07 December 2017

Recovery in the Mountains: From Getting High to Getting High



One step at a time. It can be slow, and often painful, but you can always take one more step. That’s how you climb mountains, and that’s how you recover from addiction.

Nik Jensen knows the trials and tribulations of both.

I don’t remember meeting Nik, suffice to say one day he was part of my outdoor community, and my life is better for it. He’s like the Kevin Bacon of the outdoors. You probably know Nik, and if you don’t, you definitely know someone who does.

Nik is the type of guy who enthusiastically gives you three hours of his Sunday morning to talk about life, climbing, family, addiction, and recovery. He welcomes you into his home with a plate of bacon, eggs, and his secret French toast recipe. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it some of the best French toast in the Pacific Northwest.

And thus begins my article on Mountaineer and recovering addict Nik Jensen, which I was honored to write for the winter edition of Mountaineer magazine. Like all of the stories I've written, I really enjoyed chatting with Nik and learning about his ups and downs. I truly did feel honored to tell his story of redemption and recover in the mountains. Read this original version of the story (fantastically designed by the talented Suzanne Gerber) in our digital version of the magazine here(on pages 20-23), or check out the spread and text below:

Getting His Bearings
Nik grew up in the outdoors. With a Scoutmaster for a father, Nik was actively involved in cub scouts and boy scouts. He spent many weekends hiking, camping, and shooting.

The smallest boy in all of his classes, Nik was picked on in elementary school. As a result he was extremely shy and often felt out of place. He learned that acting out would get him attention and time away from the mean kids. He eventually channeled that energy into something more productive in middle school, joining the wrestling team.

The discipline of organized sports in high school helped Nik come out of his shell. He played football and sang in the vocal jazz group and was active in his church youth group. Nik wasn’t part of the popular clique, but had a lot of friends and was well known. He didn’t have time for much in the outdoors anymore, but he seemed to be on the right path.

Then, three pivotal things happened his senior year. First, he crashed his car. It was early on the morning of Homecoming, and Nik drove into the back of a school bus. He was 100% sober at the time, but it happened right in front of the school. Every student walking and driving by that morning saw Nik standing next to a wrecked car talking to the cops. I cringed when he told me this, thinking back to my own embarrassing high school moments, and feeling like they paled in comparison.

Second, he lost a wrestling match, punched a wall, and broke his hand. The match had gone into double overtime when he was eventually taken out, and he was so angry but didn’t know how to channel it. The broken hand meant he was out for the rest of the season.

Last, his youth pastor left his church. This changed the dynamics of the most stable part of his life. The foundation around him crumbled.

He started to hang out with the wrong crowd. The cigarette-rolling, weed-smoking, booze-drinking, party-on-the-school-yard-after-hours crowd. He began using. First it was just smoking weed, but pretty soon it turned to drinking. “I enjoyed it because it made me feel like someone I wasn’t,” said Nik. “It was a solution to years’ worth of insecurities. It made me feel like a different person, and I liked it.”



Way Off Track
Nik tried everything under the sun, save for opiates. He spent much of his late teens and early twenties partying. The cops were called to his 21st birthday party, and he was lucky to get off without being arrested. After that he swore off all drugs, doubling down on alcohol to get his fix.

When he was 24, Nik met a girl and started a relationship. He pared down his drinking. They moved in together, and six and a half years later they bought a house. Three days after signing the paperwork she dumped him over the phone while he was on a work trip. She moved him into the new house while he was out of town, left a note on the counter, and disappeared. He came home to a new house filled with his stuff that in no way resembled his former life.

“I had never experienced a broken heart before. It felt like my chest was ripped open and my heart shattered into a million pieces. The pain, physical and emotional, was unbearable.” Nik called a friend who came over with weed in tow. He started using and drinking again, heavily. Within a month, Nik had his first DUI. He was 29.

A quick stint in jail and Nik was back at it again. A bunch of friends had moved into his house to help pay the mortgage, and they partied. One night someone brought cocaine. It’d been over a decade since Nik had used any of the hard stuff and he went for it. “Wow, this is the best feeling,” Nik remembered thinking. “I need to maintain this feeling at all times.”

Into the Abyss
Nik’s cocaine habit began immediately. Cocaine is expensive, so dealing it as a means to an end seemed like the next logical progression. Nik would buy an ounce of cocaine for $800, break it into grams, and sell it to friends. “I could use as much as I wanted and still make money. I could turn $800 into $1600 in a week. It was easy to get sucked into the game.”

Nik never got to the point in his addiction that led him to rob or steal. He realized early on that it was easiest to just show up at work, even if you’d eventually get fired. He went to work for his dad, and was always sneaking off to do something. “I have to go to the truck to get a tool. I have to go to the bathroom….again,” he would tell people. “I was sneaking off a lot. I was using it around the clock 6 days a week, and I would sleep on Sunday. I decided not to sleep at all and I would stay high until I didn’t have to work anymore. Then I would crash.”

His Dad caught wind of what was going on and cornered Nik, demanding to know what was wrong. “I couldn’t lie to my dad. It was probably one of the lowest points in my life having to admit to him that I was addicted to cocaine.”

After that conversation, Nik quit cold turkey.

