Outdoors, With Kids

Always Take the Trip

June 20, 2017

Last week, after a strangely cool June, the temperatures finally soared past 90 and the humidity turned my hair into Cousin It with an 80s perm. Luckily, I had reserved a camping spot in Rickett’s Glen, Pennsylvania, after their dad told me I would have them for Father’s Day, after all. Unluckily, the forecast called for thunderstorms pretty much every day.

I hesitated. Take my daughters camping anyway and risk a miserable time in the storm? Or stay in DC and get a haircut?

We went.

It rained.

Pretty much every day, in fact.

On the one day it didn’t rain at all, we hiked the four-mile loop of 18 waterfalls. The 7.5 mile loop gives you 22 waterfalls, but really, who needs 22 waterfalls? After the first nine, they all kind of looked the same, to be honest. But the hike was gorgeous, and my four-year-old did the whole thing on her own two feet instead of mine.

We passed an older man halfway up a rocky, thigh-burning staircase. “Make sure you tell your girls to be careful,” he told me. “The rocks are slippery and wet by the waterfalls.”

And because I’m trying this new thing where I don’t get pissy at people who mean well, I smiled and thanked him.

We saw him again as we were leaving. “You made it!” he said. “I was worried about you.”

My eight-year-old looked at him with wide eyes. “I was worried about you, too,” she said, very sincerely. “You’re so old.”

On the days it did rain, we mostly swam in the lake. Water is water, after all, and we couldn’t get any wetter than we were. The thunderstorm didn’t roll in until nighttime and it was glorious. I love a good storm. My daughters slept right through it but I stayed awake, listening to the call and answer of the thunder and lightning. The tent stayed dry. (We use this one.)

We had a good time.

It could just as easily have gone to shit.

You never really know what you’ll get, when you take the trip–whether it’s camping, hiking, backpacking, rafting, whatever. You just never know.

But you know what you get if you stay.


Getting Stronger

June 6, 2017

“Your hands are bad,” the manicurist told me. “Very, very bad.”

She was looking at my palms as she spoke–my actual nails are not so very bad, oddly enough. I don’t bite them, but I keep them short so that they won’t break when I climb. My palms, however, are a different matter. There are calluses at the base of each finger. My fingertips are red and sensitive, and the horizontal lines that mark my knuckles are often ripped–not enough to bleed, just enough to look ragged. I put salve on the tears to help the skin heal into new calluses. It’s an endless cycle.

It’s not pretty. Neither are the bruises on my elbows and knees. It’s funny, though, how something that looks so weak and busted happens in the moments I feel the strongest. (Not always. Sometimes the bruises come from moments of stupidity rather than strength.) I am not one of those people who goes around spouting nonsense like “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Those people are idiots. Never listen to those people.

But I will say that there are moments when pain and ecstasy share the same breath. When I look at the wall and think, Right. This is going to hurt. And it does hurt, and it leaves a mark, but it also feels amazing.

My manicurist tells me that I will never find a boy with my hands like this, because nice boys don’t like rough girls. As a feminist, I should be offended, I suppose, but really I’m absurdly pleased that she thinks it’s only my hands that hold me back. Most people say it’s my bad attitude.

She shakes her head at me. She speaks limited English; I speak even more limited Mongolian. We don’t understand each other very well.

“You will be careful and not hurt yourself,” she tells me. “No more like this.”

And I nod even though I don’t mean it.

Because those are the times when I get stronger.




All These Things That I Write

May 23, 2017


I looked at the calendar this morning and realized that next weekend is Memorial Day, the unofficial kick-off to summer. (And also, the day we honor those who died in service to our country, which makes it an oddly awkward holiday.)

My point is that spring is over, and I haven’t been on a single hike. No mountains have been climbed, despite my wonderful plans to the contrary. And I did, indeed, have plans, most of which centered on North Carolina and Colorado.

And then something happened that I was hoping for, but not really expecting: I got a book deal. Fiction, not outdoorsy stuff, so I won’t discuss it much on this blog. My first book is out in late October, followed by three more books over the next two years.

I know! I’m as surprised as you are.

Anyway, this means I’m kinda busy at the moment. When I’m not at my day job or doing mom stuff, I’m wrapping up edits on book 1, drafting the end of book 2, and plotting book 3. If you ask me about book 4 I might start to cry. (My house is a mess and I’m seriously reconsidering my commitment to showers.)

That’s not to say I won’t be outside at all this year. I have a climbing trip planned for West Virginia in July, and I’ll be in Yosemite in early October. I’ll fit in other things here and there, just for sanity’s sake. There’s a Shenandoah trail race that I want to start training for, as well.

