Thursday, June 30, 2016

Gone Hikin'

I'm taking a little break from the blog while my family and I hike the Colorado Trail. I considered blogging from the trail, but my instinct and my desire are to unplug while out there, which is what I'm going to do, mostly. You can follow along on Instagram @andrea.lani (or over in the photos down on the right-hand side of this page) and C will be video bogging our journey here. Otherwise, I'll see you in September!!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

CT Gear Post #3 ~ Luxuries

First, I finished the last two of five sleeping bags!!!

Almost down to the wire, but they're done!

Second, I was going to do a comprehensive gear post, with weights and details for everything, but I ran out of time and energy after two days of sorting couscous and oatmeal and granola bars into baggies and boxes. So instead I'll just tell you about the fun stuff. (If you want to hear more about gear, you can read about our tent here, our sleeping bags here and here, my clothes here, and the boys' clothes here.)

In the lightweight backpacking world, anything that is non-essential (as in, not your pack, your shelter, your sleep system, or pretty much the clothes on your back) is considered a luxury. And you're only supposed to take one luxury.

I knew from the get-go I wasn't going to be able to limit myself to just one fun thing, and I spent a lot of time pondering how to minimize my many luxuries. I bought a new camera, much smaller than my DSLR, but with a lot of features and a large light sensor. I initially thought I wouldn't take my phone, but decided I should for safety, communication with my family, who we will meet along the trail on occasion, and checking up on business (i.e., finding out if any of my pending submissions have been selected). I also downloaded some books I want to read to the kids onto it--Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, Kidnapped to double its value. As a naturalist, I feel naked without a field guide or two in my back pocket, so I picked up a set of folding, laminated Pocket Naturalist guides, and limited myself to birds and flowers.

For my journal (which really is essential, since I'm writing a book), I settled on a series of thin, mid-sized Moleskine notebooks , a new one sent to me each week, and a set of mini colored pencils in a limited but pleasing palette. A little while ago, I started a daily habit of reading a poem each morning. I fell out of the habit recently, but decided I want to get back on track during this trip, so I picked up a book of Mary Oliver poems, and then I did something I've never done to a book before--I defaced it, cutting out the pages and divvying them among my resupply boxes. The pages are tucked in the back pocket of my journal, along with a July star chart and a book of postcard stamps. I also put my yoga routine, addresses of friends, and other things I want to keep track of in the back pages of my first journal, which are perforated and can migrate to my next journal. 

Inside the front cover of the first journal, I wrote a quote from A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird and a card a good friend of ours gave me, with an inspiring quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and a four-leaf clover. On page one I stuck a comic my mom sent.

I thought it would be fun to add more inspiring quotes to this and subsequent journals, so please leave in the comments your favorite quote about nature, wilderness, travel, walking, or anything else you think would be fun for me to read on this epic journey. The first six people who leave a quote in the comments, I will send a postcard from the trail (please message me using the email form on the right of the page with your mailing address). Thanks!

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Yesterday was my last day at work. Forever. I'm not really sure what I'm going to write about that here. I'm not really sure what I think or how I feel. It's all so wrapped up in the energy I'm putting into getting ready for our trip and the stress of dealing with grown-up stuff like transitioning to private health insurance (done!), staring in dismay at my bank account balance, trying to figure out my new camera, and the boys' last days of school and E and Z's final baseball game of the season and the beautiful spring weather and the messy messy house and the two sleeping bags I still need to make before Wednesday.

I don't write much about work here, for many reasons, but I was there, off and on, since 1997 (for a total of 15 years toward retirement, thanks to some time away at the beginning, maternity leave twice, and some stupid bureaucratic nonsense about how jobs are classified and what counts). I will not miss bureaucracy. I will not miss politics. I will miss people and community. I will miss a steady paycheck.

I am looking forward to, of course, our upcoming big trip. This transition time. This reset button.

I recently read an essay by John Landretti in Orion magazine, "Nameless Season," about liminal phases, which he describes as, "that strange moment after one has given up a familiar way of being but has not yet come into a new identity."

Yes, that's exactly where I am now. A snake that has just shed its skin and is fresh and glistening--and vulnerable. And, I will admit it, a little self-absorbed. Maybe a lot self-absorbed. This next phase of life is all about me, my goals, my dreams, and I'm dragging my husband and children along for the ride, possibly into financial ruin. I do feel a little guilty about that. But then there was the person I was before, a person so stuck and frustrated that I could barely stand living with her anymore, let alone inflicting her on those I love. I said I have no idea what I think right now, or even what the point of this post is. But I hope you stick with me as the new identity begins to form.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Those Heavy Heavy Packs

Maybe you've noticed that I have a slight obsession with the weight of the gear we'll be taking on the trail. There's a very good reason for that. When we hiked the trail in 1996, back before the lightweight backpacking revolution (or at least before that revolution became known to the likes of me), I had no idea there was any other way to hike than crushed under a heavy load. Back before the internet was a daily part of our lives, I only had library books as resources for how to pack for a backpacking trip--library books that were at least 10 to 20 years old, even then, with gear photos that included shiny nylon external frame packs and waffle-soled suede hiking boots with red laces, flannel shirts and fishing poles.