Cold turkey, that is, when it came to cocaine. Nik went back to drinking, but tried his best to keep it in check. He’d always been a social drinker — he never drank at home alone — and as such he drove frequently while under the influence. He got a second DUI, then a third.

Afraid of losing his house, Nik got a lawyer who brokered a deal for a deferred prosecution. This came with two years of  outpatient treatment and 5 years of probation. The crux of the sentence, however, was that Nik had to admit to being an alcoholic. “That part was the hardest for me. I thought that alcoholics need booze, and I never needed it. I just used it as a solution to my problems. As a band-aid.”

The truth is alcoholism shows itself differently to everyone. When Nik used alcohol, he found himself in negative situations. “It led to a life-pattern of unmanageability.”

Climbing Back Out
Nik went to the required AA meetings where he struggled to identify with stories of people needing alcohol. Then he heard of Narcotics Anonymous. At the NA meeting people talked about changing their lives, and how they were able to quit using and completely lose the desire to use. They had found a new way to live. He wanted that too.

Nik went all in. He got a sponsor, accepted a volunteer service position, and started working the 12-steps. “I did it the only way I know how to do it, which is to jump in with both feet.”

He was spending 3-4 hours, 3 nights a week, plus weekend days, investing in his recovery. Outpatient treatment gave him the tools he needed to get clean and sober and stay that way. The true saving grace was the fellowship and the anonymous 12-step programs. “They really taught me how to live and how to change my life.”

At his 6-month sober date he got the flu while staying at a friend’s house. She offered him prescription cough syrup containing vicodin. Not thinking it was a big deal, he took the recommended dose and finally got some sleep. When Nik told his sponsor, Nik was surprised that his sponsor felt this counted as a relapse and that Nik needed to change his sober date. Nik thought long and hard about it, and decided to change his clean date. He shares this story often in meetings. “It came down to brutal honesty in recovery. I didn’t want to have any exceptions. I share this choice to inspire other people who may be struggling and have to make tough decisions in their own recovery.”

One Step At A Time
Early in his recovery Nik learned of an AA meeting hosted at the top of Tiger Mountain on Sunday mornings. “I showed up and I was probably wearing cotton clothes,” he said. When he arrived he saw 30-40 people having a meeting at the top of a mountain in the middle of the forest.” People offered me blankets and their jacket and gloves. They made me hot cocoa. It was the coolest group of people I had ever met. They started talking about how the outdoors had been therapeutic in their recovery.” Some of the attendees were graduates from the Glacier Climbing Course (GCC) from One Step at a Time (OSAT). Nik thought it sounded like the perfect opportunity to meld his two passions: the outdoors and recovery.

Started in 1991, OSAT is comprised of both an outdoor club and an affiliated, but separate, AA group. Like The Mountaineers, OSAT offers a basic climbing course and Nik couldn’t wait to get involved. He signed up and learned everything from knot tying to navigation to crevasse rescue.

“Climbing is such an awesome metaphor for recovery. We’re climbing an insurmountable mountain of fear, insecurity, doubt, and pain (from the wreckage that we’ve caused), so as we’re climbing mountains in our recovery we can also be climbing mountains in reality. Getting into nature is so therapeutic because it puts you in touch with the earth at a primeval level. It gets you out to breath the fresh air and accomplish something you didn’t think you could do. It goes a long way towards believing in yourself.”

All five graduation climbs on Mt. Baker got rained out that year, so Nik was especially excited to go for Rainier. His team went up the DC route and made it to the summit. That experience was life changing. “I cried. The Rainier Climb was the culmination of a childhood dream. It was so surreal to me that just a year before I was hanging out in bars trying to be someone I wasn’t and now I was standing at the top of Mt. Rainier clean and sober.”

He went from lacking self confidence and having lots of self loathing and depression and insecurity, to laying on the side of the mountain watching a show of falling stars and aurora borealis with a group of people who cared about him, his wellbeing, and his sobriety. A real transformation took place.



Inspiring Others
Today, Nik has been clean and sober for 6 and a half years and has stood on the summit of his life-changing mountain every year since his fateful climb in 2012. He graduated from GCC in 2012 and started instructing the following year. In 2014 and 2016 he served on the GCC committee as Conditioning Chair and Safety and Standards Chair, respectively. In 2015 and 2016 he also served on the OSAT Board. “It’s been absolutely fulfilling for me to give back what was freely given to me,” he said.

In 2014 he joined The Mountaineers and tested into our Intermediate Climbing course. In the first year he completed all of the field trips – a pretty remarkable feat. He credits his mentors, like Nick Howard and Stan Hummel and Fred Luck, for helping him along the way. “Having mentors in The Mountaineers just solidified that I was in the right place. They were so thorough and so safe, just really really great teachers. It inspired me even more to give back.”

Nik joined The Mountaineers to bring his knowledge back to OSAT and to start teaching rock climbing, since they currently only teach glacier climbing. He is set to kick off OSAT’s first Intermediate Climbing Course in 2018. He’ll stick around as a climb leader for The Mountaineers too. He’s hooked. Today, he says he can’t go to a Mountaineers event without knowing 30-40% of the people.

The truth is, Nik is an inspiration and is sought out by many. He bravely shares his story without apologies in order to help other people. A lot of people – many he barely knows – reach out to ask about staying clean and sober. “I’m happy to take time out of my life to talk to them. I always have time for the struggling addict or alcoholic.”