An old friend reached out recently and told me had been following my blog. “You seem happy,” he said. “This mid-life crisis is really working out for you.”

Yes, it is.



Our Public Lands Are Threatened, or That Time I Turned Into A Fireball of Rage

May 16, 2017

Go here. Comment by July 10.

From the Department of the Interior:

“The U.S. Department of the Interior is conducting a review of certain National Monuments designated or expanded since 1996 under the Antiquities Act of 1906 in order to implement Executive Order 13792 of April 26, 2017. The Secretary of the Interior will use the review to determine whether each designation or expansion conforms to the policy stated in the Executive Order and to formulate recommendations for Presidential actions, legislative proposals, or other appropriate actions to carry out that policy. This Notice identifies twenty-seven National Monuments under review and invites comments to inform the review.”

Don’t kid yourself on this: We don’t need the oil and gas from drilling. What we need is a massive overhaul of our energy systems, from how we power our houses to how we power our cars. The technology is there. We just have to fully implement it. Will it be painful? Hell yes. Will it be expensive? Hell yes. Will it save us and our planet? Hell yes.

Please, please let your voice be heard–even though we know they aren’t truly listening. (Just ask the Navajo about who Zinke talked to about Bears Ears. They are purposefully seeking out a one-sided, money-grabbing view.) This is where we hike, climb, and play. This is where we lose ourselves, and find ourselves.

I am for progress, absolutely. I live in a city, and I love it. But it’s a human environment. (Well, humans, rats, and pigeons.) We need wild places so that the whole earth can thrive. Without diversity of life–plants, land, and animals–everything falls apart.

So what national monuments are being reviewed? Here’s the list:

National Monuments Being Initially Reviewed Pursuant to Criteria in Executive Order 13792
Monument Location Year(s) Acreage
Basin and Range Nevada 2015 703,585
Bears Ears Utah 2016 1,353,000
Berryessa Snow Mountain California 2015 330,780
Canyons of the Ancients Colorado 2000 175,160
Carrizo Plain California 2001 204,107
Cascade Siskiyou Oregon 2000/2017 100,000
Craters of the Moon Idaho 1924/2000 737,525
Giant Sequoia California 2000 327,760
Gold Butte Nevada 2016 296,937
Grand Canyon-Parashant Arizona 2000 1,014,000
Grand Staircase-Escalante Utah 1996 1,700,000
Hanford Reach Washington 2000 194,450.93
Ironwood Forest Arizona 2000 128,917
Mojave Trails California 2016 1,600,000
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks New Mexico 2014 496,330
Rio Grande del Norte New Mexico 2013 242,555
Sand to Snow California 2016 154,000
San Gabriel Mountains California 2014 346,177
Sonoran Desert Arizona 2001 486,149
Upper Missouri River Breaks Montana 2001 377,346
Vermilion Cliffs Arizona 2000 279,568

That’s right, folks. THE FUCKING GRAND CANYON. Because that’s not worth saving, right?

Are we really going to sit back and watch this happen?

Hell no.


All The Moments You Didn’t Photograph

May 9, 2017

Having a moment.

I don’t have a picture of the time I climbed a 5.10b–let’s say for the first time, but so far it’s the only time. It was just me and my partner, and our hands were kind of busy at that moment.

I don’t have a picture of the first mountain I summitted. I was 16, and I was dirty and tired, on Day 3 of a four day backpacking trip.

I do have a picture of the first time I hiked a 14er, but I wasn’t feeling euphoric about it and it showed. What I don’t have is a picture of me an hour later, when I was halfway back down the mountain. Because that’s when I was feeling pretty damn awesome about what I had just accomplished.

I also have a picture of me crossing the finish line of the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, but I don’t have a picture of me 15 minutes later, which was how long it took to walk off the pain.

I don’t have a picture of the exact moment my friend turned to me, after a hard day of climbing, and said, “You know, I feel really good about what we did here today.”

I don’t have a picture of a thousand I love you‘s. Hell, I don’t even remember most of them, not even my first.

Sometimes I get lucky. Sometimes the camera captures the exact moment I want to remember forever. But more often than not the moment comes and goes and will one day be forgotten completely. It’s hard not to feel sad about that.

These moments matter, even if we don’t remember them. They build on each other, pushing us further than we were yesterday, making us stretch in new directions. It’s only been 18 months since my first climb, and already I struggle to remember the details. I definitely don’t remember the first time I made it to the top. But it must have felt pretty good, because I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. I might not remember the first 5.6, but I couldn’t have gotten to 5.10b without it.

It’s always the moments in between the photographs.

These are the moments that make us.