I have no idea how much our packs, which you can see but perhaps not entirely appreciate in this picture, weighed--we didn't even have a bathroom scale on which to weigh them. The packs themselves were internal framed, made of heavy cordura pack cloth, with lots of zippers and buckles and straps. Inside we carried: a four-season tent (which, to be fair, possibly saved our lives when we got buried under a foot-and-a-half of snow in a blizzard our last night on the trail); a stove and bottles of white gas, a two-pot stainless steel cook set; plus an extra stainless steel smaller pot/bow; a water filter; nalgene bottles; a water bag; candle lanterns and extra candles; town clothes; camp sandals; boot grease and a brush; books and field guides and a hard-cover journal; mini binoculars; a sleeping bag that I'd bought at army surplus before I went away to college (it was an improvement over the old flannel coleman bag I'd once had, but still quite heavy) in a compression stuff sack with no fewer than four straps and buckles; a fanny pack for side trips; C had his Thermarest, me a Z-rest, which may be the only lightweight thing I took along (but also not that comfortable). My pack was like Cheryl Strayed's Monster, only I never adjusted to its weight. I hurt the whole hike. Just thinking about that pack (which I think is still in our barn somewhere) makes my hipbones ache.

Not long after we finished our CT hike, I learned that there is this thing called lightweight backpacking. C and I watched a video about it and immediately started putting the principles into place (primarily leaving stuff behind) and I've been reading about and researching it all these years, even during our 13-year backpacking hiatus. My primary resource has been Ray Jardine, godfather of lightweight backpacking (and manufacturer of my quilt kits). He can be a bit over-the-top, but his books have a lot of good information and he doesn't sacrifice good nutrition or enjoyment of the wilderness in favor of the pursuit of gear. I also recently picked up the shorter and amusingly illustrated Lightweight Backpackin' Tips. From this book I found the idea for dehydrating toothpaste to make "toothpaste dots." So far mine hasn't dried out too well at room temperature, so I'll stick it in the solar oven this weekend and see what happens.

I haven't quite reached the purist level of either Jardine or Clelland. I like stuff sacks. I like having a well-stocked first-aid kit and a pocket knife. I prefer a non-chemical water treatment. I want more than one "luxury"--for me it's my phone (which I wasn't going to take but changed my mind mostly so I can check email in town to see if I've had any writing accepted; I also downloaded books to read to E and Z on it so it can do double duty), my journal (still deciding what drawing implements I'll take) a camera (just got a new one which, compared to my DSLR, is wicked light), and a couple of laminated field guides. We did a dry-run packing our packs this weekend, to see how all the gear fit and how much they weighed. I still haven't finished C and M's sleeping bags, I didn't have my camera yet and somehow forgot to include Z and E's cameras, there are a few small first-aid items I need to get, and I've also decanted soap and sunblock into smaller containers, so these weights aren't the final numbers, but here's how it came out, base pack weight (i.e., without food and water):
C: 13.5 lbs (pre-sleeping bag and I'm not sure if he had all his video-making stuff in there)
A: 11.5 lbs (pre-camera)
M: 7.5 lbs (pre-sleeping bag)
Z and E: 8.5 lbs (pre-camera)

I'm pretty psyched that we came out this low. Not quite the 10-lb holy grail of the lightweight backpacking crowd (and that's for people who carry all their gear--stove, shelter, water treatment--and don't share it around!!), but not bad. With food for five, for up to eight days at a time, C and I are going to have a serious amount of extra weight on top of the base, so any further trimming we can do would be fantastic (I'm sure there are some more tags I can cut off somewhere!!).

Thursday, June 16, 2016

CT Gear Post #2 ~ The Boys' Clothes

In amassing clothes for the boys, I had to buy almost everything new, being as they don't already have a closet full of 20+ years' of accumulated clothing, like some of us. This is where places like Campmor, Sierra Trading Post, Target, and outlet stores came in extra handy. Also handy was the fact that their birthdays were just a few weeks ago, so I could wrap up everything I bought and give them as presents. The kids may not have been thrilled by this, but I thought it was pretty clever.