Nik has added incentive to stay sober. He met a wonderful woman in his GCC course, Aggie, and together they have an adorable 1-year-old son, Tristan. “I’m enamored watching him grow. I’m going to do whatever I can to share my love of the outdoors with him. I want Tristan to understand how therapeutic the outdoors can be. And of course I’d love for him to be the next Kai Lightner or Ashima Shiraishi. Maybe he can lead me up some 5.11 stuff that I’ll probably never climb.”




Nik and Aggie have a wood sign in their living room that says, “High in the mountains life becomes very clear. The higher you go the more you can see.” It’s clear that Nik can see a future for himself and his family. “I’m really proud to be clean and sober because this little guy will never have to see me loaded,” he says, cradling a now-sleeping Tristan on his chest. “At the lowest point of my addition I was not a cool person to be around. I was a waste. And this little guy never has to see that as long as I keep living this same way that I live, one day at a time.”

If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, or know someone who is, help is out there. There are many organizations that can help, in addition to recovery centers for both inpatient and outpatient treatment. For more information about OSAT, visit www.osat.org. OSAT is affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

30 November 2017

Are You Okay?



“Are you okay?” 

I look up from my backpack to see two men cresting the hill around 7,400 ft. I’m alone on the southeast flank of Mt. Rainier, where Pebble Creek kisses the tip of the Muir Snowfield. I’ve been in this spot 40+ times in recent years, and today I’m especially grateful for the bluebird skies and expansive views. The question startles me from my nature-suckling stupor. 

“Uh... yeah, I’m fine.” I mutter in response. “How’re you?”

“We’re good,” the one in front says, and passes me by. 

Just like that they're gone. On their way up the mountain to find October turns. It’s the same reason I’m here. 

I return to my backpack, fish out my other sock, and continue the process of swapping from hiking boots to ski touring boots. My friends will arrive shortly, I’m sure. 

But the longer I stand here, the madder I get.  

Why has he asked me if I am okay? What about my intentional movements and well-worn gear give the impression that I am not okay? Couldn't he tell I am with the group he just passed below, not 4-minutes earlier? We're all wearing tutus for goodness sake! I'm clearly not alone nor am I doing anything out-of-the-ordinary. I'm just a girl standing on a snowfield stoked to slay some corn in October.

Then I realize the source of my discomfort: his question has the unmistakable spray of sexism. 

I have gone on record about sexism in the outdoors and my experience with “mansplaining”, but to be honest I think women can go too far with those accusations. Sometimes a guy is just trying to be helpful, or he spends a few minutes putting his foot in his mouth before realizing a faux pas that may have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with being oblivious. All genders are guilty of this mistake. I like to give the benefit of the doubt and assume best intentions as a general rule. 

But this guy. This guy’s question really got in my craw. 

My friends arrive and I recount the interaction for them, trying to be as unbiased as possible. I ask for their honest feedback: was this dude being sexist or was I overreaching? 

In a group of two women and three men the verdict was unanimous: sexist.

Here’s the problem: “are you okay?” is not a question a man would ask another man in the same situation. “How’s it going?”, “What’s up?”, "Beautiful day!" would all be acceptable salutations. But "are you okay?" implies that I am not okay - that there's something about me which implies a lack of okay-ness. And this question, this unexpected “are you okay?” sends a message that I’m in the wrong place. That I shouldn’t be here. That I don’t belong. 

I’m glad to have a tutu posse to confirm this is my place. 

The lesson is this: if you are a man, and you encounter a woman, before you open your mouth consider if the words you are using are the same words you would use to speak to another man. If it's not, don't say the thing you were going to say. It's that simple. If that doesn't do it, I encourage you to check out The Rock Test: A Hack for Men Who Don't Want To Be Accused of Sexual Harassment

That day on the mountain, my friends and I laughed it off and started skinning, making small talk along the way. Every fifteen minutes or so someone would stop to grab a snack or adjust a binding, and another of us would look that person sternly in the eye and says “are you okay?”  


I have to admit it was pretty funny. But no, it’s not okay. 

23 November 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

To celebrate Thanksgiving this year, The Mountaineers sends a message of thanks to its community. As the communications director, I'm primarily responsible for crafting and distributing this message. Every year I feel moved by the way it comes out (here's 2015 and 2016). 

Working for a company whose mission statement so closely resembles my personal ethos makes me thankful every day. This year we made a toast to our public lands, and in this divisive time I agree that it's more important than ever for us to share in this community united by our connections to these wild places. Our grandchildren deserve to play just as we have.

On this special day I am also thankful for my amazing family and friends. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster year with life and work and family and moving, and I am grateful to anyone who has been there for me. Happy Thanksgiving!



16 November 2017

When You Have No Choice But To Fake A Blister



I knew I was in over my head. My thighs were on fire and my glutes were screaming at me with equal fervor, but I wasn’t going to quit now. I’d paid for the cabin, rented the gear, and driven five hours in a blinding snowstorm to try something new. Little did I know I would soon find myself in a jumbled heap on the unforgiving tundra.

And I would be faking my first blister.

