Packing for a 4,000 footer

When life gives you sunshine… go climb a mountain!

My mom and I have made this a new annual tradition, to hike a new path and stay in a new hut each summer. It started with Mizpah and Mount Pierce a few years ago (somewhat on a whim), and then continued in earnest last summer with Lakes of the Clouds on our way to the summit of Mount Washington. This year, we wanted to hit yet another new peak, so we headed over to Greenleaf Hut, on Mount Lafayette.

Our hike was in the first week of the 2019 season, June 3-5. And our destination was Lafayette via Greenleaf (an Appalachian Mountain Club hut) with the idea that we would hike up, get to the hut early and chill for dinner and sleep there, then go to the summit and back the next day, sleep at the hut again, and head down.

This was plan A.

What actually happened was plan… D? E? Something later than C, because everything conspired against us to change the safe, fun, and comfortable options we could choose between.

We had packed well for hiking in the White Mountains in the summer. But we forgot that June isn’t actually summer up there. Before we got to the hut, it was snowing. By the time we sat down for snacks (delicious pumpkin curry soup and apple bread), the summit was obscured in clouds and a snow squall. People were coming in with a chilly blast and their buffs pulled over their faces to keep save even a fraction of warmth. When we went to bed that night, it was 38 degrees Fahrenheit inside, and we wore every single layer we had brought with us, plus our requisite 3 wool blankets, plus sleeping bags that the hut staff loaned us, which truly made it possible to rest. (Our back up plan here was to steal a million more blankets from other bunks because there were only 7 guests and 5 staffers in a cabin that can sleep 48 in the high season!).

Backpacks and bunk beds

All our gear in the room we delightfully had to ourselves at Greenleaf

So instead of hiking up and down the same day, or hiking over and down, or hiking over and over another mountain, we worked with the awesome hut croo to rebook ourselves into Lonesome Lake for night #2, and we trekked down and then up to the Appalachian Trail on a totally different path.

The result was actually delightful – we loved seeing a new place, we got to finish a full 15 feet of the AT, and we met many people who had really interesting stories from their longer (or in some cases, shorter) hikes there.

I highly recommend checking out some of the AMC huts in New Hampshire. And when you do go, you can see what we packed and consider what you might need for your own trek!

We’ll start with the least important but most unique to the Jane-and-Sally-go-hiking experience:

“HUT LIFE”
We kept this in a separate packing cube / plastic bag since we only needed it at night, and it was SO nice to pull out a little, clean gift to yourself when you arrived at your bunk, and not have this get caught up in all your other gear.

  • Flip flops – for when you’ve arrived and get to finally let your feet breathe
  • Washcloth or some other sort of towel (most huts have running water in the sink, though no showers)
  • Lounge clothes – often the clothes you’re going to wear the next day, though sometimes it’s nice to have one soft shirt / bra / pair of shorts just for a change
  • Power bank – in case there’s no option to use a common plug and you need to recharge your devices for photos the next day
  • Earplugs – in these big shared rooms, there is ALWAYS someone snoring. Sometimes it’s even your mom.
  • Headphones – for the same purpose, blocking out some noise in common rooms when you’re trying to force yourself to sleep at 9 PM.
  • Entertainment – a book (or if you’re basic like us, a Kindle), playing cards, drawing supplies, etc. One person told us his indulgent item was a collapsible fishing pole!
  • Sleeping bag liner with built-in pillowcase – we have this one and LOVE it. Having a liner means you can stack wool blankets on top of you without having them on your skin, and it was perfect when we borrowed a sleeping bag in sudden winter weather. They have an orange one available now, which I would have gotten if it was an option – whenever possible, having something bright with you on a mountain is a good idea for being visible to rescuers in a pinch.
  • Mini-wallet with your ID, some cash, and credit card – technically you need this for any hike, but I keep mine in this part of my bag since I mostly use it to buy souvenirs at the huts!
  • Travel clothesline – so anything that is wet or even damp can dry overnight
  • Snacks, including your favorite teabags
  • Evening bathroom essentials – medicine, toothbrush, etc.

OVERALL HIKING AND SAFETY GEAR
For this one, we go to the AMC – their list of the 10 essentials is… essential. Summarized here, but don’t skimp on this category – make sure you’re preparing for every outcome.