Boys' clothes, worn:

Item Brand Ounces Source / Notes
Shirt M: Russell
EZ: Champion
M: 5
EZ: 3
Closet. I didn’t realize how heavy this was. Might replace.
Socks M: Champion
EZ: Smart Wool
M: 1

EZ:  1
M: Target

EZ: LL Bean Outlet.
Convertible Pants Columbia M: 7
EZ: 6.5
Hat E: Columbia
ZM: Eddie Bauer
E: 2
ZM: 3
Closet / Reny’s
Eddie Bauer Outlet
Underwear Champion M: 1.5
EZ: 1
Total Worn

M: 17.5
E: 13.5
Z: 14.5

Boys' clothes, carried:

Item Brand Ounces Source / Notes
Bug/ Sun Shirt M: Eddie Bauer
M: 6

EZ: 5
EB Outlet

REI (online); difficult item to find in kids’ sizes!!
Rain Coat LL Bean M: 9
Z: 10
Closet / LL Bean.
Extra Socks (2) M: Champion
EZ: Smartwool
M: 2

EZ: 3

LL Bean Outlet. E and Z wear nothing but SmartWool knee socks. Don’t ask me why. I found some lighter hikers at the outlet (labeled “irregular” so they’re less dear).
Extra Undies (2) Champion
Puffy Coat Patagonia M: 13
EZ: 14
M: Closet / Patagonia outlet. EZ: Patagonia outlet. M’s had his for a couple years; I guess it’s lost weight over time.
Beanie Hat DIY
Made a bunch of these earlier this year.
Neck Warmer Eddie Bauer
Eddie Bauer Outlet. A cheaper version of the Buff.
Gloves ??
Reny’s. These are those one-size-fits-all jobbies that cost about $1.99.
Rain Pants DIY
LL Bean Outlet
Long Underwear Top Polar Skins M: 6

EZ: 5
Sierra Trading Post. May is a good time to to buy long johns cheap.
Bandanna ??
Closet. Pretty sure I’ve owned this since high school and it came on our first CT hike. 
Microfleece Leggings Polar Skins M: 6

EZ: 5
Sierra Trading Post. May is a good time to to buy long johns cheap.
Trekking Umbrella euroSCHRIM
Total Carried

Z: 3 lb, 13 oz
M: 4 lb, 1 oz
(Includes stuff sack)

Notes: I'm still using the kitchen (analog) scale for weighing--so numbers aren't as precise as they could be. M's clothes are heavier because he wears bigger sizes. He wears mens' sizes on top, kids' for pants/shorts. Interestingly, it's often easier to find outdoor gear in adult sizes (and therefore easier to find good deals on same). I hope for their base weight (pack, sleeping quilt, sleeping mat, and clothes) to come in well under 10 lbs. On top of that, I anticipate each kid will carry his water and snacks for the day, and M should be able to carry a bit more food. The more food he carries the less I have to. I think I did pretty well, both cost- and weight-wise. We'll see when I put it all on the scale with sleeping gear and miscellaneous items. Maybe I'll get to that this weekend! 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wild Wednesday ~ The Ladies

I've been on the road a LOT the last couple of weeks--some for work, some for fun, some for family (which is a little of both). So I haven't been keeping as close an eye on the woods and the lovely pink lady-slipper orchids as I did last year.

Between a weekend trip to Boston and Rhode Island and a three-day tour of the farthest north and east (that is, downeast) corners of Maine, I snuck out for a walk and discovered the big, beautiful blossom above, but no neighbors.

Then this weekend,  after a whirlwind day trip to Mount Desert Island, I returned to the woods and found a second, somewhat stunted lady. And in her maw, I saw the nose of what looked to me like a fly. But when I read about lady-slippers later, I found that the bumblebee is the only insect considered strong enough to work its way in through the labium of the slipper and shimmy up out through the top, pollinating the flower in the process. That bug looked pretty dead, but maybe it was resting up for the emergence. I didn't have my hand lens and didn't want to handle the flower for fear of damaging it.

Meanwhile, the big flower I'd seen last week had lost her slipper--it was laying on the ground nearby with what looked like a clean snip where it was cut away from the rest of the flower...

And a hole chewed in the back. Had a bee gotten too lazy to emerge in the conventional way and nibbled its way out instead? My book on the subject says that orchids are not dined upon by insects because of the chemicals they give off, which makes the hole in this particular flower mighty suspicious. 