My friend Becca had been after me for years to try skate skiing. As a life-long downhill skier who is pretty good at the occasional uphill skate (if I do say so myself), I figured this would be fun – an easily integrated activity for my winter fitness routine. I could not have been more wrong.

That’s because skate skiing is fucking hard.

You ever watch the Winter Olympics and see those biathlon people wearing Lycra and carrying a shotgun? They look so badass. That’s because they ARE so badass. The coordination it takes to move quickly with fluidity while shouldering A GUN that you then have to be calm enough to SHOOT is far beyond me. Such grace. Such poise.

Becca’s motley crew set out in the morning to ski in Withrop, Washington. The day prior had been warm and the night was cold. The well-trodden track was a frozen minefield of tree bombs and snowshoe tracks and surprise dog poops. We struggled mightily to make our way around the loop, only to bail early. This would not do.

Our group relocated to another, more “elite” area in Winthrop. We found freshly groomed trails and more friendly conditions. Looking at the map, Becca and her equally coordinated friend Kim picked a “blue square” run for us to try.

No problem, I do blue squares in my sleep.

The track started out flat and quickly became what skate skiers refer to as “rolling hills”. When I think of “rolling hills”, I picture rolling fields of glowing grain that undulate up AND down. I’m here to tell you that our little “blue square” only went up. And up and up and up.

At this point I think it’s important to point out that cross-country skis do not have edges. You can’t “push off” of them in the same way you could, say, with ice skates or downhill skis. Allegedly there’s some sort of technique that lets you float magically on the snow, but seeing as I watched my friends beautifully execute this motion while becoming smaller and smaller dots while I remained unable to move forward, I have nothing to offer you on the topic of “how to successfully skate ski”.

I can, however, tell you how to fake an injury.

First you’ll want to check in with yourself at the very beginning of any new activity: how are you feeling about said new endeavor overall? Does it seem fun? Does it seem like it could pose a challenge for you later on? If you’re feeling medium about the whole thing and are anticipating future trouble, make a throwaway comment to your buddy about how your foot/hip/shoulder is bothering you. This plants the seed of your excuse for the day, and you can choose to use it later if you want.

Next give the activity the ole’ college try. Maybe it’ll be awesome: great, new activity for you! Maybe it’ll be medium: you had a good day with friends, but wouldn’t do it again, no problem. Or maybe it’ll be awful: good thing you made that comment about your foot/hip/shoulder earlier in the day.

If it is an activity you need to get out of, you need to move quickly. Start by slowing down. Slow down a lot. Begin expressing your discomfort with great urgency. Shout to the people ahead that you don’t think you can possibly go on, that you can’t imagine taking another step with this blister that is forming like an erupting volcano on your left heel, no your right heel, no no, your left heel.

Then fall over. Pretend like it’s related to the blister when really it’s because you are an uncoordinated buffoon. Try to get up with moderate success, then fall down again. Announce that you’ve had it, you’re going home!

Then point them downhill and try not to die. Be sure to get car keys first or you’ll be standing in the cold like an idiot. Buy your friends a beer for tolerating your obnoxiousness. Wait at least 3-months before admitting that you did, in fact, fake the blister.

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09 November 2017

Close Your Face: 6 Years of Turns All Year

#TeamTutu: Reporting for duty!


It was the type of day that was so fun you spent its entirety with your face gaping open.

I've been skiing at least one day a month for the last 71 months, and this trip was my only chance for turns in October. My earlier-in-the-month plans had been foiled by a stomach bug, sidelining me on the very day I planned to take off work to go skiing. There's nothing worse than calling in sick for a ski day. Lucky for me I have great friends who are always stoked to go skiing, so we made plans to hit up Zee Mountain the Sunday before Halloween.

I met my Nikki and Cory at a parking lot in Auburn to carpool the final two hours to Mt. Rainier. Recent visitors were reporting prime corn skiing in October, so we were understandably hopeful, yet skeptical. Little did we know what magic awaited us just a few hours hike away.

Nikki, Cory, and I met Mitch and his buddy Bryan in the Paradise parking lot. Cars filled in most of the white lines by the time we arrived - not too surprising considering we rolled in at the crack of 10am. On my ritual jog to the bathroom I noticed the strength and chill of the wind. No matter - we had tutus to keep our bums warm. Nikki in rainbow, Mitch in green, Corey in pink, and me in turquoise (sorry Bryan, I should have brought more!). Time to go.

Ski Squad ACTIVATE!


At 10:30 we saddled up and began hiking. We made it to Pebble Creek in just over an hour, transitioned to ski gear, and climbed some more. The wind died down and Nikki cruised ahead as we got higher, eventually topping out at 9,400ft at Anvil Rock. We enjoyed a beer and looked down at the glorious harvest below.


Mmmm....beer.

The harvest awaits.

Then it was harvest time. This was hands-down the best corn skiing I've ever experienced. It was blissful. And in October no less!


Send it Mitch!

That tutu is becoming on you Cory!

Get after it you knuckle dragger you!

Even with all of the shredding of the gnar, the very best part of the day was skinning up and watching this little 7-year old shredder making his way down the snowfield. His awesome parents had taken him up over the course of two days to camp at Muir and slide down in the prime of the day. The little boy was equipped with a GoPro, and his dad later posted a video (which I can't find now!) and you can hear the little kid SINGING the entire way down. He's my new action figure mascot!

