How to rock a hiking trip with your romantic partner – and still like each other at the end

With Valentine’s Day upon us, let’s appreciate the stuff that keeps relationships together: chocolate and flowers! Wait… Although I enjoy chocolate at least as much as the next sane person, hiking with good friends is one of my favorite non-eating activities (and is obviously best followed by eating anyway).

So here are my tips for thoroughly rocking a backpacking trip with your significant other. All it takes to keep your relationship intact through the ups and downs (pun intended) of an outdoor backpacking trip is a little extra planning and lots of honest communication.

1. Know thyself.

Know your own needs so you can both prepare adequately. Remember, in order for you to thrive together, you each need to have what you need to survive. If you know you sweat more than your significant other (guilty), you will need to carry more water than he or she does. If you tend to wake up shivering no matter the temperature (oh hey there), bring your long johns even if your partner insists it will be too hot for them. Avoiding unnecessary discomfort can go a long way toward reducing grumpiness and prolonging your relationship.

2. Carry your own shit.

We get down to basics when we camp in the wilderness, but that means different things to different people. Some consider extra underwear a necessity, others a luxury. It’s okay if you and your partner have different views: by carrying your own shit, you can each make the choices that are best for you. Prevent grumbling and resentment over that second pair of socks by just carrying them yourself.

And while we all want to pack as light as possible, it is a mistake to assume your partner’s things are yours to borrow on the trail unless you cleared it beforehand. Sure, he has two bandanas on hand, but that does not mean one is “extra”. Just like your two pairs of socks, he may plan on using them both, not waiting for you to ask to borrow one. So again, carry your own stuff.

3. Distribute shared items as fairly as possible.

Notice that says “fairly,” not “equally.” We all have different strength and stamina levels, meaning if one of you happens to be stronger than the other, that person can carry the tent or other heavier items without needing to slow down as much. Ego need not get involved- it’s just physics. When you distribute the shared weight in a way that allows both of you to hike in equal comfort, everyone wins.

4. Plan ahead – together.

Every trip requires planning, from deciding on your start and end points to noting the number of miles between water sources. Adding a second person makes that step all the more important. Also important is having this discussion before starting your trip, not after an argument on the trail. Talk about whether you want to power through as many miles in a day as possible or take a more leisurely pace. Remember that you and your partner may have different abilities and goals, and prepare to compromise.

Another oft-neglected aspect of planning is looking for sights to check out along the way and working them into your route. Many trails pass by historic landmarks, ruins, lakes, interesting rock formations, and more, some of which are easy to miss if you’re not looking out for them. Sure, a lake probably will not sneak up on you, but you may want to plan an afternoon relaxing by it instead of rushing past on your way to a campsite in the dark. The more your trip is about the journey, the more fun you can have along the way, no matter how many miles.

Personal note: Prepare for some sights to be disappointing. Like the Cat Rocks along the Appalachian Trail in New York. SPOILER ALERT: they do not look like cats.

5. Make meals something to look forward to.

Eating freeze-dried spaghetti out of the package may not seem very romantic compared to other dates, but it can be! By the end of an exhausting day of hiking, any hot meal can be a treat. Pack meals you both like, if possible, so you can look forward to them together. This can require some extra planning, especially if you have different dietary restrictions and preferences, but it’s worth it.

6. Leave the egos at home.

The wilderness is no place for a big ego, especially when you are journeying with someone you care about. “Winning” or out-hiking your partner will almost definitely not enhance the trip and may even spoil future adventures together. Instead of worrying about who is faster or has more stamina, take turns leading and respect each other’s needs and capabilities. Remember, resting is not a sign of weakness, it is an essential part of physical activities, so take breaks and be kind to one another.

7. Start with low expectations.

Also great relationship advice in general, keeping your expectations in check will go a long way toward enjoying a hiking trip together. If your partner has never done an overnight hike before, do not expect him or her to power through a week-long trek just yet. We all need to build upon our own experiences, not those of another person. Keep each person’s known abilities and preferences at the forefront of your planning process to avoid ending up in unpleasant and dangerous situations. It is much more fun to exceed expectations than to fail to measure up and suffer the consequences.

The key takeaway from this list is that the importance of clear and honest communication cannot be overemphasized. From routes to meals, planning should be a joint effort that takes into account everyone’s abilities and maximizes fun together. Being honest about your needs and keeping expectations grounded will keep your body, mind, and relationship intact on and off the trail.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy hiking!

