care about how the space is filled; maybe just one bowl fits in the box, or maybe an entire junk drawer. It doesn’t matter, they just want the box to have something in it and have something in it now. You may be packing with someone who is a different category of packer than you. I wish you luck. 

  4. You think you can remember what’s in that box, but you won’t. Buy a sharpie and label it. You’ll have dozens to hundreds of boxes that will confuse the hell out of you the minute after you seal it. Pro tip: label it based off of where you want it to go in the new house, not where it came from in the old house. 

  5. When it comes time to move, hire movers, pack big boxes, and be sure to book the first appointment of the day. I’ve used movers three times now and this was by far my worst experience. We booked the second move of the crew of the day – big mistake. They were wiped by the time they got to us, then we had packed too many small boxes so it took a long, long time. Get BIG boxes and pack them well, even if all you do is put smaller boxes in them. Break down your furniture in advance and try to get as much stuff in one, easily accessible place as possible. Then, help carry to shorten the time and lower your bill at the end of the day. 

I wish you the best of luck on your next move. May your boxes be full and your stress level be low. At the end of the day it’s really important to remember you will live in a new place and enjoy all of the exciting opportuntieies that come with that: like yard work and maintaining your 70-year old furnace. Ahh, the joys of home ownership. Happy moving! Anyone need some boxes?

25 May 2017

Owning My White Privilege to Support a More Diverse Outdoors, Part 2

Earlier this week, someone commented on a link I posted to Facebook a few months ago, kicking off a flurry of new activity. The original post was a blog I wrote in January about White Privilege in the Outdoors, in which I talked about owning my white privilege to create a more welcoming outdoor community. Most of the comments were supportive. A few of them were not. One, particularly, got to the heart of it the debate:
"I'm a white male...and I'm going to say it's b.s. to assume I had any advantage over anyone to get to where I am....the only advantage I had was being born to good parents but that was luck."
I shook my head as I read this, and challenged this person to re-read my article, re-read his comment, and try to see how the very thing he was saying in defense of privilege was in fact a confirmation of said privilege.

Let me acknowledge here that I am in no way an expert on 'privilege' - I hardly know what I'm talking about. Anything I say is from my own experience and not a place of authority (writing a blog on the internet does not make you an expert). I am absolutely worried about saying the wrong thing. But I do know what it feels like to be marginalized, and I feel strongly that not saying something is worse than putting my foot in my mouth and learning something new in the process. We all have to start somewhere.

Which brings me to the comment, above. It got me thinking more about the word 'privilege' and the connotations associated with it. To me, it's really easy to understand that privilege = luck. Yet 'privilege' has the connotation of something that was asked for or something that was earned. 'Privilege' carries with it the weight of society's expectations about who you are, where you came from, and what you're going to do based solely on the way you look. It's a higher profile word - a fancy word you'll find deep in the pages of a thesaurus.

Whereas 'luck', well that's just plain dumb luck. Anyone can be lucky, and you couldn't know it from looking at them. You don't need to feel guilty about luck.

Whether you call it luck or privilege or fate or God's will, the point is we all need to recognize the existence of these invisible "booster seats" and work to counteract the imbalance.

I could argue that I have worked incredibly hard and that's why I'm sitting here right now writing this. I could point to the fact that I put myself through school working nearly full-time my entire 4-years of school. I could say that I landed my dream job because I'm smart and talented and hardworking and brilliant. But it would ignore the obvious: I am privileged to be here. 

The fact that I was even in a position to apply to the University of Washington was due, in part, to being born into a white, middle class family. I grew up with food and clothing and a place to call home. I went to decent schools. Both of my parents were involved in my life, even after their divorce. We weren't rich and famous, but the reality is I was set up by 'luck' - and by the greater socialization of our culture - to succeed. I didn't ask for this privilege, but I'd be naive to think it wasn't real and that I don't still benefit from it every day. 