This kid is my hero!

Before we knew it the fun was coming to a close. We stayed high-right on the Paradise Glacier to meet back up with the traditional Muir approach at Pebble Creek, then began the standard hike down to the car.

Thanks for a great time Rainier. Until the next ski you beautiful beast!

I'm so happy I can't close my face!!!

We love you Rainier!

26 October 2017

10 Tips to Overcoming Post Vacation Stress Disorder (PVSD)



I've been having a week, and it's only Wednesday. Maybe it's the change in weather, maybe it's the dread I'm feeling at having to avoid pounds of Halloween candy in the next few weeks (a task at which, no doubt, I will fail), or maybe it's the fact that I just got back from a blissful 2-week vacation wherein I spent copious amounts of time without cell phone reception and with my how-is-she-possibly-this-cute 3-month old niece so now coming back to the reality that is my LIFE is just a little too damn much for me right now, OKAY?

Wow. Sorry about that. PVSD can really hit you out of nowhere.

The classic signs of Post Vacation Stress Disorder include:
  • Sudden bouts of rage
  • Feelings of hopelessness, despair
  • Inability to process seemingly simple emotions
  • Decision paralysis regarding "normal life" dilemmas
  • Emotional breakdowns in the grocery store, when all you came in for was bananas because those are simple and easy and you love them by why god why are the only ones left the really, really green kind that make your mouth hate everything
The list goes on, but these are the most important symptons. If you have recently returned from vacation (recently being a relative term), and are experiencing any one of these, you may be suffering from PVSD.

The good news is treatment is available. If you're experiencing signs of PVSD, here are 10 things you can do right now to cheer yourself up.

  1. Eat an ice cream cone/entire pizza/slice of vegan-gluten-free-hypoallergenic cheesecake.
  2. Hang out with Azuki, the camping hedgehog.
  3. Text your best friend a series of seemingly unrelated emojis and eagerly await their response.
  4. Learn the truth about U-Shaped Pillows (thanks for the link Semi-Rad).
  5. Go for a walk, preferably in nature.
  6. Plan a surprise Card Mob for someone you care about. Bonus points if you figure out how to incorporate a t-rex balloon.
  7. Google "puppies" (or kittens, if you are into that sort of thing).
  8. Sign out of your social media accounts for the entire day; stay signed out.
  9. Watch this video. I don't want to ruin it, but it will be the best 0:35 of your life. If that doesn't do it, enjoy this New Zealand-er tell you all about how to take care of your "deck".
  10. Start planning your next vacation. Think critically about how to bring your favorite blogger along in your luggage.
As someone who encourages others to be a vacation taker, I practice what I preach and suffer for it. These tips make each day a little less unbearable, and I hope they help you too. Happy Travels! 

15 October 2017

5 Camping Hacks For Your Next Trip



My parents had a VW Bus when I was a kid, and some of my earliest memories involve camping in that van. My dad would pack everything up, my mom would load me and my twin sisters into the back, and we'd drive down a dirt road for what felt like forever until we'd land somewhere in the forest for the weekend. The top popped up and I slept in a hammock above the driver's seat while my parents and sisters all slept in the bed in the back. We'd roast marshmallows and swim in mountain lakes and play until we fell over from exhaustion. It was magical.



My camping program looks a little different now, but I still love spending the night outside. I've been lucky to have the benefit of "camping mentors" over the years to help me become more proficient, and I want to share some of their best advice. Whether you're new to camping or a seasoned pro, these tips will make your next trip easier and more comfortable, and give your gear a long, happy life.

#1: Stuff your sleeping bag inside out
Recommended by: Elise Sterck

Maybe it's just me, but I find stuffing a sleeping bag to be exhausting. My arms get tired, I start to sweat, and I struggle to make the bag transform into a neat, tidy little package. It sours me toward camping before the trip even beings. I was complaining about this to my friend Elise, who suggested turning the bag inside out before stuffing it. Theoretically, the outside material is less breathable than the inside (to keep the water away) and if you turn it inside out the air will compress more easily. I don't know if this is scientifically proven, but I must agree it's easier this way.

#2: Put a backpack (+ everything else) under your sleep pad
Recommended by: Theresa Sippel

A few years ago Jordan and I hiked into Russell Glacier for a weekend of skiing and celebrating Lisa's Birthday (recap here). We had just come from a Tom Petty concert at the Gorge (may he rest in peace) where we slept in the back of the truck. In our haste to meet our party, we left our sleeping pads in the back of the car. This being a snow camping trip, we were going to freeze, but thankfully everyone loaned us what they could spare and we spent a surprisingly comfortable night atop a bed of backpacks, buckles, and clothing. In the morning we found out everyone else had been cold, while we were warm. From then on I started sleeping with my backpack under my sleeping pad.

Layering under your sleeping pad makes a huge difference in terms of warmth at night. The ground is cold, your sleeping pad is only one layer and can get permeated by the cold, so more layers under you will keep you warmer. Theresa showed me the ropes for the best layering system on our recent trip to Glacier Peak: put your backpack under the top half of your pad, with the hip belt toward your head (to prop you up) and the brain flap open to give you extra length, then layer everything else you aren't going to be wearing under your lower body (like ski pants, extra gloves, gaiters, etc.). This will keep you nice and toasty.