TBT to when I had a giraffe in my face

My NPR email updates are often things I try to ignore, like Trump’s latest cabinet appointments, but today they sent an article that brought me right back to my zookeeping intern days, when I would occasionally get to take a break from shoveling endless piles of poop to spend some quality time with Randall, the handsome guy next to me in the photo. The article and an update from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) explained that the IUCN added giraffes to their ‘red list’ of species facing extinction because giraffe populations have declined between 36-40% since 1985. Why? Humans, of course.

The growing human population is having a negative impact on many giraffe subpopulations. Illegal hunting, habitat loss and changes through expanding agriculture and mining, increasing human-wildlife conflict, and civil unrest are all pushing the species towards extinction.
– The IUCN in a December 8th, 2016 update

As of 2015, there were fewer than 100,000 giraffes left on the planet. To put that in perspective, there are more people living in Fargo, North Dakota, where the annual average temperature is only 42 degrees F, than giraffes on the whole continent of Africa. That’s not right, y’all.

I don’t have a call to action right now, other than love one another, care for other species, and look at these giraffes hanging out with each other and nibbling on treetops! Go on. You won’t regret it.

 

Questions from the trail: Is that a sweat bib?

Why, yes it is! Oh, haven’t heard of a sweat bib? Let me explain.

Those of us who sweat a lot get used to carrying around extra towels, bandanas, sweat bands, napkins, etc. when we’re out and about in the heat. Dripping is a fact of life. When hiking, I usually stuff a towel in one of my backpack’s side pockets and pull it out as needed, but between the heat and the incline (who put so many hills in these mountains anyway?), ‘as needed’ was pretty much constantly.

Sweat bib in action on the Appalachian TrailEnter: the sweat bib. Instead of reaching back for a towel, drying off, putting the towel back, and repeating way too frequently, just tuck it into your sternum (chest) strap! It’s always there when you need it and hands free the rest of the time. Added bonus: the towel might actually dry a little when it’s spread out instead of stuffed into a pocket!

The sweat bib may not be the most figure-flattering accessory, but it sure made my hike marginally more comfortable. Do you have any hiking comfort hacks to share? Let me know in the comments!

And for more Questions from the Trail, check out this post and this post!

 

 

America already WAS great. Let’s keep it that way.

Along with the 52.5% of American voters who tried to elect candidates other Donald Trump for president, I am scared.

Honestly, I assumed Hillary Clinton would win. I know, assuming makes an ass out of u and me, but I did it. I didn’t stay up until the result was announced last night. I posted this  on Facebook Screen Shot 2016-11-09 at 11.33.04 AM.pngand hoped the electoral tally would right itself by the time I woke up. It did not.

The me from a few years ago would be looking for any opportunity to leave this country right now. Uprooting my life and tossing it across the world has never been a problem for me, but I’m not moving this time, so instead I need to cope. Along with the tens of millions of other people who are mortified by the votes of our countrymen, I need to accept what’s happened, allow it to sink in, and then respond.

Because we will respond. I’m not talking about Democrats or Millennials or Liberals or any other interest group; I’m talking about all the people who choose love. Those of us who spread love and compassion might rarely win outright, but we matter.

47.5% of yesterday’s voters chose to be represented by a person who espouses hate, and that is terrifying. But it does not change the rest of us. We are still who we are, we still love our friends, neighbors, and strangers, no matter how different, and we will not introduce hate into our actions.

Just as no one, even professional statisticians and analysts, predicted Trump’s victory, no one knows what his presidency will bring. Not even him, I imagine. In the face of this uncertainty, I suggest we prepare by steeling ourselves from the hateful rhetoric, keeping it out of our hearts and minds. We need to be clearheaded to stand up for ourselves and our friends. Whatever form our actions take, we must act out of love, kindness, and compassion, and keep hate from splintering us into factions.

Love doesn’t always win, but I would rather go down in the arms of friends than retreat into the claws of hate.

On a scale of 1-10, where do childbirth and wartime amputations fit in?

I ask not because I’m in the market for either, but because I always have trouble with the “rate your pain on a scale of one to ten” question from doctors.

No matter how much pain I’m in, I never think it could possibly be a ten. Isn’t childbirth astronomically more painful than anything I could possibly be going to the chiropractor for right now? I’ve fallen from 16 feet, bruised ribs, overdone leg day, and interacted with cats, but Civil War soldiers had their limbs sawn off with no anesthetic but a swig of whiskey – if they were lucky.