This makes it my job to use my position for good. To give a voice to others who have been marginalized. It doesn't mean I need to feel guilty, only that I should have an awareness of the power differential and use that position to help those who, circumstantially, don't have the same inherent privileges. I hope you'll join me.

18 May 2017

Turns All Year: Month 66

April is an amazing month for skiing in the PNW - it's honestly one of the best months of the year. Despite the time of year, snow continues to fall and you can find everything from powder to spring corn. Most people think ski season is over, leaving the resorts largely untouched and wholly abandoned. Plus, can you say, "goggle tan"?

But wait, what am I saying? Spring skiing sucks. Don't do it.

I skied four days this April, and really enjoyed two of them. Here are my favorite photos:

Muir Snowfield, April 2

Taylor and Nick climbing up in the fog. Can't tell what's sky and what's not. This pretty much sums up the trip.

Muir Do-Over, April 9

We had a Kokanee Reunion, and I went climbing with Anthony and George. Photo by George Smilov.

We made it to Muir in 3 hours and 15 minutes, my fastest time yet! After some navigational errors, we skied the Nisqually Chutes to the bridge. This photo is not angled correctly, but here's Anthony charging the steeps (look at the mountains the background to orient).

I love zee skiing!

We ran into a group of girls and had a party in the parking lot! Happy Birthday Mena!

April 15, Secret Stash at Crystal

Told you there was pow in April! Photo by Theresa Sippel.

We are happy girls playing in the snow!

April 16, Mount St. Helens

What do you do when you forget your tent poles? Make a lean-to with the car, of course!

She's a beat!

The climbing was beutiful and terrible at the same time.
We summited in 5 hours and 15 minutes, then immediately skied 2k to get out of the wind. We had a beer, complained, about how terrible the skiing was, then skied all the way to the car for the long drive home.

Honorable Mentions
While not skiing related, occasionally I do other things that I enjoy like visiting New York City to eat all of the pizza and enjoying a night-out reunion with friends.

Team Shit Show reunion! We haven't been skiing together in a long time, but we can still go drinking together!

J and I went to visit his family in NY.

And I am not ashamed to say I ate 5 slices of pizza. It's only been three weeks and I already want to go back and eat 5 more.

11 May 2017

What To Eat For An Alpine-Start Breakfast

It's 4am. It's dark, it's freezing, and the last thing you want to do is eat. Your cozy tent and warm sleeping bag are calling your name, but you must get up and force food down your pie hole because you'll be spending the next 10ish hours climbing a mountain, and filling your belly with calories is just good common sense.

The question is: what to eat? When picking a breakfast for your next alpine-start, you need to consider three things:
  1. Prep time.
  2. Cleanup required.
  3. Risk-ratio of tastiness to potential vomiting/diarrhea.
Personally, I much prefer food that doesn't need hot water and leaves behind minimal waste. The trade off is that I sometimes make choices (like, Snickers bars) that don't feel so good a few hours later. You live, you learn, you pack poop bags.

Whatever you decide, the important thing to note is that this is your choice, and your choice alone. Don't let anyone try to tell you what to eat or when to eat or how to eat it. Hell, if you aren't a breakfast eater, DON'T EAT BREAKFAST. Put some snackies in your pockets and be on your way.

Bottom line: your body needs fuel for big days and you need to feed it continually. The moment you're hungry, it's too late. I try to eat every time I even think about food, which is roughly every 30-minutes. I keep gummies in my pocket and snack on those, then have something of substance every 1-2 hours. Keep those snacks handy - you won't want to stop to dig through your pack - and chew away throughout the day for a happier, more successful trip.

To help you pick your next alpine-start breakfast, I've created a menu of 5-options preferred by the backcountry community. Each is rated related to the three 'considerations'. Pick your poison.