#3: Sleep with a hot water bottle
Recommended by: All women, everywhere.

I sleep cold. Most women do, especially in the hip/bum/thigh area. Even if I'm generally warm, the cold skin from that part of my body will make the rest of me cold as it slowly comes up in temperature. A down skirt will help (blog about why here) as will a Nalgene full of hot water.

Fill your water bottle with boiling water before bed. Make sure the lid is on tight and toss it into your sleeping bag for a little pre-warmth. Sleep with it by your feet, on your chest, or, for the ladies, in between your legs at the upper thigh. I'm not sure who taught me this, suffice to say all of the women I know do this, and you should too.

#4: Store trekking poles upright and away from the tent
Recommended by: Jordan Tursi

I like to hike with trekking poles. I heard once that using poles can take up to 30% of the weight off of your tired legs, and I get really swollen hands when I don't hike with them, so they're usually in my camping kit. And I sweat on them. I have sweaty hands anyway, so they get...damp. A lot damp.

Animals are attracted to the salt in your sweat (and urine) and will attack anything with traces of that salty goodness. A few years ago some critters went to town on the handles of my trekking poles and kept me up for part of the night. On a recent backpacking trip in Glacier National Park, Jordan suggested we keep the poles away from the tent and jammed in somewhere so they'd be standing upright. This kept the critters away from both the tent and the pole handles. I give this solution five stars. will do again.

#5: Fold your tent poles from the middle
Recommended by: Abbie Feigle

Shortly after I bought my tent (an REI Half Dome) I was camping at Skaha with my friend Abbie and a few others. She was a river guide and has put up and torn down her fair share of tents over the years. Tents are like anything else: they wear out over time with use. Abbie had all types of tricks to keep the guide and client tents in good shape. Most people, she said, start at one end of a tent pole to begin the collapsing process. She starts in the middle. This causes less uneven stretching to the tension string inside the pole, meaning the string will keep it's elasticity for longer. If you want your tent to last, fold those poles from the middle. Extra bonus points if you store your tent with the poles not-collapsed, as that's the very best for them.

Best of luck on your next camping adventure!

20 September 2017

Here's To Wild Places


I'm humbled and excited to share this video with you. 'Video Producer' is not a title I ever thought I could add to my resume, but after the success of the We Are Mountaineers video I got to partner again with the incredible Mike Short on this piece celebrating the value of our public lands. I hope this message moves you to action. Enjoy.

Big thanks to Cabot Norton who wrote the opening pieces of this script and gave me such a great runway to launch from for the rest of the words.

07 September 2017

7 Tips To Nail A Job Interview: Nonprofit Edition

 
At the nonprofit where I work, hiring is a collaborative process. When someone leaves or is promoted, the hiring manager revisits the job description to make changes as necessary, then shares it with colleagues for feedback. The job description is finalized and posted (generally to our website and Idealist.org), and we wait eagerly for the applications to come streaming in.

The average job posting gets 20-100 applications during the 2-3 week posting window. The hiring manager is responsible for culling through the cover letters and resumes, grading applicants on things like relevant skills, nonprofit experience, volunteer experience, enthusiasm, grammar, and overall presentation (for tips on how to make your application stand out, check out my How To Get A Job: Nonprofit Edition blog), and selecting the 10-15 people who will move on to the next round of 30-minute phone interviews.

During this initial phone call, I specifically look for someone who is excited about the job AND about the organization, can give relevant examples of related skills, and stands our from the pack. These things, along with scores from the previous resume review round, are all tallied into a spreadsheet. The top 4-5 candidates are asked in for an interview with a team of interviewers (generally 2-4 people who will be working closely with the position).

No matter how hard we try, we always end up with someone in an interview who shouldn't be there. I once had a girl answer a scheduled phone interview while she was driving (she had picked the time!). We had another candidate come in for an in-person interview who was so long-winded we got through two questions and still went over our allotted time.

To avoid being "that person", here are 7 Tips to Nail a Job Interview:
  1. Do your research. Before you arrive, research the organization and make sure this is a place you want to work. I can tell if you want to work here or if you just want to work somewhere. I don't need you to recite the mission statement, but I want to see that you understand and relate to our ethos. Bonus points if you can relate the job to how it will benefit the overall organization.
  2. Say enough, but not too much. This should go without saying, but, per the example of Blabby McBlabberPants, it does not. You want to share enough information without losing your audience. You also need to talk long enough to answer the question that has been asked. If you are a numbers person, plan to talk for 2-5 minutes per question. A sure sign an interview has gone awry is if it's over well before the allotted time.
  3. Make eye contact. Always look at your interviewer(s) in the eye. You don't need to be creepy-staring-person, but use the appropriate amount of eye contact. This shows you understand basic human interaction and that you will be comfortable to work with. Bonus points if you use your interviewers' names in the interview.
  4. Assume interviewers know very little about you, especially the people who did not conduct the phone interview. With 10-15 phone interviews and probably no more than 5 minutes to review your resume and cover letter before an in person interview, it's safe to say you earned your spot at the table but need to remind your interviewer(s) why you're there. Don't be afraid to repeat things you've already talked about or reference relevant experience highlighted in your application. As long as you aren't quoting yourself verbatim, it'll be welcome context for your conversation.
  5. Prep answers to standard questions. I'm going to help you out. Here are some standard questions you should prep for: What do you find most exciting about this position? What do you think will be your biggest challenge? What's your greatest professional success? Failure? Can you provide an example of a difficult work situation, and how you worked through the conflict? What is your ideal work environment? Worst environment? How does this position help you get to where you want to go in your career/life? What other stories do you want to share with us?
  6. Bring 3-4 questions to ask in return. Interviewers expect you to have questions, especially ones that show you've given thought to how you would contribute to the team. Ask questions during the interview to make it more conversational or save them until the end. You can learn a lot when you ask how long people have been in their position, why this current position is open, and what people find most rewarding/challenging at their organization. The last question should always be, "I'm really excited about this position. What is the next step?"
  7. Remember, interviewers want it to go well too. The person sitting across the table from you is absolutely rooting for you. Hiring is exhausting work, and I personally want every person who to be my next great staff member. Because then I get to be done hiring and begin the next stressful activity of on-boarding. But seriously, I'm rooting for you.
Follow these steps, and basic common sense*, and you'll land your dream job*. I wish you the best of luck in your next interview.***