I woke up earlier this week and couldn’t turn my head to the left or bend over to wash my face. I was in pretty severe pain on a scale of  one to not-childbirth-or-wartime-surgery, but my chiropractor’s paperwork didn’t specify that scale, just one to ten. I chose nine, but I explained to the doctor that I was working under the assumption that birth and loss-of-limb were on their own scale.

I’m always torn between representing pain on my own personal scale or one I figure more people buy into. Let’s say I call a knee pain that makes walking unbearable a seven because being shot in the kneecap would almost definitely hurt a lot more. Surveys suggest* that other patients don’t consider kneecap shootings when they define their pain, so am I doing it wrong? If I am, what do other people put at the top of their pain scales?

I know at the end of the day all feelings are relative, and what matters is that treatment reduces the pain, wherever it started from. Still, perhaps one day I’ll make my own scale to more accurately represent how I feel instead of trying to blend in. It could look something like this:

0 – EUPHORIA
1 – Alive and loving it
2 – Alive and liking it
3 – Something’s not quite right, so let’s ignore it
4 – I could do without that feeling, but a cup of tea will help
5 – I would be having a much better day without that feeling. Let’s try beer.
6 – Ignoring it doesn’t work, beer isn’t helping, and I’m getting pissed off
7 – I hate everything and want new body parts.
8 – I can’t even mope comfortably. This is untenable.
9 – Is life still worth living?
10 – DEATH CANNOT COME FAST ENOUGH (aka what I assume childbirth and battlefield amputations feel like)

 

*Survey results may be skewed due to small sample size, because I stopped conducting them after my boyfriend gave me a look that I think said, “No, Kayleigh, other people do not think about being shot in the kneecap when they go to the doctor.”

The cookie dough is all gone

Lieutenant Pumpkin has been missing for over a week now, and I have eaten all the cookie dough.

I look for her every day, leave food out at night, put up flyers and talk to neighbors and call shelters and visit veterinarians and cry. I do a lot of moping. It’s exhausting. I recognize myself falling back into old depressive patterns, but I don’t feel capable of pulling myself out without knowing whether Pumpkin is okay.

I know depression lies. Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, has a whole category on her blog devoted to this truth. The brain chemicals and neurons and shit that make some of us feel hopeless and too far away from being okay to even try are not an inescapable reality, though they do bang up job making it seem that way.

I know there are good things going on in my life, and I know it’ll most likely be better at some point. But I don’t know if Pumpkin is okay, or where she is. And right now, despite being a grown up with years of coping skills under my belt, I’m struggling just to keep it together every day.

Lieutenant Pumpkin MIA

I haven’t seen my little one in over three days, and I’m starting to lose it (depending on who you ask, that might be an optimistic assessment). She ran out through the new doggy door before the dogs even figured out how to use it, and she hasn’t come back yet.

She’s never left for more than a few hours before, so even though I know some people’s cats peace out for days, weeks, months at a time, I’m still so worried I’m not even hungry. Except for cookie dough. A lot of cookie dough.

I was hoping once it started raining she would say ‘fuck this I’m goin home,’ but it’s been pouring for a few hours now and there’s still no sign of her. I traipsed around the woods and did a fair amount of trespassing all over the neighbors’ property earlier with a nice hot bowl of the dry food she likes microwaved with water (she’s a weirdo who likes dry food better than wet food), hoping the aroma and my voice, combined with knowledge of my suffering in the rain for her, would tempt her out of a hiding spot. No dice.

Pumpkin is microchipped and was wearing a collar when she left, so I know I’ve done what I can in that department. Who knows if the collar is still on her, since I use the safety breakaway kind that prevent kitties from being strangled by their own collars. The breakaway feature could save her life, but the tradeoff is she might look like she’s a poor lost soul with no home or family to someone who finds her, and who knows if she’ll tell the truth when asked.

I’ve notified every local shelter I could find, listed her as lost with the microchip company and a local lost pet Facebook group, and asked the construction crew next door to keep an eye out. I’ve been leaving the bedroom door open every night and checking her usual hiding spot under the bed in the hopes that she’ll sneak back in through the doggy door.

I don’t have religion and don’t know who or what I would pray to, but this is a time when I wish I did. I hope she’s safe and on her way home and ready for snuggles.

It’s a beautiful day to get rid of some crap 

But isn’t every day, really? I’ve been trying not to accumulate too many things for the last several years, but sometimes a giant Pikachu and a collection of stilettos I’ll never wear again just pop up in my closet. Something to do with gravity and the lunar cycle I think. 