  1. Map and compass/GPS
  2. Extra water and a way to purify it – this may seem extreme but just get some purification tablets, keep them in your bag, and if you toss them every few years because you never had an emergency, you’re doing pretty well!
  3. Extra food
  4. Lighter / matches / fire starter
  5. Flashlight / headlamp – your phone does NOT count, this needs to be able to last for hours and have extra batteries.
  6. First aid kit
  7. Knife or multi-purpose tool
  8. Waterproof / wind gear and extra clothing
  9. Sun screen, sunglasses, lip balm, maybe even ski goggles
  10. Tarp, bivy sack, or emergency blanket – again, don’t cut corners here, just buy an emergency kit, tuck it in your bag, and hope you never have to use it.

In addition, I pack the following:

  • Hiking backpack – with a raincover (that should really never come off / out of your bag – make it live there!)
  • Hiking poles – bring 2 even if you think you only need 1, it’s helpful on some downhills or if one breaks
  • Extra tips for hiking poles
  • Water bladder AND water bottle
  • Gatorade or other sports drink to get varying liquids
  • Sport beans – I love these for when I need just a pop of sugar but don’t want to drink more
  • Lots of food of varying types – jerky, granola bars, sandwiches, apples, etc.
  • Bathroom kit (see REI’s tips for how to use the bathroom in the woods – including hand sanitizer and a small shovel)
  • First aid kit – and make sure it contains things that are in good shape (bandages that still stick, Advil that’s not expired)
  • Hike Safe Card or similar – this is basically disaster / rescue insurance!
  • Bug net and insect repellent – to cover your face when the black flies start swarming
  • Trip itinerary – and make sure to leave one with a friend and ideally also put one copy in your car (at the trailhead) where it’s out of site. Mom has been making us mini-maps that show specifically where we’re hiking and they’re a great addition so we don’t need to unfold something each time (though we also had the full versions). Plus, it’s nice to have a copy of the narrative description of the trails!
  • Whistle
  • Gaiters, YakTrax, etc depending on your terrain
  • Fitbit or other tracker or watch
  • Foam pad, for safety and comfort – Mom used hers as protection against losing all her body heat on the cold benches at dinner
  • Tick removal tool
  • Poncho

CLOTHING
Rule #1-100 – NO COTTON

  • Buff – I can’t live without this and take my Survivor one on every trip, even a simple sleepover at my cousin’s house
  • Gloves or mittens
  • Hiking boots
  • Hat with a visor, to protect your face from the sun
  • Wool socks or similar
  • Wicking underwear
  • Wicking t-shirt
  • Wicking long underwear (something you can layer under other pants)
  • Synthetic long pants – I like the kind that zip off into shorts. They may not be styling but they are great for the shifting weather of the mountains
  • Rain jacket / rain pants – even if you already have a poncho!
  • Puffy vest that packs down into something small – we ended up wearing these to sleep! Super important to not lose heat even when you’re done hiking

CAR PACK
To have handy for when you’re done your hike!

  • Bathing suit
  • Towel
  • Quarters for any shower you may be near (this is 100000% our favorite part of hiking – sorry to every other part!)
  • Other shower essentials – body wash, shampoo, etc.

What else do you pack on a hike, or wish you had? I’ll keep this list updated as we inevitably learn more lessons!

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A trail deferred

When I was a kid in 1998, bald and in the middle of cancer treatments, all I wanted was to be NORMAL. Not the sixth grader with bruises and scars, not the one who was allowed to miss all the classes, not the one who people had to treat gently. I wanted to have the same 12-year-old adventures as everyone else, and that included walking the Freedom Trail on our class field trip.

I was so excited for that spring day – on top of the adventure of BOSTON my dad was chaperoning, something that never happened (my parents always coached our teams and shuttled us Girl Scouts around, but we had our own family trips instead of them chaperoning).

But as we were getting ready to board the buses, I got called down to the front office – and it was my mom on the phone, saying that my counts had come back and we needed to go to the hospital for a blood transfusion. We were all crushed – she had argued with my doctor but there was no wiggle room (unless we were already on the bus, which my classmates were now boarding).

For the past 21 years, I’ve thought often of that trail. In fact, most of my Boston jobs have been ON it. But I’ve never done the whole thing… until now!