*Don't show up hungover and smelling of booze...yeah that happened...
**Dream job not guaranteed, but seriously these tips are sound. 
***Full disclosure: I wrote this during a really bad interview, so sometimes I'm not rooting for you so much as rooting for it to be over.

25 August 2017

Turns All Year: Month 70



I have not been motivated to ski this summer. Maybe it's been all of the housework or the streak of sunny days, or maybe it's that - after 69 consecutive months of chasing anything that remotely resembles snow - I'm a little tired. 

By this time last summer (May-August) I had skied 13 days. The season before I did 9. This year, I've done, 5 and I'm fine with it. I've still managed to get in one day a month, and last weekend I completed my 70th month of Turns All Year. That's nearly 6-years of strapping skis to my feet for at least an hour to make turns. If it sounds like a long time to you, believe me, it is! But I have friends who are in the 200s...if I'm feeling this unmotivated now, who knows what the future will hold?

Nevertheless, I'm happy to have made it to 70 months. Fingers crossed the annual September turns at Mt. Hood will go great, we'll get snow in October, and then it'll be smooth sailing November-April to make it an easy glide toward 79 months, which is practically 100. My goal is to make it to triple digits, then see how I feel.

Hey. Wanna go for a hike? Photo by Jason Sellers.

For August turns, I texted my friend Jason to ask if he wanted to go on a hike. Only after he said yes did I clarify that by "hike" I meant driving to a far away place where snow still exists and hiking for a long time, then hitting snow and hiking more so I could ski. AKA we were going on a trip to Mt. Rainier and a hike up the Muir Snowfield. Lucky for me he was still game, and he brought his fancy camera resulting in awesome photos for me. Win win.

I picked Jason up downtown at 7:15am on Sunday, August 20, and we were in the parking lot at Paradise by 9:30am. The Park has completely repaved the road from the Longmire entrance all the way to the Paradise lot, and let me tell you, it's incredibly smooth and easy driving. It makes for a much less painless trip up zee mountain. Even so, the lot was nearly full when we arrived.

Not pictured: the lines of folks we just passed to get this shot. Photo by Jason.

We were hiking by 9:50 and cruised past a bunch of tourists on the way up. I have to say, I've been wearing the damn tutu for five years now and I've noticed a sharp decline in comments about my outfit. I'd like to think it's because I'm so famous on Instagram so people already know who I am, but in reality I think it indicates a growing level of disenchantment among people in general, which makes me sad. Smile people. Strike up a conversation with a stranger. I promise, it's not going to kill you.

I carried skis for about 90 minutes to 7,400' before transitioning, just above Pebble Creek. Jason - who doesn't ski - waited patiently while I swapped from hikers into ski boots, and then we were off. We never intentioned to go all the way to Camp Muir, but the climbing was easy and Jason was gabbing and before we knew it we were within sight! After 3 hours and 40 minutes, we arrived at Camp Muir.

The Muir Snowfield looking up toward the Nisqually Glacier. The snowfield was...dirty. The glacier was calving like crazy all day.

So close we can almost taste it! Photo by Jason.

The weather was slightly overcast and calm, but still warm enough to sit at Muir in shorts and a tank top, airing out my sweaty boots and letting my sun shirt dry. Jason hasn't had "my beer" yet, so I brought a Kick Step for him and he had a good time taking its photo. That can is darn photogenic!

Two legends together at last. Kick Step and John Muir. Photo by Jason.

Look Ma! It's the beer I made! Photo by Jason.

Kick step gets two thumbs up. Except, my other thumb is busy right now holding my beer. Photo by Jason.

With beers in bellies, there was only one thing to do: head down. I'm not going to sugar coat this for you: the skiing was horrific. From 10,000' at Camp Muir down to about 8,000', the skiing was a VW Beetle sized shit-show. With huge, sharp penitentes and deep, slugbug sized holes, it was like trying to ski down an angry, frozen ocean of terror. 