The desire to pare down my belongings has little to do with any spiritual drive for minimalism; it’s just practical. I’ve moved more than 15 times in the last 10 years. I’ve moved  down the street, across the country, around the world, and back again. Most recently, Josh and I packed my studio apartment in Chicago into a mini school bus and drove it here to New York, where we share one room. Less is a necessity. 

My one table of stuff is barely a drop in the bucket of this yard sale, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the energy of transferring stuff out of our lives, into others, and onward in the great life cycle of things. 

Questions from the trail: Is that a Caterpie?

Great guess, but this is actually a real-life spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) caterpillar!

Josh and I couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw this little guy by our campsite on the Appalachian Trail recently, and I am still in awe at how cartoony it looked even from just a few inches away.The Pokemon character Caterpie, courtesy of the community at www.bulbagarden.net

The caterpillar looks so much like Caterpie, a Pokémon, that we think the artists must have based their character on this real-life species!

We had no idea what kind of insect, worm, alien, or other life form it was, but the caterpillar’s identity did not remain a mystery for long. A friend and I went to a Monarch butterfly tag and release event at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum, and one of the educators was able to identify it immediately as a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar by the prominent eyespots and coloring.

Friends in the eastern half of the US have probably seen the beautiful butterflies these guys transform into:

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly Carvers Creek SP NC 0981

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly at Carvers Creek in North Carolina, courtesy of bobistraveling on Flickr

 

Feline Friday: Pumpkin learns to paint a seascape, and we have a newcomer 

What makes a cat so relaxed she lounges on her back with her toes in the air? Why, a painting lesson, of course!

I was feeling a little overwhelmed when I happened to scroll across the Bob Ross “Beauty is Everwhere” series on Netflix. Although I used to paint quite a bit, I had never seen the artist’s iconic PBS series “The Joy of Painting,” nor did I understand where all of the Bob Ross memes, like the gem below, came from, so I pressed play.

bob-ross-meme (more…)

Questions from the Trail: Which way?

I always recommend walking away from the privy. 

This was at the Morgan Stewart Memorial shelter on the Appalachian Trail in New York, just a few miles away from busy I-84. It was my first time at a trail shelter, and I enjoyed hearing other hikers’ stories from their months (yeah, months) on the trail. We met two women who were each hiking all 2,190 miles of the trail alone and happened to stop at the same shelter for the night. They had both made keeping extensive journals part of their nightly routine, and they would send the notebooks or loose leaf pages home to their families along the way.

Although a privy might sound like a luxury worth taking advantage of, trust me. Taking care of business in the fresh air sans toilet is much more pleasant than sitting anywhere near a privy.

Worth the work, even on Labor Day

Alright, I suppose none of the work occurred on Labor Day, but Boyfriend Josh and I spent the weekend hiking over 20 miles on the Appalachian Trail, which was the most work I’ve ever done near a holiday. Although I think I slept more our first night back home than the previous two on the trail combined, there’s no other way I would have preferred to spend the weekend.

The hike was exhausting and exhilerating, strenuous and satisfying. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “uphill? AGAIN?” But for every moment spent trudging uphill, gasping for air, clinging to trees for support, there was at least one with a shared laugh, a gentle breeze rustling the leaves, a woodland critter passing by. (more…)

Winter COULD BE coming, so let’s knit everything

Knittaz elbow strapFirst, if you think knitting is only a cold-weather activity, you probably don’t knit, so just sit back and listen to this one. The only thing that stops me from knitting is the occasionally debilitating pain in my hands and arms (thank you, fibromyalgia), which I usually ignore for as long as I can. I pull my tennis elbow straps tighter and soldier on, one more row my mantra when the going gets tough.

And it does get tough. A friend said to me recently, “There is no crying in knitting!” And I laughed, because she was so wrong. I can only undo and redo hours of work to fix that one damn mistake so many times before it starts to get to me. But, like Mr. Frond, the guidance counselor in my favorite TV show, I am a KNITTA 4 LIFE.

Mr. Frond Knittaz 4 Life

Image: screenshot from Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, season 2 episode 3. Love the “chuckles” caption.

(more…)

I really meant to, but I lost my personality

Well, part of it. I have one personality. I know the Kayleigh who introduces herself with a confident smile at parties is the same Kayleigh who struggles to breathe in crowded restaurants. The average, everyday version is generally on top of her shit, but also avoids crowds and interacting with lots of strangers, especially with this [hopefully-temporary] beer-free diet.

Problems arise when Confident Kayleigh makes commitments that Average Kayleigh is not prepared to fulfill. (more…)

I may have lost my job, but I’ve caught some cool Pokémon

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This accurately sums up my job and pokémon search: not loading, and full of monsters.