Yesterday dad and I finally did the whole trail. 6+ miles of walking over 6 hours, starting at the Common and ending at the top of Bunker Hill.

Along the way, we saw the Sacred Cod, compared cemeteries (and found Copp’s Hill to be the most favorable burying place), and made extensive lists of historical facts to research when back home.

We saved most of the indoor attractions for a less sunny day so we would have time for the final leg, but did make time for Old Ironsides!

We met fellow explorers along the way – a young boy and his mom who wanted to find the trail in order to play Pokémon Go, a family from Scotland, many people in historical garb who looked even hotter than we felt.

Honestly, I’ve been to some of the great cities of the world, and I’ve lived in Boston for a decade. And yet I was shocked at how powerful I found the trail – not just because we were slightly delirious in the blazing sun, not just because I had been dreaming of this for 21 years, but because of the story the trail tells about a scrappy group of people believing in fighting for something bigger than themselves.

This kind of quest – with decision points along the way and a trusty fellow traveler at your side – is my favorite way to spend a day and remember what matters in this world. I am so grateful that I am still alive today to live and learn something new… and get the pressed penny to prove it.

Alis grave nil

I just got back from DC (on a 6 am flight because Meg and I are ridiculous) – highlights of my trip including snuggling a friend’s new baby (Ollie!), seeing the Burning Man exhibit at the Renwick (fascinating even if I’m not totally shipping it), and eating breakfast – ok, and then also wine – with Meg at the all-women DC social club, The Wing.

This place is a pastel Instagram dream. I’ve never been into one of the “good old boys” social club but I’ve read about them in many Victorian novels – if they channel a theme as well as this place does, I can completely understand why the chaps would never leave.

From velvety easy chairs to a wicker and pink cafe to phone booths named after feminist badasses, The Wing is a remote workspace, common room, spa, and lecture hall.

It’s a millennial’s paradise – from the avocado toast to the rosé happy hour to the signs everywhere reminding you to register to vote. Plus the “powder room” features luxury hair and body products (for free) and has robes and slippers in addition to usual shower offerings.

My personal favorite: THE LIBRARY. Thousands of books (color coordinated, one of my favorite nonsensical design choices) all by and about women, that you can browse in person or check out for a month at a time. Be still my nerdy heart!

In theory there are plans for a Wing in Boston in the not too distant future. Given how awesomely powerful this space was, I’ll definitely be checking it out when the time comes. And for now I’ll just pop in when I visit Meg and make her borrow #allthebooks on her account.

(There’s a lot more to this idea beyond how beautiful this place is – check it out on The Wing’s website. Their slogan – and this blog title – roughly translates into “Nothing is heavy for those who have wings.”)

The farm life

I’m citybound after another refreshing weekend in the county with my dear friend Katey. Our second annual Memorial Day together had more of the same stuff we loved last year, and somehow we packed in additional activities I never thought possible. 

We started with a visit to the herd – now 29 goats strong – so I could take a picture with Parcel (so called because her dad is named Postage.)

Much bigger than last year’s goat but still adorable!

Goat mom Katey with her bottle baby, who probably thinks it’s a person. 


Among our many adventures of the weekend (and gallons of iced coffee), we hit some plant sales. My favorite way to choose plants is to go entirely by the whimsical names and pay almost no attention to anything else. Hence the batch below (all cherry tomatoes).


We also went to a BBQ and soaked up the last of the day’s rays (and the first of its mosquitoes).

And then for something completely different, we ventured over to Mohegan Sun. $20 lost over 3 hours = not bad! I would have played roulette but the crowds were too big, so I had to “settle” for these gems.

The next day, we braved the 90+ degree temps to visit some flea markets. I still regret not buying this Jeff Gordon figurine but we got a few other good grabs.

We also hit a slightly ritzier craft and antique fair that really made me yearn for Brimfield.

To top it all off – ice cream in a fresh made waffle cone. NOW summer can officially begin!

A few days out of the city, exploring and chatting with my childhood friend, is exactly what I needed to enter June strong. Watch out summer fun – I’m comin’ for ya!

Cruising in comfort

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This post is dedicated to Ryan – happy cruising!