Thinking I would get way ahead of him, Jason hurried down the hill only to turn around and see me stopped every time. He thought I was waiting for him to get ahead. In reality, I was waiting for my legs to recover and hoping my heart wouldn't explode from the combination of exertion and fear. For the first time in my life, I regretted having skis and wished instead for the sweet comfort of glissading down on my bum.

We managed to get only one photo of the heinousness, and I'm not upset about it.

Survival skiing to the max. Photo by Jason.

Eventually the snow smoothed out to your standard dirty, pocket-filled, August affair. Then the skiing was okay. Dare I say almost pleasant? According to my tracker, I even managed to hit a whopping 20.1mph. Watch out Lindsey Vonn, I'm coming for you!

Jason glissading down. I was jealous.

Then that was that. We were done with the snow and before we knew it we were back at the car by 4:30pm. The whole thing took 6.5 hours, including an hour break at Camp Muir. Not bad for a day's work.

The crowning glory of the day is this photo Jason captured of me on the ascent: 

Legs for days. Photo by Jason.

I stand at 5'2". You would never know it by looking at this photo. When I posted it to Instagram saying, "proof that short girl dreams can come true", another girl couldn't believe I wasn't 5'7". Thanks to a low angle, short shorts, a hip pop accentuated by the pink tutu, and heel risers, for the first time in my life I look like I have legs. 

Thanks Jason. This photo makes my week! Who knew heel risers are the only type of heels a girl needs?

23 August 2017

What You Can Do With A Gallon of Paint

Before and after, all in one photo.

When Jordan and I met three years ago, we each had our own individual dreams of buying a house. Last May I was able to buy a townhouse to celebrate my 32nd birthday (in a truly serendipitous fashion), and this year Jordan closed on a house-house a week before I turned 33. And that was that. After exactly one year in my townhouse and one lovingly painted mountain mural, we packed our stuff and moved into the new place!

I'm so happy with our new home, and all of the work we've done to make it our own. Jordan scored this beautiful 2-bedroom, 1 bath, rambler-style 1948 house on 1/8 of an acre, but that's a story for another time. For now, let me tell you that it only had one previous owner who lived here for nearly seven decades. The house has good bones, a solid roof and foundation, and recently replaced windows. It also has a furnace the size of a Subaru and a "pink" problem.

Believe it or not this was the garage. It's white and full of our favorite gear now.

The long term plan is to expand the house, but for now we're focused on making it as comfortable as possible for the two of us. We started by ripping up carpet and linoleum, having the floor refinished, and painting every room in the house (except for the hallway; we'll get you one day my pretty!). It's amazing what a few gallons of paint can do!

We started in the living room. Our predecessor had owned a number of cats through the years and we are both highly allergic, so we pulled out all the carpet we could and ripped down drapes. Anything that had cat hair had to GO. Then I set about painting the living room walls and ceiling a nice white to give us a fresh, clean canvas.

Living room, with view of the front door toward the kitchen. I love the way the floors came out.

Living room view, while standing in the kitchen.

We managed to paint the living room and both bedrooms before we moved in, and were able to get the floors refinished too. After moving twice in a year and needing to do a lot of painting both times, I highly recommend this method when you can make it work.

The guest bedroom went from purple to blue. The dark purple baseboards took four coats of paint to cover, and the walls took two coats of primer and two coats of blue. Luckily I only had to paint the ceiling once, and had Theresa's help. Who knew ski buddies were good for more than skiing?

This is the guest bedroom, repainted a color we affectionately call "schmoo". 

For the master, we opted to get rid of the turquoise (which had been recently painted and wasn't bad) and go with a more calming, sage color. We both LOVE the way this came out, especially with the white molding. Sadly our beloved bed won't fit around the corner to make it into either bedroom, so we have to sell it, but we're becoming quite comfortable with our mattress on the floor solution (if you know anyone who wants an awesome, 4-drawer platform bed, hit me up!).


The master, our sage oasis.

The bathroom was a headache-inducing yellow. It felt like standing inside of a yellow mustard container. Even the ceiling was yellow. To tone down the heat, I walked into the bathroom with some primer and did a quick coat of white. I didn't tape anything or do it properly, and there are still big chunks of yellow behind the towel racks, etc. But I don't care. It's a total blind spot for me now. It's amazing how quickly you can learn to live with something after a few weeks.

Yellow onslaught before & after. Eventually we plan to swap the tub, add tile, and get a low-profile sink.

The last big thing we tackled was the kitchen. In keeping with the theme of the house it was PINK. And also peach/yellow. Jordan pulled all the cabinets and we got to work painting the insides of the cabinets white. Because of our fears of lingering cat dander, we opted to paint the entire cabinets, inside and out. The first coat, which also required sanding, took us both working for 6 hours. Jordan got stuck doing the second coat, and sanding, painting, and adding the new hardware to all of the cabinet doors, on his own. 

I eventually continued the sage we loved from our bedroom into the kitchen. After buying a little mobile dishwasher, the transformation was complete!

Kitchen looking toward the living room before & after.

More green paint.

And finally this week Jordan finished his crowning achievement - a very pacific northwest rock wall out front! We're excited about how this is coming along, and are grateful to everyone who helped us get to where we are. A housewarming party will be coming soon ... or probably in about 6-months if our last house is any indication.


Seattle City Water Bills, and above average heat, are responsible for the color of the "after" grass.