The Standard

Oatmeal. Tear open a bag of your favorite flavor, put it in a bowl, add hot water, and voila - you have breakfast.
Pros: you can add basically anything you want to oatmeal - fruits, nuts, peanut or almond butter.
Cons: It's oatmeal, which is a slimy, messy concoction that requires two hands to eat and about 40% of people find it absolutely inedible.  
Prep Time: High
Cleanup Required: High (you've got a dirty bowl, a spoon, and the trash to deal with, unless you prepare the oatmeal directly in the packet, in which case you prep time is Medium)
V/D Ratio: Low

The Simple

Mountain House. Biscuit and Gravy or Scrambled Eggs or Breakfast Skillet or Spicy Southwest Hash. You name it, Mountain House has got it. Why make your own breakfast when you can have freeze-dried solutions for half the work and twice the price. 
Pros: You can pick your own flavor and go to town.
Cons: You generally want a partner, as it's a lot of food for one person that early in the morning, and I have yet to eat one that doesn't upset my stomach.
Prep Time: High (first you have to boil the water, then wait for the food to 'thaw')
Cleanup Required: High to Medium (a dirty spoon is one thing, but leftover MH is no good and will spill all over your bag, even when you think the package is empty)
V/D Ratio: High (at least in my experience)

The Savory

Bagel Jerky Delight. Take a bagel, add cream cheese, then add jerky. You're welcome. (can also be done with muffins and or non-jerky meat solution).
Pros: At the end of the day this is a sandwich, and you can make pretty much whatever you want and call it a sandwich; also has a good mix of complex and simple carbohydrates, if you're into that sort of thing.
Cons: Can get messy with the whole hole-in-the-middle thing.
Prep Time: Medium (advanced planning required)
Cleanup Required: Low (you can use the baggie you pack it in for trash later!)
V/D Ratio: Low to Medium

The Sinful 

Sin Dawgs. A cinnamon bread roll 'concoction by Dave's Killer Bread that is allegedly the most delicious, appetizing breakfast ever.
Pros: just looking at it you can tell it's delicious, and you can eat it with one hand.
Cons: you'll probably eat the entire thing in one-sitting, and might screw yourself out of breakfast for the rest of the trip.
Prep Time: Non-existant 
Cleanup Required: Nope (put that plastic pouch in your trash bag and forget about it)
V/D Ratio: High (have that poop bag handy)

The South-of-the-Border

Breakfast Burritos. Whatever you want wrapped in a tortilla and eaten cold or warmed on the stove, with or without sauce.
Pros: It's a burrito. Why am I explaining this to you?
Cons: There are no cons to a burrito, because it is perfect.
Prep Time: Medium to low (requires advanced thinking and preparation, but day of there's basically zero prep, only to heat it up in a skillet should you so choose).
Cleanup Required: Nope (eat with one hand, wipe hand on pants, continue climbing)
V/D Radio: Low to Medium (put normal stuff in it and you should be just fine)

Other suggestions that didn't have a quippy title:

  • Pop Tarts
  • Bacon jerky
  • Ramen
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Croissants
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Mac n' Cheese
  • Bacon
  • Banana and/or banana bread
  • Odwalla (super-food is highest in calories)
  • Red Bull
  • Muscle Milk
  • Chocolate milk/hot chocolate
  • Beer
And coffee. Lots of people drink that but not me so I don't care about your caffeine fix. Excuse me while I have another slice of leftover pizza. Happy eating! 

Thanks to the folks on Washington Hikers & Climbers who helped with these ideas!

04 May 2017

How To Turn a Trip From Good To Great

In the outdoor community, we commonly talk about trips in terms of The Fun Scale. As a refresher, here's the scale according to climber, writer, and self-proclaimed "Margarita-specialist" Kelly Cordes:
Type I Fun – true fun, enjoyable while it’s happening. Good food, good sex, 5.8 hand cracks, sport climbing, powder skiing. Margaritas.