I was laid off in June, and although there’s never really a good time to lose your job, summer isn’t bad time for it. I had just moved back to the East Coast from Chicago two weeks before and was actually in the middle of vacation when I got my immediate termination notice, but that’s neither here nor there. Point is, I suddenly had a new home and a lot of time on my hands.

When my boyfriend mentioned that a new game requiring you to catch virtual Pokémon out in the real world had just been released, he said it in a “haha isn’t this ridiculous” kind of way. But I wanted it in my life immediately, and we downloaded it. (more…)

How to be WILDLY affectionate this Valentine’s Day

How do you and your partner show each other affection – hugs, kisses, cuddles? How about caressing one another’s eye stalks or changing colors while dancing together at dawn? Let these ten couples show you how it’s done in other parts of the animal kingdom.

  1. Lean On Me

Owls are usually territorial creatures who will not choose to spend much time in close proximity to other owls – like guys sitting on opposite ends of the couch. Owl mates, on the other hand, may stand close together and actually lean on each other as a sign of affection.

2. Bite me

Real love!! (4294586131) (2)

As many dog-owners know, canines often show their love by licking one another’s faces and coats. Wolves in particular will also nip and nibble their loved ones’ faces. Although it can sometimes look aggressive, gentle face nibbling is a sign of affection in wolves.

3. Necking

Embed from Getty Imagesgiraffes.jpg

Male giraffes use their long necks and heavy heads for graceful, slow-motion fights with each other, but they also use them to rub the heads and necks of their love interests. You may spot a giraffe resting his or her head on a mate’s neck, or even entwining their six-foot long necks together. Check out this YouTube video to see it action!  (more…)

Wonderful Wildlife Moment: affectionately leaning owls

 

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While researching adorable ways other species show affection (scouring the internet for heartwarming pictures iS research!), I learned that owls often stand close to their mates and lean on each other affectionately. Aww. The Northern Saw-Whet owls in this picture (courtesy of Kathy and Sam) are young and most likely siblings, not three-way mates. Still so cute.

Mission: research and write stuff. Status: go.

My mission to devote one night a week to blogging AND ONLY BLOGGING! has so far been successful. I may need to separate it into two nights, though, now that I’m branching out into freelancing as well.

Last week’s blog night started with “I’m going to research hive mind and honey bee self-sacrifice for my blog!” When I popped up out of the rabbit hole a few hours later, I had started writing “10 Animals That Discard Their Own Body Parts and Why.” There was a logical progression in there somewhere, and I think it involved bee penises. Strangely, I get a lot of silence on the phone when I tell my boyfriend what I learned about honey bee drone endophalluses.

Anyway, I’ve been loving researching and tracking down facts that fascinate me. I haven’t finished anything yet, but prepare to learn some cool stuff about animals that sacrifice their body parts, swarm intelligence, and surprise tunnels I have yet to burrow into!

I don’t do resolutions, but if I did

Never hope more than you work.

The more complete quote from wildly-influential-author-I-had-never-heard-of-until-yesterday Rita Mae Brown is:

Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts.

And never hope more than you work.

Trust has never been my strong suit, and work seems considerably more trustworthy than hope anyway. I wouldn’t characterize myself as generally hopeful, but I have oscillated between an odd sort of optimism and a conviction that the most soul-crushing possibilities must be the most “realistic.” I call my optimism ‘odd’ because I’m never really sure if I believe it, if I’m thinking it to make myself feel better, or if I’m joking with myself. I only have one personality, but it sure plays games with itself sometimes.

All this is to say, I’m a little conflicted about hope and optimism. Work, on the other hand, is actionable. I can do that. I can reasonably expect better outcomes from working than from hoping. And hence, I will make every effort to work more than I hope.

I already finished my beer 😦 , but if I hadn’t, I would raise it with the conviction that it’s time for hope and uncertainty to step aside. There is work to be done.

—–

I need to thank Ariel Gore for her book How To Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, and my former boss Jennifer Hee for leaving it out for a poor and ambitious employee to take home. After two years of bookshelves and moving boxes, I finally cracked the book open and read the quote from Rita Mae Brown that gave me the kick in the ass I needed.

My latest excuses for not blogging

In yet another attempt to make blogging a more regular habit, I will outline the regular habits that have all come before blogging for the last month. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?

So here are the top five activities and habits that most frequently come before blogging in order of how hard I think they will be to change: (more…)