Also, where did all of the other lady-slippers I'd seen last year go? There had been eight, but I only saw the two (one place I haven't looked yet). And last years' seemed to last weeks and weeks. The book indicates that if the flowers set seed, they're less likely to flower again, or may come back stunted (like that second picture, I suppose) the following year. I didn't notice whether last years' plants had seed pods, but they are located near a patch of wild blueberries, which should increase the chances of a bumblebee finding them. I suppose I should be keeping more detailed records about their location, dates of appearance, and associated weather patterns, like a proper naturalist. Maybe next year.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Deer Tracks and Dragonflies

I have a book!

Well, not really a book book, in that it's only been printed, not published, in the sense that there was no editor, gatekeeper, or ISBN number.

But it's got 52 pages of essays and drawings and information about the natural world at Viles Arboretum in Augusta.

 The book was the capstone project I completed during my Maine Master Naturalist training program.

For each month of the year, there is a short essay, or vignette, and a two-page spread of some aspect of nature that you can see at the Arboretum at that time of year.

My goal was to make the book both accessible to those with little or no natural history knowledge, but also interesting to those already familiar with the natural world. I'm not sure if I hit that sweet spot or not, but I had a lot of fun writing and illustrating it, and of course wandering the Arboretum for research. The books will be available in the Viles Arboretum gift shop very soon, if not already. I hope to have a reading and book signing event in the fall, about which I'll keep you posted. And if they become available for online purchase, I'll let you know that as well.

Monday, June 13, 2016

What is this Colorado Trail Anyway?

The idea for the Colorado Trail and I were born in the same year--1973. It took until 1987 to complete the original 468 miles of trail. I first heard of the trail in 1995, after I graduated college and returned to Colorado to serve in the AmeriCorps for a year. I picked up a guidebook at the bookstore and sent a letter to my long-distance boyfriend: Want to hike this trail with me next summer?

The Colorado Trail, or CT, travels in a sort of S-shape from Denver to Durango. Today it stretches 486 miles (hey, I've grown, too), with a bonus 80 mile along the Collegiate West Loop. You can see more about the trail at the Colorado Trail Foundation.

Here are some of the Frequently Asked Questions I've been getting:

Are you crazy?
Yes. Yes, I am. Just kidding. Unbelievably, no one has asked me this question yet. Almost everyone has been incredibly supportive and excited for us.

What's the elevation of the trail?
The starting elevation, at the Denver end, is 5,500 feet and the high point is 13,271 feet. The trail averages around 10,000 feet, with some time both above and below tree line.

Aren't Western trails a lot easier than Eastern trails? 
I wish. I guess what people mean by this is that, unlike the AT and similar trails that like to go straight up and down mountains, many trails in the West are graded for both people and pack animals, so they have modern conveniences like switchbacks. And there are some of those on the CT--some that weave back and forth so slowly and maddeningly you wish you could just bound straight up (or down) the mountain. The trail also follows old mining roads built by folks who couldn't be bothered with switchbacks, scrambles over boulder fields, talus, and scree, saunters along paved or dirt roads.

What will you do about food?
I've been shopping and ordering and amassing all kinds of instant delights, which I'll be packing into boxes which my parents will either mail or deliver to us at intervals of approximately six days, give or take depending on where towns are in relation to the trail. When we get a box mailed, we'll either walk into town, take a shuttle (a luxury that didn't exist 20 years ago), or send someone to hitch-hike.

Are the kids excited? We're working on that. I'll say they're cautiously anxious. E's looking forward to the reduced hygiene situation. Z has asked for a trip to a breakfast buffet at the end. M asked me to never make him do anything again. They'll be fine once they get there. Really.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Freedom Trail Two

Friday we joined E and Z on their fifth grade class trip to walk the Freedom Trail in Boson. We had a memorial to attend in Rhode Island the next day, so C, M, and I all went (and we got to drive our own car, rather than spend six hours in a bus with 26 eleven-year-olds). This trip felt a lot faster and more frenetic than M's trip four years ago did, but then I looked back at the post from that trip and saw that I wrote that it was "like the ADD tour history," so I guess it had been a hectic tour then, too. 

We started with a climb up to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument.

Hit a couple of cemeteries.

Took a peek in Old North Church.

 Visited the Statehouse.

 And everything in between.

We finished it off with a visit to the Tea Party Museum.

 And a taxi across the water back to Charlestown.
The kids have been studying the Revolutionary War all year and this trip is meant to put places to the names, make history come alive. The kids, though, mostly seemed to enjoy the bustle and energy of a big city, waving at the cars driving by over the bridge and parkour-ing around the steps and benches and curbs and parks whenever we stopped for a break. In the long run, though, I think some of it will have sunk in--the 290 steps to the top of the monument, the really great interpretive presentation about the Battle of Bunker Hill, throwing replica tea boxes off a boat into the Charles River, the actual windows where the two-if-by-sea lamps were hung, the spot where the Boston Massacre took place. 
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