Type II Fun – fun only in retrospect, hateful while it’s happening. Things like working out ‘till you puke, and usually ice and alpine climbing. (Think a bad hangover that makes you swear you'll never drink again)

Type III Fun – not fun at all, not even in retrospect. As in, “What the hell was I thinking? If I ever even consider doing that again, somebody slap some sense into me.”

Recently, I went on a trip I'd call 'Type I.5 Fun'. Not terribly fun while it was happening, but not terribly terrible either. I'd compare it to drinking a flat, warm Rainier Beer on a rainy day.

Only, we were climbing Mt. St. Helens in sub-optimal conditions - far worse than the weather report had led us to expect - then skiing down breakable crust in the driving wind, only to discover the breakable crust did NOT eventually turn into fun spring corn as anticipated and instead turned immediately into grabby schmoo, meaning we had encountered two out of three of the worst skiing conditions imaginable (the third, of course, being bulletproof ice).

But you know what? I had fun anyway, because I had followed the Three Rules of Good to Great in the backcountry: 

  1. Set Really, Really Low Expectations: When you ski 40+ days a year in the Pacific Northwest you learn to deal with all kinds of weather and ski conditions: wind, rain, fog, grapple, schmoo, rime, sleet, crust, sugar.... you name it, we play in it. The best advice I've ever heard is to dial up your layering program and dial down your expectations so that, when you find yourself at 11,000' in the middle of a grapple-launching windstorm while perched precariously on your crampons, ice axe, return your evil smirk and say, Yeah, just a bit.

  2. Go Out With Fun People: I've written a bunch about what it takes to get into backcountry skiing and how to be a good adventure buddy, so I won't go on ad-nauseam here, but really the formula is simple: make a plan + invite good people = have a good time.

  3. When In Doubt, Add Beer: Or chocolate or chips or something that will make you feel better in the moment of awfulness. We stood on the summit of St. Helens for approximately 3 minutes, scooted down 100ft to the party zone where someone had built a snow wall for wind protection where we made a hasty transition and shared a beer with our 10 new best friends, then skied to a spot out of the wind and drank a cold, not-flat can of Holiday Rainier while looking south to Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. The view did not suck. The beer made it better.
Follow these rules on your next trip to make every adventure a solid Type I.5 on the Fun Scale.

27 April 2017

An Open Letter to the Women of Airport Bathrooms

Dear Women of Airport Bathrooms,

I'm hardly a frequent traveler, but I find myself amongst your ranks 3-5 times a year when I do my best to blend in. I politely wait in line when applicable, find a stall near the back if I'll be a while, and move expediently when I know others are waiting. Because let's be real ladies, we spend enough of our lives waiting in bathroom lines.

However, since the advent of the cell phone - really since the wide adoption of the smartphone - I have noticed a growing trend I find most troubling. That's why I'm here today. We need to talk about what is, and what is not, appropriate behavior in public restrooms.

I first encountered this offensive conduct on my way home from Chicago in the fall of 2013. I remember specifically because 1) I was so shocked, and 2) earlier that year I had driven to Jackson after getting laid off the second time to ski with my friend Amy, and while visiting we shared stories of how ladies just can. not. seem to flush toilets at ski resorts and isn't that so annoying and dear god why is it so hard? Thus, I was on high alert in September 2013 when I walked into a 4-stall bathroom in the airport and heard it: a woman talking on the phone....from inside the stall.

Not to be judgy, but really? You are in a public restroom. Surely your conversation is not that important (and I know, because I had to listen to it). Have you considered holding it? Or asking the person if you can call them back? Why not take advantage of those silent texting capabilities like the rest of us?

I understand that desire to stay on the phone while you're going to the bathroom. It'll just take a minute, you don't want to interrupt the person you've been using as entertainment while you're bored at the airport, and frankly it's just more efficient. I am the queen of efficiency - I get it! I have absolutely gone to the bathroom while talking on the phone....in my own home....to a very exclusive set of people. Which means I am telling you, as one of your own, that airport bathrooms are not some secret vortex where you should continue your conversation about Aunt Mildred's gallstones or the major presentation you just nailed. We do not want to listen to you strategize over spreadsheets or family matters or if you should go on a second date with Tim or Andrew from Tinder.