In January, my sister Kat brought our family on our first-ever cruise as part of a writers’ conference where she was a member of the faculty. Only mom had been on a cruise before, back in the era of perms and festive centerpieces made of lard (yes, really). It was a new adventure for us all – I imagine that people who don’t fly often feel the same way about planes. The small tv and its limited channels! Small nut-free snacks! A teeny bathroom!

This trip – on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Sea – had similar exciting and uncharted territories, and we loved exploring them all. Here are some of the top things I learned along the way:

ONE: You can ask your steward and waiter for anything. When Kat and I arrived in our room, the beds were together as a queen. And while that seemed cozy, we knew it would not be fun for the long term. So we asked our steward, Nicholas, to separate them for us, which he did in a heartbeat, and they were perfect by turndown service. (Mark that as the #1 thing I wish I could take home from cruising – such a treat!)

TWO: Eat your dinner. And then some. Dinner is absolutely positively not to be missed. Bring some nice clothes to dress up and make an evening out of it (I recommend getting the early seating if possible so you can then scurry over to the evening entertainment). Our table consisted of my family, the tour hosts, a nice young couple, and a rotating cast of writers. The waitstaff was SO friendly and nice. Maybe a little TOO nice. When we couldn’t decide between options, our waitress encouraged us to try them both. It got to the point that by the end of the cruise, every person at the table was ordering an average of 5 items for a 3 course dinner. 3 desserts, 2 salads, steak and lobster… it was downright absurd. I think we all wanted to know if there was a limit, and the answer was a definitive NO. Whether or not you’re going to order the entire menu, feel free to ask a lot of questions – it’s especially useful to know which options are for one night only and which are going to be available tomorrow (you know, for everyone else who plans their food a week in advance).

THREE: Embrace your inner tourist. Cruising is basically summer camp. By the end of the week, you’ve seen the same people all over. You know who lost at Bingo and who can kill it at karaoke, and who was supposed to go snorkeling before it started raining. But to get there, you need to go to the ship events – especially in the beginning. Every trivia night, stage show, belly flop contest is part of building a cruise community of ship-bound weirdos. Our family won trivia and dad put up a good fight in a musical contest. We also learned choreographed dances, laughed our butts off at “game shows”, and went to an art auction- highly recommended, especially if you will never go in real life. Mark everything you’re interested in on the daily schedule and then check them all out – you might find something you seriously love!

Also: if you think the captain is taking pictures right now, don’t listen to the people who tell you it’s later. You WILL miss it and make your family basically stalk the captain so you can get a classic shot together.

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All dressed up for the formal dinner – with no captain in sight.

FOUR: Plan your excursions strategically. Better to book early and cancel (24+ hours before and you get a full refund for most) than to find out that the one you want is all full. And when you do book, go for excursions that start as soon as you get off the boat.

We tried both options (not intentionally): in Cozumel, we got off the boat, found our tour group, and spent the morning at ruins and getting an island tour before going off on our own for shopping downtown. In Grand Cayman, we ate and wandered first before going back for our snorkel adventure. Rushing to get back for the group outing was not fun – we lost a lot of time because we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the next phase. We preferred having the afternoon free so we could manage our own return to the ship, instead. BUT! There is a plus side to doing the ship-led adventure last – on our trip, some people got extremely delayed when their snorkel boat was unable to dock in high winds. The only reason the ship waited for them (instead of making them fly to the next port!) was because they were on a ship-led trip and thus were guaranteed not to miss the departure. Definitely something to consider when planning your day out (and do go out – the ship will be there when you get back!).

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FIVE: Pack like you’re camping. Weird, I know. But I assumed that there would be at least some nice shampoo in the shower, and there was only an all-purpose soap. Similarly, I wished I had a small bag (really a clutch) for holding my keycard and camera as we ran around the ship in the evening. Specifically, make sure you bring:

  • Your own shampoo, soap, face wash (along with your sunscreen, pain meds, etc.)
  • Seabands (so cheap on Amazon, so expensive on the boat)
  • A lock for your backpack (this makes me feel much more secure when I travel anyway, especially since your cabin door will sometimes be open for cleaning)
  • Your own bottle of wine (check your ship for limits per cabin)
  • Earplugs
  • Sunglasses and hats (I bought a new hat on the ship to get into the vacation style)
  • A good book (their excuse for a library was weaker than I thought possible)
  • A to-go cup if you like to travel with your coffee. The ship mugs are TINY.
  • Your FitBit, to give you extra inspiration NOT to take the elevator (but… it’s right there!)
  • Cozy shawls and cardigans for the cold sea air at night. The constellations are great if you’re warm enough to stay out and look for them!
  • A small bag so you can tote around all of the above rather than having to bring your book back to your room before trivia, etc.