Just stop.

Hang up the damn phone. Put it in your pocket. Go to the bathroom. Wash your hands. Continue the conversation. This keeps you from annoying everyone else AND keeps airborne feces off your phone. You touch that thing to your face you know. Win win.

With love,
Kristina, the girl who hates you two stalls over

13 April 2017

You Can't Go Home Again

I left my hometown of Bozeman, Montana, in 2002 to attend a large college in the big city. When I left, our population was pushing 37,000 and Montana as a whole had less than a million people living in it. Ten hours later I arrived in Seattle at the University of Washington where I was one of 80,000 faces on campus and lived in a city with over half a million people.

Lucky for me, school didn't feel big for long. I met a community of fellow band nerds and fell into a rhythm of class, work, band, homework, sleep, repeat. I spent that first Thanksgiving at home, but in the fifteen years since it's the only time I've eaten turkey with my family. I went home for Christmas too, but spent the summer in Seattle establishing residency for in-state tuition. In the next three years I kept going home for Christmas, but by the time I graduated I was ready to travel and visit new places. I went from fives visits a year to two. Then one. Then one every other year.

While in college, something shifted and Montana didn't feel like home anymore. My dingy, basement apartment in the city didn't feel like home either but this place - Seattle - was growing into an ever important part of my identity. I would always be the girl from Montana, but now I was the girl from Montana making a way for herself in Seattle.

I've been gone almost as long as I lived in Bozeman - 15 years of my adult life. I had my first drink in Seattle, went on my first first-date in Seattle, got my first professional job in Seattle, and bought my first home in Seattle. Going away and coming back, I always feel a wave of relaxation wash over me as the plane circles above the puget sound. I think how nice it feels to be home.

On a recent trip to visit my family - the first in two years - I started reflecting on how much things have changed since I was a kid and how much my childhood shaped who I am today. Growing up with unlimited access to the outdoors, my parents encouraged me and my sisters to go outside, play in the dirt, and explore our curiosities. My dad especially encouraged us to stand up for what we believed in. He taught us to be strong, independent, and not take shit from anyone - including him. He liked that we were competitive - even if it meant burping contests at the dinner table. When people call me sassy I know I came by it honestly. Once, my dad told me to reach into my wallet, pull out my "bitch card", and play it. In doing so I learned to not settle for less than what I deserve. I'm still learning the ways in which my childhood was incredibly unique and special, and I grow more and more grateful as the years go on.

I've been gone a long time, but people still ask me when I plan to move back to Montana. It's a hard question to answer. Years ago I was reading a book by Tom Brokaw, and I think he really put it best:
“I put my home state of South Dakota in a rear view mirror and drove away. I was uncertain of my final destination but determined to get well beyond the slow rhythms of life in a the small towns and rural culture of the Great Plains. I thought that the influences of the people, the land, and the time during my first twenty-two years of life were part of the past. But gradually I came to know how much they meant to my future, and so I have returned often as part of a long pilgrimage or renewal. When I do return… I’m just someone who grew up around here, left a while back, and never really answers when he’s asked, “When you gonna move back home?” I am caught in the place all too familiar to small-state natives who have moved on to a rewarding life in larger arenas: I don’t want to move back, but in a way I never want to leave. I am nourished by every visit.” --Tom Brokaw, A Long Way From Home
You can't recreate magic. You can only be lucky to have experienced its grandeur. Maybe someday I'll go back, but probably not. In a way I never can.

06 April 2017

Turns All Year: Month 65

It turns out, you can get too much of a good thing. After skiing my face off for 11 days in February, something had to break, and it was me. And the weather. We can blame the weather too.

For March - month 65 of Turns All Year - I got in three days of skiing, one at my home mountain in Washington for another awesome SheJumps event, and two days at my home mountain in Big Sky Country for skiing with zee fam and zee friends. Here are my favorite pictures:

Crystal Mountain - March 12


Skittles Reunion!

Holy crap! That's a lot of girafficorns! 

March 25 - Big Sky, Montana

The man. The myth. The legend. This guy taught me to ski when I was three. Thanks Popi! 

The other favorite man in my life.

Look at those sweet chutes I "skied". Photo by Erica Bliss.

Keeping this one in my back pocket for when it's needed.

March 26 - Big Sky, Montana Part Deux

Erica with a pretty decent backdrop I guess.
Ladies on the summit! Such a fun crew.

Hey gals - what do you think of Big Sky?

Erica crushing a tram run.

See ya MT!

30 March 2017

What To Include in a Backcountry Trip Plan

When I head into the mountains, I always have someone in town designated as my in-case-of-emergency-person. The lucky job usually falls to my good friend Q, who you may remember as the doggy-dad of one Mr. Porter Pants. Most of the time this is a fairly benign responsibility and he remains largely unconcerned about me. Most of the time.

Two years ago, I took off to climb Mt. Adams in a day with my boyfriend Jordan. We drove down on Saturday morning, had what turned out to be an epic brunch with friends in Portland, and made it to the trailhead by late-afternoon. Out plan had been to climb to Lunch Counter (about the halfway mark) on Saturday, make camp for the night, then summit by midday and come home on Sunday evening. By the time we made it to the trailhead it was late and we were feeling lazy. Sleeping in the truck then making an alpine start for the summit while carrying lighter packs was an easy decision.

We slept and climbed and eventually summited and skied down and it was a straightforward affair blah blah blah.... until we drove into town and back into cell service. I had dozens of missed calls from friends and a series of Facebook posts asking about my whereabouts. I had made a rookie mistake. I told Q where we were going, but I neglected to give him the accurate itinerary or let him know when we'd be back.

Q had called the local ranger station looking for me, but they were closed on Sunday (because of course they were). Worried about me, he'd reached out to some of my usual climbing partners and tried to find out which route I may be on and how long it would take and what the options for rescue were if something happened and what they thought he should do next. Unintentionally, I had thrown his world into a tizzy while I was drinking a beer on the summit. I turned his relaxing weekend of non-responsibility into one of harrowing consequence. I'm still really sorry about that Q.

Blissfully ignorant on the summit.

This incident served as a good reminder for me about the importance of creating a trip plan and communicating that trip plan to your emergency contact. Since then, I've been diligent about creating and delivering a trip plan. It's good practice for logistics in general, and it might just save your life.

What to include in a trip plan:

  1. Who's going: The name, address, phone number, known medical conditions, and general skill level of each member in your party AND the emergency contact person for each individual on the trip. When possible, designate a "lead" emergency contact who will coordinate for the whole group in the case of an emergency.
  2. Trip objective: When you're leaving, where you're going, what route you expect to climb, how long you think it will take, and when you plan to be back in contact. If you have a planned turn around time list that as well. Provide a window of time during which you plan to return (between 4-7 pm, for example), and set a specific time to contact authorities if you aren't back yet (only call S&R if we aren't back by 1am the next day, for example).
  3. Logistics: The make, model, and license plate number of the car(s) you will be taking. Include the name of the trailhead where you're planning to leave the car, and provide a contact phone number for the local land manager and Search & Rescue units in the area. You want to make it as easy as possible for your emergency contact person to launch a response.
  4. Gear: List the gear you will have both personally and as a group. It can be helpful to rescuers to know how much stuff you have with you. Include things like tents, stoves, first aid supplies, and safety equipment.