*****

Bottom line: our first cruise was a huge success. It also opened my eyes to how fun an all-inclusive really could be – all this plus NOT feeling like your stomach was in knots! But falling asleep on the ocean and waking up in a bustling tropical port is a delight, as is a week of limited (but lovely) choices and forced relaxation.

What do you wish YOU had known before your first cruise?

 

Call your girlfriends

I’m back in DC, making even more of my visit this time by coming a few days before my meeting so I can hang out with some Mount Holyoke girlfriends and see the city a bit amid work. 

  
It all started in Alexandria, where former crewton Abby and I went to lunch. Buckwheat crepes + feminist dating updates = best Saturday. Then onward to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, where we saw an awesome exhibit about women in the Arabic world – “She who tells a story”. Highly recommend if you’re in the area – it’s $10 but they let us in free because they were setting up for a wedding and had to let in all the staff anyway!

Then Becca, my crew big sister, and I met up for the first time in five years at Rice for Thai food. So perfect! …Except somehow in the last 24 hours leading up to this moment, I completely lost my voice. Our reunion dinner together basically consisted of charades from my side of the table and laughter from hers. That’s how you know who your true friends are – they’re willing to talk even if you can only answer yes / no questions. 

  
Today, ’08 politico Mica and I went to the National Portrait Gallery, where we saw cool exhibits about celebrities and this gem from a future I don’t want to live in.

  
(Yes, that’s Frank Underwood from House of Cards.)

Then we had delicious Mexican brunch at Mission surrounded by people who had been drinking bottomless mimosas and margaritas for 2+ hours already. Oof! Having almost no voice has made me hyper aware of how incredibly loud some restaurants are. I never noticed how bad it was before!

And then, the girl-power jewel on the cake*, heading out to Sixth and I with Meg to see a live taping of Call your girlfriend – “a podcast for long distance besties” hosted by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow and produced by Gina Delvac. Meg got us tickets weeks ago and I’ve been listening to it ever since – highly recommend. Start with the one where Huma talks all about how awesome her boss aka Hillary Clinton is! The live version was even better. Democratic Rep Donna Edwards, a brief slide show of besties in history, and lots of thoughtful discussion on gender, politics, money, and more. Plus, wine in sippy cups.

 

Still ahead: a long presentation through which I hope my voice survives, a Nats game (first ever professional baseball game outside of Fenway!), and then five days with my sis and other buds in NYC. Stay tuned as the adventure continues!

*Yes, I briefly considered changing that to frosting or crown but I think the original has more spirit.

DC in 48 hours and 4 photos

My 48 hour business trip to DC, in four photos:

1. Business lady special breakfast. Aka left my hotel and took my laptop over to a fancy coffee shop near my client’s office, where I got an almond latte and a fresh-from-the-oven butterkuchen – perfect fuel for the five hours of meetings ahead.  
2. Chinatown by night, after a delicious and sweet dinner with a client (hi Laurie!) and coworkers. We’re all so rarely in the same place, it’s great to get together to hatch new ideas in person and toast to all our hard work in 2015.


3. Pearl Harbor anniversary wreaths at the World War II memorial on the National Mall. All the flowers were fresh from the service a few days earlier. I paused from my run to stroll and reflect, especially about my granddaddy, a Pearl Harbor survivor who never even got to see this memorial come into existence.


4. The view on my run up to the Lincoln Memorial. Even on these whirlwind trips, I try to get in one touristy or location-specific thing. On my last day, I took the metro down to the White House, ran on the mall, and took a taxi back to the hotel to get ready for work. It was glorious to be able to visit Lincoln with almost no one else there – the one Chinese family who let me take the photo so they could all be in it, the monument worker polishing the floor beneath the Gettysburg Address.


And that’s all in addition to the great food, the team karaoke competition that my friends ROCKED, the dozens of funny and useful conversations with my coworkers.

DC, you’re Definitely Cool. Looking forward to more adventures when I head back… next week!