When you're planning your next objective always remember Roger Baxter-Jones' golden rule, "Come back alive, come back as friends, get to the top — in that order." It's good to have a Plan B, Plan C, and Plan Turn-Around-And-Find-A-Pub. With good friends of course.

p.s. Whenever I'm talking about mountain safety, or safety in general, I like to remind you to set up your emergency contact information access on your cell phone. It gives anyone access to critical information you want them to have without needing your passcode. Just do it. I made you a handy how-to guide.

p.p.s If you don't have one already, I really encourage you to get a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) as well. Getting help in the backcountry can take many hours, and this device can trigger immediate action in the case of emergency. Here are 5 things you might not know about PLBS.

23 March 2017

Ladies: A Word About Your Pants

I hate purses. I pretty much always have. In college, when I felt compelled by society to carry a purse, I bought a few cheap small ones at the ROSS or Goodwill. Like every other band-geek-sorority-girl-wanna-be, I strutted around with my little bag on one shoulder thinking I looked, like, super cute.

Then my back started to hurt from the unbalanced stress on the body. I'd switch shoulders and find myself annoyed 5 minutes later. It's not like I had a lot of stuff: a wallet, cell phone, chapstick, keys - I'm a pretty low maintenance girl. But add that to the weight of the purse, and even 5lbs over a 15 minute walk on one side can cause discomfort.

Eventually, the purses got pretty filthy from sitting on the floor and being thrown about. Think about it: purses go with you everywhere from a casual toss onto your bed to sitting on the floor of a bar (then back on your bed). Gross.

I finally stopped carrying them altogether. Now, I pull out my ID and credit card, shove it into my undersized pant pockets, and pray they don't fall into the toilet or work their way out of my back pocket. Ladies - I know you feel me on this.

Which is why I'm writing today about pants, pockets specifically, and the magical experience I had with a pair the other day:

Last week I ordered a pair of Dynama Pants from Mountain Hardwear. I tore the bag open when I got home and eagerly tried them on. They fit awesome! They were the right length, weren't tight around the waist, and had the right amount of room for my thighs and glutes. Plus, they were a super light weight material - ideal for a day at the office then a trip to the climbing gym. I was sold.

Then I put my hands in the pockets.

No, seriously, read that again. I could put my. entire. hand. in the pocket.

Never, in my entire life, have I been able to slip my whole hand, so easily, into the pocket of a pair of women's pants. I'm willing to bet you haven't either.

Filled with glee, I exclaimed to my boyfriend, "Look at these pants! I can fit my hand in the pockets! My WHOLE hand!!!" He was not impressed. I went on to explain how this is a really big deal for women's pants and that normally you're lucky if you can fit chapstick in your pocket. To which he responded, "What do women need pockets for? You all want to carry purses anyway."

I don't need to explain why this was the wrong answer.

Women don't want to carry purses. Women need to carry purses because WE DO NOT HAVE POCKETS THAT WILL HOLD OUR BASIC NEEDS.

A gal who calls herself shmree15 posted a review of the pants, and I love it because she agrees with me. "These are the first pair of women's pants I've owned that have four (FOUR!!!) full-size pockets, not those silly little matchbox-sized pockets that most women's pants have. Thank you, Mountain Hardwear. I probably won't buy any other pants but these for a loooong time."

I could go on (and on and on) about society's oppression of women and how fashion is thrust upon us and how women have unrealistic beauty expectations and how it's all one big, terrible farce we live in...but I won't. Instead, I want to celebrate these damn fine Dynama Pants and the incredible gift they are giving to me and women everywhere: POCKETS!

What will you put in yours?

Full Disclosure: I am a "brand ambassador" for Mountain Hardwear. That means, about twice a year, they send me 2-3 things to test drive, provide feedback on, and generally wear and enjoy - no other strings attached. Any promotion or talking about said products is of my own fruition. I felt compelled to write this blog because pockets are apparently pretty important to me, even though I didn't realize it before. After this discovery, I feel a strong urge to share this discover with you - my 10s of readers.

16 March 2017

You Need a Down Skirt

Katy and little Ellinor, both very fashionably dressed.

My ass gets cold. Dare I say, I have one of the coldest bottoms in the history of womankind. I struggled for years with debilitating "cold-butt syndrome", but I'm happy to have survived to be here today and tell you that: it gets better. You need just one key piece of gear to transform your life - and your backside - forever.

The Down Skirt

My friend Katy introduced me to The Down Skirt via Facebook in 2013. Katy, her husband Ben, and two kiddoes, are that adventurous family you love to stalk on social media. I met Ben and Katy when we were in marching band at UW and have enjoyed exchanging holiday cards with them ever since. It's been fun watching their relationship grow: from getting married on the flanks of Mt. Rainier to growing their family and taking their daughter to Panorama Point when she was just 4-weeks old. These folks are the epitome of outdoorsy. They embrace any time spent outside and personally inspire me to think differently about adventuring with kids.

When it comes to both parenthood and fashion, Katy is ahead of her time. She's a visionary among women. Hers was the first bottom I ever saw adorned with The Down Skirt, and an unabashed, unapologetic bright pink one at that. I immediately messaged her to learn all about it. It's Scandinavian (of course), and was purchased by Katy's mom in Teller, Alaska (70 miles NW of Nome on the Bering Sea). Apparently, you pretty much have to wear a down skirt over your pants there all the time in winter if you want to survive (and you can buy full length version too!).

Inspired by Katy's claims that The Down Skirt was "super comfortable" and she "loves it", I set out to find my own down skirt. This did not go well for me. Apparently when you live in Seattle in March they are NOT AVAILABLE ANYWHERE (online or in stores. Teller, AK, doesn't distribute broadly)!

Naturally, like anyone who can't get what they want IMMEDIATELY, I had an adult tantrum for about 20 minutes then pulled it together and made a plan. My friend Nick is into gear, so I sent him a note asking him to weigh the pros and cons of the available models. He wrote me back with diagrams explaining grams, fill, features, and fashion. I think he wanted one himself after all the research!

Eventually I bought one and it's awesome. I'm not nearly as fashionable as Katy, and the skirt is lacking some serious bells and whistles, but at the end of the day my ass it warm and that's all that matters. Which is why I'm writing today to tell you:

You NEED The Down Skirt!

The Down Skirt keeps you warm. When you are cold in the backcountry you put on your "puffy". You know how much of a difference even a light puffy can make in terms of personal warmth. Think of The Down Skirt as a puffy for your bottom half. It warms your thighs and bum, and helps keep blood warm on the way down to your tingly toesies. For me, The Down Skirt has been a game-changer in winter camping. I used to have a really hard time falling asleep, even in the heaviest sleeping bag. Wear The Down Skirt to bed to transform your camping experience.

The Down Skirt is easy to wear and easy to carry.  It's relatively lightweight and compacts nicely, making it easy to carry for a single or multi-day trip. Most of the skirts have full zips, so you can put it on and off without stepping through. Get one a size big to make sure you can layer over your ski pants or fashionable leggings - or hell, go Scottish commando style. I don't care. 

The Down Skirt helps you stand out. While out in the wild, The Down Skirt is a pretty rare sighting (I'm sure this incredibly popular blog will change everything). Just like wearing a tutu, the down skirt is a backcountry ice breaker and gets your noticed. Can't find your friend? Just look for the bright pink down skirt or ask a stranger if they've seen someone with a warm-looking, bright-pink backside.

I believe in The Down Skirt so strongly that I advocated for it's inclusion in the 9th edition of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills. For you fashion-forward men out there, rumor has it a rain kilt may also make the cut (here's a super lightweight version). If The Down Skirt does end up being included, I'm pretty sure that counts as life achievement UNLOCKED. But to speak honestly: at the end of the day The Down Skirt is truly a piece of safety equipment you need in your arsenal. What are you waiting for? Get one today!

Katy in her favorite place - Mt. Rainier National Park. Photo by Ben Stuart.